This week's Torah portion includes Jacob's last words to his sons. He described his fourth son, Judah, as a lion, and stated that the scepter of kingship would never depart from Judah (and his descendants). All the brothers (and their tribes) would turn to Judah for leadership. What did Judah do to deserve this singular role?
Angel for Shabbat
One of the hazardous features of human life is the ability to create illusions of innocence. People deny personal responsibility; or they justify their deeds; or they find scapegoats to blame; or they simply convince themselves of their own innocence. Moral blindness prevails.
Some years ago, I participated in a symposium on interfaith dialogue and cooperation. One of the participants, a highly respected Orthodox rabbi, cited a statement of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai: “It is a halakha that it is known that Esav hates Yaacov.” He applied this statement of Rabbi Shimon as an iron law of history: non-Jews hate Jews!
In our world today, we confront the Laban and Esau types of enemies. The Labans pose as supporters of human rights—but not for Jews, especially Israeli Jews. They are ruthless in their persistent denigration of Israel. The Esaus are terrorists blinded by hatred.They promote and justify hatred and murder; they rejoice at the shedding of Jewish blood.
We live in a stress-filled world, and face a constant stream of challenges. Optimisim, decisive action, and spiritual calmness can help us with our "transformational coping"--our ability to respond well and effectively to the crises and problems that confront us.
Life offers all of us hard challenges. These challenges are made even harder by those who try to impede our growth and our progress. But the hardest challenge is to maintain enthusiasm, to keep looking forward, to overcome obstacles…to grow old in years while remaining young in idealism.
If a person seeks to live according to high ideals that transcend personal glorification, such a person will earn the respect of others. Genuine people respect genuinely good human beings.Abram set an example for all who wish to live honorable lives. “And Abram went as the Lord had spoken to him.” That made all the difference for Abram. And that can make all the difference for us.
The opening paragraph of the Amidah, recited as the central prayer of our daily liturgy, refers to the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac and God of Jacob.” And yet, when the blessing is actually recited at the end of this passage, it praises God as “the Shield of Abraham.” Only Abraham’s name is mentioned. Why?
The Torah calls on us to think, to evaluate, and to act righteously. It challenges us to serve the Almighty with our intelligence and personal responsibility; not from blind obedience.The Torah is not an esoteric document that can be deciphered only by an elite group of prophets or sages; rather, it is the heritage of the entire people. Each of us has access to the truths of the Torah by means of our own intellectual and emotional efforts.
There was once a king who had two advisers. The advisers had a luxurious life as long as they bowed to the whims of the king. The king’s whims were many. He often made unreasonable demands. He was harsh in his criticisms. He expected the advisers to be at his service constantly. He humiliated them by always reminding them that he was their superior, that he could order them around at will. As long as they complied, he rewarded them generously.