Rose Bud and Thorn

Every week at our Friday night Shabbat dinner table we go around the whole family sharing our “rose, bud, and thorn” from the week.  This was a tough week with a lot of thorns. It started with a family visit to my mother in Philadelphia. She has been sick so it was important for all of us to spend time with her. While there it was clear that Libi had come down with something. On Monday we came back from Philly to find out that Jessica our Au Pair who had gone home to Mexico for vacation was not allowed back into the country despite all of the work in advance to ensure that this would not be an issue. Libi was still sick so Adina stayed home with her on Tuesday. In the morning she called the doctor to get them to take a look at Libi. I got an emergency call from Adina after the doctor’s appointment that I needed to come back to be with the other children because she needed to take Libi to the hospital. I dropped everything and ran home. It was gross and raining. Right when I got home Adina ran out with Libi. Soon after I realized that the roof was leaking and I just had to laugh.

Adina spent the night in the emergency room with Libi. I came to relieve Adina Wednesday morning. In the afternoon I got a call from Yadid. He convinced the office to let him call because he wanted to know how his sister was doing. Wow that was so sweet. But then he pressed me and asked, ” Abba I am glad that she is doing better, did she get better around 9 this morning?” When I asked why he explained that spent 30 minutes prayer for her health that morning. Wow- Yadid is a Tzadik. We must be doing something right with our children. This is clearly my rose from the week.

I just got home 20 minutes ago with Libi from the hospital. Her full recovery is my bud for the coming week. Having a full week has reminded me to appreciate the entire flower of life. Shabbat Shalom



Psychoanalysis And Hanukah for Everyone

How do we light candles on Hanukah? On this there is a famous dispute between Hillel and Shammai. There we read:

Our Rabbis taught: The mitzva of Hanukah is one light for a man and his household. The zealous kindle a light for each person [in the household]. And for the extremely zealous, Shammai says: On the first day, light eight and thereafter, gradually reduce; but Hillel says: On the first day, light one and thereafter progressively increase … two sages differ [about the reasons]. One maintains that Shammai’s reason is that lights should correspond to the days still to come, and that of Beth Hillel is that lights should correspond to the days that are past. The other maintains that Shammai’s reason is that the lights should correspond to the bull sacrifices of Sukkot; while Hillel’s reason is that we increase in matters of sanctity, not reduce. (Shabbat 21b)

It is clear that we follow Hillel’s view regarding how the extremely zealous ought to light. There is much that has been and could be said to defend the view of Shammai, but what about the view the ordinary zealous person ? Why does the Gemara entertain the opinion to kindle a light for each person in the household? What is the significance of this stance?

An answer might come from Proverbs where we learn, “The spirit of man is the lamp of the Lord, searching all the inward parts.”(Mishlei 20:27) Here we depict that every person uniquely holds a divine flame. Some how this lamp is used to search all around the person. This resonates with much of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis assumes that a person’s development is determined by often forgotten events in early childhood rather than by inherited traits alone. In order to liberate the elements of the unconscious one has to bring this material into the conscious mind.

This practice echoes the Rabbinic story of Hanukkah. There we read:

What is Hanukah? As the Rabbis taught: The twenty-fifth of Kislev begins the eight days of Hanukah. When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple they defiled all the oil that was in the Temple. And when the rulers of the House of Hashmonean succeeded in gaining the upper hand and vanquished them, the Holy Temple was searched and but one flask of oil was found with the seal of the high priest still intact. There was only enough oil to last but one day. A miracle occurred and it lasted for eight days. The following year these days were established and made into festive days of Hallel and thanksgiving. (Shabbat 21b)

The story of Hanukah it the discovery of that which was hidden. Metaphorically we bring the unconscious hidden material into the conscious to ensure that live enlightened lives.

As a nation a miracle happened in the Temple. And on the simplest level we relive this by recreating our homes as the Temple by the lighting of a menorah with just ” one light for a man and his household”. The more zealous observance is to make sure that each and every member of the house does the work of exploring our collective and individual past. When we do this work we will surely increase and not decrease in light.

Rogue One: The Courage to Help Others Fit In.

In Vayeshev, this week’s Torah portion, we learn of the horrific story of Yosef’s brother’s selling him into slavery. The story starts off because Israel sets him apart from his brothers. There we read:

Now Israel loved Yosef more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a coat of many colors. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.( Genesis 37:3-4)

While you can appreciate their animosity toward their little brother, why did  they not try to find other ways of normalizing their relationship with him? There is this child with his coat of many colors, couldn’t they find other ways of making him fit in?

I was think about this recently when watching a wonderful commercial for Rogue One. I dare you to watch this without crying.


It is touching to see what her classmates are willing to do to help her fit in.

This story of Yosef and this commercial for Rogue One both remind me of a very touching story that Shoshi Rothchild the Associate camp director of Camp Kinneret-Biluim shared with me at a recent Board reception for the Foundation for Jewish Camp. At Camp Kinneret-Biluim, they refer to their community as a “chevra”. Shoshi wrote:

In the summer of 2009, one of my 10-year-old campers came to me with an extremely concerned look on her face, the evening before the entire camp was supposed to go to the waterslide park. She asked me, in a very serious voice, if it was okay for her to borrow 12 life jackets from the camp for the following day. I looked at her, confused, and asked why. It turns out that one of the girls in her cabin suffered from epilepsy and had just been told that she would have to wear a life jacket while at the waterpark, for safety reasons. She was so upset and embarrassed about the idea of wearing a life jacket that she had decided she would rather stay back at camp than join in on one of the most exciting trips of the summer. The camper who came to me wasn’t a particularly close friend of the other girl, but seeing one of her cabin mates so upset, and about to miss out on what would surely be an incredibly fun day, just didn’t sit well with her. She had decided that it only made sense for every single girl in her cabin to wear a life jacket right along with her, to save her the embarrassment, and ensure that she didn’t miss out on the fun. To me, this is the meaning of “chevra”, of kindness, of community, and of Jewish summer camp. I am proud to say that as of 5 days ago, this caring, empathetic, and community-minded camper received her offer to work as a first year staff on our staff team this year, and I can’t wait to see what wonderful Jewish values she teaches to her own campers this summer.

In Shoshi’s story as in the commercial for Rogue One we learn of the courage it takes to help someone fit in. Yosef’s brothers lack this courage and it spins out of control with them selling their brother into slavery. In today’s political climate we are seeing different groups and people being singled out all too often. Will we rise to the occasion and find ways to ensure that everyone has a place in the chevra, or will we be complacent and allow ourselves to sell our brothers into slavery?


Split Camp: Coming to Terms with Trump?

As we will see in VaYishlach, this week’s Torah portion, Jacob splits his family and live stock into shnei machanot– two camps- as a defensive measure in preparation for confronting his long estranged brother Esav. Under the cover of darkness Jacob sends the two camps over the river and then returns back over the river. As we all know too well. There is where he faces an angel by himself and wrestles till day break. There we read:

Vayivater Yaakov Livado vaYe’avek Ish imo ad  olot haShachar. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. (Genesis 32:25)

Rashi explains that the verb vaYe’avek is connected to the word avak– dust. As to say that they wrestled and got all dusty.

As well as we know the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, we often forget where it all happened. As we learned in VaYetzei, last week’s Torah portion, this happened in  Machanaim. It was there in Machanaim that Jacob resolved to return home. It was there in Machanaim that Jacob split his family into two Machanot– camps. It was there in Machanaim that Jacob realized the value of small things (See Rashi ad loc). It was there in Machanaim that Jacob wrestled with the angel. It was there in Machanaim that Jacob stopped running or could not run any more ( see hip injury). It was there in Machanaim that Jacob realized who he was. It was there in Machanaim his name was changed from Jacob to Israel.

We are so focused on his name and our name being Israel that we overlook the plain meaning of the text. This story of Jacob’s  travel to Machanaim  is in the context of his reconciliation with his estranged brother Esav. Before the Rabbis get to him, Esav seems like a really good guy who got manipulated out of his role as eldest and chosen child. While we repaint Esav as bad,  Jacob was the one in the wrong.

Is it possible that the name of this place being duel encampment has nothing to do with his strategic splitting of his wives and children, but instead of rift that existed between Jacob and his brother Esav? It was there is Machanaim that Jacob realized the work he needed to do to make peace with his brother. Is so doing  in Machanaim that Jacob became Israel. When we figure out how to include the marginalized elements of our family who we have wronged we too become Israel at Machanaim . The place of inclusion is surely Machaneh Elokim– God’s camp.

For many of us, we feel like Esav in that the election for the next president of this country was stolen. Every day that does by as Trump is putting together his administration we see how our larger camp is going to be split up. The lines of struggle are clear, what is not clear is how he will reconcile the two camps of Americans. While I will never grow in my tolerance of illegal and unethical actions at some point I hope to grow in appreciation for Trump’s presidency. To the victor goes the spoils, but also the responsibility of bringing peace to the camp.

In Our Kishkas: Jacob’s Ladder

In VaYetzei, this week’s Torah portion, we see a rich image of Jacob’s ladder. There we read:

And Jacob went out from Beer-sheva, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon the place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took one of the stones of the place, and put it under his head, and lay down in that place to sleep. He dreamed and saw a ladder standing on the ground and its top reached up toward heaven. God’s angels were ascending and descending on it (Genesis 28:10-12)

Jacob’s Dream by William Blake (c. 1805, British Museum, London)

What are we to make of this image? What is the meaning of this ladder? The Midrash explains that this ladder represented the future empires that would rule the world (Pirkei D’rebbi Eliezer ch. 35) In many ways this is seeing the ladder through the lens of “Ma’aseh Avot Siman L’Banim- Everything that happened to the patriarchs is an indication for their children( Bereishit Rabba 40:6) Jacob was a sleep during the comings and goings of all of our collective diaspora’s. ( More on this sleep)

On another level I am intrigued to think about Jacob’s Ladder in the context that it itself might be indicative for later generations. I was thinking about it in the context of this great article on epigenetics I read in the Guardian. The article reported in a study by Rachel Yehuda that showed

Genetic changes stemming from the trauma suffered by Holocaust survivors are capable of being passed on to their children, the clearest sign yet that one person’s life experience can affect subsequent generations. (The Guardian)

Jacob was running for his life, what if that trauma has been communicated to us his descendants through our genes? In this sense, things that happened to our ancestors actually indicate things for us their children. It really gives new meaning to the image of Jacob’s Ladder itself looks like the  double helix  ladder of  atoms that make up our DNA. Image result for DNA

While we are often depicted as a religion it is clear that we are also a people; it is in our very kishkas.

Choosing Poorly: Esav and America Post Trump

Reading Toldot, this week’s Torah portion, you cannot help but empathize with Esav getting suckered our of his birthright by his brother Yaakov. There we read:

And Yaakov made pottage; and Esav came in from the field, and he was faint.  And Esav said to Yaakov: ‘Let me swallow, I pray of you, some of this red, red pottage; for I am faint.’ Therefore was his name called Edom. And Yaakov said: ‘Sell me first your birthright.’ And Esav said: ‘Behold, I am at the point to die; and what profit shall the birthright do to me?’ And Yaakov said: ‘Swear to me first’; and he swore to him; and he sold his birthright to Yaakov. And Yaakov gave Esav bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way. So Esav despised his birthright.( Genesis 25:29-34)

On the simple level it seems that Esav was hungry and Yaakov used that as leverage to buy his birthright. But why did Esav despise this birthright in the end?

I can relate to Esav’s wanting to eat. What use is some distant reward when compared to the immanent need to eat? This is resonant with the Stanford marshmallow experiment. It seems to be as a nation when served two options of something that might take time and effort to materialize or something that promised imediate greatness- it is clear what we chose. Like Esav we too got duped into selecting the hot-headed twittering and smoldering orange bowl of lentils. Do we despise our birthright of liberty, freedom, and justice? We need to figure out if we will allow the Trump doctrine of hate, xenophobia,  and self-interest to become our new normal. Is already too late?

More on the Stanford marshmallow experiment

Once I was7 Years Old: Chaye Sarah

At the beginning of Chaye Sarah, this week’s Torah portion, we learn of Sarah’s passing away. We read:

And the life of Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years; [these were] the years of the life of Sarah. And Sarah died in Kiriat Arba, which is Hebron, in the land of Canaan, and Abraham came to eulogize Sarah and to bewail her.( Genesis 23:1-2)

It seems strange that the text does not just say that Sarah was 127 when she died. On this Rashi quotes the Midrash which says:

The reason that the word “years” was written after every digit is to tell you that every digit is to be expounded upon individually: when she was one hundred years old, she was like a twenty-year-old regarding sin. Just as a twenty-year-old has not sinned, because she is not liable to punishment, so too when she was one hundred years old, she was without sin. And when she was twenty, she was like a seven-year-old as regards to beauty. (Genesis Rabbah 58:1)

Reaching the end of life makes one reflect about all of life’s stages.

This Midrash reminds me of 7 Years Old by Lukas Graham. Check out the video:

It is worth a reading all the lyrics of this song with the Midrash in mind. But for now I wanted to focus on:

Soon I’ll be 60 years old, will I think the world is cold
Or will I have a lot of children who can warm me
Soon I’ll be 60 years old

Once I was seven years old, my mama told me
Go make yourself some friends or you’ll be lonely
Once I was seven years old

With the passing of time we cycle through our ages, stages, wishes, and aspirations. The wisdom of our elders is that they see the lives that they have lived in hindsight. The beauty of our youth is that we do not know how much we will mess up along the way. It is noteworthy in the song that at the beginning and end of life we are motivated to not be alone. Rashi also comments on the years of the life of Sarah, “All of them equally good.” We should all be blessed to live every stage of life equally full of good deeds and better company.

-Merry Turkey

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