I recently interviewed Adit Romano, co-founder of Freedom Farm the first farm animal sanctuary in Israel. The sanctuary’s educational mission is rooted in a place of non-judgment, love and compassion. Its approach is engaging people across the nation’s political, social, economic and religious boundaries. Click here to read the full story, originally posted on the Jewish Food Experience.
This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the responsibility of the Israelites to bring an offering of first fruits (bikkurim) after they’ve entered the land of Israel. “He brought us to this place, and He gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And now, behold, I have brought the first of the fruit of the ground which you, O Lord, have given to me.” (26:9-10)
Fruit offerings were later replaced with prayers but the purpose and intention are the same. As my teacher, Diane Bloomfield of “Torah from Jerusalem” explains, each day is the potential for both the physical world and humans to renew through prayer and actions. Despite the darkness that shrouds much of the world, we are commanded by God, as caretakers of the world, to illuminate dark places through mitzvot (actions). Such behaviors enable us to connect more deeply to God and renew ourselves and the world.
The title of this week’s parsha, Chayei Sarah (the life of Sarah), is a bit misleading at it is book-ended by the deaths of Sarah and Avraham. But, it is also filled with a celebration of life. Avraham dies in old age, but only after ensuring his progeny through the marriage of his son, Isaac, to Rebecca. It is a story of the spiraling cycles of our lives and the continuation of our legacies through the generations of our families.
We continue our lives even when are family and friends pass. And, upon death, we each return to the soil that initially gave us life. The simplest matter that we become upon death–dirt and dust–also brings us forth to the beauty, complexities and interconnectedness of life on Earth. Deep in the ground is the source of our nourishment and life for all: water, and soil.
In the parsha we learn that at Avraham’s request, his servant journeyed to find a wife for Isaac, bringing ten camels with him. The camels were brought to a well where the women of the town collected water each evening. As Rabbi Shai Held notes, Rebecca offered the camels water without the servants prompting. “She is so kind that she does more than she is asked, and beyond her concern for people, she cares also for the needs of animals.” Continue reading
Lech Lecha tells the story of the birth of the Jewish people through Avraham’s prophecy. God tells Avram, “I will bless you and make you a great nation.” As Diane Bloomfield taught this week about Lech Lecha, “God is bringing in a radical new creation with different qualities of what it means to be a human being and the potential becoming of a Jewish nation that brings blessings into the world.”
In the parsha, Avraham is sent on a challenging journey to unknown land, despite God’s promise to protect him and Sarah. It is fraught with dangers, famine, and personal challenges. As Yael Shy wrote, the unknowingness of journeys can create unease and fear in oneself, as is true for Avraham. But, as she continued, “God is telling Abraham to stop trying to predict or figure out or gain control of what that which he is not in control.”
His journey is not about where he has been or his previous actions but where he is going and the potential for the future. He’s a baal teshvua: someone who lives in the process of what he can become, not what he did, according to Diane Bloomfield.