Beshallah – on crossing, on complaining, and on Christian/Jewish theologies

In this parshah we have the very famous crossing of the “Red Sea” – as most people know it. Most scholars today call it the “Reed Sea.” The people are rushing away from Pharoah who decided to chase the Israelites to get them back. The commentator Ibn Ezra wonders why the people didn’t turn around and fight (the numbers, we are told, are about 600,000 Israelites to 600 of Pharoahs soldiers). This is also about the “slave mentality” that the Israelites need to get rid of. Jewish interpretation of the text typically holds that the Israelites needed the wandering in the desert to slough off the slave mentality. It’s not that Egypt and Israel are so far from each other (they’re not) that it should take 40 years of wandering. It’s that there needed to be a generation born in freedom who could find success in the “Promised Land.” This is a troubling interpretation – do we really believe some people are so badly damaged by past abuse or injustice that they cannot be redeemed? The hopeful side of this understanding of the wandering is that it has often been the case that the descendents of Jews who suffered were able to prosper. This was true of the children of those who were expelled from Spain, for example, and settled in places like Amsterdam. It is the experience of many children of Holocaust survivors. It is the experience of people who came to North America as poor immigrants and have children who are very wealthy and successful.

There are all kinds of mystical associations we have for the parting of the sea. A Kabbalistic Rabbi once told me that there were not only huge walls of water on either side of the Israelites but also that on the walls of water were fruits and other things. This was to signal the ultimate majesty of God and the fact that this was in no way a “natural” occurrence but a divine miracle. This addition to the story reminds us that Jews throughout the generations have added in details like this to embellish our stories (stories usually get embellished in their retelling), and make them consistent with their theology/world view. However the seas part in the narrative, we know what happens: the Israelites make it across but as Pharoah’s army follows them they are subsumed.

You would think this would lead to a period of rejoicing, but what follows is really a series of complaints from the people to Moses. Can we consider this the origin of Jewish kvetching? They’ve already complained that they are going to be killed by the Pharoah’s army. Then they complain there is no water, so Miriam draws water from the well. But then they immediately complain of hunger, so God sends his “manna from heaven.” Still unsatisfied, they once again complain again about the lack of water. Finally, once they are no longer thirsty, they are attacked by Amalek and once again worry about war. There is an interesting pattern to these problems: war, water, hunger, water, war. The palendromic effect is also a cycle. Just as last week we had the first mention of Rosh Chodesh, reminding us of the cycle of the moon, here we are reminded that life is full of more difficult cycles as well. The text is certainly saying that the people should learn to trust that God will provide for them. Humanistic Jews can reflect on the highs and lows of human existence and draw the opposite lesson: we need to rely on ourselves and our communities to solve our problems.

Miriam becomes an important character because it is she who leads the people to water. Moses delivers the people from Egypt, but Miriam is also the salvation of the people because of this water. Many people put a “cup of Miriam” filled with water on their seder table to remember the women of the story and Miriam’s contribution specifically. As the people worry about starvation, some complain to Moses that it would have been better to serve in Egypt than to starve in the wilderness. It’s worth thinking about contemporary ways in which this choice is ours. Many of us “slave” at jobs that do not fulfill us for fear that otherwise we would wither/starve. What is our choice? Do we brave the unknown even when it is risky but when it may promise a better life? Again, this is what many of our families did in immigrating to lands unknown. Do we choose to remain where we are, figuring that known suffering is better than the unknown? The story makes it clear that this “slave mentality” is the wrong way of thinking. But I think we can find more compassion for people who stick with what is safe – particularly as we do not expect to be given “manna from heaven,” but know that we have to put bread on our tables ourselves. The text does challenge us, however, to take risks and to be brave in the pursuit of our own happiness.

The final incident of this parshah is Amalek’s attack. His army approaches and Moses sends Joshua to build an army to fight. Moses, meanwhile, climbs up the Mount and holds his hands up. When his hands are up the Jews are winning. When he lets them fall Amalek gains the advantage. Ultimately, exhausted, his hands are held up by Joshua (the chief warrior) and Aaron so that the Jews can win the day. Jewish commentators suggest that this is either Moses channelling God, or that Moses’ hands in the air are a reminder to the people about the miracles they have seen – the Reed Sea, the water, the manna, and to remember that God is on their side. This is what gives them the strength to win. Christian commentators find Christ imagery in the scene. When Moses’ hands are being held up in what can be described as a “T” position, it resembles Christ on the Cross. In Christian theology, this moment unites Moses with Jesus; Moses as the deliverer of the people prefigures the messiah. It is interesting sometimes to notice that the details of the text have been used by so many competing cultures to bolster their own theologies. There is the theistic Jewish view, the Christian view, and we can also find a Humanistic view: whatever the reason Moses’ hands need to be held up, it is important to note that he can’t achieve his task alone. The arms being held up are a reminder that there are times in which we all need to be held, supported, bolstered by our community. Aaron was the voice for Moses and Yahweh, Joshua is good at making war, Moses is good at leading the people, but none can do their jobs without the others and without the support of their whole community behind them.

The parshah ends with a paradox. Amalek’s name is never to be spoken again (his attack so brutal) yet we are to remember this moment forever. This is one of many examples in the text in which the Jews are commanded to both remember and to forget. We repeat Amalek’s name to remember the incident, even though it should be blotted out. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi`s book Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory points out that there are frequent references to remembrance in the Bible. We are commanded to remember God and his promises to remember his people. The paradox of memory concerning Amalek gets used in all kinds of ways. I was recently attending a panel on Child Soldiers in Africa that mentioned this moment from Exodus. We can think of similar horrors, particularly the Holocaust, that are too horrible to remember but impossible to forget. We have a duty to remember, but trauma cannot be completely assimilated in the mind or the memory. This is a key paradox for the Jewish people as we are constantly struggling with this tension between forgetting and remembering our history.

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Bo – On Reparations, on Ra, and on Rosh Chodesh

In this parshah, we have the eighth and ninth plague (locusts and darkness). The plagues are narrative signs of Yahweh’s power (in the story his “wonders” are a way to convince the Egyptians that the Israelite God is more powerful than their own Gods), so that the Israelites – living in amongst “idol-worshippers” will learn to trust Yahweh. They are also signs to the Egyptians that Yahweh is powerful and his people will win the day. This is the way most religious people understand the plagues. But Humanistic Jews do not take the plagues literally and do not take them as a sign of any God’s power. So what do they represent to us as literary symbols? They represent the worst of all possible horrors that could happen at that time to those people. They do represent the power of nature and its forces – even in the past few years we have been witness to terrifying and crushing natural disasters (some claim these are not so natural but brought on by climate change and therefore are human acts of devastation). It is hard to imagine freedom coming out of such horrors. And I think the plagues remind us that there are clear winners and losers in the Exodus story. Of course we celebrate that any slave might win their freedom, but it is useful to think here about the innocent Egyptians too. In any political rift there are good people who fall on the “wrong” side from the point of view of the victors and of history, and who are victims of their own leadership. It is important to feel compassion for their suffering as well.

In this week’s section Moses once again asks Pharoah to let the Israelites leave, and this time he replies that the men can go. Commentators suggest that Pharoah thinks that the men are not truly leaving, but are going to pray to their God outside of the city walls. But Moses makes clear that he is also going to bring the women and children too – a sign that prayer is not the objective. The Exodus is not about the ability to pray – something for which the women could (would) be excluded – but rather it is about the ability to be a people. Women become very important in this parshah for reasons which will be clear when we think about Rosh Chodesh (the new moon). God tells Moses that he is about to get the Jews out, but then there is a break in the narrative action and God tells Moses to tell the people to ask their neighbours for objects of silver and gold. There are many interesting reasons commentators offer for this. One is that these will serve as reparations for the years of slavery. Another is that by gathering the courage to ask their neighbours for gold (who may refuse, /may act violently, or may turn to violence to get the items back later), the Israelites are beginning to slough off their “slave mentality” and demand what is rightfully theirs. This is the first step in becoming a people capable of self-governance. These items will later be used to build both the Golden Calf and the Ark. Religious interpreters take this as a sign of human free will; our resources can be used for building something terrible or something beautiful. A Humanistic interpretation can draw on the same metaphor – we have the capacity to choose to be and do good or not; it is entirely in our hands.

We have an interesting mention in this parshah about how, prior to the slaying of the first born, no one would harm the Israelites and not even a dog would bark at them. Why the dogs? One reason is to suggest that the Jews were being completely protected at this time. Another interesting answer is that the writer(s) of this moment in the text were cognizant of devaluing Egyptian Gods, many of whom resembled animals, including a dog. If the dogs are on the side of the Israelites it serves as a symbol of the superiority of the Jewish God and the lack of potency of the “false” ones. This also becomes important in this parshah because it discusses Rosh Chodesh. The most powerful God in Egypt was the Sun God Ra. By emphasizing the importance of the moon, and by setting the Jewish calendar according to its rhythms, the text encourages the Israelites to move away from Egyptian sun-centred theology towards what is now Jewish theology.

This parshah contains the first biblical mention of Rosh Chodesh. God tells Moses, in the company of Aaron, that there should be a monthly celebration of the moon. Rashi notes that Aaron is present for this conversation as an honour for his help in creating the plagues. It is also important because it creates the first “Beit Din” – a model for rabbinical authority and judgments that have settled disputes Jewishly/Halachically until today. Rosh Chodesh becomes a women’s holiday for many reasons, including our associations with monthly cycles. Women in many cultures are associated with the moon. Sometimes this is about the menstrual cycle. Sometimes, less flatteringly, it is because the sun gets associated with logic and the moon with a “lunatic” element that is often applied to women. What is true is that when women lived closer to nature they would cycle with the moon. The time of the “red tent” (women had to be separated from the rest of the group during menstruation) would have followed the lunar cycle. As Anita Diamant makes clear in her famous novel, the red tent can be seen as a time for women’s rest, togetherness, and spiritual renewal. The mention of Rosh Chodesh here, just as the people are about to leave Egypt, also signifies renewal.

Just as the moon waxes and wanes, Jewish history is made up of the textures of exile and return, bondage and freedom. Rosh Chodesh continues to be a time to think of renewal. It is like a mini-Yom Kippur that happens each month, giving us the chance to focus on our goals, on who we want to become and what we want to accomplish in the month ahead. The Exodus story is a story of renewal and rebirth – fertility metaphors are therefore apt. The parshah ends with the terrifying tenth plague – the death of the first borns. The death of children is the ultimate signifier for destruction and death. But what follows in the story is the ultimate signifier for birth and life. Pharoah not only allows the Israelites to leave but actually casts them out. The Jews are born anew. It is the time for the rebirth and the renewal of the people.

Va-era: On exile, on El Shaddai, and on Exodus as metaphor

In Va-era most of the “magic” of the story is revealed. God creates the plagues and Egypt is terrified. Many contemporary historians, theologians, and archaeologists have tried to historicize the plagues. In spite of their efforts, it seems unlikely that all of a sudden the water turned to blood (but people claim a reddening of water through soil absorption is possible). Frogs falling from the sky have been explained through bizarre meteorological phenomena, and so on. While I can understand the desire to prove that the story is “true,” it is the magic of the story that I find compelling. The book of Exodus has such incredible narrative power. The Exodus story leaves no historical/archaeological evidence. What it leaves is an extremely important story that serves as the cornerstone of Jewish culture. And the way this story has lasted is through its exceptional plot devices – such as the plagues. What we have here is terrific creative writing – not terrific/terrifying natural/supernatural phenomena. There is a difference between “fact” and “truth” in narrative. We can learn a lot about history, for example, through reading historical fiction. Not every word must be “true” in order to capture the mood or experience of a particular historical event. While the Exodus story is not fact, it does speak a certain truth about Jewish identity.

We have experienced exile and disenfranchisement, and we have also found hope and new lands that accommodate us. We have survived as individuals and as a community. The Exodus is our fundamental story – even if it is not fact, it is true to us in real ways. One of the things the narrative can tell us about history is what stories our ancestors thought would be important for the creation/sustenance of a community. This story has indeed been part of Jewish survival – the Passover seder is something that Jews around the world have practiced for millenia. This is something historical that binds us that is rooted in fact.

In this parshah the God-character refers to himself as “El Shaddai” – a name he used in Genesis when forming the covenant. Jewish scholars wanting to believe in the truth of the bible have suggested that this naming is important because here in the Exodus story we see God keeping his earlier promise to guard and proliferate the people. Again, this is not “true,” but is great literary criticism. We now have many scholars who have shown that the different names for God are part of strands of different writers of the bible that were redacted into a (mostly) coherent narrative. Again, throughout our early ancestry this story was looked at, added to, revised, and passed down. This history of narrative is a very important historical event for us as Jews, even if the story itself is not.

A friend of mine who is not Jewish once told me that her father used to read her the bible as a literary text and what bothered her most was that God hardened Pharoah’s heart to prevent him from letting the people go. Why would the God, wanting his people to be free, do this? Why not let Pharoah follow his initial impulse to free the Israelites? There are many possible answers for this part of the story and I’ll offer a couple that I find compelling. Maimonides suggested that Pharoah’s sins were so great that God took away his ability to repent as harsh punishment. God “hardening” the Pharoah’s heart was thus not specifically to block the Israelite departure but rather to show that our humanity is a reward we get from God. What I like about this is the focus on humanity as something to treasure. The Pharoah shows us how much one can suffer through one’s own indifference to others. Others scholars have suggested that the Israelites would not have appreciated freedom unless its cost was high. If they had been allowed to leave easily they may not have valued the deliverance to the promised land nor the land itself. Some even suggest that the people needed to see the danger of a dictator so they would create a more open political society themselves. These all have value in terms of human lessons we can learn from the story.

The plagues all have their terrible effects on the Egyptians – and many Humanistic Jews find that we cannot celebrate the suffering of the Egyptians. There are some lovely humanistically-oriented interpretations of how the plagues would have badly affected the Israelites as well as the Egyptians – thus blurring the boundary between “us and them” in the story, and reminding us that the suffering of some should prevent the joy of all.

I wrote this commentary in Jerusalem a couple of years ago. The week of this parshah, I was standing with the women of the wall – a group of feminists who have been transgressing gender codes and praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem since 1988. They read from the Torah (for this they move – it is still illegal for women to do this at the wall), and push the boundaries of both feminism and orthodoxy. Standing at that incredibly meaningful historical and cultural site, a woman gave a lovely Dvar Torah (commentary) about how the plague of Darkness reminds us to find the light wherever we are. The oppression of women, she was saying, continues to be a plague amongst and affecting contemporary Jews. This unreasonable blindness to the necessity for equality illustrates the darkness of our own day. We must work to find freedom, and with it to find the light of reason, understanding and compassion.

Each time Moses asks Pharoah to “let my people go,” Pharoah’s heart is hardened and he says no. The repetition of “Let my people go” serves as an important refrain in this story and others. Michael Walzer’s book Exodus and Revolution elucidates how oppressed peoples besides the Jews, such as Southern Black slaves, have found solace and hope in the biblical Exodus story. The song “Let my people go” is an example of how the Jewish Exodus story became part of the American struggle for freedom on the part of subjugated people of colour. Walzer sums up by saying there are three lessons we learn from Exodus. 1) Wherever you are it is probably Egypt. 2) There is hope for redemption/a Promised Land. 3) The only way to get there is by holding hands and marching (I once heard this last point explained instead as “The only way to get there is through the Wilderness”). Although we are not at the point of the biblical story yet where the Jews are allowed their freedom, Walzer’s claims resonate with the Plague of darkness. There are times that seem overwhelmingly bleak, but we do our best to make positive change in the world; we can find hope and find community. This is how we turn darkness into light.

Shemot – on birth, the burning bush, and bloodlines

In the beginning of the book of Exodus we have a sense of how things progressed since Joseph. The Israelites have proliferated and, instead of dominating the land, are now subjugated within it. Most are familiar with this story from Pesach haggadot, popular films, etc. The text tells us that the midwives are responsible for such healthy numbers of Israelite children. When Pharoah decries that Israelite first born sons be killed, the women refuse (both the mothers and the midwives). This is because, the text
tells us, the women fear the wrath of God more than the Pharoah. Perhaps it is also because the women love their children more than they fear death. The midwives who deliver Moses, Shifrah and Puah, are the unsung heroines of the story. Many feminist haggadot and Jewish scholars have recuperated them in tellings of the Exodus story. Moses is not the only one to “deliver” his people. The story of Exodus is a story of rebirth – an emergence from slavery to freedom. Birth and rebirth become important
themes in the unraveling of the story.

Those wont to look for themes of justice in the text tend to focus on Moses’
objection to the exploitation of labour. While of course many see this as a sign that he somehow knew he was an Israelite, or somehow had more sympathy for the Israelites than others of his class and culture while living in the Egyptian palace, his objection is not necessarily on the basis of nation but rather on the basis of simple human values. He objects to the degradation of others. This is a sign that Moses is right for the job of
delivering his people. We too must remember to object when others are harmed or hurting – not just people similar to us in class, culture, or other category. All humanity is deserving of respectful treatment.

The text in Shemot involves some fantastic storytelling. Those who study archetypes in literature are likely familiar with the quest narrative. No such narrative is complete without a damsel in distress. In the Exodus story we have several damsels – Tziporah and her sisters – who are harassed/attacked at the well. Moses saves the women and, as is typical for the hero of the quest narrative, gets the girl. While this is obviously a one-sided portrayal of women, Tziporah is a very important character. Tziporah, a
Midianite, provides us of an example of someone who can intermarry into the Israelite “tribe” and be very concerned with its welfare, without having been born into it. The Tanakh gives us examples of healthy and successful intermarriages (even as it forbids intermarriage in other sections). For those who have culturally mixed families, we can look to Tziporah as a heroine. Tziporah also brings Moses to her father Jethrow who counsels him and, in many ways, spiritually trains him to be up to the job of deliverer. Of course the story ultimately names God as the deliverer, but we should notice that Jethrow’s teachings and encouragement give Moses the strength to fight his fight for justice and freedom. We can learn from this that we may encourage and guide one another towards whatever may be our goal, our deliverance, our “promised land” – whatever that may look like for us as individuals.

The “burning bush” is an important literary symbol for the everpresence of God. What can it mean to humanists? An ever-burning passion or love? Humanity – which also sees destruction but continues to exist and thrive? The constant “light” and “fire” that guide our struggles for justice? All of these are possibilities. When Moses meets the God-character in the form of the burning bush he is told “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh,” translating roughly to “I am what/that I am.” Religious Jews understand this phrase to capture the enigmatic and all-encompassing nature of God. But it is also a sign to Moses
that he must be who he is as well. Some of us, like Moses, are leaders. Some of us are creators (artistic creation, procreation, etc.). Whatever feature some look to in a God-figure can also be found in the burning light of the human spirit and experience. Hope is fundamental to our continued struggle to improve our condition. The “promise” need not come from on high. We have work to do and, in being all that we are, we rise to meet our
challenges.

God tells Moses that he will perform wonders which will convince the Egyptians that he means business. God turns Moses’ staff into a snake. He turns water into blood. One doesn’t have to be Freud to read some sexual/gendered meanings in those particular symbols. That aside, what does the magic mean? For some it does prove the existence of God. For most, this is a narrative aspect of the story (particularly attractive to children). Freud and many later psychoanalytic critics discuss “looking for signs and wonders” – in
our dreams, in our slips of the tongue, in what seem like coincidences. We see the “signs” we wish to see. We believe “wonders” when they confirm our pre-existing world view. But we may miss “signs” as well. A sign that someone we love is in pain. A sign that we are not really fulfilled in our work. We have a pharmaceutical industry devoted to getting us to ignore the real, natural signs that tell us if we are on the right path. Like the Egyptians who ignore Moses’ magic, we ignore the signs that tell us what is right for us, sometimes to cope but sometimes to our peril.

I will end with two aspects to this parasha that most people do not mention. The first is that Moses has a speech impediment which is why his brother Aaron does all the talking when they meet the Pharoah. There is a mishnaic explanation for Moses’ speech problem (relating to a test he is given as a baby to see whether he is in fact an Israelite. He is offered to eat something sweet or something made of hot gold. God guides him to lick the hot gold so he will be spared suspicion. His burnt tongue is the cause of his later
impediment). But we can learn other lessons from the speech aspect of the story too. Firstly, many of us have hurdles to overcome – some have exceptionalities in terms of learning or expression. Some overcome poverty and some overcome abuse. Whatever our past, we can learn to work with and around what seems like a barrier. One way of doing this is to find community.

Moses tries to get out of his task of approaching the Pharoah, using his speech impediment as an excuse. God tells him that Aaron will be with him and will talk. Together we can find complementary strengths. Aaron is Moses’ brother. But we can be brotherly and sisterly in our interactions with one another. We can make up for the gaps in one another’s abilities. We can be stronger when we work together.

The second aspect of the story that doesn’t get much airtime is this scene. ”At a night encampment on the way, the Lord encountered him and sought to kill him. So Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son’s foreskin, and touched his legs with it, saying, “You are truly a bridegroom of blood to me! And when He let him alone, she added, “A bridegroom of blood because of the circumcision.” This is an enigmatic passage. It is not
entirely clear, but most rabbis interpret that God was about to kill Moses (the “him” does not refer to anyone clearly but Moses was the subject just prior). Why would the God-character, who has just chosen Moses as the deliverer of his “chosen people,” want to kill Moses just as he sets off to do what he asked? Some feel there is missing information. Perhaps in the earlier versions of the story Moses committed some transgression that got edited out so as to maintain a pure view of his good character. Nevertheless, this is part of the story and we can do interesting things with how it alters the meaning.

First, there is an equalizing effect brought to the story through this passage.
Moses saved Tziporah and her sisters at the well, but now it is Tziporah who saves Moses. The circumcision is what does the trick. While some may see this as a sign that circumcision is essential to Jewish culture as emblematic of the convenant of God, one can also read the opposite. Tziporah declares the act one of a covenant between she and Moses – a human bond that buys his protection. He is “truly” her bridegroom – and she repeats that it is because of the blood. Blood is a sign of protection, and some rabbis have
argued that as she touches the blood to Moses’ “leg” it foreshadows the spreading of blood on doorposts for protection later in the story. There may be cultural information we do not have about what this sign means. What we do know for sure is that Moses and Tziporah’s son was not circumcised until this moment. Moses is on the way to deliver the Israelites and the lack of a circumcised son suggests that a) he does not yet see himself as part of this people descended from Abraham or b) he does not see circumcision as essential to the identity. This means that either he is willing to sacrifice himself for the good of a people to which he does not belong like he does when he tries to save the labourer, or it means that the “covenant” as marked by circumcision may have varying dimensions and meanings.

The parshah does not end happily. Moses notes that after he begins his
negotiations with the Pharoah things get worse for the people. He is disheartened. We, like Moses, must remember that sometimes things have to get worse before they get better. Change is slow. We must nevertheless try to make the world as just and free as possible. Like Moses, we’re on a journey.

Va Yehi – on parents, on poetry, and on peoplehood

Jacob’s death reminds us that the connection between parents and children is sacred. While in today’s world family relationships can be very complicated, many Jews identify strongly with family, and in particular with parental love. Jacob is able to die in peace because he is able to reunite with Joseph. Many of us may also be able to find more peace if we reach out to those in our family with whom we may have difficult or severed connections.

Before Jacob dies he adopts Joseph’s children into his line (thus creating the eleventh and twelfth tribes). He then blesses each child, speaking to them of the qualities that they will impart to their descendents. This is done through poetry, and is one of the passages in the Torah worthy of close study. It gives an overview for what the writers of this section (in the time of the Judges) thought about their forebears and about what the forebears would have hoped they would become. The attributes of each son are emblematic of qualities the writers imagine were hoped to be inherent to the culture.

In this section, Jacob’s death is given much attention but Joseph’s follows quickly and with very little said about it, except that we are told that Jacob asks to be returned after his death to the promised land, while Joseph’s body remains in Egypt. We have here a sense that the promise of Genesis – Abrahamic descendents and the coming up and together of a people – is fulfilled here. Jacob as the last of the major patriarchs will return to the land, while his descendents will go out into the world.

The contemporary struggles with how we define our peoplehood, and our sense of belonging in it, as well as the claim to land on which this Torah portion hinges, are the stuff of serious consideration. The twelve tribes may not mean much to us today, but a sense of peoplehood does. We may not feel a strong connection to “the holy land,” but, then, we may. For some of us these ties still are rooted in biblical text, for many of us they have to do with political and social values, history, and a more contemporary sense of selfhood.

This portion concludes Genesis, the beginnings of Jewish peoplehood, and
with the poetry ascribing qualities, destinies, and love for the Abrahamic descendents, it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our sense of belonging, and our sense of what it means to belong, to the Jewish people. Not all of the twelve sons are the same. In fact, it is the diversity of the qualities they bring – some brave, some wise, some loyal, etc. – that gives strength to the people. So too with Jews today. We do not have to think or act the same way. We are stronger due to our differences from each other. We do better when our individuality can be recognized as contributing to the group. The poetry of the bible is sometimes quite moving. This time, the words make us think of our “mishpocha” (family) in the largest sense, and what our place in it may be.