Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jewish Karma: Mida Kineged Mida

Shabbat Vayigash
5 Tevet 5772 /December 30 – 31
44:18 – 47:27

Jewish Karma: Mida Kineged Mida
by Laura W, Guest writer for Moishe House London

In the 2nd Aliyah (part) of this week’s Parsha
Joseph, “Vice-President” of Ancient Egypt, reveals his identity to his

45:4 'Please, come
close to me,' said Joseph to his brothers. When they came closer, he said, 'I
am Joseph your brother! You sold me to Egypt. 45:5 Now don't worry or feel
guilty because you sold me. Look! God has sent me ahead of you to save (your)

With these dramatic
words the Torah tells us that although we have free will, we are paradoxically
part of a divine universal plan. Joseph is in apposition of great power but
rather than resenting his brothers he interacts with them with great control
and is careful not to embarrass them in front of the Egyptian court.

It seems that although
the brothers were destined to travel to Egypt in order to survive the famine in
Canaan they had to, at the same time, experience the Karma of their
actions which is a way for humans to act with free will and
create their own destiny.

Karma is ‘not
punishment or retribution but simply an extended expression or consequence of
natural acts. It is the Sanskrit word for "deed" or "act"
and more broadly names the universal principle of cause and effect, action and reaction, that governs all
life’…’The Hindu view of karma is expressed by the following "God does not
make one suffer for no reason nor does He make one happy for no reason. God is
very fair and gives you exactly what you deserve.’’ (paraphrased from

We see this clearly in
Joseph’s choice of words and how the events unfolded. When Joseph was 17 he
dreamed that his brothers would bow down to him. Here we see those dreams
manifested. It seems that the brothers had to go through a series of events in
order to correct and balance their individual characters traits. It was wrong
for them to be jealous and for Judah to suggest the idea of selling Joseph into
slavery. We now see the Jewish concept of ‘Mida
Kineged Mida’ or ‘Measure for Measure’ clearly played out when Judah finds
himself many years later in the position of choosing to sacrifice his own
life in order save his younger brother Benjamin. Each brother had to
overcome his envy of Joseph, and through this Karmic process were able
eliminate the source of their jealousy.

“When another
person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and
his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.
That's the message he is sending.”
Thich Nhat Hanh

Our actions are like
boomerangs if we are not mindful of them they will hit us on the back of the
head at a later date. According to Thich Nhat Hanh only through existing 'in
the moment' can we achieve tranquility that enables us to confront our darkest
fears and tap into our own self-healing powers

My bracha to everyone
is the ability to experience a mindful Shabbos and a stronger sense of love and
brother/ sisterhood in our communities and with all living beings around the

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Lesson in Caring

Parshat Miketz
28 Kislev 5772 / Dec. 23 – 24, 2011
Bereshit 41:1 – 44:17

A Lesson in Caring
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

We all know the story. Pharoah has two dreams – fat things are eaten by famished things and they do not get any healthier. He calls together his magicians and dream casters for advice. No one can give Pharoah a satisfying interpretation. One of the king’s ministers recalls a prisoner that he once met who interpreted his dream quite accurately and Yosef is brought before Pharoah to interpret the royal dreams. Yosef listens to the dreams and promises an interpretation only as far as G-d will reveal to him. From the dreams Yosef understands that 7 years of plenty are on their way. The abundance will be followed by a treacherous famine, the likes of which have never been seen before. While this seems like a complete interpretation, he adds, (41:33-36)

33 Now therefore let Pharaoh look out a man discreet and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this, and let him appoint overseers over the land, and take up the fifth part of the land of Egypt in the seven years of plenty. 35 And let them gather all the food of these good years that come, and lay up corn under the hand of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 And the food shall be for a store to the land against the seven years of famine, which shall be in the land of Egypt; that the land perish not through the famine.'

Perhaps this was part of the Divine insight that Yosef had about the dream, or maybe he was just capitalizing on a chance to make a huge social status vault from prisoner to Second-in-Command. I am unsure. What I do notice though is that Yosef delivers terrible news to the King with a viable solution without skipping a beat. When I think about how news is delivered to me in the U.S., it is often just a dropped bomb with an attitude of, “Here you go. You are on your own.” The world of media charges itself with delivering some version of the truth, but seems unconcerned with the consequences of its message. Gay teens are bullied. Unemployment is on the rise. A small Yemen city is a significant war zone. Messages delivered, media retreats.

I do not expect the media to have all the answers (or any answers). The folks in front of and behind the camera are just as clueless as anyone else. I do think though that the fissure between delivery of news and caring about the consequences is a symptom of a society that does not act from a place of compassion. And our generation has the potential to learn to create a more caring society by taking this teaching into the personal sphere.

Think about some times in your life when you had to deliver news that was not the greatest. Did you adopt a just the facts attitude in your telling, or did you consider how you might nurture the person as they are impacted by your news? When I interned as a counselor in the Washington D.C. Medical Examiner’s office, I had to guide families through a process of identifying their loved ones who had died. I had to learn to pay attention to every word that was uttered, body language, and breathing patterns. My goal was to bring some sense of order to arguably the most chaotic time in someone’s life. This is not feasible for every conversation, though it provides some context for being a caring and compassionate informant.

When Pharoah hears Yosef’s words he elevates him to be his prime advisor and changes his name to Tsafnat Paneach (41:45). Scholars can only guess at the meaning of this name. And one interpretation is given by Onkelus (c.35-120 CE) as “The Man to Whom All Secrets are Illuminated.” Yosef did not simply bring awareness to the coming disaster, but delivered the message with concern for its after-effects.

As Adam Sandler reminds us, “Channukah is the Festival of Lights!” (Celebrated everywhere this year from the evening of Dec. 20 to the 27th.) Metaphorically, we celebrate this holiday to remember that even in the darkest times, there is always light. The light of Channukah is hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. It’s potential when no alternative is in sight. It’s presence in the midst of utter confusion. This year, I want to challenge myself and our community to not just bring awareness of what is happening in our communities, but to act, like Yosef, as total Illuminators – increasing care and compassion. For more on this topic, please see my latest Meaning Blog post: .

Monday, December 12, 2011

Dream a Little Dream

Parshat VaYeshev
21 Kislev 5772 / December 16-17, 2011
Bereshit 37:1 – 40:23

Dream a Little Dream
by Sarah Lesser, Director of Repair the World Programming

“Dreaming or awake, we perceive only events that have meaning to us.”
Jane Roberts

“Dreams are the touchstones of our character.”
Henry David Thoreau

Reading this week’s parsha I’m struck by the recurring importance of dreams in foreseeing the future of the dreamer. However, they seem to hold no fortune-telling value without outside interpretation.
What is the significance that the dreamer’s future lies in their own dreams? What does this say about predestination or our ability to control our destiny? Is the power with the dreamer or the interpreter?

In the beginning of the parsha Joseph tells his brothers about a dream he had that they were binding sheaves in the field when suddenly his sheaf stood upright and all of his brother’s sheaves gathered around and bowed low to his sheaf. This made Joseph’s brothers hate him even more as they interpreted the dream as Joseph meaning to reign and rule over them. Was Joseph trying to make this dream a reality by relaying it to his brothers? Did their interpretation determine its meaning? Later on, Joseph’s father, Jacob, interprets his other dream. This time he dreamed that the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing, down to him, This dream made everyone angry at him as his father interpreted it to mean that his whole family is to come bow down to Joseph.

Later in the parsha Joseph finds himself in prison in a strange land. His dream interpretation skills come in handy. Joseph, supposedly acting on behalf of G-d, offers to interpret the chief baker and chief cupbearer’s dreams when he is in prison in Egypt and they come to him. They express a sentiment that the dreamer is not able to interpret his/her own dreams when they say, “We had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them." His interpretations indeed foretell the dreamers’ futures. Interestingly, the chief baker seems only willing to share his dream once he hears Joseph’s favorable interpretation of the royal cupbearer’s dream, signifying the influence such interpretation may hold in determining reality.

We have two ideas of dreams: that they are visions of the future, and windows into our unconscious. In this parsha, dreams are seen to represent the future of the dreamer, but their meaning is hidden to the dreamer and only available to interpretation by an outside observer. These biblical dreams are seen as prophecies. However, are those two ways of seeing dreams so different? Does not the power to affect your future lie in understanding yourself?

Joseph interprets the baker and cupbearer’s dreams; by doing so is he determining their future? We see how Joseph’s brothers’ and fathers’ interpretation of his dreams may directly be determining his own future as they sell him into slavery fueled by their dream-induced anger.

It’s a natural human inclination to want to see clues to our uncertain futures in many things, including dreams. In some ways, it can be harder to handle the idea that we have control over our future, because that means we have the power to make it awesome or screw it up. One can imagine that the pull towards pre-destination was even stronger in biblical days, when so much more in the world was not understood and seemed out of human control.

After the publication of Sigmund Freud’s, The Interpretation of Dreams, many people now see dreams as a window to the unconscious. In that way, the power may lie in knowing yourself. The dreamer who interprets her own dream takes the agency from an outside interpreter and takes control over her own destiny.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Parshat Vayishlach

14 Kislev 5771 / December 9-10, 2011

Genesis 32:4-36:43

by Rabbi Dan Horwitz, MH Mid-West Director

What is your name?” – Genesis 32:28

A good name is preferable to great riches…” – Proverbs 22:1

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we find Jacob preparing for a potentially dangerous reunion with his bother Esau (whose birthright and paternal blessing Jacob had taken). Jacob splits his camp into two (lest everyone should be wiped out upon an attack), and sends gifts via courier to his brother, hoping to quell Esau’s anticipated anger.

The night before the encounter, Jacob separated himself from his camp and his family.

“Jacob was left alone... and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.” - Genesis 32:25

This is the well-known story of Jacob wrestling with an angel.

At the end of the struggle, having been defeated, the angel wished to depart. Jacob refused to let the angel leave until he gave Jacob a blessing. The first thing the angel did was to ask a simple question to Jacob: "What is your name?"

It is important to remember that while this question may sound simple to us, to Jacob, it carried a lot of weight. The last time Jacob was asked this question, he answered falsely, saying “I am Esau” in order to steal his brother’s paternal blessing from Isaac. This time, Jacob redeems himself by answering the angel’s question truthfully, saying “I am Jacob.”

At this point, the angel gives Jacob the new name “Israel” (which translates roughly to “having prevailed over the Divine”), blesses him, and departs.

The ancient rabbis have different opinions as to the role this angel played. Some felt the angel was acting maliciously toward Jacob, as Jacob was physically injured in the scuffle, while others contend that the angel was not evil, as struggling with the angel and defeating him gave Jacob the confidence to face Esau the next day. My personal take is that the angel and the accompanying struggle represent how we as human beings wrestle with our shortcomings and misdeeds, and our potential to overcome them.

Our Jewish tradition makes clear that having a “good name” – better understood as a “good reputation” – is priceless. We find this, for example, in our texts (see the Proverbs quote above), as well as in our rabbinic commentaries, such as those admonishing people who speak badly about others (using negative speech commonly referred to as “lashon harah”). Jacob was far from perfect in his actions, and as a result, his name and reputation at the time may not have been the greatest. Jacob was deceptive towards his father and took advantage of his hungry brother. Jacob’s reputation was certainly not one that Esau and his community would have found favorable.

Jacob’s name change to Israel signified a rebirth of sorts. It provided him with the confidence to confront his brother the next day as “a new man,” and with the ability to leave his misdeeds in the past and move forward. It also provides us as Jews with the comfort of knowing that for millennia we have been known as the “Children of Israel,” rather than as the “Children of Jacob,” so that our reputation as a nation would not be tainted throughout the generations.

What is your name? What does it mean to you? Who are you named for, if anyone?

What associations do you hope others make when they hear your name?

When it comes time for someone to offer your eulogy, what do you hope s/he will say?

We are all imperfect (despite what your mother may tell others about you). We all have struggles, make mistakes, and take actions that have the ability to harm others and tarnish our own reputations. But when given the opportunity to improve, like Jacob, we need to seize it.

Just as Jacob wrestled with the angel, so too do we have the ability to wrestle with our own misdeeds, to come clean, to prevail over our own shortcomings, and to build reputations befitting of those as blessed as we are.

This Shabbat, take some time to reflect on your name, on some of your own perceived shortcomings, on what you want others to be saying about you once you’re gone and the actions you can take to help make it so.