Atlanta Jewish Academy

Atlanta Jewish Academy Blogs

Parashat Veyeitzei: United We Stand

written by: Kim (Slovin) Linsider (YA '93)

Parashat Veyeitzei begins with the powerful account of Jacob’s journey from Beer-Sheva to Haran and from individuality to nationhood.

There is a beautiful Midrash that coincides with the opening verses of this Parasha which sets the foundation for one of the fundamental building blocks in the creation of a strong and thriving nation. To set the scene, Jacob has just left Beer-Sheva to travel to the city of Haran to stay with Lavan and his family. On the first night of his journey, Jacob prepares to stop and rest for the evening. In chapter 28, verse 11, it is written,
“…he (Jacob) took from the stones of the place which he arranged around his head, and lay down in the place”. Shortly after, in verse 18, we read that “Jacob arose early in the morning and took the stone that he placed around his head and set it up as a pillar”.

On a syntactic level, this begs the question. What happened in the interim? How did the “stones” (plural) in the evening become one “stone” by morning?

The Midrash explains that prior to retiring for the evening, Jacob placed twelve stones under his head as a support. These stones can be interpreted to symbolize the twelve tribes that will be descended from Jacob. The Midrash continues and explains that during the night, the twelve stones argued, each vying for the privilege of being THE stone on which Jacob would rest his head. By morning, these twelve stones had merged to form one stone – each unique, yet all united as one structure.

How can we expand on this concept? Our world, our nation, our community, our school. We are comprised of a beautiful and diverse group of people. We each have a unique perspective, a unique skill set, and yes, we even have certain biases. By virtue of being born into this world, we were all given the gift of being able to affect those around us. I truly believe that it is our duty to recognize, capitalize and act on our individual strengths, while at the same time appreciate that there are other ways of viewing the world. Similar to the symbolism suggested in this Parasha where many stones joined to form one, we must also find a way to work together so we too can coalesce into one unit that supports the very foundations that help build our strong school, our strong communities, our strong nation and our strong world.

Not only does it take a village, but it takes a smart village with members who can not only recognize and build on their own strengths but who can appreciate the unique and different contributions of those who surround them. Twelve stones joining together to become one cornerstone should serve as our model for what it takes to build a viable nation.

Shabbat Shalom!

 

Kim (Slovin) Linsider graduated from the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) in 1988 and Yeshiva High School of Atlanta (AJA Upper School) in 1993. She and her husband Jed live in Atlanta and have 3 children  currently attending  AJA – Nate (Class of ’18), Eitan (Class of ’20) and Eliana (Class of ’25). Kim is a Speech Language Pathologist who specializes in Corporate Speech and Accent Training. 

    

Continue reading
0 Comments

Parshat Toldot - Dog Day Afternoon

Written by Benyamin Cohen - (YA '93)

It was fourteen years ago this week that I adopted my first puppy. I had grown up deathly afraid of dogs (I’m not sure why), but as I got older I knew it was an irrational fear. So I slowly started hanging around dogs more and even dog-sat for a friend. I was finally ready to make the leap.

I went to the Atlanta Humane Society and picked out a four-month-old Chow-Retriever mix with a sweet disposition. I took him home and didn’t quite know what to do with him. For the first hour, we just sat there staring at each other, both new to this situation.

As puppies go, he was remarkably well-adjusted. He had no interest in chewing on the furniture and was, for the most part, already house trained. He instantly took to just hanging out on the couch with me and watching TV.

However, he was a little skittish in those early days. When he got scared – like when he heard loud thunder – he would go running into his crate. It was a safe zone for him and he knew nothing bad would happen to him in there. Eventually, he started voluntarily spending time in his crate just to chill out.

Believe it or not, the puppy’s behavior reminded me of something from this week’s Torah portion.

Among other things, this week's Torah portion of Toldot discusses the way in which Jacob and Esau grew up. There was the bookish Jacob (for some reason, I always pictured him playing chess) and there was the athletic Esau, out for a hunt.

The Torah states, in Genesis 25:27, that Jacob was a man of his tent, opting to stay in his comfort zone and not go out into the world. For a moment there, it reminded me of my dog’s behavior in those early days. Complacent to just remain in his crate, even when there were other things he could be doing. As we all know, Jacob eventually left his tent, his comfort zone, and went on to become the father of the Jewish people.

In our daily lives, the path of least resistance will always lead us to stay in our own comfort zones. Sure, that can mean being somewhat of a homebody (a group of which I am a charter member). But it can also be taken more metaphorically: choosing to lead an easy existence instead of opting to enter the harsh realities of the real world. Going down the simple paths, the ones that don't challenge us much, is not necessarily the most productive way to go through life.

Like Jacob in this week’s Torah portion, we have to leave the nest, spread our wings, and grow. We don't want to be the same people today as we will be 25 years from now. Jewish philosophy teaches us not be religiously stagnant, comparing our spiritual journey to climbing a ladder. The sages teach us that if we are not moving forward, then we are not moving at all.

After a short while, my puppy began venturing more and more out of his little area, slowly realizing that there is a whole world out there waiting for him. If only we could all learn that so quickly.

 

Benyamin Cohen graduated the Hebrew Academy of Atlanta (AJA Lower School) in 1988 and Yeshiva High School of Atlanta (AJA Upper School) in 1993. While in high school, he was the editor of the student newspaper. That experience led him to create Torah from Dixie (a newsletter and book about the weekly Bible portion), Jewsweek (one of the first online Jewish magazines) and to write “My Jesus Year,” a book about his experience visiting 52 churches. He is now a journalist and resides in Morgantown, West Virginia with his wife Elizabeth and two dogs.

 

Continue reading
0 Comments

Parashat Toldot

Parashat Toldot

This was written by Shilo Creizman in the first grade with assistance from Morah Yifat Asulin.

Rivka knew that Yaakov, not Eisav, should receive the blessings from Yitzchak. To help make this happen, Rivka told Yaakov to pretend that he was Eisav by wearing hairy goat skins when he went to his father. Since Yitzchak was blind, he would think that Yaakov was Eisav based on how he felt. However, the way Eisav and Yaakov felt was not the only noticeable difference between them! They also spoke very differently. Yaakov said Hashem’s name often and spoke nicely and gently all the time, while Eisav never spoke in this manner.

 

Question: These blessings were extremely important! Why didn’t Rivka tell Yaakov to speak rudely like Eisav in addition to dressing up like him - this way Yitzchak would not get suspicious whether he was really Eisav or not?! In fact, when Yaakov went to Yitzchak, it was the way that Yaakov spoke which made Yitzchak unsure of whom he was talking to.

"הקול קול יעקב והידיים ידי עשו"

(the voice is the voice of Yaakov but the hands are the hands of Eisav)

 

Answer: Even if you dress like Eisav, you can NEVER speak disrespectfully like Eisav, even one time. One must act with Derech Eretz (the way of the land) even if it would mean losing these very important blessings! Think about it… what lesson(s) can you learn from this?

 

Shilo’s Lesson Learned: "I learned that you should always use nice, beautiful and kind words, and speak with Kavod to every person".   

 

Shabbat Shalom,

Shilo Creizman, First Grade

 

 

 

 

Continue reading
0 Comments

Parsha - Chayei Sarah

Written by Danny Frankel, AJA Board President (YA '79)

 

In this week’s parsha, Chayei  Sarah, we find the following verse: “Avraham was old, well advanced in years and G-d had blessed Avraham with “Bakol” (everything)."

Upon an initial reading, this verse does not appear especially noteworthy as we know that Avraham was a wealthy, successful man with an abundance of material possessions. However, we know that Avraham, in many ways, had a difficult life. We are all very familiar with the tests that Avraham endured; at the end of last week’s parsha, we read about the binding of Isaac and at the beginning of this week’s parsha, Sarah dies and Avraham negotiates a deal so he can bury his wife.

So what does it mean that Avraham was blessed with everything?  Our commentators are also fascinated by this question and offer various explanations. 

Some argue that the wording coincides with Avraham setting the wheels in motion to arrange for his son to be married. Through this marriage, he would have grandchildren and his legacy would be assured. Others posit that Avraham literally had a daughter whose name was “Bakol.” Another opinion is that after Sarah’s death, Yishmael comes to offer comfort and family harmony is restored.

Rabbi Sacks offers a profound interpretation of this verse. Throughout the prior torah readings, G-d has promised Avraham a land and a multitude of offspring; and yet we see as the parsha begins that Avraham has no land and he has no progeny. However, in the course of this week’s parsha, Avraham purchases a small plot of land and he has set the path for Isaac to get married. While it may not have been equal to what he had envisioned when G-d made those grandiose promises, he could finally begin to see that his destiny would be fulfilled.

Rabbi Sacks then adds: Lao-Tzu, the Chinese sage, said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. To that Judaism adds, “It is not for you to complete the work but neither are you free to desist from it” (Avot 2:16).

The story of Avraham is one of faith. His life was characterized by an unwavering belief and faith in G-d. This attribute enabled him to overcome life’s challenges and difficulties while remaining gracious and righteous.  When you have this type of faith, you are confident that G-d’s hands are in all aspects of your life – the good as well as the difficult. Avraham was “blessed in everything” because he had faith and was able to see G-d in everything that he experienced.

The message of faith, belief and optimism is incredibly fitting to share on this day when we mark the yahrtzeit of my father, Avraham Ephraim, who inspired a family and community living and personifying these qualities.

 

 

 

 

Continue reading
0 Comments

Parshat Vayeira: Stepping Outside of our Tents

written by Alumni, Rebecca Stein (AJA ‘10)

Parshat Vayeira begins with God appearing to Abraham. To set some context, Abraham is recovering from his recent circumcision, which had occurred three days earlier according to Rabbi Chama ben Chanina. In an abrupt narrative turn, Abraham sees three men passing by his tent. He greets the men and welcomes them into his tent, where he and his wife Sarah prepare them a meal, letting them rest and wash their feet. We later learn that the guests are in fact angels disguised as men, as they predict that Sarah will give birth despite her old age, and they save Lot and his daughters from the destruction of Sodom.

I’ve learned about this episode a number of times throughout my Jewish day school years, and my teachers have always attached the story to its obvious messages: the values of hospitality, kindness to strangers...all essential lessons for kids to learn.

Rereading the story recently, I was struck by Abraham’s actions in a way that I hadn’t been before. In particular, it became clear to me that rather than hosting the passersby in a reactive manner, Abraham actively seeks them out, revealing his deep desire to offer a place of refuge for anyone in need.

This all becomes clear with a close read of the story.

The first verse of Vayeira reads: “Now the Lord appeared to him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent when the day was hot” (Bereshit 18:1). According to Rashi, Abraham is purposely seated at the entrance of his tent “to see whether there were any passersby whom he would bring into his house.” In choosing this positioning, Abraham expresses his intention to seek strangers to take in.

The story continues as Abraham greets the men: “And he lifted his eyes and saw, and behold, three men were standing beside him, and he saw and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent, and he prostrated himself to the ground” (18:2). Despite his condition (being on day three of his circumcision recovery), when Abraham sees the strangers, he runs toward them and prostrates himself. He expresses such an eagerness to greet these strangers that the reader might forget that Abraham is in a painful situation of his own.

Casting his pain aside, Abraham brings the strangers in with the utmost grace. Rashi comments on verse 18:2, noting that it mentions twice that Abraham saw. To explain this redundancy, Rashi says, “The first is to be understood according to its apparent meaning [i.e., and he saw], and the second means ‘understanding.’ He observed that they were standing in one place, and he understood that they did not wish to burden him. And although they knew that he would come out toward them, they stood in their place out of respect for him, to show him that they did not wish to trouble him, and he went out first and ran toward them.” Thus, Abraham runs toward the strangers, anticipating their desire to not be a burden and initiating the encounter by treating the strangers with dignity.

In just these first few verses of this week’s parsha, we discover an element of Abraham’s character that goes far beyond his hospitality and kindness. At a time when Abraham could have understandably been sitting in his tent recovering from what would have been a major procedure for someone his age, he places himself at the entrance of his tent, committed to taking in anyone seeking relief from the heat. Despite his own condition, he makes it his responsibility to provide for others what they are unable to provide for themselves, and to do so with profound respect and sensitivity.

On the heels of the election, it’s hard to ignore the relevance of this story to the current state of the world. Regardless of one’s political views, this is undoubtedly a time of much uncertainty for many groups, from those facing danger in other countries and seeking refuge here, to the many people living in America who are fearful for their own safety and well being. And for those who are not facing imminent threats, it might be easy to become complacent and to retreat into your comfortable and unthreatened worlds, especially as the election fades further into the past.  

But rather than hiding out in our tents and withdrawing into our own troubles as they arise, now is a time for us to learn from Abraham. Regardless of our personal situations, we must recognize that there are others facing great fear and danger and that we may be in the position to identify their needs and to protect them. We must step outside of our tents, as difficult as it may be for us, and make it our responsibility to reflect on the urgent needs of others and to offer a hand to those who are threatened by these turbulent times. And as Abraham did, we should do our best to anticipate the sensitivity and discomfort that might come along with being helped, with the ultimate goal of serving our fellow men and women as thoughtfully and respectfully as possible.

 

 

Rebecca Stein is a graduate of AJA Lower School (2006) and Upper School (2010). She holds a BA in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics (PPE) from the University of Pennsylvania and is now working at a business and technology think tank in New York City. 

 

Continue reading
0 Comments