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!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Introduction to Judaism Online: Class 1

The first in a series by Beth Israel Congregation Education Director, Melanie Weiss M.A.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Jewish Law Class Tonight at 6 pm!: The Status of Non-Jews in our Families and Synagogues

The prophet Ezra who was not a fan of Keruv.
Tonight we will have Jewish Law Class at 6:00 pm at Selah Tea Cafe.  We will be discussing the topic of keruv, or "outreach" to non-Jewish members of our families in our synagogues.  This piece was written by the Maine rabbi Harry Z. Sky.  Looking forward to an animated discussion!

You can access the short text in advance here.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Stories from Colby College Hillel

Five students from the Colby College Hillel board have shared their stories about why Colby Hillel matters to them.  Our Hillel may be small, but it is certainly mighty.  Take a moment to hear about the impact that Jewish life at Colby has on their lives.  And if you haven't already, take a look at our most recent newsletter with wonderful contributions from current students and alumni.

   Gabi&Jane '16

       Ben '15

    Laura '15

       Jacob '13

Friday, May 10, 2013

Waterville Jewish Leadership Initiative

We excited to announce a new program for the 2013-2014 academic year.  We have received two generous grants that allow us to choose 2-3 students for a Jewish leadership program next year.  Students will work with Rabbi Isaacs and Beth Israel Congregation Education Director, Melanie Weiss, as Hebrew School teachers and social entrepreneurs in Waterville.  Students will be paid for working on all of the following projects:

1) Teaching Hebrew school with the Beth Israel Congregation (BIC) staff.  Hebrew school is on Thursday afternoons, 3:30-5:30 pm at the Alfond Youth Center.

2) Curriculum development with the BIC staff that endeavors to make Hebrew school more engaging, substantive, and fun.  Each student is expected to write 2 new lesson plans a semester.

3) Participating in advanced Jewish learning with Rabbi Isaacs for 3  1-hour workshops a semester (dates to be determined based on schedules of students,) on subjects of students' choosing.

4) The creation and execution of one Jewish program for the greater Waterville community, that brings new depth and creativity to the local Jewish life.

5) Outreach to new students.

Students do not need to be currently involved in Hillel for this program.  If you are interested, please contact Rabbi Isaacs by June 1, 2013 in order to receive an application.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Shavuot at Beth Israel: A Night of Learning

Beth Israel Congregation Shavuot 

Learning, Eating, and Celebrating Together

Tuesday, May 14, 2013 from 6:00 pm-9:00 pm

(Kelsey Street Entrance)

Schedule for Beth Israel Congregation Tikkun Le'il Shavuot

 Potluck Dairy Dinner (please bring dairy dishes and desserts!)

A short skit by Beth Israel Congregation Hebrew School

Melanie Weiss, M.A: Contemporary Reflections on the Book of Ruth

Michelle Sears (Colby '13): Bringing Feminism, Halakhah, and Social Status Together: Women’s Ordination in American Judaism

Simcha Halpert-Hanson: The Power of a New Name: Choosing for Oneself

Dr. Robert Weisbrot (Colby College Professor): The Legacy of Clara Lemlich: Radical Jewish Woman in the US Labor Movement.

Charlotte Wiesenberg (Colby '13): The New Promised Land:Maine's Summer Camps for Jewish Youth in the Mid-Twentieth Century.

Miles De Klerk (Colby '13): Jews, Maronite Christians, and Food in Waterville's History

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs: Comparing Ezra and Ruth: An Intra-Biblical Debate About Intermarriage?