Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014


We experience our life in a certain context.  The current turmoil over the Ferguson, MO events is occurring in a context where

  • Black people are more likely to be targeted by police because of racial profiling; but also
  • Black people are more likely to be involved in a crime because of the social impact of fatherlessness, poverty, poor educational opportunities and drugs

and also where

  • Police are in the front lines of dealing with the fallout from a broken society; but also
  • Police are over-militarized and under-trained; and
  • Police are bringing their own baggage to situations, which can easily escalate

In other words, the events which led to the death of Michael Brown are in the context of a long chain of events, where neither he nor Darren Wilson are either fully innocent or fully guilty.  It is society itself which must do the work of healing both racial injustice (both from within and without) and police brutality.


Disability prejudice, likewise, exists in a societal context which devalues those who are seen to fall short.

This morning I followed this link, posted by the mother of a little girl with Down syndrome.  It is the story of a (different) mother who has just given birth after years of infertility treatments, several miscarriages, and the loss of newborn twins.  While most of the comments expressed congratulations for the birth and sympathy for the earlier losses, some were judgmental:
And not to be snarky, but what's wrong with adoption? Why do people feel such a strong need to have a biological child? If you have problems with fertility, maybe you should consider taking an unwanted child? Why go through all the heartache and expense, not to mention what it did to your body? Seems a little weird to me, that's all.
To which someone responded that this couple had in fact considered adoption, and linked to an earlier post, here.  Curious, I read this as well.  Turns out that their idea of adoption was the conventional desire for a "healthy newborn that looks like us," which generally involves a long, long wait and/or high expense (even while pouring both money and time into IVF).  As a young couple, it is reasonable for them to be hesitant about older-child adoption.  However, when I read this:

We decided that we were okay with certain physical problems (cleft lip/palate, blindness or deafness, missing limbs) but not others (Cerebral Palsy, etc). We also decided we are not okay with mental disabilities (Down’s Syndrome, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, etc). Sound selfish? Sure. We get that a lot, even from our closest friends and family. Of course we know that there are lots of older/special needs kids who need homes, and of course we know that those children are harder to place than healthy newborns. That doesn’t mean that taking an older and/or special needs kid is right for our family. Right now, our family needs a healthy baby. An older and/or special needs kid needs things that we just can’t provide.

I could not help but wonder about the thought process.  They had already dealt with extreme prematurity, in term of the twins they had lost.  The risk of brain damage and consequent Cerebral Palsy is very high in premature infants, and yet they persisted in pursuing high-risk pregnancies.  If they cannot provide "things" that a special needs kid needs, what would they have done if they had given birth to one?  For that matter, what if their beautiful, perfect baby is diagnosed next month with a special need that was not detected in utero?  What if she is in an accident that leaves her disabled?  What if she turns out to be autistic?   There are no guarantees. Could they "provide" for their child then?

That said, I am not judging her, nor would I post this as a comment on her page.  Her decision process was, as I said above, conventional.  It took place in the context of prevailing social attitudes about disability.  Social attitudes which are demonstrated by parents "grieving the diagnosis," whether it comes pre- or post-natally.  Where expectant parents smile and say "as long as it's healthy," without considering the implication of that statement for a baby who fails to meet that standard.

It is society which must change.  Just as we seek to create a society where individuals are not devalued on the basis of their race, we also should create a society where all children are valued, not judged as deficient according to arbitrary standards before they take their first breath.

Are you with me?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Grateful for gratitude

As we approach Thanksgiving, many people share lists of things and people that they are grateful for, as well as high-minded sermons on the virtue of gratitude in general.

This is not that sermon.

In my last post, I reflected on the way praise can and should be given.  A corollary of people's reluctance to praise generously is the widespread tendency to deflect it when it is offered.  The same meme that informs us that "praise = insincerity" when we wish to compliment someone and hold back from full and generous praise leads us to assume that any compliments bestowed upon us cannot possibly be true.  And even if they are, that it would somehow be in poor form to accept them at face value.  So we deflect them:

  • "Oh, it was nothing."
  • "My part was really not that significant."
  • "There are still many problems to work out."

These seem like polite expressions of modesty, but they are not.  They are, in a mild way, a rejection of the goodwill of others.  We were offered a gift, and with these words, we have diminished it.  Rather, we should respond to compliments as we respond to any other gift:

"Thank you!"

Just as we are stingy with our praise, we are stingier still with our gratitude for the praise of others.

Please, in this season of gratitude, practice being grateful for all the expressions of praise, compliments, and general goodwill which you receive.  Say "thank you," and really take a minute to let the positive sentiment land.  Let it create a space of heightened self-esteem for yourself.  This is not vanity!  Instead, higher self-esteem will empower you to spread more goodness in the world.  Go ahead!  See yourself as a person who is deserving of praise!  Be the person that the praise says you are!

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.

Friday, November 21, 2014

In praise of praise

I've been thinking a lot about praise recently.

Most of us are habitually stingy with praise. The reasons vary from concern that "excessive" praise would cheapen it, to fear that it would make us look pathetic and fawning.  I think that these concerns stem from a few misunderstandings about the nature of praise.

One problem is our experience with insincere praise, otherwise known as flattery.  We have all had experience with people who will flatter us in order to manipulate.  A reputation for flattery is very unsavory.  Once we have a reputation for insincerity, our opinions - both positive and negative - will be discounted.

Another form of false praise can be a style of polite speech.  Someone who uses the language of praise in casual contexts may have a harder time differentiating actual praise.

Both of these problems are solved by praise which is specific and concrete.  Studies of child-rearing have shown that children who are given generic praise (e.g. you are so smart, or strong, or pretty) actually have lower self-esteem than those who are given specific, concrete praise:

  • "That was a hard math problem! You stuck with it and figured it out - I'm really impressed!"
  • "Wow! You carried all those heavy shopping bags in one trip!"
  • "That color really brings out you eyes!"

This does not stop being true after childhood.  General compliments, while nice, may be suspect on either of the grounds described above.  Specific, concrete praise, is grounded in reality and can therefore be internalized and affirmed by the recipient.

It takes an effort to give this kind of praise.  You have to really think about what it is that you are acknowledging. But praise done right will not land as insincere or excessive, and will not cheapen either the giver or the recipient.

Thursday, November 20, 2014


Many in the disability community complain about their lives being seen as an "exhibit" for the purpose of inspiring others.  And yet, many people with disabilities do in fact live inspiring lives -- even if the inspirational element has more to do with overcoming societal prejudice than the disability itself.

Here is an excellent analysis of this issue.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

DS and race

I don't usually get into this kind of issue, but this caught my eye today:


The basic data is this:

Whites have been making steady progress in improving prognosis for the various conditions associated with Trisomy 21 since the 70's, but minorities did not even start to catch up until the 90's.  I have not seen more recent data, but I am certain that differences in access to quality pre- and post-natal care, as well as educational and social resources, account for much of these differences.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Another Jewish special needs website!


More on Lech-Lecha

Although I am not blogging the entire cycle this year (still waiting for suggestions on a good theme), I am still going to synagogue regularly and following the weekly parsha.  This week's parsha introduces the patriarch Abraham, as he is commanded to leave his home and go to the land which G*d will give to him and his descendants.

Many rabbinical discussions speculate on what distinguished Abraham to merit this call.  Some create legends out of whole cloth, suggesting that as a small child he saw the folly of idol worship.  Others see him as an adult, observing the world and concluding that there must be a Creator.  Some conclude that G*d calls each and every one of us, just as He called Adam in the Garden of Eden.  It is up to us to respond appropriately.

I have an edition of the Torah which breaks the text thematically rather than strictly along Parsha lines. This edition clued me in to a much more organic explanation of Abraham's prophetic encounter.  His childhood is not a total mystery, to be shrouded in legends.  The end of Parshat Noah gives some extensive detail:

כז  וְאֵלֶּה, תּוֹלְדֹת תֶּרַח--תֶּרַח הוֹלִיד אֶת-אַבְרָם, אֶת-נָחוֹר וְאֶת-הָרָן; וְהָרָן, הוֹלִיד אֶת-לוֹט.27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot.
כח  וַיָּמָת הָרָן, עַל-פְּנֵי תֶּרַח אָבִיו, בְּאֶרֶץ מוֹלַדְתּוֹ, בְּאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים.28 And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees.
כט  וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם וְנָחוֹר לָהֶם, נָשִׁים:  שֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-אַבְרָם, שָׂרָי, וְשֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-נָחוֹר מִלְכָּה, בַּת-הָרָן אֲבִי-מִלְכָּה וַאֲבִי יִסְכָּה.29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah.
ל  וַתְּהִי שָׂרַי, עֲקָרָה:  אֵין לָהּ, וָלָד.30 And Sarai was barren; she had no child.
לא  וַיִּקַּח תֶּרַח אֶת-אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ, וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-הָרָן בֶּן-בְּנוֹ, וְאֵת שָׂרַי כַּלָּתוֹ, אֵשֶׁת אַבְרָם בְּנוֹ; וַיֵּצְאוּ אִתָּם מֵאוּר כַּשְׂדִּים, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ עַד-חָרָן, וַיֵּשְׁבוּ שָׁם.31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son's son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there.
לב  וַיִּהְיוּ יְמֵי-תֶרַח, חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וּמָאתַיִם שָׁנָה; וַיָּמָת תֶּרַח, בְּחָרָן. 32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

What do we know here? Abraham (then Abram) was the eldest of three sons.  His youngest brother Haran died as a young father, leaving behind a son (Lot) and two daughters (Milcah and Iscah).  Does Abram feel any guilt in this?  As the eldest, does he feel responsible for the tragedy, or for its consequences? His middle brother marries his niece Milcah and (as we learn later) has 8 children with her, as well as 4 children by a concubine.  In the meantime Abram marries his (as we later learn) half-sister Sarai, who turns out to be barren.

In the midst of all this, his aging father decides to uproot from the city of Ur and head towards Canaan.  (Did he have a divine call in this?  What did this trip mean to the father, who had buried his youngest son?)  He takes with him his childless son and daughter-in-law, as well as his orphaned grandson Lot.  Abram and Sarai develop a sort of foster-parenting relationship with Lot.  Nahor and his large clan are left behind. How does this impact Abram?  Disconnected from his familiar town, his friends, and his remaining brother and his family.

Terah, Abram, Sarai and Lot never do arrive in Canaan.  They stop in Haran. In Hebrew this is spelled differently than the deceased brother's name, although this could be a transcription error, as the letters חָ and הָ are quite similar. It may well be that they named their stopping-point in his memory.  Why do they stop?  How does Terah feel about not making it to Canaan?  How does Abram feel about this?

It is in this context that Abram hear's G*d's call:

א  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-אַבְרָם, לֶךְ-לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ, אֶל-הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ.1 Now the LORD said unto Abram: 'Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto the land that I will show thee.
ב  וְאֶעֶשְׂךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל, וַאֲבָרֶכְךָ, וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ; וֶהְיֵה, בְּרָכָה.2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and be thou a blessing.
ג  וַאֲבָרְכָה, מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר; וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ, כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה.3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.'
ד  וַיֵּלֶךְ אַבְרָם, כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר אֵלָיו יְהוָה, וַיֵּלֶךְ אִתּוֹ, לוֹט; וְאַבְרָם, בֶּן-חָמֵשׁ שָׁנִים וְשִׁבְעִים שָׁנָה, בְּצֵאתוֹ, מֵחָרָן.4 So Abram went, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.
ה  וַיִּקַּח אַבְרָם אֶת-שָׂרַי אִשְׁתּוֹ וְאֶת-לוֹט בֶּן-אָחִיו, וְאֶת-כָּל-רְכוּשָׁם אֲשֶׁר רָכָשׁוּ, וְאֶת-הַנֶּפֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר-עָשׂוּ בְחָרָן; וַיֵּצְאוּ, לָלֶכֶת אַרְצָה כְּנַעַן, וַיָּבֹאוּ, אַרְצָה כְּנָעַן.5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

G*d's promise does not come in a vacuum.  G*d is promising to make right everything that went wrong in Abram's life.  He will have progeny, he will be a blessing rather than a curse to others (still feeling guilty about his little brother....) and he will complete his father's mission by arriving in Canaan.

This, indeed, is a person with whom we can identify!  Living through personal loss and disconnection, Abram sees in the divine an opportunity for deliverance.  He seeks to create a meaning for his life that is greater than the everyday details of his existence.  He has made a good living in Haran, but he is not settled.  He needs more.  He needs validation that there is a meaning and value to his losses.

And then G*d speaks to him.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

31 for 21 - beauty, again

Goes well with this post:


31 for 21 - "disability", again

And again, another article pointing out that "disability" is a social construct.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, and some of those get labeled a "disability" while others do not.  Which weaknesses are socially stigmatized is dependent on the social context.  A few hundred years ago, my severe nearsightedness would have been a debilitating disability, since effective optometry was not generally available.  At the same time, "learning disabilities" did not really exist, since there was not a universal expectation of literacy and schooling.  Someone who did not function well in an academic environment simply pursued other endeavors which were better suited to his/her strengths.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

31 for 21 - Summer Camp Inclusion

Many Jewish organizations have been slow to take up the cause of special needs inclusion, especially intellectual/developmental special needs.  Jewish culture places a high value on intellectual achievement, and seems to regard intellectual disability as a failing, either on the part of the child, or his/her parents. 

As this article points out in the introduction, this is antithetical to Jewish liturgy.  Moses himself had a speech impediment, and needed Aaron's assistance to take his prophetic message to the Pharaoh, as well as to the Jewish people.  If anything, this is a model of inclusion at work: Moses was provided with the necessary accommodations which allowed his leadership to shine.

As a counselor at the Jewish summer camp Camp Ramah, the author of the article discovered that sharing each camper's challenges was empowering for all, as both typical and disabled campers realized that we are not defined or limited by our challenges.  This echoes the insight that the mom in yesterday's post made when talking with her children.  We all have our unique strengths and challenges.  Society arbitrarily labels some of these "disabilities", but these are artificial constructs, not facts of reality.  The reality, which we aspire to see reflected in society, is that our value is in our common humanity and in the way we treat each other.

31 for 21 - Talking with children

Children have very few prejudices (not having had a chance to learn too many yet), and have no filter or guile about those prejudices which they have absorbed.  In talking with children, we can learn what we have inadvertently taught them, for good or bad.  Such conversations are excellent mirrors to hold up to ourselves.  Perhaps we think nothing of using foul language, until we hear it echoed from the mouths of our offspring. Or we don't realize ways in which we stereotype others, until our filter-free kiddos say something that makes us cringe.  Conversely, how lovely it is when our children think it completely natural to speak politely, offer sincere compliments, and share freely, because this is the behavior they see modeled in the home.


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What's next for 5775?

Well, I've succeeded in doing a year of Torah Connection, and a year of Haftorah Beam.  I've gone through the Amidah and Pirkei Avot.

Tehillim (Psalms)?
Mishlei (Proverbs)?

What would you like to see?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Index


What is Haftorah?

Occasionally, the Sabbath falls on the first day of the Jewish month, and the Rosh Hodesh haftorah is substituted for the regular reading.

Bereishit - Genesis

Chayei Sarah
Miketz -> Hanukah

Shemot - Exodus

Ki Tissa

Vayikra - Leviticus

Achrei Mot/Shabbat Hagadol

Bamidbar - Numbers


Devarim - Deuteronomy

Ki Teitze
Ki Tavo
Ha'azinu/Shabbat Shuva
V'Zot HaBracha

Khazak, khazak, va-nitkhazek!

Haftorah Beam - vZot haBracha

This parsha is read, not on Shabbat, but on Simchat Torah -- the "Great Rewind".  We finish reading the five books of Moses, and immediately cycle back to the beginning of Genesis.

The Torah reading ends with the death of Moses, as the people are about to enter the Promised Land. The Haftorah completes this theme with the beginning of the book of Joshua, as the people enter Israel and prepare to conquer and inhabit it.  On the brink of a new endeavor, full of risk and promise, these words resonate for us:

ט  הֲלוֹא צִוִּיתִיךָ חֲזַק וֶאֱמָץ, אַל-תַּעֲרֹץ וְאַל-תֵּחָת:  כִּי עִמְּךָ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֵךְ.  9 Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of good courage; be not affrighted, neither be thou dismayed: for the LORD thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.'

31 for 21 - Sukkot

Well, Sukkot is half-over, but here is our new Sukkah for this year:

Friday, October 10, 2014

Thursday, October 9, 2014

31 for 21 - siblings

This is a blog I don't usually read, but this time I did, and I thought it was very nicely done.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

31 for 21 - discrimination

Looks like this year, my participation in 31 for 21 will mostly be limited to linking to other bloggers....  Here is a piece by my friend Jisun, examining the real-life consequences -- in some cases, life-and-death consequences -- of "othering" people with disabilities.  In any situation where we try to justify treating people with disabilities differently, would we use the same logic to justify racial or gender discrimination?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

31 for 21 - high expectations

Through the blog linkup, I came across this blog, of the parents of an adorable 2-year-old with T21 (aka Trisomy 21 aka Down syndrome).  His parents refuse to limit him based on any preconceptions.  As a result, although he certainly has delays in some areas, in other areas he is at -- or even above! -- his age-level peers.

Did I mention he's cute?

Friday, October 3, 2014

31 for 21

I don't expect to be able to participate in the full month for Down Syndrome Awareness Month, but do check out Big Blueberry Eyes for lots of cool DS bloggers!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Ha'azinu (Shabat Shuva)

As this Parsha is read during the 10 Days of Awe (between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur), the usual Haftorah is replaced with the Shabat Shuva reading.

This collection of verses from several prophetic writings examines the concept of repentance, both human and divine.

Hosea 14
2 Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,For you have fallen because of your sin.

as well as

5 I will heal their affliction,Generously will I take them back in love;For My anger has turned away from them.

How do we atone for our wrongdoings, and how do we rediscover the true path?  This passage from Joel echoes the High Holiday rituals:

Joel 2
15 Blow a horn in Zion,
Solemnize a fast,
Proclaim an assembly!
16 Gather the people,
Bid the congregation purify themselves.
Bring together the old,
Gather the babes
And the sucklings at the breast;
Let the bridegroom come out of his chamber,
The bride from her canopied couch.
Through repentance and community, relationship with the divine is restored.

Haftorah Beam - Nitzavim/Vayeilech

Almost done with the cycle!  As in last year, this is a double parsha, but uses the Haftorah for Nitzavim.

Finishing off the month of Elul אלול (acronym for אני לדודי ודודי לי - I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine), this Haftorah elaborates on the theme of marriage as the metaphor for G*d's relationship with Israel in preparation for the High Holidays, often seen as a symbolic wedding (white clothes, ritual immersion, etc).

4 Nevermore shall you be called "Forsaken,"Nor shall your land be called "Desolate";But you shall be called "I delight in her,"And your land "Espoused."For the Lord takes delight in you,And your land shall be espoused.5 As a youth espouses a maiden,Your sons shall espouse you;And as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,So will your God rejoice over you.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Ki Tavo

The Torah portion is all about being aware of the blessings which surround us.  The Haftorah reading, likewise, is about vision:

1 Arise, shine, for your light has dawned;
The Presence of the Lord has shone upon you!
2 Behold! Darkness shall cover the earth,
And thick clouds the peoples;
But upon you the Lord will shine,
And His Presence be seen over you.
3 And nations shall walk by your light,
Kings, by your shining radiance.
4 Raise your eyes and look about:
They have all gathered and come to you.
Your sons shall be brought from afar,
Your daughters like babes on shoulders.
5 As you behold, you will glow;
Your heart will throb and thrill —
For the wealth of the sea shall pass on to you,
The riches of nations shall flow to you.
In just the first 5 verses, I have highlighted 14 words related to vision or light. I am intrigued mostly by the beginning of the 5th verse:

ה  אָז תִּרְאִי וְנָהַרְתְּ, וּפָחַד וְרָחַב לְבָבֵךְ:  כִּי-יֵהָפֵךְ עָלַיִךְ הֲמוֹן יָם, חֵיל גּוֹיִם יָבֹאוּ לָךְ.5 Then thou shalt see and be radiant, and thy heart shall throb and be enlarged; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned unto thee, the wealth of the nations shall come unto thee.

 It is through opening our eyes and truly seeing G*d's world that we ourselves can shine.  The Hebrew word,  נָהַרְתְּ, is etymologically related to the word נהר, "river", suggesting that the radiance is flowing like a mighty river.  The radiance is dynamic, active, and a bit wild, not a static glow.

Furthermore, the heart is enlarged not merely by "throbbing" but through "פָחַד" - fear.  It is through facing -seeing - and overcoming fear ("Darkness shall cover the earth, And thick clouds the peoples"), that our fortunes are turned ("כִּי-יֵהָפֵךְ").

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

So about those Russian kids....

Nearly 2 years ago, Russia abruptly terminated international adoption to the United States, as well as expelled American NGO's working in orphanages.  Many families who were already in process were prevented from completing their adoptions, leaving behind children whom they had already met.   Russia's Children's Ombudsman promised that all these children will be well taken care of domestically, including the numerous children with special needs.

Seems that, ahem, more work needs to be done....


Monday, September 8, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Ki Teitzeh

In comparison with the Torah portion, this Haftorah is simplicity itself:  It is G*d's proclamation of eternal love for the people of Israel, offering full redemption in compensation for the years of rejection. Rabbi Siegel argues that G*d loves us eternally, but requires us to show lovingkindness to one another in order to merit it from Him.  This interpretation was not apparent from the translation, so I looked it up in the original:

ז  בְּרֶגַע קָטֹן, עֲזַבְתִּיךְ; וּבְרַחֲמִים גְּדֹלִים, אֲקַבְּצֵךְ.7 For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great compassion will I gather thee.
ח  בְּשֶׁצֶף קֶצֶף, הִסְתַּרְתִּי פָנַי רֶגַע מִמֵּךְ, וּבְחֶסֶד עוֹלָם, רִחַמְתִּיךְ--אָמַר גֹּאֲלֵךְ, יְהוָה. 8 In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have compassion on thee, saith the LORD thy Redeemer. 

Each phrase seems to imply "In one circumstance, I rejected you; and in a different circumstance, I shall redeem you".  But it could also be grammatically understood as referring to the people's demeanor:

In [your] moment of smallness, I left you;And with [your] great mercy, I shall gather you.In [your] frothy fury, I briefly hid My face from you;And with [your] lovingkindness for the world,  I shall condole you.
When we act small, or froth with anger, G*d's presence appears to depart.  And it is when we act with mercy and lovingkindness that we experience G*d's love for us, as well.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Shoftim

This week's Torah portion is famous for the phrase צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף - Justice, justice shalt thou pursue. This phrase, with the repetition of the word Justice, emphasizes that the end does not justify the means -- even in the pursuit of justice, just methods must be observed (c.f. current events in Ferguson MO and elsewhere....)

The Haftorah, from Isaiah 51 and 52, echoes this style, with FOUR separate repetitions:

51:12:אָנֹכִי אָנֹכִי הוּא, מְנַחֶמְכֶם  
I, I am He who comforts you!

הִתְעוֹרְרִי הִתְעוֹרְרִי, קוּמִי יְרוּשָׁלִַם, אֲשֶׁר שָׁתִית מִיַּד יְהוָה, אֶת-כּוֹס חֲמָתוֹ 
Rouse, rouse yourself!
Arise, O Jerusalem,
You who from the Lord's hand
Have drunk the cup of His wrath

עוּרִי עוּרִי לִבְשִׁי עֻזֵּךְ, צִיּוֹן
Awake, awake, O Zion!
Clothe yourself in splendor

And finally, 52:11:
סוּרוּ סוּרוּ צְאוּ מִשָּׁם, טָמֵא אַל-תִּגָּעוּ
Turn, turn away, touch naught unclean
As you depart from there;

Once again, the repetition is significant.

Does the repetition mean the same thing both times?  In Genesis, G*d repeats Abraham's name when he stays his hand from completing the Akedah, in case the first time was not heard.  How often do we need to hear a message more than once before we get it?  And yet, the repetition is not the same.  It is more urgent: a greater need for the speaker, and more "urging" -- insisting, pushing, nagging -- for the listener.

How can we recognize G*d when He repeatedly calls to us?

How can we repeatedly awaken and rouse ourselves in the face of adversity and "clothe ourselves in splendor" instead?

How can we repeatedly turn away from the things which wreak havoc in our lives?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Re'eh

After re-reading my drash of last year on the the Torah portion, the Haftorah seemed right on target.  The theme of prosperity as the reward for obedience is explored in detail.  Particularly salient is the beginning of Isaiah 55:

א  הוֹי כָּל-צָמֵא לְכוּ לַמַּיִם, וַאֲשֶׁר אֵין-לוֹ כָּסֶף; לְכוּ שִׁבְרוּ, וֶאֱכֹלוּ, וּלְכוּ שִׁבְרוּ בְּלוֹא-כֶסֶף וּבְלוֹא מְחִיר, יַיִן וְחָלָב.1 Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
ב  לָמָּה תִשְׁקְלוּ-כֶסֶף בְּלוֹא-לֶחֶם, וִיגִיעֲכֶם בְּלוֹא לְשָׂבְעָה; שִׁמְעוּ שָׁמוֹעַ אֵלַי וְאִכְלוּ-טוֹב, וְתִתְעַנַּג בַּדֶּשֶׁן נַפְשְׁכֶם.2 Wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your gain for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.

This seems to emphasize the same message as the excerpts I focused on:  That the difference between abundance and need is perspective.  I have recently had a new epiphany in this area.  I realized that 90% of everything we ever attempt actually fails.  However, THIS IS OK!!!  It is as though we are given a 10-sided die to control our lives with.  If you had such a die, what would you do?  Just keep rolling it!  The losing rolls don't matter -- if you keep rolling it, the winning face will come up many times! When things don't go well, just keep taking more actions in your life ("Hearken diligently" -- i.e. over and over) and delight in the positive results.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bloggy Blog Hop!

My friend Hevel took time between ducking rocket attacks to participate in this blog hop about writing, and he invited me to hop on.  So here I am!  Like him, I am tagging 4 people instead of 3 to increase the chances of the blog hop continuing.

1 – What am I writing or working on?
I have been writing this blog for the last 2+ years, spanning topics from disability rights, to orphanage conditions and adoption stories, to exploring issues in Judaism and modern politics.  Outside of the blog I am starting a coffeeshop as a social enterprise to create opportunities and inclusion for people with disabilities. Please support!

2 – How does my work differ from others of its genre?
There are many adoption bloggers.  Nearly all of them are Christian.  There are many special needs bloggers, some of whom are Jewish, although most are not focused primarily on the Jewish angle on things.  And there are some Jewish-themed blogs.  I started this blog specifically in order to provide a Jewish voice on disability, on adoption, and... anything else.  

3 – Why do I write what I write?
I explain my original motivations here.  At this point, I also use my blog as a platform to promote Power Cafe!, as well as to explore Jewish liturgy and philosophy.

4 – How does my writing process work?
I consciously write a feature about some part of Jewish liturgy throughout my blog.  This gives me something to write about even when I am feeling blocked, and helps maintain the focus of the blog.   I started with the Shema, continued with Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), then the Amidah.  Last year I blogged each week about the weekly Torah reading, and this year I am nearly done doing the same thing with the Haftorah reading.  What will next year bring?

Now, in true IceBucketChallenge form, I challenge the following 4 bloggers to continue the hop..... Or dunk their heads in a bucket of ice water!

Jisun blogs at Kimchi Latkes, mostly about family (including an adorable boy with an extra chromosome) and related issues.

Ellen blogs at Love that Max, and hosts a regular blog linkup every weekend. Max is an awesome boy who loves cars and want to be a firefighter.  

Dave blogs at Rolling Around in my Head.  He is a passionate advocate for all marginalized people.  He has written about disability, race and sexual orientation, to name a few.  And he even fits some of these categories.

Lisa blogs at Jewish Special Needs Education, and provides an interesting take from a professional angle.  She says: "I helped to build an inclusive synagogue school from the ground up and I firmly believe that everyone has a right to learn & feel connected to his/her heritage. I consult with faith organizations to offer professional support & expertise in developing inclusive practices and programs. Each one of us is created b'tzelem elohim, in God's image, so let's do what we can to act like it!"  Here is her entry.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Eikev

When I read the Haftorah for this week's reading at shul on Saturday, a theme that jumped out at me was Motherhood.  There are three references to it: at the beginning, middle and end.

First, we read:

49:14 Zion says,"The Lord has forsaken me,My Lord has forgotten me."15 Can a woman forget her baby,Or disown the child of her womb?Though she might forget,I never could forget you.

Later on,

50:1 Thus said the Lord:Where is the bill of divorceOf your mother whom I dismissed?And which of My creditors was itTo whom I sold you off?You were only sold off for your sins,And your mother dismissed for your crimes.

And finally,

51:2 Look back to Abraham your fatherAnd to Sarah who brought you forth.For he was only one when I called him,But I blessed him and made him many.

While G*d begins by proclaiming His love for us to be more steadfast than a mother's love for her child, He seems quite callous in casting away a mother on account of her children's transgressions.  Seems the mother is actually sticking by her kids, through good and bad, while G*d is prone to rejecting those who fall short. This is resolved in the final excerpt, where the Matriarch Sarah is cited. "But I blessed him and made him many," -- Sarah herself IS the blessing.  Motherhood IS the link to G*d's love for us. Even when we feel rejected, looking back to our ancestors (both distant and recent), we can reconnect with our Source.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Haftorah Beam - VaEtkhanan

I really enjoyed re-reading my drash from last year for this Torah portion -- it felt so relevant for how I feel about my current project!

For the Haftorah reading, I want to highlight 2 excerpts.  First,

ט  עַל הַר-גָּבֹהַּ עֲלִי-לָךְ, מְבַשֶּׂרֶת צִיּוֹן, הָרִימִי בַכֹּחַ קוֹלֵךְ, מְבַשֶּׂרֶת יְרוּשָׁלִָם; הָרִימִי, אַל-תִּירָאִי, אִמְרִי לְעָרֵי יְהוּדָה, הִנֵּה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם.9 O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get thee up into the high mountain; O thou that tellest good tidings to Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah: 'Behold your God!'
י  הִנֵּה אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה בְּחָזָק יָבוֹא, וּזְרֹעוֹ מֹשְׁלָה לוֹ; הִנֵּה שְׂכָרוֹ אִתּוֹ, וּפְעֻלָּתוֹ לְפָנָיו.10 Behold, the Lord GOD will come as a Mighty One, and His arm will rule for Him; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.
יא  כְּרֹעֶה, עֶדְרוֹ יִרְעֶה, בִּזְרֹעוֹ יְקַבֵּץ טְלָאִים, וּבְחֵיקוֹ יִשָּׂא; עָלוֹת, יְנַהֵל.  11 Even as a shepherd that feedeth his flock, that gathereth the lambs in his arm, and carrieth them in his bosom, and gently leadeth those that give suck. 

In the context of the current conflict with Hamas in Gaza, this points out several things.  First, Zion was synonymous with both the people and land of Israel since biblical times. As Martin Luther King Jr. reportedly said, "When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You're talking anti-Semitism."

Second, the G*d being praised here is simultaneously a powerful, mighty ruler, and a gentle, nurturing shepherd.  This is the behavior of Israel's army, the IDF: It is powerful, striking mightily at those who seek to drive the Jews into the sea; and yet, it goes to great lengths to minimize civilian casualties, and provides field hospitals for the local injured.

The other excerpt is:

כט  נֹתֵן לַיָּעֵף, כֹּחַ; וּלְאֵין אוֹנִים, עָצְמָה יַרְבֶּה.29 He giveth power to the faint; and to him that hath no might He increaseth strength.
ל  וְיִעֲפוּ נְעָרִים, וְיִגָעוּ; וּבַחוּרִים, כָּשׁוֹל יִכָּשֵׁלוּ.30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall;
לא  וְקוֹיֵ יְהוָה יַחֲלִיפוּ כֹחַ, יַעֲלוּ אֵבֶר כַּנְּשָׁרִים; יָרוּצוּ וְלֹא יִיגָעוּ, יֵלְכוּ וְלֹא יִיעָפוּ.  31 But they that wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint. 

When life gets us down and we feel like all is lost, faith can often restore power to our endeavors.

Haftorah Beam - Devarim

Where the Torah portion focused on the power of words, the Haftorah reading emphasizes actions.  Indeed, after a long diatribe denouncing the people for their evil ways, rejecting their prayers and sacrifices, the prophet suddenly changes his tone:
16 Wash yourselves clean;
Put your evil doings
Away from My sight.
Cease to do evil;
17 Learn to do good.
Devote yourselves to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.
18 "Come, let us reach an understanding,
--declares the Lord--
Be your sins like crimson,
They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool,
They can become like fleece."
Not prayer, nor sacrifices, but doing justice, aiding the wronged, and fighting for the downtrodden constitutes true repentance.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Down syndrome stereotype

People with Down syndrome are often seen as "happy, loving, and sweet".  As anybody who knows actual people with Down syndrome, they have a full range of emotions and dispositions.  So where does the stereotype come from?

My husband suggested the following hypothesis:
Because children with Down syndrome are disproportionately aborted (or, in some cultures, institutionalized), the parents who choose to keep and raise these children are probably endowed with greater compassion and kindness than average.  And this parenting translates into children that grow up to be compassionate, kind people, regardless of genetics.

This is not a complete explanation.  Children with other disabilities are also vulnerable to abortion and abandonment, and yet children with spina bifida, blindness, or physical deformity do not have this reputation.  I think there is a feedback loop, though.  Children with Down syndrome have characteristics which elicit a different kind of parenting.  And this parenting does seem to encourage the stereotype.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Masei

The Haftorah for this Parshah (last year it was a double parsha, but this year Matot and Masei are separate) culminates the cycle of readings from the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B'Av (the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples).  These readings follow the course of Israel's fall from grace which caused destruction and exile.

5 Thus said the Lord:What wrong did your fathers find in MeThat they abandoned MeAnd went after delusion and were deluded?6 They never asked themselves, "Where is the Lord,Who brought us up from the land of Egypt,Who led us through the wilderness,A land of deserts and pits,A land of drought and darkness,A land no man had traversed,Where no human being had dwelt?"

And yet, the final verse promises hope:
Chapter 3
Just now you called to Me, "Father!
You are the Companion of my youth."

Haftorah Beam - Matot

In the haftorah for this parsha, more insights into what makes a prophet:

ו  וָאֹמַר, אֲהָהּ אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, הִנֵּה לֹא-יָדַעְתִּי, דַּבֵּר:  כִּי-נַעַר, אָנֹכִי.  {ס}6 Then said I: 'Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak; for I am a child.' {S}
ז  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֵלַי, אַל-תֹּאמַר נַעַר אָנֹכִי:  כִּי עַל-כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֶשְׁלָחֲךָ, תֵּלֵךְ, וְאֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר אֲצַוְּךָ, תְּדַבֵּר.7 But the LORD said unto me: say not: I am a child; for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak.
ח  אַל-תִּירָא, מִפְּנֵיהֶם:  כִּי-אִתְּךָ אֲנִי לְהַצִּלֶךָ, נְאֻם-יְהוָה.8 Be not afraid of them; for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.

Haftorah Beam - Pinchas

The Haftorah for this Parshah contains the famous "small still voice" passage:

יא  וַיֹּאמֶר, צֵא וְעָמַדְתָּ בָהָר לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, וְהִנֵּה יְהוָה עֹבֵר וְרוּחַ גְּדוֹלָה וְחָזָק מְפָרֵק הָרִים וּמְשַׁבֵּר סְלָעִים לִפְנֵי יְהוָה, לֹא בָרוּחַ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָרוּחַ רַעַשׁ, לֹא בָרַעַשׁ יְהוָה.11 And He said: 'Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.' And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake;
יב  וְאַחַר הָרַעַשׁ אֵשׁ, לֹא בָאֵשׁ יְהוָה; וְאַחַר הָאֵשׁ, קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָּה.12 and after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.

Interestingly, the verses immediately before and after this are nearly identical.
ט  וַיָּבֹא-שָׁם אֶל-הַמְּעָרָה, וַיָּלֶן שָׁם; וְהִנֵּה דְבַר-יְהוָה, אֵלָיו, וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ, מַה-לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ.9 And he came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said unto him: 'What doest thou here, Elijah?'
י  וַיֹּאמֶר קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת, כִּי-עָזְבוּ בְרִיתְךָ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--אֶת-מִזְבְּחֹתֶיךָ הָרָסוּ, וְאֶת-נְבִיאֶיךָ הָרְגוּ בֶחָרֶב; וָאִוָּתֵר אֲנִי לְבַדִּי, וַיְבַקְשׁוּ אֶת-נַפְשִׁי לְקַחְתָּהּ.10 And he said: 'I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.'
And after:
יג  וַיְהִי כִּשְׁמֹעַ אֵלִיָּהוּ, וַיָּלֶט פָּנָיו בְּאַדַּרְתּוֹ, וַיֵּצֵא, וַיַּעֲמֹד פֶּתַח הַמְּעָרָה; וְהִנֵּה אֵלָיו, קוֹל, וַיֹּאמֶר, מַה-לְּךָ פֹה אֵלִיָּהוּ.13 And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said: 'What doest thou here, Elijah?'
יד  וַיֹּאמֶר קַנֹּא קִנֵּאתִי לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֵי צְבָאוֹת, כִּי-עָזְבוּ בְרִיתְךָ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל--אֶת-מִזְבְּחֹתֶיךָ הָרָסוּ, וְאֶת-נְבִיאֶיךָ הָרְגוּ בֶחָרֶב; וָאִוָּתֵר אֲנִי לְבַדִּי, וַיְבַקְשׁוּ אֶת-נַפְשִׁי לְקַחְתָּהּ.  14 And he said: 'I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Thy covenant, thrown down Thine altars, and slain Thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.' 

The prophet hearing G*d's voice didn't change any of the actual facts of what had happened.  The covenant had been forsaken, the prophets had been slain, and Elijah himself was still alone and vulnerable.

All that has changed was the meaning attached to these events, and the context in which he placed them.  Elijah was now clear that the might of his enemies -- the wind, noise and fire -- will not prevail.  But his own "still, small voice" will suffice to bring hope to the next generation.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Power Cafe!

I have been out of the blogging loop for the past few weeks because I have been ramping up to unveiling my latest project.  I'm starting a coffee shop!   Rather than just talk about disability rights, and bemoan the lack of opportunity for people with special needs, I decided to do something about it, and put my money where my mouth is.  Power Cafe! will be a coffee shop in the Boston area (location TBD) which will be staffed and run entirely by people with disabilities.  I am working to put all the pieces together, and if all works out, we could open as soon as September or October.

Is this exciting or what?!  Please help make this a reality by contributing to my IndieGoGo campaign, and share with your friends on social media, too!

Thanks so much!!!!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A very special wedding!

Amid all the scary news from Israel, I found this featured on the Jewish outreach site, aish.com:

An Extraordinary Wedding

A testament not only to the spirit of Israelis in the face of external, existential threat in general, but the spirit of inclusion and support for people with disabilities.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Balak

In my reflections on the Torah portion last year, I asked,

Is it G*d who is fickle, or is this an allegory of the uncertainty we feel about attempting to discern G*d's will about important decisions?

The Haftorah portion, in a way, answers this question.

ה  עַמִּי, זְכָר-נָא מַה-יָּעַץ בָּלָק מֶלֶךְ מוֹאָב, וּמֶה-עָנָה אֹתוֹ, בִּלְעָם בֶּן-בְּעוֹר--מִן-הַשִּׁטִּים, עַד-הַגִּלְגָּל, לְמַעַן, דַּעַת צִדְקוֹת יְהוָה.5 O My people, remember now what Balak king of Moab devised, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him; from Shittim unto Gilgal, that ye may know the righteous acts of the LORD.

Rabbi Dovid Siegel expands on this:

We now understand why Micha isolated this incident between Bilaam and the Jewish people when demonstrating Hashem's ultimate love for His people. [...] In truth, a father always remains a father during the most trying times and his love for his child is never tainted. Although he may punish his child this too is an expression of love and concern and should never be viewed in any other way. No one should ever forget that the Jewish people are Hashem's children and His boundless love and concern for them will always be there for them.

In this trying time of struggle in Israel, this may be a comforting reminder that Daddy's watching us.


This is also the source of the idea of "the remnant":
6 The remnant of Jacob shall be,In the midst of the many peoples,Like dew from the Lord,Like droplets on grass--Which do not look to any manNor place their hope in mortals.7 The remnant of Jacob
Shall be among the nations,
In the midst of the many peoples,
Like a lion among beasts of the wild,
Like a fierce lion among flocks of sheep,
Which tramples wherever it goes
And rends, with none to deliver.
8 Your hand shall prevail over your foes,
And all your enemies shall be cut down!
Although many remain oblivious to the prophet's message, the few who tune in to the right frequency will prevail.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Hukkat

Hah!  I get a free pass this week -- go ahead and read the regular Haftorah for this Parshah, but it's Rosh Hodesh again!  Happy Tammuz!

Haftorah Beam - Korach

Both the Torah portion and the Haftorah are concerned with the relationship of the people of Israel to government/authority figures.  In both stories, there is a legitimate leader (Moses/Samuel).  In both cases, the people seek an alternate leader (Korach/king) with a reasonable-sounding pretext. In both cases, the legitimate leader establishes his reputation for virtue.

There, however, the two stories diverge.  In the Torah, the rebels are punished, dramatically and violently.  They are literally swallowed up by the earth, and a plague spreads among their supporters. In the Haftorah, the prophet Samuel grants their request and annoints Saul as the new king.  Only then does he warn them:

13 "Well, the Lord has set a king over you! Here is the king that you have chosen, that you have asked for.
14 "If you will revere the Lord, worship Him, and obey Him, and will not flout the Lord's command, if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, [well and good]. 15 But if you do not obey the Lord and you flout the Lord's command, the hand of the Lord will strike you as it did your fathers.
16 "Now stand by and see the marvelous thing that the Lord will do before your eyes. 17 It is the season of the wheat harvest. I will pray to the Lord and He will send thunder and rain; then you will take thought and realize what a wicked thing you did in the sight of the Lord when you asked for a king."
18 Samuel prayed to the Lord, and the Lord sent thunder and rain that day, and the people stood in awe of the Lord and of Samuel. 19 The people all said to Samuel, "Intercede for your servants with the Lord your God that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins the wickedness of asking for a king." 20 But Samuel said to the people, "Have no fear. You have, indeed, done all those wicked things. Do not, however, turn away from the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart. 21 Do not turn away to follow worthless things, which can neither profit nor save but are worthless. 22 For the sake of His great name, the Lord will never abandon His people, seeing that the Lord undertook to make you His people.
Submitting to a king was a risky move, spiritually speaking.  Previously, G*d alone was seen as King.  Will the people's allegiance now be divided?  Will they turn away from the commandments?  The prophet reassures the people that as long as they maintain their virtue they will be all right.  As history later showed, they were not able to maintain it more than a couple of generations before becoming corrupted.

Which strategy was better?  How is this applicable today?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Shlakh L'kha

Both the Torah and Haftorah readings for this week deal with "spies" -- reconnaissance missions into the land of Israel.  In the Torah, Moses sends out the 12 spies in order to learn more about the land promised to the Hebrews by G*d.  The result is internal discord between the 2 optimists and the 10 pessimists, resulting in 40 additional years of wandering in the wilderness.

In the Haftorah, only 2 spies are sent, in preparation for the military campaign on Jericho.  This time, there is no dithering.  They know their purpose, and not only do they successfully complete their mission, but they make an ally in the person of Rahab the prostitute.
23 Then the two men came down again from the hills and crossed over. They came to Joshua son of Nun and reported to him all that had happened to them. 24 They said to Joshua, "The Lord has delivered the whole land into our power; in fact, all the inhabitants of the land are quaking before us."
Where the division among Moses's spies left the Hebrews "quaking" in fear of the Canaanites, the steadfastness of purpose exhibited by Joshua's spies struck fear in those very same Canaanites.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Ba'Ha'alot'kha

This Parsha - literally meaning "as you raise up" - is about redemption.  The Torah reading appears fraught with strife, but is ultimately concerned with the resolution of conflict, Moses reconciling with the people, and the people turning back towards G*d.  The Haftorah is more explicitly about the reconciliation: Joshua (representing the people) starts out in a state of defilement, which is divinely removed from him so that he can take on the tasks of High Priest.  It is here that we find such immortal gems such as:

ב  וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-הַשָּׂטָן, יִגְעַר יְהוָה בְּךָ הַשָּׂטָן, וְיִגְעַר יְהוָה בְּךָ, הַבֹּחֵר בִּירוּשָׁלִָם; הֲלוֹא זֶה אוּד, מֻצָּל מֵאֵשׁ.2 And the LORD said unto Satan: 'The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan, yea, the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee; is not this man a brand plucked out of the fire?'

ו  וַיַּעַן וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי, לֵאמֹר, זֶה דְּבַר-יְהוָה, אֶל-זְרֻבָּבֶל לֵאמֹר:  לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ--כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת.6 Then he answered and spoke unto me, saying: 'This is the word of the LORD unto Zerubbabel, saying: Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the LORD of hosts.

This is the essence of redemption: we are but a glowing ember, rescued from the flames by the strength of spirit alone.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Nasso

OK, back to work!

The Torah portion for Nasso includes the laws of the Nazir, and the Haftorah recounts the story of one of the most famous Nazirim, Samson.

Most of the text pertains to the preparations undertaken by Samson's parents, from the announcement by the angel to the mother-to-be:
"You are barren and have borne no children; but you shall conceive and bear a son. 4 Now be careful not to drink wine or other intoxicant, or to eat anything unclean. 5 For you are going to conceive and bear a son; let no razor touch his head, for the boy is to be a nazirite to God from the womb on. He shall be the first to deliver Israel from the Philistines."

She repeats this announcement to her husband, who disbelieves her, and entreats G*d to send the messenger again.  The angel reappears, and repeats the same instructions.  When the angel refuses a reward for these news, the man becomes suspicious:
 17 So Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, "What is your name? We should like to honor you when your words come true." 18 The angel said to him, "You must not ask for my name; it is unknowable!"

Manoah and his wife proceed to offer a sacrifice to G*d, which is consumed (accepted).  Even then, Manoah fears the implications, only to be reassured by his wife:
22 And Manoah said to his wife, "We shall surely die, for we have seen a divine being." 23 But his wife said to him, "Had the Lord meant to take our lives, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and meal offering from us, nor let us see all these things; and He would not have made such an announcement to us."

And she, in fact, has the last word:
24 The woman bore a son, and she named him Samson. The boy grew up, and the Lord blessed him.
This mother, who is never named, understood what was going on at each stage. It would have been so easy to get frustrated with Manoah and his insistence on second-guessing her.  But she did not do that.  She patiently supported him in seeking additional information from the angel, and reassured him without belittling his concerns.  She was truly an Eshet Chayil.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Another year older

I had my birthday this past weekend.  A time of reflection, but also a time of action.  Action that took my attention away from blogging.  Am I being cryptic? A bit.  But I also have some Haftorah Beam to catch up with......

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Haftorah Beam - Bamidbar

The first Torah reading in the book of Numbers is connected to the divine Covenant with the People of Israel, and the Haftorah reading relates to its restoration in the time of the prophet Hosea.  Having strayed from G*d, the people are returning to their traditions and observances, and will be rewarded with a renewed closeness with G*d:

א  וְהָיָה מִסְפַּר בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, כְּחוֹל הַיָּם, אֲשֶׁר לֹא-יִמַּד, וְלֹא יִסָּפֵר; וְהָיָה בִּמְקוֹם אֲשֶׁר-יֵאָמֵר לָהֶם, לֹא-עַמִּי אַתֶּם, יֵאָמֵר לָהֶם, בְּנֵי אֵל-חָי.1 Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered; and it shall come to pass that, instead of that which was said unto them: 'Ye are not My people', it shall be said unto them: 'Ye are the children of the living God.'
The rest of the Haftorah deals with this in greater detail, comparing the People of Israel with an unfaithful wife, rejected and forlorn. It concludes with the restoration of intimacy, which is initiated not by repentance but by G*d:
טז  לָכֵן, הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי מְפַתֶּיהָ, וְהֹלַכְתִּיהָ, הַמִּדְבָּר; וְדִבַּרְתִּי, עַל-לִבָּהּ.16 Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly unto her.
יז  וְנָתַתִּי לָהּ אֶת-כְּרָמֶיהָ מִשָּׁם, וְאֶת-עֵמֶק עָכוֹר לְפֶתַח תִּקְוָה; וְעָנְתָה שָּׁמָּה כִּימֵי נְעוּרֶיהָ, וּכְיוֹם עֲלוֹתָהּ מֵאֶרֶץ-מִצְרָיִם.17 And I will give her her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope; and she shall respond there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt.
יח  וְהָיָה בַיּוֹם-הַהוּא נְאֻם-יְהוָה, תִּקְרְאִי אִישִׁי; וְלֹא-תִקְרְאִי-לִי עוֹד, בַּעְלִי.18 And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call Me Ishi, and shalt call Me no more Baali.

The reconciliation begins with G*d leading us, as he has done with His people since Abraham, into the wilderness.  In the empty, barren wilderness, we can hear His "small still voice" as it "speaks tenderly" unto us.  In that place we can see the love that has always been there, and can respond with our own prayers.

In similar vein, we should see our fellow man not as "not my people", but as "children of a living G*d".

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