Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jewish Short Story Class: Dara Horn

Click here to access the story for this week's class!

Sunday, December 15, 2013

American Jewish Short Stories: Cynthia Ozick

A new story from Cynthia Ozick:  Envy, or Yiddish in America.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Beth Israel Movie Night: A World Apart

Please join us for our first Beth Israel movie night!  In honor of Nelson Mandela, we will be watching the film, "A World Apart." about Jewish resistance to apartheid in South Africa.

December 21, 2014

Beth Israel Congregation (Kelsey St. Entrance)

Dairy potluck dinner at 5:30 pm (Vivian Flamm making chile -- people are encouraged to bring salads and desserts.)

Screening will begin at 6 pm -- conversation to follow.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Beth Israel Chanukkah Party in the Online Sentinel!

Check out these beautiful photographs!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Taking Hold of Your Story: Parashat Vayigash

           How many teenage boys would be willing and able to tend to their mother's bed sores after a long day of school and football?  Not many -- but the day after thanksgiving, I read the most incredible story of a high school football player who does this daily, and lives a deeply inspirational life.  Even though he has yet to read the age of legal maturity, he maintains a 3.5 GPA at his high school, is a star athlete, and cares for his severely disabled mother all by himself.  His life could have been a lost cause, but he has crafted a life of unparalleled beauty and strength.  Any of us who think we cannot handle our many responsibilities should read the story of this incredible young man, Quai Jefferson.  In many ways, his life reminds us of the struggles and triumph of our protagonist in this week's parasha, Joseph.
           Joseph's mother dies while giving birth to his younger brother and while he is still young.  All of his older brothers hate him because his father favors him and he doesn't have the self-awareness to act humbly. Then his brothers throw him into a pit with the initial plan of killing him, only to "take mercy" upon him and sell him to slave traders.  He ends up in a foreign country where people discriminate against him for his national origin. Once he makes it to that country, he ends up in jail for being falsely accused of raping his boss' wife.  If all those things happened to you, what are the chances that you could rise to national prominence and forgive all those who hurt you?  It would be a huge struggle, but Joseph manages to do all of these things over the course of his life.
           I have often wondered why so many chapters of the Bible are dedicated to the Joseph story.  He is not considered one of our patriarchs, and his sons do not play the biggest role in the future of our people. However, the more that I return to his story, the more I realize how important he is as a role model for crafting an impressive life, and a faithful Jewish life in the privileged diaspora.  In this week's Torah portion, we begin with the story of Joseph reuniting with his brothers in Genesis 44 (Rashi's commentary is in the gray, thanks to

3And Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence.ג. וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו אֲנִי יוֹסֵף הַעוֹד אָבִי חָי וְלֹא יָכְלוּ אֶחָיו לַעֲנוֹת אֹתוֹ כִּי נִבְהֲלוּ מִפָּנָיו:
they were startled by his presence: Because of embarrassment. [From Tanchuma Vayigash 5]נבהלו מפניו: מפני הבושה:
4Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come closer to me," and they drew closer. And he said, "I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.ד. וַיֹּאמֶר יוֹסֵף אֶל אֶחָיו גְּשׁוּ נָא אֵלַי וַיִּגָּשׁוּ וַיֹּאמֶר אֲנִי יוֹסֵף אֲחִיכֶם אֲשֶׁר מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי מִצְרָיְמָה:
Please come closer: He saw them drawing backwards. He said,“Now my brothers are embarrassed” (Tanchuma Vayigash 5). He called them tenderly and pleadingly and showed them that he was circumcised (Gen. Rabbah 93:10).גשו נא אלי: ראה אותם נסוגים לאחוריהם, אמר עכשיו אחי נכלמים, קרא להם בלשון רכה ותחנונים, והראה להם שהוא מהול:
5But now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that God sent me before you.ה. וְעַתָּה | אַל תֵּעָצְבוּ וְאַל יִחַר בְּעֵינֵיכֶם כִּי מְכַרְתֶּם אֹתִי הֵנָּה כִּי לְמִחְיָה שְׁלָחַנִי אֱלֹהִים לִפְנֵיכֶם:
to preserve life: Heb. לְמִחְיָה, to be to you a preserver of life. [From Targum Jonathan]למחיה: להיות לכם למחיה:

It would have been easy for Joseph to give up on life during his two years in prison, but he uses that time to interpret the dreams of his fellow inmates.  It would have been easy for Joseph to lose faith in the God who allowed so many calamities to befall him.  It would have been easy for Joseph to hold onto a smoldering grudge against his brothers who cruelly deceived him and sold him into slavery.  It would have been understandable for him to humiliate them once he rose to a position of great prominence and power. However, Joseph does not do what is understandable or reasonable or expected.
        He does not need a defender to explain his sins in light of his terrible and traumatic childhood.  He rises above, puts his gifts to use for the sake of the public good, and according to the Torah text and Rashi, goes out of his way to reveal the truth of his identity without humiliating them or scaring his brothers.  Joseph maintained his faith in a foreign land, endured great spiritual and physical pain, and yet, crafted a gorgeous life.  He did not spend his time constructing excuses or polishing his tale of woe; he saw the opportunity to serve God and save lives in the deepest, darkest depths.  He used his gifts for the good of an entire empire and to put his broken family back together again.
          Our world needs fewer sad stories and excuses for poor behavior.  We need women and men who take hold of their stories, adapt to their circumstances, overcome them, and work their hardest to share their gifts with a very broken world.  Moses may have delivered the law, but Joseph shows us through example what a life of integrity looks like.  Even when he rises to power and could easily forget his faith and family, he lives to be a man who not only saves Egypt, but also brings honor to the legacies of his parents, Jacob and Rachel. Let us all endeavor to emulate Joseph's example -- letting go of pain and looking for solutions that not only save ourselves, but also heal our world.

Shabbat Shalom


Monday, November 18, 2013

American Jewish Short Stories

Melanie Weiss, M.A. will be teaching a class on American Jewish short stories on Monday nights. (Check the Beth Israel Class page for times and dates).

Here are two of the texts for the class:

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Holy Work in Waterville, Maine!

Excited to share this beautiful article from Colby Magazine on the collaboration between Beth Israel Congregation and Colby College Hillel.  What a blessing to serve this community!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Beth Israel Chanukkah Party: Wednesday, December 4, 2013 at 5:30 pm

We need your help making this year's Chanukkah Party a success.  Please, do something to help!  It is a huge mitzvah for the community and our board:

Sign up here:

Online Class: Jewish Short Stories

Melanie Weiss will begin her series on Jewish Short stories next week!

Click here for the first text in the series!

To connect to Mel one google+

 1) Go to 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 "Melanie Weiss" and add me!

4) An 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!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


Please join us for an incredible weekend of spiritual and dynamic Judaism in Maine.  The kirtan rabbi will be performing throughout the State of Maine this weekend.  Check out his schedule below, and RSVP to the facebook invitation if you are planning on attending one of his events!

Friday, November 1, 2013 from 6:00-8:00 pm. Colby College Alumni Center (Parker Reed Room) in Waterville, Maine.  Dairy Potluck and Kabbalat Shabbat service.

Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 11:00 am.  Tai Chi Hike Service at Colby College. (Weather permitting, in front of President's House off Mayflower Hill Drive.  Otherwise in "LoPo" in the student center.)

SaturdayNovember 2, 2013 at 7:00 pm. Havdallah Concert at Temple Beth El in Augusta. Co-sponsored by Adas Yoshuron Synagogue, Rockland.

Sunday, November 3, 2013 from 2:00-4:00 pm at Beit Ha'am in South Portland. Co-sponsored by Adas Yoshuron Synagogue, Rockland

Take a look at some of what the kirtan rabbi does!


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Yasher Koach Ethan Metzger

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Brisket Tastes Better with Friends: Parashat Vayera

      Have you ever noticed that food tastes better when someone else makes it?  Also, with rare exception, we enjoy food more when we savor it with good company.  Brisket tastes better with friends.  Brisket tastes exceptional when someone else has prepared it for us.  No matter how delicious the dish, cooking for oneself and eating alone is often a sad business.  Our father Abraham knew this, and therefore, was committed to offering three strangers his best food when they happened across him in the desert:

Genesis 18:5And I will take a morsel of bread, and sustain your hearts; after[wards] you shall pass on, because you have passed by your servant." And they said, "So shall you do, as you have spoken."ה. וְאֶקְחָה פַת לֶחֶם וְסַעֲדוּ לִבְּכֶם אַחַר תַּעֲבֹרוּ כִּי עַל כֵּן עֲבַרְתֶּם עַל עַבְדְּכֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֵּן תַּעֲשֶׂה כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתָּ:

Every year, this verse catches my attention. Rashi teaches us that, "In the Torah, in the Prophets, and in the Hagiographa, we find that bread is the sustenance of the heart."  Bread was the base of every meal in the ancient world.  In the Talmud we learn that without bread there is no Torah learning.  In this parasha we learn that without bread the heart withers.
         Why is bread so important to us?  Is it just because we love to eat?  I think that there are deeper lessons to be learned.  The first lesson is very basic, but one that we are quick to ignore if we are not food insecure.  When we do not have enough to eat, not only do our bodies suffer, but also our souls.  If we do not know whether we will have enough food to feel satisfied throughout the day, we cannot focus on anything else.  It becomes difficult to be kind, considerate, creative, or even rational.  When we provide food for the stranger or the person in need, we not only sustain their bodies, but allow them to attain emotional stability and spiritual peace.
          Additionally, in Jewish culture, we show love through food.  Sometimes this can be an unhealthy impulse, but there is also a deep beauty in sharing our resources, our energy, and our care.  Words are cheap, but a beautiful meal is not.  Words can also be complicated.  How do you express deep care for people in your community?  How do you express your love for and commitment to a fellow Jew if you have never met before (without being totally creepy)?  I have found the best way to express those feelings in a healthy and effective way is by providing meals.  On one hand, it seems silly to focus so much on food, but there are good reasons why our rabbis commanded us to prepare festive meals for our major holidays.
           In the wake of the most recent Pew Study on Jews and Judaism, the leaders of the Jewish world are in hysterics once again about how to save the Jewish people.  We rush to create new programs, fund new non-profits, and write editorials that will convince Jews to remain committed to their culture, people, homeland, and faith.  I think we need to look back to the wisdom of our sages and some of their solutions: food and hospitality.  In my view, the one thing that characterizes effective and transformational Jewish leaders is an obvious love for the Jews they encounter.  I have seen this love expressed by rabbis of every denomination, and leaders in every Jewish vocation.  They approach their work and the people they serve with love. Once that love is expressed, the relationships created come to sustain healthy and vibrant communities.
       For a variety of historical and cultural reasons, we are disinclined to speak about love.  How do you operationalize love?  Doesn't expressing love connote an inappropriate boundary violation?  Love is a hard value to pin down, and an even harder one to put into practice in a world so wary of intimacy.  However, I think we lose out when we do not talk about ahavat Yisrael openly because I believe it is the necessary ingredient in securing our Jewish future.  I do believe our people will be sustained one home-made brisket (or vegan alternative) at a time.  Care and conversation comprise the spiritual foundation of our community, and both are better served with food.
        We learn in the Talmud, "“Receiving guests is of greater [importance] than greeting the Divine Presence.” (Shabbat 127a)  This mitzvah is of such great importance that we can break other laws of Shabbat in order to make room for unexpected guests at our table.  Why are the rabbis so passionate about hospitality?  Because we show God our greatest love by caring for The Divine's creations.  Because the covenant cannot be maintained without love among our people.  This week we will have our second annual Beth Israel/Colby Hillel Home Hospitality Shabbat.  If you are in Waterville, please participate.  If you are further away, take this week's portion as an opportunity to invite someone into your home that is hungry for sustenance -- physical, spiritual, or both.  The love you express with that meal will not only evidence your commitment to The Eternal One and bring greater richness into your own life, it will also secure the future of our people and the covenant that sustains all of us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Online Talmud Study Tonight!: Do We Actually Stone the Wicked Son?

One of the most disturbing parts of the Torah is the commandment to stone the wicked and rebellious son.  Are moderns the only folks disturbed by this injunction?  How did the rabbis deal with this complex and troubling passage?

We will discuss tonight, October 10, 2013 at 7:30 pm on google+.

You can access the text here.


1) Go to 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)
4) An 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!

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Shepherd’s Journey: The Story of Israel’s First Bedouin Diplomat

Ishamel Khaldi, Counselor for Civil Society Affairs, 
Embassy of Israel, London

Monday, October 21, 2013 / 7:00 p.m. / Pugh Center

A Shepherd’s Journey is Ishmael Khaldi’s unique story of transformation from his modest village roots to his triumph as Israel’s first bedouin diplomat and voice of reason in the Middle East. Born into a traditional Bedouin family in a poor Bedouin village in northern Israel, Ishmael Khaldi’s road has not been an easy one. From his early days as a sheepherder to his schoolboy “fights,” his terrifying first forays into the mysterious New York subway system, and later, his remarkable friendships with Jews and Muslims, religious and secular, on two continents, Ishmael Khaldi’s life has been full of adventure and love, humor and pathos. This is a story that will inspire, educate and charm, told with authenticity and passion, as only a Bedouin can tell it.
Ishmael Khaldi, born and raised in a Bedouin village in Israel, served in the Israeli Defense Forces, Defense Ministry and the Israeli Police before being chosen to join the Foreign Ministry. He was Deputy Consul General in San Francisco from 2006-2009.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Jewish Law Class Returns! Ethnicity and Jewish Identity, A Discussion

 Tomorrow, October 3, 2013 at 7:30 pm at the Thai Bistro in downtown Waterville.

We will be discussing two texts in relationship to one another.  The first will be Maimonides famous, "Letter to Ovadiah the Proselyte," and the second, the recent national study on Jewish Identity published in the New York Times yesterday.   Please print both and bring them with you for a class that promises to be through-provoking and challenging!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Lipman Lecture 2013: Ephraim Halevy, Former Head of the Mossad

States, Regimes, Revolutions, Counter-Revolutions–How Can We Find Our Way in the Middle East of 2013?


Wednesday, October 2 / 7:00 pm / Parker-Reed Room, Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center

Ephraim Halevy directed Israel’s national intelligence agency from 1998-2002 and has also served as chairman of Israel’s national security council.  He played a pivotal role in bringing about Israel’s peace treaty with Jordan. 

Sponsored by the Lipman Family

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Yom Kippur Sermons 5774

Here are my Yom Kippur sermons for 5774:

Evil: What is the nature of evil and how do we respond as a Jewish community?

Mental Health: What is the Jewish response to caring for those who suffer from mental illness?

Looking forward to seeing folks at our Dairy Potluck Shabbat dinner this Friday night at our sukkah on the Colby campus, next to the Foss dining hall -- 6:00 pm. David Gulak will be our guest speaker.

After a full day of repentance, it is time for an awesome week of joy!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Introduction to Judaism classes 10 and 11


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rosh HaShannah Sermons

Rosh HaShannah was a great success at Beth Israel congregation. 

Here are the two sermons delivered for the new year: 

1) Joy. How do we observe the commandment to be joyful? What things can we celebrate as a community? 

 2) Israel. How does one balance her commitments to Zionism and progressive values? How and why should we advocate for our homeland?

G'mar Hatimah Tovah!  May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Rosh HaShannah Message and Fall Newsletter from Colby Hillel!

Dear Friend of Colby College Hillel:

Every Friday night, the smell of freshly baked challah fills the second floor of the Pugh Center as students put the finishing touches on Shabbat dinner. The challot, candles, and wine are rushed to a student lounge for 5:30 pm candle lighting, where dozens of students introduce themselves, sing together, share their best experiences of the week, learn a few words of Torah, and bless the meal that their fellow students have prepared for them. Every Friday night, Colby Hillel provides a home away from home for Jewish students and their friends in Waterville. 

Every week, Colby students are growing into the adults the Jewish future requires. Last year we began pairing Colby students with Hebrew school students from Beth Israel Congregation. One of our seniors, Jacob Marx ‘13, took an hour a week to teach the liturgy to Ethan, one of our bnei mitzvah students.  Not only did Ethan improve his Hebrew reading skills, but both of them also learned what it means to be Jewish men. It means stepping up, giving to your community, and transmitting the values that have sustained our people for generations. This year, three women (Cara Goldfarb ‘17, Sarina Strohl ‘14, and Lyndsey Pecker ‘14) will be working with the congregation and teaching in our Hebrew school, putting Jewish values into action, and strengthening the bonds between Colby Hillel and the Waterville Jewish community.

Every year, our students contribute to High Holiday services in Waterville, and are thanked by a warm and deeply appreciative community. Both of our presidents, Laura Rosenthal ’15 and Ben Zurkow ’15, will read Torah for the second year in a row. One month later, the members of the congregation will welcome Colby students into their homes for Shabbat dinner, providing both a meal and Waterville family they can call their own.

Every day, these students are not only enjoying vibrant Jewish life in this small Maine town, they are creating it.  We should all be very proud.  Please read the newsletter that our students have crafted and consider supporting our holy work at Colby College Hillel. With your support we look forward to continuing this transformative programming and support for Jewish life.

Todah Rabbah and Shannah Tovah! (Many thanks and happy new year),

Rabbi Rachel M. Isaacs
Hillel Director

P.S. We would love to see you homecoming weekend!  Hillel will tailgate with kosher food at the football game Saturday morning, and will host a bagel breakfast Sunday morning in the Hillel Room (Pugh Center, 2nd floor.)

P.P.S. Want to give online?  Visit and write “Colby College Hillel” in the comments section.  You can also write a check to “Colby College” and write Hillel in the memo line.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Complete Schedule of Fall Festivals in Waterville, Maine!

Rosh HaShannah

Wednesday, September 4, 2013, Erev Rosh HaShannah Services 6:00 pm
(Dinner to Follow at 7:00 pm, RSVP to  Cost: $20.00 - Make out Checks to "Colby College Hillel".  Do not bring money to services -- please mail to synagogue in advance.

Thursday, September 5, 2013, Rosh HaShannah Services 9:15 am
Thursday, September 5, 2013, Tashlich at 2:15 pm - meet in synagogue lobby
Friday, September 6, 2013, Second Day Services at 9:15 am

Shabbat Shuvah

Friday, September 6, 2013, Shabbat Shuva Evening Services at 7:00 pm
Saturday, September 7, 2013, Shabbat Shuva Morning Services at 10:00 am

Yom Kippur

Friday, September 13, 2013, Kol Nidre Services 6:00 pm
Saturday, September 14, 2013 Yom Kippur Morning Services 9:15 am
Saturday, September 14, 2013 Yom Kippur Mincha at 6:45 pm
Saturday September 14, 2013 Neilah Service at 7:45 pm
Break the fast Potluck at 8:00 pm.

Sukkot/Shemini Atzeret/Simchat Torah

Friday, September 20, 2013 Potluck Shabbat in the Sukkah with David Gulak 6-8 pm
Thursday, September 26, 2013  Shemini Atzeret Services with Yizkor at 10 am.
Thursday, September 26, 2013 Potluck Dinner and Simchat Torah Celebration 6-8 pm.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Introduction to Judaism: Class 8

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Introduction to Judaism: Class 7

High Holidays at Beth Israel Congregation

High Holiday Schedule for 2013/5774

(All Prayer Services are Free and Do Not Require Tickets)

Rosh HaShannah

Wednesday, September 4, 2013, Erev Rosh HaShannah Services 6:00 pm
(Dinner to Follow at 7:00 pm, RSVP to  Cost: $20.00 - Make out checks to "Colby College Hillel"

Thursday, September 5, 2013, Rosh HaShannah Services 9:15 am
Thursday, September 5, 2013, Tashlich at 2:15 pm - meet in synagogue lobby
Friday, September 6, 2013, Second Day Services at 9:15 am

Shabbat Shuvah

Friday, September 6, 2013, Shabbat Shuva Evening Services at 7:00 pm
Saturday, September 7, 2013, Shabbat Shuva Morning Services at 10:00 am

Yom Kippur

Friday, September 13, 2013, Kol Nidre Services 6:00 pm
Saturday, September 14, 2013 Yom Kippur Morning Services 9:15 am
Saturday, September 14, 2013 Yom Kippur Mincha at 6:45 pm
Saturday September 14, 2013 Neilah Service at 7:45 pm

Exploring Repentence in the Talmud: Online Talmud Class tonight!

What do the rabbis think about teshuva?  How much can be forgiven?  Why would God forgive us our sins?  We'll explore this text together tonight.  Click here to access. 

We'll be discussing folios 86b and 87a which correspond to page 263 and 264 of the pdf document.

See you at 7:30 pm!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Shopping List for a King: Parashat Shoftim

 If you are going to be a king, what do you need to buy?  It is a hard job, and you'll need all the right supplies.  This week's Torah portion, Parashat Shoftim, provides some guidance for what you will need to acquire, and what you will need to avoid if you want to be a successful leader.  If you are familiar with Bible stories, some of the advice may surprise you.

16. Only, he may not acquire many horses for himself, so that he will not bring the people back to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, for the Lord said to you, "You shall not return that way any more."
טז. רַק לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ סוּסִים וְלֹא יָשִׁיב אֶת הָעָם מִצְרַיְמָה לְמַעַן הַרְבּוֹת סוּס וַיהֹוָה אָמַר לָכֶם לֹא תֹסִפוּן לָשׁוּב בַּדֶּרֶךְ הַזֶּה עוֹד:
17. And he shall not take many wives for himself, and his heart must not turn away, and he shall not acquire much silver and gold for himself.
יז. וְלֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ נָשִׁים וְלֹא יָסוּר לְבָבוֹ וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב לֹא יַרְבֶּה לּוֹ מְאֹד:
18. And it will be, when he sits upon his royal throne, that he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah on a scroll from [that Torah which is] before the Levitic kohanim.
יח. וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת עַל סֵפֶר מִלִּפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם:
19. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord, his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to perform them,
יט. וְהָיְתָה עִמּוֹ וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו לְמַעַן יִלְמַד לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהָיו לִשְׁמֹר אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת וְאֶת הַחֻקִּים הָאֵלֶּה לַעֲשׂתָם:
20. so that his heart will not be haughty over his brothers, and so that he will not turn away from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, in order that he may prolong [his] days in his kingdom, he and his sons, among Israel.
כ. לְבִלְתִּי רוּם לְבָבוֹ מֵאֶחָיו וּלְבִלְתִּי סוּר מִן הַמִּצְוָה יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאול לְמַעַן יַאֲרִיךְ יָמִים עַל מַמְלַכְתּוֹ הוּא וּבָנָיו בְּקֶרֶב יִשְׂרָאֵל:

So, to review, in order to be a successful leader, you are going to want to get yourself two Torahs, and scale back on the horses, the precious metals, and the women.  We know that foreign women can lead a king away from Torah (as happened with Solomon), but why is the Torah so concerned with horses, gold, and silver?

Rashi writes this about horses:

he may not acquire many horses for himself: But, only what he needs for his chariots, “so that he will not cause the people to return to Egypt” [to purchase the horses], because horses come from there, as it is said of Solomon (I Kings 10: 29), “And a chariot that went up and left Egypt sold for six hundred shekels of silver, and a horse for one hundred fifty.” - [San. 21b]
לא ירבה לו סוסים: אלא כדי מרכבתו, שלא ישיב את העם מצרימה, שהסוסים באים משם. כמה שנאמר בשלמה, ותעלה ותצא מרכבה ממצרים בשש מאות כסף וסוס בחמשים ומאה (מלכים א' י כט):

There is a clear connection between a certain type of wealth and Egypt.  I think that it is worth exploring this connection further, especially if we think of Egypt's spiritual geography instead of its physical one.  In Hebrew, Egypt is known as Mitzrayim, the root of which is tzarim which means "trouble" or "narrow places."  While we cannot verify the historical veracity of our sojourn in a literal Egypt, we can testify to our struggles in narrow places, and God's ultimate redemption of our people.

Egypt is a place of slavery. Egyptian society puts material wealth before human dignity.   Egyptian faith places the adoration of idols before the worship of The Divine. Egypt is the type of place that views human life as a means to an end, and human suffering as an acceptable currency in the quest for material gain.  A righteous king must avoid Egypt at all costs; he cannot be this callous, and cannot possess these values.

It is for this reason that we learn in our Torah portion that a king should possess two Torahs: one that should remain in his treasury, and another that should always be upon his tongue.  He should endeavor to possess Torah's wisdom completely, and it should be his lodestar at all times.  Once he begins to pursue material and earthly wealth as his primary priority, he will lead the people back to Egypt, even if they never take a physical step toward the country.  He will lead them, and himself, to narrow and dehumanizing places, degrading the power invested in him by his Creator and his people.

We are now entering Elul, the month of reflection before our ultimate moral accounting.  What are you pursuing, and trying your best to acquire?  What model are you presenting to those who follow you?  What is on your shopping list, and what needs to be given away in order to purify your soul and break away from Egypt?  What are you doing to affirm redemption, and journey toward it at all times? 

May we focus this week on shedding that which clouds our judgement and integrity and turn toward Torah for the light of leadership.

Chodesh Elul Tov!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Intro to Judaism: Class 6

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Torah on Tap: Faith, Doubt, and the Holocaust

Join us this Sunday, July 21, 2013 at 5:30 pm at Mainely Brews for our next Torah on Tap. 

We'll be discussing faith and doubt in the aftermath of the Holocaust.  We'll review a variety of texts from poets, theologians, and other scholars about how faith is maintained, transformed, strengthened and lost in the face of tragedy.

Food and drink available to order.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Newsroom Confidential at Adas Yoshuron Thursday, June 27, 7 p.m.

Two prominent award-winning journalists, Lynn Povich and Stephen Shepard, will be at Adas Yoshuron in Rockland talking about the news media —past, present, and future — on Thursday, June 27 at 7 p.m. 

 The talk is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a dessert reception and book signing.

Lynn Povich, the first female Senior Editor at Newsweek, has written “The Good Girls Revolt,” a book about the landmark lawsuit she and 45 other women brought against Newsweek in 1970 for gender discrimination. She will discuss what’s changed — and what hasn’t — for women in the workplace. Lynn is a cousin of AY member Jo Dondis of Camden.

Steve Shepard, the former Editor-in-Chief of Business Week and the founding dean of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, has written an insightful and personal book about one of the most important questions of our times: How will journalism make the transition to the digital age? His memoir, “Deadlines and Disruption,” was published last summer.

Lynn and Steve, who met at Newsweek, have been married for 34 years. An interview with Lynn and Steve will be aired today, Monday, June 24, on MPBN. Please check the MPBN website for details. Please join us on Thursday, June 27 for what promises to be a fascinating look at the world of journalism by two insiders. For more information, call 207-594-4523, or email

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Jewish Law Class at Thai Bistro: Reproductive Technologies

We will be having Jewish Law Class tomorrow:
Thursday, June 20, 2013 at the Thai Bistro at 6:30 pm. 
We will be discussing Jewish law related to conception through artificial means.  What does the halacha say about artificial insemination?  We will focus on that element of Rabbi Dorff's teshuva tomorrow in class.  You can access his opinion here.   Please print in advance if possible!

Introduction to Judaism Class 5

Monday, June 17, 2013

Introduction to Judaism with Melanie Weiss M.A.:Class 4

Monday, June 10, 2013

Introduction to Judaism Online with Melanie Weiss M.A.

Here are class sessions two and three:

Next Online Talmud Class: The Time that Moses Met Rabbi Akiva

Our next online Talmud class with be this Thursday evening at 7:30 pm.

You can access the text here:

Directions for google +:

1) Go to 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)
4) An 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!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Tammuz: Remembering Our Spiritual Center

A new piece I wrote, published on the Keshet blog, about remembering our spiritual center during the Hebrew month of Tammuz.

Chodesh Tov! (Happy New Month!)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

It Isn't About You: Insights from Parashat Korach and Colby's Commencement

Captain Erik Quist '99 and his wife Liz Czernicki Quist ’98
         "It isn't about me."  This was the wisdom that Captain Erik Quist (Colby '99) stated repeatedly in his remarks at Colby's bicentennial honorary degree dinner.  Captain Quist had been seriously injured in Afghanistan, and wanted desperately to return to the Marine Corps after his recovery.  However, if he would be more of a burden than a help to the Corps, he understood that he would have to pursue another path because, after all, "it wasn't about him."  After the September 11th attacks, he left a career in finance to serve God and country, and even after his injury, he has remained committed to that mission.  At the same time, he acknowledged that sometimes individuals need to step back from their personal passions for the sake of achieving a communal mission.  It would have behooved Korach, the protagonist from this week's Torah portion, to have heard Captain Quist's remarks.
          In this week's Torah portion, Korach challenges the authority of Moses and Aaron, and instigates a rebellion.  He and his followers are unwilling to accept that Moses and Aaron should have special leadership roles when God tells Israel that the entire people is holy.  Even though Korach did have a unique role among the people, it was not good enough for him; he believed that there should be no one above him.  Initially, it appears that Korach is organizing for all the right reasons.  He has ostensibly cultivated a community that is committed to radical equality.  However, as the text continues, it is clear that Korach is not really interested in equality as much as deconstructing the established order for his personal advancement.
            In Numbers 16:6, we come across the phrase "korach v’adato", Korach, and his eidah. It appears that he has created an eidah, a community, separate from the rest of the nation. Indeed, in the Aramaic translation of the Bible, this analysis of Korach’s motivation is read into the beginning of the portion. In 16:1, Onkolus translates" v’yikach korach", and Korach took, as "v’etpaleg korach", and Korach separated himself. This indictment could not have been more clearly articulated than by Moses himself who, angry and exasperated, asks Korach, “המעת מכם כהבדיל אלוקי ישראל אתכם מעדת ישראל?” Is it not enough that God has distinguished you from the rest of the people Israel? “What more do you want?” Moses asks – how special do you want to be? Essentially, Moses and Aaron are calling out Korach, identifying his true colors. Whether or not Korach’s ambitions were initially righteous, throughout the portion he increasingly separates himself from the community – seeking glory instead of justice or the well being of the people Israel.
           When a nation is in the desert struggling for survival, it cannot afford to empower people like Korach.  True leaders understand that they cannot put their egos before God and country if they want to retain the respect of their troops and complete difficult missions.  In Numbers 12:3 we learn that Moses' most outstanding characteristic was that he was the most humble man on earth.  God chose a humble man who was slow with words to lead the people Israel through its most challenging trials, not an eloquent speaker who loved the limelight.  When God chose Moses to lead the people, he was instructing future generations on how to elect and train leaders.
           This week let us be inspired by the example of Captain Quist, and learn from the errors of Korach.   The desire to sacrifice is praiseworthy and important, but sometimes it needs to be channeled in different ways than we would like.  The true test of a leader is whether she can redirect her passions in a way that serves the whole, even when it means sacrificing personal fulfillment.  Let us appoint such individuals to leadership positions, and strive to emulate their integrity and mettle.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Colby Commencement Invocation

For those who could not make it to Colby College's bicentennial commencement, here is my invocation:

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Don't Follow Your Heart?: Lessons from Parashat Shlach L'cha

            One of the worst pieces of advice I have ever given to a friend was to “follow her heart.”  In truth, I did not have the courage to tell her what I really thought, and it seemed to be the most appropriate platitude to end the conversation.  Now Mel and I have an inside joke about that phrase, using it when we do not approve of the other one’s idea, but don’t want to turn it down outright.  Why is telling someone to follow their heart often the worst thing we can do?  In large part because we know, as the Torah tell us, that our hearts often lead us astray.
            In Parashat Shelach l’cha, we come across a Hebrew root that is repeated several times – תור, which can mean to scout, tour, follow, or wander.  It is used in two different contexts in this portion, but these two examples are connected in meaningful ways.  In Numbers 13:16, this verb is used to describe the spies scouting out the Land of Israel (as we remember, most of them bring back a grim report.)  It is also used in Numbers 15:38-39, “Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart [Heb. ve-lo taturu] and eyes in your lustful urge.”
            Dr. Yair Barkai shows us the connections that Rashi and the midrash make between these two verses, “Rashi hints at the connection between the two passages in the beginning of his commentary on Num. 15:38-39:   So that you do not follow your heart – as in ‘scouting the land’ (above, Num. 13:25).   The heart and the eyes are scouts for the body, and are the agents leading it to transgress. The eyes see and the heart desires, and the body commits the transgressions.’ Later Rashi cites Midrash Tanhuma (Shelah, 15), apparently wishing to intimate that the occurrence of the same root in these two parts of the weekly reading indicates a moral connection between the subject matter of each section: the scouts were not just touring the land, they were following the inclinations of their hearts and eyes.”
            Our hearts and our eyes can lead to us toward sin, not just toward knowledge and enlightenment.  In other texts, the question arises, are the eyes or the heart more responsible for our wrongdoing?  The Sifre claims the heart should taken to task because even people who are blind are driven to follow their lustful urges. Our hearts influence what our eyes perceive in the world, and how we make sense of our surroundings.  If we gaze upon the earth with fear, we will see a frightening world.  If we are consumed with lust, we will see temptation everywhere.  If we are hateful in our hearts, we will identify everywhere objects of derision.
            So the question is, how do we influence our hearts to see the world in a more positive and holy way?  This is one of the roles of prayer.  In Judaism we are told that before we pray, we must l’chaven et libeinu, we must orient our hearts.  If we do not know where Jerusalem is, we orient our hearts toward the holy city.  Before the Amidah, we must meditate before we open our mouths in order to say the right words in a way that is pleasing to God.  Prayer is a daily way that we can work on orienting our hearts to seeing the world in a productive way; to focus on wonder and gratitude, instead of resentment and cynicism.  Taking a few minutes each morning to pray (the language does not matter), may lead us to begin seeing the world differently.  When we introduce this spiritual discipline into our lives, we may find ourselves seeing more potential and less peril, observing more opportunities for love and fewer for contempt, and identifying more paths to achieving our personal and communal missions in this world.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Intro to Judaism Syllabus

All students who would like to access the syllabus to Introduction to Judaism with Melanie Weiss, M.A. should click here! Enjoy!