Parasha Toldot

Little eclipses the dramas of our parsha this week, Toldot.  Tensions between brothers, spouses, andgenerations abound.  There are even dramas beneath the surface—literally. Consider the passage in 26:10 describing Isaac’s attempts to reclaim the old wells dug by Abraham. The chapter begins with a Divine command to Isaac not to leave “the land”, despite the drought. Indeed, he is the only one of the patriarchs and matriarchs to spend his entire life within “the land.”

It is a bit unclear whether Isaac’s diggings are all acts of recovery, as 26:18 implies, or whether he first re-opens Abraham’s wells before proceeding to dig his own. The latter explanation makes some sense since the new wells’ names refer to Isaac’s experience with the shepherds of Gerar, not back to the experiences of Abraham. Whatever the p’shat, simple meaning, Ramban, Nachmanides, takes the story as a remez or hint of things yet to come—the first two wells represent the first two Temples, each of which was marred by conflict, and the yet awaited third which is associated by the Rabbis with the imagery of Ezekiel (41:7) of breadth, fertility, and partnership among the nations.

The current reality is much more like the first two wells. Each time we discover a source of spiritual energy, it elicits envy, anger and contention. Nowhere is this truer than at the Kotel, the Western Wall (of the Second Temple). For those who did not have an opportunity to monitor Jerusalem before the hurricane, Anat Hoffman was arrested at the Kotel on October 17th for “saying the Shema too loudly on the women’s side.”  There has been outrage from the liberal Jewish community, including rabbis like myself.  A month later, I am saddened by how Israeli society treats liberal Jews.  If you are unaware of the story, I recommend the following, including one by Hoffman herself.

Yesterday was Rosh Hodesh Kislev. In Jerusalem, the Women of the Wall again prayed in the heart of the Jewish world and asserted their connection to this holy place. I am distressed to report that six more women were arrested yesterday for wearing prayer shawls (Tallitot) at the Wall.  This is what our government is still focusing on while we are now at war with Hamas in Gaza???  This is like the situation of Isaac, digging despite hostility from all sides and insisting on making a connection to the well of living water.  This experience of tension diminishes the sanctity of the place. It seems to me that those who demand equal access to the holiest site in our tradition must stand firm and united with courage and persistence. Though challenging, there is hope in the story of Isaac and his wells. After finally securing a source of living water, he receives blessings from God and former adversaries. Now, all he has to worry about are his sons!

Please mark your calendars for our Visions Lecture on Tuesday, December 4th with Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of Hiddush, which promotes religious freedom and diversity in Israel.  Rabbi Regev successfully argued (he is also a lawyer) and won the recent landmark case in the Israeli Supreme Court giving recognition to Reform and Conservative conversions performed abroad.  One of the leading civil rights figures in Israel today, Regev is genuinely deserving of our respect and admiration.

As we enter the month of Kislev and approach the festival of Hanukkah, may this be a time of rededicating our connection to the sources of Torah and building a house of prayer for all people.

While this is going on, our prayers and thoughts are with Israel.  Please read the link to the prayer from our movement regarding the situation in Israel.  I will be reading it on Shabbat as well.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham