Chayei Sarah ~ it’s all about the women

And how fitting that this weeks’ portion is all about the women as we are in the midst of a firestorm of public accusations of sexual harassment and assault.  And even more importantly, a raft of local and state elections that in many instances favored women, often first time candidates.  Resistance has turned to running; and winning.

In this Torah portion Sarah, the first matriarch, dies at the age of 127 although Abraham, theoretically 137, is still alive.  Sarah is buried in a cave in Hebron and Abraham sends his servant off to find a wife for his son, Isaac, now I think 27; an advanced  age for marriage in those days.

The servant, Eliezer, asks G-d for a sign, understandable in light of the gravity of the task.  The sign comes when Rebecca show kindness to him and his camels, passing his “test”.  I love that the sign is kindness and generosity.  But it gets a little complicated here as Rebecca is the daughter of Abraham’s brother.  But nevertheless….

Rebecca is asked if she will go with this stranger, leave her home, her father’s house, and marry Isaac who she does not know.  And although her brothers wish a delay, she says yes and goes.  She duly marries Isaac and, by all accounts, is loved.

Finally, Hagar reappears as Abraham’s final wife giving him six more sons.  And so in the end, this portion is about the stamina, influence, loyalty and downright bravery of the women.  Sarah, who has made difficult choices but endured.  Rebecca who has had the courage to say hineini and march into her unknown future.  And Hagar who has seen her share of miracles.

When we bless our children we say “make them like….”.  And we name these matriarchs and patriarchs.  We are so in need of that blessing now.  No matter what your world views there can be little dispute that we are living in difficult, chaotic and frightening times.

So my wish for this Shabbat is that we have the stamina and enduring strength to make the hard choices as Sarah did.  That we have the courage to go forward boldly into the unknown as Rebecca did.  That we have the open mindedness to see the miracles that could save us as Hagar did.

May the examples of these women inspire us all; may we be like them always.  Shabbat shalom.

Vayeira – Do you believe in Magic?

This Torah portion, seminal, climatic, critical, is often cited as one of the most difficult in the Torah because it includes the story of the binding of Isaac among other things.  This portion also includes the story of Hagar and the near death of her son Ishmael and the story of Sodom and Gomorrah again, among other things.  As if this wasn’t enough.

But this portion is full of magic.  G-d reveals himself to Abraham three days after the first circumcision.   Angels appear to Abraham predicting the birth of a son.  Sarah and Abraham have a son, Isaac, when they are 100 and 90 respectively.  Could only be magic.  Hagar, having been banished with her son from Abraham’s house faces Ishmael’s death in the desert.   But she is shown water like magic; saving his, and presumably her, life.  Lot is saved, although his wife is not.  Finally, Isaac is saved from being slaughtered by his father by a voice from heaven and the miraculous appearance of a ram to take his place.

Miracles and wonders.  Do we believe in miracles in this our modern world? Perhaps they are not so plain or easy to see.   Do we stop and try to see the miracles all around us.  Faith as magic.  I wasn’t 90 when he was born, but the birth of my son felt like a miracle.  [tweetshare tweet=”Singing feels like a miracle. The wind on my skin feels like a miracle.  Every time I can say my bills are paid and there is nothing I need, that is a miracle.  Waking up every morning; every breath I take, those are miracles.  Love is a miracle.” username=”@trienahm”]

So whether you take these stories literally, or like me consider them allegorical, as morality stories, there is magic in them.  Two children are saved by the grace of G-d.  A son is given to two aged seniors.  Angels appear.

And there is magic all around us.  It is hard to find, to see in the crazy world we are living in, but it is there.  In the setting of the sun, in the rising of the moon, in the stars and the waves.  In the laughter of our children and the wisdom of our elders.  In the reaction of salt and acid and the unconditional love of a dog.  Make your own list.

Do you believe in magic?  I do.


Lech L’cha ~ Where do I go from here

Every time I study this Torah portion I think of Debbie Friedman’s beautiful song Lechi  Lach.  Abraham is commanded to go forth, to leave his land, his birthplace, his father’s house to a place unknown to him.  G-d says I will show you the land where you are going and make of you a great nation.

I am always amazed at what Abraham is required to do, in Genesis, without knowing why or what, and at his willingness to to just do. As always, many other things happen in this portion, not the least of which is the birth of sons to Abraham and Sarah, the start of two great nations.  These sons come very late in their lives and I can relate as the mature mother of a son, but that is another story.  And G-d seals the covenant promising Abraham the  land that would be our eternal heritage, the land he will never see. Would we still be Israel if Abraham had not been so willing?

Leaps of faith, think of times in your life when you have had to make such a leap.  I have known those moments. I stood, for example, in a hospital lobby and was handed a five day old baby boy with only a promise, no papers, that he would be mine.  He was, he is, and he is 24.  When I needed help, I was told that there was a group of people that could help me change my life, I did not know how or them, but some 30 years ago they did and still do.

I find myself again at one of those life moments.  Much of the time, the future is generally somewhat predictable with the exception of extraordinary or catastrophic events.  But then there are those times when the future is not only unpredictable, it is unknowable, imponderable, unimaginable.  Where will I live, what will I do, who will I love, who will love me?  I no longer have my parents home to leave or return to, one left for good some six years ago, and one soon enough. Despite the roots I have put down, I feel rootless, grounded only in faith.  Is this how Abraham felt when he journeyed to Canaan not knowing what came next, knowing only G-d’s promise of the good to come?

There is a Lubavitcher midrash that says that this moment, the start of Abraham’s journey to becoming, is the start of the search for the spark of holiness in everything in the material world.  What a quest, to find holiness in everything.  Isn’t that the search we should be on?

So, blind faith. The willingness to journey on despite the not knowing.  The willingness to believe that there is yet good around the next bend.  Blind faith, the leap.  Abraham was willing and we became Israel.   I am willing, are you?

Shabbat shalom


Vayeira ~ The Face of Faith

 Shabbat Shalom.   Yes, I know, it has been a while.  Life is good, life is busy, life is hard… God understands. 

This week’s portion, Vayeira, is unbelievably chock full of climactic and important events. When I first read it, I couldn’t begin to know where to start. First we have the promise to Sarah, and later the birth, of a son in her later years. We have Sodom and Gomorrah and Lot’s wife turning to salt as Lot flees with his sons. After the birth of Isaac we see Hagar and Ishmael cast out and Hagar’s despair believing the death of her son is near. Finally, we have the binding of Isaac, one of the most troubling portions in the Torah. There is more, These are just the highlights.

There are so many themes it is hard to know which to look at, which to talk about…..there’s the fallibility of humans and human love, Abraham and Sarah, Abraham and Hagar, Hagar and Ishmael, Soddom and Gomorrah; there is the struggle between human love and fallibility and the love of God – the story of Abraham and Isaac.  What struck me, this time, is that this portion is filled with stories of parents and sons and the role of faith in the parenting relationship.

In this week’s portion, Sarah is told she will have a child in old age. She doesn’t believe, in fact she laughs at the notion, but then . . . she does. As Hagar turned away from her son when their water ran out, God opened her eyes and she saw a well, the source of her salvation and, more importantly the salvation of her son. Finally Abraham is tested by the unseen, by God, and when he responds in faith, God’s presence is shown, is seen, and Isaac is saved. These are some of the most troubling stories in all of the Torah, with the exception of Sarah’s story, although the idea of having a child at such an advanced age could be troubling.  But, as you read, you think how could Hagar turn from her son at the time of what she believed would be his death.  How could Isaac be willing to kill his son for God.  I cannot imagine these things; I would throw myself in front of a train to save my child.  I would sooner kill myself than my child, even if God asked it of me. 

So is my faith imperfect because I would choose life over faith?  I think all faith is imperfect, there is no perfection in the human condition.  The God I choose to worship would not ask such a thing of me or I could not believe, that is how I solve it.  Different times.  My faith, imperfect though it may be, suits me, suits my life.  My faith helps me to love my child more dearly, to teach him values, to protect him and nurture his intelligence and his heart.  My faith asks me to offer my child to God by bringing him to Temple, to prayer, to Torah; not to the mountain for slaughter.

When you look into the faces of your children, I hope on this Shabbat you see the faces of faith, the meaning of faith and you feel closer to your God.