Student Teaching in the New Millenium

Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page

A New Year Prayer 2012

In General on December 31, 2011 at 9:22 pm

We bless the old year
We strove
We shrugged
We celebrated
We bless the new year
Fear no trial
Fear no triviality
Fear no treasure
We bless our family
May all endings
Be new beginnings
Be new becomings
Of parents
Of peacekeepers
Our progeny

May we all take root and flourish.

Shabbat Blessing (4th, Tevet 5772)

In General on December 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm

It’s been a long week
Wipe the sweat from your brow
You’ve finished planting your vineyard
Now enjoy the sweet wine
Recline upon soft pillows
Pull your wife into your lap
Laugh and play with your children
Take a well earned nap

Shabbat Shalom

Life Is But A Dream? (Miketz 5772)

In Genesis on December 30, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Woke up from my dream
Went downstairs for coffee then
Woke up from my dream

1 Kings 3.15 – 4.1
Genesis 41.1 – 44.17

Miketz is translated “the end.” The end of what? Shouldn’t this parsha be the last in Genesis?

Our parsha states And it came to pass at the end of two years, Pharaoh dreamed (Gen. 41.1). Then we read about the seven good and bad kine, and the seven good and bad ears, and Pharaoh sending (vayishlach) and calling (vayikra) for Joseph (shem) at the end (miketz). Joseph explains that Egypt would see seven years of extreme plenty followed by seven years of extreme want.

Let us ask: what is ending? Is ending also beginning? Two years end, and seven years begin. Seven years end, and another seven years begin. What comes after the next seven years?

What else ends? Genesis is the beginning, starting with in the beginning (Gen. 1.1). But is Genesis really the beginning? Could Genesis also be an ending? And ending of what? The logical answer to me is “whatever came before Genesis.” And what came before that? I believe we can go back like this, recursively, forever.

What does this teach? The nature of the teachings are timeless. Where can we find support for this?

Now therefore write ye this song for you, and teach thou it the children of Israel. (Deut. 31.19)

Hear, my son, the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the teaching of thy mother;
For they shall be a chaplet of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck.
(Proverbs 1.8-9)

He will drink of the brook in the way; therefore will he lift up the head. (Ps. 110.7)

Maimonides cites Deuteronomy 31:19 as the source for the commandment to write our own Torah scrolls. The Rambam further writes that “since the lack of one Torah letter causes a Torah Scroll to be invalid, the commandment can be fulfilled by writing a single letter of a completed scroll.” (Hilchot Sefer Torah 7.1*) Whether you write an entire Torah scroll by yourself, or write one letter of one, or cooperate with others to write a complete Sefer Torah (Rav Moshe Feinstein*), if you do nothing else, you expose yourself to the teachings and their meaning in whatever age you live in.

It is important to understand that “timeless” and “unchanging” are two different things. I cite our passage from Proverbs to support this. Do parents always agree on what and how to teach their children? Of course not. Did our parents see things exactly the same way as their parents? Of course not. We can go back like this, recursively, forever. Evidence of this? Torah means Truth, yet we have thousands of years of discussion (arguement!) over what this Truth actually Is. See any Commentator’s Bible by Michael Carasik or any Gemara from the Talmud to establish this. Learn: Talmud is a compilation of teachings that came before.

By the same token, we will not see things the same way as our parents, and our children will not see things the same way as us. What we receive from our parents, which we receive verbatim or work out for ourselves, is a chaplet of grace. What sets us in our ways, because he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that bringeth forth its fruit in its season, and whose leaf doth not wither; and in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper (Ps. 1.3) can also be chains about thy neck (Proverbs 1.9), when you don’t see eye to eye with your children.

Let’s dive further. Are fathers consistently more right than mothers? Of course not. Is everyone right all the time? Of course not. Yet we are told to listen to both consistently: the text does not say some. Why not? Again, we quote Maimonides, from his commentary on Pirkei Avot.

[There are times] when a person is not really qualified to be your teacher; nevertheless let them teach you, make it possible for him to teach you. If you do this you will acquire wisdom – for there is no comparison between studying by oneself and studying with another person. When one studies with another person, he remembers better what he has learned, the material is more clearly understood by him, even when his companion is no more than his equal in wisdom, or even when his companion is inferior to him.**

A plain application of this statement to our discussion is that both parents are teachers. Another is that both parents are not always present to teach a child, so heed whichever is present. Another interpretation is to be open to knowledge wherever it may find you, whether it is right or wrong, and regardless of the qualifications of the source. Here’s an example from my personal life: I performed a task at work today that my supervisor had asked me to do recently. When I was nearly done my supervisor asked me why I performed the work. I reminded this person that the task had been given me and never rescinded, to which this person responded that the task had been forgotten altogether but, had it been remembered, would have been rescinded. I’d actually been glad to do the work because it led to deeper knowledge of the business, and I told this person so. What does this achieve? Valuable education, a positive interaction with a supervisor, and a reputation for an attitude of success and growth. All this has been reaped from a person’s mistake.

How does this relate to our parents? Have you ever heard the phrase, “learn from our mistakes?” Or “learn from our failings?”

Lastly, David the Psalmist teaches: throughout the ages, Wisdom always flows for us to drink and see Truth, whatever that Truth may be. What we drink is for us only.

If the teachings are timeless, is time timeless? No. Time is the nature of time. Does this mean that time is without beginning and without end? We don’t know. Is it any of our business? The secret things belong unto the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deut. 29.29)

Can we infer: Our parsha states And it came to pass at the end of two years, Pharaoh dreamed (Gen. 41.1). What is ending? Two years. What is beginning? Seven years. Time flows as time flows, but we experience it through the phases of our lives. Endings and Beginnings. Two years, then seven years, then seven years, are separate experiences.

The parsha states, however, Pharoah dreamed. So, did seven years begin, or Pharoah’s dreams? Pharoah’s dreams are shown to reflect realities of plenty followed by hunger. So, are Pharoah’s dreams really dreams? Or reality?

What happened before Genesis? Was the darkness in Genesis 1.2 an ending or a beginning? An ending to what? The logical answer to me is “whatever came before Genesis.” Or, if you like, a dream. Where did God’s ideas for the world come from? Some legends say that the Torah was at this beginning with God. And where did the Torah come from?

What else is ending? The childhood of the Israelites, the stories of our Matriarchs and Patriarchs, and Genesis itself. The ending begins here! Israel descends to Egypt, and then Genesis sends (vayishlach) us to what’s calling (vayikra) us by name (shemot) at the end (miketz).

The parsha states, however, at the end of two years, Pharaoh dreamed. And Pharoah’s dreams are shown to reflect reality. So what came first, I wonder? Is Genesis the dream and Exodus the reality? Or is Genesis the reality and Exodus the dream?

Where does dreaming end and reality begin?

Where does talking stop and action start?

Footnotes:

* From Torah-Letters.com

** From The Living Talmud by Judah Goldin

*** Words are Worlds

Where dreams end and reality begins

Thoughts on Prayer: How Do You Pray?

In ReBlogged on December 23, 2011 at 10:28 pm

A fantastic discussion started by a talented English student, begging the question, what is prayer?

Second Sons (5772 Vayeshev)

In Genesis on December 23, 2011 at 1:02 am

On Memorial Stones of Two Brothers, Olaus_Magnus, 1555

We recline at ease
Revel in our own splendor
Cheap towards fellow men

Amos 2:6 -3:8
Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

 

 

 

What is the meaning of Joseph’s childhood dreams? Does he foretell his primacy over his brothers? Does he foretell that he will rule over Israel? Does the dream of the wheat sheaves foretell his personal ascendancy over his brothers, or the ascendancy of Egypt over the other nations during the famine? Was the dream of the stars about him?

Behold, I have dreamed yet a dream: and, behold,
the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.

37:9

Did the stars in Joesph’s dream really bow down to Joseph? How can I ask this question? It seems to me that the prediction of the sheaves is fulfilled when Joseph’s brothers visit him in Egypt for food. Does the stars dream mean the same thing? Here is Jacob’s interpretation of the dream:

His father berated him.
Are we to come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow low to you to the ground?”
So his brothers were wrought up at him, and his father kept the matter in mind.

37:10

Is Jacob truly berating Joseph? Or patronizing him as parents often do children with childish fantasies? Jacob’s response comes immediately after Joseph shares his dream with him in the text, before Joseph could continue or interpret the dream himself. Is Jacob discouraging Joseph from pursuing grandiose behavior? Joseph is a passive voice for the remainder of the parsha, and much of his story as well.

Either way, Jacob kept the matter in mind or, in other translations, withheld judgement. Why withhold judgement if the matter is settled? Is a settled matter equivalent to a judged one? Further, how can Joesph’s mother bow to him when she is dead?

Who could the stars be bowing to? Judah? How can I ask this? Jacob assigns Judah the birthright, so it would be appropriate for Joseph’s star to bow to Judah. I ask my readers: why not? Further, Judah establishes himself as a role model. His is the judgement and the leadership that his brothers eventually follow, and Jacob too, when Joseph requests Benjamin come down to Egypt. So too in this, the family bows to Judah. I ask my readers: why not?

If we accept this as so, how could Joseph have put himself in Judah’s place?

What second son doesn’t dream dreams of lording it over their older brothers? What third or fourth or fifth, or even first, doesn’t? Who doesn’t dream of having power over others at some point in their lives?

Amos rebukes Israel, saying

They recline on every altar
On garments taken in pledge.

2:8

There was once a man who was renowned for being stingy. One day, he decided he didn’t want to be called stingy anymore, so he asked a friend for advice. His friend said, “throw a banquet and invite everyone in our village. Prepare enough food to feed everyone twice over.” The man did as his friend said. At the banquet, the people promptly ate all of the food and complained of how stingy the man was. The man said to his friend, “you said if I did this thing, that I wouldn’t be called stingy anymore.” The friend replied, “it is because you did this thing simply to stop being called stingy, and did not do this thing to be truly generous.”

Of all the altars in the world we worship first and foremost at our own, and at that at the expense of neighbors and loved ones.

Chanukah Questions (5772)

In Midrash on December 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm

Copyright © 2011 The author

We pursue Justice
This is light. This is the good
that we stumble on.

Chanukah is not just about the miracle of the oil. Chanukah is about the military victory of Israel over Antiochus. The Rabbis emphasized the story of the oil because, to them, it was inappropriate to celebrate a war victory as a religious holiday. What does this teach us about war and religion? What do they say about each other? How can we turn this into a positive lesson for humanity, and a healing balm for our troubled times?

Why do we read about spoils of war on each day of this holiday? Isn’t it ironic that such are the Torah’s words on a holiday dedicated to “peace?”

Why kindle lights to honor a war?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NASA discovers Kepler B-22. So what? (aish.com)

In ReBlogged on December 15, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Watch to the end. Rabbi Salomon asks us three questions. The last is in the form of a statement, and is the one we all face.

Healing “Spiritual Deficiency Syndrome” (reformjudaismmag.org)

In Midrash, ReBlogged on December 15, 2011 at 8:59 pm

It has become abundantly clear that science and technology have given us undreamed-of conveniences—but not happiness. Nothing is guaranteed to bring happiness, yet we relentlessly pursue it. Shall we conclude that happiness is a delusion beyond our reach? Is it possible that some human beings have a condition that prevents them from being happy?

This is a fantastic article by Abraham Twerski in this month’s Reform Judaism Magazine. He makes incredible points about the present human condition. My question is: how do we bring water to a parched field?

Read more at:
http://reformjudaismmag.org/Articles/index.cfm?id=2931

Your Family Tree (5772 Vayishlach)

In Genesis on December 15, 2011 at 8:48 pm

Family, keep you
Close, and love them, for they are
Yours, from root to leaf

Obadiah 1:1 – 1:21
Genesis 32:4 – 36:43

At this time last year, I questioned:  why record the generations of Esau?

Why record the generations of Esau?  In plain terms, Esau was Jacob’s brother, and Abraham’s descendant.  It can be said that he warrants this treatment for his part in our family tree.  At the same time, as we’ve discussed, Esau is often considered a villain.  Does the Pentateuch award villains with such treatment?  So, how did Esau merit such treatment?

Is villain a subjective term?  Was Hitler a villain?  Yes, he was.  From his perspective?  No, he wasn’t.  Is he remembered? Yes he is, in newspapers, on television, and even in video games.  So is the Torah recording Esau’s family for posterity solely that we may know the members of a villainous family?  Does this sound appropriate for an etz chaim?

To what can we liken such an interpretation? To someone who calls everyone in the room an ass, when there is only one ass in the room.

Does Hitler have any surviving family?  The last member of his immediate family, Paula, died in 1960.  Extended family?  Notably, and noticeably, they are absent.

Ramban teaches us how eager people were to attach themselves to Abraham’s descendants.  Was Esau a villain?  No.  But the wicked will be cut off from the land.  (Proverbs 2:22)  Was Esau cut off from the land?  Are his actions the actions of someone utterly evil, or merely those of a jilted family member?  What are Esau’s flaws?

Is every member of your family perfect?

Ladder to Humble-ness (5772 Vayetzei)

In Genesis on December 8, 2011 at 12:29 am

Jacob's Stairway?

Climbing, gasping
Up clouds, mountains, and pine boughs
What happens if we fall?

Hosea 12:13 – 14:10
Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

What is a ladder? Dictionary.reference.com says:

1. a structure of wood, metal, or rope, commonly consisting of two sidepieces between which a series of bars or rungs are set at suitable distances, forming a means of climbing up or down.
2. something resembling this.
3. a means of rising, as to eminence: the ladder of success.
4. a graded series of stages or levels in status; a hierarchical order of position or rank: high on the political ladder.
5. Nautical . companionway ( def. 1 ) .

Definition 1 is literal. Definitions 2, 3, and 4 are metaphorical. Definition 5 is literal, in the nautical application.

What was Jacob’s ladder made of? Was it made of rope, metal, or wood, or some other material? Many artists’ renditions depict a structure of marble, stone, or glass or air. How does material affect the teaching?

Artists also like render the ladder as a stairway, opening up to heaven, with angels on either side, beckoning to Jacob. How does this affect the teaching? Does this fit in the context of Jacob’s narrative?

How do we know Jacob was at the bottom of the stairway, and not under it? How do we know the stairway to heaven was accessible to him? What was to stop Jacob from climbing to heaven if it were? Did the stairway rise for Jacob, or against him? How does this fit the teaching? Does that fit in the context of Jacob’s narrative?

It is a human inclination to assume chosen-ness is inherited and not earned. Is this inclination present in the parsha? It would seem so: Jacob goes on from his dream, after God promises to be with him, to put conditions on his acceptance of God. If God will be with me (Genesis 28:20), he says. Is this doubt of God’s word? Is this arrogance? Jacob’s mercenary behavior in the previous parsha could be at work, too. What about fear? The text says, Jacob left Beer-sheba, and set out for Haran. He came upon a certain place. (v.11) Why use the phrase certain place? Jacob says and if I return safe to my father’s house…and this stone…shall be God’s abode. (v.21-22) This certain place is not referenced again. Why not say and if I return to this place? For the same reason the place is called a certain place: so as not to reveal it’s location. It may be a hiding place. Could the certain place be close enough to his father’s house to be his father’s house? “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!” (v.16) Another explanation: Jacob was in such fear of Esau that promising to return to this exact spot was irrelevant. Jacob could mean “let me return safe to my father’s home first, where my brother Esau dwells, and survive his wrath.” Either interpretation accepts fear.

How would you feel if you ran away from home because someone who lived there wanted you dead?

Why is Jacob’s condition necessary to Jacob’s accepting God’s word? Nehama Leibowitz explains:

We may answer that no “deal” is involved. But if God would not grant him to return to his father’s house, how would he be able to erect a temple on the spot? All that Jacob’s vow implied was: “Give me the possibility of serving You.” It provides the archetype for future formulators of vows which are not meant to be commercial deals with the Almihty but petitions for His help in granting man opportuity to give of himself, his life and soul to God.

–Studies in Bereshit, p.307

In other words, if Jacob gets himself killed, which he is wont to do if our previous parsha is any indication, how can Jacob serve God? Or anybody?

Is this reasonable doubt of the idea that Jacob’s response to God was an expression of arrogant chosen-ness and presumption? Are artistic depictions of stairways opening to Jacob inaccurate and biased? Does the parsha issue any rebuttals to these ideas?

According to the Midrash:

R. Huna said in the name of R. Aha: It is stated:
“And behold I am with thee” and it is also stated: “If God will be with me”?
But from here we may conclude that there is no promise for the righteous in this world.

–Bereshit Rabba

Was Jacob grappling with God’s faithfulness? Or his own?