Dec 27 2013
This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Vaera. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
This week’s portion, Vaera, contains seven of the 10 plagues that God sends Egypt to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites go.
After each plague, Pharaoh begins to relent, but then he (or, weirdly, God) “hardens his heart” and decides he actually does need those Israelite slaves after all. And so the plagues increase, all the way into next week’s portion.
Reading about these plagues and Pharaoh’s resistance to let those Israelites go, I thought about how hard it is to change after a long time. What does it take to convince a stubborn person to loosen their grip, to be more gentle, to change their life? And why do I feel so sympathetic to Pharaoh even though he’s clearly the bad guy here? Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 20 2013
This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This Shabbat we read Parashat Sh’mot. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
In the first portion in the book of Exodus, Sh’mot, there’s a new Pharaoh in charge who hates the Israelites and decides to destroy them.
Mothers are all over this story. There’s Moses’ mother, who sends him off in a basket of reeds to save him, and ends up being hired as his wet nurse. There’s Pharaoh’s daughter, who rescues baby Moses from the water and becomes his adoptive mom.
But I want to talk about the non-celebrity moms. The regular, unnamed mothers who make the whole story possible. What we can learn from them, and from Pharaoh himself.
According to a famous midrash, actually, the Israelites only survived because of the women. In this version of the story, Pharaoh’s first plan of attack is to make the men work so hard that they are too exhausted to go home and sleep with their wives. No sex, no babies, no more Israelites! Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 13 2013
This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This past Shabbat we read Parashat Vayehi. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
This week’s portion, Vayehi, contains the last chapters of Genesis. It’s the end of the beginning. It’s been a long 12 portions since the world was created.
The epic saga comes to a close with Jacob’s blessing his grandsons, the fathers of the 12 tribes; then Jacob’s death; and finally the death of Joseph. Vayehi is all about fathers and sons and grandfathers, blessings and vows and deaths and mourning. Strangely, though, there are hardly any mothers or daughters; the only mention of the matriarchs here is the location of their graves, and Jacob’s sadness over Rachel’s death.
I couldn’t help but feel a little shortchanged on behalf of my foremothers. Genesis is full of brave, resourceful women keeping the family alive, talking directly to God, hustling, giving birth, raising the next generation, making things right when their men mess up. Why do they suddenly disappear in the final chapters? Maybe that’s not surprising for an ancient patriarchal society, but it felt strange to me. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 6 2013
This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This past Shabbat we read Parashat Vayigash. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
As the mother of two boys, and someone who grew up with only a sister, I have recently taken an interest in stories of brothers.
I wonder about the special bond that some brothers share and what I might be able to do as a mother to nurture such a bond between my two boys. In looking to stories as role models, at first glance, I would not think that the biblical story of Joseph and his brothers would be one to which I would turn–jealousy that runs so deep that it causes Joseph’s brothers to plot together to sell him into slavery and then to deceive their own father into thinking that Joseph was killed by a wild animal. If anything, it reads like a worst case scenario, and the only thing I can take from it is relief that my boys’ jealousy of one another is not that bad, and that their greatest deception to date is hiding behind the couch to eat a candy bar that I had explicitly told them not to.
But by reading this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, I have found a more positive lesson in the story of Joseph and his brothers. Toward the end of last week’s Torah portion, Joseph hid a silver goblet in Benjamin’s (the youngest and his father’s most beloved son) bag as a test to see what the brothers would do when the goblet was discovered. Joseph demanded that, as punishment, Benjamin stay in Egypt as a slave. Read the rest of this entry →
Dec 2 2013
This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This past Shabbat we read Parashat Miketz. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
Last week’s Torah portion, Miketz, is full of large-scale drama: fortunes rising and falling, pilgrimages for survival, power struggles, and internal journeys of the heart.
Pharoah dreams of extremes: seven fat cows, seven emaciated cows. Joseph, called to interpret these dreams, rises from his prison cell to a position at Pharaoh’s side. The earth goes through seven years of plenty, then seven years of famine. Joseph’s brothers journey across a great desert to beg Pharoah’s assistant for grain, not realizing that Pharoah’s assistant is actually Joseph. Now in power, Joseph plays a game of cat-and-mouse with them, withholding his identity, alternating between public sternness and private weeping.
Yep, this is the stuff of great family drama. Will Joseph reveal himself to his brothers? How far will he go to punish his siblings’ past cruelty? How can siblings do this to each other?
Meanwhile, at my house, a different drama is playing out. I call it toddler drama. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 22 2013
In this week’s portion, Vayeshev, we read about Joseph’s father giving him the coat of many colors. This is the last straw for his jealous brothers, who decide to get rid of him: they cast Joseph down into a pit, then sell him to some passing slave traders. “When Joseph came up to his brothers…they took him and cast him into the pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.”
Although I’ve read this story before, this time that empty pit stopped me for a moment. It felt personal. Not so long ago, for about a year and a half after my daughter was born, I was in a pit of my own.
It took me 14 months to realize there was a problem. I was on a plane, landing at SFO with major turbulence, holding my little daughter on my lap. As we jolted down towards the fast-approaching tarmac, I found myself thinking with a strange sort of excitement: “Maybe the plane will crash and I won’t have to be here anymore! And it’s perfect because I won’t be leaving her alone, either.” Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 15 2013
This post is part of our Torah commentary series. This week we read Parashat Vayishlah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
“The earned name is worth much more than the given name.”
–Ecclesiastes Rabbah, 7:4
I didn’t change my name when I got married. I’d always thought sharing a name sounded romantic, but when the time came, I realized I would resent giving mine up. And besides, I was too busy (or lazy) to even think about getting a new passport, driver’s license, and credit cards, so I managed to live three and a half decades with the same name my parents gave me back when I was born. Until I had my baby.
Now I have a new name: Mama.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlah, Jacob wrestles with the angel. After a long night of struggle and a hip injury, the angel finally asks Jacob to let him go. And Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” And the angel blesses him, not with riches or descendants, but with a new name: Israel, “One who struggles with God.” It’s a complicated name, but fitting after Jacob’s all-night wrestling match. Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 8 2013
This post is part of our new Torah commentary series. This week we read Parashat Vayetze. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
Have you seen the new episode of that crazy reality show about the dysfunctional family where a father tricks his son-in-law-to-be into marrying both of his daughters instead of just one (dooming the second daughter to a loveless marriage)? And then the two sisters compete to see who can have the most babies, even using their kids’ names to gloat about their victories? And then finally the whole family takes off in the middle of the night, stealing the father’s most precious possession, then lying about it?
Just kidding, it’s not a reality show–it’s this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze.
This is the time of year I start asking…why are these stories in our holy book? Why do we read them every year? Why did my ancestors pass them down generation after generation until they reached me? And why should I pass them down to my daughter? Read the rest of this entry →
Nov 1 2013
This post is part of our new Torah commentary series. This week we read Parashat Toldot. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
Maybe you’ve been feeling a little guilty about your parenting lately; you shouldn’t. There is no one perfect way to be a mom, and you’re doing your best with the resources you have. (Remember, #YouAreAGoodMama.)
Still, it’s so easy to feel insecure sometimes–especially when you constantly see other mothers who seem to have it all together, all the time: they take to breastfeeding with the greatest of ease, they throw birthday parties that are Pinterest boards come to life, and they look damn good doing it in their little black dresses two months after giving birth. Meanwhile, you’re desperately tossing back Fenugreek like M&Ms for just a minute increase in your milk supply. Your nipples look like Mike Tyson’s face (or Evander Holyfield’s ear) after a brutal round in the ring; your parties are fly-by-night operations with whatever was left over at Amazing Savings; your fashion style is more worn beatnik than city slick. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 25 2013
This post is part of our new Torah commentary series. This week we read Parashat Haye Sarah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
My adorable toddler has a disturbing new habit.
It goes like this: Sylvie’s playing with another kid at the park. Suddenly she grabs the kid’s hair, shrieks in excitement, and pulls. The kid’s mom and I run over and pry her hands off (harder than you’d think!), mom kneels to console crying kid, I apologize profusely. And there’s Sylvie, grinning uneasily.
I know she doesn’t mean to cause pain; she’s just excited. But on some basic human level, it feels odd to see someone smile while hurting someone else. So when this first started happening I was pretty concerned. I’m still new to this whole mothering thing. Was this a developmental stage, or the beginning of a real problem? Read the rest of this entry →