Posts Tagged ‘Torah’

 

Casual Remarks Can Cause Consequential Casualties

Posted on: October 26th, 2017 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

For the foreseeable future, Harvey Weinstein will be in the news. But even when he’s not today’s headline, the many, many women whom he abused continue to suffer every day (as of now, according to the Los Angeles Times, “more than half a dozen women who have accused Weinstein of sexual assault or rape and among more than 50 women who have publicly detailed a range of inappropriate behavior”).

 

Reflect with me on an incident that occurred thousands of years ago between a husband and wife and the potential consequences of their behavior for other women in their family. Today, we would consider this a clear case of a husband abusing his wife abuse. But historically, although patriarchy was the norm then (and it’s important to put stories in their historical context), it still illustrates how a casual remark by a man could cause family casualties for women.

 

Harvey Weinstein

 

About 4000 years ago, a husband, wife and extended family members and slaves left their home, settled in a new land, and encountered a famine. To survive, they had to relocate to another country which had food, but as they approached the border, the husband realized that his life might be in jeopardy because the inhabitants of this country might kill him and claim his wife and clan as their prize. “For the sake of the family,” and to save his life, he asked his wife to lie to his hosts about their relationship, and lie that they were brother and sister and not husband and wife. The host discovered the lie, castigated the husband for his behavior, and expelled him and his family from his country. Far from being a barbarian, this host displayed noble behavior and brought into relief how appalling the husband’s ruse was for his wife.

 

That is essentially what we read about in this week‘s Torah reading when we see that Abraham and Sarah and their extended the clan had to temporarily relocate to Egypt (Genesis Chapter 12). They were forced to travel there as food was available so that they would not die of starvation in Canaan. Abraham, as head of the clan, was desperate to ensure the survival of his family, and a revolutionary way of relating to God, and for those reasons, asked the impossible of his wife (“Please say that you are my sister so that it will go well with me because of you…” – Genesis 12:13), who really had no choice but to comply, set aside her dignity and put her own life in jeopardy.

 

Fast forward now to Genesis 19, when by now, Abraham and his nephew, Lot, have parted ways over a land dispute. Lot lives in Sodom, pretty fertile territory for his flocks, but rough terrain for his family. When two strangers visit Lot, all of Sodom’s residents converge on his home, clamor at his door and demand that he turns the strangers over to the mob that is clearly intent on gang rape. (It turns out that the “strangers” were God’s messengers in disguise, and from a Biblical perspective “the house eventually wins” when humans act immorally). Lot refuses to turn them over, and when his neighbors threaten him with physical violence, he makes a second attempt to pacify them by offering his two daughters instead. He says, “Please, I beg you, take my two daughters who haven’t been sexually intimate with any man, they’re yours to do whatever you wish…” (Genesis 19:8). At that point, these strangers can’t abide that idea, and they smite the clamoring mob with blindness.

 

You have to wonder if that punishment of blindness isn’t more than just physical retribution, but also holds symbolic meaning for us as the readers. How could Lot be blind to the fate that he was so quick to assign to his daughters? Could Lot’s callous disregard for his own daughters be traced back to what he saw when his uncle, Abraham, confronted stranger danger in Egypt? One can empathize with Abraham’s dilemma, and be aware that our social values and norms are different (or are at least supposed to be) from his, but it still leaves many of us with a feeling of revulsion in reading that he felt that he had to put his wife at risk in service of a greater mission or vision. In view of the mounting allegations of abusive behavior by Harvey Weinstein against women, it occurred to me for the first time, that how even a spontaneous, casual “suggestion” that Abraham made to Sarah out of fear and desperation, might have had an impact on his nephew, Lot, who was knowingly prepared to have his daughters abused by a mob. I don’t know….but now I wonder.

 

In Western countries today, we live in very different times than those of Abraham and Sarah. But in some ways, for example, when it comes to men in positions of power perpetrating abuse against women for decades, and knowing that those who can stop them turn a blind eye, maybe things haven’t changed that much. This old story about Abraham and Sarah is a headline-worthy reminder that moral blindness has consequences and turns innocent people into casualties. That’s worth more than remembering; it’s a call especially to men to speak out against any kind of abusive behavior against women. It’s gotta stop already.

On The Rebellions of 2016

Posted on: July 26th, 2016 by Hayim Herring

 

 

I recently read Frank Bruni’s op-ed on election season in the New York Times, titled, The Rebellions of 2016. In comparing both Republican and Democratic conventions, he writes: “The parallel speaks volumes about 2016’s mood, which is one of untamable grudges and unquenchable rebellion.”

 

Rebellion

 

 

The current cycle of weekly Torah readings from the Book of Numbers has eerie comparisons and could be called the Book of Rebellions:

 

+The people rebel over the food

 

+Moses rebels against God by hitting a rock instead of speaking to it to draw water for the people

 

+Miriam and Aaron-Moses’s siblings-rebel against his leadership

 

+That causes a ripple effect leading to a broader popular rebellion led by Korach,

 

+Finally, leading to a rapid slide to a full-scale popular rebellion (Israelite men co-mingling with Midianite women)

 

Pinchas, a priestly leader, literally takes the law into his own hands and quells the rebellion by being judge, jury and executioner (Numbers 25:7). That’s why Pinchas is given a b’rit shalom, “a covenant of peace” by God for his decisive but extrajudicial action. We focus on the restoration of “shalom” or peace in this phrase, but the word “b’rit” is equally important. Reintegrating relationships into a legal framework or “covenant” mitigates the possibility of a just rebellion from deteriorating into community chaos.

 

I think this is an important message to those of us who are religious leaders. We can consider that the Book of Numbers is a wake-up call to create frameworks of dialogue and action, so that righteous anger doesn’t indiscriminately scorch everything in its path, but focuses energy for change to where it’s needed.

 

 

The Trial of Abraham on YouTube

Posted on: August 14th, 2013 by Hayim Herring No Comments

 

I’ve enjoyed working with Beth El Congregation in Akron, Ohio as they face some exciting, unprecedented opportunities. They’re worth paying attention to because some very wise leaders in the congregation and at the Federation (Jewish Community Board of Akron) worked to relocate the congregation inside of the JCC. I don’t mean on the campus of the JCC, but literally inside of the JCC –but that’s a story for another day.

 

Today, I highlight Beth El for its creative use of YouTube to build congregational participation on the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah. And if you’ve been in any Conservative synagogue on the second day of Rosh ha-Shanah, you know that you can usually find a choice seat! The reality is that many American Jews outside of the Orthodox community don’t feel the need for a second day of experiencing what they already did the day before.

Beth-El-Synagogue Akron Ohio

Beth El Congregation in Akron

 

(more…)

Yesterday’s “Better Late Than Never” is Today’s “Better Late Makes You Never”

Posted on: April 17th, 2013 by Hayim Herring 2 Comments

 

 

There’s a challenging teaching in the Mishnah, Judaism’s first Rabbinic systematic legal compilation. “Just as a person is required to bless God for good events, so must a person bless God for bad events! (Brachot 9:5)” Theologically, this assertion says, “Sure, it’s easy to be thankful for good things in our lives. But, can we have trust that God has our best interest in mind when we’re upended by difficulty and tragedy? We’ll leave it to theologians to help us with the God challenge (and I recommend Rabbi Harold Kusher’s recently published book, The Book of Job: When Bad Things Happened to a Good Person, for that).

 

Leaving personal theology aside, I find organizational relevance in this teaching.

 

How many times in our role as leaders have we made decisions in our lives when they appeared wise, only to discover that we had not anticipated their long-term consequences? Conversely, how many times can we recount what seemed like a poor choice that yielded positive fruits? Let’s look at another common scenario: how often have we worried about an issue, only to find that it consumed unnecessary emotional energy and organizational resources because we overestimated its likelihood? When you’re standing alone at a crossroads, it’s hard to envision the many possible twists it might take down a chosen path.

 

Wheelorg-Banner (more…)

What Do You Do When You Lose?

Posted on: January 19th, 2012 by Hayim Herring 2 Comments
Tim Tebow

From Jeffrey Beall on flickr

As a leader, what do you do when you lose on a big issue? By “big issue,” I mean one that is core to your beliefs and values. You’ve put the winning strategy in place, you’ve practiced, you’re confident but not arrogant, you’ve executed well—but you fail at your mission.

I’m not referencing Tim Tebow in asking this question (okay, maybe I was thinking about the Denver Broncos’ loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday). I was actually reflecting on the opening of this week’s Torah reading, Vaera (Exodus 6:2-13). The reading opens with God listening to Moses’ disappointment about his unsuccessful encounter with Pharaoh. Moses had followed God’s directives explicitly in confronting Pharaoh. Yet, Moses doesn’t get the result that he anticipated. Pharaoh doesn’t free the Jewish people from slavery and in fact, inflicts even more punishment on them. So Moses vents his disappointment on God.

Too often, leaders (and especially clergy) have a tendency to isolate themselves when conditions become difficult. Instead of finding a mentor, family member, trusted confidant or a coach, they erect a barrier around their feelings and carry the pain of disappointment alone. Prayer to God can definitely be helpful. But I believe that it’s not enough.

The Torah was not written as a management book, but it is often an incredibly wise source for personal reflection on leadership. This week’s Torah reading once again offers important guidance to leaders of all stripes. Disappointment and failure inevitably strike. But when they do, we see that we don’t have to endure them in loneliness. If you don’t have someone with whom you can share moments of triumph and joy, and times of disappointment and frustration, consider making it a priority to find someone. You’ll see how much sustenance you can draw that will keep your leadership vital for years to come.

Bringing the Torah to Life: A Tale of Technology

Posted on: September 15th, 2009 by Hayim Herring 1 Comment

I recently learned from Elaine Kleinmann, a former STAR consultant, about how her rabbi is using technology in a very simple way to help his congregants prepare for Rosh ha-Shanah.  While this was done for Elul, it could be adapted to work with any holiday.  With thanks to both of them, I’m sharing it with you.

– Rabbi Hayim Herring

Elaine writes:

Rabbi Neil Kurshan of the Huntington Jewish Center in Huntington, Long Island, NY, started a lead up to Shabbat called “Torah Teasers”.  These are emails based on the parasha of the week, and raise questions which elicit responses that do not require additional knowledge of the Torah to answer.  The emails are sent to all those who had requested to be on his listserve, and it is a way to engage people and tie the Torah into personal experience.  Participants can then respond to the entire network. On Shabbat morning, in lieu of a sermon, Rabbi Kurshan gives some background of the parasha, raises the questions again with the congregation, asks for responses, and shares some responses from the listserve.  Following the give and take, he uses that opportunity to share his learning and perspective.

He sent a new request this summer to all those who are on his Torah Teaser listserve. He asked to “be able to share with all of you during the month of Elul some of the experiences that make Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur meaningful for all of us… just a paragraph about a High Holiday experience that was particularly meaningful for you.  It can be an experience from your childhood or from more recent years.  It can be an experience at services, within your family, in your home or from anything else connected with the holidays.  I just want you to describe in some detail the experience–what happened and what it meant to you.  I would then like to share these experiences during the days of Elul with the online community in our shul that makes up our Torah Teasers network.”

As a member of this network, I have been receiving these responses since Elul began.  One is about blowing the shofar, one from someone who underwent a health crisis in the past year, one was about childhood memories of Rosh HaShanah dinner, and one from someone who had moved (with her nuclear family but away from her birth family), and had her first encounter  at our synagogue on the high holidays. Rabbi Kurshan’s request  inspired and motivated me to write about my Russian born father, his ambivalence about Judaism in general and Yom Kippur specifically, and the irony of his death occurring a few hours before Kol Nidre 18 years ago.

Image from Flickr, Alexander Smolianitski