Vayera: The “Other”

Vayera roasted peppers dips

Vayera roasted peppers dips

This week’s parsha, Vayera, is filled with ethical challenges:  Sodom and Gomorrah, the binding of Issac, and the departure of Hagar and Ishmael. But, at the beginning of the parsha, Sarah and Abraham welcome three unexpected strangers to their tent. They wash their guests feet, bake bread and slaughter a calf for them for dinner.

Shortly after Abraham and Sarah’s generosity to the strangers, we are brought to the horrors of Sodom and Gomorrah. The people of Sodom and Gomorrah lived in a land of material abundance but followed the ethic, “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” (Pirkei Avot). No one took care of sick, vulnerable people. As Aviva Goldbert of the Pardes Institute writes, “the people of Sodom and Gomorrah are utterly destroyed because, according to many commentators, they wouldn’t help the “other”: the poor, the hungry, the weak, the needy.”

We Americans live in a land today of great wealth. But, how do we share it? As I’ve written previously, there are 46.5 million hungry people in the US, including 12 million children and 7 million seniors. I live in Los Angeles–a city with hundreds of farms within hours of our city limit, countless urban gardens and some of the nation’s best restaurants–but there are 1.7 million hungry residents.  These are the “others” in our cities and country: food insecure Americans who go to bed hungry, not necessarily knowing when they will next eat. Continue reading

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Bereshit: Creation and Stewardship

We start again this Shabbat at the beginning with Bereshit. The universe is created out of nothingness by God. “The earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water.” God creates light and dark, sky and earth, water and land, humans and all of the plants, animals insects, birds and others creatures of our planet, six days and Shabbat. The preciousness and chaos of the complex universe that God makes comes forth from separations, distinctions , enumerations and accountings. In our biosystems, and particularly our humanity, there is great diversity.

FullSizeRender_1Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar writes, “among other things, then, the biblical creation story is like a hymn to biodiversity, which is seen as unambiguously good in its own right. For the Torah, then, creation is precious in its own right.”

This story is not about dominion over the earth but  our being accountable  for stewardship of all that God created. Rabbi Held continues, “the meaning of ‘but the earth He gave over to humanity’ is that the human being is God’s steward (pakid) over the earth and everything that is on it, and she must act according to God’s word.”

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