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Who Is the Supporting Cast in the Story of Your Life?

I am a rabbi because of a game of catch I played at camp with a rabbi more than three times my age. ... Others people who have changed my direction are like supporting actors in my life. ... In Parashat Vayeishev, Joseph goes out searching for his brothers who are supposed to be in the field tending the flock. ... Along the way he meets a man whose name we never know: The Torah refers to him simply as ha-ish, ”the man” who saw Joseph wandering in the field (Gen. 37:15). 

D'var Torah By: 
Free Will and God's Control of Our Destiny
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser

As we read Parashat Vayeishev, Rabbi Dan Moskovitz challenges us to ask ourselves, “Who are the people past or present who at critical crossroads in your life’s journey gave you directions, held your hand, and walked a bit of the journey with you?” ... He recalls various influential people in his life. ... Rabbi Moskovitz compares such people to ha-ish, "the (unnamed) man" who guided Joseph to discover his destiny. I want to suggest, though, that ha-ish was not quite like the people that I can identify from my past. ... By contrast, ha-ish was just an anonymous stranger who told Joseph that he had seen his brothers ... head toward Dothan. 

A Divine Moment When Heaven and Earth Touch

This week's Torah portion, Vayeitzeidescribes the first part of the journey of the biblical Jacob. Fleeing the wrath of his brother, whose birthright he purchased and whose blessing he stole, Jacob is “heading for the exits.” Fleeing his home, along the way he stops and dreams of angels and God. Jacob awakens from his dream with a start and declares to no one in particular: Achein yeish Adonai bamakom hazeh v’anochi lo yadati, “Surely God is in this place and I [“I” is repeated] did not know it!” (Gen. 28:16).

D'var Torah By: 
Is Jacob’s Vow to God Conditional?
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Marc Saperstein

Looking at Parashat Vayeitzei, I’d like to focus on an aspect of this intriguing narrative of Jacob’s dream and its immediate aftermath: the vow that Jacob articulates in response to the stunning encounter with the divine Presence. It is a bit disturbing that the vow Jacob articulates in response to this encounter is totally conditional: “If God is with me and watches over me on this path that I am taking and gives me bread to eat and clothes to wear, and if I return safely to my father’s house, then will the Eternal be my God” (Gen. 28:20-21). 

"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. 

It’s Time to Cultivate a Connection with the Earth

In Parashat Acharei Mot, we read: "You must keep My laws and My rules, you must not do any of those abhorrent things, neither the citizen nor the stranger who resides among you; for all those abhorrent things were done by the people who were in the land before and the land became defiled. So let not the land vomit you out for defiling it, as it spewed out the nation that came before you." (Lev. 18:26-28). ... In Torah, we see rain as relationship, an earth woven with ethic. Blessing is felt through pastoral plentitude, punishment through agricultural atrophy.

D'var Torah By: 
Guiding Us to Be in Relationship with God, Our World, and Each Other
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Amy Cohen

In the first two chapters of Acharei Mot, God gives Moses specific instructions to pass on to Aaron. These instructions clearly state that Aaron should not come, “at will, into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die;” (Lev. 16:2). 

Jacob Awakens to the Sexual Assaults Suffered by His Children

In Parashat Vayeishev, we read that Joseph suffers sexual harassment at the hands of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph is the patriarch Jacob’s second child to face sexual violence, after his daughter Dinah was raped (Gen. 34). In this midrashic monologue, we wonder how Jacob reacted to the news of what happened to Dinah:   

D'var Torah By: 
When Men Look At How They Treat the Women in Their Families
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi David S. Widzer

Through the gift of modern midrash, Rabbi Kipnes grants our ancestor, Jacob, the opportunity to teach an important lesson about Parashat Vayeishev. With regret at his previous failure to be truly present for his daughter in the face of sexual violence, Jacob voices the responses we hope we would give when confronted with such a terrible situation today. Jacob acknowledges, too late, the role he could have played as an ally and supporter. 

How Can We Avoid Conflict Among Siblings?

Have you ever wanted to kill (or seriously harm) your brother (or sister, or other relative)? The Book of Genesis is replete with enough examples of intended fratricide that we ought to take notice.

D'var Torah By: 
Listening Deeply for the Voices of Our Matriarchs
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Eleanor Steinman

Each year, as we reflect on the Torah, our understanding of it is influenced by the times in which we read it. This year, our society is attuned to #MeToo stories of horrific experiences that have come to light. These stories highlight the importance of listening deeply for the voices of victims, those who are not powerful, those who tell their stories, and those who may not yet be ready to share. With this in mind, I want to explore the introduction of two of our matriarchs, Leah and Rachel in Parashat Vayeitzei. 

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. 

Aiming Higher for a Life of Human Holiness

Today, we hear a lot about power: military power, corporate power, and political power. We don’t hear as much about personal power. But, in this week’s Torah portion, Acharei Mot/K’doshim, a double portion, we learn about the potential for personal power. It follows Acharei Mot (“After the Death” of Aaron’s sons) and instructions about purity. In Acharei Mot, we follow the unfortunate outcome of Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, who brought an alien fire into the Tent of Meeting, which was an affront to God and Moses. Personal power isn’t a sin, but the misapplication of it can lead to horrific outcomes. In K’doshim, we open with the Holiness Code and within it a credible means to personal power that also reflects God’s holiness. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Power of the Individual
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Diana Fersko

Individual power. In his commentary, Rabbi Lyon reminds us that Acharei Mot focuses on the immense power that individuals can possess. That emphasis could not be more timely. Day after day, we see teens, galvanized by the horrors of gun violence, raising their voices in rage and protest... While we don’t know their exact age, Nadab and Abihu were also young people. Like the victims of school shootings, their end was shockingly abrupt and profoundly tragic. They led lives cut too short without justification. Commentators have worked hard for centuries to create narratives of meaning around the deaths of these young people.

Ensuring the Success or Failure of Dreams

Reading Parashat Vayeishev and other dream-filled portions in Genesis, we wonder if it’s possible to influence a dream’s prophecy rather than passively waiting for the outcome to unfold. The upcoming holiday, Hanukkah, provides a clue.

D'var Torah By: 
From Joseph’s Dreams to the Dreamers of Today
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Bonnie Margulis

The story of Joseph and his prophetic dreams in Parashat Vayeishev is familiar to us all, even iconic. It is the beginning of the foundational story of the Jewish people – the 430-year sojourn in Egyptian slavery leading to the Exodus and the coming together as God’s people at Mt. Sinai. Without Joseph and his dreams, the children of Israel would never had ended up in Egypt in the first place.

But Wait, There’s More!

In Vayeitzei, Jacob encounters God in a dream, thus advancing the biblical journey of our people learning from and following the instruction of God. After the biblical era, our Sages found a way to expand our understanding of the Torah and its teachings. 

D'var Torah By: 
The Awesome Presence of God
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Dan Moskovitz

In Vayeitzei, Jacob learns that he is not the center of his own universe when he encounters God in a dream. Jacob’s understanding of God in this moment is really an understanding of himself as inspirable from the divinity that is all around him and within him.

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