Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Miketz 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Be The Light

Posted on December 29, 2016

Once there was a Chasid who was afraid of the dark.  “Tell me, Rebbe,” the Chasid asked, “How can I chase the darkness from the world?”

So the Rabbi sent the Chasid into the deep darkness of the shul’s basement.  Handing him a broom he said, “Go sweep the darkness out of the basement.” 

Before long, the Chasid returned. “Rebbe, I swept and swept, but the darkness did not budge an inch!” The Rabbi nodded, and murmured sympathetically.  Darkness can be stubborn thing… He reached into his drawer and took out a ruler.

“Take this stick and drive the darkness out by beating it.”  Soon the Chasid returned and told the Rabbi, “Beating it did not chase away the darkness!”  So the Rabbi suggested he shout and scream at the darkness to frighten it away.  But yelling at the dark did not work either; it only made the Chasid’s voice hoarse.

Exhausted, frustrated, he made his way up the stairs, tired and afraid, and approached the Rabbi again. The Rabbi took out a candlestick, lit the candle, and led the Chasid back down the stairs.  And it was a miracle!  For wherever the light’s glow met the darkness, the darkness evaporated before their eyes.

“We dispel darkness,” the Rabbi said, “Not by sweeping gestures, or by violence, or by loud noisy cries, but by bringing a little bit of brightness to our world.”

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Miketz 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayeshev 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Family, Fate, and You

Posted on December 21, 2016

This week we read the Torah portion of Vayeshev, which begins the story of Joseph, one of the great narratives in all literature.  We will continue with this fateful tale throughout the rest of the book of Genesis, and the extraordinary plotlines involving Joseph eventually set up the rest of early Jewish history.

But first Vayeshev starts by further illustrating the exploits, good and mostly bad, of one of the truly, spectacularly dysfunctional families in all of history, the great patriarch Jacob and his four wives and 13 children.  If you thought the Borgia family had problems, if you believe that Oedipus had a bad home life, if you feel that the Kennedys were cursed, if you think that the Kardashians—OK, never mind about the Kardashians.  In any case, none of these epic familial failures have anything on Jacob and his brood. In fact, you can make a case that the Jacob clan has some of the troubles of each.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayeshev 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayishlach 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Who is Israel?  Wrestling with God and Family

Posted on December 15, 2016

 

We are in the midst of sequence of splendid Torah portions, rich in complexity, action, and misdeed, all blended together with serious family dysfunction.  This week’s sedrah of Vayishlach in Genesis continues the tale of Jacob, the most intriguing of the patriarchs, a man who rises above his own duplicitous nature to become the father of almost all of the tribes of Israel. 

As our story begins, Jacob is returning home to Canaan, having made good in the old country of Sumeria—in Harran, in today’s Turkey near the Syrian border.  He has four wives, 12 children—including 11 sons—and large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, truly great wealth.  As he is about to cross into Canaan he learns that his brother Esau, whom he wronged so seriously just before leaving home in a rush twenty years before, is coming to meet him with an army of 400 men.  Jacob is panicked, deducing that Esau is not heading his way with 400 men with spears just to welcome him home. 

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayishlach 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayeitzei 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Finding God in the Wilderness

Posted on December 7, 2016

The urge to journey out into the unknown is a major motivation in the Torah.  We saw it with Abraham a few weeks ago.  We find it in the lives of most of our ancestors.  And we encounter it perhaps most powerfully in the story of this week’s great Torah portion of Vayeitzei.

At the start of the tale, Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau’s potential revenge for cheating him out of both birthright and blessing.  He leaves his family and his home, both of which are in Be’ersheva, in Canaan, and journeys towards Harran, Abraham’s adopted hometown.

Harran is located just north of the current Syrian border in Eastern Turkey, near Sanliurfa, between the Tigris and the Euphrates Rivers, in the cradle of civilization.  I visited the area of Harran during my Sabbatical trip two years ago; it was filled with refugees from the Syrian Civil War.  3700 years ago, when Jacob headed there, Harran was an important city-state in ancient Syria, and Abraham’s kin still lived there.  

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Vayeitzei 5777

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Toldot 5777

SAMUEL COHEN TALIT

 

Troubled Family, Great Destiny

Posted on November 30, 2016

The story of the twins, Jacob and Esau, begins in utero.  Rivals from before birth, wrestling in their mother Rebecca’s womb, the red-haired outdoorsman Esau and his grasping, domestically inclined younger brother Jacob spend our portion of Toldot vying for their father’s and mother’s love and attention.  Each is partly successful, and each partly fails.  That sibling rivalry shaped the course of our people’s early history, but it also can teach us something about ourselves.

First, a word about words: Toldot is rich in real-life details told in spectacularly perfect writing.  Rebecca, pregnant with the two boys wrestling inside her, tells God, “If it’s like this, why am I alive?” prefiguring the words every pregnant mom thinks (or says!) at some point. Esau is hairy and rough at birth, Jacob is smooth, born holding fast to Esau’s heel.  Esau, famished from a long hunt, trades his birthright for a bowl of stew and then “ate, drank, stood up, left, and disdained,” the series of active verbs delineating his turbulent, thoughtless character.  Jacob, smooth-faced and smooth-talking lawyer that he is, audibly calculates the coming consequences of each action.

Read more: Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Weekly Torah Talk On Toldot 5777

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