Friday, December 30, 2011

It's a Wonderful Life

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayigash

How many days are the years of your life?

This is the question that Pharoah, a wise king, asks Yaakov. (Bereshit 47:8)

What he meant was this: How productive and meaningful has your life been? (Rav Hirsch)

Yaakov's answer: Few and bad have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not reached the life spans of my forefathers in the days of their sojourns. (v. 9)


I don't know about you, but when the day comes that someone asks me that question, I'd like to have a better answer.

What would it be like to answer I've had a wonderful life?

It's never too late to start.

Thursday, December 29, 2011


by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayigash

What does it mean to be a leader?

Yosef resolves the challenging socio-economic dynamics that enable him to navigate the famine emergency with grace and intelligence.

He uses his mind and is quick to make thoughtful decisions that keep order and peace in society while fulfilling the basic physical needs of the people. 

What qualities allow Yosef to succeed?

Certainly not an ideal childhood. As a young boy he suffers the passing of his mother, he's an object of hatred of his own brothers, and as a young man is sold into slavery.

Is Yosef a strong leader despite these tragedies or because of them?

And what are those eternal inner qualities that allow us to succeed, no matter what our circumstances?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Light in the Dark

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Chodesh Tevet

The last of the Chanukah lights have fizzled out, and here we are moving back into darkness.

Darkness can mean something different to each one of us: a nighttime mood, lack of spiritual illumination, the absence of hope. 

But all of us can borrow some light from Chanukah -- a story we're so familiar with. We can take those miracle lights and bring miracle consciousness into this darkness.

Don't forget -- Shvat is just around the corner. And it's the month for celebrating new growth.

What if we saw the darkness of Tevet as a kind of hibernation? What if it were a cozy womb in which the prayers from our Chanukah candle lighting could gestate and develop into the seedling dreams of our near future...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Narrating Our Lives

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayigash

When Yosef was lying in the infamous snake-and-scorpion pit back in Parshat Vayeishev (Bereshit 37:24), the last thought on his mind was being able to save his family.

But so the story goes.

Now he's second-in-command in Egypt, able to provide his family with dignified living arrangements and provisions.

He can say, "G-d has sent me ahead of you to insure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance." (44:7)

If you could write the next chapter in your own life story, how would it read?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Ripple Effect

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayigash

Don't you love a good cry?

When Yosef cannot restrain himself from this emotional family reunion, he lets it all out.

It's such a great, tearful release that not only does Pharoah's palace hear it, but it also reaches the entire land of Egypt. (Bereshit 45:2)

Emotions are energy. What we feel ripples out beyond ourselves. This is the power of the cry of Yosef, who is the epitome of connection (as represented by yesod of the sefirot).

And if a cry can reach out so powerfully, then so can a laugh...

What emotion will you choose to ripple out today into your home and beyond?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Family Values

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Mikeitz

Soap opera lovers, you gotta read this parsha.

The brothers' cruel treatment of Yosef has come full circle.

Now these men have new opportunities to appreciate who they are as a family. They need to explain their relationships to Yosef under duress; they must report back in detail to their bereaved father; they need to leave Shimon imprisoned in Egypt; they have to take Binyamin away from Yaakov.

As a group they regret how they treated Yosef: Then they said to one another, 'Indeed we are guilty concerning our brother inasmuch as we saw his heartfelt anguish when he pleaded with us and we paid no heed; that is why this anguish has come upon us.' (Bereshit 42:21)

This sorrow for their past actions is the key that can open the door to a new way of being as a family. It's a chance to be closer than they ever were. Yosef demonstrates this value of family relationship when he seats them in order of age at their private banquet. (43:33)

Reuven, in a twisted effort to preserve family harmony, even offers to sacrifice his own sons if he fails to return with Binyamin. (42:37) 

What the brothers don't know is the upcoming reunion that is about to happen in the next episode...

Do you have amends to make with a family member?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Desert Oasis

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Mikeitz

When famines sweeps Egypt, Yosef can rely on a bountiful reserve to nourish the people.

What nourishes you in a dry spell?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Miracles in Our Time

by Devora Gila Berkowitz 

Chanukah 5772

Do you love lighting the Chanukah lamp?

While this act commemorates miracles from the past, there is something so eternal about the flickering candles. We say, "Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time."

What are the miracles that G-d is performing for you right now, at this time?

Spreading the Word

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Mikeitz

Has life experience made you wise?  

Who gives us our wisdom?

Pharoah immediately places Yosef at the head of the palace because of his wise interpretation of the Egyptian ruler's dream.

But what really impresses Pharoah? Not Yosef's braininess, but his ability to be a spokesperson for the Ruler of the Universe: "Since G-d has informed you of all this, there can be no one so discerning and wise as you." (Bereshit 41: 39)

Perhaps the texts are suggesting that the nations look to us to be G-d's spokesmen and spokeswomen.

How will you be a voice for G-d today? 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Voice of the Inner Dreamer

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeishev

Do you have a dream?

Yosef's brothers despised him for sharing his dreams: "Would you then reign over us? Would you then dominate us?"
(Bereshit 37: 8)

Yosef stands alone among a crowd of non-believers. What do we do when the dissenting voices within us try to overcome the voice of our inner dreamer? A possible answer lies in the text: His father kept the matter in mind. (37:11) Observe yourself without judging.

What would it be like to amplify the voice of your inner dreamer?  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Making Peace with the Past

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeishev

Ever regret where you've been?

Part of Yosef's journey is to be sold so many times that his brothers lose track of him (R. Munk).  Yet he will eventually end up in the right place at the right time: As second in command in Egypt, he will able to sell food to his family during the famine and bring his brothers to teshuvah -- repentence. (Bereshit 42:6).

What if the purpose of all your life's experience was to end up exactly where you are right now?

Is there something or someone you still need to make peace with, including yourself?

Monday, December 12, 2011

If You Blame, Remember the Gain

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeishev

Do you blame yourself over things from the past?

You're in good company, because Reuven does, too. Seeing that his brothers want to kill Yosef, he tries saving him from harm by suggesting that the brothers put Yosef into a pit.  But when Reuven returns, he discovers Yosef missing -- now a slave on the way down to Egypt -- and rents his garments, asking, "Where can I go?" (Bereshit 37:30)

Poor Reuven. He thinks he is in control of all of his actions. He doesn't consider that his good-hearted attempt is an act of divine intervention, all in the context of G-d's overall plan. How? It's the grand plan of bringing the Children of Israel to Egypt into slavery and then redeeming them to give them the holy Torah.

If Reuven pays attention he may see that the numerical value of "Where can I go" is 120, the age at which Moses dies, and therefore a symbol of Israel's redemption from Egypt.

So where can you go in your Reuven-ic consciousness? When you fall to the temptation of blaming yourself, just imagine what tremendous salvation G-d has planned for you.

Or perhaps it's already in front of your eyes, waiting for you to notice?

Friday, December 9, 2011


by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayishlach

When Avram's name changes, he receives a divine "hei" and becomes Avraham (Bereshit 17:5). Avraham represents chesed, an outpouring of giving, -- the right side of the body. He is the epitome of lovingkindness.

Yaakov's name change is more drastic -- from Yaakov to Yisrael (Bereshit 32:29). His transformation comes out of an internal struggle that leaves him limping yet emerging victorious. Part of this victory stems from being able to integrate both his past and future. For this, he represents the center line, balance, harmony, and beauty.

Can you relate to either of these transformations? If so, which one, and why? Feel free to share.
(If you are reading this on email, click the title to comment online.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Revenge is Sweet -- Or is It?

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayishlach

Do you ever dream of taking revenge?

Shimon and Levi do. They take their brothers' plan one step further. The "clever" plan was to dissuade Shechem with the requirement of circumcision in exchange for agreeing to Dina's marriage (Bereshit 34:13-17).

They're probably surprised when Shechem accepts, and the whole city performs circumcision.

The action is a fair "punishment" for the violation of Dina -- causing pain to the organ that was used to assault her (Sifsei Kohen).

But rather than extracting fair punishment, Shimon and Levi end up killing all of the men of Shechem and plundering the entire city. After all, "Should he treat our sister like a harlot?" (Bereshit, 34:31)

Jacob is distraught by his sons' behavior (Bereshit 34:30). Apparently, revenge goes beyond the range of acceptable behavior.

Go back to your own revenge fantasy. Which parts of you does it stimulate? And what happens when you state scaling down revenge to something less grandiose?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is it Love?

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayishlach

Comparing two parallel situations -- one from Chayei Sarah; the other from Vayishlach:

1. Rivka "took the veil and covered herself" (Bereshit 24: 65) whereas Dina "went out" (34:1)
2. "The servant told Yitzchak all the things he had done" (24:66) whereas Shechem "saw her" (33:2). (Italics mine)
3. "And Yitzchak brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother" (24:67) whereas Shechem "took her" (33:2)
4. Yitzchak then "married Rivka, she became his wife" and then "he loved her" (24: 67) whereas Shechem "lay with her and violated her" (33:2) only after which he "loved the maiden" (33:3) and said to his father, "Take me this girl for a wife" (33:4).

What strikes you the most about these two parallel stories?

Inner Wrestling

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayishlach

Yaakov's famous wrestling match is one of the highlights of biblical drama (Bereshit 32:25-33).

The question always is: Who is the angel? Is it an aspect of Esav, or is it an aspect of Yaakov?

We're all connected -- a myriad of faces united through the image of one Creator. So, if it's an angel of Esav, it's a reflection of Yaakov. And if it's an angel of Yaakov, it's a reflection of Esav.

Who are you fighting with -- in your head, in your home, at work, in the present, in your past? And what reflections do you see?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

How to Connect with G-d in Just 3 Easy Steps

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayishlach

Yaakov's got no time to waste.

His brother is after him -- big time.

What does he do? First, he divides the camp. Then he prays. Finally, he sends part of his flock as gifts to Esav (Bereshit, 32:8-19)

Each of these steps has great significance in Yaakov's relationship with G-d. 

First, dividing the camp is his way of accepting the situation that G-d has sent him. (Just praying for salvation leaves out this important step.)

Next, praying connects Yaakov to G-d, allowing Him to give and Yaakov to receive.

Last, he thanks G-d for His protection. Giving up some of his possessions is a way of showing gratitude for the help that G-d will give him.

Try these steps the next time you find yourself in a tough situation.1) Acceptance. 2) Prayer. 3) Thankfulness. Let us know how it goes by commenting on this blog.

Take this Job and (Raise it Up)

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Can you relate?

Yaakov has a tough work relationship with Laban, his deceitful employer. Yet despite his challenging work environment, Yaakov succeeds both materially and spiritually. His sterling character sets an eternal standard from which we learn about an employee's responsibility to his employer. (Artscroll commentary on Bereshit 30:35-36.)

Have you ever felt cheated by an employer? Which of your inner strengths did this situation reveal? Ultimately, who is our most important Employer? And what are our responsibilities to Him, despite what life throws at us? Feel free to add your comments below.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Power of Love

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Time flies when you're having fun.

Or when you're in love, as Yaakov is with Rachel (Mizrachi on Bereshit 29:20).

The seven years he worked in order to marry her "seemed to him a few days because of his love for her."

So the next time you're in a tough situation and time seems to stand painfully still, try tapping into the great love in your heart and watch your reality shift.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Power of Inspiration

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Have you ever received a burst of inspiration?

Did you feel that you could do anything?

This is the sense Yaakov experiences when he sees Rachel for the first time. His emotions are powerful enough to enable him to roll a heavy stone off the mouth of a well (Bereshit 29:10).

What large challenge lies in front of you now?

What can you look to for inspiration in order to overcome it?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Ladder of Life

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Where are you on the Ladder of Life?

Some of us prefer having our feet on the ground, others enjoy being more heavenbound.

Take a few moments to celebrate wherever you are on the ladder of life today.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Precious Stones

 by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeitzei

Yaakov goes to sleep with twelve stones around his head and wakes up with one.

The Midrash tells us that the stones quarrelled for the honored position as Yaakov's pillow.  The result? G-d unifies them. With this stone, Yaakov annoints a pillar to be a "House of G-d". (Bereshit 28:22)

Chassidut teaches that each of us is like a unique, multi-faceted precious stone.

But when we forget the beautiful gem that we are, we feel broken down into smaller, weaker parts: fear, despair, frustration, competition, anger....

The lesson here is to remember, or "re-member" who we are: a whole, unified creation that goes beyond the fragmented parts, infused with the image of the Creator.

How do we usually describe ourselves? "I am ... and .... and ....." Today, why not try being conscious awareness that I just am?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Baby Steps

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

Can you find an example where Esav starts to make headway in his personal growth?

He starts to assess the situation: Little brother gets blessing (Bereshit 28:6) Little brother goes to find wife so that he won't take Canaanite woman (ibid) -- like I did. Little brother obeys our parents, going to Paddan-aram (28:7).

Ahh! I get it! he thinks. The daughters of Canaan are evil in our father's eyes! (28:8)

So he marries a wife of Ishmael, Avraham's son.

It's almost there, but not quite. He hasn't divorced his Canaanite wives!

But that's okay.

We call this taking baby steps. It's a good start. 

What baby step have you taken that can you feel good about today?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Avoiding Embarrassment

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

Everyone knows about Rivkah's intuition, her foresight, and her arranging of events so that Yaakov receives the more favorable blessing from his father, rather than Esav. But we might imagine the following scenario happening right before Bereshit, chapter 27, verses 1-45...

"It can't be. It cannot possibly go to Esav. Ever since he married those Hittite girls, he's been a source of spiritual rebellion to us (Bereshit 26:34-5)."
"I know, Rivkaleh. What can we do? He doesn't deserve it, but I don't want to embarrass him."
"Wait a minute, Itzik -- I have an idea, listen to this..."

And so Yitzchak sends Esav out of the house, while Rivkah prepares Yaakov to receive the blessing. Now they have a story to report to Esav when he finds out what he's missed.

How else can we explain the events of these verses? Do we really think Yitzchak is confused enough to mix up his two sons? He may lack sight, but he's not senile....

Here's a thought. Esav is not capable of accepting the consequences for his actions. He just dives into one evil thing after the other. Knowing this, his parents perform all of this drama for the mitzvah of not embarrassing another person, which is akin to murder. What could Yitzchak possibly say to Esav? "Son, I've decided that I cannot, in good conscience, give you a favorable blessing..." That wouldn't go over very well. 

So Yitzchak and Rivkah together create an environment to avoid having to embarrass Esav -- again, akin to murder. Better to let him deal with his emotions on his own. The only drawback is that now he wants to kill his brother...

Can you think of a time when someone else received what you thought you deserved? Open to the possibility that you weren't ready to receive whatever it was. Realize that only Hashem knows the bigger picture. Only Hashem knows exactly what we need and when.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Birthright Stew

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

We tend to think that Esav's a real blockhead.

Sell your birthright for a bowl of lentils? Give up eternity for immediate gratification? We just can't believe it.

Here's a bizarre twist to the story: When Yaakov takes advantage of Esav's animalistic nature (Bereshit 25:31), he goes completely against his grandfather Avraham's previous example (Bereshit, 18:6-8) While Avraham made extraordinary efforts to feed his guests -- who weren't even human -- Yaakov makes a deal in a weak moment when it comes to feeding his own flesh and blood. 

Yaakov knows he is meant to carry on Avraham's legacy. Why does he have to pull a fast one on his brother? Surely that's not the Torah way. What's going on?

Think of Esav and Yaakov as two complementary sides of ourselves. Esav is the gross material self, while Yaakov represents the spiritual, divine aspect. Just as the notorious Birthright-Stew Deal is a necessary move in the eventual playing out of the Geula process, sometimes our physical self needs to be tricked by our spiritual side in order to balance our whole being.

What is your "animal soul" up to these days? How can your "divine soul" influence it in a subtle way, without it knowing, for the sake of your well-being?

Monday, November 21, 2011

What's Tugging at You?

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

Little baby Yaakov kicks Mama Rivkah's belly when she passes by a house of Torah study.
Its energy resonates with his own. It tugs at him so he wants to go in.  

Little baby Esav kicks Mama Rivkah's belly when she passes by a house of idol worship.
Its energy resonates with his own. It tugs at him so he wants to go in.  

What resonates with your energy? What places, people, activites, or ideas are you pulled towards? Which of these nourish you? Which of these steal your energy? 

With this new information, what will you allow yourself to be pulled towards next?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Exponential Praying

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Toldot

In this parsha, we see the first prayer circle in the Torah.

Actually it's a prayer diagonal. Yitzchak and Rivka are standing opposite each other, praying for children. (Rashi on Bereshit, 25:21) And the result isn't just one child -- it's two.

How powerful might our prayers be if we all prayed for each other?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seeing Under the Surface

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Lavan has got his eyes on the gold.

When Eliezer comes bearing gifts for Yitzchak's future bride, Lavan seems to be more intrigued by the treasures than he is interested in the story behind them. He's consumed, thinking there will be more for the rest of the family (Rashi Bereshit 24:30).

How often are we enticed by what we see on the surface? How much do we miss of the deeper story?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Praying for Little Things

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

Do you pray for the little things?

I've been told not to. I've been told to pray only for the important things -- the stuff that really matters.

But I disagree. I think G-d wants the little prayers, too.

Eliezer asks G-d to send him a sign. He asks for proof of Yitzchak's intended betrothed. She would be the one who offers water to him and to his camels (Bereshit 24:14).

But isn't that a wasted prayer? Isn't he praying for something that's considered common courtesy? Would the average person offer water to a guest and let his animals suffer from thirst? Probably not. So Eliezer's request seems to be prayer for "the little things".

When I'm waiting for a bus, I pray that it should come soon. Of course, the bus will eventually arrive. But my little prayer for the obvious connects me with my Creator and allows Him to be a Giver. And when the bus arrives, I don't see it as a fact of practical scheduling; I see it as G-d's answer to my prayer.

And I think He likes that.

Comments are welcome. If you are subscribing by email, click the title to comment online.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Our Work is Child's Play

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

There's no turning back.

In our parsha, Eliezer receives instructions on finding a wife for Yitzchak. Under no circumstances will Avraham permit his son to return to the land of their ancestors.

It's so crucial that he states this condition twice (Bereshit 24:6,8).

Avraham does not want Yitzchak to fall into spiritual decline. Just as he was led into the promised land, so should his son be.

Know that when you transcend your own limitations, you give your children the ability to do the same.

What false belief about yourself can you let go of today, in order to let your child move ahead spiritually into new ground?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Act Your Age -- or Not

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Chayei Sarah

How old are you?

According to tradition, Sarah was as innocent from sin at one hundred as she was at twenty. And her attractiveness at age twenty was equivalent to her pure beauty as a seven-year-old. (Rashi, Bereshit 23:1)

So, how old are you? Well, that depends. Chronological age? That's based on the calendar. Biological age is the condition of your physical health in terms of the cellular processes. How you actually feel -- that's psychological age.

To further complicate things, how about the idea that, created in G-d's image, we are all ages at once -- a composite package of past, present, and future. A bundle of kinetic and potential energies. It's the idea of the "inner child" that is always inside of us, or the wise old soul that we feel are growing into with each life experience.

So, how old are you? And in the end, does it really matter?

Friday, November 11, 2011

No Fear

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

What is Avraham feeling the day he brings Yitzchak as an offering to G-d
 (Bereshit 22:2)?

Fear or courage? Hesitation or enthusiasm?

Here are some clues from the text: Avraham Avinu wakes up early in the morning, saddles his own donkey, splits the wood, stands up, and goes (22:3).

The secret to conquering fear is in the doing. Doing it now, doing it with enthusiasm, doing it as an expression of avodat Hashem.

Is there something you've been procrastinating? What practical steps can you take now to conquer your fear?

(Translation from the picture: Courage to say what I think, to do what my heart says, to ask for forgiveness, and to not be afraid. And don't forget that you don't need to have a lot of muscles! --Susana Tavares)

Comments are welcome. (Email viewers can click the title above to comment online.)

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tears of Victory

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

Hagar's son, Ishmael is dying of thirst. 

She leaves him at a distance and cries for her loss. (Bereshit 21:15-16) The commentators criticize her for this -- she should have stayed with Ishmael to comfort him.

But G-d hears the cry of the youth and takes care of Ishmael. He promises makes a great nation of him and produces a well of water. (Bereshit 21:17-19)

Are there parts of yourself that you need to cry over? Hold them close. Comfort them. But know that G-d needs you to move on and become great -- He wants to help you be the best that you can possibly be.

Your relationship with G-d is first and foremost based on G-d's belief in you. Based on this belief, He will sustain you and give you what you need in order to grow. Remember -- He first promised to make Ishmael great and only then quenched his thirst so that he could become that great nation.  

So go ahead and cry, and know that these will become your tears of victory.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Light in the Dark

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

If you're looking for drama -- this parsha has it all:

Gang rape (19:5), child abuse (19:8), mass destruction (19:24-5), human calcification (19:26), incest (19:33-36), abduction (20:2), national constipation (20:18), family separation (21:10), abandonment (21:16), and child sacrifice (22:2).

So many difficult situations to accept. Why throw them all into one parshah?

To answer this question, consider the light that shines through the darkness: the announcement of Avraham and Sarah's child (18:10), the birth of Yitzchak (21:2) and the birth of Rivkah (22:23). Amazing. Such immense light. The seeds of our nation.

In this world, good and evil must co-exist. As a child, I learned that "without the bad stuff, we wouldn't appreciate the good." Hard to accept, but true.

Consider your own life. Amazing. Such immense light. And know that everything that's ever happened to you until this point is your personal Torah, written by G-d Himself. The good with the bad. Hard to accept, but true.

Comments are welcome. (E-mail subscribers can click on the title to comment online.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Our Most Precious Guests

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

Ever notice how sometimes we treat strangers (and animals) better than our loved ones?

Lot is particularly good at it. He offers up his daughters to the Sodomite mob, rather than risk the well-being of his guests. (Bereshit 19:8)

Not the kind of behavior we'd expect from the man of the house.

The next time you catch yourself acting less than kindly to family members, try this trick: Pretend that they're guests. G-d's special guests. The ones that He has sent especially to you in this particular moment.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Make a Good Point

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira

Lincoln-Douglas debating is child's play compared to Avraham's argument with G-d in our parsha. Persisting for almost ten whole verses (Bereshit, 18:23-32) he tries to dissuade Him from destroying the evil city of Sodom. Avraham insists that if righteous people currently inhabit Sodom, then it should be spared.

Let's imagine that Sodom represents any negative situation from your past. Not just anything, but the ugliest, ickiest, most horrific or embarrassing, guilt-ridden thought that may still inhabit your consciousness.

Believe it or not, in that memory lies a spark of positive energy. A redeeming factor: a good intention, a worthwhile cause, an innocent beginning. If anything, the "good point" in this memory is the fact that it brought you to where you are today in your life: the home and family you've created, your list of accomplishments, and your dreams, hopes and visions in potential, waiting for the right time to be manifested.

So rather than waiting for parts of your life to decay in the cellar of your consciousness, raise them up with the help of Avraham, who insists that a spark of righteousness lies within. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Top 3 Reasons Why Sarah Laughed

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Vayeira


Mamre Plains -- Three men visited Avraham Avinu and Sarah Imeinu in the scorching heat of the afternoon yesterday. Some neighbors claim that the men are, in fact, angels in the form of humans sent to deliver an important message to the patriachal couple. The visitors claim that Sarah will become the world's oldest first-time mother next year at the record age of 99; her husband will be a ripe one-hundred. The men remain anonymous.

When asked about her reaction to the news, Ms. Imeinu commented, "I just had to laugh."

Why does Sarah laugh? There are two major opinions on this. Some say she doubted Hashem's ability to perform a miracle. Others, such as the Kotzker, suggest that her laughter was a joyful one.

I'd like to offer a third view. Let's suspend the idea of laughter as an aspect of capability; whether she was capable of bearing a child, or whether Hashem was capable of performing a miracle.

Let's instead focus on the prayers around the issue. Have you ever wished for something, then gave up on it, only to see it come true later on? Years of Sarah's praying for a child were perhaps followed by decades in which those prayers were humbly abandoned. Maybe the laughter is in response to those long-forgotten prayers finally being answered. It's a feeling that G-d acknowledges her. It's that moment of  "ah-hah, now I understand why I had to go through all of that suffering" -- a moment of connection between her original prayers and her acceptance of G-d's will for the years that she did not have children.

Try this exercise: Think of something you've prayed for that you're still waiting to see become a reality. Practice accepting that until now, it has been G-d's will to not bring that desire yet into the world. Understand that if you feel this yearning deep in your soul, it's G-d's desire too. Have emunah that G-d will manifest this desire in the right time.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Hey, Hey, Whaddya Say?

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Lech Lecha

In G-d's covenant, Avraham and Sarah receive the blessing that "multitudes of nations" (17:4) and "kings of peoples" (17:16) will arise from them. 

This interaction imbues them with tremendous creative potential .

At the same time, they receive the letter hey in their names. An exhalation, a giving back of the original breath that G-d breathes into us (Bereshit 2:7).

When we exhale, it can take the form of speech, song, or tefilah. It completes the cycle of giving between Hashem and ourselves.
How will you express your own heys today?  How will this awareness inspire your own creativity?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do it Right: Have Emunah

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Lech Lecha

Move over, Yuri Gagarin. The first man in outer space was actually our patriarch, Avraham. That's according to the midrash on Bereshit 15:5.

Avraham is a prolific astrologer. He understands from the constellantions that he can't have children. In a dramatic display, G-d takes him "outside" above the stars to show him how abundant his descendents will be.

Here we learn a powerful lesson about emunah -- faith in G-d. "And he trusted (he'emin) in G-d, and He considered it as righteousness (tzedakah). The first time a root appears in the Torah is its essence. As far as I can tell, this is the debut appearance of both roots. The fact that they both appear together in the same verse strongly suggests an interconnection.

Tzedekah is based on the root for justice, because it's what's right to do. We don't need to travel far to know that trusting G-d is the right thing to do. But even Avraham has to be taken out of his own perspective to receive a new perception of himself.

How do you currently view youself? From a bird's eye view, and with faith in G-d's highest wishes for you, how could you perceive yourself in a new light today?

Comments are welcome. (If you are subscribing by email, click the title to comment online.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Power of One

by Devora Gila Berkowitz

Parshat Lech Lecha

Have you ever felt that you could do anything?

It's a sense that comes from the core of our being, when we're connecting not to our ego, but to the limitless of our Creator.

Avraham possesses this quality. It's a characteristic that enables him to strike down his enemy in order to free the captive prisoner, Lot, along with all of his possessions and people.

One man rallying against the enemy.

What powers lie in full potential within each of us? And what are we waiting for? 

Comments are welcome. (If you are following by email, click the title to comment online.)