Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 39: Lot's daughters


Day 39: Netzach in Yesod, Endurance in Foundation

"Lot went up from Zoar and settled in the hill country with his two daughters, for he was afraid to dwell in Zoar; and he and his two daughters lived in a cave. And the older one said to the younger, 'Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to consort with us in the way of all the world. Come, let us make our father drink wine, and let us lie with him, that we may maintain life through our father.'" (Genesis 19:30-32)
If your first reaction is "Ew!" then good, you don't believe in incest. The Torah doesn't either and, usually, it is punishable by death, which begs the question: Why are Lot's daughters rewarded with children for taking advantage of their father in this way?

The Jewish Women's Archive has a possible answer: "the Holy One, blessed be He, who knows man's thoughts, judges them by their thoughts and not their deed. The daughters' true intent was not to lie with their father, on whom they had no sexual designs, but to save the world from total devastation." Having just survived the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, losing their mother and married sisters in the process, and fearing that the whole world had been destroyed, Lot's daughters' primary goal was to survive into the next generation. Their children became the foundation of the Moabites and the Ammonites.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 38: Esau's wives


Day 38: Tiferet in Yesod, Balance in Connection

"Esau realized that the Canaanite women displeased his father Isaac. So Esau went to Ishmael and took to wife, in addition to the wives he had, Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, sister of Nebaioth." (Genesis 28:8-9)
The Torah made it pretty clear when Abraham was finding a wife for Isaac that marrying a local Canaanite woman simply would not do, so when Esau married Judith and Basemath the Hittites, it was no surprise that Isaac and Rebecca were unhappy about it (Genesis 26:34-35). In an attempt to appease his parents, Esau tried to balance his wives by adding a third, Mahalath, with whom he had a family connection.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 37: Delilah


Day 37: Gevurah in Yesod, Power in Connection

"[Samson] fell in love with a woman in the Wadi Sorek, named Delilah. The lords of the Philistines went up to her and said, 'Coax him and find out what makes him so strong, and how we can overpower him, tie him up, and make him helpless; and we'll each give you eleven hundred shekels of silver." (Judges 16:4-5)
One would think that after being betrayed by his first wife, Samson would have learned a thing or two about trusting women who wanted to know damaging secrets about him, but apparently not. Delilah used her connection to Samson to take away his power, convincing him to confide in her. Like Potiphar's wife, Delilah abuses her power by using Samson's love for her against him.

Delilah teaches us to appreciate and safeguard the trust that others put in us and not to use their secrets for our own personal gain.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 36: Orpah


Day 36: Chesed in Yesod, Love/Kindness in Connection
If you remember from day 1, Naomi had two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. When Naomi's husband and two sons died, she offered Orpah and Ruth the opportunity to go home to their parents and remarry, rather than remaining with her when she had no more sons to marry them or way of providing for them. After some back and forth in which both Ruth and Orpah offered to go with Naomi and Naomi insisted they leave, it ended with this:
"They broke into weeping again, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law farewell. But Ruth clung to her." (Ruth 1:14)
Orpah is often treated as a footnote in the story of Ruth, because she chose to go home and start her life over, instead of staying with Naomi, like Ruth did. Don't worry, we will get to Ruth at a later date. For now, Orpah is a fascinating example of love and kindness in connection. Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman notes that Orpah did nothing wrong by choosing to go home and suggests that Orpah's choice is the one that most of us would make in the same situation. She says, "We tend not to see ourselves as active and capable of making a difference in the world. Because of this, we often make the choices of Orpah and shy away from challenging our identities and roles."

We don't know what happened to Orpah after she left Naomi, but because of Naomi's kindness, she had the opportunity to (and we can assume or hope that she got to) go home and start a new life. I can only imagine that her new life was informed by the love she presumably had for her husband and that she clearly showed in her tearful goodbye to her mother-in-law. Orpah may not have chosen to adopt Judaism and leave her native land, like Ruth did, but those connections stay with us, even when we are apart.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 35: Bathsheba


Day 35: Malchut in Hod, Leadership in Glory

When David was on his deathbed, his son Adonijah declared himself to be the next king and started shoring up political support. This (rightfully so) deeply concerned Bathsheba, because her son Solomon was supposed to be the next king. She didn't let the issue slide, but stepped up immediately and went to David to secure the throne for Solomon. She said to David:
"My lord, you yourself swore to your maidservant by the Lord your God: 'Your son Solomon shall succeed me as king, and he shall sit upon my throne.' Yet now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, know nothing about it. He has prepared a sacrificial feast of a great many oxen, fatlings, and sheep, and he has invited all the king's sons and Abiathar the priest and Joab commander of the army; but he has not invited your servant Solomon. And so the eyes of all Israel are upon you, O lord king, to tell them who shall succeed my lord the king on the throne. Otherwise, when my lord the king lies down with his fathers, my son Solomon and I will be regarded as traitors." (1 Kings 1:17-21)
Bathesheba not only acts like a leader, but reminds King David what it means for him to be a leader as well.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 34: Asenath


Day 34: Yesod in Hod, Foundation in Glory

"Pharaoh called Joseph Zaphenath-paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera priest of On as a wife; thus Joseph came to be in charge of the land of Egypt." (Genesis 41:45)
Asenath represented Joseph's elevation and acceptance into Egyptian society and she would become the mother of two tribes of Israel, Ephraim and Manasseh. Thus, she is the foundation of Joseph's life in Egypt and his tribal legacy.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 33: The clever woman of Tekoa


Day 33: Hod in Hod, Glory in Glory

Lag B'Omer
Today is Lag B'Omer, a day of celebration in the otherwise reflective and mournful period of the Omer. For more details on why the period of the Omer is considered a time of mourning, check out MyJewishLearning.

Today we celebrate the clever woman of Tekoa, who helped King David through a difficult decision in 2 Samuel 14. At this point in David's life, he had been forced to banish his son Absalom, because Absalom had killed his half-brother Amnon for raping their sister (technically Amnon's half-sister) Tamar. We mentioned Tamar before in passing on day 27.

King David missed Absalom, but did not send for him to return for three years. His advisers, seeing his unhappiness, brought the clever woman of Tekoa to help David. She told King David a made-up story about her two sons that was remarkably similar to David's own predicament. One had killed the other, she said, and now the townspeople were threatening to kill her murderous son. In spite of his sin, she begged King David to spare him, because he was all she had left and he was, after all, still her son. King David took pity on her and promised to protect her remaining son from the mob. At that point, the clever woman of Tekoa turned the tables!

"'In making this pronouncement, Your Majesty comdemns himself in that Your Majesty does not bring back is own banished one.'" (2 Samuel 14:13)
Bam! By presenting the same situation to King David in a different family, this woman showed him that he had the answer to his own problem the whole time, if he would just step back and look at it objectively. King David immediately called to end the banishment of Absalom, ending his period of mourning and sadness at the loss of his son.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 32: Jephthah's daughter


Day 32: Netzach in Hod, Victory in Humility

The story of Jephthah's daughter is a kind of be-careful-what-you-wish-for tragedy. Jephthah was a warrior who led the Israelite army in war against the Ammonites. During the battle, he vowed that if God would secure him the victory against the Ammonites, he would sacrifice the first thing he saw upon his return home. Jephthah clearly hadn't read The Monkey's Paw in eighth grade, like I had, or he would have been more careful about the wording of his vow, because (of course), the first thing he saw was his daughter.
"When Jephthah arrived at his home in Mizpah, there was his daughter coming out to meet him, with timbrel and dance! She was an only child; he had no other son or daughter. On seeing her, he rent his clothes and said, 'Alas, daughter! You have brought me low; you have become my troubler! For I have uttered a vow to the Lord and I cannot retract.'" (Judges 11:34-35)
His daughter replied with more understanding than I think most of us would in that situation, asking only for an extra two months to live, during which time she and her friends went into the hills and "bewailed her maidenhood" (Judges 11:38). Jephthah's daughter's tragic death is a reminder of the cost of war, even in victory.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 31: Deborah, Rebecca's nurse


Day 31: Tiferet in Hod, Balance in Glory

Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, is first mentioned as departing with Rebecca on her journey to meet and marry Isaac (Genesis 24:59). According to the WRJ's Women's Commentary Torah, the fact that her nurse had remained with the family after Rebecca had grown up suggests that she may have been like a surrogate mother to Rebecca or, at least, that the two shared a special bond. We learn of Deborah's death over ten chapters after her first appearance with the simple line: 
"And Deborah, Rebecca's nurse, died and was buried below Beth El under the Oak, so he [Jacob] named it the Oak of Weeping." (Genesis 35:8)
Deborah's death is remarkable for many reasons, the first and most often-cited of which is that her death was mentioned at all, while Rebecca's death was never stated. This line about Deborah's death comes between the rape of Dinah and God blessing Jacob with the name Israel, followed shortly thereafter by Rachel's death and then Isaac's. So Deborah, who began her story as a nurse responsible for maintaining life, was the first in a series of devastating deaths in Jacob's family. The blessing that Jacob received from God was book-ended by death, a reminder that there is balance in glory.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 30: Zelophehad's daughters


Day 30: Gevurah in Hod, Justice in Glory

Zelophehad's daughters appear three separate times in the Tanakh, each time listing all five of their names: Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. As we have seen from some previous days of the Omer, many women's names were not recorded, so it is remarkable in and of itself that Zelophehad's daughters were all named and that their names were repeated each time they were mentioned in the Tanakh.

But wait, there's more!

They are also remarkable for their contribution to Israelite society. Their father, Zelophehad, had died and had no sons, so according to Israelite law before Numbers 27, his property would have been divided among his clan, leaving his daughters with nothing and effectively erasing his name. Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah believed that to be unfair and petitioned Moses for the right to inherit their father's land. They won that right, not only for themselves, but for any daughter whose father died without a male heir.

So, they maintained their father's name and gained glory in their own right through their pursuit of justice. You can read their whole story in Numbers 27:1-11, Numbers 36:1-12, and Joshua 17:3-4.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 29: The widow who fed Elijah



Day 29: Chesed in Hod, Love in Glory

Elijah the prophet, traveling through Israel during a drought, was directed by God to find a widow in Zarephath of Sidon who would feed him. When he found her and asked her for food, however, she replied:

"I have nothing baked, nothing but a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I am just gathering a couple of sticks, so that I can go home and prepare it for me and my son; we shall eat it and then we shall die." (1 Kings 17:12)
Elijah insisted, promising that if she fed him, God would provide enough flour and oil to get her and her son through the drought, which they did. Their story continues with the death of her son sometime later, at which point she begs Elijah to save him and Elijah begs God until the boy comes back to life.

What is remarkable to me about this woman however is not the near-death (or return from death) experience of her son, but her initial response to Elijah quote above. Knowing that she did not have enough flour and oil for herself and her son to survive past their next meal, she nonetheless prepared to make that last meal before awaiting their inevitable deaths. She did not give up prematurely, but scraped together one last meal out of love for her son and for life, and she was rewarded for it.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 28: The clever woman of Abel of Beth-maacah


Day 28: Malchut in Netzach, Leadership in Victory

During King David's reign, a man named Sheba son of Bichri rebelled and King David's commander, Joab, cornered him in Abel of Beth-maacah. Joab threatened to destroy to whole city in his pursuit of Sheba, but a clever woman talked him down. She said:
"'I am one of those who seek the welfare of the faithful in Israel. But you seek to bring death upon a mother city of Israel! Why should you destroy the Lord's possession?' Joab replied, 'Far be it from me to destroy or ruin! Not at all! But a certain man from the hill country of Ephraim, named Sheba son of Bichri, has rebelled against King David. Just hand him alone over to us, and I will withdraw from the city.' The woman assured Joab, 'His head shall be thrown over the wall to you.' The woman came to all the people with her clever plan; and they cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and threw it down to Joab." (2 Samuel 20:19-22)
The woman stepped up in a perilous situation, appealing to her common nationality with Joab and challenging his authority and moral right.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 27: Tamar, Judah's daughter-in-law

What is the Omer? | Go back to Day 26 | Skip to Day 28

Day 27: Yesod in Netzach, Foundation in Endurance
There are two Tamars in the Tanakh - Judah's daughter-in-law in Genesis 38 and David's daughter in 2 Samuel 13. Today, we will focus on Judah's daughter-in-law. Her story takes place in chapter 38 of Genesis. First, she is married to Judah's oldest son, Er. After Er died, she was married to Onan, but he also died. Judah then sent Tamar away to live with her parents until his youngest son was old enough to marry her, but he never sent for her to return, leaving her in limbo, without a husband, but not free to remarry. At that point, Tamar took matters into her own hands by tricking Judah into sleeping with her himself. She conceived and bore two sons, Perez and Zerah, who would become the foundation of the line of Judah. King David was ultimately a descendant of Perez.

What can we learn from Tamar? She represents foundation in endurance, because she endured loss and lies and rose above her hardships to become the foundation of the royal line of Israel.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 26: Miriam


Day 26: Hod in Netzach, Glory in Victory

After their escape from the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Israelites rejoiced. Miriam led the celebration with this song, singing God's praises.
"The Miriam the prophetess, Aaron's sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women went out after her in dance with timbrels. And Miriam chanted:
Sing to the Lord, for He has triumphed gloriously; Horse and driver He has hurled into the sea." (Exodus 15:20-21)
In our own victories, we should all be like Miriam, moved to dancing and singing, recognizing the glory of the situation and how we arrived there.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 25: The woman who killed Abimelech

What is the Omer? | Go back to Day 24 | Skip to Day 26

Day 25: Netzach in Netzach, Eternity in Victory

"Abimelech pressed forward to the tower and attacked it. He approached the door of the tower to set it on fire. But a woman dropped an upper millstone on Abimelech's head and cracked his skull." (Judges 9:52-53)
Dying from his cracked skull, Abimelech asked one of his men to kill him, saying, "Let them not say 'A woman killed him.'" (Judges 9:53)

In spite of his best efforts, however, Abimelech failed and the story of his death at the hands of a woman became a cautionary tale for future armies, as David's army commander Joab noted, "Who struck down Abimelech son of Jerubbesherth? Was it not a woman who dropped an upper millstone on him from the wall at Thebez, from which he died?" (2 Samuel 11:23)

This woman, who was unfortunately unnamed, gained eternal fame by ending Abimelech's reign of terror.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 24: Sisera's mother


Day 24: Tiferet in Netzach, Compassion in Victory
Do you remember day 11 when we talked about the story of Yael, the woman who won the war against the Canaanites by driving a spike through Sisera's head? Deborah's song praising Yael ends with a thought about Sisera's mother.

"Through the window peered Sisera's mother,
Behind the lattice she whined:
'Why is his chariot so long in coming?
Why so late the clatter of his wheels?' 
The wisest of her ladies give answer; 
'They must be dividing the spoil they have found: 
A damsel or two for each man, 
Spoil of dyed cloths for Sisera, 
Spoil of embroidered cloths, 
A couple of embroidered cloths 
Round every neck as spoil.'" (Judges 5:28-30) 

Just one verse before this, we were celebrating Sisera's death, but we must immediately remember the cost of war. Deborah's song reminds us to have compassion for our enemies, even in our victories.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 23: Leah


Day 23: Gevurah in Netzach, Strength in Endurance

"Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older one was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah had weak eyes; Rachel was shapely and beautiful." (Genesis 29:16-17)
Rashi interpreted Leah's weak eyes to be from crying, because she thought that, as Laban's oldest daughter, she would have to marry Isaac's oldest son, Esau. According to the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), "After discovering that Esav would not make a good husband, Leah defies her destiny by refusing to marry him. She is strong in the face of adversity and does not give up."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 22: Rahab



Day 22: Chesed in Netzach, Mercy in Victory

Mahalia Jackson sings "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho"

Before the walls could come tumbling down in Jericho, Joshua and the Israelites had some help from a Jericho resident named Rahab. Two Israelite spies on an information-gathering mission before the battle were nearly caught by the king of Jericho's men, but Rahab the harlot hid them in her home and helped them escape the city to report their findings to Joshua (Joshua 2). Her mercy won her the respect and protection of the Israelite army when they eventually sacked the city, leaving her home and family untouched.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 21: Vashti


Day 21: Malchut in Tiferet, Leadership in Beauty

"...when the king was merry with wine, he ordered Mehuman, Bizzetha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, and Carcas, the seven eunuchs in attendance on King Ahasuerus, to bring Queen Vashti before the king wearing a royal diadem, to display her beauty to the peoples and the officials; for she was a beautiful woman. But Queen Vashti refused to come at the king's command..." (Esther 1:10-12)
Traditionally, Purim is a celebration of Queen Esther, who replaced Queen Vashti after she was banished for disobeying the king. Today, however, there has been more interest in Vashti's story as a feminist and a rallying point for social justice. Rather than endure abuse from her drunken husband and his drunken friends, Vashti followed her own rules.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 20: Zilpah and Bilhah


Day 20: Yesod in Tiferet, Foundation in Balance
When Zilpah and Bilhah became mothers, it kicked off the "baby wars" as my rabbi in Philadelphia called it. Leah had had four sons, while Rachel was barren. Out of jealousy and in an attempt to "catch up" to Leah, Rachel turned her servant Bilhah into a surrogate and Bilhah had two sons. Then Leah's servant Zilpah entered the race and also had two sons. Leah had two more sons and a daughter before Rachel finally conceived.

This whole saga began as an attempt at balance between two sisters and all these children became the foundation of the Jewish people, the twelve tribes of Israel.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 19: Manoah's wife


Day 19: Hod in Tiferet, Glory in Balance

Like many women in the Tanakh, Manoah's wife was barren, but then an angel came to tell them that they would have a son.
"The angel of the Lord never again appeared to Manoah and his wife. - Manoah then realized that it had been an angel of the Lord. And Manoah said to his wife, 'We shall surely die, for we have seen a divine being.' But his wife said to him, 'Had the Lord meant to take our lives, He would not have accepted a burnt offering and meal offering from us, nor let us see all these things; and He would not have made such an announcement to us.'" (Judges 13:21-23)
Manoah and his wife's reactions to meeting this angel represent glory in balance. Manoah shows fear in the face of God. After all, it is well-documented that God has struck down others for seeing the divine. His wife balances him by choosing instead to see good and hope in their situation. Today, balance your trepidation with trust. Let hope trump fear.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 18: Samson's first wife


Day 18: Netzach in Tiferet, Victory in Beauty
You know the story of Samson and Delilah, but did you know he had a wife before Delilah? The unnamed Philistine woman caught Samson's eye and, despite his parents' objections, he decided to marry her.
"His mother and father did not realize that this was the Lord's doing: He was seeking a pretext against the Philistines, for the Philistines were ruling over Israel at that time." (Judges 14:4)
In spite of the beauty that drew Samson to her, his wife was not faithful. She pestered and harassed him for the answer to a riddle he had posed to her countrymen until he trusted her with the answer, only to immediately divulge the secret to Samson's enemies. Her actions gave her countrymen a temporary victory, but ultimately, as was God's plan, the victory was Samson's. In his anger at her betrayal, Samson destroyed her village.

Samson's wife is victory in beauty, but the question with which we are left is: whose victory? Is it the Philistines? Samson's? God's? If God's plan for her was to use her to destroy her people, can we really blame her for betraying Samson? There seems to be no victory for her in this story. Today, we should think about how to create our own small wins when circumstances seem to be otherwise stacked against us. What are your strengths and what can you make of your life?

Monday, May 9, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 17: Abishag


Day 17: Tiferet in Tiferet, Beauty in Compassion

"They found Abishag the Shunammite and brought her to the king. The girl was exceedingly beautiful. She became the king's attendant and waited upon him, but the king was not intimate with her." (1 Kings 1:3-4)
In his old age, King David could not keep warm under any amount of blankets and his advisers, fearing his death from the cold, found a woman to warm him. Her beauty is noted, but it is her compassion and companionship that keeps David going. Abishag is a reminder to us all that compassion for others is an expression of beauty.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 16: Hannah


Day 16: Gevurah in Tiferet, Strength in Compassion
Happy Mother's Day! In honor of Mother's Day and gevurah in tiferet, we celebrate Hannah.
"As she kept on praying before the Lord, [the priest] Eli watched her mouth. Now Hannah was praying in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice could not be heard. So Eli thought she was drunk." (1 Samuel 1:12-13)
Hannah managed to convince Eli that she was indeed "pouring out my heart to the Lord," not drunk, and Eli offered her his own hope that God would hear her prayer, which God did. For what was she praying? A child, of course. That child grew up to be Samuel, the prophet who anointed King Saul and King David, a faithful and revered servant of God.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 15: The women with the baby


Day 15: Chesed in Tiferet, Love in Compassion

"A sword was brought before the king, and the king said, 'Cut the live child in two, and give half to one and half to the other.' But the woman whose son was the live one pleaded with the king, for she was overcome with compassion for her son. 'Please my lord,' she cried, 'give her the child; only don't kill it!' The other insisted, 'It shall be neither yours nor mine; cut it in two!' Then the king spoke up. 'Give the child to her,' he said, 'and do not put it to death; she is its mother.'" (1 Kings 3:24-27)
Today, try to show love and kindness through compassion. Be sincere and you will be rewarded, like the baby's mother, who prized life and love.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 14: Zipporah


Day 14: Malchut in Gevurah, Leadership in Strength

"At a night encampment on the way [to Egypt], 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.'" (Exodus 4:24-26)
Zipporah acted quickly in the face of danger to save her son and Moses from God's wrath on their journey to Egypt. This year, it seems like all of my friends had babies and I was able to attend a bris for the first time. I have to say, the mothers all looked super nervous. It takes a lot of strength to hand over your newborn baby on a (precarious-looking) pillow, knowing that he will cry in just a few minutes. For Zipporah to step up and act was truly an act of strength.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 13: Yocheved


Day 13: Yesod in Gevurah, Foundation in Strength
"When she [Yocheved] could hide him [Moses] no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile." (Exodus 2:3)
In spite of Shifra and Puah's incredible bravery and kindness, Pharaoh's edict to kill all the slaves' newborn sons still put their baby boys in grave danger. Yocheved, Moses' mother, protected her son from Pharaoh by giving him up. It takes incredible strength and faith to do what she did for Moses and it was through her acts that Moses was able to grow up to free and strengthen the Israelites.

Omer 2016 Day 12: Lot's wife


Day 12/Yom HaShoah: Hod in Gevurah, Majesty and Humility in Bravery and Strength
Day 12 of the Omer is always Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In 2013, I remarked that hod, which translates as majesty and humility, is a fitting word for the mix of sadness at the tremendous horrors and loss of the Holocaust and thankfulness for the resilience and bravery of the human spirit and the Jewish people. Today, we remember Lot's wife, who, while fleeing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, disregarded the angels' warning not to look back as they fled, and turned into a pillar of salt (Genesis 19:26).

Lot's wife was only given one rule: don't look back. Why couldn't she follow it? My rabbis in Nashville posited that she looked back out of concern for the daughters they had to leave behind, unable to convince their husbands of the imminent destruction of the cities. In hindsight, it is easy to say that Lot's wife should not have looked back, just as some question why European Jews did not see the signs of Nazism and leave their homes for safer shores before it was too late. Of course, in the moment, things are different. It takes incredible bravery to flee your home, leave behind loved ones who will not or cannot follow, and start over somewhere else, but as we learn from Lot's wife, it also takes a great deal of strength to stay. to think of others, even at the risk of your own life.

Today, as we mourn the many we lost and celebrate those who survived the Holocaust, I am humbled by the strength of the Jewish people and the bravery and compassion of Lot's wife.

Sculpture at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 11: Yael


Day 11: Netzach in Gevurah, Victory in Bravery

"Most blessed of women be Yael,
Wife of Heber the Kenite,
Most blessed of women in tents.
He asked for water, she offered milk;
In a princely bowl she brought him curds. 
Her [left] hand reached for the tent pin,
Her right for the workmen's hammer. 
She struck Sisera, crushed his head, 
Smashed and pierced his temple. 
At her feet he sank, lay outstretched, 
At her feet he sank, lay still; 
Where he sank, there he lay - destroyed." (Judges 5:24-27)

Jael and Sisera by Jacopo Amigoni, 1739
Yael is a badass; that's one of the reasons I chose Yael as my Hebrew name. According to the Tanakh, she defeated Sisera, the Canaanite army commander, by driving a tent spike through his head with such force that she drove it into the ground beneath him.

Sisera fled battle and ran to her tent to hide, because her husband was a Canaanite sympathizer and he believed that he would be safe with her. However, Yael had a mind of her own. Her brave actions defied expectations and definitively claimed victory over the Canaanite army.

Yael's actions also had consequences that we will explore when we talk about Sisera's mother on Day 24. Stay tuned!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 10: Jezebel


Day 10: Tiferet in Gevurah, Beauty in Power
Futurama's Bender sings a folk song about a beautiful, unfaithful woman named Jezebel

The name Jezebel is largely regarded as shorthand for a beautiful, seductive, dangerous/evil woman. In the Tanakh, Jezebel, a Phoenician princess and the wife of King Ahab, was notorious for leading the Israelites into idolatry, specifically worshiping Baal (1 Kings 16:31) and killing God's prophets (1 Kings 18:4). It is noted that Ahab was worse than all the kings of Israel before him (1 Kings 16:33), a fact that is credited to Jezebel's bad influence. She is pretty much the worst.

What do we learn from Jezebel? We learn that beauty can wield a lot of power, but, like Potiphar's wife yesterday, it is a power that must be used responsibly.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Omer 2016 Day 9: Potiphar's wife


Day 9: Gevurah in Gevurah, Power in Power
You know the story from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, if not from Genesis 39. Joseph, sold into slavery by his brothers, ended up in Egypt, the slave of a man named Potiphar. Potiphar's wife, who is not named, wanted to sleep with Joseph, even trying to do so by force, but when he refused her, she accused him of trying to rape her and had him sent to prison.

Potiphar's wife tries to seduce Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
Potiphar's wife is a reminder that, in the immortal words of Uncle Ben, "With great power comes great responsibility." Part of having power is using it for good.