Saturday, 28 October 2017

There is an Avraham in Every Jew

Lech Lecha לֶךְ-לְךָ is the name of this week’s Parasha (Torah portion) from Beresheet 12:1 – 17:27

Each year as we get to reading it, the Jew in me is, yet again, filled with awe witnessing the courage of Avraham, our forefather. To be able to pick up one’s past life, leave the comforts of one’s Home and follow the directives of a voice, a calling, be it external or internal and face the unknown, does indeed require much valour, resolution and bravery. Avraham certainly took the road “less traveled by” in the words of Robert Frost and that made “all the difference.”

And that move, that major step by Avraham, as we Jews believe, has changed the face and the essence of humanity forever.

At this point, I would endeavor to say that Avraham was not the first one to whom that “voice” spoke. I would say, however, that he was probably the first one that heard it, listened to it and followed its command.

Though not every Jew is a born Avraham, we all have some of him in us. We all possess the potential to make a difference, small or major, in our world. Such opportunities present themselves to us on our Life’s path almost daily. Unfortunately, many of us miss them, intentionally or otherwise. We miss them for several reasons.

First and foremost, some Jews have chosen to continue to live in their comfort zone and any effort to rattle it is rejected by them. 

Others, sadly enough, have simply elected to tune out of the dynamic world that surrounds them. They have decided to seal their ears and resuscitate the blinders over their eyes. The sounds of their inner silence have become their new idols, their panacea. “It is not my problem,” they keep telling themselves as they engage in their selfish dialogues in a futile effort to justify their choice.

I was one of those. Though the fighter in me never ceased her battles, I rarely responded to the calling, until over 8 years ago.

I was residing in the UK at that time, living a comfortable lifestyle, mingling with all the who’s and who’s through family connections and work. I was at last, I felt, enjoying the fruits of my labour from long and hard previous years.

Then, one bright day, it hit me. I paid heed to the voice that was calling me. I stopped and listened to it. It kept asking, “So what’s next? You have done for yourself and nicely so. Is that the legacy you want to leave in this world. Is that what your Jewishness is all about?”

There was only one alternative left for me: moving back to Eretz Yisrael and doing for our Jewish people and our future here. It was time to make that long dormant dream, buried deep inside of me, a reality. I followed that voice and, just like Avraham, I have been blessed, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The dictate of “Lech Lecha” is what being Jewish is all about. It is a directive that has run like a golden thread through the spiritual DNA of our Jewish generations. It is our duty as Jews to dare, to go against the stream and to venture. That has been not only our duty but our destiny as well. That is the key to our survival, Past, Present and Future.

My dear fellow Jews, we each have different voices calling us. We each hold different vocations, some are easier to achieve than others. Regardless of the magnitude and the significance of our calling, each carries a blessing.

So, let us give rise to the Avraham that is in us, harness our courage and wisdom and follow in the footsteps of the great first Hebrew. Let our ancient Spirit, prudence and invincibility guide us. Let it take us through the road “less traveled by.” Let us embark on our destined journey and leave our footprints not only on that road but also on the hearts and souls of many others for many years to come.

Shavua tov

Special thanks to Michal Dar-El.

Saturday, 21 October 2017


תִּמְשָׁל (Timshal) is a Hebrew word which means “you shall control or rule.” It is mentioned in Beresheet chapter 4 in the story of Cain and Abel, Adam and Eve’s two sons.

G-d requests that they each sacrifice a gift to Him. He accepts Abel’s offering and rejects that of Cain. Naturally, Cain is upset, even jealous. G-d must have known that Cain would be tempted to punish his brother for that and was about to commit a sin, a crime and suggests to Cain to resist and triumph over it: “ לַפֶּתַח חַטָּאת רֹבֵץ; וְאֵלֶיךָ, תְּשׁוּקָתוֹ, וְאַתָּה, תִּמְשָׁל-בּוֹ.” (“sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be its desire, and thou shalt rule over it”). To me, the word “Timshal” encapsulates responsibility and our human capability to choose between good and evil.

Cain ignores G-d’s words and kills his brother Abel. G-d then punishes Cain by banishing him.

Why did I decide to write about this, you might ask?

The reasons are twofold. The first is because it was part of Parashat Hashavua, the Torah portion, last week. The second bears just as much importance to me on personal and professional levels.

Recently, I have been teaching my English class a story by Langston Hughes. It is called “Thank you Ma’am.” The story tells about a young boy, Roger, who, one night, attempts to rob an older woman by the name of Ms. Jones. It is an excellent story with a great lesson and I highly recommend that you all read it.

The boy, as he later shares with his victim, tries to rob her because he wants to buy a new pair of shoes and needs the money. Temptation and greed drive him to break the law and commit a crime. Ms. Jones could easily turn him to the police and forget about him. Instead, she takes him into her home, offers him to wash his face, comb his hair and shares her meager meal with him. Most importantly, she teaches him a very valuable lesson. I call it the lesson of Timshal.  Evidently, she, too, had, at one time, difficulty in choosing between good evil, right over wrong.  “I were young once and I wanted things I could not get,” she proceeds to tell him. “I have done things, too, which I would not tell you, son.”

I would venture to say that most of us have done “things” in our lives, some worse than others. Temptation which in turn may lead us to break laws or some moral code, lurks at the doorstep for almost all of us. Many of us want bigger homes, better clothes, more expensive cars or other luxuries which we cannot afford. These temptations may lead us to doing “things” that are not always right. How many of us have asked themselves and maybe more than once, “was my deed good or bad? Have I done right or wrong?” It is an individual struggle. Some can control the urge to cross that threshold more than others. Some are just too weak to resist it.

Before she bids him farewell, Ms. Jones gives Roger a ten-dollar bill so that he can buy the shoes he so desires. As he leaves her home, she tells him, “But I wish you would behave yourself, son, from here on in.” The readers are left with the feeling of hope, a sensation that he will have learned that precious lesson and the importance of choosing good over evil.

Another book that one of my beloved students has recently chosen to do a book report on, “East of Eden,” by Steinbeck, is another example of a literary creation that employs the Beresheet concept of Timshal as one of its main themes, if not the most important one. There, the association is even more explicit than in Hughes’ story.
Firstly, is Steinbeck’s choice of title: it is to the lands which are East of Eden that G-d banishes Cain. Secondly, the selection of the name Adam, the name of the father of the two feuding twin brothers, Aron and Cal. (resembling the story in Beresheet, Cal causes the death of his brother Aron, albeit indirectly).

Thirdly, and most importantly in my view, the association to the Torah story is condensed by the repeated use of the Hebrew word “Timshal” (Timshel).

It is Lee, Adam’s dedicated and educated housekeeper who has researched the meaning of this Hebrew word and who is eventually instrumental in helping the family become a cohesive unit. As Lee attempts and succeeds in convincing Adam and Cal of the cogency of the concept of “Timshal,” father and son make peace and Cal realizes the power that rests in him to overcome evil.

As a teacher, I hope that we all internalize this important lesson and learn that overcoming evil is not only part of making this world a better place but also that it is up to us, through our power of free will, the most precious of human capabilities, to make it happen.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

In the beginning....

As we start reading the Torah over, I cannot cease, yet again, to marvel at its wisdom. Some believe it was written by G-d, the ultimate composer. Others believe it was written under Divine Inspiration. Whatever the source, its cup of wisdom certainly “runneth over.”

Whenever I read the first chapter of Beresheet (Genesis) which recounts the story of creation, I am enthralled by the recurring sensation that whoever wrote it several thousand years ago, must have had some understanding of science and the laws of nature.

I am not a scientist, I do not profess to be one. I am, however, intrigued.
As a lay person, I can only eandevour to address this complex issue of creation, a topic which, admittedly, has fascinated me for years and lead me to form the impressions which I have had about its narrator.

At the outset of the Book, the author states: בְּרֵאשִׁית, בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים, אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם, וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ")In the Beginning G-d created the Heaven and Earth) which, as Rashi explains does not merely mean “ in the beginning” but rather “In the beginning of” the process where G-d set to create the world. In fact in that verse, we are told that three very important pillars of our existence were formed, Time, Space and Matter.

 Then we are told that “"וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ  (the Earth was Tohoo Vavoho) indicating that it was chaotic before G-d put it in order. As I stated, I am not a scientist, far from that, but nowadays, we know of studies by physicists which confirm that the expansion of the early universe at the time of the big bang, was highly chaotic. The first chapter in Bresheet unfolds to us the sequence of events that shaped our world as we know it today.

“Let there be light,” is the first act of creation. Every child knows that the sun is the source of light yet the sun, the moon and the heavenly bodies were created only later. There goes the theory that the entity that composed this recount was ignorant of the laws of science. I can partially agree with it. In our time and age, we are still discovering facts about our universe. Just as the understanding that the earth was round came at a later stage, so perhaps did the awareness that the sun is the source of Light came later to the people of the Tanach. When the “the big Light” and the “small Light” were created, according to Bresheet, they were for the sole purpose of distinguishing between the day and night and to determine the special and Holy Days, months and years.” לְהַבְדִּיל, בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה; וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים, וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים
The composer of the chapter of creation, however, was, like modern humans, aware that Light was energy, the source of all living in our universe. And that indicates that some understanding of the laws of nature did exist already then.

Next is the act of separation between “הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ, וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ “ the upper water and the lower water,” Heaven and Earth, or as Bersheet calls it
  שמים,  ארץ  וימים “dry land,  seas and sky. The Hebrew word for sky is Shamayim. It means, “there is water there.” I can only envisage the Biblical people staring at the sky, seeing that it is blue just like the sea water next to them and concluding that the blue up above, up there, is the same blue of the water near them.

Following that, came the creation of the plants and trees. Surely, we all know that without the process of photosynthesis in which plants are an important factor and which produces oxygen,  no life could ever exist on our planet. The composer of the first chapter of Bresheet must have also known that.

Another scientific fact that is well known to modern day scholars is that life originated in the sea. The author of the first chapter of Bresheet seems to have known that too. The creation of tetrapods: the four-limbed vertebrates, had to be preceded by the creation of the various creatures of the sea.

Finally, comes the creation the animals, the reptiles and all living creatures that can survive on land, culminating with the highest forms of living, Man and Woman.

וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ, בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ And G-d created Man in His image, tells us the author of this fascinating first chapter of Bresheet. We all know that the reference is not to a physical image but rather that hidden spark of G-d that each one of us holds.

May that spark shine through and ignite our world with Light, Love and every blessing.

Shavua tov!