Shabbat and Shavuot
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach! Yesterday, I had the opportunity to participate in a community-wide Shavuot celebration at my husband’s synagogue. I was invited to teach whatever I wanted, so, not surprisingly, I chose to teach about lesser-known people of the Torah. As you know, I love that topic! When it came to thinking about what I wanted to talk about tonight, my mind was already in the direction of learning about someone “new.” Who could we learn about (who we don’t already know) that is related to the holiday of Shavuot? Well, on this holiday we read from the Book of Ruth – Ruth and Naomi are pretty well-known. But did you know that Naomi had two daughters-in-law? One was Ruth, and the other was Orpah. Until recently, I didn’t know anything about Orpah except that she was Naomi’s other daughter-in-law. So, tonight, I’d like to introduce us to Orpah.
At the beginning of the Book of Ruth, Naomi’s husband and two adult sons have died, leaving behind Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. We read, “Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May YHWH deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. YHWH grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people,’” (Ruth 1:8-10). In reading this, we see that Naomi treated both of her daughters-in-law with the same amount of love, respect, and compassion. She wantedthem to go back to their mother’s house and start a new life. She wanted them both to be happy.
At first, both Ruth and Orpah refused to obey Naomi. They both loved and caredfor her and wanted to stay with her. Yet, Naomi urged them to stay in Moab and find new husbands. Upon Naomi’s insistence, Orpah agreed to return home. “Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she (Naomi) said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law,” (Ruth 1:15-15). Naomi continued to encourage Ruth to go back home. She clearly believed that was what was best for both women. Yet, as we all know, Ruth could not be swayed.
After Orpah returned to her family, we don’t hear anything about her again. Orpah plays a small, seemingly insignificant role in this story. Yet, she must have some importance, otherwise, she wouldn’t be mentioned at all – especially not by name.
When researching Orpah, I sadly found out that the rabbis do not think positively of her at all. The reason why I find this to be sad is because Naomi loved her. She was a good wife and a good daughter-in-law. So, why would the rabbis treat her so negatively?
Our sages feel that Orpah turned her back on Naomi. In fact, the name Orpah comes from the root word ‘oref, which means, “back of the neck.” Some of the rabbis further interpreted this to mean “she-haf–chah oref lachamotah,” “for she turned her back on her mother-in-law,” (Ruth Rabbah 2:9).
In II Samuel 21, Goliath’s grandmother is a woman named Harafah. This name has the same root as Orpah. The rabbis determined that Orpah is in fact Harafah, making her the grandmother of Goliath, while Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David.
The rabbis vilified Orpah in other ways that I won’t mention here, as they are grotesque and inappropriate. But I will answer the question as to why the rabbis depicted Orpah in such a negative light. Throughout our texts, we often see sets of siblings in which one is good and the other is bad: Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, etc.Ruth and Orpah are another example (according to Ruth Rabbah 2:9, their father was King Eglon of Moab, making them sisters). The rabbis saw Orpah as Ruth’s antagonist.By making Orpah so heinous, the rabbis felt that they were further highlighting how virtuous and wonderful Ruth was. But, in my opinion, Ruth didn’t need Orpah to be the bad guy. Ruth was good in her own right. I don’t see why the rabbis felt the need to raise Ruth up by cutting Orpah down. And apparently, I am not alone in feeling this way.
On the Jewish Women’s Archives website, there is a story called, “Orpah’s Story: A Midrash,” by Rabbis Rachel Bearman and Paul Kipnes. This story gives us an insight into Orpah’s perspective. Cynthia Ozick, a well-known Jewish American writer, wrote, “She is not an iconoclast. She can push against convention to a generous degree, but it is out of generosity of her temperament, not out of some large metaphysical idea… So Orpah goes home; or more to the point, she goes nowhere. She is never to be blamed for it. If she is not extraordinary, she is also normal… it is not the fault of the normal that it does not or cannot aspire to the extraordinary. What Orpah gains by staying home with her own people is what she always deserved; family happiness.” Isn’t that all that Naomi wanted for her?
Maybe Orpah isn’t the antagonist to Ruth. Both women were presented with the same decision: stay with Naomi or go back home. Maybe, instead of good and evil, Ruth and Orpah represent extraordinary and ordinary. We don’t all have to be extraordinary to be good people. After all, Naomi loved both women equally. Just some food for thought on this Shabbat/Shavuot.
And, yes, Oprah Winfrey was named after Orpah in the Book of Ruth.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach!
Shavuot and the Torah
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
This week, the Jewish community will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. Shavuot is also referred to as the “Feast of Weeks,” as the Hebrew word Shavuot literally means “weeks.” It takes place seven weeks from the second Passover seder. Another name for Shavuot is the Greek word “Pentecost,” which means 50th, as Shavuot begins 50 days after the first seder.
On this holiday, we celebrate both the summer harvest and the receiving of the Torah and Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. In ancient times, we would celebrate this holiday by bringing offerings of first fruits of the harvest. In observance of Shavuot today, we read from the Book of Ruth. The reason for this is because the Book of Ruth takes place around the same time of year (during the barley harvest) and because Ruth’s accepting Naomi’s religion (Judaism) as her own reminds us of the Israelites accepting the Torah at Mount Sinai.
When we celebrate Shavuot, we celebrate the Torah. The Torah is essential to Judaism. It provides us with laws and stories to help guide our lives. The Hebrew word Torah literally means “instruction.” It is an instruction book for life. Just as the Torah takes care of our spiritual needs, we are obligated to take care of the Torah as well. Right now, one of our Torahs at Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregtion is in need of some repairs. If you are interested in donating to help repair our Torah, please send an email to email@example.com for more information.
To learn more about Shavuot and our Torah, I invite you to join us for services this Friday, May 26, at 7PM at Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation. If you are interested in celebrating with us, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Yom Ha’atzma’ut 2023
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shabbat Shalom! Early in my rabbinate, I had a conversion student ask me a question that I never saw coming. “What if I don’t have a spiritual connection to Israel? Can I still be a good Jew?” Almost 20 years later, I still think about this question.
The topic of Israel is not an easy one. The modern political climate is challenging.We wrestle with its governance and politics. But the key word here is “wrestle.” The name Israel, or Yisrael, comes from the root meaning “to wrestle.” In Genesis 32:29, after Jacob wrestled with the angel, it says, Ki sarit im elohim, which means, “He wrestled with beings divine and human.” If you listen carefully, you can hear the word Yisrael in this line. Ki sarit im elohim. I-SAR-EL. Yisrael. “He wrestled with beings divine and human.”
As long as we continue to wrestle with Israel, we will be able to establish and continue a meaningful connection. In fact, ultimately, not only will our connection continue, but it will get stronger, even as it continues to be tested. Rabbi Joseph Telushkin says in Jewish Literacy, “It is no small matter that Israel, the name for both the Jewish people and the modern Jewish state, implies neither submission to God nor pure faith, but means wrestling with God (and with men).”
But how can someone get on the wrestling mat with Israel? For starters, we have to put Israel’s problems to the side for a minute and remember why it is the Jewish homeland. Let’s start from the beginning. In Genesis 12, it says, “The Lord said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, And I will bless you.” Israel is a part of the covenant that God made with Abraham. It was part of our guarantee that we would survive. We need Israel today for that same reason. For 2,000 years, the Jewish people did not have their own government. During that time, we lived outside the land. From more than 100 years ago, and then again after the Holocaust, Jews came to Israel to seek refuge. We were able to band together and create one self-governing nation. When we were freed from slavery in Egypt, our goal was to get to the Land of Israel. After the Holocaust, our goal was to get to and keep Israel. Israel helps to ensure our survival as a people.
One of the best ways to ensure a strong connection to Israel is by going there and experiencing the land for yourself. There is nothing like walking on the land of our ancestors, the land of the Torah. If you have been, then you understand. If you have not yet been, I encourage you to do so.
Yom HaShoah 2023
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Erev tov. Good evening. Tonight we observe the holiday of Yom HaShoah¸ Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today also marks the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Why are we still talking about something that happened 80 years ago? Because hatred and antisemitism still exist.
How many of you have seen the blue square advertisements on TV? For those of you who don’t know, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and Jewish philanthropist, started this $25 million initiative, to help combat antisemitism. On your screen, you see a small blue square. It takes up 2.4% of your screen, symbolizing the Jewish people, as we make up only 2.4% of the population. Then the blue square enlarges to 55%, symbolizing the percentage of hate crimes directed against Jewish people today. That is why we still talk about the Holocaust.
In September of 2020, just three years ago, a study was conducted, showing that 1 in 10 adults under the age of 40 had never heard the word “Holocaust” before. Thirty-six percent of the individuals in this study did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. That is why we still talk about the Holocaust.
There is a correlation between the rise in antisemitic incidents and the decrease in knowledge about the Holocaust. We must continue to teach about the Holocaust in order to ensure that it doesn’t happen again to us, or to anyone else. As Pastor Martin Niemoller wrote in his poem, First They Came:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
We honor the memory of all those who perished in the Holocaust by teaching about the Holocaust and speaking out against hatred. We honor their memory by doing all we can to ensure that something like this will never happen again. Never Again.
Counting on Community
Sermon For March 10, 2023
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shabbat Shalom! How many of you have ever laid down on a woven hammock? Apparently they are quite comfortable, wonderful to take a nap on. However, what if one of the strings breaks? Despite all the other strings doing their best to hold you up, it might not work as well. In fact, the one missing string could cause the whole thing to unravel. The same holds true for a community.
This week’s Torah portion is called Ki Tisa, which means, “When you take a census.” At the beginning of this parashah, Moses takes a census of the Israelite men enrolling in the army. Each person must pay a half shekel for himself. In Exodus 30:15, we read, “the rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel when giving the Eternal’s offering as expiation for your persons.” In other words, everyone must pay exactly one half shekel no matter their financial circumstances – no more, no less. While the giving of these half shekels is only for the purpose of the census, I cannot help but see this as something more. I see this as a metaphor for community. Everyone must give the same because everyone plays an equally significant role in the life of the community, just like the strings in the hammock.
In The Torah: A Modern Commentary, Rabbi Gunther Plaut writes, “counting was considered a privilege belonging to God,” (pg. 632). How could counting be something that only God can do? Rabbi Stacy Offner (Rabbi Emerita of Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, CT), asks the same question in her D’var Torah, “Making Matters Count,” on the Reform Judaism website (reformjudaism.org). Rabbi Offner writes, “Only God merits the privilege of counting. But surely we human beings count things all the time. We count what we have; we count what we don’t have; we count our money, our attendance, our votes... We count just about everything that is quantifiable.
So what makes counting a divine act? Maybe it is precisely because human counting is so quantifiable. We cannot count love, and we cannot count faith, and we cannot count patience, and we cannot count belief. But these kinds of counting are the most important of all!
If we think about it, the ways in which we use the word “count” reveal that we know that God’s kind of counting is most important. We say, “Let’s make this one count” when we mean “Let’s make it matter.” We say “I’m counting on you” when we mean that we are depending on someone. All of a sudden, we can see that counting is not just about numbers but about significance and dependability as well,” (Making Matters Count | Reform Judaism).
When talking about smaller congregations in the Union for Reform Judaism (or URJ), they are often described as “small, but mighty.” I love this description because it reminds us not to focus on the number of bodies sitting in our pews, but instead, to focus on the strength of each person coming together. Like us.
Rabbi Offner’s words really speak to me. This past Sunday was my father-in-law’s funeral. What moved me was not the amount of people who attended or sent messages of condolences, but the amount of love and support the family received fromeveryone. We don’t count bodies, we count souls.
I want to take a moment to thank all of you both individually and collectively as a congregation for all the messages of love and support you have sent to me and my family during our time of grief. I thought about a hammock because my family needed a figurative place to rest as we mourn, and you all together, helped to create a hammock of community for us to lay our heads. A hammock supports and lifts, which is what you have done for us.
A synagogue is not merely a building; it is not merely a place for us to pray. I know I have said this before. The Hebrew word for synagogue is Beit Knesset, a house of gathering. When we gather together, we become interconnected, working together, providing support for each other, loving each other, and helping each other in whatever ways we need. Thank you for being that for my family this week. I hope that we can be the strings in the hammock for you when you need it too.
Purim: A Fun Yet Serious Holiday
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Beginning on Monday, March 6, and ending at sundown on Tuesday, March 7, Jewish people around the world will dress up in costumes, make lots of noise, and eat triangular shaped cookies, all to celebrate the holiday of Purim. This is a holiday full of merriment. We read from the Book of Esther and dress up as the different people in the story. We make a lot of noise upon hearing the villain’s name (Haman). We eat delicious Hamentaschen, cookies shaped like triangles, to remind us of Haman’s ridiculous 3-cornered hat. However, in the midst of all this mishigas (Yiddish for “craziness”), there is a very serious message in the story of Purim.
In the Book of Esther, King Ahasuerus ruled the town of Shushan. At the beginning of the story, he hosted a beauty pageant to find himself a new bride. One of the contestants was a woman named Esther. Esther was the most beautiful woman. Once the king saw her, the contest was over. However, Esther had a secret – she was Jewish.
The king’s royal advisor was a man named Haman. Haman did not like the Jewish people because they refused to bow down to him. (Jewish people only bow down to God). Haman convinced the king to allow him to kill all the Jewish people in the land.
Esther’s relative, Mordechai, heard of the new royal decree, and encouraged herto intercede on behalf of her people. So, Esther threw a private dinner party for the King and Haman, followed by a second private dinner party. At the second event, Esther told the king that Haman wished to destroy her people, for she was Jewish. The king ordered for Haman to be strung up on the gallows. Esther and Mordechai saved the Jewish people from death.
While Purim is fun and silly holiday, anti-semitism is no laughing matter. The Jewish people have been persecuted throughout history. And yet, we persevere. We persevere because we have Esthers and Mordechais in our midst – brave, courageous people who are willing to speak up and speak out against hatred and oppression. The story of Purim reminds us that we were once oppressed. It reminds us that anti-semitism still exists today. However, it also reminds us that each of us has the potential to be like Esther and Mordechai and stand up and speak out when we experience prejudice, and when we see it happening to others. This year, as we make noise todrown out Haman’s name, let us think of more ways that we can be like Esther and Mordechai to drown out hate in our own day.
If you would like to join Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation for our Purim celebration, please email email@example.com for more information. Happy Purim!
An Eye For An Eye: Is It Justice or Revenge?
Mishpatim, February 17, 2023
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shabbat Shalom! When I was a student in rabbinical school, I used to pass by a mural painted on the side of a building in NYC. On that mural were the words, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.” This is a quote from Mahatma Ghandi. I always thought this was a clever phrase. However, at the same time, I couldn’t help but think that there was more to it.
The phrase, “an eye for an eye,” comes from this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim. In this parashah, we read, “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise,” (Exodus 21:23-25). At first glance, we can see that this line is about justice, fairness, and equality. You took something of mine, so I am going to take something of the same value of yours. That way, we are even. But we cannot just take this line at face value. The rabbis of the Talmud knew this.
In their pursuit of justice, the rabbis of the Talmud had to make an informed decision as to how they were going to interpret this law. So, they did what they always did to achieve a better understanding of Torah: they looked at each individual word, then at the context, and then at prooftexts. And, as always, they used logic as well.
Based on these factors, the rabbis determined that ayin tachat ayin, “an eye for an eye,” actually means monetary compensation for an eye. If one man blinds another man, the injured party is not entitled to seek revenge by blinding his attacker’s eye. Instead, the man is entitled to monetary compensation from the person who caused him to lose his eye. In determining this, the rabbis focused a great deal of attention on the definition of the word tachat by seeing how it is used in other parts of the Torah. For example, the rabbis noticed that in Leviticus 24:18, we read, “One who kills a beast shall pay for it, life for life – nefesh tachat nefesh.” Here we see that there is monetary compensation for the beast.
After looking at all the textual resources, the rabbis also looked to themselves and the society in which they lived to help them better understand and interpret this law. In a particular section of the Talmud, called Bava Kamma, the rabbis pointed out that while “an eye for an eye” may seem equal at first, there are cases where it is not. For example, if a blind man blinds another man, what should his punishment be? You can’t blind the offender back, since he is already blind himself. Also, what if a victim does seek “exact revenge” by giving their attacker the same injury, yet other complications ensue as a result of the same injury? The rabbis realized that to understand this law as literally “an eye for an eye” is not just. One of the definitions of justice is “the quality of being fair and reasonable.” Here, we see that a literal understanding of “an eye for an eye” is not always fair or reasonable.
Rabbi Aaron Finkelstein of the Milken Community School says, “The pshat[simple meaning] of our verse suggests a justice system based on vengeance whereby if someone injures you, you can harm them back. The rabbinic tradition completely reinterprets this law by requiring financial payment instead of physical retribution… In our specific case of physical harm, the rereading of our verse promotes a less cruel and more restorative justice system… Without rabbinic tradition, we might all be walking around blinded, maimed or worse.” (Mishpatim: The Coded Meaning Of An Eye For An Eye (accidentaltalmudist.org).
Pursuing justice is crucial to our lives. However, the way in which we go about it is also important. I can’t tell you the amount of videos I see on social media about someone seeking revenge on a nasty neighbor, or something to that affect. It doesn’t solve anything, or make anything better. If someone has wronged you, they should be brought to justice. Justice is the quality of being fair and reasonable, not inflicting harm back to someone. As Rabbi Finkelstein said, if we abide by the letter of the law itself, we would all be walking around blinded, maimed, or worse. Our goal should be the opposite: to walk around in a world where fairness and equality prevail. Let us continue to work towards that together. Shabbat Shalom!
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
I am not a farmer, which is probably a good thing, as most of the plants I touch don’t survive. I just don’t have a green thumb. Unfortunately, due to my inability to keep plants alive, I don’t feel that I have a strong connection with plant life.
I think many of us feel that way. In our modern, concrete world, it is easy to feel disconnected from the agriculture around us. It’s easy to ignore or forget where our fruits and vegetables come from, let alone the fact that plants and trees also provide the oxygen we need to breathe. That’s why I feel that it is so important for us as modern Jewish people to celebrate the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, as it provides us with an opportunity to re-connect with nature.
Tu B’Shvat is often referred to as the “birthday of the trees.” It is an agricultural holiday. However, it didn’t start out as a holiday. The words “Tu B’Shvat” literally mean, “the fifteenth day of [the month of] Shvat.” This date was important for ancient farmers. In the Torah, we are taught that there is a seven-year agricultural cycle. In the time of the ancient Temple, on certain years, the farmers were required to give a specific amount of produce as tithes. Depending on the year, the tithe either went to the poor, the priests, or the Levites. Also, when someone first planted a tree in Israel, they were forbidden from eating from the tree for the first three years, and the fourth year, the fruits of the tree were given to the priests. Only in the fifth year of the life of the tree was the farmer allowed to keep the fruit for himself. Because of these rules, the rabbis deemed it necessary to choose a date to be considered “the birthday of the trees.”
Why did the rabbis choose the 15th of Shvat? They chose this date because it occurs shortly after the middle of winter. Most of the annual rainfall has already occurred, which means that the soil is now ready for new trees to be planted.
Tu B’Shvat affords us the opportunity to stop and think not just about the trees, but about all of nature. It also gives us a chance to recognize the role we play in taking care of the earth, whether by planting new trees, recycling, installing solar panels, etc. In our daily lives, it can be easy for us to take advantage of nature, and all it gives us. Tu B’Shvat reminds us that we have a responsibility to ensure the continuation of God’s creation.
We will celebrate Tu B’Shvat together as a congregation this Saturday (February 11) at 10AM at GSJC, with a special Tu B’Shvat ice cream seder! If you would like to join us, please RSVP to me at rabbi@ gsjc.org, so that we know how much ice cream to provide.
Wishing all of you a Chag Sameach! Happy Tu B’Shvat!
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
On the evening of December 18, 2022 (corresponding to the Hebrew calendar date of 25 Kislev 5783), Jewish people around the world will celebrate the first night of Chanukah. We will light the first candle of our Chanukiah (a 9-branched candelabra, also known as a Chanukah menorah), play dreidel, and eat latkes (potato pancakes fried in oil). Most importantly, we will retell the story of Chanukah.
While the holiday of Chanukah is a fun, lighthearted celebration, the story of Chanukah is much more serious. It is about fighting for religious freedom in the face of persecution. It is a story whose message rings true for us today.
In the second century BCE, Israel was ruled by King Antiochus, leader of the Seleucids. It was their mission to force all the Jewish people to Hellenize, thereby renouncing their own faith. If they did not convert, they faced death.
The Seleucid army was large, with massive weaponry. Yet, that did not stop a small band of Jews from forming their own army. Led by Judah the Maccabee (which means “hammer”), the tiny Maccabee army, with its limited amount of weapons and manpower, miraculously defeated the Seleucid army. After they won the Maccabean Revolt, the Jewish people returned to the Temple, only to find that it had been defiled by the Seleucid army. While cleaning the Temple, they discovered that there was not enough oil to light the menorah (the 7-branched candelabra). There was only enough oil to last for one day, but another miracle happened – the oil lasted for eight days. That is why, at Chanukah, we light a 9-branched menorah (one helper candle, called a “shamash,” and 8 candles to represent the eight days).
While the Maccabees were able to defeat the Seleucids, they were not able to eradicate anti-Semitism. Hate and prejudice have continued to pervade our world. That is why the story of Chanukah is still so important. It is a reminder for all of us to keep fighting against hate, no matter the odds. Whenever we witness prejudice, we must stand up and speak out, even if no one else does.
One of the best ways to fight anti-Semitism is not with heated words and weapons, but with things like latkes, dreidels, candles, and prayers. Celebrating our holidays is the best way to combat hate. By participating in Jewish life, we are not allowing fear and hate to dictate our future. Teaching others about our holidays and traditions will help as well.
Gishrei Shalom Jewish Congregation invites you to join us as we celebrate the first night of Chanukah on Sunday, December 18 at 5PM at the home of one of our members. For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This year may the light of the Chanukiah extinguish the darkness of hate. Happy Chanukah!
D’var Torah For 10/21/2022
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shabbat Shalom! Well, we are back at the beginning. This week’s Torah portion is the very first in the entire Torah: Bereshit. In this parashah, we read about the creation of the world, and all living things. And, right away, there’s something noteworthy. (Okay, so there are many noteworthy points in this parashah, but this is the one I wish to discuss tonight!) There are two stories of the creation of humankind in this Torah portion. In the first story of creation, we read, “And God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on the earth. And God created humankind in the Divine image, creating it in the image of God – creating them male and female,” (Genesis 1:26-27). In the second story of creation, we read, “God formed the human from the dust of the ground, blowing into his nostrils the breath of life: the Human became a living being… God said, ‘It is not good for the Human to be alone; I will make a fitting counterpart for him… So God cast a deep sleep upon the Human; and, while he slept, God took one of his sides and closed up the flesh at that site. And God fashioned the side that had been taken from the Human into a woman, bringing her to the Human,” (Genesis 2:18, 21-22). In the first story, male and female are created at the same time. In the second story, the female is created after the male as his companion.
In the second story, we know the male and female to be Adam and Eve. In the first story of creation, there are midrashim, stories created by our sages, that suggest that the female was not Eve, but another woman, named Lilith. Today, I would like to teach you a little bit about Lilith, as she is a controversial character in our tradition.
For thousands of years, Lilith has been known to be an evil demon. Her role as a villain in Judaism was solidified in a Midrash called, “The Alphabet of Ben Sira.” In this midrash, God creates Adam and Lilith. Both are fashioned from the earth. Adam tells Lilith, “You lie beneath me,” to which Lilith responds, “You lie beneath me! We are both equal, for both of us are from the earth.” As soon as Lilith realizes that they are not going to listen to each other, she says God’s name, and flies up into the air and flees. God sends three angels after her, telling them that if she wants to return, let her, but if not, “do not bring her against her will.” When the angels find Lilith (at the Sea of Reeds, in the spot where the Egyptians would later drown while chasing after the Israelites), they don’t exactly follow God’s rules. They say, “If you will go with us, well and good, but if not, we will drown you in the sea.” Lilith replies, “I know that God only created me to weaken infants when they are eight days old. From the day a child is born until the eighth day, I have dominion over the child, and from the eighth day onward I have no dominion over him if he is a boy, but if a girl, I rule over her twelve days.” The angels then say, “We won’t let you go until you accept upon yourself that each day one hundred of your children will die.” She accepts it and swears to them that she will not have dominion over any child in any place where she sees an amulet with those angels on it.
As a result of this story, many pregnant women, and many households with newborns, keep an amulet above their beds, as a means of protection against the demon Lilith.
However, in recent decades, Lilith has undergone a “rebranding” of sorts. At the beginning of this midrash, Lilith says, “We are both equal, for both of us are from the earth.” She does not want to be submissive to Adam; she wants to be an equal partner in their relationship. This line affords us an opportunity to look at Lilith from a different perspective. Maybe Lilith is not a demon after all. Maybe, she is just a woman who wanted to be in an equal partnership with her spouse, and when he refused, she decided to do what was best for her, and leave, even if that meant that rest of the world would see her in a negative light. In viewing Lilith from this perspective, she is not a demon, but instead, a feminist icon.
As I said on Simchat Torah, “In Numbers Rabbah 13:15-16, we read, ‘there are seventy faces to the Torah.’ We understand this line to mean that there are multiple ways of understanding the text.” Each time we read the Torah, or any of our texts, we can see something new and different each time. Was Lilith an evil demon, or was Lilith the first feminist? I don’t think there is one right answer to this question. But, what I can tell you is this: we can learn so much from this character who isn’t even mentioned by name in the Torah. Lilith reminds us that Judaism and its teachings are not stagnant. As I also said on Simchat Torah, “By using our own unique outlook, we are able to shed new light on the Torah. When we do this, the Torah is no longer an ancient text, but instead, a living document.”
As we begin a new year of reading Torah, I invite everyone to read our texts with a fresh perspective. You never know what you might discover. Shabbat Shalom!
Simchat Torah Sermon 2022/5783
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Chag Sameach! When my eldest child started middle school, and her math curriculum grew increasingly difficult, I initially thought I would be able to help her. I loved math when I was her age, as I was pretty good at it. However, I quickly realized that I was way out of my element. She was learning the same material I had, but a new and completely different way.
Many parents nowadays complain, “how could they change math? How is that even possible?” Yet here we are. While I am not a mathematician, and therefore, cannot explain this “new math” to save my life, I can relate it to Torah. Math itself has not changed. 2+2 with forever be 4. However, the way in which math is taught has changed in order to keep up with the times. Children today are learning about STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math). This new math is mean to aid our youth as the field of technology continues to advance and remain a part of our everyday lives. Just as 2+2 will always equal 4, the words of the Torah will never change. However, just as math has had to adapt with the times, so too does our understanding of this ancient text.
In Numbers Rabbah 13:15-16, we read, “there are seventy faces to the Torah.”We understand this line to mean that there are multiple ways of understanding the text. But how can that be? The words of the text never change, so how can there be more than one understanding of the Torah?
Each individual approaches the Torah with their own life experiences. Throughout the ages, our great sages have helped us to understand the mysteries of the Torah. We have read through their commentaries and interpretations of the various Torah portions. No one commentary is the same. Yet we value each of their lessons equally, as each of their explanations has helped to shed new light on the same text.
The tradition of writing our own commentaries continues today, not just with various Torah commentary books, but with each of us. We each come to the Torah with our own perspectives, our own way of looking at things and understanding them. By using our own unique outlook, we are able to shed new light on the Torah. When we do this, the Torah is no longer an ancient text, but instead, a living document – one that we continue to look to as a guide for life.
In an article by Rabbi Elliot Dorff, called, “Seventy Faces to the Torah – and Grateful for All of Them,” (“Seventy Faces to the Torah” – and Grateful for All of Them | American Jewish University (aju.edu)), he writes that we must “appreciate what we have as Jews – a virtual treasure house of interpretations that give ever new meanings to the text of the Torah and provide us with an ample basis for resolving the moral dilemmas of our time. Let us also bless God for that heritage in the liturgy of the early morning service, “Praised are You, Adonai, ruler of the universe, who has sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to get involved in the words of Torah…Praised are You, Adonai, who teaches Torah to His People Israel.”
Tonight, as we celebrate Simchat Torah, we read the end of the Torah, and go back to the very beginning. As we prepare to embark on a new year of Torah reading, let us remember to not merely read the words on the page, but instead, to bring our own voices to the text. Tonight, we are not merely celebrating words on a page, but instead, an endless, timeless, living document that continues to guide and inspire our voices and our lives. Chag Sameach!
Can We Forgive Without an Apology?
Yom Kippur Sermon 5783 2022-2023
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shanah tovah! I’d like to tell you a story called “The Cookie Thief,” from Chicken Soup For The Soul. It’s about a man who bought some cookies while waiting in the airport for his flight. After purchasing this snack, the man sat down, and another traveler sat down near him. The other traveler opened the bag of cookies that was sitting on the chair between them and ate one. The man could not believe it! This stranger hadopened his cookies and eaten one! Even though the man was clearly upset about this, he didn’t say anything. Instead, he proceeded to eat one of his own cookies. The other traveler then took another cookie! The man also took another cookie. This went on and on until there was only one left. With each cookie, the man got angrier and angrier. He could not believe the audacity of this other person. When there was only one cookie remaining, the other traveler broke it in half and gave it to the man with a smile. Minuteslater, after he has boarded the plane, the man opened up his carry-on, and found a bag of cookies. It turns out that he was not eating his own cookies, but the other traveler’sinstead. His anger quickly turned to shame.
While there are many lessons we can learn from this story, the lesson I’d like to focus on is one of forgiveness. Before realizing that he was the one in the wrong, the man assumed that he was in the right. He felt that he deserved an apology (and probably a new bag of cookies) from his fellow traveler. And, while the other person didn’t seem perturbed by this man eating his cookies, he deserved an apology. In this story, no apologies were given. Yet, it seemed like the other traveler had forgiven this man, even though he didn’t ask for it. After all, he shared the bag and split the last cookie with him! With a smile!
During this time of year, Jewish people around the world atone for their sins. Weapologize to those whom we have wronged and forgive those who have wronged us. There are a number of rules in the Jewish religion about seeking forgiveness, butapologizing and forgiving are not always so clear-cut. What happens if someone hurtsus, but does not apologize? What are we supposed to do with our unresolved feelings?
In the Talmud (Masekhet Megilla 28a), there was a Rabbi named Nehunya ben HaKana. He was blessed with longevity. His students wanted to know how he merited such a long life. He told them that every night, before going to sleep, he would forgive anyone who had hurt him. He said, “I never took my neighbor’s offenses to my bed.” Even if someone did not apologize to him, he forgave them anyway.
We can look to Rabbi Nehunya as an example of how to live our lives. I’m not saying that we should forgive everyone regardless of their actions. What I am saying is that we should not let the negativity of someone else’s actions towards us live within us. Rabbi Nehunya decided that no matter what someone else had done to him, he did not want to live with negative feelings in his heart. Rabbi Nehunya’s actions inspired this prayer that we can read daily from the siddur: “I forgive all those who may have hurt or aggravated me either physically, monetarily, or emotionally, whether unknowingly or willfully, whether accidentally or intentionally, whether in speech or in action, whether in this incarnation or another, and may no person be punished on account of me…” It takes a person of strong character to be able to forgive someone who doesn’t apologize. Maybe saying a prayer like this will help us to be more merciful, not just to others, but to ourselves as well.
Admitting we’re wrong isn’t an easy task. Seeking forgiveness for our wrongdoingcan be even harder. When we apologize we’re not just admitting that we were wrong, but we are also acknowledging that we hurt someone, and we must do the work to ensure that we never repeat that mistake. In Hebrew, this is called Selicha.
In an article from Tablet Magazine (an online Jewish magazine), called “Twelve Steps of Forgiveness: How can you forgive someone who hasn’t apologized?” author Susan Shapiro learns that Selicha does not always come in the form of a verbal apology. She also learns that forgiveness is not always about the person who wronged you. In this article, Ms. Shapiro goes on a “forgiveness tour,” as she calls it.
While I will not share with you all twelve steps of Ms. Shapiro’s “forgiveness tour,” I will share the ones that I think are the most important:
1. SEARCH FOR THE MISSING PIECES OF THE STORY: As the expression goes, “there are two sides to every story.” In the story I told earlier, the man who purchased the cookies did not realize he was eating the other travelers food. He was getting mad at the other traveler, not realizing he didn’t have all the information.
In another Tablet Magazine article called, “Where’s My Apology,” by Marjorie Ingall, she writes, “… if you can do the work of self-reflection, and say what you have to say without requiring a certain response, you might find yourself feeling healed.” This can work for someone seeking an apology, but not getting it. This brings us back to Rabbi Nehunya, and the prayer for forgiveness for everyone who harmed him, whether they apologized or not. Ms. Ingall also quotes Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg in this article, saying, “Forgiveness is up to the victim (and the victim alone).”
Yom Kippur literally means, “Day of Atonement.” I love the word play here. “Atonement” is defined as “reparation for a wrongdoing.” But, if you look at the English word “atonement,” you can see three words: at one ment. Yom Kippur is a day for us to seek wholeness and peace. Whether we get a verbal apology, an apology through actions, or no apology at all, we can choose to find wholeness, peace, and at-one-ment, within ourselves. Forgiveness can be a path to get there.
Gemar Chatimah Tovah! May we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good, peaceful, and whole New Year.
The Power of Positivity
High Holy Day Sermon 2022/5783
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shanah tovah! I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a Yiddish folktale that was turned into a children’s book that has been distributed by the PJ Library. The book version is called, “It Could Always Be Worse,” by Margot Zemach. The story goes something like this:there once was a poor man who lived in a one-room house with his mother, his wife, and his six children. He often complained that his house was too small and too noisy. To seek guidance on this matter, he went to the wisest man in town, the rabbi, to ask for help. The rabbi thought about it, and then asked the man, “Do you have any animals?”
The man replied, “Yes! I have a chicken and a goose!” The rabbi told him to bring the birds into his house to live with his family. Even though he thought it strange, the man followed the rabbi’s advice.
A few weeks later, things were not better. The children were getting bigger and louder, the birds were in the way, making lots of noise, and there were feathers everywhere to boot! The man went back to the rabbi to ask for more help.
“Do you have a goat?” the rabbi asked. “Yes,” replied the man. “Bring it in to your home,” said the rabbi. “Are you sure?” asked the man. “I am positive,” replied the rabbi. So, reluctantly, the man brought his goat into the house.
As you can imagine, things continued to get worse for this poor man. Now, in addition to all the people in his house, the birds were clucking and flapping their wings, and the goat was running wild. It was noisy, cramped, and smelly from all the animals. He went back to the rabbi for better advice. Instead, the rabbi asked if he had a cow. The man knew the drill at this point, so he went home, and moved his cow into his house.
After a few more weeks, the poor man had had enough. He went back to the rabbi and said, “I can’t take it anymore! The house is a mess! There are animals everywhere! What is the point of this?” The rabbi told him to go home and remove all the animals from his house. The poor man ran home, excited to get rid of the animals.
That night, the man slept peacefully in his bed. The next day, he returned to the rabbi and said, “you have made life sweet for me. With just my family in the hut, it’s so quiet, so roomy, so peaceful… What a pleasure!”
In the end, the man didn’t need a new house, or any magic spell to make his living situation any better. All he needed was a positive attitude.
While the new year is supposed to be a time of celebration, I often feel that the joyousness gets lost. At the High Holy Days, we focus on everything that we have ever done wrong in our lives and forget that this is also a time of hope for the future, joy, and gratitude. We are supposed to begin the new year with a positive outlook, whether it’s appreciating what we already have (like in the story I just told) or hoping (and working toward) something better in the coming year. After all, it says in the Talmud, “There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the fifteenth of Av (Jewish day of love) and as Yom Kippur.”
Judaism is a religion of positivity. Most of our prayers are about expressing gratitude (i.e. Birkat Hamazon – we are thankful for the food we just ate, Asher Yatzar – we are thankful that we have woken up and our bodies work, etc.), peace (i.e. OsehShalom and Shalom Rav), and hope for the future. Saying these prayers helps to give us a positive outlook on life.
Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of Our Fathers, an ancient collection of rabbinic sayings) says, “Who is rich? One who is happy with their lot.” In other words, we should be grateful for what we have. “Happy” is the operative word here. Happy does not mean there isn’t any room for growth. Happy does not mean perfect. Happy means to be content with what you have, and at the same time, know that there’s always room for improvement. I think the story “It Could Always Be Worse,” proves that.
Waking up on the wrong side of the bed will pretty much guarantee a bad day for us. The same holds true for the new year. Yes, at this time of year, we are supposed to take a cheshbon hanefesh, and accounting of our souls. And, yes, that does mean that we are supposed to address all the ways in which we have failed. However, when we take a cheshbon hanefesh, we are also supposed to acknowledge all of our successes. At this time of year, we see God as “judge and arbiter,” as our prayer book says. We are supposed to convince God that we are worthy of being inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for another year. Why would God choose to do this for us if the only argument in our favor is that we have repented for our sins? We also need to remind God and ourselves of all the good that have done! When we do this, we set ourselves up for a positive new year.
On both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we say a prayer called Vidui, which we commonly translate to mean “confession.” This prayer is an alphabetical acrostic of all the sins we may have possibly committed over the course of the last year. As we confess each of these sins, we beat our chests, as a way of punishing ourselves for our wrongdoing (for when we hurt others, we hurt ourselves as well). However, Rav Kook wrote in the Mishnah (tractate Maaser sheni, chapter 7, Mishna 10), “Just as there is great value to the confession of sins… there is also great value to the confession of mitzvot (our positive deeds), which gladdens the heart and strengthens the holy paths of life!” With that in mind, Rabbi Avi Weiss created a Positive Vidui, which I would like to share with you now.
ודוי חיובית | Positive Vidui, by Rabbi Avi Weiss • the Open Siddur Project ✍ פְּרוֺיֶּקט הַסִּדּוּר הַפָּתוּחַ
As we say goodbye to 5782, let us take with us all the positive aspects of the past year, and use them to catapult us into a new year of positivity. Gemar ChatimahTovah, may we all be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for a good, positive new year!
After The World Falls Apart
Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5783 (2022-2023)
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shanah tovah! As many of you know, my love of Broadway musicals has seepedinto a High Holy Day sermon every year. This year, there’s a small twist. Today, I am beginning with a song that was recorded on a Broadway cast album but was ultimately cut from the show. In Disney’s Frozen, after leaving Elsa’s ice castle, Olaf, the magical snowman, literally physically falls apart. While Anna is upset and concerned about her friend, Olaf would have sung a song about how falling apart isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The song is called “When Everything Falls Apart.” Here is an excerpt of that song:
When everything falls apart
And I’m as broken as can be
I don’t get devastated when decapitated
No, it just helps me see differently
When everything falls apart
And the winds of fate seem cruel
What I’m most afraid of
Shows me what I’m made of
Which turns out to be pretty cool
(later in the song)
When everything falls apart
And it’s an awful, awful day
To sum up my thesis, when I fall to pieces
It’s a chance to look around and say
I’m gonna pull myself together in a better way
(later in the song)
When everything falls apart
It’s just the world re-shuffling
Rosh Hashanah is a time for us to begin again; to look at things from a fresh perspective. It’s our chance to “re-shuffle,” as Kristoff would say. Sometimes, it may seem like our lives are falling apart, or the world is falling apart. Despite all the ways that things can go to pieces, Rosh Hashanah affords us a chance to rebuild in a new and different way. That is the message of Olaf’s song.
During these last two and a half years, there have been numerous times where it seemed as though the entire world was falling apart, especially with regards to COVIDand all its waves. When the pandemic was declared a national emergency, the entire world went into lockdown. Fear and uncertainty spread. Some people lost businesses;others lost loved ones. Today, we are still coming out of this pandemic, with our lives forever altered. It felt like COVID caused the entire planet to collapse. My question is: What do we do after the world falls apart? Let’s look to our own tradition to find some answers.
One of the best examples I can think of is the holiday of Tisha B’Av. Actually, it’s the day after that really catches my attention. You see, Tisha B’Av is the holiday that commerates the destruction of both the first and second Temples. To the Jewish people living during the destruction, it probably felt like all was lost. In fact, after the second Temple was destroyed, 90% of the Jewish population decided to completely assimilate into the Roman Empire. They chose to give up Judaism. They could not see a way for it to continue without the Temple. It was the remaining 10%, a tiny minority,that decided to take action. They reinvented and revitalized Judaism. It was because of this small group that our religion did not die when the Temple was destroyed. Due to their actions, it was reborn anew. While the Judaism we know today does not look the same as it did in Temple times, we are still here. Even though Tisha B’Av is a significant day of mourning on the Jewish calendar, we must remember that the next day, people took the opportunity to recreate Judaism anew. That is something worth celebrating.
That is how we look at Rosh Hashanah – the day that we, both as individuals and as a community, begin anew. Many of us have experienced that feeling of the world crumbling around us, with work, school, finances, relationships, or other facets of life. When this happens, what can we do to get through it?
Personally, I think we need to start by following the examples of our ancestors. The first thing they did after the destruction of the Temple was allow themselves to express their feelings of grief; they mourned the loss of the Temple, and what Judaism used to be. Whether coming out of COVID, or any other difficult situation in life, we need to allow ourselves the opportunity to express our emotions, especially those of loss. It is often the first step in moving forward. After their mourning period, our ancestors decided to take all the aspects of Judaism that they thought were still pertinent and bring it with them into the future. We need to do the same. Rosh Hashanah gives us the opportunity to reflect on what has worked well for us in our lives, and what we need to change. As U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Rahm Emanuel, once said, “You never want a serious crisisto go to waste… And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before.”
As we enter the year 5783, let us take these brave next steps in our lives: reflect on what was, say goodbye to what can no longer be, and work on what we want to come next. May this year be one of health, joy, happiness, peace, and rebuilding anew. Shanah tovah!
I Simply Cannot Do It Alone
Rosh Hashanah Sermon on the 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand & Women in the Rabbinate
By Rabbi Alana Wasserman
Shanah tovah! The Emmys were on TV just a few weeks ago. How many of you watched it? I enjoy watching these shows: the glitz, the glamour, the comedy, the fashion. But what I look forward to the most is the emotional thank yous. “I have so many people I’d like to thank!” they all say, some with tears in their eyes. Each and every one of these individuals knows that they have accomplished something amazing, but they are also keenly aware of the humbling fact that they did not do it alone.
I’m sure many of you have heard the phrase, “No man is an island.” I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the ordination of Rabbi Sally Priesand, the first woman rabbi to be ordained by a theological seminary. I’ve been thinking about her, as well as all the other people who paved the way for me, as well as the more than 1500 other women rabbis, and how we got to this point in history. This anniversary has also made me realize that our accomplishments in our lives are not merely our own. We must acknowledge the fact that none of us has been able to succeed without the help of others. When we accomplish something great, yes, we deserve the credit, but we must acknowledge the teachers who taught us, the people who came before us, and the friends, family and community that have supported us along our way. Without them, we would not be able to achieve our goals.
At the beginning of the summer, I received my copy of the CCAR Journal Summer 2022: The Reform Jewish Quarterly. For those of you who do not know, CCAR stands for the Central Conference of American Rabbis – the organization for Reform Rabbis, of which I am a member. This journal is a book sent out quarterly, filled with articles and poetry written by Reform Rabbis about various modern-day topics. This edition was devoted entirely to women in the rabbinate, in honor of the 50th anniversary. Not only is Rabbi Priesand the first woman rabbi in North America, but she is also the second woman rabbi in recorded history. While I have known about Rabbi Priesand for most of my life, I didn’t really know much about anyone else who helped pave the way for her to enter the rabbinate. Until recently.
As I said earlier, Rabbi Priesand was the second woman rabbi in recorded history. For many years, we thought that she was the first. Only when the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 did we find out that Regina Jonas was, in fact, the first. Just last month, The New York Times published an article from their “Overlooked” series, called “Overlooked No More: Regina Jonas, Upon Whose Shoulders’ All Female Rabbis Stand.” Rabbiner (that was the title given to her to use as a female rabbi) Jonas was born in Berlin in 1909. She studied at the Academy for the Science of Judaism, a seminary in Berlin. The topic of her thesis was why women should be allowed to serve as rabbis. She cited Halachah (Jewish law) to support her thesis. The rabbi she studied under was ready to ordain her when, unfortunately, he suddenly died. A few years passed before she was able to find another rabbi who was willing to ordain her. Rabbi Max Dienemann said, “I testify to her… that she is suitable to serve as a rabbi.” Regina Jonas was ordained on December 27, 1935. She died in Auschwitz in October of 1944.
Years before Rabbiner Jonas was even born, steps were already being taken towards the ordination of women rabbis. In her Founder’s Day address this year at Hebrew Union College (the Reform Movement’s Rabbinical School), Rabbi Sally Priesand gave a speech (which was published in The Reform Jewish Quarterly). In her remarks, she acknowledged individuals who helped make it possible for women to become rabbis. She mentioned Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder of Hebrew Union College. She said that he believed in women’s equality. In fact, in 1875, the inauguralclass of HUC had a female student. Her name was Julia Ettlinger. Unfortunately, Ms. Ettlinger died at the age of 27.
Rabbi Priesand also mentioned Rabbi Stephen Wise, a prominent Reform Rabbiin the early twentieth century, who was also a supporter of women’s equality. In 1919, he wrote a letter to a young woman who was interested in the rabbinate, saying, “the fact that no woman has served as rabbi is no reason why no woman should so serve.”
Rabbi Priesand went on to mention Dr. Nelson Glueck, president of HUC while she was a student there. She said Dr. Glueck was “the man most responsible for my ordination.” She knew that the decision to ordain her would be made solely by HUC,under his leadership, and not the Union or the CCAR.
In another article in The Reform Jewish Quarterly called “Wives to the Rescue: The CCAR’s Epic Decision to Ordain Female Rabbis in 1922,” by Rabbi Carole Balin, we learn about another early step taken towards the ordination of women rabbis. Martha Neumark was a student at HUC when the Nineteenth Amendment was passed, guaranteeing women the right to vote. Women were being ordained as Protestant ministers at that time as well. As Ms. Neumark continued her studies, the CCAR knew they were going to have to make a decision regarding the ordination of women. At the thirty-second annual CCAR conference, a decision was made thanks in part to the wives of some of these rabbis. While debating the issue, one of the rabbis decided to open up the discussion to their wives to get their opinions. According to the minutes of the meeting, three women spoke: Mrs. Frisch, Miss Baron, and Mrs. Berkowitz. All of them spoke in favor of ordaining women rabbis. The decision to ordain women was passed at that meeting by a vote of 56 to 11. Yet, despite this decision, Marth Neumarkwas not ordained. We still had a long way to go.
But we ultimately go there. Rabbiner Jonas and Rabbi Priesand broke the glass ceiling. However, they didn’t do it alone. They had everyone else I just mentioned (as well as others, I’m sure) to help them along their way. Just because no one did it before them does not mean that they did by themselves. They, too, had so many people to thank.
Recently, our synagogue’s book club read, The Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes. In her book, Ms. Rhimes shares the speech she gave when she received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award at The Hollywood Reporter’s Women in Entertainment Breakfast. She said, “I was getting the award in recognition of my breaking through the industry’s glass ceiling as a woman and an African-American… But I haven’t broken through any glass ceilings… I’d have wounds… How many women had to hit that glass before the first crack appeared? How many cuts did they get?… How many women had to hit that glass before the pressure of their effort caused it to evolve from a thick pane of glass into just a thin sheet of splintered ice? So that when it was my turn to run… I didn’t have to fight as hard… And when I hit finally that ceiling, it just exploded into dust.Like that. My sisters who went before me had already handled it… Making it through the glass ceiling to the other side was simply a matter of running on a path created by every other woman’s footprints. I just hit at exactly the right time in exactly the right spot.”
Whenever we recite the Amidah, we mention our forefathers and foremothers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel. We recognize the importance of remembering those who came before us. Without them, we wouldn’t be here.
For me, Rabbis Jonas and Priesand opened the door, so that I, and over 1500 other women worldwide, could follow our dreams and become rabbis. Now, we must heed the words of our great sage, Rabbi Hillel, who said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?” We stand at the ready to help open the door for others, whether it’s in regards to the rabbinate, or something else in our lives.
As we reflect back on the year that has past, I hope we all take pride in each of our accomplishments, both great and small. But I also hope that each of us takes the opportunity to acknowledge those who helped us on our way; those who came before us, those who taught us, who supported us, who helped us manage obstacles, and lessen the pain of breaking through. Let us acknowledge that they not only helped us to achieve our goal, but they continue to inspire us as we move on, and hopefully, help others in return.
Story Rabbi shared at September 16, 2022 Services
The Curse of the Blessings (click on the link)