Voices of WRJ: Mikeitz

by Patti Nacht

Parashat Mikeitz continues the story of Joseph in Egypt. We read of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams to mean that Egypt will enjoy seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. It is vital for Joseph to understand the dreams. If Egypt is consumed by famine, the neighboring peoples depending on Egypt for food will also suffer. This would include Joseph’s family in Canaan. Joseph perceived the danger and was prepared to insure his country’s, and his family’s, survival.

Joseph is put in charge of the land. Famine strikes and Jacob sends his sons, except Benjamin, to Egypt to secure food. Joseph recognizes his brothers, but does not reveal himself to them. He tests them to see if they have changed since he last saw them. Simeon is taken and bound. Joseph will not let him go until the brothers go back to Canaan and return with Benjamin. The brothers are afraid that they were now being punished for what they had done to Joseph years before. They bring the food they have bought back to Canaan. When they find that their money has been returned to them, Jacob fears that Simeon is dead and refuses to let Benjamin go to Egypt. But the famine persists and Jacob has to let Benjamin accompany his brothers when they return to Egypt for more food. Judah takes responsibility for Benjamin’s safety.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayeishev

by Louise Johanson

“This is the family history of Jacob.” Parashat Vayeishev is a continuation of Abraham’s descendants, as the Israelites prepare to move to Egypt. We read in this parashah that Jacob (Israel) made a coat of many colors that he gave to his favorite son, Joseph, the second youngest of his sons. Joseph’s brothers hated him for being their father’s favorite, a position which became more hardened when he related a dream he had in which he told his brothers that he would rule over them.

In another dream, which Joseph details to his father and brothers, he tells them that the sun, moon, and 11 stars were bowing down to him. Although Jacob finds this dream hard to believe, he does little to improve the situation between Joseph and his brothers, who hate him for what he has said. In fact, his brothers are so enraged that they conspire to kill him. Of course we know that this does not happen because Reuben, the oldest son, intervenes. We see in this early portion of the parashah that Jacob not only does not deal fairly with his sons, but is not a good role model for any of them.

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Hanukkah Miracles and Mitzvahs for Children

At the moment of rededication, the Maccabees relit the ner tamid, the eternal flame in the Temple. The ner tamid symbolizes God’s constant presence with the entire Jewish people. Because it is perpetually lit, the ner tamid also signifies a hope that God’s presence will continue to dwell with us from generation to generation (BT Shabbat 22b). What could be a better symbol for our hopes for a sustainable future than the ner tamid? Thus, as we kindle the Hanukkah lights, we think about how we can nurture our children and pass along a better world to them.

Hanukkah has become a children’s holiday. We have parties and play games, eat sweets and give gifts. So it’s only natural that we consider children’s issues on Hanukkah. When we help ensure that all children have the loving families, safe homes, health care and education they deserve, we help fulfill our mandate to nurture God’s creation in each generation. A wide range of social justice issues—including environmental sustainability, economic justice, fair trade and poverty—affect children as much as they do everyone else in our world. When we work toward social justice in these areas, we also ensure the well-being of future generations. Our responsibility to ensure a sustainable future for our world has inspired the WRJ/JWI Hanukkah Project, a partnership with Jewish Women International (JWI) to bring basic comforts to some of the 15,000 children living in domestic violence shelters, a population we must not forget this holiday season.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayishlach

This week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, is a filmmaker’s dream. It is filled with intrigue, reconciliation, lust, revenge, violence, birth, and death, a virtual hodge-podge of life.

“And Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.” It is from this part of the parashah that Anita Diamant found the seeds to create her bestselling book, The Red Tent. A book that preceded the WRJ Torah: A Women’s Commentary, and gave voice to Dinah, one of the voiceless woman of the Torah.

Was Dinah’s encounter with Shechem, the Hivite prince, a vicious sexual attack, as presented in the portion, or was it the loving consensual relationship that is presented in The Red Tent by Leah herself? Were the violent actions of Dinah’s brothers necessary to avenge the crime that they saw, or did their actions leave Leah grief stricken and totally alienated from her family? There is certainly lots to ponder in this small section and I challenge you to find a partner and study it further; we are lucky to now have the WRJ Torah: A Women’s Commentary and its Study Guides to help.

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Who’s Afraid of Reverend Virginia Wolf? Feminism, Clergy, and the Role of Women in Reform Judaism and Catholicism

by Gregory Eran Gronbacher

With topics such as same sex marriage and the recent Catholic Synod on the Family in the news, many of my Catholic friends have been blogging, posting, and engaging (often heatedly) in animated online conversations about gender and the role of women in religious life.

As a Reform Jew, some of these conversations feel odd in the sense that our community has reached a degree of resolution and consensus concerning such subjects. That’s not to say that differences of opinion do not exist, or that matters are completely settled within the Reform and Liberal Jewish worlds, but for the most part, the subjects are not as controversial and heated as for our Roman Catholic friends.

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Ring in December with #GivingTuesday

A balmy, 68 degree Monday in Washington, D.C. was a strange way to welcome December. I grew up in the northeast, where December usually means bundling up to keep warm in the wind and snow. Each year as fall begins to turn to winter, I count down the days until I can break out my skis to enjoy a day on the slopes, my favorite thing that winter brings. So, while my Floridian colleagues welcome the unusually warm weather, I eagerly await the cold.

No matter the temperature, or whether or not we like the unseasonable warmth, one thing remains about December: it’s a time for giving. Today is Giving Tuesday, a perfect example. Though Giving Tuesday does not always coincide with the beginning December—we celebrate on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday, this year’s calendar marks a perfect entry into the December season.

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Voices of WRJ: Vayeitzei

by Madi Hoesten

This week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, begins with Jacob’s journey from Beersheba to Haran. On his way, he stops to rest for the night and dreams the famous vision of angels ascending and descending a ladder to heaven. It is here that Jacob becomes aware that God surrounds us everywhere, that any place is sacred if we allow God into it. He promises God that if He will help Jacob succeed on his journey then Adonai will become the God of Jacob’s household, as He was of his father’s.

As Jacob travels he comes upon a well and several flocks of sheep. When he encounters the shepherds he learns that they are from Haran. They point out Rachel, who is the daughter of Laban, the man whom Jacob has traveled to find. Jacob falls instantly in love with Rachel and they proceed to her father’s house. In the ensuing lines we learn that Laban is a shrewd businessman, and that he also has an older daughter Leah, who is not nearly as attractive as Rachel.

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Global Justice Awaits Our Action

Over the past six months I have been privileged to participate in the American Jewish World Service (AJWS) Global Justice Fellowship program for rabbis. This program brings together a diverse trans-denominational cohort of rabbis to educate them about global issues of concern and equip them (us) to become effective advocates. As part of this program I will participate in AJWS’s Wellstone Organizing Training in February as well as the AJWS Advocacy Conference in Washington, D.C. in May. The program will culminate with a trip to Guatemala next summer to learn from AJWS partners in that country.

In addition to the personal fulfillment I derive from learning with my colleagues in the program, my understanding of, and commitment to, global justice has deepened. It is my hope to identify ways WRJ can partner more closely with AJWS to pursue this work. WRJ has always advocated for the rights of women and girls around the world. We endorsed the Millennium Development Goals and are working with others as an NGO at the United Nations on issues of global concern. But there is so much more we could do to advance this work, and I call on you to join me in these efforts.

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I-VAWA? WE-VAWA: We All Must Do Our Part to End Violence Against Women and Girls

One out of three women worldwide will be physically, sexually, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. In some countries, it’s as many as seven in ten. Violence against women is a human rights violation that devastates lives, fractures communities, and prevents women from fully contributing to the economic development of their countries.

Take a minute to think about the things we do every day: go to work, go to school, provide food for ourselves and for our families. We generally do not equate these tasks with putting ourselves in danger. But, that’s not the case everywhere. Often, the perpetrators of violence against women and girls commit that violence while women are on their way to work or to collect food and water, or while girls are on their way to school—that is, if they are allowed to go to school at all.

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Voices of WRJ: Tol’dot

by Marla Goldberg

V’eleh toldot Yitzcak: This is the line of (a.k.a. generations of) Isaac, son of Abraham.” After clarifying Rebekah’s lineage via patriarchal descent—which is how it was done back in the day—Isaac pleads on behalf of his wife, as she was childless. The theme of infertility presents in two out of two matriarchs—so far. This time, it is Isaac, husband of Rebekah, who takes it upon himself to do the advocacy work. He pleads to God for intervention, and lo and behold, Rebekah becomes pregnant.

While Rebekah is silent here, later in this parashah, she displays less than subtle favoritism toward one of her children and commandeers family dynamics in a rather large way. Earlier, when sensing the pressing of children in her uterus, she simply questions her role in life, asking “…why do I exist?” She then has a one-on-one with God, who foretells her carrying two peoples (nations) with the elder serving the younger. She gives birth to twins: Esau and Jacob. From that point on, we read about forays of stealing birthrights and blessings—and overall, this story line seems to mirror contemporary soap operas or reality television.

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