Rebekah and God: A Torah Study

I don’t usually include Torah study or sermon type things in this blog, but thought I would give it a go today, mainly because I wrote this for a different purpose and wanted to reuse it. So, in a departure from my normal style and subjects, here is a bit of Torah commentary:

In the Torah portion, Chayei Sara, which Jews all around the world will read this weekend,  Abraham sends his servant to his homeland to find a wife for his son, Isaac (Gen: 24). The servant goes and as he comes into the city, says to God, “I will go to the well, and ask for water to drink. The woman who not only offers me water, but also water for my camels, she will be the wife for my master’s son.” Immediately thereafter, Rebekah comes down to the well, She is not only of Abraham’s family, but when the servant asks for water to drink, she offers for him and his camels.

The question I ask is this: why does Abraham’s servant use the offer of water for the camels as the sign? Surely he might have asked God to indicate the girl in another way, for example, by her clothing. Or, he might have asked God to give a sign in which she approached him, rather than he asking her for water. Why does he ask for a sign in which he must first ask the question?

The servant, whom the ancient rabbis tell us is Eleazar, a servant of Abraham mentioned elsewhere in the Torah, has set up a system that ensures that Isaac’s wife will be a woman who will serve help build the family. When he asks for water, she is concerned not just with his needs, but also with those of his animals. If she will do this for a stranger, how much the more so will she be concerned with the welfare of his master’s son’s household? She responds to the need which she perceives, not just what is asked of her.

In a later, Torah portion, when Isaac is getting ready to distribute blessings, Rebekah acts to deceive Isaac and to get the blessing for Jacob instead of Esau. She organizes the family for the good of the Jewish people. She acts, without needing God to tell her to act. She sees the necessary action, and she takes it. In this way, she is exactly what Isaac needs as a wife: not a someone who communes with God, but someone who sees what needs to be done, and does it.

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Shabbat Sermons & Eva and David Go on a Date

Two completely separate (I think) topics this morning. The first has to do with the sermons I give on Friday evenings. The second, that Eva and I had an actual date!

Once, while in rabbinical school, I was told that Christian ministers spend an average of 8 hours a week working on their Sunday sermons. At the time, I was astounded (I was, at the time, working in a congregation that I served weekly and did prepare a weekly sermon). After all, my sermons tended to be outlines rather than written out, and usually took me between thirty minutes and an hour. Until very recently, I remained astounded by the length of time Christian clergy spent on sermons, and have assumed that maybe they spend so much longer on sermons because it is more of the centerpiece of the service, whereas in Judaism the sermon is a little teaching that gets crammed into the liturgy.

In the last week or two, however, my view has been changing. I realize that while I still only spend half an hour or so working on a sermon, in the sense of putting pen to paper, there is a huge amount of time that gets devoted before that point. I think about what I will say while I shower in the morning or while driving to work. I play with language while I’m walking down the street. I try out ideas as I’m falling asleep at night. All that time begins to add up. I don’t think it comes anywhere near 8 hours, but I begin to see how one could spend eight hours a week working on a sermon (especially if one worked from a finished script, as opposed to notes).

I like working on sermons because it’s an opportunity for me to find new meaning in the text I’m working with (most often the Torah). I like it because it’s an opportunity to figure out what I’m thinking. And I like working on sermons because it’s a challenge to find something to say that is adequately meaningful that I feel like I’m not wasting the time of my congregation by saying it.

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Eva and I may have figured out how to go on dates. Yesterday, we went to see a first-run movie for the first time in longer than I remember. It’s certainly been more than a year. We saw Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

We didn’t go see a movie the way normal people do. No. We went the way business owners do: an IT company rented the theater for a 9AM showing, took about 10 minutes to tell us about their products, promised to call us to set up a time tell us more about their products, and showed us Indiana Jones. Woohoo!

The movie was very good. Not in an art film kind of way, but in an Indiana Jones kind of way. Fast moving action, plot twists, and, of course, the hat and whip. What more could you ask for?

And we had breakfast together, which is pretty much a rarity also. But it means we had a meal and a movie. We call that a date.

A Peaceful Shabbat

This Shabbat, I have very little planned. I’m looking forward to a lot of rest, maybe  a little knitting, maybe a little reading, maybe a little gardening. But mainly rest.

Eva and I will both be home this evening, which doesn’t happen all that often. So it will be a quiet evening together. Yay! We might light shabbat candles and say kiddush, or we might simply luxuriate in the fact that it is shabbat, recognizing it by doing absolutely nothing. Sometimes doing nothing is a spiritual practice.

Tomorrow morning I will get up at some point, and wake up slowly. Make some tea or coffee. Sit with a cat and read. Maybe knit. But there’s nothing that needs to get done tomorrow. That’s the beauty of Shabbat.

I’ve commented on this before, but I love the fact that there are multiple ways of spending shabbat: I can lead services, I can attend services or I can do nothing. And all are traditional observances of shabbat.

The text from the Torah which is used as the “proof text” of shabbat* concludes with the line, “and on the seventh day, God rested and was refreshed.” But the word we translate as “refreshed,” vayinafash, comes from the root nafash meaning “soul” or “spirit.” So vayinafash might be better understood as “was re-souled.” And part of what I love is that shabbat is when we are “re-souled”, our soul is returned to us, or restored. Whether the image is understood as being like the sole of our shoes which are worn away over the course of the week, or like a work of art which is covered by grime and the accumulated dust over the week and is then restored, Shabbat serves as the element which allows our soul to start the new week fresh.

Shabbat Shalom, everyone.

*The VeShamru which is included in the Friday evening service, the Saturday morning service and is said as part of the kiddush before lunch on Saturday.