¿Existió el Paraíso?

Isaac Lupa

En muchas ocasiones hemos escuchado un refrán que dice la biblia tiene 70 caras, esto quiere decir que cada vez que se estudia algún episodio del libro de los libros, siempre se encuentran explicaciones nuevas, diferentes, algunas porque ha pasado mucho tiempo desde que se escribió, las otras por la forma diferente como se ven los hechos en la actualidad. Beit Ariela la biblioteca de la ciudad de Tel Aviv organiza diferentes series de conferencias, una de ellas es con el nombre de” El libro de los libros” “10 escritores descubren la biblia” es decir que diez escritores que tratarán de descubrir algunos secretos, escritos entre líneas o como se dijo al principio nos explicarán algunas de las 70 caras del Tanaj.

La primera plática estuvo a cargo de Dov Elboim escritor, comentarista y muy conocedor de la biblia, entre paréntesis cabe recordar que él conoce la biblia desde varios puntos de vista, ya que nació en una familia de ultra religiosos, y en la actualidad es libre pensador. El tema de la primera plática es el relato de los sucesos en “El jardín de Edén” (El jardín de Jehová).

Creo que se puede afirmar que no existe civilización en la tierra que en su historia no se haya mencionado “El jardín de Edén” como es natural cada civilización lo trata en su contexto. En las artes muchos pintores han pintado el paraíso, (Edén) como cada quien lo quería interpretar o en su mente se imaginaba.

El paraíso, siempre relacionado con Adán y Eva es jardín milenario, es como un símbolo de los primeros seres humanos, las primeras especies; no deja de ser una alegoría sobre lo seres humanos. Por lo mismo al principio de la plática el escritor Elboim se hizo la pregunta, él cree que es más interesante tratar este tema en la lengua que se escribió, no desviarse a otras historias diferentes. Para él, es un relato que desde su niñez ha leído infinidad de veces y cada vez encuentra algún punto o ángulo diferente en la narración.

Recordemos la imagen del jardín, este se describe como un parque en el cual hay árboles y plantas de toda especie. Los mismos proveen variedad de alimento, como se diría en la actualidad de todos los colores y sabores. En teoría parece que la primera pareja era vegetariana; que el ser humano estaba desnudo dado que habitaba en un clima templado y agradable. De este jardín salían cuatro ríos. El Pisón, que rodeaba la tierra de Arabia, Gihon que rodeaba la tierra de Cus, el rio Hidekel (Tigris) al oriente de Asiria, el río Éufrates.

Una semana después de atender a la plática de Elboim, escuche otra plática sustentada por el Dr. Yehuda Shenab economista, que entre las 70 caras del Tanaj él busca comparar sucesos del Tanaj con economía. El relaciona los cuatros ríos por los que corría agua y daban vida a la zona donde fluían, a inversiones en Israel, para conservar una inversión a largo plazo que den vida, él dice que en Israel son 4 conductos que a largo plazo pueden mantener una inversión, como los cuatro ríos a decir: Acciones, Moneda extranjera, inversión en Shekel, inversión indexada. Continúo dando más ejemplos interesantes que no caben en este tema.

Vamos a partir desde el punto de vista donde se considera que la historia del paraíso, no deja de ser un mito, en el cual al leerlo se precipitan a hacer siempre las mismas preguntas: ¿Por qué un mito tan bonito termina dolorosamente? Es que debemos comprender que el paraíso está clausurado, cerrado completamente. Pero, es bien sabido que en la antigüedad muchas expediciones de aventureros, no judíos, sino cristianos, como Las Cruzadas, fueron en busca del “Jardín de Edén.” En algunas mitologías antiguas como la Sumeria y la historia de Gilgamesh se pueden encontrar puntos en común o de influencia a los mitos de la historia bíblica del “Jardín de Edén”.

En el Enuma Elish, poema babilonio donde se narra que el mundo fue creado en 7 días cuyo comienzo fue en un jardín creado por el dios Tiamat, ser que está representado como una serpiente gigante. Hablamos de 70 caras de la biblia, veamos una explicación moderna del “Jardín de Edén”. El todo poderoso que tiene super cualidades crea un Invernadero o Museo en el cual coloca toda la flora y fauna conocida, es decir allí se encuentran todos los tipos de árboles frutales, plantas con hierbas comestibles, en ese lugar viven todos los animales creados, y en medio coloca dos árboles, el de la vida y el del saber, los cuales es prohibido tocar sus frutos.

Dentro del judaísmo existe una corriente que cree al “Jardín de Edén” en la actualidad se puede llegar únicamente de una forma espiritual, o como lo explica el Ramban, que con el pensamiento se puede llegar. La otra corriente dice que el “Jardín del Edén” se encuentra en el mundo del más allá, algunos cuando lleguen allí lo podrán alcanzar. Existe un paraíso al que muchos mayores quisieran regresar, es el paraíso de la niñez, cuando nos resuelven nuestros problemas.

A Adán y a Eva se les prohibió comer de uno los árboles que estaban en el centro del paraíso, que eran el árbol de la vida y el árbol del saber. Escribe Rambam que no es el hecho de comer el fruto del árbol prohibido, si no que al momento de comer ese fruto, éste ya no está, porque pasa a ser parte de la persona que lo come, quien al ingerirlo se aprovecha de sus vitaminas. Vitaminas que en esa ocasión eran tan fuertes, que les hicieron pensar en cosas que no habían pensado anteriormente; de esa forma vieron su desnudez. En ese momento ellos pensaron en el desnudo, es decir en la vida externa, dejando a un lado su interior.

Desde tiempos antiguos el ser humano ha buscado alcanzar la vida eterna. En los escritos de Gilgamesh se describe esa búsqueda; cree que se encuentra en los frutos de los árboles de la vida eterna, y del conocimiento del bien y el mal. Ese mal representado a través de la serpiente con cabeza humana.

Otro caso de vida eterna lo tenemos en los deseos de los faraones egipcios, para ellos la vida no se terminaba con la muerte, existe otra vida en el mas allá, ya que este tema es largo, concluyo con el término “La salvación,” que genéricamente se refiere a la liberación de un estado o condición”. ■

Según tomado de, http://aurora-israel.co.il/existio-el-paraiso/

A tale of two brothers: Jacob and Esau

'Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau,' by Peter Paul Rubens, 1624. (Wikipedia)

‘Reconciliation of Jacob and Esau,’ by Peter Paul Rubens, 1624. (Wikipedia)

How different would the world be today if Isaac’s children had supported each other and worked together? (Vayishlach)

Esau, the impulsive son, the coarse hunter, father of Amalek, comes to symbolize evil.  THe sages, following the tradition of the prophecies of Ovadiah and Malachi, view Esau and his descendants as the eternal, arch-enemies of Israel. Thus, the following midrash, describing Jacob’s preparations on the eve of his fateful meeting with his brother, is nothing less than astounding:

“And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two handmaids and his 11 children” (Genesis 32:22). Where then was Dinah? He put her in a box and locked her in, saying, “This wicked man has an aspiring eye; let him not take her away from me.” (Genesis Rabbah, Vayishlach76).

The midrash goes on to explain that Jacob was punished on this account because he had kept Dinah from his brother, for she might have led Esau back to the right path; because of this she later fell into the hands of Shechem! In other words, Jacob should have offered Dinah to Esau in an effort to reform him, and his not doing so resulted in a terrible tragedy for the entire family.

Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, better known by his work, Sefat Emet, explains that Jacob is endowed with the capacity to draw out the good in people, transforming them and bringing them closer to God. As one who can see the light in darkness, Jacob had the potential to reveal the goodness even in Esau; however, he failed to do so, and for this he is taken to task.

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, in his work, Ha’amek Davar, and the Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz, in his Mei HaShiloah, point to the potential good in Esau. According to Ha’amek Davar, this spark of authentic good was apparent for a fleeting moment when Esau genuinely embraced Jacob and they both wept.

He goes on the maintain that this foreshadows a future relationship: “There are moments in history when Esau’s offspring awaken to acknowledge Israeli’s destiny. Then we, too, come to recognize Esau as our brother, just as R. Yehuda Hanasi loved Antoninus …”  In a similar vein, Mei HaShiloah says that Isaac loved Esau and desired to bless him because he understood that given Esau’s exceptional qualities — his strength and his passion — were he to have become refined, he could have been greater even than Jacob.

Drawing on this more positive view of Esau, the midrash implies that things might have turned out differently for Jacob and Esau and for all subsequent generations. It asks us to entertain an alternative possibility and to recognize that things are rarely as black and white as they seem. What could have been had Jacob succeeded in awakening Esau’s better self?  In fact, an alternate narrative does exist in the Torah.  Let us explore a more successful sibling relationship.

Like Jacob before him, Moses must flee his home to save himself. He too meets his wife by the well and resides with his father-in-law, tending his sheep. God appears to him and instructs him to return, and, on the way back, he too encounters his older brother. Exodus 4:27-28 describes their reunion: “God said to Aaron, ‘Go meet Moses in the wilderness.’  He went and met him… and he kissed him.” This echoes the scene in Genesis 33:4: “Esau ran to greet him. He embraced him and … he kissed him.” The overt literary parallels between the two narratives serve to highlight the significant difference between them.

Moses is the leader, chosen by God, but when God charges him with freeing the Israelites, he feels he is not up to the job. Moses is in need of a partner; someone who can help translate his words, so they can reach all the people.In Exodus 4:16, God responds that Aaron, his brother, will fill this role: “And he shall be your spokesman to the people… and he shall be to you instead of a mouth.”

Esau, redeemed by Jacob, perhaps, could have been a partner fulfilling the blessing bestowed upon him by Isaac; “And you shall serve your brother” (Genesis 27:40). Rather than perpetual rivalry, had Jacob helped Esau channel his energies towards the positive, the two could have joined together as Aaron and Moses did. Imagine the power and influence of Edom (Rome, according to the sages) enlisted in the service of God’s charge. But in order to do this, Jacob would have had to risk placing the future of his family in jeopardy, exposing them to his unrefined brother. Understandably, he chose what he thought was the more secure path, and we will never know what might have happened.

All of us at times stand at crossroads where we need to make difficult decisions for ourselves and for our families. The contrast between the two pairs of brothers reminds us that in our lives too, there is always the potential for an alternative narrative, a different way for events to play out. The intriguing midrash of Jacob and Dinah beckons us to be ever attuned so that we may consider other possibilities; to accustom ourselves, quite literally, to think out of the box.

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/a-tale-of-two-brothers-jacob-and-esau/

El Gran Rabinato de Israel y el Vaticano destacan que hay una “obligación especial” con los niños

Diario Judío México – El Gran Rabinato de Israel y la Comisión de la Santa Sede para las Relaciones Religiosas con el Judaísmo han asegurado que tienen una “obligación especial” con los miembros más vulnerables de sus comunidades y, en particular, con los niños, “garantes de la posteridad, que todavía no pueden expresar su pleno potencial y defenderse solos”.

Así lo señalan en una declaración conjunta elaborada durante la decimosexta reunión de la Comisión bilateral de las delegaciones del Gran Rabinato de Israel y de la Comisión de la Santa Sede para las Relaciones Religiosas con el Judaísmo cuyo tema ha sido: La dignidad del ser humano. Enseñanzas del judaísmo y del catolicismo sobre los niños.

Durante el encuentro celebrado entre el 18 y 20 de este mes en Roma, la Comisión apreció el “progreso significativo” en la sociedad moderna en relación a los derechos humanos, tal como se evidencia en la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos y, en particular, en la Convención de 1989 sobre los Derechos del Niño.

El Gran Rabinato de Israel y el Vaticano declaran que tienen “una obligación especial” en la defensa de los niños

Ambas delegaciones coincidieron en la necesidad de expresar el respeto por la dignidad personal de los niños con la oferta de “una amplia gama de estímulos e instrumentos para desarrollar sus capacidades de reflexión y de acción”.

“No solo es necesario que los niños se sientan objeto de una atención adecuada y amorosa, sino también que se involucren activamente para que se desarrollen sus capacidades cognitivas y prácticas”, destaca el documento.

La delegación judía fue encabezada por el rabino Rasson Arusi, mientras que la representación católica fue presidida por el cardenal Peter Turkson

A continuación la declaración conjunta

1. El cardenal Peter Turkson, como presidente de la delegación católica, dio la bienvenida a Roma a los delegados judíos invocando la bendición divina sobre la reunión. El rabino Rasson Arusi respondió expresando el gozo y la satisfacción de la delegación judía de reunirse en esta santa tarea común citando las palabras del Salmo 90:17: “La dulzura del Señor sea con nosotros/ Confirma tú la acción de nuestras manos”.

2. La Comisión Bilateral se reunió con motivo del Día Universal del Niño convocada por las Naciones Unidas y consecuentemente dedicó sus deliberaciones al tema de la dignidad humana, con especial referencia a los niños.

3. La Comisión apreció el progreso significativo en la sociedad moderna en relación con el tema de los derechos humanos, tal como se evidencia en la Declaración Universal de los Derechos Humanos y, en particular, en la Convención de 1989 sobre los Derechos del Niño. Estos principios de la inviolabilidad de la vida humana y de la inalienable dignidad humana de la persona encuentran su plena expresión en las relaciones entre el individuo y lo Divino y entre el individuo y su prójimo, que implica la responsabilidad de hacer efectiva esa relación en la dimensión social. Tenemos una obligación especial para con los miembros más vulnerables de nuestras comunidades y, en particular, con los niños, garantes de la posteridad, que todavía no pueden expresar su pleno potencial y defenderse solos

4. Se discutió en profundidad la importancia de aclarar el fundamento ético de esto principios, señalando que estos ideales ya están arraigados con valor trascendente en nuestro patrimonio bíblico común que declara que el ser humano está creado a imagen de Dios (cf. Gen 1: 26-27; 5: 1-2).

5. El respeto por la dignidad personal de los niños también debe expresarse con la oferta de una amplia gama de estímulos e instrumentos para desarrollar sus capacidades de reflexión y de acción. No solo es necesario que los niños se sientan objeto de una atención adecuada y amorosa, sino también que se involucren activamente para que se desarrollen sus capacidades cognitivas y prácticas. Para que eso suceda en consonancia con los principios antes mencionados, es necesario fomentar relaciones de amor auténtico y estable, y proporcionar la nutrición, atención médica y protección adecuadas, así como la educación religiosa y escolarización necesarias, el aprendizaje informal y el cultivo de la creatividad.

6. La sociedad en su conjunto, pero en particular los padres, los maestros y guías religiosos, tienen una responsabilidad especial en el crecimiento moral y espiritual de los niños. En sus deliberaciones sobre los derechos de los niños a la autonomía y a la libertad, los miembros de la Comisión Bilateral destacaron la tensión entre el esfuerzo por garantizar la máxima libertad de elección y el de asegurar la protección y la orientación prudente. Todo esto exige que nos abstengamos de cualquier instrumentalización de la otra persona, cuya dignidad siempre debe considerarse como un fin en sí mismo.

7. Los miembros de la Comisión Bilateral fueron recibidos en una audiencia privada por el Papa Francisco que afirmó su compromiso personal en este ámbito y en el progreso de las relaciones entre católicos y judíos con las palabras: “Somos hermanos e hijos de un sólo Dios, y debemos trabajar juntos por la paz, mano en mano”. En este encuentro, el Papa recibió con satisfacción la noticia de la preparación de un documento interreligioso sobre las cuestiones relacionadas con el final de la vida, con especial referencia al peligro de legalizar la eutanasia y el suicidio asistido por un médico en lugar de garantizar los cuidados paliativos y el máximo respeto por la vida que es un don de Dios.

8. Al concluir sus deliberaciones, los miembros de la Comisión Bilateral dieron gracias al Altísimo por sus bendiciones sobre sus vidas y trabajo; y por sus dones, entre los que se incluyen los niños, así descritos en el Salmo 127: 3, “La herencia de Dios son los hijos/ recompensa el fruto de las entrañas”. Para garantizar su sano desarrollo espiritual es particularmente importante familiarizarlos con el patrimonio bíblico que comparten judíos y católicos.

9. Además, la Comisión insta a que estos textos de las Sagradas Escrituras se estudien en sus respectivas comunidades. Asimismo, la enseñanza de Nostra aetate (n. 4) y los documentos subsiguientes relativos a las relaciones judeo-cristianas, deberían ser ampliamente conocidos y difundidos en ambas comunidades, lo cual proporcionará un impulso creciente a la bendita reconciliación y cooperación entre judíos y católicos, en beneficio de sus fieles y de la entera sociedad.

Según tomado de, https://diariojudio.com/ticker/el-gran-rabinato-de-israel-y-el-vaticano-destacan-que-hay-una-obligacion-especial-con-los-ninos/282988/

The Converso Comeback

Hispanic crypto-Jews use social media and DNA testing to reconnect with their heritage

By Suzanne Selengut

When retired civil servant Carl Montoya arrives for prayers at Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia, he has a routine. He expertly wraps tefillin, dons his Sephardic prayer shawl, and greets his many friends in the pews. The Hebrew prayers can be tricky for him, but he is slowly mastering them all, together with the rest of Jewish ritual life. As a convert to Conservative Judaism and an active member of an Orthodox synagogue, Montoya has definitely broken from his past as a Catholic with deep roots in New Mexico’s historic Hispanic community. But what makes his story truly remarkable is not just that he is a Jew by choice, but that he is a Jew by birth.

Like many of the around 100 million other descendants of crypto-Jews of Spanish-Portuguese heritage globally, Montoya became curious about family lore. He learned his ancestors were Bnei Anusim—a Hebrew term for conversos, those forced to convert to Christianity during the Spanish Inquisition—who fled from the Iberian Peninsula to what is now New Mexico. Montoya shares his heritage with many others in the American Southwest, Central and South America, Spain, and Portugal. In Spain alone, one in 20 Iberian men have DNA markers identifying them as having a Jewish background, while some 15 percent of Hispanic men in the Southwest have those markers.

Almost 200 years after the last victim of the Inquisition was murdered in 1826, the true picture of what happened during that deadly period of Jewish history is only now emerging, thanks to the growing popularity of social media and online DNA testing services. Curious individuals can now pay a small fee to learn crucial genetic information, then head to Facebook forums such as Tracing the Tribe, where they can meet others searching for clues to the past.

Once they have determined their links to 15th-century Spanish Jewry, the next step is different for every individual. Some convert to one of the traditional branches of Judaism, while others identify as Jewish without feeling the need to be ratified by a rabbinic court. Still others remain members of another faith or no faith while finding new inspiration to study Judaism, or visit Israel.

Decades after her conversion to Orthodox Judaism, Genie Milgrom, a Cuban-born author, successfully traced an unbroken maternal lineage 15 generations back, to the Jewish community in Spain in the 1500s. She says that technological advances are only one part of the push to examine the past. The last 20 years have also brought with them a cultural shift that has allowed people to explore their authentic selves, she says. “We’re a lot freer to talk about our own deep feelings,” said Milgrom in a telephone interview. But as with the Holocaust, the tragic nature of the Spanish Inquisition, which began in 1478 and included the torture and public murder of Jews and other “non-believers,” made grappling with the pain almost impossible. Some experts feel its full magnitude has been repressed by the global Jewish community.

Ashley Perry, former adviser to Israel’s minister of foreign affairs, heads Reconectar, a group that assists Bnei Anusim who wish to reconnect to Judaism. Perry says that many spiritual leaders of the Jewish community today are largely unaware of the “Gestapo-like existence” that led conversos to profess Christianity while risking their lives to maintain a secret Jewish life.

Centuries later, in the remote hills of New Mexico, their cultural isolation continues. According to Schelly Talalay Dardashti, an expert on Jewish genealogy and the U.S. genealogy adviser for MyHeritage.com, “The old converso families don’t talk about it. As we say in New Mexico, the motto is: ‘Deny until you die.’” Even today, those who return make the journey alone, and many encounter disapproving family members. Montoya, who enjoys a good relationship with his family, acknowledges that elder family members have been reluctant to share: “You have to keep in mind the social patterns in the Southwest, and the discrimination even today. ‘I think they’re thinking, ‘Hey, we already have to deal with the Hispanic thing; why do we want to add this Jewish thing?’”

“We don’t schlep our families with us,” said Milgrom. “You walk away from the Catholicism in your family, and you come to this place alone.” Most of the current Bnei Anusim are indeed on their own, motivated by a few strange family traditions coupled with a sense of feeling Jewish, says Milgrom. Montoya was middle-aged before he began asking elder family members about their memories. Those returned slowly, as if being dredged from the past. When he asked his mother about the practice of covering mirrors when mourning a death, she said the family had not observed that Jewish custom. “Then I asked my aunt, and she says: ‘Oh yeah, when your grandmother died, we covered the mirrors.’”

Montoya later learned that his parents observed the practice of lighting candles each year at the anniversary of the death of their parents and that when sweeping the floor, they gathered the dirt in the center of the room, never near the door—a practice prevalent among Bnei Anusim. “The idea is that you didn’t want to disrespect the mezuzah on the doorpost, even though there was no mezuzah,” he explained. Perry has encountered countless variations of these customs: “I met a woman whose mother and grandmother would always slap her hand when she pointed at the night sky,” he said. Jews traditionally mark the end of Shabbat by the appearance of three stars. Being seen to observe Shabbat would have been a crime punishable by death, he explained.

For Montoya and Milgrom, rediscovery of Jewish family lore either led to, or followed, intense Jewish study and conversion, but the path for Mendel Leandro, a student at Vassar College who was born in Medellin, Colombia, has been different. At birth, Leandro was given both a Spanish name and, unusually, a Yiddish one. When his parents were expecting him, his father overheard a Jewish family calling their son Mendel and decided to call his own son that name, as he felt a connection to the Jewish people. Given that unique name, it was not such a surprise when at 14, Leandro was told that his father’s side of the family had Jewish heritage.

He took a DNA test and found a remote Jewish ancestor, and his paternal grandmother’s test revealed more Jewish relatives. That fit community lore, because many individuals from his grandmother’s village in Colombia had returned to Judaism. Leandro’s grandmother is reluctant to answer questions about her roots, though she did recall that her father would always wear a hat, a custom frequently associated with being Jewish.

While he has not pursued formal return, Leandro’s discovery has led him to become active in Jewish life at Vassar. He says the experience has changed his views on Israel, leading him to support the Jewish state alongside a just peace that honors Palestinians and their history. “By halachic law, I am not a Jew, because I get my ancestry from my father’s side,” he said. “But I believe it is part of my duty to honor the memory of my ancestors in some way.”

At Vassar, others sometimes question his Jewish bona fides. “Although it’s a predominantly white, Ashkenazi space, and therefore I am not the best fit as a Sephardi-identifying Latino, I still enjoy each Shabbat and am so grateful for the pluralistic values, which foster a welcoming environment to Jews of all persuasions,” Leandro said.

Leandro is part of a new wave of young people pushing for exploration of the past. “The younger generation first adopted the technology,” said Dardashti. Taking a DNA test is often one of the first steps taken, and it can “open a door” to further research, she added. But a door to what? “If you take someone’s epithelial cheek cells and put them under a microscope, you’re not going to see little Jewish stars,” she cautioned. Still, she says, if you have a statistically significant number of matches to people of Jewish origin, you can make the assumption of Jewish ancestry.

The most popular choice for DNA testing is an autosomal test, which goes back about eight generations and is administered by companies such as MyHeritage, 23andMe, and Ancestry. These tests offer a percentage estimate for ethnicity, although the categories vary from company to company. DNA becomes less defined with the passage of generations, so it is difficult to detect Jewish heritage from a distant grandparent who contributes just a small proportion of DNA. Plus, DNA can skip generations, according to Milgrom, and some of these tests can be confusing, convincing people with significant Jewish heritage that they have none, and vice versa.

Beyond autosomal testing, Family Tree DNA, the most popular DNA service for those seeking Jewish roots, offers Y-DNA testing, in which a male can test for his haplogroup, and mtDNA testing, passed along the matrilineal line to both men and women. If family lore or DNA tells a convincing story, the next step is checking records from the period before, during, and after the Inquisition. Existing notarial and church records often include the names of individuals both before and after their official conversions to Christianity. However, Milgrom explains, records often age poorly and “are like wet tissue paper,” and employing a researcher with the necessary skills to decode them is expensive.

Advocates of the Bnei Anusim are tackling these problems from several vantage points. Milgrom’s forthcoming project, funded by an anonymous donor, will offer free digitized Inquisition records, to become available later this year, while Dardashti is working to making other records equally accessible.

Reconnectar, in Israel, is working with the Israeli government and rabbinate to help individuals return to Judaism, and on creating support networks for those in the exploration phase. A matching service, reminiscent of an online dating site, will help connect Bnei Anusim to Jewish friends who practice in ways that interest them, with an emphasis on involving those from similar Sephardic backgrounds.

However, Orthodox and many Conservative bodies require the equivalent of a conversion process, even though many individuals already feel they are Jewish—and some of them might even qualify as such from a halachic perspective. Albert Gabbai, an Orthodox rabbi who leads the historic Mikveh Israel Synagogue in Philadelphia, has assisted people of crypto-Jewish heritage. “Sometimes, we don’t call it a conversion,” Gabbai said. “We call it a returning.”

Although some find the process too rigorous or arbitrary, Gabbai defends it as an effort to preserve the authenticity of Jewish practice. “Once sincerity has been established, such a person comes under the wings of the Divine Presence,” said Gabbai. If so, there are several million waiting for those proverbial wings. Perry, of Reconectar, said that working with such people is “the challenge of the Jewish people in the 21st century,” because, he said, “there is nothing else that even comes close to the potential of tens of millions of people who want to reconnect to the Jewish people.”

As taken from, https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-life-and-religion/246057/the-converso-comeback

Amalek, Jewish Injustice, Converts, and a Warning to the Chief Rabbinate

by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo

אלה אלופי בני עשו

בני אליפז בכור עשו…

אלוף קרח אלוף געתם אלוף עמלק..

These became the chieftains of the sons of Esav: the sons of Eliphaz, Esav’s firstborn… Chief Korach, Chief Gaatam, Chief Amalek…

Bereshit 36:16-17

The Jews’ most formidable enemy in Biblical times was the nation of Amalek. This nation was, and symbolically still is, the personification of evil, brutality, racism and anti-Semitism. Amalek is seared into the Jewish consciousness as the unprecedented enemy of the People of Israel after their exodus from Egypt. What revealed Amalek’s moral bankruptcy was not only that they dared to fight the Israelites but that this evil nation attacked the Israelites from the back, focusing on the weak and tired people.[1]

In later days, it was Haman the Amalekite, known from the Purim story, who once again displayed the evil intentions of this nation. Only through a miracle was Israel saved from the hands of this wicked person.

Who was Amalek? The Torah tells us that the first Amalek was the son of Esav’s son Eliphaz. He was the eponymous ancestor of the Amalekite people. Eliphaz took a concubine by the name of Timna, who then became pregnant and gave birth to Amalek.[2] This means that Amelek was a descendent from Yitzchak and Rivka!

The Rejection of Timna as a Proselyte

The Talmud inquires why Timna married Eliphaz and provides us with a stunning explanation:

Timna desired to become a (Jewish) proselyte, so she went to Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov, but they did not accept her. As a result, she went and became a concubine to Eliphaz, the son of Esav, saying: “I would rather be a servant to this (Jewish) people than a mistress of another nation.” From her Amalek, who afflicted Israel, was descended. Why so? Because they should not have rejected her.[3]

This Talmudic statement is difficult to understand. It is, after all, unclear why the forefathers refused to take her under their wing and why they did not allow her to join the Jewish people, especially when we know that they went out of their way to convert as many people as possible.[4] Furthermore, one would expect the Talmud to justify the decision of the three forefathers; instead, the sages rebuke the Patriarchs for their failure to accept her for conversion. The sages’ commitment to truth exceeded their love for the Patriarchs. This is unprecedented. They could have suppressed the story, or they could have stated that Timna was indeed unworthy. The fact that they did not do anything of that sort proves their integrity and uncompromising commitment to truth.

What is even more surprising is that they considered the Patriarchs’ refusal to accept Timna into Judaism as the prime reason why Israel would later be afflicted by the offspring of the first Amalek.

Sara’s Sin

This reminds us of a statement made by Ramban when he discusses the reasons why the Arab nations have exhibited so much hostility toward the Jewish people. When Hagar became pregnant from Avraham and subsequently looked down on Sarah (who could not become pregnant), Sarah complained to Avraham about her. “Then Avraham said to Sarai: ‘Behold, your maid is in your hands; do to her that which is good in your eyes.’ Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she (Hagar) fled from her.”[5] Ramban’s comment is most telling:

Sarah, our mother, sinned in dealing harshly (with Hagar)–and Avraham, too, by allowing her to do so. God heard her (Hagar’s) suffering and gave her a son who was destined to be a lawless person, who would afflict the seed of Avraham and Sarah with all kinds of suffering.[6]

In later days, it was Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, rabbi of Bialystok and one of the great leaders of the Hibbat Zion movement, who made a similar comment when the Turkish government was about to banish from the Jewish settlements those Russian Jews who had moved to the country but had not taken Ottoman citizenship. He cried out and said that it is because of “Drive out this handmaiden (Hagar) and her son”[7] that the Muslims – the children of Yishmael son of Hagar –would now cast out the sons of Sarah from their land.[8]

Once again we are confronted with an unbending commitment to truth. Even when running the risk of putting our spiritual heroes in a compromising light, the sages did not shrink from criticizing the Patriarchs and Matriarchs when they felt the need to do so. And once again we hear a daring statement that because of this, Jews still encounter hostility from their enemies thousands of years later.

Esau’s Bitter Cry

On another occasion, the sages again spoke of the injustice done to the ancestors of Haman. They stressed that much of Haman’s hatred for Jews resulted from the way Ya’akov had dealt with his brother Esav. On the words in the Megillah, “And Mordechai understood all that was done; and Mordechai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth with ashes; and he went out into the midst of the city and cried a loud and bitter cry,”[9] the Midrash Rabbah dares to make the following observation:

One bitter cry did Ya’akov cause Esav to cry (after he had stolen the blessings from Esav), as it says: “When Esav heard his father’s words, he cried an exceedingly loud and bitter cry,”[10]  and it was paid back to him [Ya’akov] in Shushan when his offspring [Mordechai and the Jews] cried a loud and bitter cry [because of the great trouble that Haman, the offspring of Amalek and Esav, caused the Jews].[11]

This may have been the reason why the sages declared that some descendants of Haman taught Torah in Bnei Brak,[12] and some later authorities felt that one could perhaps accept members of the nation of Amalek as converts.[13] Somehow, they felt that not all members of Amalek were totally evil; nor were the people of Israel completely blameless.

Why, indeed, did the sages emphasize the injustice by our forefathers? Why not keep quiet? They certainly didn’t want to justify the anti-Semitism of the Amalekites or the hate of the Arab nations. Nor did they wish to embarrass the Patriarchs, knowing quite well that they were men of great spirituality.

They were fully aware of treading dangerous ground when they showed a soft spot for Amalek. But after all was said and done, they took the plunge. A risky balancing act.

I believe that a careful look in the Torah may provide us with the answer. The Torah demands of the Jews: “You shall erase the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens. You shall not forget.”[14] This commandment seems to be a paradox: How can we erase the memory of Amalek if we are not allowed to forget what he did?

Blot out the Memory of Amalek

However, it is very possible that the Torah hints here not only to the monstrous deeds of Amalek, but also to the injustices that were done by our forefathers when dealing with Esav and Timna. “Blot out the memory of Amalek” may quite well mean that we are obligated to uproot from within ourselves the ways in which our ancestors dealt with the ancestors of Amalek. “Do not forget” that this behavior was unjustified and consequently caused ongoing pain to this people, and consequently to the People of Israel.

In other words, the Torah teaches us to erase Amalek’s memory by doing everything in our power not to give cause to unwarranted feelings within ourselves toward nations and people. We create our own enemies, and we Jews have to teach ourselves and others to prevent this by all means.

This, however, cannot be done once and for all. It is a constant demand that should never be forgotten.

The earlier critical observations by our Sages are therefore most crucial. By emphasizing the injustices done by our forefathers, and their disastrous repercussions, they gave us the means to fulfill the mitzvah of blotting out Amalek’s memory and paradoxically never forgetting what they did to us. Not only because they are our arch-enemies, but also because we should not give cause to bring them into existence.

While the sages surely did not want to fully justify Amalek’s or the Arab’s animosity towards the Jews, they made it abundantly clear that our forefathers did not behave with impunity. They carried a great amount of accountability in this most unfortunate situation.

Finally, one wonders, whether the Talmud is teaching us to approach every proselyte with much care and love. Sending them away, telling them that they are unworthy, may be completely unjustified and a desecration of God’s name on top of that. It can lead to major disasters as in the case of Timna.

The Israeli Chief Rabbinate or any other rabbinate should take notice!

Notes:

[1] Devarim 25:18.

[2] Bereshit 36:12.

[3] Sanhedrin 99b.

[4] Rashi on Bereshit 12:5.

[5] Bereshit 16:6.

[6] Ad loc.

[7] Bereshit 21:10.

[8] This incident was recounted by Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz who heard it from his mother. See Yeshayahu Leibowitz, Notes and Remarks on the Weekly Parashah, trans. Dr. Shmuel Himelstein (Brooklyn, New York: Chemed Books, 1990), 30.

[9] Megillat Esther 4:1.

[10] Bereshit 27:34.

[11] Bereshit Rabba, Vilna ed., 67:4.

[12] Sanhedrin 96b.

[13] See Mishne Torah, Hilchot Melachim 6:4, and the interesting discussion in R. Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg, Seridei Esh, vol. 2, no. 73.

[14] Devarim 25:19.

As taken from, https://mailchi.mp/cardozoacademy/ttp-1352749?e=ea5f46c325

Conflicto y equilibrio

por Rav Max Weiman

Desde el útero, Iaakov estuvo en conflicto. Parece que ese era su destino. Su madre lo obligó a hurtar el derecho de primogenitura; vivió con un tío que trató constantemente de engañarlo y le ocurrieron muchas cosas más. Los conflictos de Iaakov parecieran no tener fin. Él sólo quiere paz, pero los conflictos le llueven a cada paso que da.

A veces, nuestras vidas tienen tantas pruebas y dificultades que sentimos que Dios no está satisfecho con nosotros. Pero tratar de resolver los conflictos es el camino para crecer, e incluso personas mucho más grandiosas y sagradas que nosotros vivieron vidas llenas de conflictos.

De los tres patriarcas, Iaakov en particular fue un imán para los conflictos. Esto tiene que ver con la naturaleza de su personalidad. Los Sabios dicen que “El sello de Dios es la Verdad”. Así como un sello se pone sobre cera blanda para crear una impresión, así también la Verdad une el ideal con la realidad para crear algo en el medio. Iaakov también fue el símbolo de la Verdad.

La Verdad es uno de los pilares del universo. La verdad es lo único que nos permite abrirnos paso a través de las dificultades de la vida y transitar un camino armonioso. La Verdad nos enseña a resolver conflictos y a navegar a través de los asuntos morales.

Hace poco alguien me preguntó sobre una disputa monetaria que tenía con un amigo. Él quería saber la respuesta legal. Le expliqué que el tema de la disputa no giraba en torno a una respuesta legal, sino a la esencia de la relación. No importa quién tiene razón en el caso, lo único que importa es lo que siente cada uno por el otro. Si enfrentas a tu demandante como un amigo, el conflicto será resuelto.

En ocasiones, la respuesta a un conflicto es una observación legal. Pero, en otros caso, no lo es. La Torá es una guía para ayudarnos a decidir qué enfoque debemos adoptar ante cada problema.

***

LA TORÁ ES LA VERDAD

La Torá, y en particular el Talmud, se estudian de una forma diferente. Se analiza la información y luego se proponen posibles contradicciones. La resolución de esas contradicciones lleva a un entendimiento más profundo o más verdadero del texto. Los sesenta volúmenes del Talmud están llenos de casos, principios y leyes que se comparan y contrastan con el objetivo de alcanzar la profundidad de la sabiduría de la Torá.

Iaakov es el hombre de la Torá, descrito como el morador de tiendas (Génesis 25:27). Él fue a estudiar con Shem, el hijo de Nóaj, que tenía una academia de monoteísmo ético. La esencia de la personalidad de Iaakov es buscar sabiduría y significado, eso es lo que le resulta natural.

Entonces, ¿por qué Iaakov no pudo vivir una vida de paz y tranquilidad, para poder contemplar el universo y construir edificios filosóficos morales? Porque la sabiduría verdadera emana de la resolución de los conflictos. Allí es donde la información teórica se transforma en conocimiento, sabiduría y significado.

Puedes leer muchos libros sobre matrimonio, pero hasta que te cases la información será puramente teórica. No entiendes los desafíos reales y tampoco sabes cómo aplicar la información que tienes.

***

EQUILIBRIO Y ARMONÍA

Todos queremos equilibrio y armonía. Pero, ¿cuánta dificultad y conflicto estamos dispuestos a soportar para conseguirlos? Resolver conflictos, en lugar de evitarlos o ignorarlos, es la clave para crear una armonía verdadera.

Por supuesto, sería muy fácil ascender a la cima de una montaña a meditar e ignorar los problemas del mundo. Así puedes alcanzar paz y nirvana. Pero los problemas siguen existiendo. Una vez que alcances cierta iluminación gracias a tu experiencia en la cima de la montaña, baja y trata de aplicar tus ideas para ver si realmente funcionan.

Cuando construyes un banco, al poner las dos primeras patas parece que no se mantendrá en pie. La tercera pata es la que crea el equilibrio. Iaakov fue el tercer patriarca, el hombre del equilibrio.

***

Ejercicio espiritual:

Esta semana, observa tus desafíos más obvios y pregúntate si tratas de evitarlos e ignorarlos o si, por el contrario, los enfrentas. Da un pequeño paso en esa dirección. Haz una cosa para ayudar a resolver uno de tus conflictos en lugar de sólo sufrir con ellos.

Según tomado de, http://www.aishlatino.com/tp/s/viaje-mistico/Conflicto-y-equilibrio.html?s=mm

La importancia de la soledad en el crecimiento personal

por Rav Elisha Coffman

Y Yaakov se quedó solo (lebadó) y un hombre luchó contra él hasta el amanecer…” (Bereshit 32:25).

Dice el Midrash1: “Dijo Rav Berajia en el nombre de Rabí Shimón: ‘Está escrito (en Yeshayahu 2:11) acerca del Santo, bendito sea: ‘Y Hashem fue elevado a solas (lebadó)’ y sobre Yaakov está escrito: ‘Y Yaakov se quedó solo (lebadó)’”.

Muy curiosa la comparación que hace el Midrash entre Dios y Yaakov: así como Dios es lebadó, así también Yaakov estuvo lebadó. ¿Qué nos quieren decir los sabios con esta comparación? ¿Cuál es la alabanza contenida en estas frases?

Yaakov no fue el único a quien los sabios compararon con Dios; también a Abraham lo compararon de manera similar: “Cuando Nimrod arrojó a Abraham al fuego, le dijo el ángel Gabriel a Dios: ‘¿Bajo a enfriar el fuego para salvar al tzadik? El Santo, bendito sea, le dijo: ‘Yo soy único en Mi mundo y él es único en su mundo. Lo correcto es que baje el Único a salvar al otro único’”.2

Abraham fue único (yajid) y Dios es único (yajid). Entendemos perfectamente por qué Dios es único, pero ¿en qué sentido Abraham lo fue? A Abraham se le llamó Abraham ha-ivrí, que literalmente significa “Abraham, el que está del otro lado” (ivrí, de me-ever, “del otro lado”), pues en la época de Abraham, la humanidad entera estaba subyugada bajo el rey Nimrod, a quien adoraban como si fuese un dios. Todos lo adoraban, exceptuando Abraham, quién creía en un sólo Dios y estaba por ello separado en sus creencias de las del resto del mundo. La humanidad entera estaba de un lado y Abraham estaba del otro lado. Abraham fue único en su mundo, pues sólo él creía en un solo Dios único.

Los sabios alabaron a Abraham por ser único —como Dios— y a Yaakov por estar a solas —como Dios.

Con respecto a Yaakov, no nos equivoquemos al creer que la Torá está simplemente dándonos una descripción del evento en el cual Yaakov quedó solo después de cruzar a su familia y a sus pertenencias al otro lado del río Yabok. Poco después que Yaakov quedó solo, lo atacó un ser con el que entabló un combate espiritual después del cual Yaakov recibió el nombre de “Israel”, un nombre que indica mayor grandeza espiritual que el de “Yaakov”.3 Yaakov recibió el nombre de “Israel” gracias a que logró un nivel espiritual comparable al de Dios: lebadó. ¿Qué significa ser lebadó? ¿Qué implica ser yajid?

Varios de los grandes momentos de la historia judía acontecieron a solas: Moshé estuvo a solas cuarenta días recibiendo la Torá de Dios, sin nadie que lo acompañase (ni siquiera Aarón); la Akedá involucró sólo a Abraham e Itzjak, quedándose su otro acompañante en las faldas del Monte Moriá. El camino espiritual es, frecuentemente, un camino solitario. De hecho, el Alter de Kelm (Rav Simja Zissel Broide, uno de los mayores exponentes del musar), señala que Abraham, Itzjak, Yaakov, Moshé y David eligieron la actividad de ser pastores para poder estar a solas en el desempeño de su ocupación, sin mayor contacto que el del Creador, que se manifiesta en la naturaleza (además que desarrollaban responsabilidad por las ovejas que tenían a su cargo).

Solamente en la soledad es posible estar en contacto con uno mismo con la honestidad suficiente para realizar una introspección adecuada; sólo en la soledad es posible desarrollar la sensibilidad suficiente para conectarse con Dios y con uno mismo; sólo en la soledad es posible tener la calma de espíritu suficiente para permitirse a uno mismo sentir una experiencia espiritual significativa. Aunque es innegable que también en la comunión con otras personas es posible tener experiencias espirituales, aún así se requiere de la soledad para digerirlas. Uno puede comer en compañía de otras personas, pero la digestión es independiente.

El ser humano es un ser social, y como tal, está expuesto a la influencia del entorno en el que vive. Lamentablemente, esta influencia no es siempre del todo positiva. En ocasiones, esa influencia previene el crecimiento personal y uno debe estar preparado a sus posible daños. Por ejemplo, a partir del momento que una persona desea crecer en alguna área de su vida, es casi inevitable que despierte resistencia de las personas que lo rodean. Si alguien desea ser más apegado a las leyes de la cashrut, muy posiblemente recibirá críticas de familiares y/o amistades. Si empieza a cuidar Shabat, habrá amistades que poco a poco se diluirán por el simple hecho que ya no podrá salir con ellos los viernes en la noche. Es normal que suceda y uno deberá enfrentar estos retos de la manera más consciente, responsable y armónica posible.

La soledad posee otra ventaja, más acorde a nuestro tema: permite a la persona verse a sí misma tal como es, minimizando la percepción de sí misma producto de las percepciones ajenas. Es casi inevitable que una persona incorpore dentro de sí la percepción de lo que la sociedad espera de ella: vestimos lo que la sociedad nos indica, escuchamos la música que está de moda, albergamos los valores que la sociedad posee. En ese sentido, nosotros dejamos de ser nosotros mismos para convertirnos en lo que la sociedad espera de nosotros. Los costos son altos, pues rara vez logramos cumplir las expectativas sociales: ¿cuántos de nosotros podemos tener el físico que la sociedad ve como ideal? ¿Cuántos de nosotros podemos poseer los recursos de aquellos a quienes la sociedad admira?

Yaakov era una persona que estaba en el nivel espiritual de lebadó. No que necesariamente era una persona solitaria, sino que su definición no dependía de la definición de los demás, y además, no se dejaba influenciar por su entorno: pese a que vivió al lado de su suegro Labán, quien era un individuo increíblemente malvado, Yaakov siguió siendo fiel a sus principios morales.4

Abraham también fue una persona yajid, ‘único’, capaz de colocarse en el otro lado del mundo si así lo consideraba necesario para llevar a cabo su misión en la vida.

La enseñanza para nuestra vida es clara: para poder llevar una vida de espiritualidad que muchas veces implica nadar contra la corriente social, es necesario incorporar dentro de nosotros mismos las virtudes que caracterizaron a nuestros patriarcas: ser yajid y lebadó, dos virtudes que afirman nuestra independencia moral frente a las exigencias sociales que nos alejan de nosotros mismos y de lo que Dios espera de nosotros.

La mayor parte de este artículo está basado en un ensayo de Rav Yerujam Levovitz, en Daat Torá, página 205.


1 Bereshit Rabá 77:1.

2 Pesajim 118a.

3 Bereshit 32:28-29. El nombre de “Israel” implica que pudo prevalecer incluso contra seres espirituales.

4 Bereshit 32:5, con el comentario de Rashí.

Según tomado de, http://www.aishlatino.com/tp/s/la-personalidad-humana/La-importancia-de-la-soledad-en-el-crecimiento-personal.html

Infertility and sensitivity

Illustrative. The pain of infertility. (iStock)

Illustrative. The pain of infertility. (iStock)

The story of Rachel and Jacob schools us to be sensitive, in the hopes of preventing additional pain for those who yet await a child

Years ago, my husband’s aunt and uncle, who were in their mid-60s at the time, received an invitation from a childless couple they were friends with. The couple had commissioned the writing of a Sefer Torah and were hosting an event to celebrate its completion. When our aunt did not respond immediately, she received a phone call from her friend asking if they could please make a special effort to attend. And then she added, “Because, you know, this is our first simcha.”

Infertility is a lifelong challenge that many of us do not sufficiently appreciate. It does not end in the childbearing years, when one is surrounded by births and their accompanying celebrations.  The void accompanies a childless couple throughout a lifetime, when they see their peers busy with playground gatherings, birthday parties, bar and bat mitzvahs, graduations, weddings, sheva brachot, and of course grandchildren. Every time that someone else’s children enter a new, exciting stage, it can be a painful reminder of what everyone else is up to and of what might have been, had things been different.

Judaism is an unabashedly family-centric religion. It is a mitzvah to have children, and we believe strongly that the family structure both fosters and enhances commitment.  At the same time, that very orientation should make us acutely sensitive to the challenges of childlessness, down to the absence of the lifecycle “semachot” that our community so cherishes.

Infertility, however, is not an aberration in Jewish life; in a certain sense, it was the starting point. Throughout the stories of the Book of Genesis, we read about our barren ancestors who so deeply longed for children. Their tears, prayers, and tribulations continue to resonate even thousands of years later for those who find themselves in similar situations and bear critical lessons for those who do not.

In Parashat Vayetze, there is a raw and charged exchange between Rachel and Jacob around this very challenge. After her sister Leah bears four sons — Reuben, Simon, Levi and Judah — in quick succession, the Torah tells us:

And Rachel saw that she had not borne children to Jacob, and Rachel was jealous of her sister.  She said to Jacob, “Give me children, and if you don’t, I will die.”

And Jacob got angry at Rachel, and he said, “Am I in place of God, who has held back from you fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:1-2)

Even the casual reader struggles to understand both Rachel’s outburst and Jacob’s reaction.  Could it be that one of our saintly mothers could not restrain her jealousy? Did she really imagine that Jacob was purposefully holding something back from her? Was her threat appropriate? Even if it weren’t, though, how could Jacob react so insensitively and harshly to his wife’s suffering?

Our greatest commentators, too, were trouble by this passage. Their efforts to make sense of it, however, hold deep insights into the plight of infertility, and careful study of some of their suggestions may sharpen our own awareness and understanding.

Rashi, clearly troubled by the text, bends over backwards to justify Rachel’s ultimatum. He suggests that Rachel was not jealous of Leah’s children, but, instead, of Leah’s good deeds. Rachel thought that if Leah merited children, she clearly must be more deserving. Rachel is neither accusing Jacob nor demanding of him to give her children. Rather, she is asking him to pray more fervently for her, the way that his father, Isaac, did for his wife, Rebecca, when she was barren. When Rachel threatens to die, it is merely a reference to the fact that one without children may be overwhelmed by his or her lack of continuity.

Because Rashi validates Rachel’s remarks, Jacob’s reaction, then, is inappropriate and hurtful. Jacob lashes out at Rachel and asks how she can expect him to pray as fervently as his father, Isaac, did. Isaac had no children at the time, but Jacob has children from Leah! According to Rashi, Rachel’s reaction is justified, but Jacob responds insensitively.

Others, however, such as Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak), think just the opposite. He reads Rachel’s words literally and maintains that out of deep jealousy, Rachel explodes at Jacob.  She takes out her anger about her unfortunate situation on him, blaming him for her childlessness and threatening him that she cannot continue living like this. Read this way, Jacob is more understandable in reminding her that God is in control and that if she wants to be angry at someone, she should turn to God.

Many of the emotions expressed here might be familiar to those dealing with infertility.  There can be feelings of inadequacy, that somehow a couple is underserving or not good enough to have children. There may be guilt or blame, that the problem lies with one partner or the other. And sadness, loneliness, anger and even despair often factor into the picture as well.

Yet another commentary provides us with a powerful, insightful and novel approach to understanding the exchange above. In his book “Akeidat Yitzchak,” Rabbi Yitzchak Arama of 15th century Spain explains that the two names given to the first woman — “isha” (woman) and “Chava” (“the mother of all living”) — indicate two different purposes:

The first teaches that woman was taken from man, stressing that, like him, a woman may understand and advance in the intellectual and moral field…. The second alludes to the power of childbearing and rearing children, as is indicated by the name Chava.

A woman deprived of the power of childbearing will be deprived of the secondary purpose, but be left with the ability to do evil or good, like the man who is barren. Of both the barren man and woman, Isaiah states, “I have given them in My house and in My walls a name that is better than sons and daughters” (56:5), since the offspring of the righteous is certainly good deeds.

Jacob was therefore angry with Rachel when she said “Give me children, or else I die,” in order to reprimand her and make her understand this all important principle — that she was not dead as far as their joint purpose in life because she was childless, just the same as it would be in his case, if he would have been childless.”

Our actions and our deeds, R. Yitzchak Arama is telling us, are our ultimate contributions to the world. Jacob was reminding Rachel that she was not worthless just because she had no children. There have been many great women of history who were not blessed with children, such as Sarah Schenirer, the founder of the Beis Yaakov movement and school system, and Nechama Leibowitz, the well-known Torah commentator and teacher, who made huge contributions to our world and who left behind enormous legacies.

R. Arama offers a powerful message to those who yearn for children, but it is just as important a reminder for those who are already raising families.  Our children are not in our control, and they alone are not the sole testimony to who we are and what we have accomplished. All of us, one day, will be judged on the basis of our own deeds, and we need to always take responsibility for that.

Still, as a community I think we can continue to find ways to better support those around us who find themselves dealing with the unexpected challenge of infertility, whether primary or secondary. Perhaps more important than any of the explanations that the commentators give for Jacob’s behavior is their shared, underlying assumption: that keen awareness and sensitivity to how we talk, what we assume, and how we interact can help prevent unnecessary, additional pain for those who yet await a child.

As taken from, https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/infertility-and-sensitivity-parshat-vayetze/

Be Fearful of Religion

by Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo

ויירא ויאמר מה נורא המקום הזה אין זה כי אם בית אלהים וזה שער השמים

And he was frightened, and he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

Bereshit 28:17[1]

Being religious is fraught with danger. People are often pulled in directions where they can easily break their necks. To be religious is to allow your neshama (soul) to surpass your body, taking it to places where it cannot dwell and may self-destruct.

Plato’s Mistake

In Plato’s Phaedo, the metaphor used to describe the relationship of the soul to the body is that of a person locked in prison.[2] Platonic philosophy aims at liberating a person from their body, which is a prison. Only in that way can they achieve self-perfection. For Aristotle, although ethics and politics are serious issues, the essence of a person–the very activity that is distinctly human–is intellectual contemplation of eternal truth. The highest human achievement lies in the privacy of a person’s thoughts. Its content has no practical human benefit. The most exalted human being is the philosopher, who must be free of the body’s demands, because they interfere with contemplation.

In Judaism, this is not what life is all about. According to biblical thought, the body is not perceived as being in conflict with the soul. It is not an obstacle, but a most welcome companion. Otherwise, what is the purpose of the body? Just to be a nuisance that one would be better off without? Jewish thought holds that it can’t be God’s intention to create the human body simply to deliberately frustrate man. True, the body may sometimes pose challenges, but ultimately this is to allow the complete human being, not just the soul, to grow. The purpose of human beings is not to dwell in Heaven and contemplate, but to act with their bodies and bring Heaven down to the material domain in order to transform the world into a better place. The meaning of life is to be effectively realized by bringing about the interpenetration of the soul and the body.

A Combined Effort

The mind of a human—the custodian of all spiritual and ethical values—is, on its own, incapable of action. On the other hand, all the forces and energy in the body are intrinsically indifferent to ethical or spiritual concepts. Only in a combined effort of mind and body can they build the world. Everything that people do must be able to permeate their thoughts, and everything that people think must find a way into their bodies (Heschel). While this might very well lead to disaster, it can also bring a person to an exalted state of life. This is the task and challenge for which we were created.

Knowledge alone is never a cause for action. Western civilization has mistakenly believed that it is possible to educate the body by reasoning with it. So it continued speaking to the mind, but never really reached the body. This has led to disastrous consequences. Many philosophers have delivered themselves into the hands of evil as a result.

The distinction between body and soul is similar to a difference in organic functioning; it does not reflect the radical dualism that is implicit in Plato’s prison metaphor.

Mysterium Tremendum Et Fascinans

Perhaps the most acute case of a man nearly losing his body while being religious is that of Ya’akov falling asleep and dreaming of a ladder on which angels ascend and descend.[3] The top of the ladder reaches Heaven, and God stands over it. The great German Lutheran thinker, Rudolf Otto (1869–1937), called this experience “numinous,” “a non-rational, non-sensory experience or feeling whose primary and immediate object is outside the self.”[4] It consists of a mysterium tremendum et fascinans—an awe-inspiring and fascinating mystery; an altogether otherworldly experience of an objective presence that generates wonder, fear, and dependence, but also enormous spiritual vitality.

This, says Otto, is what Ya’akov experiences when he falls asleep and has his dream. There is no greater religious moment than this. It is an unprecedented encounter with God. But it is also extremely dangerous. The experience is so overwhelming that Ya’akov runs the risk of losing his body. The dream carries him to Heaven, a place where his body cannot dwell. It is paralyzed and nearly eliminated.

Just before his soul leaves his body, against all expectations and as if through a miracle, Ya’akov wakes up. His reaction is most telling: “Behold, God is in this place and I did not know it.”[5] This is an instant of ultimate crisis. It is tremendous to have a religious moment, but what happens when it is impossible to handle? What am I going to do in the real world with this flash of intense unparalleled revelation?

The Need for the Mundane

The biggest problem is not with the moment itself, but with how to keep it alive and take it with me throughout the rest of my life, in a way that is beneficial. And if I can’t, what then is the purpose of this moment? Not only will it fade into oblivion, but it will be a trauma that will haunt me for the rest of my life! It can easily turn into madness. Ya’akov’s religious experience leaves him without solid ground under his feet. Plato and Aristotle would have been delighted, but Ya’akov is scared to death. It is all meaningless unless I can translate this into the mundane.

While his mind and soul are still in Heaven, Ya’akov does the only right thing to do: he looks to the ground and picks up a stone. He wants to find the mundane, because it is there that life takes place. And unless he can apply his experience in a practical way, all of these heavenly events will have been in vain.

And Ya’akov rose up early in the morning and took the stone that he had placed under his head and set it up as a memorial stone and poured oil on top of it… . Ya’akov made a vow. “If God will be with me,” he said, “if He will protect me on the journey that I am taking … then I will dedicate myself totally to God. Let this stone, which I have set up as a memorial, become a house of God. Of all that You give me, I will set aside a tenth to You.”[6]

The Financial Act

Not only does Ya’akov root his heavenly experience in the mundane by taking a stone to sanctify it with a physical substance, but more importantly, he links it to a mundane financial act. He translates it into ma’aser, promising that he will tithe all his physical possessions. He “de-religionizes” his experience, understanding that being religious cannot mean withdrawing from this world. It must mean engaging with this world and giving it religious and heavenly meaning. He knows that his episode with the ladder is a slippery slope on which one can easily break one’s neck. To redeem this experience, it must be established in a specific space—in a physical act, in the ordinary—not by night, but only by day when human beings are awake.

What Ya’akov does is most remarkable. He introduces one of the great foundations of Halacha: To give a religious moment an ongoing effect, it must be translated into the tangible, the mundane. It must establish patterns of bodily reactions and conduct, which testify to an acute corporeal awareness of a reality beyond body. To achieve an authentic state of religiosity, there must be an element of everydayness, of the commonplace, which often includes what others may call trivialities. There must be a finite act through which one perceives the infinite (Heschel). Every trifle is infused with divinity.

Rather than ignore the body, Halacha draws a person’s attention to its complexities. Halacha tells man not to fall victim to grandiose dreams. There are limits to human existence, and it is exactly this fact that makes life a challenge and a joy. The body places man firmly in a world where he cannot survive if he doesn’t act. Man’s view of the relationship between his body and soul reflects his attitude toward dependence on the outer world—is it embarrassing, or is it uplifting?

Dreams and Unfulfilled Halacha

It is most telling that in the Torah, the world of dreams comes to an end with Sefer Bereshit, the book in which almost everybody experiences dreams: Avraham, Ya’akov, and Yosef dream, and even Avimelech, Lavan, and Pharaoh, too. But once the Torah is given, there are no more dreams. It is as if the Torah teaches us that mitzvot take the place of dreams. A dream is an expression of an illusory world. It represents dimensions of Heaven, where the impossible can happen—where time doesn’t play a role, where man is passive and things happen to him that are beyond his actual capability. Dreams that take place as a religious experience transform man’s world into a utopia for which there is no foundation, and those dreams have no chance of ever being actualized. They are unworldly and therefore dangerous. They are deaf and invulnerable to the cries of the real world.

But people need to dream. Dreams allow a person to be insane for a few moments. There’s a need for it, but it cannot be the foundation of their life. We must dream in order to demand of ourselves the impossible, so that it becomes conceivable, even if only once. But it must have a link to reality. Once it is totally disconnected, it loses its purpose.

Dreams are also moments of anticipation—“I have a dream!”—and one way in which people can make their dreams come true is by acting as if it is already taking place. Halachic requirements are often frozen dreams. They make people do things they are not yet ready to do. They are still spiritually beyond him. An example of this is lighting the Chanuka menora for eight days. We are required to add another candle every night and light it. It is as if we are ascending in spirituality throughout those eight days, with the last night being the most intense and powerful one. In fact, though, it is the first night that excites most people. To the average person, the new is more exhilarating. So the Jew is asked to act as if in a dream: light the candles as though you are becoming more and more excited with each day, so that one day you may really feel that the last candle is the most electrifying one.

We are not asked to dream the inconceivable. We are asked to dream what is actually achievable. It is the Halacha that rescues us from unrealistic dreams, substituting them with those that are viable. Mount Sinai and the giving of the law replaced impossible dreams with those that are within our grasp.

Notes:

[1] This essay was originally published in Nathan Lopes Cardozo, Jewish Law as Rebellion: A Plea for Religious Authenticity and Halachic Courage (Jerusalem: Urim Publications, 2018), chap. 20.

[2] Plato, Phaedo, 81e. See also the introduction in Plato’s Phaedo, trans. Eva Brann, Peter Kalkavage, and Eric Salem (Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 1998), 3.

[3] Bereshit 28:11–12.

[4] Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, trans. John W. Harvey (NY: Oxford University Press, 1958), 10-11.

[5] Bereshit 28:16.

[6] Bereshit 28:18-22.

As taken from, https://www.cardozoacademy.org/thoughts-to-ponder/parashat-vayatze-be-fearful-of-religion/?utm_source=Subscribers&utm_campaign=02633530b3-Weekly_Thoughts_to_Ponder_campaign_TTP_548_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dd05790c6d-02633530b3-242341409

When the ‘I’ is Silent

by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

This week’s parsha relates a powerful, primal vision of prayer: Jacob, alone and far from home, lies down for the night, with only stones for a pillow, and dreams of a ladder, with angels ascending and descending. This is the initial encounter with the “house of God” that would one day become the synagogue, the first dream of a “gate of heaven” that would allow access to a God that stands above, letting us know finally that “God is truly in this place.”

There is, though, one nuance in the text that is lost in translation, and it took the Hassidic masters to remind us of it. Hebrew verbs carry with them, in their declensions, an indication of their subject. Thus the word yadati means “I knew,” and lo yadati, “I did not know.” When Jacob wakes from his sleep, however, he says, “Surely the Lord is in this place ve’anokhi lo yadati.” Anokhi means “I,” which in this sentence is superfluous. To translate it literally we would have to say, “And I, I knew it not.” Why the double “I”?

To this, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (Panim Yafot) gave a magnificent answer. How, he asks, do we come to know that “God is in this place”? “By ve’anokhi lo yadati – not knowing the I.” We know God when we forget the self. We sense the “Thou” of the Divine Presence when we move beyond the “I” of egocentricity. Only when we stop thinking about ourselves do we become truly open to the world and the Creator. In this insight lies an answer to some of the great questions about prayer: What difference does it make? Does it really change God? Surely God does not change. Besides which, does not prayer contradict the most fundamental principle of faith, which is that we are called on to do God’s will rather than ask God to do ours? What really happens when we pray?

Prayer has two dimensions, one mysterious, the other not. There are simply too many cases of prayers being answered for us to deny that it makes a difference to our fate. It does. I once heard the following story. A man in a Nazi concentration camp lost the will to live – and in the death camps, if you lost the will to live, you died. That night he poured out his heart in prayer. The next morning, he was transferred to work in the camp kitchen. There he was able, when the guards were not looking, to steal some potato peelings. It was these peelings that kept him alive. I heard this story from his son.

Perhaps each of us has some such story. In times of crisis we cry out from the depths of our soul, and something happens. Sometimes we only realise it later, looking back. Prayer makes a difference to the world – but how it does so is mysterious.

There is, however, a second dimension which is non-mysterious. Less than prayer changes the world, it changes us. The Hebrew verb lehitpalel, meaning “to pray,” is reflexive, implying an action done to one- self. Literally, it means “to judge oneself.” It means, to escape from the prison of the self and see the world, including ourselves, from the outside. Prayer is where the relentless first person singular, the “I,” falls silent for a moment and we become aware that we are not the centre of the universe. There is a reality outside. That is a moment of transformation.

If we could only stop asking the question, “How does this affect me?” we would see that we are surrounded by miracles. There is the almost infinite complexity and beauty of the natural world. There is the divine word, our greatest legacy as Jews, the library of books we call the Bible. And there is the unparalleled drama, spreading over forty centuries, of the tragedies and triumphs that have befallen the Jewish people. Respectively, these represent the three dimensions of our knowledge of God: creation (God in nature), revelation (God in holy words) and redemption (God in history).

Sometimes it takes a great crisis to make us realise how self- centred we have been. The only question strong enough to endow existence with meaning is not, “What do I need from life?” but “What does life need from me?” That is the question we hear when we truly pray. More than an act of speaking, prayer is an act of listening – to what God wants from us, here, now. What we discover – if we are able to create that silence in the soul – is that we are not alone. We are here because someone, the One, wanted us to be, and He has set us a task only we can do. We emerge strengthened, transformed.

More than prayer changes God, it changes us. It lets us see, feel, know that “God is in this place.” How do we reach that awareness? By moving beyond the first person singular, so that for a moment, like Jacob, we can say, “I know not the I.” In the silence of the “I,” we meet the “Thou” of God.

Shabbat shalom

As taken from, http://rabbisacks.org/i-silent-vayetse-5779/