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Feb 14 2014

What My Daughter’s Favorite Stuffed Animal Has to Do with the Golden Calf

By at 9:41 am

Torah Momentary: Was the Golden Calf the Israelite's version of a lovey?

This post is part of our Torah MOMentary series, where we interpret the weekly Torah portion through the perspective of a mother. This Shabbat we read Parashat Ki Tissa. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

As parents (and humans), we spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting to grow up. Waiting to meet the right partner. Waiting to move in together, get married, or partner up in a long term way. We wait to get pregnant. Then we wait for our baby to be born. Once our baby is born, we wait for him or her to grow up. We don’t want to rush it, but in some ways, we do. We’re waiting for him to smile, laugh, eat solid foods, sit up, sleep through the night, point, clap, wean herself, talk, walk, run, use the potty, listen to reason, win a Nobel, have kids of her own. But like Tom Petty knows, the waiting is the hardest part. And yet, we have to do it.

Our kids have a hard time waiting, too. Mine are not yet 3, and they cannot wait for anything. Sometimes, it’s a matter of waiting just a few seconds, as long as it takes for me to finish chewing before I answer their question about icicles, or the letter “M” and how it really does look a lot like a “W.” Sometimes, they cannot wait the two minutes it takes for me to find a missing puzzle piece that is lodged beneath the couch, or the 10 minutes it takes for chicken nuggets to cook in the toaster. They certainly can’t wait five days until our weekend trip or the two months it’ll take before their birthday arrives. For them, waiting is beyond hard. It’s impossible. It often reduces them to tears. (Me too.)

Apparently, the Israelites didn’t like waiting, either. In her commentary on this week’s Torah portion Ki Tissa, Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses writes, “Waiting is difficult. When a child waits…for a parent to come home, the time can feel excruciatingly long.” Cohler-Esses points out that when the Jews waited for Moses to come back down from his tete-a-tete with God on Mount Sinai, they grew impatient, just like a child might. Their leader—their parent, in a sense—had disappeared. “They are anxious that Moses will never return to them, frightened that they will have no leader to lead them to the Promised Land,” Cohler-Esses explains. “They are so scared that they build themselves an idol—a Golden Calf to accompany them through the desert.” Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 4 2014

A Surprising Antidote to My Infertility Frustration

By at 2:42 pm

pregnancy test with calendar

I had been trying to get pregnant for a year. Twelve months of charting my body’s rhythms, of turning sex from an art into a science; twelve times allowing my hopes to soar and then scraping them (and sometimes myself) off the floor.

I felt like I was beginning to lose my mind. Every pregnant woman on the street was a personal affront, every baby shower invitation an assault. When Britney Spears announced her pregnancy, I ranted about it to anyone who would listen. I organized our schedule around my ovulation and measured upcoming events by what month I would be in if we were successful this time around. I stopped sleeping.

The lack of control was maddening for a control freak like me, but even worse was the waiting. I’m task oriented; if I had to wait around for this pregnancy thing to happen, I needed to feel like I was taking concrete steps that would contribute to our eventual success. Give up caffeine? Done. Track my temperature? Daily. Obsessively check for fertile cervical mucous? More often than I care to admit. Though it put us into a new and scary category of “medical problem,” I was actually relieved when the insurance company finally cleared us to begin fertility treatment, because it meant there would be new action to take and new partners helping us in this seemingly intractable process of getting pregnant. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 31 2014

Torah MOMentary: What is the Point of All These Rules?

By at 9:41 am

girl watching tv

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Terumah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

After binging on Internet reading last Wednesday (thanks in no small part to the polar vortex that kept me and my kids inside far longer than is healthy or recommended), I spiraled down the rabbit hole and beseeched my Facebook friends to tell me if I was letting my kids watch too much TV.

Thirty-six comments later, and I had been reassured that basically, I was within the “acceptable” zone. After the fourth or fifth Curious George episode, I shut the TV off and took the kids to the basement to do some puzzles. I brought my phone. After a half hour of being semi-attentive to them, I realized I wasn’t being even remotely mindful, and spent a few ill-advised minutes panicking about their emotional well-being.

The next morning my husband suggested that we start drizzling the girls’ pancakes (and everything they eat, really) with flax oil. Later that afternoon, my mother intimated that perhaps it’s time to get serious about the potty training. Then I got a call from school that one of my twins had bitten the other one (because we are forever in and out of the biting stage, a Groundhog’s Day of biting, if you will). Sometime around exasperation-o’clock, I read this Forbes.com article about the “crippling” (CRIPPLING!) behaviors that we, as parents, are guilty of. And then after all of that, I read this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, and wanted to cry.

There are too many rules. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 3 2014

Torah MOMentary: What Do We Make of the Killing of the Firstborn?

By at 9:46 am
"Lamentations over the Death of the Firstborn of Egypt" by Charles Sprague Pearce

“Lamentations over the Death of the Firstborn of Egypt” by Charles Sprague Pearce

This post is part of our Torah commentary series through the perspective of a new mom. This Shabbat we read Parashat Bo. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.

This week’s Torah portion is Bo. We read about the final plagues, culminating in the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn.

I often like to interpret Torah metaphorically. I love the Hassidic tradition of reading Torah as a sort of psychological analogue for what’s happening inside us all the time. For me, this is a way of connecting to Torah as a story that’s happening continually, rather than an ancient document that may or may not have taken place.

But sometimes there is a story so literal and vivid that to metaphorize it feels like a cop-out. For example, the slaying of the firstborn.

The 10 plagues always felt kind of removed from me–sort of magical and not relatable, like a fairy tale. Now, reading as a new mom, the words “slaying of the firstborn” feel very, very real. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 27 2013

Torah MOMentary: What Pharaoh & New Moms Have in Common

By at 10:47 am

frogs plagues

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 13 2013

A Father’s Letter to His Unborn Son

By at 12:17 pm

father holding newborn son in arms

You are coming soon. And when you arrive, we will bless you. But for whom is this blessing? Is it for you? Or is it for us?

I can already feel the moment. It’s January, and the wind is leaking through the window. Your mother will be spent, and in the drafty night, crankily demand that I try to soothe you.

You will be at my shoulder, both of us stuck between sleep and alertness, barely able to see.

And then will come my blessing for you, remembering how my father and I recited the Shema together before bed. We would name each aunt, each uncle, each cousin, and then finish with a patriotic flourish that invited God to look after “all the Jewish people, the United States, and all Earth.”

Jacob to Manasseh and Ephraim. All the way down, from me to you. Read the rest of this entry →

Torah MOMentary: Blessings of the Breast & Womb

By at 10:20 am

black and white photograph mother breastfeeding baby

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 →

Nov 15 2013

Torah MOMentary: Let There Be Mama

By at 9:31 am


mama nametag

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 12 2013

How I’ll Carry on the Jewish Stories in my Interfaith Marriage

By at 7:21 pm

little girl reading book under blanket

My husband is not the first Jewish man I’ve ever loved. Years before I even met him, when I was 8 or 9, I was crushing on another Jewish guy. Huddled under a blanket at night with a flashlight and our family’s picture bible, I met Joshua, whose illustrated muscly arms, kind face, and friendly beard had me turning page after page. I watched him fight the battle of Jericho, and lead his people into Canaan. He was so young to have the great task of replacing Moses as the Israelites’ leader. Seriously, how do you follow an act like Moses? I was smitten.

But the truth is, it wasn’t only Joshua who had my heart. I loved all the characters in the stories I learned: Jacob, who must really have loved Rachel to work an additional seven years for her hand after Laban deceived him into marrying Leah; David, the poetic and musical son of Jesse, anointed to become one of Israel’s greatest kings; Abraham, to whom God promised descendants like the stars in the sky.

While my husband, like many of my friends, dreaded going to religious school, my siblings and I listened eagerly as our mother told us of vain and tortured Absalom and mimed him weighing his beautiful hair. Our eyes widened as we learned of Daniel, protected by God in the hungry lions’ den. We played along to a recording of “Elijah,” a children’s musical we found in a box of music my dad, our church’s choir director, received several times a year. We sang the names of each of Jacob’s sons, the 12 tribes of Israel. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 8 2013

Torah MOMentary: Why Are We Passing Down These Crazy Bible Stories?

By at 9:31 am

shutterstock_92585068

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 →

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