Weekly Torah Commentary — Chayei Sarah November 6, 2015

Genesis 23:1 – 25:18

This week’s Torah portion focuses on the story of how Rebekah became Isaac’s wife. Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, went to the area where Abraham’s relatives lived and in a series of remarkable events obviously directed by the God of Israel, he is made to know that Rebekah will be the perfect match for his master Abraham’s son. After negotiating with her family, Eliezer brings Rebekah back with him. After hearing how God had directed his father’s servant in finding Rebekah, Isaac receives her. The Torah describes that moment for us:

Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah, his mother, and he married Rebekah. She was his wife, and he loved her. Then Isaac was comforted after the death of his mother. (Genesis 24:67)

Let’s think about this for a minute. Rebekah has grown up in her parents’ home and to this point we can only assume she’s had a ‘normal’ life. Without the benefit of knowing any later events, think of Rebekah getting up that morning, completely unaware that her entire life’s course would change that very day. She had no foreknowledge that Abraham’s servant was en route to their home. Remember – no phones, no fax machines, no internet!

She went about her ‘normal’ day, like any other day. When it was time to draw water at the well, she made her way there as she had so many times before. Seeing a stranger with an entourage of camels and servants, she understood they were travelers. Her upbringing had taught her to be kind to strangers and she did what came naturally. She offered Eliezer a drink of water and declared she would draw water for the camels as well – all ten of them!

Friends, this was no small task! It’s a known fact that a thirsty camel can drink up to 25 gallons of water or more at one time. These camels had been traveling for several day, laden with goods and gifts. Other servants accompanied Eliezer as well.

Let’s suppose that the camels only drank 10 gallons of water (most likely a gross underestimate). That means that this young girl with a bucket, drew out well over 100 gallons of water from the village well in order to provide hospitality to this caravan of strangers. And all this was BEFORE she knew anything about the reason for their presence!

Eliezer had prayed and asked God for a very specific sign – that the young woman whom God had chosen for Isaac would offer him water and to the camels as well. Rebekah didn’t know that. She did what she’d been taught to do – and her entire life and destiny was sealed by that selfless, exhausting act.

I wonder sometimes whether in the course of hauling more and more water, she wondered if the camels would ever be satisfied. Did she stop and wipe the sweat from her brow as she prepared to lower the bucket again? It was, after all, the Middle East where all this was happening. It was a tiresome, difficult task which Rebekah did willingly and kindly. In so doing, she embraced unknowingly the destiny for which she was born.

We sometimes think that the great moments of our lives are defined by a heroic or unusual event. The truth is that most of the time we have no idea until much later the power of an act of kindness and/or faithfulness. Our responsibility is simply to choose to do right, to be gracious to stranger and friend alike and only later it may be revealed that the most mundane service we provided was in fact the moment when our destiny became attainable.

In Tune with Torah this week = never underestimate the power of an act of kindness and hospitality towards others. Do what is right because it’s the right thing to do and leave the results to God.

Shabbat shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Vaiera October 30, 2015

Genesis 18-22

“Take your son, your only son, the one you love – Isaac – and go to the land of Moriah. Offer him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” This is one of the most famous events in Torah and also one of the most enigmatic.

At first glance it seems like a horrific ‘test’ and how could God ask such a thing of Abraham? Did He not miraculously give him this beloved son?

And why did God need to ‘test’ Abraham at all? Doesn’t God know the human heart better than we know ourselves?

Traditional interpretations and commentaries on this passage abound. Let’s take a bit of a different look at it.

Historically we know that child sacrifice was not rare in the ancient world. It was sadly commonplace among the pagan societies. It is looked upon with horror throughout the Bible. How, then, could Abraham be commanded to do what his descendants were commanded NOT to do?

Abraham was chosen to be a father. “For I have chosen him so that he will instruct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just.”

To understand the binding of Isaac we have to understand something about the world of that time. Before cities and civilizations, the fundamental unit was the family. Each family had its own gods which usually included the spirits of dead ancestors. The authority of the father was absolute over his wife and children. As long as the father lived, the children were ‘property’ rather than persons in their own right. When the father died, the authority went to the firstborn son – whether he was righteous or not.

The Torah directly opposes this worldview. It includes no sacrifices to dead ancestors and communicating with the dead is explicitly forbidden. And succession does not automatically pass to the firstborn as it did with the pagans; not to Ishmael but to Isaac; not to Esau but to Jacob; not to Reuben but to Levi for the priesthood.

The entire story of Isaac is a direct contradiction to the prevailing thought of the time that children are ‘property’. Consider: Isaac’s birth is a miracle, as was Samuel’s some centuries later. When her son is born Hannah says, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” This passage is parallel to the message from an angel telling Abraham to refrain from killing his son: “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from Me your son, your only son” (the statement appears twice, in Gen. 22:12 and 16).

The test was not whether Abraham would literally sacrifice his son but whether he would surrender Isaac completely to God, whether Abraham would relinquish ‘ownership’ over the son he had longed for and recognize that Isaac is an individual with his own life to lead, his own calling and relationship with God to pursue.

What God was doing when he asked Abraham to offer up his son was not requesting a child sacrifice. He wanted to change the worldview and establish a non-negotiable law that children are not the ‘property’ of their parents but a blessing from Hashem to be nurtured, taught and led to fulfill their unique calling and destiny according to the will of God.

Is this not why three of the four matriarchs were able to have children only by divine intervention? God wanted us to know that children are a gift from Him, not simply a biological accident or event.

It’s very interesting to note that at the birth of the very first human being, Cain, Eve says, “With the help of the Lord, I have acquired a man.” It’s clearer in the Hebrew than in the English translation. What she was really saying was ‘I have purchased with my effort and pain a child for myself.’ That child became the first murderer. Not a very good ending to that story!

The Torah presents the birth of the individual as the central figure in the moral life. Because children – all children – belong to God, parenthood is not ownership but guardianship. Abraham, called to be not only a parent to his son, but to become the ‘Father of many nations’, had to learn by means of an event he would never forget that as much as he loved Isaac, he did not own him. He was to teach his son the ways of God but also give him space to develop a personal relationship with God and fulfill his calling and destiny without any ‘micromanagement’ from Abraham.

The Torah underscores the truth that the integrity of each of us as an individual moral agent in our own right with the capacity and opportunity to develop a personal relationship with God Himself is paramount.

In Tune with Torah this week = if you are a parent, how are you handling the choices and decisions your children make which may not be what you would desire for them? Are you allowing them the space to be individuals? Even at the cost of watching them struggle through circumstances you think you could have prevented? That child of yours has a path of his or her own; it’s not yours, it’s different. Abraham teaches us to celebrate the differences, always keep in mind that your child is God’s first, and you are God’s
‘nanny’ for a few years. The binding of Isaac was in fact a test of UN-binding. Would Abraham let Isaac go – to pursue his own calling?

Weekly Torah Commentary — Lech Lecha October 23, 2015

Genesis 12 – 17

This week’s reading opens with the striking call of God to Abram: “Get going out from your land and from your relatives and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, to bless you, to make your name great so that you may be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, but whoever curses you I will curse and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” 12:1

Just imagine hearing a message from God like that! The text does not elaborate on Abram’s feelings or thoughts. It simply continues: “So Abram went, just as the Lord had spoken to him.” 12:3

He was 75 years old at the time and his wife, Sarai, was 65. Quite an undertaking at that age, don’t you think? Can you picture it?

“Sarai,” Abram says to his wife. “We’re moving.”

“Moving? Where? Why?” she replies.

“I’m not really sure, Sarai. The Almighty spoke to me and said we are to leave here and go. He’ll show us the way.” Did Sarai roll her eyes??? Would you if your husband came to you with such an announcement?? Have you ever wondered what their relatives thought?
Did they try to dissuade them? Did they think Abram was deluded, foolish, even crazy?

Sometime later after they had arrived in Canaan, God spoke again to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward…..He [God] took him outside and said, Look up now at the sky and count the stars if you are able to count them. Then He said to Abram, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he [Abram] believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.” 15:1, 5-6

To this day, Abram, whose name God changed to Abraham on another occasion, is honored as the undisputed FATHER of the chosen people, the Patriarch, the first Hebrew. He was not given the Torah, as Moses was. He was not crowned king, as David was. There was no hierarchy, no Tabernacle or Temple, no developed religious system he was charged to oversee.

He believed God and God reckoned it to him as righteousness.

FAITH was the legacy he passed on to his son, Isaac and his grandson, Jacob. FAITH sustained his great-grandson, Joseph when he was betrayed by his brothers and imprisoned on false charges. FAITH inspired a mother of the tribe of Levi to hide her infant son that he might live. FAITH motivated that son, when he was grown, to leave behind the wealth and prestige of his upbringing in Pharaoh’s court in order to identify with his own people.

For some four centuries, FAITH was the essence of the first descendants of Abraham the righteous. It was only much later that the Torah was given through Moses so that the generation of Abraham’s descendants whose FAITH was nearly obliterated by the oppression of Egypt could find their way back to the kind of relationship with God that their father Abraham had enjoyed.

Contrary to what some may think, the essence of biblical Judaism is FAITH – relationship with the Holy One of Israel expressed in uncompromising trust in His revealed Word. This in no way minimizes the importance of His Torah; it actually defines it more clearly.
The instructions in the Torah teach us HOW to express and apply our living FAITH in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. To obey God’s commandments from a heart of FAITH is what Mt. Sinai was all about. It was FAITH that earned Abraham the right to be called Avraham Avinu, Our Father Abraham.

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith in God and love for Him motivates us to obey His commandments. Simply to follow ‘tradition’ because ‘that’s what we do’ is not Abrahamic faith; it’s religion without relationship. What God wanted with Abraham was a relationship; what God wanted with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David was relationship.
It’s what He wants with you, too.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Nitzavim September 11, 2015

Deuteronomy 29:9 – 30:20

This week’s portion is always read in close proximity to Rosh Hashana. Rosh Hashana – the Feast of Trumpets – begins at sundown Sunday evening and continues through sundown on Tuesday.

During this season, teshuva (“return to God”) is the main focus and verses from this week’s reading reflect that.

And it shall come to pass, when all these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you shall return to your heart [while in exile] among all the nations, where the Lord your God has driven you. And you shall return unto the Lord your God, and shall obey his voice according to all that I command you this day, you and your children, with all your heart, and with all your soul…. And you shall return and obey the voice of the Lord, and do all his commandments which I command you this day. And the Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in every work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, and in the fruit of your cattle, and in the fruit of your land, for good; for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, as he rejoiced over your fathers. If you shall listen to the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which are written in this book of the Torah, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul. (Deut. 30:1-10)

While the season leading up to the fall Festivals of the Lord has a heavy emphasis on self-examination for purposes of repentance, let us not make the mistake of getting stuck in the past. The priority of repentance is to catapult us into a better tomorrow!
We repent for failures in order to walk more closely with God. This is the message of the Feast of Trumpets.

We are living in critical times. There are many voices in both the Jewish and Christian communities urging us to prepare for the coming of Messiah. Some who hear will scoff; others may dismiss it with a cynical ‘I’ve heard that before’ kind of attitude. The reality is that the appointed festivals detailed in Leviticus are and have always been important signposts on God’s calendar of redemptive history and should not be taken lightly.

Rosh Hashana is the annual reminder that life is a journey and every journey has a destination. One day each of us will stand before the heavenly Throne to give account of what we have done with the gifts and blessings we received during our life on earth.

Life is also a test. The pattern was set with the first two human beings, Adam and Eve. What was the test in the Garden of Eden? It wasn’t about eating a piece of fruit! Rather, in God’s command to refrain from eating the fruit of the Tree of knowledge of good and evil was the implicit question to Adam and Eve: Do you believe that I, Your Creator, have your best interests at heart? Or do you think you know better?

It was fundamentally a test of Faith.

It still is.

Rosh Hashana is a ‘mini’ judgment day, as it were. It is the time to judge ourselves at and ask: Do I really trust God? Am I persuaded that He is what the Scriptures tell me He is – my King, my Father, my Redeemer, my Provider, my Wisdom, my Rock and my Strength? Do I need to repent for leaning on my own limited understanding? The wise King Solomon warned against that when he wrote: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not to your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 And the Psalmist declared: It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. Psalm 118:8

If repentance locks you in the past, you’ve missed the point. Repentance is not an end in itself; it’s the door to a new beginning.

In Tune with Torah this week = Stop looking at your past life and instead focus your sights on where you are going. Keep pressing on to fulfilling the purpose for which the God of Israel put you on this earth.

May you and your family be abundantly blessed during this season of the Lord’s festivals.
May we all draw closer to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in this new year and walk more diligently in His ways.

Shana Tova v’ metuka! (May you have a good and sweet year.)

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary – Chayah Sarah Nov. 13, 2014

NOTE: Though I wrote and hit the command to “Send” last Friday, for some reason last week’s commentary showed up today! I apologize for the delay. You get two this week!

CHAYAH SARAH
Genesis 23:1-25:18

This week’s reading deals with two major issues: the death and burial of Sarah, the wife of Abraham; and the search for a wife for Isaac. The events are covered in great detail, more so than many other events.

Certainly the acquisition of a burial plot for Sarah is of great significance for it becomes the first step in the acquisition of the land of Israel by Abraham and his descendants. Abraham purchased the field and the cave. When he takes possession of it, he establishes a foothold in the promised Land.

Next we turn to the process of finding a bride for Isaac. At first glance it seems that the amount of detail is disproportional but then again, the extensive detail indicates the importance of this event.

And Abraham said to the oldest servant of his house, who ruled over all that he had, “Put, I beg you, your hand under my thigh. And I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son of the daughters of the Canaanites among whom I live. But you shall go to my country, and to my family, and take a wife for my son Isaac.” (Genesis 24:2-4)

Eliezer, the servant, was Abraham’s trusted companion, the man whom Abraham had earlier imagined would perhaps one day be his heir. (Gen. 15:2-3)

And the servant took ten of his master’s camels…And he said, “O Lord God of my master Abraham, I beseech you, send me good speed this day, and show kindness to my master Abraham…” And she said, “Drink, my lord;” and she hurried, and let down her water jar upon her hand, and gave him drink…
And the man, wondering at her, held his peace, to see whether the Lord had made his journey successful or not. And it came to pass, as the camels finished drinking, that the man took a golden ear ring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets for her hands of ten shekels weight of gold…And the man bowed down his head, and worshiped the Lord. And he said, “Blessed be the Lord God of my master Abraham, who has not left my master destitute of his mercy and his truth; As for me, the Lord has guided me in the way to the house of my master’s brothers…”

And after entering the house of Laban, Rebecca’s father, Eliezer explains his mission:

And he said, “I am Abraham’s servant…”

After relating what Abraham had commanded him to do, “…they called Rebecca, and said to her, “Will you go with this man?…..And they sent Rebecca their sister, and her nurse away, and Abraham’s servant, and his men… And Rebecca arose, and her maids, and they rode upon the camels, and followed the man; and the servant took Rebecca, and went his way…And Rebecca lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said to the servant, “What man is this who walks in the field to meet us?” And the servant said, “It is my master.” Therefore she took a veil, and covered herself.

Rebecca is aware that Isaac, and not Eliezer, is the master of the house, even before ever seeing Isaac. Yet, Eliezer seems so impressive. Only in comparison to Isaac is Eliezer’s stature reduced in her eyes.

To become Abraham’s “right hand man”, this servant must have been an extremely impressive individual. He had to have possessed the qualities of loyalty, integrity, reliability, diligence and humility. WE see all of these at work as Eliezer completes his journey.

Eliezer arrives just before sunset, yet he asks God to “work things out” before the day is done. This shows Eliezer’s incredible trust in God. What was the source of this trust? He was a servant of Abraham. He had seen Abraham. He learned from the Father of Faith how to trust God for what was needed.

Sometimes we forget the impact our personal faith can have on those around us. Your individual trust and confidence in God is a living example to your family and your friends. As Abraham’s faith ‘rubbed off’ on Eliezer, so is ours supposed to do the same. In the words of one teacher, “Faith is better caught than taught!”

In Tune with Torah this week = Faith is personal but it is also communal. Your faith and mine can have a profound effect on those around us IF we are careful to speak words that express FAITH rather than doubt or anxiety. An act of gratitude is intrinsically related to maintaining a strong faith. As we recall and give thanks for all of God’s past blessings, we dispose our heart to trust Him for the future; in so doing, we set an example to those around us.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — Noah October 24, 2014

Noach  Genesis 6:9-11:32

This week’s reading brings up an extremely relevant issue: the relationship of individual and collective responsibility in a nation.

Our western society emphasizes individual rights while nations like Russia and China accord much more weight to the ‘national interest’ or national priorities over the individual.

The Torah presents a delicate balance between both.  Individual responsibility is given equal prominence with national or collective responsibility.  In simple words, the nation is only as strong as its individual members.  One of Judaism’s sages, Hillel, put it this way:

“If I am not for myself, who will be? (personal responsibiity) But if I am only for myself, what am I?” (communal responsibility).

NoahNow let’s look at this concept with regard to the Torah reading this week.  It begins with the flood of Noah’s day and ends with the attempt to build the Tower of Babel.  If we simply read without ‘connecting the dots’, it would appear that these events have nothing in common.  The failures of Noah’s generation are detailed for us: “The world was corrupt before God, and the land was filled with violence. God saw the world, and it was corrupted. All flesh had perverted its way on the earth” (Gen. 6: 11-12). Wickedness, violence, corruption, perversion: the hallmarks of national moral failure.

By contrast, the description of Babel seems enviable. “The entire earth had one language and a common speech” (11: 1). The events in Noah’s day were about destruction; in Babel the focus is on construction. Sin in that society is not described. Yet there certainly was something unpleasing to God, given the outcome of the story.

Both the Flood and the Tower of Babel are rooted in actual historical events.  Despite the attempts of liberal modernists to mythologize the Bible, excavations at Shurrupak, Kish, Uruk and Ur – Abraham’s birthplace – reveal evidence of clay flood deposits. Likewise the historian, Herodotus, tells of the sacred enclosure of Babylon, at the centre of which was a ziqqurat or Tower of seven stories, 300 feet high and many references have been found in the literature of the time that speak of such towers “reaching heaven.”

But the Torah is much more than history. The events contained therein express a profound moral, social and spiritual truth about humanity. The Flood tells us what happens to civilization when individuals rule and there is no collective and enforced moral code. Babel tells us what happens when national agenda sacrifices individuals for its own ends.

Are we not watching – in our very own day – the same kind of disintegration as that of Noah’s society: When there is no rule of law to constrain individuals, the world is filled with violence.

Babel demonstrates the opposite.  The practice of the neo-Assyrians of that day was to impose their own language on any and every people that they conquered.

The reference seems to be to the imperial practice of the neo-Assyrians, of imposing their own language on the peoples they conquered. One inscription of the time records that Ashurbanipal II “made the totality of all peoples speak one speech.” The neo-Assyrians asserted their supremacy by insisting that their language was the only one to be used by the nations and populations they had defeated. Babel, like Egypt would be later, represents nations or empires that subjugate entire populations, destroying their national identities and tradtional freedoms.  (Sound familiar???)

With this in mind let’s take a second look at this week’s reading.

Genesis 10 describes the division of humanity into seventy nations and seventy languages. Genesis 11 tells of how one imperial power conquered smaller nations and imposed their language and culture on them, refusing to respect the integrity of each nation and each individual. When at the end of the Babel story God “confuses the language” of the builders, He is not creating a new state of affairs but actually restoring the old.

Therefore we can see that the story of Babel clarifies the dangers of crushing individuality – the individuality of the seventy cultures described in Genesis 10.  When the rule of law is used to suppress individuals and their distinctive languages and traditions, this is wrong.

So the Flood and the Tower of Babel, though apparently opposites, are actually intimately connected. In fact, the entire Torah portion this week is a brilliant study in the human condition. There are cultures who exalt individual rights and there are others who place the national interest above the individual. Both will ultimately fail.  The first will lead to chaos and violence while the second will pave the way for oppression and tyranny.

Recognizing this, it will come as no surprise that after the two great failures of the Flood and the Tower of Babel, in next week’s Torah portion, we are introduced to Abraham who was called on to create a new form of social order that would give equal honor and attention to the individual as well as to the nation; to personal responsibility as well as to the common good. That remains the unique and special gift of the Scriptures to the world.

In Tune with Torah this week = the essence of the message is balance.  While God has endowed each human being with ‘certain inalienable rights’, with them comes a ‘certain inalienable’ responsibility to one’s fellow man.  Learning to balance the two appropriately may be our most challenging quest, particularly at this crucial moment of history.

Shabbat Shalom

Weekly Torah Commentary — BO January 3, 2014

Exodus 10:1 – 13:16

In this week’s parsha, the subject of children and the duty of parents to educate them is addressed three times. As Jews we believe that to defend a country you need an army, but to defend a civilization you need education. Freedom is lost when it is taken for granted. Unless parents pass on their memories, their values, their experiences and, yes, even their mistakes, to the next generation the children have no foundation to build their own future.

The way the Torah emphasizes the fact that children must ask questions is intriguing. Two of the three passages in our parsha speak of this:

And when your children ask you, ‘What does this ceremony mean to you?’ then tell them, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when he struck down the Egyptians.'” (Ex. 12:26-27)

In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Ex. 13:14)

There is another passage later in the Torah that also speaks of question asked by a child:

In the future, when your son asks you, “What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?” tell him: “We were slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. (Deut. 6:20-21)

The other passage in today’s parsha, the only one that does not mention a question, is:

On that day tell your son, ‘I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ (Ex. 13:8)

You may recognize these four questions as those asked during the Pesach Seder each year.

Now, many traditional cultures see it as the task of a parent or teacher to instruct, guide or command. The task of the child is to obey. “Children should be seen, not heard,” goes the old English proverb. Socrates, who spent his life teaching people to ask questions, was condemned by the citizens of Athens for corrupting the young.

In Judaism the opposite is the case. It is a religious duty to teach our children to ask questions. That is how they grow.

Judaism posits that a faith based on asking questions, sometimes deep and difficult ones, is a faith that will grow. Consider: “Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?” asked Abraham. “”Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people?” asked Moses. “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” asked Jeremiah. The book of Job is largely constructed out of questions, and God’s answer consists of four chapters of yet deeper questions: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? … Can you catch Leviathan with a hook? … Will it make an agreement with you and let you take it as your slave for life?”

Judaism is not a religion of blind obedience. Indeed, did you know that in a religion of 613 commandments, there is no Hebrew word that means “to obey.” Instead of a word meaning “to obey,” the Torah uses the verb Shema, untranslatable into English because it means [1] to listen, [2] to hear, [3] to understand, [4] to internalise, and [5] to respond. Within the very structure of Jewish thought is the concept that our greatest responsibility and privilege is to seek to understand the will of God, not just to obey blindly.

Judaism views intelligence as God’s greatest gift to humanity. According to Rashi the phrase that God made man “in His image, after His likeness,” means that God gave us the ability “to understand and discern.” The very first of our requests in the weekday Amidah is for “knowledge, understanding and discernment.” In fact, to many peoples’ surprise, there is actually a specific blessing prescribed for when a Jew sees a great non-Jewish scholar because unlike the narrow-mindedness of some other religions, Judaism recognizes and acknowledges wisdom in other cultures.

Jews have always placed a very high priority on education and specifically on how parents are to teach their children. The Torah highlights this at the most powerful and poignant juncture in Jewish history – the Exodus – by instructing us tell our children in every generation about our liberation. Encourage your children to ask, question, probe, investigate, analyze, explore. Liberty means freedom of the mind, not just of the body. Those who are confident of their faith need fear no question. It is only those who lack confidence, who have secret and suppressed doubts, who are afraid.

It is essential as well to teach our children that not every question has an immediate answer and to learn to be comfortable with the “unanswered”. But in teaching our children to ask and keep asking, Judaism positions the next generation to progress, to seek, to inquire and to discover. This, some have said, is why there are so many Jewish Nobel Prize winners. It all started at home.

In Tune with Torah this week = are you afraid to ask questions about fundamental issues of life? Purpose this year to become a seeker; one who is not hesitant to ask, to consider opposing views, to see if in fact in many areas, there is truth hidden in the thoughts and wisdom of someone with whom you disagree. It’s a delightful and enlarging experience to be open to knowledge within the framework of your secure relationship with the God of Israel.

Shabbat Shalom