Mishpatim follows immediately on the giving of the Aseret Dibrot, the Ten Declarations in Yitro – and what a follow up it is. We read through 53 Mitzvot – about 23 positive and 30 negative (thou shall and thou shall not) are found in Mishpatim, our social laws. Here we learn how to govern ourselves as a social community – and learn to know where the boundaries are to create maximum social well-being.
Yitro is the shver, the chotain, the father-in-law of Moses, and he is also a Midianite priest. Within the first 15 verses this relationship to Moses is reiterated 10 times. Yitro is positioned in Torah as having a far greater influence on Moses, as he leads the Israelite people into the lands out of Egypt, than his own father. But one wonders, as with all repetitions, why this aspect of their relationship is so stressed. Why isn’t Yitro merely introduced as the father-in-law and then named in subsequent verses?
Shabbat B’Shallach is also known as Shabbat Shira – the Shabbat of Song. After crossing over the Sea of Reeds, escaping from the narrow confines of Mitzrayim, Egypt, the Israelites break out in a song, and sing words that speak of themselves in the past, present and future – just as we heard when Moses asked God, God’s Name: I Was, I Am and I Will Be. Just as we live with our past within us in every present moment, we too are always in a state of becoming.
In our Torah reading this week, BO, the Israelites finally leave Egypt – and, with the guidance of God and Moses head, presumably, to the Land of covenant. Perhaps my aversion to camping trips is embedded in knowing that what should have been 10 days became an interminable 40 years!
Last week we opened the Book of Shemot, or Exodus; this week we are in the second parashah – Va’eira. God tells Moses that God “appeared” to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob…This is a passage of reassurance to Moses, who, whilst having agreed to challenge Pharaoh for the release of his people Israel, is still clearly in need of a confidence boost.
I have just completed formatting the announcements – and so much is going on. We are very blessed to have such an engaged congregation, with members willing to participate in all manner of ways, be it volunteering to interview members as we write our ‘torah’, our story of the beginnings of Kolot Mayim, or participate in leading services, or make offers of shiva meals as needed. And more. Truly this is Jewish life – a life of doing. Community is what we build everyday – and yet this can be very hard for new members to tap into when we can’t have people over to our homes. Hence our idea for people to visit over Zoom, one-on-one. Originally this idea came to me as I was thinking about how to better engage individuals who are thinking about conversion. Some people joined Kolot Mayim just as we were locking down – and even as I stress community, it can be very difficult for any of them to build connection with members. But as I thought about this idea, I realized there is an opportunity for many of us – if not all of us, to build deeper connections, even as we are still online for a while yet. Please think about participating. I will put a list in circulation and then leave it up to people to make calls, put up the tea and visit.
The last days of December 2020 are within sight, and January 1st 2021 (otherwise known as 17 Tevet, 5781) is upon us. And as we look forward to new beginnings we also will be closing the book of Genesis with Parashah Vayechi – “And (Jacob) lived”… As we saw earlier in Chayei Sarah – the life of Sarah, the word ‘CHAYEI’ really was telling a ‘coded’ message about her death. Here, this week, we read of the death of Yaakov. Yaakov calls Joseph to his bedside and gives him instructions for his bones to be buried in his tomb of his ancestors (Machpelah). “Please do not bury me in Egypt,” he instructs Joseph. And then Jacob summons his sons, one by one, and he gives each of them his final words to them. And then he died. Some of our burial customs to this day are mentioned – a eulogy is given, a mourning period of seven days – shiva is mentioned. And his sons did exactly as he had asked of them – he was buried in the Cave of Machpelah.
The holiday of Hannukah is over, but its profound message never leaves us. We must stand up for our beliefs. We have had many colonizers over us in Israel – from Babylonians to Assyrians to Greeks to Romans to Ottomans and Brits! And we have always had a remnant population survive. Israel lives within each of us. And we have the blessing of being obligated to the mitzvoth – to putting our Judaism into action. Some of you will read the Elie Wiesel story posted here – a reminder of how seriously we take our tradition. And, as Joel Fagan reminded us on Shabbat morning, how seriously we take our freedom to be Jews both in Israel and across the world.
A week of latkes and sufganiyot, samosa and everything fried – what a holiday! A week of music and singing and memories. At this time of year, as we spin the dreidl, we can almost feel the axis of the earth as we all spin towards the light. How do we stay upright? As Neomi taught us at our Havdalah ceremony, by spinning together.
Visions of Chanukah delights are beginning to fill our kitchens – or at the very least, our thoughts! So many options from cheese latkes to potato latkes – with or without onions; sufganiot filled with jelly or lemony ricotta balls dusted in sugar. We wish you every sweet and savoury culinary delight!