Friday, November 30, 2012

Truly Living: Parashat Vayishlach

     What does it mean to have truly lived?  This question is one of the most central in the history of philosophy, but often elicits trite and unfulfilling responses.  However, in the week’s portion, Vayishlach, Rashi provides a very moving and instructive response to this question.  In Genesis 32:5, Jacob claims that he lived with Laban for several years.  In the typical Jewish fashion, this seemingly straightforward and factual assertion leads to in-depth and surprising interpretations.  In Hebrew, the term “garti,” can mean that Jacob lived in the place, or it can mean that Jacob was a ger, a stranger.  No matter how long Jacob lived in that house with his relatives, he was never fully integrated into the family, and his status was never elevated above that of a stranger.  This statement tells us a great deal about the alienation that Jacob felt, and how vicious of a host Laban was.  We can be strangers anywhere, even in our own homes and in the context of our own families.
     The other interesting insight that Rashi makes is that the term garti, in Gematria(an accounting of the numerical values of each letter of the word) adds up to 613 – the number of mitzvot that are said to be contained in the Torah.  Even though Jacob lived in a place devoid of Torah values, he managed to stay true to all of the commandments of his tradition.  Jacob’s moral standing in our tradition is open to debate, but in this context, he managed to stay true to his upbringing and to Divine Law, even when it was excruciatingly difficult.
     What does it mean to have lived?  It means to maintain your sense of integrity – to be the same person with the same values in every locale.  In this context, Jacob does not live a fragmented life – being a Jew in one context, and someone else in another.  Rather, he stays true to his values in all places and times.  Jacob lives most of his life as a wanderer and a refugee, but he dwells in the stable territory of his unchanging values. 
       Our lives are such precious gifts.  Our most important obligation as Jews is to love life and live truly as moral humans and committed Jews.  This does not mean taking the path of greatest pleasure, but rather living a life of integrity, consistency, and righteousness. 

B’vrachot (with blessings),

Rabbi Isaacs    

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jewish Law Class 1: The Need for Jewish Law

Tomorrow we will have our first Jewish Law Class.  It will be at Selah Tea Cafe at 6:30 pm.

If you'd like to see the text in advance, click here.

Our first topic will be, "Why Isn't Faith Enough?  The Need for Jewish Law."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Reminiscences and Recipes is Out!

Barbara Jolovitz, Beth Israel Congregation member, has been published!

You can learn more about her book and purchase a copy here: 

Mazal Tov to Barbara!  I cannot wait to read the work in its entirety. 

Commitment to Community Service

Dear Friends,

After our congregational meeting, we decided that our congregation needs to make a greater commitment to Tikkun Olam, repairing our world.

We have created a google document where you can sign up to volunteer and donate to those in need. The five opportunities that we have listed are:

1) Helping at the Waterville Evening Sandwich Program (ESP) on Thursdays.
2) Providing pastoral care at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter (any night)
3) Donating to the Hurricane Sandy Relief Fund/ Mazel Day School in Brooklyn
4) Aiding in synagogue upkeep.
5) Becoming a Beth Israel Congregation Hebrew School Aid (Thursday afternoons)

You can find more detailed information about each of these opportunities, and sign up for a shift by clicking the link below:

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Link to Online Talmud Class

The link is live!  If you want to join our 7:30 pm Talmud class tonight, click this link:

If you can't make the class, it'll be on youtube when we're done!

Hope to virtually see you there!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Online Talmud Class begins this Thursday evening!

Want to learn Talmud with Rabbi Isaacs via the internet?

We'll have our first online Talmud class at 7:30 pm on Thursday evening.

If you want to read the text in advance, you can download it by clicking here.  It is a selection from the Ein Yaakov, tractate Ta'anit.

Here are the instructions on how to prepare your computer:

and click on “Install voice and video chat”. It will take a few minutes, so let it finish its installation. Depending on your computer, you may have to restart before it will work.
2) Go to

and sign in with your gmail account if you have one (if not, click on ‘sign up’ at the top)
a. It will ask you to sign up for Google+…make sure you do this!

3) When it asks you to ‘add people’, search for “Rachel Isaacs” and add me! (it’s the one with a picture of me in a black robe and red academic scarf -- see above.)

4) A half hour before the class, I will send out an email to everyone of my google+ friends with a link to the class. Click on the link and wait to see me!!