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Death

Objects in Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear

My car is a philosopher; yours is too. I am certain I am not the first person to look into my passenger side-view mirror and ponder the existential meaning of the message inscribed at the bottom of the frame, “Objects in (the) mirror may be closer than they appear.” In this week’s Torah portion, Va-y’chi, Joseph does essentially the same thing. According to midrash, he revisits the site where his brothers betrayed him and instead of bitterness found blessing.

D'var Torah By: 
Breaking the Chain and Becoming a Blessing
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Kenneth Carr

In his teaching about Parashat Va-y’chi, Rabbi Moskovitz discusses the importance of remembering our history. The lessons of the past should inform our perspective on the present, shaping how we feel and how we act. By avoiding conflict, Joseph's sons model this behavior.

Facing Our Faults on the Other Side of the River

The stories in Genesis are heavy with human experience; they turn on every conceivable emotion, and life and relationship challenge. In this way, Torah in general, and the Book of Genesis in particular, provide a spiritual mirror that reflects back to us our best, and sometimes most disappointing selves. ...In Jacob, who, in this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, wrestled with the night messenger, we see ourselves struggling with great challenges that bring pain, but from which we might extract blessing.

D'var Torah By: 
Emerging from Our Struggles to Embrace Change
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Joseph R. Black

This week’s parashahVayishlach, so beautifully interpreted by my colleague, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz, teaches us about the necessity to embrace change – even when it is difficult. Jacob/Yaakov becomes Israel/Yisrael after wrestling with a mysterious stranger. He is both wounded and empowered by his mystical encounter. Our text provides us with a glimpse into our progenitor’s ability to look deep within himself and his soul, and to find the courage to adjust to the rapidly changing world around him.

"Resident Foreigners" and the Wisdom of the Oxymoron

I am an American citizen living in Vancouver, British Columbia, and serving a Canadian Reform congregation for the past six years. This juxtaposition of two increasingly disparate identities has given me a unique perspective on this week’s parashah, Chayei Sarah, and its introduction of the term ger toshav, “resident foreigner.”

D'var Torah By: 
Yes, I Will Go: The Optimism of an Immigrant
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Marla J. Feldman

In his reading of Chayei Sarah, Rabbi Moskovitz offers a powerful reminder of our obligation to the ger toshav, the “resident foreigner” in our midst. Since Abraham sought to establish his future in a new land, the Jewish people has had a long history of being gerim tosh’vim — outsiders, foreigners dwelling in new lands, transplants seeking a patch of earth to claim as our own. ... I am captivated by the path Abraham ans Sarah took to get there, leaving their home and venturing to an unknown land. 

Experiencing Torah Through Reckless Abandon in the Wilderness

Israel's declaration of independence states that the Land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people. There is another point of view, expressed in this portion, Chukat, which indicates that the people's birthplace is in the wilderness.

 

D'var Torah By: 
Why Moses Is Denied Entry Into the Promised Land

Miriam dies and the wellspring of water (Torah?) dries up. This can be read as simply a sequence of events: Miriam died and also there was no more water. TheTalmud says that the people had acces to water because of Miriam's merrit. When she passed, their access to water dried up. What followed was a tragic turn of events, when Moses disobeyed God and hit the rock to obtain water, thus cancelling his right to enter the Promised Land.

The Blessing of Dinah

In Parashat Va-y’chi, Jacob blesses his sons as he lies on his deathbed. We note the absence of any blessing for - or mention of - his daughter Dinah. 

D'var Torah By: 
Many Character Traits, Good and Bad
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jocee Hudson

In Va-y’chi, Joseph learns that his father Jacob is sick before Jacob has the chance to call his 12 sons to his bedside (and, in Torah’s account, shockingly misses the opportunity to reconnect with his daughter Dinah). Without invitation, Joseph shows up to visit his dad with his sons Ephraim and Manasseh in tow. What follows are a series of blessings delivered by Jacob to his sons and grandsons that reveal the good points and the failings of these ancestors.

 

When Ben-Oni Becomes Benjamin: Rachel’s Midrashic Monologue

In Parashat Vayishlach, we read of the death of our matriarch, Rachel, who does not survive the birth of her second child, a boy whom she names Ben-oni. As she lay dying, the baby’s father, Jacob, renames him Benjamin (Gen. 35:16-18). The Torah does not tell us why this change is made. We imagine Rachel, in her final moments, whispering to her newborn:

D'var Torah By: 
What’s in a Name?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Rachel Kaplan Marks

Shakespeare asks rhetorically, “What’s in a name?" According to our biblical tradition there’s significant meaning in our names. In their commentary on Parashat Vayishlach, Rabbis Bearman and Kipnes present a beautiful midrash on Rachel’s thoughts and feelings about Jacob having changed their youngest son’s name (Gen. 35:18). 

Where Was Sarah During the Akeidah (the Binding of Isaac)?

In Parashat Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah), we learn that our biblical matriarch Sarah lived 127 years, she died, and Abraham purchased her burial cave in Hebron (Gen. 23:1-20). Sadly, the only Torah portion named after a woman provides few hints about her life or final days.

D'var Torah By: 
How an Enduring Legacy Can Prolong Our Life From Generation to Generation
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Frederick Reeves

Rabbi Kipnes and Ms. November start their discussion of Parashat Chayei Sarah with Dr. Och’s observation that modern readers feel disappointment when a portion named “the life of Sarah” begins with her death. Commentators going back as far as Rashi have tried to expand on the details of her life. 

Grappling with Death and the Need to Mourn

“The whole community knew that Aaron had breathed his last” (Numbers 20:29). ... Parashat Chukat is in the middle of the Book of Numbers, and its narrative spans 38 of the 40 years in the wilderness. It is also full of death, and the human struggle to comprehend it.

D'var Torah By: 
Evolving Traditions Around Death and Mourning
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Our emotional responses to death and loss, discussed so beautifully by Rabbi Grushcow in her d’var Torah on Parashat Chukat, are as varied as we are, and therefore evolve as sensibilities change. But not all changes truly meet our inner needs.

When We Seek God as a Partner

In Parashat Sh’mini we read of the death of Aaron’s sons who offered “alien fire” to God and were consumed. While commentators throughout the ages have tried to make sense of this tragedy, the text also guides us to appreciate the power of the choices we make.

D'var Torah By: 
Heartbreaking Silence in Response to Tragic Loss
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Lisa Delson

In the aftermath of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu, Parashat Sh’mini offers us a glimpse into the humanity of Aaron. Our hearts break when we read that Aaron’s response to his sons’ death is silence (Leviticus 10:3). 

How the Living Serve the Dead

In Va-y’chi, we hear the final requests of Jacob, and then Joseph, to bring back their remains to be buried in the land God promised to their ancestors. In carrying Joseph’s bones, Moses moves draws closer to his progenitor, giving us the opportunity to reflect on our connections to our forebears. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Importance of Planning Ahead
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ethan Prosnit

In this week’s Torah portion, Va-y'chi, both Jacob and then Joseph ask the children of Israel to carry their bones back to be buried in Canaan. Both men teach us the value of planning and sharing our wished with the next generation.

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