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 →
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 12 2013
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
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 18 2013
This post is part of our new Torah commentary series. This week we read Parashat Vayera. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
This week’s Torah portion is called Vayera, and it tells the story of an extremely questionable parenting decision.
God commands Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. And Abraham agrees. In one of the most emotional, cinematic scenes in all of Torah, father and son walk slowly up the mountain. At the last minute, God provides a ram, and Isaac is spared.
But Abraham’s willingness to offer up his son has sparked many centuries of commentary. How could a father agree to such a thing? What was Abraham thinking? Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 11 2013
This post is part of our new Torah commentary series. This week we read Parashat Lekh L’kha. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
There is little that breaks the heart of a parent more than leaving their child in the care of a stranger for the first time. Daycare drop off, new babysitter, even the first day of kindergarten–these necessary experiences all yield that same gut punch: letting go of a sweaty hand, watching your tiny child–did they ever seem so small?–walk forward into the unknown. Your stomach drops. You inhale sharply. Did I just do that? Did I just send my baby off, alone?
Maybe she’s looking back at you, eyes enormous, and crying. Arms outstretched, in that moment, she doesn’t think she’ll survive without you near, and you don’t think you will either. Or, maybe he’s bolted forward and found a friend, a toy, or a teacher he takes to quickly. Maybe it’s a matter of hours before your child has adjusted; maybe it takes your kid weeks or months. Maybe your baby doesn’t ever adjust but you keep trying, you keep dragging her to the edge of the pool and throwing her in. “Go!” you say, “Swim!”
In this week’s Torah portion Lekh L’kha, we watch as God throws Abraham into the water. “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you,” God commands. Leave your home behind. Step into the unknown. Trust me. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 4 2013
This post is part of our new Torah commentary series. This week we read Parashat Noah. To read a summary of the portion and learn more, click here.
You know the dirty look you get at a café when you turn your back for a second and your toddler gets her sticky hands very close to the laptop of the guy working at the next table?
I used to feel terrible when I got that look. After all, not so long ago, I was that guy with the laptop. And so I know exactly what he’s thinking: “Can’t you control your child?”
To be clear: common courtesy is important. I don’t want my kid messing with my own laptop, much less anyone else’s. And if she’s making a ton of noise in a quiet place, I do my best to get her out of there as fast as I can.
But still, she’s a kid, and I’m a mother, and sometimes we’re on a walk and I woke up at 6 a.m. and I want a cup of coffee, and at those moments, we’re the obnoxious people in the hipster café. And in the past few months I’ve stopped feeling quite so bad about it. Read the rest of this entry →
Sep 10 2013
As a writer, I love words, but I’m pretty indifferent to the letters in the alphabet. When I’m typing, I don’t even glance at the keyboard. And of course, my children and my writing rarely mix, except when I send an otherwise polished email that abruptly ends in a flourish of ghnjopiarp!, the result of rogue little hands.
So the feat of “writing with children” took on meaning last month, when my preschoolers and I visited a sofer, or Torah scribe, at our synagogue in Rochester. The Torah, dating from the 1800s and entrusted to our congregation, had been destroyed in the Holocaust and was now being restored, one letter at a time–by the sofer and our congregants, tracing in tandem over 300,000 letters. And the week before Rosh Hashanah was my family’s turn to scribe a letter. Read the rest of this entry →
May 14 2013
Daniel in the lion’s den.
Living in a predominantly non-Jewish environment, we make a conscious effort to cultivate our kids’ Jewish identities. So I bought a couple of Bible storybooks, wanting to give my kids the main highlights of biblical narrative.
While I love Torah study and recognize that every word is ripe with meaning, I now see how the “juicy” parts of biblical narrative are difficult to digest. And when we cozy up on the couch at bedtime, I am confronted with page after page of troubling tales. There’s the fratricide of Cain and Abel, the slavery and the killing of the firstborn child in Egypt, Samson murdering his aggressors and committing suicide in the Samson and Delilah narrative, and of course, a Prophet Daniel and his brush with death in the Lion’s den (spoiler alert: he comes out alive). Night after night I find myself sanitizing these stories, glossing over the violent acts that are hard for me to swallow. Read the rest of this entry →