D'var Torah By Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg for ReformJudaism.org
Wherever You Go, There God Will Surely Be
We live in a self-indulgent time. One of the best examples of our era's trend toward self-indulgence is the "Travel List Challenge's 100 Places to Visit Before You Die."1 On this Web page, users are asked to check off which of the 100 author-recommended places in the world they have visited. The places range from North American sites like the Smithsonian Museum, the Washington Monument, and the Empire State Building to exotic, faraway destinations like the Taj Mahal in India, Machu Pichu in Peru, and the Great Wall of China. It's an interesting exercise, allowing us to recall some great memories of places we've seen.
But like much of what we find on social media, it's also a way show that our life is OK—maybe even better than OK—in comparison to that of our friends.
D'var Torah By: Edwin C. Goldberg for ReformJudaism.org
What Would You Hold Onto - At Any Price?
The show, Pawn Stars, is a runaway hit on the History Channel. It tells the story of three generations of the Harrison family and their Las Vegas pawnshop. There's Richard, the patriarch (affectionately known as the "old man"); Rick, the son (who really runs the business); and Rick's adult son, Corey (who wants to become a tough businessman like his father and grandfather).
The setup is simple: Every customer who walks through the door, intending to pawn or sell some family heirloom, has a tale. Sometimes the item is worthless, other times priceless. Rick can always tell the difference.
When he does pronounce that the medieval knight's helmet is really a 19th-century reproduction, the item's owner must make a choice: Sell it for less than the asking price or call the whole deal off. Often, customers call off the deal because the item's sentimental value has just exceeded its actual value.
BY RABBI KERRY M. OLITZKY for myjewishlearning.com
Was Abraham’s Second Wife Really Hagar?
None of the commentaries questioned the legitimacy of the relationship between Abraham and Keturah.
Following the death of his beloved Sarah, Abraham wed a second time. The Torah records it this way, “Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah” (Gen. 25:1). It is the Torah’s style only to add detail when necessary. Otherwise, it is up to the reader to discern the import of the Torah’s cryptic statements. In this case, there is no extensive discussion or lengthy debate. There is no explanation of Keturah’s lineage. Some suggest that she was Hagar. Others say that she was a different woman entirely.
Taking his lead from a variety of rabbinic sources, the great commentator Rashi boldly suggests that Keturah is Hagar: “She was called Keturah because her deeds were as pleasing as incense and because she tied up her opening [explanations emerging from two rabbinic folk etymologies on her name]; from the day she left Abraham, she did not couple with any man.”
D'var Torah By: Rabbi Edwin C. Goldberg for ReformJudaism.org
Hearing the Cries of Mothers and Children
Pack your loads on my back. / Force me to your destination. / I will go the mile you demand, and even a mile further. / With your guns and your authority / you can force me to do your will, / but never can you take way my freedom, / for that lies deep within my soul / where your bullets and harsh words / can never reach. / No load is as heavy / as submitting to slavery, / and that load I will never bear.
(Nyein Chan, resident of a refugee camp in Myanmar [Burma])
Mishkan HaNefesh, the new Reform High Holiday prayer book introduced last year, offers some Torah passages that previously were not chanted in most Reform temples on Rosh HaShanah. These include Genesis 21 (part of this week's Torah portion, Vayeira), which also appears in traditional prayer books. This passage is sure to launch a lot of sermons and provoke some controversy. After all, its main subject is the expulsion of Hagar, the Egyptian handmaiden to Sarah and mother to Abraham's son, Ishmael. Ishmael is also expelled. They almost die.
These words from Mother Teresa resonate with this week's text:
D'var Torah By: Edwin C. Goldberg
Answers Are Important, But Questions Matter More
Who's there?" is the first thing we read in Shakespeare's Hamlet. It encapsulates the topic of the entire play. "Where are you?" is the first question asked by God in the Torah (Genesis 3:9). From a metaphysical point of view, it captures the topic of the entire Bible. Paying attention to questions is a clever way to get to the heart of any matter. As the physicist Isaac Rabi used to recall, when his mother greeted him at the end of the school day, she always asked, "Did you ask good questions?"
In his excellent business primer, Leadership Without Easy Answers,1 Ron Heifetz defines leadership as the ability to ask the right questions. This week's Torah portion, Lech L'cha, gives us the chance to ponder Abraham's leadership potential and why God chooses him to begin the enterprise that will lead to Judaism and the Jewish people.