Saturday, November 15, 2014

From Avraham to Yitzchak


Today’s parsha Chayei Sara ends an era that is very dear to us all – the era of Avraham and Sara. We women of COUNT THE STARS have lived with Avraham and Sara for many months (Avital and I, B”H, for more than a year). Our first matriarch and patriarch are very beloved by us all.
This week, we welcome the new generation of Jewish leadership – Yitzchak and Rivka. We also see many connections to the previous parshiyot with which we are so immersed.
Avraham sent his trusted servant Eliezer to his old home to find a wife for Yitzchak, a wife with the qualities of the Abrahamic family – kindness, chesed (Rivka’s chesed to Eliezer and his camels is legendary) and a recognition of Hashem as G-d. Even Lavan (whom we know is NOT a good-guy) calls Eliezer, “Blessed of Hashem” and agrees that the shiddach between Yitzchak and Rivka “stems from Hashem.”
B”H, Rivka agrees to accompany Eliezer back to Canaan, and they travel to Yitzchak’s encampment.
“Now Yitzchak came from having gone to Beer-lachai-roi, for he dwelt in the south.” Remember that place – where Hagar met the angels for the first time. Sforno writes that this is the place where “Hagar’s prayer had once been answered, and it was there that Yitachak had gone to pray.” Of course, Hashem answered his prayers immediately, because he looked up and ta da da da (triumphant music), there was Rivka his bride.
Rasha says that Yitzchak had gone to Beer-lachai-roi to bring back Hagar to remarry his father. “This follows the tradition that Keturah, Avraham’s second wife was Hagar.”
It even states that after Avraham’s death, Hashem blessed Yitzchak his son, “and Yitzchak settled near Beer-lechai roi”. Isn’t it amazing that Yitzchak understood the holiness of the place - a place worthy of angels - and did not shy away from it, even though this was where Hagar was blessed with a son, Ishmael, “a wild-ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him.”
Lastly, the parsha enumerates the descendants of Ishmael. Ishmael is called “Avraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Avraham.” Yes, he was the son of his wife’s maidservant, but Avraham still looked upon him as a son. When each of Ishmael’s children is named, Rashi explains that here we see that Hashem’s blessing to Hagar at the well was fulfilled, “over his brothers he’ll dwell.” “Ishmael’s descendants would be so numerous that they would have to expand beyond their own borders into those of their brothers.”
We begin the parsha with the death of our beloved matriarch Sara at age 127, and conclude the parsha with the end of the Avraham era (even though he didn’t really die here)  when he was 175 years old. “And Avraham expired and died at a good old age, mature and content, and he was gathered to his people. His sons Yitzchak and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah….”
B”H, Avraham attained a long long life, and eventually one of contentment. Then, his sons, different as they were, and fated with totally different destinies, stood together to bury their father. In fact, Rashi said that Ishmael gave precedence to his younger brother – “and we infer that he repented.”
May Hashem bless our people always. May we have nachas from our children. May we see Hashem’s blessings to Avraham come true fully – “to your seed I will give this land.”

Come see COUNT THE STARS, www.raiseyourspirits.org/tickets.html

Photos by Bati Katz.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Abraham & Sara All Alone

One of the opening numbers in this year's Raise Your Spirits production, COUNT the STARS, is a touching duet between our beloved Patriarch and Matriarch (played here by Avital Macales and Rachel Moore), just as they are embarking upon their lives of teaching and gathering souls under the wings of G-d.
Avram and Sarai have run from their home in Ur Kasdim, and stopped in Charan. Sarai looks around at her new unfamiliar surroundings and strange new life, and shares her thoughts of their alone-ness to her husband.
It's a sweet song, but it tries to convey the difficulties of Avram and Sarai's life. Theirs was an existence of constantly starting again. That is not easy for anyone. Theirs was an existence of always being different and separate and ostracized.
It was a very solitary life. The Stone Chumash says, "Though Avraham and Sarah had many disciples (we call them "souls" in our show), they were essentially alone; they could never blend into whatever culture surrounded them." They didn't have friends to share popcorn with on a Saturday night.
We are reminded that Avam is called Avram HaIvri, not only because he came from the other side of the Euphrates, but because he stood on "one side side of a moral and spiritual divide, and the rest of the world was on the other." He rejected a world of paganism and immorality for what HaRav Soloveitchik calls an "ethical life". And even though Hashem had never said one word to Avram, Avram knew that there was an Infinite Being that ruled the world. He was willing to endure ridicule, hatred and isolation to follow the ways of the Creator. So too, throughout the centuries, Jews have drawn inspiration from our Father Avraham and strengthened themselves to endure anti-Semitism, expulsion, pogroms and all kinds of abuse in order to remain faithful to G-d.
May the Jewish nation always have the fortitude to follow the path of good and of G-d.

Behind the Scenes at COUNT THE STARS: Me'arat HaMachpelah: http://youtu.be/yuj8NCQq_7M

Saturday, October 25, 2014

From Noah to Abraham

Throughout hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, a question has been asked, “Would Noah have been a better person had he lived in the time of Avraham?” Some commentators say, “Yes, definitely! In his generation, he had no support system. Think of what he could have accomplished, had he counted Avraham as a friend.” Others said, “No! In his unworthy generation, he alone was found worthy, but he could not have compared to our Father Abraham.”
I guess we’ve got to wait for Eliyahu HaNavi (Elijah the Prophet) to come to answer that question.
Avraham Saved Noah
I also found another interesting connection between Noah, the second father of mankind, and Avraham, father of the Jewish people.
On Rosh Hashana, we read, “G-d remembered Noah and all the beasts and all the cattle that were with him in the ark, and G-d caused a spirit to pass over the earth and the water subsided. And it is said: G-d heard their groaning, and G-d remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.”
Can you imagine? G-d saved Noah, his family and all the animals of the ark, because of Avraham and his children.
Avraham wasn’t even born yet. He hadn’t passed one trial yet. Yitzchak wasn't yet a dream in his father's eye. But G-d’s time is a continuum – past and future are the same to the Almighty. G-d saved Noah in the ark, because one day a great man named Avraham would be born and repair the wrongs that Noah could not fix. Noah was rescued from a world of violence and robbery, by Avraham who would build a world of kindness and caring.
The Signs of Noah and Avraham
A beautiful fall day, right after the rain. We look up in amazement and see a magnificent rainbow. Whether it is a warning or a wonder, we see the rainbow and remember Hashem’s words, “I have set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of a covenant between Me and the earth.” (Bereishit 9:13)
Pirkei Avot teaches us that ten things were created on the eve of Shabbat, and one of them was the rainbow. G-d created Noah’s rainbow at the beginning of creation, and then waited ten generations to use it as a sign that He would no longer destroy the world.
Two days before that, Hashem created the luminaries and the stars. The stars filled the skies, spreading over the expanse of the universe. Twenty generations later, Avraham was born, and began to change the world for the better. 
Hashem took him outside and said, “Look up high toward the Heavens, and count the stars if you are able to count them!...So shall your seed be!” The stars became a sign, not of punishment or non-destruction, but of countless children, of building a nation, of expanding a people. The stars were Hashem’s sign to Avraham that his children would reach the highest heights and be a Light to the world.
May it be so.

NOAH! Ride the Wave!

The year 2003 was a frightening one. Another year of terror. Another year of tears. For those of us who lived in Israel, it seemed that the whole world was devastated. In every city, on every road, Jews were targeted by Arab terrorists. Arlene Chertoff, Toby Klein Greenwald and I had written and were performing in ESTHER and the Secrets in the King’s Court, the story about Queen Esther and the miraculous rescue of the Jewish people from the hands of the evil Haman.
We performed with a background of almost daily terror. If terror continued, Raise Your Spirits would continue too. Arlene, Toby and I decided to write a new show. We asked ourselves, “How could our world ever rebuild itself after this destruction?” We thought of Noah, who had literally seen the end of the world, and then learned how to rebuild again.
And we wrote a poignant, funny, inspirational, fanciful show, “NOAH! Ride the Wave!” We performed in 2004 to sell out crowds, and we felt ourselves asking, as Noah did, “Why was I saved?” We felt hopeful when we sang, “Fill our world with colors…fill all our days with blessing from Above.”
If Noah could rebuild his world, so could we.


This is the tenth anniversary of “NOAH! Ride the Wave!” As I sat in the synagogue today, I thought of our Animal March as all the creatures of the world marched on to the ark, two by two. I remembered our animal’s talent show (well, what do you think they did for so long on the ark), I imagined the graceful flight of the dove, and the reluctant raven. And I thought of the rainbow, and remembered how we stood one night in Gush Katif, and waved our colored banners to our beautiful rainbow song, and then lifted our orange scarves high above our heads, and cried (photo at top).

















It was quite a show. To see photos and read more about it, you can visit http://www.raiseyourspirits.org/noah.html or http://www.bible-arts.com/productions.htm.

Photo credits Rebecca Flash Kowalsky, www.imagesthroughtime.com and Sharon Katz.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

9-11 and Raise Your Spirits

9-11.
That's the catchy term the world uses. 9-11 and everyone knows what each person is referring to.
The Arab terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in the United States, plus two other attempted sites.

The towers came down in death and destruction, and smoke and steel, and horror and loved-ones-lost.
In Israel where I live, we had been living our own mini-9-11s every day. A shooting here, a suicide bomber there (the most infamous being the Sbarro bombing).
It was a beyond-frightening time for all - so scary that many folks would have just stayed locked up in their homes, rather than face the outside world.
But we women of Raise Your Spirits were determined to go on with life. And, live life ourselves and with our friends and families despite the hells around us.

So on 9-11, we went on! The show went on! Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
We had debates and even borderline- fights with those who disagreed, but we knew we had to go on. If we stopped living life at every terror attack, we'd still be home under the covers.
In addition to that, the WORLD had now just joined the people of Israel in what had been our private trauma.
We needed to be together with others, and we needed to believe that life would go on, that the earth would keep turning.

So after complex discussions, we sent cast members to synagogues around Gush Etzion, collected prayer books and handed them out to our audience.
We turned our performance into a giant prayer rally - 450 women praying together in complete faith. Our performers prayed behind the curtain and the audience in their theatre seats.
And then the show went on - one our best shows ever. The audience weeped and they laughed, and they were able to put the evil world out of their hearts and minds for one hour, as they traveled with us through the stage version of "a silly-sad-serious-shiny" life of Joseph and his brothers. 

And there we stood on 9-11, Raise Your Spirits and our sisters, united, believing, supportive, loving - getting through the worst day the world has known TOGETHER as a family of Jewish women.
[http://raiseyourspiritstheatre.blogspot.co.il/2014/07/doing-our-job-again-our-rys-emergency.html]

May Hashem bless the world and finally soon destroy evil from our midst.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Avraham's Strength to "Go Out"

While learning this week’s Parsha Ki Teitzei, I opened Orchard of Delight by Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman, and what did I find? You guessed it. Rabbi Trugman used our patriarch Avraham to help teach the topic, “Going Out to War on a Personal Level”.
Rabbi Trugman said that because Ki Teitzei comes out so close to the High Holy Days, we can look at the words about going out to war against our enemy, and think of them in reference to our soul and inner force.
He asked, “Where does the Jew find the strength to go out into the world and fulfill the injunction to be a ‘light unto the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6)? As we learn in Bereishit, the actions of our forefathers engraved this lesson on our collective consciousness.”
“Abraham consistently found the strength to follow G-d, no matter what stumbling blocs were placed before him. He left his country and family to venture forth into the unknown, wherever G-d directed him.”
“After arriving in the Land of Canaan, famine forced him to leave for Egypt, but he returned wealthier than before.”
“…Abraham’s devotion paved the way for Israel to leave Egypt in the middle of the night, to follow G-d into the desert and the great unknown and ultimately to enter the Land of Israel as a strong nation.”
Rabbi Trugman continued, “When Abraham complained to G-d that he had no children to continue his work G-d ‘took him outside’ where he showed him the stars and promised him that his progeny would be as numerous as the stars.”
He explained, “The Hebrew word for took (hotzi) has the same root as the name of our portion (teitzei). As we learned in Lech Lecha, G-d taught Abraham that he needed to go outside of his nature, to go above the stars…This power is the inheritance of every Jew – but each and every Jew must work hard to bring that potential to fruition in his own life.”


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Avaham - An Example for All

You know how when you’re thinking of buying a certain item, suddenly, you notice that item everywhere. You never noticed it before, but now that you’ve got your mind on it, it seems to be everywhere.
Well, lehavdil, that’s how it seems to be with our patriarch Avraham.
Now that we’re in the midst of rehearsals for our new show, COUNT THE STARS – The Journey of Avraham and Sara - everything I learn, every daily prayer, every spiritual experience lately seems to deal with Avraham. So, I guess it won’t be a surprise when I tell you that I was excited to learn Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) today and find our father Avraham used as an example to explain Chapter 1 Mishnah 15.
“Shammai said: Make Torah study a regular habit, say little and do much, and receive every person cheerfully.”
The commentators on this Mishna gave Avraham as their example, they explain that when the travelers (angels) came to Avraham’s tent, he told them, “And I will bring a piece of bread…” (Bereishit 18:5), and then he proceeded to bring “butter and milk and the calf that he had prepared, and placed it before them.” (18:8)
And about the phrase…“receive every person cheerfully…” Well, no one had a kinder more welcoming demeanor than Avraham Avinu. One of the strongest reasons for his success in “creating souls” (bringing people under the wings of Hashem) was his cheerful countenance, the happy warm way he greeted each person and the loving way in which he gave over his teachings.

Let us all take yet another lesson from our father Avraham, and shavua tov to all.