Parasha with Rabbi Benji is a unique and interesting approach to the weekly Parasha, bringing different ideas through one-minute videos, and texts available as downloadable PDFs.
At the pinnacle juncture of the creation story, God states what seems to be a flaw ‘…it is not good for man to be alone’, and at that time, woman is created to be man’s ezer k’negdo or ‘helper opposite him’. Embedded in this strange contradiction in terms, and hidden behind the different names used to describe man throughout the story of creation (adam, ish), are profound paradigms for all humanity. Within the story of the creation of the first human beings, the iconic Adam and Eve, lies a blueprint for the development of interpersonal relationships that will remain relevant for all of eternity.
Noah, the ‘righteous man’, is acclaimed for following God’s instructions in the most meticulous of ways. Yet is simply following God’s commandments enough? The story of Noah and his demise from ‘righteous man’ to ‘man of the earth’, suggests that passive adherence to God’s word is not the ideal for which we should strive. Indeed, it is praiseworthy, but in order for our relationship with God to mature and grow, we need to push ourselves beyond simply following orders, and striving for an active, engaged, two-way relationship.
The twenty-first century presents technological advances that offer an unprecedented level of instant gratification. This reality raises expectations and chips away at our ability to learn patience. One might easily and mistakenly assume the same expectations of immediacy with regard to one’s relationship with religion – providing us with a quick fix and yet in parashat Lech Lecha, God teaches Abraham the importance of perspective and the value of patience in a unique way.
With ten generations between them, two of our iconic ancestors – Noah and Abra- ham - exemplify contrasting physiological responses for coping with crisis. These responses are today described as the ‘Fight, flight or freeze’ phenomenon. Noah responds to the flood by metaphorically ‘fleeing’, and Abraham, in contrast, responds to the destruction of Sodom by ‘fighting’. In any given moment between stimulus and response, lies the opportunity for us to choose. And each of these choices – to freeze, to flee, or to fight – whether we model Noah or Abraham, ultimately dictates the reality we create for ourselves.
Our lives are an endless pursuit of happiness, and many mistakenly link happiness to having ‘everything’ that elusive concept that can be interpreted in so many ways. A brief glimpse into Abraham’s life, and the blessings that he receives from God and shares with his offspring, presents a unique lens through which one can understand the concept of ‘having everything’, and through which one can conclude that the greatest gift of all is the gift of giving itself.
All too often we may despair and get disappointed with the blows that life throws our way. It is not an easy ride, and it is easy to lose sight of the bigger picture, the knowledge that everything is part of a greater plan. Hidden within an unusually detailed description of Isaac digging wells, we find a profound message of faith, that offers hope and perspective to all of humankind.
During the mad bustle of everyday life, we are often blissfully unaware of anything other than the immediate needs of each individual moment. But flickering past us in our state of semi-oblivion are many potential moments of meaning, growth and opportunity. These missed moments can often lead to an acute sense of painful regret. Jacob’s dream and the sudden realization of his missed opportunity, serve as a wake-up call to us all.
Jacob and Esau, two brothers, each representing diametrically opposed worldviews, are pitted against one another regarding who will carry the torch as leader of the Jewish nation. Will Isaac appoint the more studious and spiritual Jacob, or the more earthly and physical Esau? Does leadership draw upon qualities of the intellect, or does it lean more upon worldly skills? As the complex story unfolds, it becomes apparent that Jacob is undergoing an inner transition, one that enables him to sensitively straddle both worlds, and ultimately become the leader and role model for the People of Israel.
Joseph bursts into our scene in a perplexing manner. Is he immature or is he wise, a shepherd or is a youth? The colourful and sometimes contradictory manner in which the Torah introduces Joseph alludes to the unique skill set that he has for doing just that – connecting with everyone, each at their own level, and drawing out the best in them.
Joseph represents the epitome of success. Rising from the depths of the pit, to becoming viceroy of the mighty Egyptian empire and his profound trajectory of growth seems to pivot around a recurring theme in his life, his dreams. As he grows up and matures, so does his understanding of dreams, until eventually it seems that his astute perceptions and interpretations carry his compatriots and lead him to his ultimate redemption.
Often we can build up a picture of a situation in our minds to such a degree that we essentially dictate our perception of reality. Joseph’s brothers have a clear-cut absolute memory of their brother as a bedraggled dreamer at the bottom of a pit. In this context, when they encounter the viceroy of Egypt, despite a considerable number of clues – some explicit, some implicit – they cannot entertain the idea in any way whatsoever, that this leader standing before them is their long-lost brother. This cognitive dissonance, caused by their blinding sense of perception, serves as a reminder to us to continuously review, analyse and check in on our beliefs.
We often automatically assume that the purpose of a commandment is either to strengthen our relationship with God or for the benefit of the subject of our good deed. Less focus is given to the common thread underlying all the commandments – that of the indelible imprint that every good deed, leaves on the soul of the one performing it. This reflexive impact of the commandments is alluded to by Joseph in his final encounter with his elderly father, to whom he lowers his head in respect despite the fact that his father’s eyes have failed him and he therefore cannot see Joseph’s final act of respect towards him.