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.

There is a time for everything, now is the time to stay alive

There is no doubt that we, here in Israel, need to go through some process of cheshbon nefesh, self-reflection, reconnecting with our principals for humanity and seeing the sanctity of life in all that we do. We can discuss politics, society and the educational system – all of which require serious thought & consideration. My personal feeling is that now, at this very moment, is not the time to have this conversation; I’m afraid that opinions, good will & desire to be part of Tikun Israel, healing Israel, will be misinterpreted & brushed off by readers who are simultaneously reassuring their children, hugging them while sitting in a bomb shelter. The past several weeks have been intense, stressful and heartbreaking. So much hate, too much death, victims so young, so innocent. We here in Israel find ourselves surrounded by horror, by hate and evil intentions on all borders – & within. This can cause any population to live in stress and anxiety – all of which leads to an entirely different perspective, a dramatically different reality from others living in other parts of the world, especially the US. I’m not looking for sympathy, I’m looking for perspective. Yesterday I hid under a bridge from incoming rockets while coming home from work. What was anyone else’s commute home like? Last night my kids woke up every hour of the night in fear and anticipation of a siren; they have already internalized the reaction to sirens so much so that they anticipate it, frightened by the sound of a motorcycle or ambulance. This morning, instead of saying goodbye and wishing him a great day, I sat in a bomb shelter with one of my kids and his class mates because 4 rockets were shot from Gaza to our vicinity. There were 15 6 yr olds sitting there, scared out of their minds as they listen to the eerie sirens and heard the booms; I pray that no child, not any of yours or anyone else’s, experience this. No need for compassion, just understanding and perspective. Would love to continue the conversation, dissect all that needs to be fixed, it’s part of why I live here, but I’d rather do this, and have the ability to think clearly, when I’m not anticipating the sirens. I’m not thinking of tomorrow, just want to make it through the day.  Praying for peace and quiet for our region, for all children – on both sides – won’t you join me?

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

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