Torah Mitzyion: Parshat V’era

The Parsha for this week is V’era. It beings with an extraordinary act of revelation. God speaks to Moses declaring, “I am Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay.  I appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as El Shaddai, but my Name, Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay, I did not make known to them (or I did not make known to them that which my Name Yod-Hay-Vav-Hay implies – Samson Raphael Hirsch).”

This revelation is a response to a question Moses posed at the end of last week’s  parsha, when Moses asks the following:  “Lahma Harayota et Ha-Am Hazeh, Lahma Shalachtani” –Why have you made misfortune the lot of this people … and why have you sent me (of all people)?”

It is in response to this question that God makes known to Moses an aspect of the Divine that not even Abraham, Isaac or Jacob understood.  We might well ask, as did our Sages, why? Why at this moment, and to what purpose?   In one of my favorite collections of modern commentary — Mei–Yotzrainu  HaYashan ( first published in Poland, 1938) – the following point is made, based on a Rashi on this same verse.  Rashi says that God reveals a new aspect of Devine nature because in the days of the Patriarchs and Martriarchs,  because, God reveals, “Hivtachti – I promised —  v’Lo Kiimoti  — but did not establish (or maybe better, did not fulfil)l.”

Rashi suggests that now, in Moses’ time, that the promise of Eretz-Yisrael is about to be fulfilled, and so  a new aspect of Divinity will be revealed and must be named.  New terminology is required to express and describe the new reality.  Mei-Yotzrainu HaYahshan takes this a step further, making a distinction between how God was understood by the individual patriarchs  and how God must now be understood and perceived in a new context, not only one of pending redemption and liberation, but now from the perspective of Am Yisrael – Klal Yisrael.  A new reality for our people required a new understanding of our God.   As Mei-Yotzreinu HaYashan says, “Az Nidreshet lashon acheret l’gamray – consequently a different language, a totally different terminology, was necessary”.

Unfortunately, when Moses goes to explain all this to our ancestors … that God has revealed a new aspect … one whose terminology is rooted is a future tense of the verb to be, implying change, possibility and potential … our ancestors couldn’t grasp it because of Kotzer Ruach — because their spirits had been diminished, crushed by Avodah Kasha, hard labor.  They were physically and spiritually spent.  They couldn’t comprehend or appreciate the implications of the message Moses brought them.

What can we at ARZA learn from this?  That when change is upon us — and so much is changing around us  in these increasingly challenging and complicated days — we, too, need to find new terminology, new ways of speaking about Israel, about Zionism and  about ARZA’s core mission.  However, we are often addressing people who are “kotzer ruach”  … who are impatient, exhausted, and sometimes confused by the difficulties and complexities that accompany engagement with Israel at this time and under current  circumstances.  I think that one challenge we have is to find new ways  to address  our people who struggle with the Zionist equivalent of “kotzer ruach”, and it has to be done b’kitzur, in ways that are concise, compelling, purposeful and full of confidence and promise.  That was the aspect of God Moses learned by asking “Lahma?”…why?  We, leaders and proponents of Liberal Zionism here and in Israel, must constantly ask ourselves the same question:  “Why … and to what end?”  Hopefully, we will discover  meaningful answers that reveal  new ways to express our ancient  Divine truths, and sacred aspirations.  So that we can say … to paraphrase Rashi … Ha-ray Hiv-tachti   v‘Cayn Ka’aymnu — In those days, God promised, and in our day, yes, we did fulfill … fulfill the promise embodied in Eretz, Am and Midinat … Yisrael.

Kayn Y’hi Ratzon.


Rabbi Jack Luxemberg is Senior Rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, MD.

Parshat VaYera – Going Up and Coming Down

Parshat VaYera (Genesis 18:1 – 22:24) (פרשת וירא (יח:א – כב:כד
October 31, 2015 – 18 Heshvan 5776

By Rabbi Josh Weinberg

1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him: ‘Abraham’; and he said: ‘Here am I.’ 2 And He said: ‘Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt-offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.’
(Genesis 22:1-2)

Why does it matter where Avraham offers his son up as an offering? More so than the basic narrative of being tested through the sacrifice of one’s own son, the designated location in which this takes place proves to be a significant factor for the future development of our people.

El Eretz HaMoriah – to the Land of Moriah” seems inherently insignificant and more like an unknown land far away lacking any emotional connection.

The etymology of the Hebrew word: מוריה is also puzzling. Read more…

Thanks, WRJ! Fighting for Egalitarian Values in Israel

by Ronit Zemel and Liya Rechtman

Last week, we had the privilege of serving as Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem. During the course of the week, we met leaders dedicated to the growth of the Reform movement in Israel, learned from African refugees and asylum seekers in Israel, joined with students from the Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussain Secondary girls’ school in East Jerusalem, and heard Knesset leaders share their vision for Israel’s future.

All these experiences came together in our final two days of the trip, when ARZA joined the other delegates of the World Zionist Congress to fight for our Zionist ideals through resolutions, votes, and (perhaps most importantly) cross-cultural dialogue. Read more…

A Report from Jerusalem: Kotel and LGBT Resolutions Passed WZC Committee

by Rabbi John Rosove

It’s bad enough that Israel is being attacked by terrorists – now mostly in the West Bank and less in Jerusalem, after Israel’s government imposed strong security measures separating East Jerusalem Arab neighborhoods from West Jerusalem Israeli neighborhoods. What is perhaps even more searing to the Jewish soul is the way some Jewish delegates at the World Zionist Congress behaved toward their fellow delegates.

We of ARZENU (the world Reform Zionist movement) were warned that yelling and delaying tactics would be likely in committee meetings and in the plenary sessions, especially when discussing contentious resolutions.

The warnings were prescient. Read more…

The Final Day of the WZC: A Great Miracle Happened Here

by Rabbi Sydney Mintz

On this final day of the 37th World Zionist Congress, it is clear that Israel continues to exist, in part, because of the vibrant and difficult tradition of machloket or debate, dissent, and disagreement at our center.

This final day proved challenging in many ways, but the tikvah, the feeling of hope, was palpable. Being in Jerusalem with 500 Jews from around the world who represent every stream of Judaism and every political affiliation in the world is in itself hopeful and an act of courage.

Today, we managed to vote on almost 2/3 of the 90 resolutions put forth by the disparate delegations of the WZC. The voting came with passion, anger, yelling, finger-pointing, and bureaucratic and technological challenges that threatened to derail us completely, but as one of our delegation aptly reminded us, “Israel is a total balagan [mess], but everything still works.” Read more…

What Do We Learn From Shouting At Each Other?

By Rabbi Jack Luxemburg

Sitting in a committee of World Zionist Congress, debating 19 resolutions under the theme of “The Structure of the National Institutions in the Mirror of Time,” I kept thinking of the instruction we give little children who are frustrated, angry, or upset and are striking out: “Use your words, not your hands [or feet, as the case may be].”

This came to mind because in more than one instance during nearly three hours of debate, I was glad that the delegates around the table had all learned that lesson. There was ample frustration, anger, and upset. Thank goodness – in our committee at least – it resulted in no more than yelling, provocation, and the occasional insult. In other committees, rumor has it, things got a bit more physical. Read more…

WZC Lessons: The Language of Teenagers Has No Borders

by Hope Chernak

Four years ago, I traveled to Israel to meet Israeli teens from Ohel Avraham-Leo Baeck Education Center who were to participate in the first year-long mifgash with teens from Shaaray Tefila in NYC. I remember I was quite nervous about how the teens from Haifa would take to me.

Would they like me? Would we would connect? What would we talk about? Within minutes, I was reminded that the working with teenagers had no borders. I made connections easily, and those relationships were very authentic. Within a short time, my relationship with the Haifa teens became as strong as if they were members of the Shaaray Tefila Youth group, TaSTY, which whom I work.

Today, the Israel Religious Action Center arranged a special trip for members from ARZA to the Abdullah Ibn Al-Hussain Secondary girls school from East Jerusalem. I had some trepidation that maybe I wouldn’t connect with the girls during this short visit. On our bus ride to the school, I thought that perhaps politics would get in the way of us connecting, or maybe they just wouldn’t be interested in meeting with me. After all, it was the end of their school day. Read more…

What Your Vote Meant

by Rabbi Neal Gold

Did you vote in the elections for the World Zionist Congress last year? You’ll recall that we spent a lot of time registering progressive Jews to vote. Well, today I saw the results of our success at the polls firsthand.

And have no doubt, we were successful. ARZA garnered the largest bloc of votes in the U.S. — larger than the next two blocs combined (Mercaz USA [the Conservative movement] and the Religious Zionist slate, respectively].

Today we began the painstaking (painful?) process of considering more than 170 resolution proposals for the Congress. The delegates were divided into smaller committees, and each committee took up 10-20 of the proposals. Each committee was a proportional microcosm of the larger Congress, so in our room we had representatives from Reform, Conservative, Orthodox Ashkenazi, Orthodox Sefardi, Labor, Likud, Greens, the left-wing Meretz party, the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, youth movements, and more – all in one room, trying to reach consensus on some of the testiest and most controversial issues.

Can you imagine it? Where else in the world could this scene ever take place? Read more…

Lessons Learned on Day One of 37th World Zionist Congress

By Andrew M. Keene

On August 29, 1897, the first Zionist Congress convened in Basel, Switzerland, chaired by its pioneer and visionary leader, Theodor Herzl. One hundred and eighteen years later, the 37th meeting of the so-called “Congress of the Jewish People” was called to order this week in Jerusalem.

The Reform and Progressive presence at the congress was made clear and evident to the world community.

The congress was opened by Zionist Supreme Court Judge Tova Strassberg-Cohen, who reaffirmed the organizations’ commitment and our individual and communal mandate to embrace pluralism, civility, and progress. This set the stage for our voice to be powerful and vitally important. Read more…

How to Ensure Reform Voices and Values are Heard Throughout the World

By Rabbi Rick Jacobs

Shalom from Jerusalem!

I arrived on Sunday – together with many other Diaspora Jewish leaders – for the 37th Zionist Congress – often referred to as “The Parliament of the Jewish People.”

Especially as our hearts break as our people are viciously attacked throughout this beloved land, taking us further and further from the peace we all seek, I am – as is always true – proud to be here in Medinat Yisrael, not only to participate in the World Zionist Congress, but also to express, unequivocally, the Reform Movement’s values and leadership, which are present – and growing – here and in communities throughout the world. More to the point, however, I am here during this time of tension, hostility, and uncertainty to express our movement’s undeniable love for Israel and our steadfast solidarity with all her people. Read more…