Tag Archives: genesis

Toledot 5777

P1100804Red lentil soup, like Jacob used to make

 This week’s parsha is Toledot  (Generations). The parsha deals with the birth and sibling rivalry of Esau and Jacob- the twin sons of Rebecca and Isaac. Those babies were fighting even before they were born, to the point that Rebecca asked God what was going on with her pregnancy.

Esau loved being outside and hunting while Jacob stayed home, cooked, and according to the commentaries learned Torah. Esau traded his “birthright” for a bowl of Jacob’s soup – showing Esau’s impatience and disregard for tradition, and also showing Jacob’s desire to take advantage of his brother. The climax of the story is Rebecca and Jacob’s deception of Isaac. Rebecca convinces Jacob to masquerade as his brother in order to fool Isaac into giving Jacob the special blessing for the first born.

The story introduces all kinds of questions and puts flawed family dynamics into relief. Why did Isaac favour Esau while Rebecca favoured Jacob?  Why did Rebecca fool Isaac instead of talking to him? Was Isaac really taken in by Jacob’s deception? Maybe he suspected the truth but realized that Jacob was more suited to the blessing. Did the two brothers end up with the fates that most suited them in the long run? Esau would be a man of the field and Jacob would become the leader of the nation of Israel.

What seems to hold true is that poor family dynamics and communication skills certainly continued from generation to generation.  We see that this deception had repercussions that continued and echoed in the lives of our ancestors. Jacob fooled Esau and was fooled in turn by Lavan.

Toldot Sigart by Laya Crust

Although Jacob was promised Rachel as a wife he was presented with Leah. Lavan justified himself by slyly announcing, “It is not done in our place to give the younger before the elder…” (Genesis 29:26) The favouritism Isaac and Rebecca showed each of their sons was echoed in the favouritism Jacob showed Joseph, favouring him above his brothers. The sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau was repeated in the rivalry between Jacob’s twelve sons. Jacob’s sons lied to him as he had lied to Isaac.

The picture above  shows the “family dynamics. The blind, deceived Isaac is blessing his son Jacob. Rebecca is delaying Esau from coming in until the blessing is complete.  When Rebecca was pregnant Gd had told her that “the elder shall serve the younger”. She wanted to ensure that the prophecy came true.

Can we learn anything from this? There are many, many lessons. One is that hurt and dishonesty don’t disappear. They continue to spread like dust in the wind. The climactic story of the Isaac-Rebecca nuclear family was Rebecca and Jacob’s deception. It tore the family apart, causing Jacob to leave for many, many years. The two brothers never really solved their differences. Esau’s marriages never satisfied his parents. Deception and white lies were an undercurrent in Jacob’s own home.

I believe Jacob would have been the leader of our nation even without the ruse in today’s parsha. Without the ruse honesty and communication may have become a more utilised tool in our world.

IP1100803f you would like the recipe for this fabulous Red Lentil Soup you can find it at an earlier post of mine:https://layacrust.wordpress.com/2014/11/19/toledot-red-lentil-stew/

Scroll down past the text and the ingredients are all listed.

Have a wonderful (and deception free) Shabbat.

 

Let’s pray for more peace and less vitriol!

Shabbat Shalom, Laya

 

 

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Chayei Sarah 5777

Related imagelithograph, Marc Chagall

This week’s parsha begins with the death of Sarah and ends with the death of Abraham. Sarah and Abraham were partners in their lives. They were ten years apart in age. They probably grew up together- Abraham told King Avimelech that they were married but they were half siblings- they had the same father.

The Torah focuses on Abraham. He follows Gd’s instructions and leaves his birthplace, he makes a covenant with Gd, bargains with Gd, travels throughout the land, and agrees to circumcision as a proof of his allegiance to Gd. Throughout all this Sarah is at Abraham’s side, almost a silent partner.

Sarah was a beautiful woman. “Behold now, I know you are a beautiful woman to gaze upon…” (Genesis 11: 11) Abraham was afraid  he would be killed if another leader wanted to marry Sarah. They discussed it. Sarah agreed to say she was Abraham’s sister. “And it came to pass that when Avram came to Mitzrayim [Egypt], the Mitzrim [Egyptians] beheld the woman that she was very fair. The princes of Par’o saw her and commended her to Par’o and the woman was taken to Par’o’s house.” (Genesis 11: 14, 15) Abraham had been correct. Sarah was very beautiful and she was taken by the Par’o- and that happened twice! (Spoiler- Gd intervened each time and she was returned to Abraham by each of the two rulers)P1140345

Sarah, etching by laya Crust

The point is that it seems Abraham and Sarah were true partners. They started their life’s journey together and discussed things as situations arose. They stayed together as a couple even though Sarah was barren. She accepted Gd’s word. When she understood that Abraham needed to have a son to build a nation she offered her handmaid Hagar to Abraham. Her understanding of situations was broad and deep. She said, “…when she [Hagar] saw that she had conceived , I was despised in her eyes.” (Genesis 16:5) Sarah realised at that point that Hagar would not allow her son to be raised by Sarah and Abraham in order to be an appropriate leader with Gd’s message. Instead Hagar felt superior to Sarah and would, in that case, naturally retain the molding of her baby’s character and behaviour.

It is hard to understand the breakdown in communication when Abraham is directed to take Isaac to Mount Moriah in order to  sacrifice Isaac. How could Abraham not have discussed this with his wife, the mother of their son, the visionary always at his side?

Rabbi Shlomo Riskin suggests that Sarah did know what was happening. He suggests that Sarah heard Abraham in his preparations early in the morning. When she looked and saw Abraham packing a knife for “shechita” (ritual slaughter) and planning to take Isaac with him, she was concerned. Rabbi Riskin writes, “Sarah demands to hear G-d’s precise words, saying: “He didn’t say that you should slaughter our child; He merely said to lift him up, to dedicate him to Divine service. G-d could not possibly have commanded you to slaughter an innocent child!”

P1150568drawing by Laya Crust

While Abraham and Isaac were climbing up  the mountain for the sacrifice Sarah went in another direction. She went to Kiryat Arba/ Hebron to the place where, according to midrash, Adam and Eve were buried. There she prayed to Gd to stay Abraham’s hand and save her son.

She died there. Neither Abraham nor Isaac saw her again.

Abraham and Isaac didn’t see each other again after the “akeida” (binding of Isaac), and Gd didn’t speak to Abraham after that incident. It seems Abraham lived out the rest of his life quietly with no further leadership moments. He remarried, had 12 more sons and was buried beside his beloved Sarah by Isaac and Ishmael.

Sarah was the partner, the sounding board and support to Abraham. She accompanied him from their birthplace steeped in idol worship to a new land. She established a home open to visitors and partnered in nurturing a new belief system. Sarah knew how fragile their mission was. She did all she could to  shield her son- the future of the nation- from negative influences. When she died the matriarch of Gd’s new nation died, and Abraham was left without his equal and partner.

At the end of “Chayei Sarah” we read that Isaac married Rebecca. “And Isaac brought her (Rebecca) into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebecca, and she became his wife. And he loved her, and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.” (Genesis 24:67)

And so it goes. And the story continues.

Shabbat Shalom.

Laya

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VaYeitze – And he went out

VaYeitzei Sigart by Laya Crust

VaYeitze: Bereshit/ Genesis 27:10 – 32: 3

Haftarah: Hosea 11: 17 – 14 : 10

VaYetzei is the story of Yaakov’s (Jacob’s)  journey away from his parents’ home in Be’er Sheva  to his uncle’s tribe in Padan-aram. He was sent by Rivka to avoid Esau’s anger and to find a wife from her extended family.

 At the end of  Yaakov’s first day of travelling he lay down to sleep and dreamt that a ladder reached up to heaven. Angels ascended and descended the ladder and Gd stood above it. Gd told Yaakov “I will give you  and your descendants the land on which you lie. And your seed will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south…And I am with you and will keep you in all the places you go and will bring you back to this land: for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised…” (Bereshit/ Genesis 28: 13 – 15)

Yaakov continued his journey to Padan-aram and married, but didn’t return to Be’er Sheva immediately.His father-in-law invited him to stay and manage his flocks, recognizing that Yaakov was a clever shepherd and shrewd businessman. The story continues with the trajectory his life takes, following him for 20 years. We read about his marriage to two sisters, his cousins Rachel and Leah; the birth of eleven sons and one daughter; and the shepherding for his father-in-law Lavan. Under Yaakov’s management Lavan’s flocks and wealth increased. It all seemed like a positive arrangement until Lavan noticed how much wealth Yaakov was also accruing.  He and his sons became suspicious and possibly jealous of his son-in-law. Reading the signals, and listening to Gd’s words, Yaakov realized it was time to go home- to Israel. He returned to the land of his birth.

When he left Lavan’s territory ” …angels of Gd encountered him. When he saw them Jacob said, ‘This is Gd’s camp’ and named the place Mahanaim.” (Bereshit/ Genesis 32: 2,3)

This parsha can be seen as a template for the history of the Jews.

First, there was a struggle  causing Jacob to leave to leave his place of birth- just as has happened so many times in our history. Gd told him  that his descendants would spread abroad to the west, the east, the north and the south. And it is so. Jews live in virtually every country, and in every corner of the world.

When Yaakov went to Lavan he was invited to stay and work. When Lavan recognized Yaakov’s business acumen he encouraged his son-in-law to stay. But when Yaakov’s wealth increased Lavan became suspicious and angry so Yaakov fled with his family and his own wealth. How many times has that happened throughout history? Jews were welcomed to Egypt, Spain, France,  Holland, Germany, England, Poland, Lithuania, and more where they practised medicine, were traders, and improved the mercantile system. When the population either became jealous of their success or ran into financial difficulty Jews became scapegoats and were victimized. And the Jews have had to escape unprovoked persecution time and time again.

And of course Yaakov and his wives had twelve children- each of them unique. We, today, are a people of many unique traditions and interpretations.

It is significant that angels begin and end the narrative. As Yaakov leaves his homeland he is greeted by angels and Gd. At the end of the narrative Gd warns him to leave Lavan and the angels meet him again.

Yaakov’s descendants, B’nei Yisrael, are accompanied by angels of Gd. It may not seem like it but miracles happen every day. There are horrible tragedies that can only be attributed to סינאת חנם , baseless hatred. Even so, lives in Israel are miraculously protected every day. In these times of terror and upside down morality we are accompanied by angels- but we have to keep our hearts and ears open in order to hear them.

Have a Shabbat Shalom, and keep the faith! For a wonderful look at a ladder to heaven watch this youtube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gZguOD4hmcw

 Laya

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Sarah – שרה

VaYeira Sigart by Laya Crust

Vayeira- Genesis 18 – 22

Haftarah- Kings II, ch. 4: 1-37

This week’s parsha is an incredible series of stories and events. There are at least five incredible narratives, each worthy of detailed study. Sarah, Avraham’s wife, figures throughout the parsha, and I’d like to look at her personality this week.

Avraham is the major character in these stories of Bereshit.  Gd told Avraham to leave his homeland and that he would become the father of a great people. Avraham left, taking his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot with him. As I read about Sarai- whose name was changed to Sarah- I am struck by her strength, her wisdom, and her relationship with Avraham. She was 75 years old when she and her husband left their home for unknown reaches. She was described as beautiful- so beautiful that King Avimelech took her to his harem. We may wonder how a woman of 75 can be that appealing, but some have an ageless beauty that is enhanced by grace and wisdom.

P1140345drawing by Laya Crust

I think Sarah also had a spark of humour and joy of life that contributed to being timelessly attractive. Her sense of humour?- she heard the angels speak and laughed within herself- laughing at herself and the thought of becoming a mother in her nineties. Her joie de vivre? She enjoyed her relationship with Avraham, “sporting” with him (AKA fooling around) in a field!

The readings suggest that Sarah and Avraham had a strong  partnership. They traveled together and discussed the strategy for entering Avimelech’s kingdom. Recognizing her infertility she offered her handmaid Hagar to her husband, hoping that way he would become a father. Recognizing Hagar’s behaviour Sarah handled the situation as she thought she had to. When the three angels appeared at their tent in the desert Avraham and Sarah worked as a team to create a feast for them. It appears that Sarah ran her community with wisdom and level headedness.

The situation surrounding “akeidat Yitzhak”, the binding of Isaac, doesn’t fit the picture of a strong relationship. It doesn’t seem that Avraham told Sarah that he had been commanded to sacrifice their beloved son.  A midrash (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash) says that Sarah heard a rumour that Isaac had been sacrificed by Avraham. According to that midrash Sarah died, never knowing that her son was alive. We don’t know what really happened, or why Avraham didn’t tell Sarah what he had been commanded to do. Maybe Avraham was trying to protect her. Maybe Avraham trusted that Gd would make things “right” and there would be no sense in alarming her. We just don’t know.

The illustration at the top of the page is from the haftarah of VaYeira. It shows the prophet Elisha with the Shunammite woman who had a room built for him for when he visited Shunem. This woman, like Sarah, was childless for many years. Her son, like Isaac, almost died. Unlike Sarah, she was able to watch her son grow to adulthood.

It is tragic that Sarah seemed to have died not knowing her son was alive, not knowing that she would be venerated as the mother of the Jewish nation.

She is a wonderful model for all women, and her strengths should never be overlooked.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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When Evil Reigned

P1140325art by Laya Crust

Parshat Noah       October 2015,  5776

This is a very difficult time in many parts of the world, but the horrors in Israel touch me very closely. I am an ardent Zionist and a Jew. I have children and grandchildren who live in Israel, including in Jerusalem. I have many friends and relatives there. I just came back from that miraculous country but while I was there 4 people were viciously murdered by Palestinian terrorists. Since then more murders have occurred. My first thoughts in the morning and my last thoughts at night are of Eitam and Na’ama Henkin z”l (may they be remembered as a blessing) who were murdered only because they were Jewish and lived in Israel. That’s the only reason! I think of their 4 children who will grow up without their wonderful parents. And I can’t understand it.

P1140327

Last week in synagogue we read the story of the creation of the world and humanity. We also read about the first murder. Cain, jealous of Abel, killed him. God said, “The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground….the ground which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand… “

“The voice of your brother’s blood…” Such powerful words.

After God gave mankind free choice murder occurred, even at the very beginning. It’s impossible to understand.P1140322

There is an interesting animated movie going on in the Middle East. Syria, Iraq, Islamic State,Afghanistan, Lebanon, Sudan and Yemen are like balls of flame, burning in war and hatred. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Iraq are brimming with unrest and dictatorship. And in the middle of it all Israel, a jewel of green land and democracy, stands on its own against the surrounding chaos, refusing to get sucked in.

Yet, there are these terrible, tragic losses of life.

This week we read the story of Noah in the Bible. Sick of humanity’s cruelty God destroyed the world by flooding it. The rainbow we see after a rainfall is the symbol of God’s oath that the world will never be entirely destroyed again.Rainbow_02

Many of us sit in our chairs praying for peace in Israel and the rest of the world. We can’t understand God’s allowing the violence to continue or the terrorism raging in Israel’s streets or the loss of the young, exceptional parents of 6 children. We can only do what Israelis are doing in Israel- live good lives, do acts of kindness, and don’t allow hatred to rule our minds and actions.

With prayers for peace, health and beauty,

Laya

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VaYishlach

VaYishlach Laya Crust 2013

As with many of our readings in the book of Bereishit this week’s reading is full of stories and adventures. The event pictured here is that of Shimon and Levi rescuing their sister Dina from a local man who abducted and raped her. In light 0f current events the brothers’ efforts seem quite progressive. (Shimon and Levi didn’t punish their sister for her misfortune and didn’t hide their revulsion of the act because they were afraid of what society would say.) That incident is sandwiched between Jacob’s encounter with Esau, and the death of Rachel at the end of the parsha.

Today I’m going to write about a different incident in the parsha, Jacob’s fight with “a man”  the night  before he was to meet Esau. Jacob was worried- frightened- to see his brother. Esau was a wealthy hunter and fighter. Jacob had wronged Esau in the past and realised that Esau may want to attack him and his family. He divided his family into four camps and put them on the far side of the river Jabok. He camped on the other side of the river so that he would be the first line of defence.

 Golden Haggadah, Barcelona Spain c. 1320

In the middle of the night a man came and wrestled with him. They were obviously well matched because the wrestling continued until dawn. By the end of the night there was still no victor.  The man, an angel,  touched and injured Jacob’s thigh then gave Jacob another name- “Yisrael”, translated as “you have striven with Gd”.

When Jacob first left his parents’ home he had a dream in which angels were climbed up and down a ladder, with Gd at the top of the ladder.

VaYeitzei Sig   Laya Crust 2013

Rashi suggested that angels accompanied Jacob in Canaan, the land promised to the Jews. When Jacob fled and lay down to sleep that set of angels left his side and another set of angels came down to accompany him to the unknown country.

Why was an angel sent to fight him on the bank of the Jabok River when Jacob was on his way back to Canaan ? If the angels were there to guide and protect him, why start a wrestling match? Who won? Jacob was given a new name describing a stronger personality but he was injured and limped for the rest of his life.

Some suggest that the fight wasn’t with an angel. Some suggest it was an inner psychological struggle.When you think of it- Jacob was an older man sleeping on the hard ground. He was having nightmares about meeting his brother. Maybe he rolled around and knocked into a sharp boulder. That could explain a pretty painful injury. In any case, the fight was cathartic. After all those years Jacob had to face himself before he saw his brother again.

To deal with our difficulties we all have to look at ourselves and our past. Jacob was a strong man, and a strong leader. He faced his fears and his “ghosts”. He didn’t have an easy life but he left the amazing legacy of b’nei Yisrael, the children of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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