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.