Friday, January 28, 2011

Parshat Mishpatim - Welcoming the stranger

Parshat Mishpatim - Ex. 22:20. And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
         Ex.23:9. And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Sometimes when we look carefully at our inner life, it seems there is a stranger inside.  “Did I really say that? Am I really feeling that jealous/angry/hurt? Who is this that feels and acts so prideful/so dejected? Instead of repressing these aspects of ourselves and pushing them away, the text instructs us to “know the feelings” - to empathize with the feelings that result when we are in a tight place and see no way forward. By practicing empathy and compassion for our full self, we can befriend the strange parts of ourselves and let go of the walls we have been building to keep them out. As we stop maintaining these walls that box us in to a narrow conception of “I,”  our own mitzrayim can fall away, setting us free.

May we welcome all parts of our selves home, and may we live peacefully and free among friends, both inside and out.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Parshat Yitro – Seeing the whole, perceiving the holy.

Parshat Yitro Ex. 19:2 They journeyed from Rephidim, and they arrived in the desert of Sinai, and they encamped in the desert, and Israel encamped there opposite the mountain.

In one verse the text tells us twice that the Israelites make camp. The first time the verb is in the plural: vayachanu bamidbar, “they . . . encamped in the wilderness.” The second time the verb is singular: vayichan Yisrael, “Israel encamped.”

 In Present at Sinai, S.Y. Agnon quotes the M’chilta d’Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in reflecting on this verse: “When they journeyed they were divided, and when they encamped they were divided; whereas here it says ‘they encamped (Vayichan) there’ [in the singular, implying that] they had been given to feel a shared kindliness (Hanayah), so that they could love one another and thus be able to receive the Torah.” *

May we fully appreciate how our separate selves are bound up into one interconnected and united whole.
May this understanding of the whole lead us to perceive the holy.


* Source:
S.Y. Agnon, Present at Sinai [Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1994, p. 52) as quoted by R. Dan Levin at:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Parshat Beshallach – Wise response to fear

Parshat Beshallach – Ex. 14:13-15.  “And Moses said to the people: ‘Do not be afraid, make a stand, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today; for while you have seen the Egyptians today, you shall see them again no more forever.  The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.’ And the Lord said to Moses: ‘Why are you crying to Me? Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward.’”

In the words of Rabbi Alan Lew (z’el), five steps of spiritual transformation are set forth in Moses’ instructions to the Israelites when they have their backs against the sea and to us when we feel trapped physically, emotionally, or spiritually:

Al teyrau – Do not panic.  Do not be afraid of illusions, phantoms, or terrors that are not real. 
Heetyatzvu – Stand still, face your fear, and let reality come into focus.  
Uru – See what is real. 
Tachareshun – Gather yourself.  Be in the present moment; and 
Vyesau – Get going.  

May we, like the Israelites, see our fears, know when to be still and when and how to take the next steps toward spiritual transformation.  

 Listen to Rabbi Alan Lew's talk.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Parshat Bo - Taking too much

Parshat Bo – Exodus 11:2: God said to Moses “Speak in the ears of the people: they shall ask, each man of his neighbor, each woman of her neighbor, objects of silver and objects of gold.”
Exodus 12:35-36: “Now the Children of Israel had done according to Moshe’s words: they had asked of the Egyptians objects of silver and objects of gold, and clothing;….So did they strip Egypt.”

God instructs the people to ask for objects of silver and gold. Moses goes farther and adds clothing to the request.  The people go even farther.  They take everything of value.  Some commentators explain that the silver and gold was payment for the Israelites’ unpaid labor as slaves. Perhaps. However, they take not only justified recompense, but everything. They felt so wronged, that they felt entitled to revenge. But revenge locks them more tightly into struggle. The Egyptians pursue them, maybe to get back some of the spoils. And even when the Israelites are finally free of Egypt, they are burdened by the spoils. The very first use they make of the gold is to build the golden calf, an idol.  

May we see clearly the line between seeking justice and seeking revenge.  May we see clearly the difference between our hunger to be valued, and our greed to be proven right.