Who is a righteous person, a tsadik?

So who is a righteous person, a tsadik? Is one born a righteous person? Or does one evolve to become – a righteous person? Was it Noah? Abraham? Two weeks ago we read about Noah, and that he was a righteous man – within his generation; well what does that tell us about Noah? After all, didn’t God destroy that generation, ‘that world’, for it was evil? So then how righteous was Noah in comparison to that society? I don’t know, I wasn’t there, but with some logic we can arrive to some conclusions. In this last week’s Torah portion, Lech L’cha – go forth for your self – Abram leaves his homeland, leaves his birthplace and leaves his father’s home.  He goes against all that he was brought up on, turns his back on his past, on his own father, the traditions and values he was brought up on, the gods of his ancestors and decides he knows better.  Sounds like quite the rebel.  What would you have to say were your son/daughter to do the same? “Mom, Dad, I disagree with everything you’ve taught me; I’m outta here!” And then there’s his treatment of his own family: 1. During a visit to Egypt he asks his wife, then named Sarai (later changes to SaraH), to introduce him to the Egyptians as her brother so as not to endanger his life for Sarai was very attractive and Abram didn’t want to be perceived as a threat to anyone who wanted her, so he lied to save himself!  Not the most righteous, eh? 2. and then there’s his treatment of his concubine Hagar and their son – Ishmael, sending them off to the wilderness in order to appease Sarai (when she in fact offered Hagar to Abram for Sarai bore no children – at the time)? His own flesh and blood, sent away.  In this week’s Torah portion, VeYera, we arrive to a new Abram, now known as AbraHam. Abraham seeks to please others.  The portion begins with him sitting at the entrance of his tent in the middle of the desert – in great pain, having had his Brit Milah, covenantal circumcision, at the end of the previous scene; he was 99 yrs old.  As he has his ‘sit down’ with God, bearing the pain, and who knows what they were discussing, Abraham sees three ‘individuals’ walking in the distance, coming his way. He puts his one-on-one with God on pause (who does that?!) and quickly jumps up to welcome these three strangers into this home.  He asks Sarah to cook up a storm, washes these strangers’ feet and provides them shelter from the desert wilderness – what a mentch!  The sages teach us that ‘Hachnasat Orchim’, welcoming guests, is one of the greatest of all Mitzvoth – one that even God is willing to be ‘second’ to in importance. So who is a righteous person? Is one born a righteous person? Or with time, does one evolve to become – a righteous person, a better person? I don’t know, but I do think that these biblical characters are human, just like you and I, and we have what to learn from them. It is never too late to be a mentch, a tsadik, a righteous person.  Let us live and learn! Shavua tov – wishing all a wonderful and productive week. Love & Light from Israel.

Seeds of diplomacy: The Children of Israel then and now

This week’s Torah portion, the beginning of the book of Exodus (Shmot – שמות) describes the realities in Egypt as the Israelites multiply and their presence becomes of national interest, or rather disinterest. In it there is a verse that spells the beginning of the end: ויקם מלך חדש על מצרים אשר לא ידע את יוסף /
“And their rose a new king of Egypt who did not know Joseph.” Why did this new king not know Joseph? Maybe b/c there was no long term planning. Maybe because the Israelite community rest assured that Joseph was their savior from the famine of Canaan, they did nothing to nurture their collective relationship with the host government/kingdom as they grew and felt part of the larger Egyptian society. This verse is a defining moment for the Children of Israel. The seeds for a collective lobbying effort were planted thereby impacting our relations with host countries from time immemorial. Sure there are different opinions on law and practice, different interpretations to our sacred text, but these differences cannot overshadow the need for a collective agenda impacting our shared destiny. When I read this verse: “And their rose a new king of Egypt who did not know Joseph”, I think to myself – year after year: uh oh, this isn’t good… For the Children of Israel it was expected, for one way or another they were going to return to their homeland. Today, now that we are back home, we must think about diplomacy and the collective Jewish voice differently. We don’t necessarily need host countries as we much as we needed a return to Zion, however we do need to maintain positive relations with the international community, for the sake of our people living around the world, and for the sake of Zion’s presence as a nation among nations. Never underestimate the power of ignorance. Then it was a new king of Egypt that did not know Joseph, now it could be a new president of ______ that does not know the Jews. Jewish memory is saturated with lessons to learn from, all we need to do is take a peek and the answers are right under our noses. “Know from where you came and (you’ll know) where you are going…” Book of Ethics 3:1

The Gd of Abraham: What would you do if Gd showed up at your front door?

This week we read about Abraham preferring to greet strangers over his 1:1 w/ Gd. Its quite perplexing & here is the scenario: the previous portion (Lech Lecha) ends with Abraham entering the covenant (circumcision) @ 99 yrs of age. Abe, sitting there in the heat of the desert, in great pain, and Gd shows up! Rashi explains that Gd is coming to do a well visit – bikur cholim…

וַיֵּרָא אֵלָיו יְדוָד, בְּאֵלֹנֵי מַמְרֵא; וְהוּא יֹשֵׁב פֶּתַח-הָאֹהֶל, כְּחֹם הַיּוֹם. ב וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו; וַיַּרְא, וַיָּרָץ לִקְרָאתָם מִפֶּתַח הָאֹהֶל, וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ, אָרְצָה

“And the LORD appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre, as he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day; 2 and he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, lo, three men stood over against him; and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed down to the earth”

Seriously? Abraham gives Gd his back and runs to greet these strangers, bowing before them, and all. There is something important to learn here in that the Gd of Abraham expected him to do just that, that is to greet strangers, bring them into his tent and provide them food, drink, and shelter from the wilderness. I’m not suggesting that we go out there and bring absolute strangers into our home, but I am suggesting, and Jewish tradition reflects this value of “Hachnasat Orchim”, that we make every effort to welcome guests into our home – those in need and those who need not. Its these kinds of interactions that enable us to create and be a part of community, a life that is more meaningful, built on relationships that extend beyond our own four walls and into the world beyond.

Israel, part III – what’s it gonna be?

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!  As if we haven’t been around this block before. Remember destruction and forced exile? Remember the rivers of Babylon? I do and I ain’t goin back. Unfortunately it’s not up to me alone; I need all of you to get along too. Continue reading

"…אם לא עכשיו, אימתיי?!"

“הוא (הלל) היה אומר, אם אין אני לי, מי לי; וכשאני לעצמי, מה אני; ואם לא עכשיו, אימתיי?”
אם אתם מסכימים שהגיע הזמן לתקן את עצמנו – שתפו עם אחרים! תיקון ישראל. מדי פעם אנו מתעסקים באיזושהי רמה של תיקון. זה קרה עם משה רבנו אשר הוביל את בני ישראל מעבדות לחרות, ולאחר אלפי שנים דרך תשובתו של הרצל בשאלת היהודים (הציונות המודרנית), ומה קורה עכשיו – ממש ברגע זה? Continue reading

Why does Tikun Israel precede Tikun Olam?

I was recently asked at a talk that I gave why I emphasize the need for Tikun Israel to precede Tikun Olam. Here is part of my answer to the question: “Rav Salantar taught – first one fixes his house, then his community, then the world, and so on… I am extremely proud of the work Jewish organizations and movements have committed towards healing the world – Tikun Olam. Continue reading

The World As It Should Be?

The world as it should be? Now how you gonna do that? Last week’s Torah portion describes Jacob’s dream (you know, the one with the ladder): “And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of Gd ascending and descending on it. And…the LORD…said: …The land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed. And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south. And in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest, and will bring thee back into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.” (Gen 28:12-19). Continue reading

ואהבת לרעך כמוך – Love your neighbor as yourself

“ואהבת לרעך כמוך” הוא פסוק בתורה, מצווה ומושג יסוד, לדעת חכמי ישראל לדורותיהם. משמעותו היא שהאדם צריך לאהוב את הזולת כשם שהוא אוהב את עצמו. מכלל זה נגזרים דרכי התנהגויות רבות, שבגללן חכמי המשנה התייחסו אליו כאל כלל מרכזי וחשוב בכל התורה. זה הזמן בחודש אלול לקראת ימי ראש השנה ויום כיפור שעלינו להתייחס אחד אל השני כמשפחה, כבני אדם. Continue reading