Shemot -- Exodus 1:1-6:1

To discover the nature of being human, there are those moments in life when you have to leave the known and venture into the unknown. The story is told about Prince Siddhartha who discovers the true nature of the human condition during an excursion outside the palace walls. In leaving the comfort of the palace, he saw an old person, a sick person, a corpse, and, finally, someone attempting to follow a spiritual path. Witnessing life outside the palatial walls is what causes him to contemplate the suffering in the world.

Another young seeker named Moses takes leave of the Pharaoh’s palace only to discover the suffering of his fellows. In witnessing an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, Moses kills the perpetrator. When Moses then admonishes two Jews fighting the next day, he is forced to flee to Midian. It is at that moment that both the Prophet Moses and Prince Siddhartha each knew that a radical change in life was necessary in order to find meaning along the journey.

But the story of Exodus really begins before leaving the palace walls, as the children of Israel are growing numerous and prospering generations after Joseph’s rise to grand vizier of Egypt. This prosperity and integration is perceived as a threat to their Egyptian overlords. In the process of Pharaoh’s enslaving the Israelites, he also orders the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah to kill all male babies by throwing them into the Nile.

If it was not for the righteous indignation of the midwives, Moses would never have come onto the scene. This child born to Yocheved, daughter of Levi, and her husband Amram, is placed in a basket along the Nile River. It is Pharaoh’s daughter who discovers the baby hidden in the basket while bathing in the Nile and names him Moses.

Fast forward to Moses fleeing the palace, finding his way to Midian, where he rescues Tzipporah, daughter of local chieftain and priest of Midian, Jethro. He later marries Tzipporah and becomes a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks. Moses continues to wander in search of the truth, finally encountering the divine in renowned theophany of the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai.

As Moses and Aaron challenge Pharaoh’s recalcitrance to free the Israelites, the people hold fast to the hope that redemption is at hand.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration is inspired by Exodus 3:2: "…behold, the thorn bush was burning with fire, but the thorn bush was not being consumed." Here, patterns and colors are made to play off one another in a nod to the mystical incomprehensibility of the divine flame. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayekhi — Genesis 47:28 – 50:26

One of the greatest malaises of Western civilization to this day was captured by Ernest Becker (1924-1974) in his book, Denial of Death. Becker points to the reality we know all too well, that we shield and mask death from our lives until it is too late. What we seek to mask, according to Becker, is a deeper anxiety of death and mortality, which itself is the result of an evolutionary clash between our will to survive and the peculiar survival strategy to cope with the ultimate futility of that survival urge.

And so, without any denial possible any longer, on his deathbed, Jacob announces: "…I am now old, and I do not know how soon I may die… So that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die." (Genesis 27: 2,4)

In the course of this grandiose blessing of the next generation, a tragic moment almost passes everyone by when it comes to Jacob's grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh, who Jacob does not recognize. He asks his son Joseph about his grandchildren: “Who are these?” (Genesis 48:8) Eventually, Jacob agrees to bless his grandchildren, but Joseph is displeased as his father appears to be flouting the social etiquette by blessing Ephraim, the younger, before Manasseh, the elder. True to the ongoing disruption of primogeniture in Genesis, Jacob corrects his son, Joseph, who has assimilated the primacy of primogeniture in Near Eastern society, wherein the elder ruling over the younger sibling is an expected norm.

In the end, no matter how assimilated, Joseph accepts his father, Jacob’s unconventional blessing for his own children that both challenges societal norms while following in his father’s footsteps. Respecting his father’s last wishes, now also his own, both Jacob and Joseph are interred in the Holy Land together with their ancestors, bringing Genesis to a close.

Torah is our primary Jewish lens to bring meaning to our own confrontations with endings and new beginnings.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration is a wallpaper-like pattern featuring different icons associated with the story of Joseph, which we conclude in Parashat Vayekhi. The eyes symbolize Joseph's vision and prognostication; the tears reference the weeping he does in moments of loneliness, forgiveness, and joy; the heart is a symbol not only of the profound love Jacob felt for Joseph, but also for the big-hearted actions taken by Joseph as Bereshit (Genesis) draws to a close. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayigash — Genesis 44:18 – 47:27

Great change happens with the smallest of steps. That change is captured poignantly in this week’s opening verse, when Judah selflessly pleads for the release of his brother, Benjamin: "Then Judah went up to [Joseph] and said: 'Please, my lord…'" (Genesis 44:18).

This is the dramatic moment where Judah is called upon to facilitate the role of rapprochement as he approaches Joseph. This act of loyalty amidst a history of loyalties betrayed is so heart-wrenching that Joseph, the governor of Egypt, finally pushes aside his seeming disinterestedness to reveal his true identity to his astonished brothers. Shame and remorse overcome the brothers, but Joseph comforts them, explaining the divine hand in this drama.

Rushing back to Canaan with the joyous news, the brothers inform Jacob that his favorite son, Joseph, is still alive. They all return to Egypt with their families – seventy souls in all — and the bereft father is reunited with his favorite son after 22 years apart.

Joseph continues to prosper as governor of Egypt, selling stored food and seed during the famine. As a result, Pharaoh awards Jacob’s family the entire country of Goshen as a place to settle, so that the blessing of assimilation continues for the Israelites amidst their apparent Egyptian exile.

Redemption from exile is a process of inner change and transformation. If we take the advice of Judah, we can each find a pathway to self-transformation [teshuvah] by walking in his footsteps, one small step at a time!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the land of Goshen, the fecund portion of Egypt's Nile delta in which Joseph's family settles when they moved south. Vayigash is the penultimate parsha in Bereshit (Genesis), and it draws to a close on a pastoral climax, with our ancestors secure in a new land and "prolific." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Meiketz — Genesis 41:1 – 44:17

What happens when you are beyond eye-view?

To be beyond eye-view is to fall into oblivion and be forgotten. Recall how Joseph was cast away by his brothers earlier in the narrative, thrown into that "empty pit [bor]; there was no water in it!" (Genesis 37:34). In prison, Joseph is also trapped in the emptiness of the "dungeon [bor]" (Genesis 40:15). All Joseph needs is to be remembered, yet at each turn, everyone seems to forget him! Pharaoh comes closest to remembering this gift of Joseph, saying: "There is none so discerning and wise as you." (Genesis 41:39)

Joseph's repressed prowess continues to grow, given his gifts as dream interpreter as well as financial advisor to Pharaoh. In short order, Joseph is promoted to governor of Egypt and marries into the royal family. His wife, Asenath, (ironically, the daughter of Potiphar), bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

The wheel turns as famine spreads throughout the region, forcing Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt to purchase grain from the prodigal son they had all but forgotten about. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize their brother, who walks, talks, and for all intents and purposes is a fully assimilated Egyptian governor and citizen.

Accusing his brothers to be spies, Joseph demands Benjamin but settles for Simeon as hostage. Jacob sends Benjamin as an envoy only after Judah assumes responsibility for him. In a highly melodramatic turn, Joseph now receives his brothers hospitably, releasing Simeon and inviting them to dinner. Yet, he then plants a magical goblet into Benjamin’s sack and has his brothers pursued and searched by his men the next morning. The goblet is discovered, and Joseph arrests his brothers. The price for their freedom is giving up Benjamin as collateral; he shall be enslaved to Joseph. Reminiscent of his father Jacob, Joseph is remarkably adept at outmaneuvering his family and the society he has quickly assimilated into.

His quest to be remembered is our own need to not be forgotten nor let our lives be wasted in oblivion.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts Joseph’s Egyptian burial mask. The face is meant to appear a little uncertain, and the mask likewise stands just off-center. The image is inspired by Genesis 41:45: "And Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath Pa’neach…" It’s significant that Pharaoh renames Joseph, making him the first biblical character not renamed by G-d. Joseph also takes an Egyptian wife. We might think of Joseph as the prototypical diaspora Jew. He may be fetishized and celebrated by the majority culture in which he finds himself, but his success and acceptance in Egypt ultimately allow him to save his family and sustain the ancestral line that will become the ancient Israelites. In his essay, The Blessing of Assimilation in Jewish History, Rabbi Gerson Cohen (z”l) argues that "not only did a certain amount of assimilation and acculturation not impede Jewish continuity, but...in a profound sense, [it] was a stimulus to original thinking and expression, a source or renewed vitality." There is a Hanukkah lesson there. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayeishev — Genesis 37:1 – 40:23

While quantum cosmologists claim there is no causation within the universe, we do not necessarily need a Hubble telescope to see how often life seems to overflow with an irreducible disorder and chaos. In our own family dynamic, for example, there is no shortage of jealousy, sibling rivalry, preferential treatment – all so integral to the narrative of Joseph.

Jacob singles out Joseph, born late, with his gift of a multi-colored tunic. The gift causes Joseph’s brothers to become murderously jealous, but Joseph recounts and interprets dreams of his siblings’ plots against him. The tunic serves as a leitmotif, that is a recurring symbol linking episodes of the narrative to Joseph’s trials: (1) it is dipped in blood per Reuben’s suggestion, thereby staving off the other brothers' desire to kill Joseph and instead allowing them to convince Jacob that his favorite son was devoured by a wild beast; (2) Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but he flees, leaving the tunic in her hands; (3) finally imprisoned and stripped of his tunic, Joseph wears a prison garb.

Yet it is in this darkest of prisons that Joseph interprets the disturbing dreams of the chief butler and baker – both incarcerated for offending their royal master, the Pharaoh. Joseph’s expectations of intercession on his behalf, whether as the favorite son or as the dream interpreter in jail, lead nowhere.

Order and peace of mind follow disorder and chaos when we take the long view of our family history and the role each of us plays within its unfolding.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by Genesis 37:24: "And they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty there was no water in it." Why does the text specify that there is no water in the pit into which Joseph is thrown by his brothers? Some commentators have pointed out that we refer to Torah as mayim hayim, the "living waters," a metaphor for how the Torah nourishes our lives. Perhaps, similarly, Torah here uses water in a metaphorical sense – Joseph is cast into a pit that is totally devoid of any psychological or physiological sustenance. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Yermiyahu Ramos' Bar Mitzvah

Shalom! My name is Yermiyahu Ramos, but you can call me Yehry. I am a seventhgrader at James Lick Middle School and my favorite subject is Spanish. I love to play all kinds of sports, but I most enjoy playing soccer with my friends after school.

This Saturday, December 9, I will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. The process of becoming a bar mitzvah has been very exciting. Many at Beth Sholom have said to me that they’ve been waiting a long time for my bar mitzvah. I am always at the Shabbat services and enjoy them going to them very much.

For my tzedakah project, all the money I will receive will go the Yad Eliezer project that helps the poor in Israel and the Magen David Adom. For a long time, I’ve wanted to donate to those in need in Israel and my project will finally allow me to do so!

I will be reading Parsha Vayeishev, which talks about Jacob and his family dynamics. It especially focuses on Joseph, who gets his coat of many colors, has his famous dreams, and is sold by his brothers to Ishmaelites that later take him Egypt. The Parasha Vayeishev reading ends with Joseph being sent to jail because of Potiphar’s wife and then interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh's cupbearer and baker.

I want to thank those who have helped me through the process of becoming a bar mitzvah. I also want to thank those who are coming to share a very important moment for me, as well as my family for helping and supporting me.

Vayeitzai — Genesis 28:10 – 32:3

To flee from a challenging situation may strike us irresponsible. However, sometimes taking leave is not about fleeing, but taking hold of a new chapter in life. This is what is at stake in the opening words of this week’s reading: "Jacob took leave of Be’er Sheva and set out for Haran." (Genesis 28:10) Jacob is taking leave of his hometown of Be'er Sheva to dream of something more – a Promised Land.

En route to Haran, Jacob encounters that place, falls asleep, and then dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. This powerful vision of angels ascending and descending upon the ladder serves as a further signpost for Jacob’s journey onwards to the Promised Land. The next morning, Jacob raises the stone upon which he laid his head as an altar called, Beth El.

While in Haran, Jacob devotes fourteen years to work and raising a family including: his six sons with LeahReuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, and their daughter, Dinah; Dan and Naphtali, sons of Rachel’s handmaiden; and Gad and Asher, sons of Leah’s handmaiden, Zilpah; and finally Joseph, born to Rachel.

After this extended period, in a surprising turn for biblical narrative, Jacob yearns to return home. After repeated attempts at swindling Jacob to stay, Laban pursues Jacob but is warned not to harm him. Jacob and Laban make a pact on Mount Gil-‘Ed, allowing Jacob to continue in his ascent to the Holy Land, accompanied again by angels.

The rabbinic mind prefers from the outset to read this story as a "taking leave" that teaches an important message: when one is dedicated to cultivating a just and righteous life, then taking leave makes an imprint upon the very place you depart from.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by the "dream stone" on which Jacob laid his head. According to Jewish storyteller Joel Lurie Grishaver, this magic rock was created by God to help people recall their dreams and was used by generations of biblical protagonists: Jacob sleeps on it; Joseph chips off a piece to carry as a rubbing stone; Jeroboam builds a temple over it. Eventually, though, the rock is smashed into countless shards by Hezekiah and the pieces were "passed from hand to hand, place to place," the world over. Grishaver writes "every time that Joseph Caro dreamed of the Shekinah, a piece of rock was near. Every time Rashi understood a piece of Torah in one of his dreams, a sliver of rock was on the spot." Yup, it's quite a rock. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Israel Mission Remembrance (II)

From December 22, 2016 – January 2, 2017, almost 30 members of the CBS community traveled to Israel as part of the CBS/Kol Shofar Intergenerational Communal Family Mission. The trip itinerary was thoughtfully designed by Rabbis Aubrey Glazer and Susan Leider (Kol Shofar), and we've heard from many participants about how extraordinary and memorable an experience they had.

Today, we continue to share participant remembrances with a wonderful report from Lu and Norman Zilber on full, inspiring days in Jerusalem. If you read these contributions and wish to join a future congregational mission to Eretz Yisrael, please let us know.


Facebook_LuZilberPhoto1_JerusalemJerusalem shel matah, Jerusalem shel malah. Jerusalem of the earth, Jerusalem of the spirit. Today, we saw both.

When King Herod (the paranoid) rebuilt the Temple, he first built a platform with arches and a buttressing wall that leans inward to prevent the arches from expanding. All four of these outer walls are standing today, even after 2000 years. The westernmost one was closest to the spot where the Holy of Holies was located, so that’s the one we pray at today. The walls are comprised of gigantic stones weighing 400 tons each. How did they get them in place? They were rolled down from the northern side, which was the highest point.

We visited the Western Wall and said a Shehecheyanu. We then descended below to see Herod’s construction. We walked for over four hours today and are pooped, but Shabbat is approaching, so we meet our group in 15 minutes to walk to shul.

Our guide is fantastic. He is a treasure trove of history (which he calls our collective memory), architecture, and politics. For example, today’s Arab Muslims do not recognize the Jews' presence in Jerusalem because in fact they have no collective memory of our being there.

We climbed up on the roof of the city to see the Muslim Dome of the Rock, built circa 700 CE, the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque with its dome, and lo and behold, the Jews rebuilt the grand synagoge in their quarter with, you guessed it, a dome! Politics.

Norm’s two cents on Jerusalem

To leave the old city from the roof, we walked through a section that was a warren of streets with one room shops on top of each other.

It looked exactly like Istanbul, down to the packets of saffron and other exotic spices. Merchandise here caters to three religions. It's startling to see tallesim (or tallitot) hanging above wooden crèches (Nativity scenes).

Leyning Torah in Eretz Yisrael

We walked over a mile to the Masorti congregation where they generously gave our group a warm welcome and three aliyot. Our rabbi's niece and daughter read the first and second aliyot and I did the third (about Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers). My nervousness was dispelled by the crying babies and chattering congregants.

There was a couple about to get married and the congregation celebrated mightily. Because of this couple, there was a lovely kiddush following services. The food was better than the hotel's!

It's always a pleasure to attend services in another country. The traditions and melodies may differ a bit, but you always feel you belong and most people welcome us. We are having a restful Shabbat afternoon since tomorrow's schedule is another heavy day.

We visited (and had lunch at) the Mahane Yehuda Market, which reminded us of Istanbul, but on a smaller scale. Loads of vendors selling nuts, baklava, olives, halvah, pastries (no ruggelach, but heaps of various sufganiyot donuts), and spices, along with fish mongers and fruit and vegetable stands. We grabbed some delicious fish and chips, and shared a sufganiyah filled with caramel (yum!). We bought a selection of baklava and some hazel nuts and almonds. The baklava is much less sweet than what you find in the US and is chock-full of ground pistachios. We then walked to the "time elevator," a large screen film experience (your seat moves like a roller coaster) retelling the story of Jerusalem from the time of King David. Its all done in 30 minutes and is a bit hokey, but the kids thought it was “amazing."

Our bus then took us to a promenade above the city at sunset to get a view of the "City of Gold." Every couple of minutes, the view changed and got more and more beautiful.

- Lu Zilber

Shemot -- Exodus 1:1-6:1

facebook_coverdesign_shemotAs we open the Book of Exodus – which describes the founding of a nation and a collective religion we today call Judaism – let us consider the challenge that philosopher Peter Sloterdijk poses to our assumptions about the myth of religion's return in recent decades.

In You Must Change Your Life (2014), Sloterdijk argues that it is not religion that is returning, but a mode in which humans are practicing, training beings that create and re-create themselves through exercises and routine. In the course of this training, Sloterdijk writes, an individual human "transcends itself."

In making the case for the expansion of what Sloterdijk calls a "practice zone" for individuals as well as for society as a whole, new insights emerge about what he dubs the "self-formation" of all things human, both individual and collective, and the dynamism between those two. As individuals, we are interwoven into the collective and vice versa.

This sense of the individual intertwined within the collective could not be more evident than in this week’s opening section of the Book of Exodus, where the collective children of Israel are growing numerous and prospering generations after Joseph’s rise to become grand vizier of Egypt. Yet all that remains of their integration and elevation into Egyptian society are their individual names. What has happened to their collective "practice zone"? Still, names tell a story, even if one nearly forgotten.

It is precisely this prosperity and integration that now becomes perceived as a threat to their Egyptian overlords. In the process of Pharaoh’s enslaving the Israelites, he also orders the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah to kill all male babies by throwing them into the Nile.

If it was not for the righteous indignation of the midwives, Moses would never have come onto the scene. This child born to Yocheved, daughter of Levi, and her husband Amram, is placed in a basket along the Nile River. It is Pharaoh’s daughter who discovers the baby hidden in the basket while bathing in the Nile and names him Moses.

Fast forward to Moses fleeing the palace, finding his way to Midian, where he rescues Tzipporah, daughter of local chieftain and priest of Midian, Jethro. He later marries Tzipporah and becomes a shepherd of Jethro’s flocks. Moses continues to wander in search of the truth, finally encountering the divine in renowned theophany of the burning bush at the foot of Mount Sinai.

As Moses and Aaron challenge Pharaoh’s recalcitrance to free the Israelites, the people hold fast to the hope that redemption is at hand. When we know the depth of our own name’s message, then perhaps our "practice zone" can re-emerge more boldly in the community within which we are all intertwined as a collective.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: If this week’s illustration calls to mind the facade of our remarkable sanctuary, good. But it’s also a straightforward rendering of an ancient Egyptian hieroglyph called a neb. The checkered pattern was used in the hieroglyph to show that the bowl-shaped basket was woven from reeds. Perhaps the same type of Egyptian basket was used to float Moses in this week's parsha? "[When] she could no longer hide him, she took [for] him a reed basket, smeared it with clay and pitch, placed the child into it, and put [it] into the marsh at the Nile's edge." (Exodus 2:3) From now on, when you look at the striking architecture of CBS, think ark, menorah, and neb! Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayekhi — Genesis 47:28–50:26

facebook_coverdesign_vayekhiConfronting our own mortality can often give rise to unseen blessings in our lives and the lives of those we love. At the close of Genesis, during Jacob's final hours, he conducts a stocktaking of his children, the twelve tribes of Israel. On his deathbed, Jacob announces: "…I am now old, and I do not know how soon I may die… So that I may give you my innermost blessing before I die." (Genesis 27: 2,4)

In the course of this grandiose blessing of the next generation, a tragic moment almost passes everyone by when it comes to Jacob's grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh, who Jacob does not recognize. He asks his son Joseph about his grandchildren: “Who are these?” (Genesis 48:8) Eventually, Jacob agrees to bless his grandchildren, but Joseph is displeased as his father appears to be flouting the social etiquette by blessing Ephraim, the younger, before Manasseh, the elder. True to the ongoing disruption of primogeniture in Genesis, Jacob corrects his son, Joseph, who has assimilated the primacy of primogeniture in Near Eastern society, wherein the elder ruling over the younger sibling is an expected norm.

In the end, no matter how assimilated, Joseph accepts his father, Jacob’s unconventional blessing for his own children that both challenges societal norms while following in his father’s footsteps. Respecting his father’s last wishes, now also his own, both Jacob and Joseph are interred in the Holy Land together with their ancestors, bringing Genesis to a close.

Just as it opens with blessing, Genesis closes with it – so may we all be blessed in our own ongoing journey into communal life that emerges through Exodus.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration is inspired by Jacob’s blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. "But Israel stretched out his right hand and placed [it] on Ephraim's head, although he was the younger, and his left hand [he placed] on Manasseh's head. He guided his hands deliberately, for Manasseh was the firstborn." (Genesis 48:14) Jacob’s crossover blessing is traditionally understood as yet another example of the Torah showing the younger son displacing the older. Contemporary Biblical scholars also surmise that the account was written to foreshadow the future power of Ephraim’s descendant, Jeroboam (c. 960 - 910 B.C.E.), who would become the first king of Israel’s Northern Kingdom. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayigash — Genesis 44:18–47:27

facebook_coverdesign_vayigashSometimes the harshest reproach can elicit the most tender response. "Then Judah went up to [Joseph] and said: 'Please, my lord…'" (Genesis 44:18).

This is the dramatic moment where Judah is called upon to facilitate the role of rapprochement as he approaches Joseph. This act of loyalty amidst a history of loyalties betrayed is so heart-wrenching that Joseph, the governor of Egypt, finally pushes aside his seeming disinterestedness to reveal his true identity to his astonished brothers. Shame and remorse overcome the brothers, but Joseph comforts them, explaining the divine hand in this drama.

Rushing back to Canaan with the joyous news, the brothers inform Jacob that his favorite son, Joseph, is still alive. They all return to Egypt with their families – seventy souls in all — and the bereft father is reunited with his favorite son after 22 years apart.

Joseph continues to prosper as governor of Egypt, selling stored food and seed during the famine. As a result, Pharaoh awards Jacob’s family the entire country of Goshen as a place to settle, so that the blessing of assimilation continues for the Israelites amidst their apparent Egyptian exile. How much does our own self-interest dictate the level of our connection to the spaces we occupy and the relationships we cultivate?

Tenderness can re-emerge amidst the challenges of any reproach if our hearts are truly open.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's digital illustration was inspired by the weeping Joseph and his brothers do when he finally reveals his identity to them. "And he wept out loud, so the Egyptians heard, and the house of Pharaoh heard." (Genesis 45:2) These are tears of joyful reunification, profound shame, betrayal, and release – complex and contradictory emotions. This illustration of an eye calls to mind pooled water (or tears), but also reflects Joseph's watchfulness and calculation. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Meiketz — Genesis 41:1–44:17

facebook_coverdesign_mikeitzSometimes our hidden gifts reveal themselves to us in expected times and places. Pharaoh unveils this gift to Joseph, saying: "There is none so discerning and wise as you." (Genesis 41:39)

Joseph's prowess continues to grow, given his gifts as dream interpreter as well as financial advisor to Pharaoh. In short order, Joseph is promoted to governor of Egypt and marries into the royal family. His wife, Asenath, (ironically, the daughter of Potiphar), bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

The wheel turns as famine spreads throughout the region, forcing Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt to purchase grain from the prodigal son they had all but forgotten about. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize their brother, who walks, talks, and for all intents and purposes is a fully assimilated Egyptian governor and citizen.

Accusing his brothers to be spies, Joseph demands Benjamin but settles for Simeon as hostage. Jacob sends Benjamin as an envoy only after Judah assumes responsibility for him. In a highly melodramatic turn, Joseph now receives his brothers hospitably, releasing Simeon and inviting them to dinner. Yet, he then plants a magical goblet into Benjamin’s sack and has his brothers pursued and searched by his men the next morning. The goblet is discovered, and Joseph arrests his brothers. The price for their freedom is giving up Benjamin as collateral; he shall be enslaved to Joseph. Reminiscent of his father Jacob, Joseph is remarkably adept at outmaneuvering his family and the society he has quickly assimilated into.

Following our hearts and keeping them connected to our minds, like Joseph, offers us all new pathways to redeem us from most of life’s imprisonment.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an expressionistic depiction of the seven famished cows that appear in the Pharaoh's dream. "And behold, seven other cows were coming up after them from the Nile, of ugly appearance and lean of flesh..." (Genesis 41:3) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayeishev — Genesis 37:1–40:23

facebook_coverdesign_vayeishevGiven all the challenges and distractions life presents, settling the mind is no small feat.

When scripture states, "Now Jacob settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan" (Genesis 37:1), one way of understanding this settling is the primary, more literal one, that of Jacob's family putting down roots in a particular place. But we can also infer that Jacob himself is settling his mind.

Jealousy, sibling rivalry, preferential treatment – all necessary elements of intrigue in any gripping novella – are surprisingly integral to the narrative of Joseph. Jacob singles out Joseph, born late, with his gift of a multi-colored tunic. The gift causes Joseph’s brothers to become murderously jealous, but Joseph recounts and interprets dreams of his siblings’ plots against him. The tunic serves as a leitmotif, that is a recurring symbol linking episodes of the narrative to Joseph’s trials: (1) it is dipped in blood per Reuben’s suggestion, thereby staving off the other brothers' desire to kill Joseph and instead allowing them to convince Jacob that his favorite son was devoured by a wild beast; (2) Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, but he flees, leaving the tunic in her hands; (3) finally imprisoned and stripped of his tunic, Joseph wears a prison garb.

Yet it is in this darkest of prisons that Joseph interprets the disturbing dreams of the chief butler and baker – both incarcerated for offending their royal master, the Pharaoh. Joseph’s expectations of intercession on his behalf, whether as the favorite son or as the dream interpreter in jail, lead nowhere.

Ultimately, Joseph comes to realize that his own redemption depends on his finding a way to settle his mind so that he may see the dream life more clearly.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration shows the bloody tunic Joseph's brothers delivered to Jacob. The cloth is otherwise plain, a nod to the debate among Torah scholars about what is meant by the Hebrew description "kethoneth passim." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes that this "may be translated as 'a full-sleeved robe,' 'a coat of many colors,' 'a coat reaching to his feet,' 'an ornamented tunic,' 'a silk robe,' or 'a fine woolen cloak.'" Whatever the tunic looked like, Jacob, in gifting it to Joseph, was perceived to be showing favoritism for his youngest son, thereby begetting the jealousy and rivalry. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayeitzai — Genesis 28:10–32:3

facebook_coverdesign_vayeitzai"Jacob took leave of Be’er Sheva and set out for Haran." (Genesis 28:10)

Wandering in a displaced manner is distinct from wandering to a place of promise. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Abraham, Jacob takes leave of his hometown of Be'er Sheva to dream of something more – a Promised Land.

En route to Haran, Jacob encounters that place, falls asleep, and then dreams of a ladder connecting heaven and earth. This powerful vision of angels ascending and descending upon the ladder serves as a further signpost for Jacob’s journey onwards to the Promised Land. The next morning, Jacob raises the stone upon which he laid his head as an altar called, Beth El.

While in Haran, Jacob devotes fourteen years to work and raising a family including: his six sons with LeahReuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, and their daughter, Dinah; Dan and Naphtali, sons of Rachel’s handmaiden; and Gad and Asher, sons of Leah’s handmaiden, Zilpah; and finally Joseph, born to Rachel.

After this extended period, in a surprising turn for biblical narrative, Jacob yearns to return home. After repeated attempts at swindling Jacob to stay, Laban pursues Jacob but is warned not to harm him. Jacob and Laban make a pact on Mount Gil-‘Ed, allowing Jacob to continue in his ascent to the Holy Land, accompanied again by angels. Reflecting the ladder’s dynamic tension and two-way flow, Jacob’s journey is one of both ascent and descent amid the joys and challenges of a familial life.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract depiction of the monument Jacob erects at Beth El. The layered image is intended to evoke both Jacob's dream – the stones of the cairn standing in for the rungs of a ladder – and the fear and trembling he experienced when he became aware of G-d's presence. "And Jacob awakened from his sleep, and he said, 'Indeed, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know [it].' And he was frightened, and he said, 'How awesome is this place!'" (Genesis 28: 16–17) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Vayekhi -- Genesis 47:28-50:26

1080-Jacob_Blessing_Ephraim_and_Manasseh_by_Benjamin_WestRenowned violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin (1916-99) was born in New York of Russian-Jewish parents, and made his violin debut at the age of seven performing Lalo’s Symphonie espagnole with the San Francisco Symphony, eventually launching himself at an early age on a lifelong career that was to take him all over the world, playing with leading conductors and orchestras. This exceptional musician and committed humanitarian once noted:

Music creates order out of chaos: for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent, melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed, and harmony imposes compatibility upon the incongruous.

One can almost hear how the melody of the Jacob narrative works in this way, especially with the stocktaking of his children, the twelve tribes of Israel. It is a melody that remains at peace with the gaps that occur between "imposing continuity upon the disjointed" lives of his grandchildren.

Amidst this grandiose act of blessing the next generation, the most tragic moment almost passes everyone by when it comes to his grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh. It is that minor moment where Jacob asks his son Joseph about his very grandchildren: “Who are these?” (48:8) Eventually Jacob agrees to bless his grandchildren, but Joseph is displeased as his father appears to be flouting the social etiquette by blessing Ephraim, the younger, before Manasseh, the elder. True to the ongoing disruption of primogeniture in the Book of Genesis, Jacob corrects his son, Joseph, who has assimilated the primacy of primogeniture in Near Eastern society, wherein the elder ruling over the younger sibling is an expected norm.

In the end, no matter how assimilated, Joseph accepts his father, Jacob’s unconventional blessing for his own children that both challenges societal norms while following in his father’s footsteps. Respecting his father’s last wishes, now also his own, both Jacob and Joseph are interred in the Holy Land together with their ancestors bringing Genesis to a close.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: "Jacob Blessing Ephraim and Manasseh," by Benjamin West, 1766-68

Aaron Miller's Bar Mitzvah

Miller2This Shabbat, we hope you'll join CBS as we celebrate Aaron Miller's bar mitzvah!

Aaron's message for the community is below.

+++++

Hello, my name is Aaron Miller. I am a seventh grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. I like to play soccer, work with computers, read, and be with my younger brothers, Joshua and Ilan. Soon it will be my bar mitzvah, and my portion is Vayigash.

In Vayigash, Joseph is now the second in command to Pharaoh. Joseph’s brothers go to him for food because there is a famine in Egypt, not knowing that he is their brother. Joseph tells them to go get their youngest brother (Benjamin), or he will not give them food. They bring Benjamin to Joseph, and Joseph reveals himself as the brother whom they assumed to be dead. Joseph gives them food and money for the famine.

The famine hits the Egyptian people, and Joseph sells food to them. He takes their money, land, and cattle. Then the people offer themselves as payment, making them slaves to Pharaoh in exchange for food. Joseph makes them slaves, but he also gives them seeds so that the people can plant their own fields when the famine is over. They will then have to give one-fifth of their food to Pharaoh during the harvest.

I am donating money to MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, because my portion makes you think about what people do in order to get food, and I want to help prevent that. I am also collecting food to donate to the JFCS food pantry. I feel that food scarcity is a big problem in the world today, and I want to do what I can to help fix it.

Thank you to my amazing tutor Marilyn, who helped me learn my Torah and Haftarah. Thank you to Rabbi Glazer for being a great teacher and rabbi. Thank you to my family, who listened to me practice my drash over and over, and who are always positive.

Please note that any JFCS food pantry donations should be dropped off at CBS before or after Shabbat. Bins are located in the Rainbow Courtyard, behind the stairs, and near the CBS Family Preschool entrance off 15th Avenue. Thank you for participating in this mitzvah!

Vayigash -- Genesis 44:18-47:27

800px-Pindar_statueBorn to an aristocratic family near Thebes in or about 522 BCE, Pindar is considered by some scholars to be the greatest of the classical Greek poets. He once wrote that:

Even wisdom has to yield to self-interest."

But where does one draw the line?

Namely, how much self-interest inheres in Judah’s seemingly selfless pleading for the release of brother, Benjamin? This is that dramatic moment where Judah is called upon to facilitate the role of rapprochement as he approaches Joseph. It is this very act of loyalty amidst a history of loyalties betrayed that is so heart-wrenching, to the point where Joseph, the governor of Egypt, finally pushes aside his seeming disinterestedness to reveal his true Jewish identity to his brothers. Shame and remorse overcome the brothers, but Joseph comforts them, explaining the divine hand in this drama.

Rushing back to Canaan with the joyous news, Jacob is informed that his favorite son, Joseph, is still alive. They all return to Egypt with their families—seventy souls in all — and the bereft father is reunited with his favorite son after 22 years apart.

Joseph continues to prosper as governor of Egypt, selling stored food and seed during the famine. As a result, Pharaoh awards Jacob’s family the entire country of Goshen as a place to settle, so that the blessing of assimilation continues for the Israelites amidst their apparent Egyptian exile. How much does our own self-interest dictate the level of our connection to the spaces we occupy and the relationships we cultivate? And where then can wisdom be found?

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Bust of the poet Pindar, Roman copy from original of the mid-5 century BC; collection of Napoli, Museo Archeologica Nazionale.

Nathan Marks' Bar Mitzvah

Nathan2015PHSaThis Shabbat, we hope you'll join the CBS community as we celebrate Nathan Marks' bar mitzvah and toast his coming of age!

Nathan's message for the community is just below.

+++++

Sholom. My name is Nathan Marks. I am a 7th grade student at the Presidio Hill School. When I’m not studying for my bar mitzvah, I enjoy reading books and cooking.

In my parsha, Miketz, the Pharaoh has two dreams, and then Joseph interprets them. Joseph says that the dreams mean there will be seven years of good harvest and then seven years of famine. The Pharaoh then appoints Joseph as second in command of Egypt, and he supervises the collection and distribution of grain. The famine was all over the region, and Joseph’s brothers (except for the youngest one, Benjamin) come to get grain because they are starving in Canaan. The brothers do not recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognizes them. Joseph says that he will give them grain, as long as they bring their youngest brother brother back from Canaan and leave one brother, Simeon, with him as a safety deposit. The brothers go back to Canaan and tell their father, Jacob, that they have to bring Benjamin to Egypt to get Simeon back. Once the brothers return to Egypt, Joseph sets out a magnificent feast for them, but he leaves the room to cry because he is overcome with so many feelings. While they are eating, Joseph tells his servants to fill his brothers’ bags with gold and Benjamin’s with a special silver goblet. In the morning, after they set off, Joseph tells his men to chase after them, and instructs them that the one with the goblet will have to stay with him.

Like in the parsha, my mitzvah project -- raising money for the San Francisco Food Bank -- is to help people who are food insecure (they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.) Like Jacob, most of us have the ability to help people who are food insecure get food. A group of friends helped me with packing apples into boxes. We packed about 29,000 pounds of apples in one afternoon! I am also donating a portion of any gifts I receive for my bar mitzvah to the food bank. Thank you to Rabbi Glazer for being there to help me, and to Marilyn Heiss for helping me with my torah and haftorah and my d’var torah. Also thanks to my family for being there.

Meiketz -- Genesis 41:1–44:17

ThisJosephWebThe majesty of the American Jewish experience,” according to Canadian-American businessman, Edgar Bronfman, Sr. (1929-2013), “is in its success marrying its unique Jewish identity with the larger, liberal values of the United States. There is no need any more to choose between assimilation and separation.

The story of Joseph is still caught within the crucible of assimilation and separation. Joseph’s prowess continues to grow, given his gifts as dream interpreter as well as financial advisor to Pharaoh. In short order, Joseph is promoted to governor of Egypt and marries into the royal family. His wife, Asenath, (ironically, the daughter of Potiphar), bears him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

The wheel turns as famine spreads throughout the region, forcing Joseph’s brothers to come to Egypt to purchase grain from the prodigal son they had all but forgotten about. Joseph recognizes them, but they do not recognize their brother, who walks, talks, and for all intents and purposes is a fully assimilated Egyptian governor and citizen.

Accusing his brothers as spies, he demands Benjamin but settles for Simeon as hostage. Jacob sends Benjamin as an envoy only after Judah assumes responsibility for him. In a highly melodramatic turn, Joseph now receives his brothers hospitably, releasing Simeon, inviting them to dinner, only to then plant a magical goblet into Benjamin’s sack. Pursued and searched the next morning, as the goblet is discovered the brothers are arrested. The price for their freedom is giving up Benjamin as a collateral enslaved to Joseph. Reminiscent of his father Jacob, Joseph is remarkably adept at outmaneuvering his family and the society he has quickly assimilated into.

While the Sages claim that Jacob remained fastidiously observant during his service to Laban, it is clear his favorite son, Joseph, followed in his father’s footsteps only so far and embraced the blessing of assimilation. Finding that balance in our lives allows the ongoing drama to continue.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Uncredited illustration of Joseph reuniting with his family; from cover of Harold Paisley's This Joseph

Vayeishev -- Genesis 37:1–40:23

CoatLife is one big road with lots of signs. So when you riding through the ruts, don’t complicate your mind. Flee from hate, mischief and jealousy. Don’t bury your thoughts, put your vision to reality. Wake up and live!

The Hebrew Bible seems to go out of its way to counter this vision proffered by Jamaican reggae artist, Bob Marley (1945-1981). Jealousy, sibling rivalry, preferential treatment -- all necessary elements of intrigue in any gripping novella -- are surprisingly integral to the narrative of Joseph.

Jacob singles out Joseph, born late, with his gift of a multi-colored tunic. The gift causes Joseph's brothers to become murderously jealous, but Joseph recounts and interprets dreams of his siblings’ plots against him. The tunic itself serves as a leitmotif, a recurring symbol linking episodes of the narrative to Joseph’s trials: (1) it is dipped in blood per Reuben’s suggestion, thereby staving off the other brothers desire to kill Joseph and instead allowing them to convince Jacob that his favorite son was devoured by a wild beast; (2) Potiphar’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph but he flees, leaving the tunic in her hands; (3) finally imprisoned and stripped of his tunic, Joseph wears a prison garb.

Yet it is in this darkest of prisons that Joseph interprets the disturbing dreams of the chief butler and baker -- both incarcerated for offending their royal master, the Pharaoh. Joseph’s expectations of intercession on his behalf, whether as the favorite son or as the dream interpreter in jail, lead nowhere.

Ultimately, Joseph comes to realize that his own redemption depends on his developing a new, more mature appreciation of his ability to interpret dreams: how much is original and how much is a divine gift?

- Rabbi Glazer

Image credit: “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," by Jennifer Caprio, 2014 (costume design patterned on Marc Chagall’s stained-glass windows at Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem)