Torah Study Date
Saturday, April 10, 2021
Bereishit (Genesis) 22:1-6
Last week we discussed God testing Abraham. We noted that God calling Abraham by name indicates something important is about to happen and that in the Samaritan and Greek texts Abraham’s name is called twice (“And God said to him, ‘Abraham, Abraham'”) making the importance even more evident. We discussed Abraham saying, in response, “Hineni” (“Here I am” or “I’m here”), that “Hineni” is a combination of “Hinei” (“here” or “behold”) and “Ani” (“I”) and that it indicates being ready, responsive or attentive.
We discussed the command, “Take your son, your only one, Isaac, whom you love…” and the fact that each part is significant. “Take your son” (which son?), your only one (not the one by Hagar but the one by Sarah, your wife; the one through whom your heirs are supposed to come), whom you love (which will make it a difficult test), Isaac (to make it completely clear).
We discussed the possibility of a different interpretation of what Abraham is asked to do (is it to go up to the land of Moriah and offer Isaac as a sacrifice or is it to go up there and make Isaac another one who goes up) with the idea in mind that perhaps Abraham misheard the command or could have understood it differently, and we discussed why Abraham did not argue with the command as he argued with God about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (some possible answers from Friedman: Abraham has an obedient personality; because Isaac is his son and so his request would be biased; the outcome in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah–that nothing was changed by Abraham’s argument–led him to stay silent in this case); we still wondered if he could not have argued with God about it.
We discussed “early next morning” indicating that Abraham was, in fact, responsive and ready since he got going right away, what the wood would be for if not for a sacrifice (to keep warm?), Abraham saying to the two servants who went with them to stay there with the ass and that he and Isaac would worship and return to them (was it a sign that he had faith–but ‘faith’ is not a concept in these passages and, in general, is stressed a great deal in Protestant Christianity and relatively little in Judaism and Jewish texts; was he sparing Isaac’s feelings; did he not want the servants to know what he was doing), that Abraham “put the wood on his son Isaac” an emotionally fraught thing to do since it indicates how burdened Isaac is, and that “the two walked off together” makes the pathos even greater since it hints at the close connection between the two of them. We also discussed what exactly the test of Abraham was since it would not be a test of faith on a Jewish interpretation (as it is thought to be by some Christian thinkers). Could God be testing Abraham’s obedience? Or could God be hoping Abraham would refuse to obey?
Our artwork this week is by New York City Jewish artist, Eden Morris, Sarah’s Nightmare (above) and Collateral Damage (below), and shows the effect of the almost sacrifice of Isaac on Sarah. Morris studied painting at Brandeis University and Boston University. Her work tends to be about relationships and often tells a story from the women’s point of view.
Chanukah has latkes and dreidels, Pesach has charoset and raucous seders, Shavuot has cheesecake and… all night study sessions? Maybe not everyone’s idea of a good time, but for many communities, coming together and studying until daybreak is a much-anticipated event. Last year, we could not gather as a congregation, and certainly not all night in the same room, but we found a way to do something special despite that fact.
For those of you who were with us last year for Shavuot, the highlight of our quarantined observance was an online Tikkun Leil Shavuot. On Zoom, we joined colleagues, teachers, friends, and others with sessions on every topic imaginable. We studied late into the night (some of us later than others). We are happy to announce that we will be doing it again, and it’s bigger and better than before!
The Tikkun Leil Shavuot is a kabbalistic tradition that goes back to the 16th century where people would come to the synagogue to study late into the night on the evening of Shavuot. In the Torah, we needed to be awakened for the revelation at Sinai, so to show that we are worthy of receiving Torah, today we stay awake voluntarily studying.
From 7:00 pm Eastern Time to 9:00 am Pacific Time and through the night on May 16-17, small congregations from across the Reform movement will be able to study with one another from the comfort of their own homes. We have up to 4 different sessions each hour, and you can choose one or two or you can choose to go all night if you so desire. Each session is run by a rabbi or cantor at a fellow Reform congregation, so there are experts on many different topics. As we did last year, we asked them to teach whatever they want, so we have classes on movies, food, history, theology, you name it!
This program has been one of the huge positive changes that the pandemic has brought into our lives, so come see for yourself how wonderful it is to study across congregations while in your PJs.
Stay tuned for more information!
Rabbi Sara Zober
Torah Study Date
Saturday, April 3, 2021
Bereishit (Genesis) 21:14-34
Recently, we discussed the fact that the word for playing in the discussion of Ishmael playing at Genesis 21:9 is related to Isaac’s name–as if the text said not that Sarah saw the son of Hagar playing but said she saw him ‘Isaacing’ indicating in the word itself the concern that Ishmael would take Isaac’s place as heir.
Last week, we discussed Abraham, after giving some bread and a skin of water to Hagar, sending Hagar and Ishmael away, Hagar sitting a bow-shot distance away from Ishmael, in the wilderness of Beer-sheba, when the water ran out so that she wouldn’t have to see him die and Hagar crying. We discussed God heeding the cry of the boy and wondered at the fact that God heeded the boy’s cry rather than Hagar’s cry (and that God heeded the boy’s cry where he was, making it very specific and also implying that even though Ishmael would not return to Abraham’s house, God would still look after him).
We discussed the angel then calling to Hagar and asking what troubled her. Since the answer seems obvious (that she is concerned that her son would die from thirst), we wondered why the angel asked that specific question (perhaps to give her a chance to express how she felt). We discussed God saying he would make a great nation of the boy, telling Hagar to lift him up and hold his hand and then opening her eyes so that she saw a well of water (was it hidden or far away? was it not there at all before but God created it on the spot?), Hagar then filling the skin with water and letting Ishmael drink, God being with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness of Paran and became a bowman and Hagar getting him a wife from Egypt (making the separation from Abraham’s house complete).
We discussed Abimelech, with Phicol, commenting to Abraham that God was with him in everything he did and asking him to swear that he would deal loyally and not falsely with Abimelech and his land, Abraham saying he would swear it but then reproaching Abimelech for a well of water his servants had taken (which Abimelech declared he had not known about until Abraham told him about it) and the two of them making a pact, Abraham giving Abimelech seven ewes as proof that he had dug the well (perhaps contradicting the servants who might have replied that they dug the well) and naming the place Beer-sheba as a sign of the pact (‘well of the oath’ or ‘well of seven’). We noted that Abraham planted a tamarisk tree there (and remembered how significant trees have been as a sign of possession and also something holy as in the terebinths of Mamre) when Abimelech and Phicol returned to the land of the Philistines and that he invoked the name of YHVH, the everlasting god (YHVH El Olam, an unusual formulation) and resided in the land of the Philistines for a long time.
Our artwork this week is by Jewish Israeli sculptor, Menashe Kadishman (1932-2015), “The Sacrifice of Isaac” (above) and “The Landscape of Our Country” (below). Kadishman was born in Mandate Palestine, studied art in Tel Aviv, worked as a shepherd on a kibbutz, studied art in London, and then returned to live in Israel for the rest of his life. His art is minimalist and the sculpture, made of rough materials, is meant to defy gravity
Torah Study Date
Saturday, March 20, 2021
Bereishit (Genesis) 21:7-13
Last week we discussed Isaac growing and being weaned and Abraham making a big feast for him on the day of his weaning, that it might have been traditional in the region to do so, and that weaning might be the sign that the child would survive. We discussed Sarah seeing Ishmael, “the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham,” playing and Sarah’s reaction to this of telling Abraham to drive “this maid” out with her son so that her son would not inherit with Sarah’s son, Isaac. We discussed a wide range of interpretations of the incident from the simple idea that Ishmael was playing to the idea that he was antagonizing Isaac (“playing with him” in the negative sense or “making sport” or “making fun of him”), to the idea of sexual play and the idea of worshipping idols that we thought were less plausible. We discussed the fact that Sarah may simply not have wanted Ishmael to inherit with her son and that she might have been frustrated that, after all she had gone through, she is given a son when she’s old and he might have to compete for an inheritance.
We discussed Abraham being distressed with the idea of Ishmael being driven out since it concerned a son of his and God telling him not to be distressed over the boy or the maid but to do whatever Sarah told him to do since it would be through Isaac that his offspring would be continued. We noted that Abraham clearly had become attached to his son, Ishmael, over time and did not want to lose him and that God promised that he would be a great nation since he was the offspring of Abraham. We discussed Islam later identifying with Ishmael as their forebear and there being no explicit allusion to that in the text itself, and that it made sense that they would so identify since they consider themselves to be descendant from Abraham.
Our artwork this week is more work by New York Jewish artist, Siona Benjamin (1960-), “Hagar and Sarah” (above) and “Hagar” (below). “As a Bene Israel Jew from India now living in the United States,” Benjamin says, “I am a Jewish artist creating cross-cultural and transcultural art. My perspective bridges the traditional and the modern, and sparks discourse across cultures.”
I am a true believer in the miracles that collaboration can bring to one’s life. I would not have accomplished what I have done thus far with the many different projects at Temple Sinai without the teams of volunteer board and committee members. Yes, even if you have not had the time or ability to commit to the Board or to a committee, there are plenty of one-time events and more projects to come. Your Temple Sinai Board has recently made a pledge to collaborate with Jewish Nevada in making Northern Nevada a prominent member in the federation. We need the assistance of the federation in the North and I believe we have a lot to offer to the Jewish community as a whole.
The first long-term endeavor we have committed to is the “Life and Legacy” project. I know of several members who are leaving endowments to Temple Sinai, and we are very grateful for their thoughtful generosity. This project gives your Board the ability to work with those who wish to participate in “Life and Legacy” and provides a single place to document our future sustainability and ideas for long-term planning. More information coming soon about the “Life and Legacy” project so stay tuned! The second opportunity we are taking advantage of is that we are applying for a few grants through the federation to help with some of the upcoming projects that we have planned – especially as we take the next steps in the near future to meet together again within the doors of our beloved Temple.
I have asked two of our board members to take on the challenge of leading our “Re-opening Our Door’s Task Force.” This task force will be looking at all of the logistical needs for both Temple Sinai and our members so that we can come back together again in the safest way possible. Our target date for returning to in-person Shabbat Services has been set for June 25, 2021. We do have several B’nei Mitzvah events prior to this target date. Unfortunately, we will not be able to meet the needs of in-person Shabbat services or events prior to this date. Please understand… we are collaborating on these details as much as possible to get all of us back together in person!
One last thing to note: within the next very short two weeks, we will celebrate Pesach together in each of our homes with the Rabbis. Please RSVP now if you wish to join us. So that it can be more interactive, we are holding this Year’s Seder via Zoom but we need EVERYONE to RSVP for the link. Sign up at SinaiReno.org/Passover or click the promo on our home page at SinaiReno.org.
Torah Study Date
Saturday, March 13, 2021
Bereishit (Genesis) 20:14-21:6
Last week we finished the story of the encounter between Abraham and Abimelech and began the account of the birth of Isaac. We discussed the gifts that Abimelech gave to Abraham and why he gave them, presumably because it was clear to Abimelech that Abraham and Sarah mattered to God, and we saw that the women of the kingdom had stopped giving birth, which might have been another reason if Abimelech thought the cause of that was God’s anger at Abimelech’s encounter with Sarah. We discussed the thousand pieces of silver Abimelech gave to Abraham on Sarah’s behalf and wondered why that gift would clear Sarah before everyone. We noted that Abraham prayed and then God healed Abimelech, his wife, and his slave girls so that they gave birth.
We saw that Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son for Abraham when Abraham was 100 years old and that Abraham gave his son the name “Isaac” because of the connection between that name and the word for laughter and that Abraham followed God’s command and circumcised Isaac when Isaac was eight days old.
Our artwork this week is two more photographs from “Women of the Bible” by Jewish Israeli, Dikla Laor, “Hagar and Ishmael” (above) and “Eve” (below). Laor was born in Tiberias, Israel, in 1976 and now lives in the Golan Heights.
Torah Study Date
Saturday, March 6, 2021
Bereishit (Genesis) 19:35 – 20:13
Last week, we finished discussing the intercourse between Lot’s daughters and Lot and began discussing Abraham and Sarah’s encounter with Abimelek, king of Gerar. We discussed the daughters getting Lot drunk on wine for a second night, the younger one having sex with him and the text saying that Lot did not know of her lying down and getting up (which some say is mentioned to exonerate Lot of the incest), the two daughters becoming pregnant by their father and having sons, the sons’ names indicating the nature of their birth–since Moab means ‘from father’ and ben-Ami means ‘son of my people’ (euphemistically implying the birth came from within).
The narrative returns to Abraham who leaves Mamre, goes to the Negev and lives between Kadesh and Shur in Gerar. We discussed that, for a second time, Abraham tells Sarah, his wife, to say that she was his sister, that as a result Abimelek, the king, sends for and takes Sarah and that God comes to Abimelek in a dream telling him that he is dead over the woman because she is a man’s wife. We noted that Abimelek, though not a Hebrew, has a close relationship with God–close enough that God comes to him and warns him–and that his relationship is closer than Pharaoh’s in Genesis 12:12 whom God plagues for sleeping with Sarah.
We discussed that Abimelek had not come close to Sarah and so argues that he is innocent especially since Abraham and Sarah had told him that Sarah was Abraham’s sister, that Abimelek asks God if God would kill an innocent nation, and that Abimelek sounds like Abraham arguing with God about not killing the innocent people of Sodom. We discussed God saying he knew Abimelek was innocent and holding Abimelek back from sinning by not letting him touch Sarah, and God telling Abimelek, if he wants to live, to give Sarah back to Abraham because Abraham is a prophet. We learned that that is the only use of the term for prophet in Genesis, that its meaning is not very well-defined as a result, and that it might be another indication of the fact that Genesis was composed after Exodus.
We discussed Abraham saying to Abimelek when asked why he brought such a sin on Abimelek and his kingdom, that he had not thought there was fear of God in the place and that the sermonic point of the passage is not to assume that people who are different from you necessarily are bad. Instead, they may be God-fearing, have a sense of what is fair or just, and may have their own relationship with God. We also discussed the fact that many polytheists are open to the gods of other religions and simply incorporate them into their own set of gods. We also discussed Abraham saying that in fact Sarah was his sister since she was his half-sister by his father. We also discussed some grammatical points and a number of other topics.
Our artwork this week is from The Comic Torah: Reimagining the Very Good Book by Chicago Jewish husband and wife team, Aaron Freeman, a comedian and journalist, and Sharon Rosenzweig, an artist. In the comic, Moses is a black man based on Aaron, God is a woman based on Sharon, and Israel is personified as a woman named Honey (as in “land of Milk and Honey”). It seemed like appropriate artwork to post at this time since Rabbi Myra’s Jews and Race class begins this weekend.
Passover is one of our most creative holidays. The haggadah itself is an invention of our rabbis, tying together Torah stories, rabbinic texts, songs, blessings, and culinary delights. Each culture within Judaism has traditions that embellish the text – from Ethiopian Jews smashing dishes, to Afghani Jews swatting each other with scallions to stay awake, to Syrian Jews breaking the middle matzah into the Hebrew letters dalet and vav.
While last year’s Passover was a beginning-of-the-pandemic scramble, this year’s Passover can be a happily-anticipated celebration. We will be doing our First Night Congregational Seder remotely, but this year we need YOUR help. If you sign up before March 13 for our seder, you will be able to indicate if you’d like to help us lead a part of the seder, and we’ll assign a part to you and your family.
This is a place for your creativity to run wild. (Want ideas? Check out this clip of something Rabbi Benjamin did last year!) You can write a song or a poem to recite during rachtzah, while we are all washing our hands. You can create a video for Dayeinu. You can show off your artistic skills by illustrating one of the 10 plagues. You can lead a discussion on the philosophy of not rejoicing when our enemies are killed (right after Purim, when we are told to rejoice when our enemies die).
We are also looking for the polyglots among us. We have a book with the 4 questions in over 300 languages, and we would love to have your help in asking the questions this year. If you are fluent or have studied another language and would like to read the 4 questions in that language, please let us know. I for one will be brushing up my 3 years of college Sanskrit to add another ancient language to our list!
We are hoping to have a fun and engaging BYOF (bring your own food) seder this year. Please come and be a part of it, and if you want to lead, make sure to sign up before March 13. Our whole extended Temple Sinai family will be there to celebrate our freedom.
Rabbi Sara Zober