Friday, December 31, 2010

Va'era - The strength to listen

Parshat Va-ayra - Exodus 7:22: after the water turns to blood:”… and Pharaoh’s heart remained strong, and he did not listen to them.”
Exodus 9:34: after the hail stopped: “ he continued to sin: he made his heart heavy”

When first faced with Moses’ demands, Pharaoh’s heart was strengthened. Is this not a good thing? Pharaoh had to deal with a very difficult situation, a potential rebellion, a potential revolution. He needed to respond with strength and wisdom.  But Pharaoh used his strength to not listen.  This is the sin – to not listen fully.  And because of this refusal to listen, Pharaoh’s heart became heavy with rigidity.

May we use our strength to listen even to very difficult messages, so that our heart does not become so rigid, so hard, and so heavy that we cannot go forward.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Shemoth - A path toward liberation

 Parshat Shemoth – Ex III: 13-14 -  "And God said to Moses; "Eheyeh asher Ehyeh, I Am That I Am" and He said: "Thus shall you say to the children of Israel: "I Am sent me to you."

How do we cultivate the awareness of our own enslavement?  The aleph at the beginning of the word "eheyeh" teaches that silence can  allow us to see the truth of what is.  Awareness of the presence of the timeless and infinite within us can be the beginning of the journey toward liberation.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Vayyechi - Yosef comforts from the heart

Parshat Vayyechi   – Gen 50:19-21 – “But Yosef said to them: Do not be afraid!  For am I in the place of God?  Now you, you planned ill against me, (but) God planned it over for good, in order to do (as is) this very day – to keep many people alive. So now, do not be afraid!  I myself will sustain you and your little ones!  And he comforted them and spoke to their hearts.”

Yosef, who was thrown into a pit by his brothers to be devoured by wild beasts, and later put into the dungeon by Potiphar, could have remained bitter all of his life.  Instead, Yosef was able to learn from his pain and suffering, first to gain insight to interpret dreams, later to advise Pharaoh, and finally to forgive and comfort his brothers.  How was Yosef able to do this? Over time, Yosef learned to listen to and respond from his heart, rather than his ego. While in his youth he brought an ill report of his brothers to his father. In his maturity he wept when he heard his brothers arguing over which of them was responsible for his death (Gen. 42:22-24), when he first saw Benyamin (Gen. 43:29-30), and when he revealed himself to his brothers (Gen. 45:1-2 14-15).

May we, like Yosef, open our hearts, forgive, and comfort ourselves, our families, and our communities.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Vayigash - Jacob's blessing of Pharaoh

Parshat Vayigash

Gen. Ch. 47:7. “So Joseph brought his father Jacob and stood him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh.”
Gen. Ch. 47:10. “So Jacob blessed Pharaoh and left Pharaoh's presence.”

In between these blessings, Pharaoh expresses his amazement at Jacob’s age and Jacob responds that he is not nearly so old as his fathers, and that his years have been “few and miserable.” The man who dreamed of angels ascending to heaven, who knew that “god was in this place”, who wrested a blessing and a new name from an angel, and who has just been re-united with a beloved son -- sums his life up as short and miserable. And yet from this glass-half-empty perspective, he summons not one, but two blessings for the half-god ruler in whose presence he stands. Does Jacob’s ability to bless even a Pharaoh in some way come from his embrace of the common griefs and pains that are present in all our lives? Instead of being over-awed by Pharaoh's splendor, Jacob connects to Pharaoh's ordinary, flawed human nature through the shared human experience that life is short, fleeting, and full of sorrow. It is from this empathic, compassionate, and human connection that Jacob’s blessing of Pharaoh arises.

May we also learn to hold our own mortality, shortcomings, and sorrows lightly and with compassion, so that they may empower us to connect with and bless all whom we meet.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mikeitz - Seeking wisdom while confined

Parshat Mikeitz 
Gen. Ch. 41:33.  “So now, let Pharaoh seek out an understanding and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt.”  

Within the space of a few hours, Joseph emerges from two years in prison, shaves, puts on clean clothes, gives an insightful interpretation of dreams, and is elevated to viceroy of Egypt. What could he possibly have been doing while he was in prison to prepare himself to lead Egypt through the coming crisis? Exactly what he advised Pharoah – he was seeking the understanding and wisdom that resided within him. Instead of despairing or fighting against the narrow space in which he found himself, he turned inward and cultivated discernment.  

May we also learn to respond to tight and narrow times in our own lives by seeking understanding and wisdom.