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Parashat Chodesh Kislev

November 5, 2021
2 Kislev 5782
Parashat Chodesh Kislev
Genesis 23:1 - 25:18

Dear Friends,

It’s that time of year when my mother would expectantly watch the rabbi; will he or won’t he? What was she waiting for? She was getting ready to pounce if the rabbi failed again to recall Kristallnacht. For her, it was the event that changed the course of her life and allowed her to survive. She wanted the community to be reminded that it was our duty to understand the signs and act, not stand idly by. November 9th marks Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, when the restrictions imposed by the Nazis upon the Jews of Germany could no longer be ignored (although they were by some, as the economy was booming in Germany).

For my mother, hearing the American rabbi recall Kristallnacht really mattered. Reminding comfortable American Jews (us) of that inflection point was a way for us not to be complacent. And sadly, she was right. Fear, hate and mistrust seems to have gotten the upper hand at the moment.

Every year my mother would go and tell her story to a group of Hebrew School children in a way that they could comprehend. She told a story about the loss of rights: the right to an education, to certain kinds of jobs, ultimately to even sit on a park bench. She put it in terms that the children could grasp.

This week’s Torah portion, Toldot, translated as generations, is one that echoes the complexity of life in a family. Even a loving family is complex, especially one that has survived trauma (the almost sacrifice of Isaac on Mount Moriah).

The message my mother imparted was one of keeping one's eyes open to possible dangers, having survived the trauma of the Holocaust and rebuilt a life.

Isaac and Rebecca do just that. But as much as we may want to focus on the trauma, what compels us is the question of how we can move forward. All of us, have had a quite a time of it over the last eighteen months. Even as we slowly venture forth, doing our best to create a new normal, we have been changed.

As I return to Rebecca and Isaac, they are the unique couple among the original Abrahamic dynasty, despite Rebecca and Isaac having difficulty conceiving a child. Both Abraham and Jacob had more than one wife in order to have more children, often at the behest of the the other wife. Isaac had only one wife (Rebecca), and they went twenty years without children, leading Rebecca to go and ask God directly. “She said: If so, why do I exist? And she went to inquire of the Eternal. And the Eternal answered her… " (Genesis 25:22-23). This dialogue is a monumental event -- an actual conversation with the Divine, initiated by a woman.

I wonder if she could have done this without having a base of love and support in her relationship with Isaac. Of course, this is conjecture on my part. But instead of inviting another woman into their home, she went to have a conversation the Divine. I am always left with the impression that theirs was a true love match. The two of them are truly the biblical exemplars of a loving relationship, despite the complications that later ensue.

Unlike my mother, my father never spoke of his experiences publicly, but his actions spoke as loudly as her words. He exemplified loving kindness and extreme patience with people. They balanced one another.

At this juncture of the Torah portion called Generations and our observance of Kristallnacht, I invite you to remember and share with others your family stories of the times that your family members found ways to continue despite the setbacks and the traumas.

Life is neither fair or easy. Yet every morning, we recite the following prayer: “Blessed are you, Adonai, our God, ruler of the universe, who forms light and creates darkness, who makes peace and creates all things."

Maybe it’s time to follow Rebecca’s example and ask what am I doing here. Maybe -- just maybe -- you too will find some answers in the generations that came before.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Sat, December 3 2022 9 Kislev 5783