Torah Portion - Conservative
BY JONATHAN MILGRAM, JTS
Wrestling the Angels and the Demons within Us
In this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Vayishlah, we read of the patriarch Jacob’s journey home with his family after freeing himself and his entire clan from his father-in-law, Laban’s, control. Along the route, Jacob prepares himself for his eventual reunion with his older twin brother Esau, whom he fears to be vengeful. Right in the middle of the parashah, in between the description of Jacob’s preparations and his actual meeting with Esau, Jacob is involved in a transformative experience: a physical struggle with a stranger. He comes out of the encounter newly named “Israel” and, at least temporarily, limping.
By Dena Weiss for Hadar
ONCE UPON AN EYELASH
When we meet our foremothers, Leah and Rachel, we immediately learn about their appearance. The verses tell us specifically that Rachel was beautiful and Leah, less so. What motivates these verses and descriptions? Why does the Torah need to testify to how unattractive Leah is? The answer helps teach us a crucial lesson about Leah and through her story, about the nature of lashon ha-ra, of harmful speech, itself.
BY DANIEL NEVINS, for JTS
A Family of Covenant
The stories of Genesis are presented as family portraits, but simultaneously they describe the origins of a religious civilization. How did the people of Israel acquire and maintain its distinctive religious mission? Genesis offers not only a window into Israel’s past, but a blueprint for its future. Implicit is an invitation to contribute to this unfolding narrative, attaching the threads of our lives to the tapestry woven by our ancestors.
BY ELIEZER B. DIAMOND, JTS
To the best of my knowledge, Hayyei Sarah contains the only instance in Tanakh of a parent asking his child’s wishes. Laban and Betuel cannot come to an agreement with Abraham’s servant—who we’ll call Eliezer—about whether Rebecca should remain in Haran for a time or depart immediately to Canaan. And so, they ask Rebecca to state her preference. Contrary to her family’s express wishes, Rebecca decides to leave immediately.
BY AMY KALMANOFSKY, JTS
Women of Faith
Abraham passed God’s litmus test of faith. God commands Abraham to take his beloved son Isaac to the land of Moriah and kill him. Faithful Abraham does not hesitate. Genesis 22 may be the most loved and hated story in the Torah by every reader, no matter what their faith. Certainly, generations of Jews have struggled to make sense of this story, and of the father and God it portrays. Rashi, the 11th-century French commentator, cannot bear to think that God intended Abraham to kill Isaac. He writes: “God did not say ‘kill him [שחטהו],’ because the Holy One Blessed Be He did not want him to kill him. Rather, God commanded Abraham to “bring him up [להעלותו]” with the intention to give Isaac the status of being an offering” (on Gen. 22:2).
Benjamin Perlstein The Times of Israel Blogs
The Virtue of Self-Creation
In Parshat Noach we saw how morality and creativity in the Torah begin to be fused through the concept of covenant. In Parshat Lech Lecha we see how the practice of covenant between God and humanity matures into a new tradition of countercultural monotheism. As the Torah proceeds from covenant to covenant, we begin to see in finer focus that the importance of moral relationships entails a rich sense of the complementary creative seriousness of individuality.
BY MELANIE LEVAV, JTS
Lessons of Survival
The rain fell on the land for forty days and forty nights. (Gen. 7:12)
One need not look hard these days to read of the devastation brought by floods. In recent weeks, powerful hurricanes have caused destruction beyond belief, completely flooding parts of Texas, Florida, the Caribbean, and the entirety of Puerto Rico. Beyond the devastation of land and property, such storms leave a lasting impact on the people who survive the experience. How we respond to such disasters can make a difference in how we continue to live. Survivors of the Holocaust know this well. Introducing Viktor Frankl’s influential Man’s Search for Meaning, Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote, “Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation” (2006 edition, x).
BY AVI GARELICK,JTS
Reading and Rereading
There's a good quip about the Jewish people: we're the longest running book club on the planet. This week, in synagogues and study halls across the world, Jews are rolling the scroll of the Torah back to the beginning and starting again. This is a different kind of reading than we do in other spheres of our lives. We read books, articles, and stories at specific times. They could be life-changing—we might return to those texts and reread them—or they could quickly be forgotten. Some people will do that more than once, at which point they have become either fans or scholars, giving those texts a place of privilege in the formation of their individual identity.