Friday, June 23, 2017

Korach and Hamilton

It has been forever since I posted here.  I hope to start up again but I often get taken in different directions.  I love writing about Torah but sometimes I do that for my teachers to help with their classes and have little energy here.  But my birthday just passed and so maybe a time of renewal of this.  So last year on Parasha Korach I was at CAMPJRF now known as Camp Havaya, the Reconstructionist movements camp in Pennsylvania.  Rabbi Fred Dobb and I were the faculty-in-residence for the week and part of the deal is to write a parody song about the Torah portion.  So we wrote it around the widely popular Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Maranda.  He reminded me of this today with an email that I will share here with you all.  Please to enjoy.

Korach and Moses – “Your Obedient Servant / The World Was Wide Enough”
For Camp JRF, Summer 2016 – George Kelley and Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, after Lin-Manuel Miranda

 How does Moses, an arrogant, unpopular, stutterer-killer, Egypt-son somehow endorse that guy Aaron, his brother, for the Kohen Gadol, here in the 9th inning,
just to keep me from winning?!       [pause]

I wanna be in the Holy of Holies!
The room where it happens – the Holy of Holies
He’s kept me from the Holy of Holies
For the last time!               [beat box interlude]

Dear Cousin Moses:
I am slow to anger  but I toe the line
as I reckon with the effects of your life on mine
I look back on where I failed
and in every place I checked
the only common thread
has been your disrespect.
Now you call me “ungodly,”
a “dangerous disgrace” –
If you’ve got something to say
name a time and place – Panim el Panim
I have the honor to be Your Obedient
Servant:  ben Yizhar.

Rebel Korach:
I am not the reason no one trusts you
No one knows in Whom you believe
I will not equivocate on my opinion
I have always worn God on my sleeve
Even if I led how you say I led
You would need to cite a more specific grievance
Here’s an itemized list of all the
years of disagreements

[KORACH]   Sweet Moses!

[MOSES]   Hey, I have not been shy
I am just a navi in the public eye
tryin’ to divine what’s best for the Tribe
I don’t wanna fight   but I won’t apologize for
standing up for the Almight…y
I have the honor to be Your Obedient
Servant:  ben Amram.

[KORACH]   Careful how you proceed, good man
Rav lachem  (you overstepped)  indeed, good man
Answer for the accusations I lay at your feet
or prepare to bleed, good man

[MOSES]    Korach, your grievance is
legitimate;  I stand by what I said:
democracy is good, let’s work toward it.
You stand only for yourself, that’s how you fly
I can’t apologize because I stand with Adonai!

[KORACH]      Then stand, Moshe:
Tent of meeting.  Dawn.    Fire pans.  Drawn.
   [MOSES]      You’re on.    

I have the honor to be Your Obedient Servant
   [MOSES]  ben Amram.   [KORACH]  ben Yizhar.

[KORACH]       I see how death discriminates
between my sinners and your saints
It takes      and it takes     and it takes
The ground simply obliterates  our entire legacy
we go down,   in a great earthquake.

But dear old Moses  looked to the sky
He truly walked with Adonai
And I’m the one who paid for it –
me and my followers, we paid for it

Now I’m the villain in your history
I was too full of myself to see:

We could have
grown  –  together,
shown –  The world
was wide enough
for both Moses
and me

The world was
wide enough
for both Moses
and me

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Creating a Space for God

I was honored to give the D'var this morning at services.  I see that it was last Terumah that I wrote so this may sound a little familiar but I hope to write more here moving forward.  

Shabbat Shalom,
There once was a small village in a country at war.  There was an expectation that if a soldier was coming through town from the front lines the village must feed him and find him comfort.  Now when people of a certain village saw three tired and war weary soldiers coming they did not want to give up their food and hid it in their homes.  As the soldiers approached the town square they were met with many village leaders and were told the town was too poor to feed them and that they should move on.  The soldiers were too tired to think of walking more that day and begged for a small crust of bread or something.  When the town folks said no they simply asked for a large pot and to draw water from the well.  The people of the village watched curiously as the soldiers gathered wood and made a fire, filled the pot with water and put it on the fire and then added three large stones to the water.  When asked they were told that they were making Stone soup.  The people were intrigued and asked how they could make soup from a stone.  The one soldier answered that it is difficult to get the flavor, it would need to boil for quite some time, but what would help would be a bunch of carrots.  Wanting to get in on this amazing soup, one villager went home and came back with carrots.  As people helped slice them into the simmering water the soldier told of a stone soup where carrots were added and onions brought out special flavor.  Soon another villager produced onions and this went on with celery, barley and finally some dried beef.  By the end of the day there was beef and barley soup for all, cooked with three large stones in the bottom of the pot.  The villagers all felt a connection with the soldiers and with each other as they ate and later found cots for the soldiers and in the morning sent them on their way after an oatmeal breakfast and with bread and cheese for the road.  The village kept the pot in the town square and once a week they made stone soup in what became a sacred time for all of them and they fed many soldiers on their way home from then on. 

In this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, the moving village of people, the Israelites, also come together to create something for their  community,  the Mishkan, the traveling sanctuary that Israelites used in the wilderness.  This   large undertaking was one the required a great deal of the resources of the people to create. You would think that at this time, Moses would be instructed to collect from all the people for this endeavor.  But that is not what happens, in fact, in Exodus 25, God is explicit that gifts should come only from those whose hearts moved them.   People who give should want to give and give from the heart.  Why wouldn’t God tell Moses that ALL the Israelites must give to building this sanctuary?   

Let us remember what is going on here.  The Israelites have fled Mitzraim and are forming a new people.  No longer slaves and they had been distance from their God of their ancestors for generations and still struggled with their relationship with the gods of Egypt, as seen in the Golden Calf incident earlier in the narrative.  So to help this new worship style take root it must have the interest and sacrifice of the people.  No mere a tax would help serve this purpose, what was needed was a desire of the people to build this place of Holiness among them.  So like the people in the story, they found in their hearts a way to build something that was important to all and was in fact part of who they were.   

There was no minimum to what people could give and in fact Moses returns that which he doesn’t need.  The gold, copper, silver, fabric and other materials were gifts of the people from their personal possesions, some sure to have meaning.  A piece of each family is woven into the physical structure of the Mishkan and that I believe leads to their spiritual essence being part of this as well.   That is what makes this a place worthy of God in the world. 
Now one can say that God is everywhere and frankly the narrative seems to suggest that God was giving the people what they wanted, some physical manifestation that will later become the pillar of cloud and fire.  But the Torah uses words that shakan which does not suggest a permanent home.  More a place to rest.  This is a place where the people create a space of Holiness, a place to find holiness in the world. They did so with their gifts of the heart. 

When we talk of giving in the Jewish context we think of tzedakah and Tikkun olam.  Tzedakah is part of who we are, regardless of how religious we see ourselves, we, as a people, give to better our community.  While it is in its original definition not an option, it has become the way we think about personal giving, some thinking of it as one thinks of charity.  In this context it is from the heart.   The root of tzedakah is tzedek, righteousness or justice.  Tikkun olam is an idea that the world is incomplete and broken and we are to repair it.  Make it better.  When we give tzedakah and when we act doing tikkun olam we are acting from the heart with the idea of creating a space of wholeness in the world, and I would argue holiness.  I would argue that when we give of ourselves from the heart we imitate the actions of our ancient ancestors who built a place for God, inventing the essence of God into their community bringing their connection with God closer.  So today when we give of our hearts and build something for others we too bring God closer to us.  We are partners with God as the Torah tells us those Israelites were as well.  We are building our own places for God to dwell among us through our positive actions.  We enact God in the world by these actions and make manifest the presence of God for all to see.  Our own metaphorical pillar of cloud and fire.  May we all go on to continue to build a places for God to dwell, it can’t be any harder than making a large pot of soup, using only stones.   Shabbat Shalom. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Hanukah and a New Torah

 Over a year ago my synagogue, Congregation Beth-El Zedeck began a journey to celebrate our centennial with the writing of a new Torah.  Members of the staff and dozens of volunteers worked to create solicit donations, set up educational opportunities with our Sofer, and do letter fill ins.  From the youngest children to our oldest members I saw people engage this project with energy and emotion unmatched by most things that take place in today's liberal synagogues.  The sheer connection of the modern world we live in with the ancient words on the page brought so much out of people when they could hold the quill and were guided to finish a single letter on a page of a Torah that will be read for generations in our community.  It is finished and on this Sunday, the day that will end as we begin the holiday of Hanukah, we will dedicate the Torah and place it in the Aron to become part of the next 100 years and more of this synagogue.  While there is poetry to having this Torah in place as we begin the holiday there was another event in the life of our shul that happened one year ago this weekend.  Last year on Parsha Vayeshev a small fire broke out in our Aron and destroyed the inside.  While the Toratot were saved by quick action of the Rabbi and staff, the covers were completely unusable.  So while we were already in the process of creating a new Torah, we needed to refurbish the ones that we already had.  Maybe it was serendipity, but don't tell our Executive Director as it just added on to the work load she had.  But here we are at Parsha Vayeshev, and Hanukah on the horizon and the new Torah will find a home in a newly redone Aron with all the Toratot in fully new clothes.  It is a wonder to see and truly is moving for so many people.  I know on Sunday, when we finally finish the last word, when we sing V'sot HaTorah, people will feel the power of the history of the past and hope of the future.  All centered around a book, a scroll, while new in form, ancient in content.

What it is about the Torah?  Why does it bring out such strong emotion, even among those who have little time for God and religion?  Why does it bring out emotion in me?  Someone who approaches its content more often seeking a form of academic understanding than spiritual enlightenment?  I think because it has for a long time been about what is means to the reader less than the actual words on the page in their stiff and often wrong translation.  The Torah is a concept poem that is a guideline for our lives and our interactions with others.  It is a song, that when we sing it our personal emotions rewrite the story to match what we need in that time.  (Think Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, etc.)  It gives us a concrete platform to leap off into the water of our own confused lives knowing we can reach up and grab it to pull us out.  Torah is start to understanding the mystery of life and it a gift from our ancestors and to our children and it will be what keeps the Jewish people Jewish, regardless of the wondrous incarnations of Judaism moving forward.

So on Sunday, when the ink of Yisrael is dry, the Torah is rolled, dressed and lifted into its place of honor.  As we think about the last 100 years and imagine the next 100 years there will be many who will fully feel moved by a text we wrestle with and sometimes ignore.  But know it is important to our very being.   The Torah is less without us and we are less without Torah.  I am proud, honored and humbled to see it celebrated on Sunday with my fellow congregants.  I look forward to the song continuing.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


Terumah is a Torah portion about a community works project.  But not any community works project, the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness, the place that would hold the presence of God among the people.  It would be the center of not only worship and the model for the future Temple in Jerusalem, but the literal center of the encampment and the place where the people would seek justice, forgiveness and community.

Now there is an interesting line in this Torah portion, specific to the building of this structure and all its furnishings.  It says that God asked Moses for donations to the project from those whose hearts moved them.  This was not a tax but a request.  A sense of community ownership, all have a piece who gave to the building.  It belongs to everyone. 

Now we can easily find many modern commentators who will find a way to link this Torah portion to their own political ideology.  I could do that too.  But what is more important to me is that the building of the Mishkan had to have buy-in from a lot of people to make it happen.  This was something the people as a whole really wanted not something imposed on them.  While the instructions came from God through Moses there was an out, people just could have ignored the call.   But the success of an endeavor like the creation of a new people’s understanding of God and worship and the entire development of the Kohanim and Leviim could not have happened if Moses did it through taxing the people or from only a handful of people.    Because the more people who give a little to a cause will add something powerful:  ownership.  This creates a ground swell of support for the endeavor not to fail even if those invested do not have the money, time or material to make it a success on their own. 

We see this in many non-profits today.  Organizations can live and develop comfortably on big donors and grants and many do.  There are several organizations of various sizes that find themselves fully funded through the generosity of a few.  But they also know that they are also then tied to whims, fate and desires of that few.  But when your donor base is spread out over many people who feel a real stake in the project or program, they will rally to save a program because they will find it in their heart to do so.  But what moves hearts? How do you get them invested not only with goods and dollars but with their soul.  We can look to the Torah portion to see the way.

God’s direction to Moses was wise.  The gold, copper, silver, fabric and other materials were gifts of the soul of the people.  A piece of each family is woven into the physical structure of the Mishkan but also the spiritual essence that makes this truly holy.  The writers of the Torah knew that holiness in this case cannot be forced on the people but must be created through their actions of giving of free will not a tax.  They also should not be coiecred.  It had to be a fully willful action because of the desire to complete this centerpiece of the community. 

I often get asked for money for things and too often the call is out of pity for people in need.  There is a dehumanizing of those who are poor, hungry, suffering that is suppose to move my heart to give.  In fact it does the opposite.  I cringe when I see the use of what some call poverty porn to try to get me to respond to a request, and I get outraged when people are dressed in ridiculous vests that say things like “Help the Retarded”.  That is moving a heart to buy in it is giving an opportunity for someone to throw a dollar in a pot and hope they don’t have to think about it again.  The Torah shows that Moses moved hearts with a vision, a story and promise that the people and God would be partners in a wonderful and perpetual relationship.  That is truly what moves hearts and opens pocketbooks and creates sustainability.   Today we can do the same thing when we tell the stories of why someone’s investment can make a difference.  Not “see this child who is going to bed hungry” appeals that we almost want to give to make that go away, but some way build relationships with those being helped.  To create a sense of holiness in the relationship between the person with resources and the person in need.  Because given a chance you will find that when sharing your resources, just like the Israelites in Torah learned, you get a whole lot back.

So we go through the year begins, think of why and how you give to others, think of how you ask for support on behalf of others and even for yourself.  Remember a few dollars tossed in a bucket does help, but it is a one-way and lonely road.  Seek opportunities to build relationships, if your heart has never been moved like that before you are in for a real treat.  

Friday, January 17, 2014


Parsha Yitro is known for having the first mention of the 10 commandments in the Torah.  But the parsha opens with an interesting story.  Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, seeks out Moses and the Israelites after the miraculous stories of what happened in Mitzraim.  Yitro comes and acknowledges the power of the God of Moses as truly the greatest God, and even sacrifices to that God.  Now remember Yitro was a priest of Midian.  He had his own gods but came to worship the God that took the Israelites out of Mitzraim.  This story is often lost in the dense discussion in this parsha that immediately has Yitro as a wise advisor to Moses helping him set up judges to deal with the day-to-day problems of the people.  Then later the foundational story of the giving of the 10 commandments.

However the Yitro story interests me in terms of how the people in the time of the stories of the Torah viewed the gods of others.  Here we have a priest of his people, visiting his foreign son-in-law to give honor to his son-in-law's god, even proclaim that god as the greatest of all, then leaves to continue to worship the gods of Midian.  Recognizing the others' God does not take away from the connection one has to their own.  Even the God of the Torah recognizes the existence of other Gods in the ancient world among the people the Israelites encounter.  In fact referencing to not be seduced by them in the very 10 commandments.

This could be a lesson on how we should approach interfaith (multifaith) action in our lives.  Yitro in this story not only respects the God of Israel but acknowledges the power of the God, yet goes back to his own faith community.  This was typical in the ancient world.  Peoples often adopted the worship of a God of their conquerers, in part, because the idea that if you lose in battle your Gods were also defeated. But with Yitro this was different.  The Midianites were not the target of the plagues, but Yitro still found reason to acknowledge the power of Adonai, the God of Israel.

Today, most of us don't see our relationship with God in the same way.  Our successes and failures as a people, faith community, or nation are not seen as the result of the power of our God.  (though there is no doubt the some do).  Our faith is also not predicated on the idea that our God is in charge of all action.  Unlike people in Yitro's time, God's place in our world is deeper.   Yitro, as many in the Bible, acknowledge the Gods of other people as valid ways of worship.  It leads us to think about the neighbors we have that worship differently from ourselves today.  We can respect how our friends who are not Jewish or even not our branch of Judaism access God.  God is not a small thing that can be placed into a box.  God transcends religion, and while I don't think we have to believe the stories and concepts of another faith tradition we should be able to understand that it is part of who they are that leads them to how find God in their lives.  There was a episode of the Simpsons were Homer created a religion and asked Moe, the bartender, to join.  Moe quipped, "I was born a snakehandler and I will die a snakehandler".  A joke, but one that reflects how many people feel.  Their religion is a personal thing a gift of family and a legacy.  It binds us to a community and it is part of who we are.

For Jews, we are a people with a relationship with the concept of God in our daily lives.  Rabbi Brad Artson has said "knowledge of God is a private affair. Living in the presence of God, however, is the proper business of Judaism and the living community of the Jewish People. It is that cornerstone of Jewish living, our brit (covenant) with God that commands the attention of the sages of every period of history, and it is that realm which deserves our energies today as well. "  This works for us and does not diminish the power of God in the lives of others.  We can tend our own garden and still admire the fruits of our neighbors.  That is what Yitro does and that is what true multi-faith respect and dignity demands.  So when we experience another faith tradition, we can find it beautiful and valued without having to give up our own connection to our God concept.

Yitro can guide us, and I think there is one real thing anyone who reads the story can agree on, Yitro was a wise man and not a bad role model.  He even taught Moshe Rabbeinu a few things.

Friday, January 10, 2014


 This week's Torah portion is an exciting one as the Children of Israel finally cross the Sea of Reeds and leave slavery for peoplehood.  Moses and Miriam lead the people in song and dance and thus this week is also called Shabbat Shirah.  But for me this story focuses on a character from our tradition who gives us much to think about.  Serach bat Asher, a woman who's name is mentioned as having gone into to Egypt with Jacob and also who came out of Egypt with Moses.  Now you could easily think that it was two women with the same names but the Torah tends not to have a whole lot of coincidences.  In fact of 54 grandchildren of Jacob mentioned as entering Mitzraim, she is the only daughter.  This is a pointer in the Torah to pay attention to her.  And so she has a special place for the rabbis as her first mention and her second mention are 210 years apart.  That is some longevity.  

The Midrash truly illuminate Serach's role in the life of the Jewish people.   The most well known of the midrashim about her tells of how she was the first to inform Jacob that his son Joseph was still alive. Fearing that the news will be too much of a shock for the old man, however, she informs Jacob by playing a harp for him, gently mixing in the words that Joseph is “alive and the ruler of all Egypt.” In return, Jacob blesses her, saying “May you live forever and never die.” So she seems to live out her life without death taking her.  One of the stories tells that when Moses and the Children of Israel are ready to leave Mitzraim she remembers the promise to Joseph that his bones will go back to the land of his ancestors.  Serach shows Moses where the coffin of Joseph was put in the Nile and is with him as he brings it out and collects the bones.    Later, in the time of King David in the Second book of Samuel, Serach was "the wise woman" who caused the death of Sheba ben Bichri who had rebelled against King David.  She saved her city by convincing the people to throw his head over the wall to appease those seeking to end the rebellion.  

Serach appears even later in the history of the people.  In the Talmudic period, it Serach who is walking past the house of study and hearing the debate of what the Sea of Reeds looked like when it split settles the matter.  It is said she is one of the few people who lived her life without death and entered heaven alive.  

Serach fascinates me because she is a wonderful repository of our memories.  She serves as a person who remembers where we came from when we have forgotten ourselves.  Her piety and compassion to Jacob makes her the perfect person to help those along the journey understand who we are and what we stand for in this world.  She symbolizes the importance of the past, even as we look to the future.  Serach lived through change, she was there in the time of the patriarchs, sitting at Jacob’s knee, likely knowing the stories told by her grandfather Isaac and even great-grandparents Abraham and Sarah.  She lived through the good times in Mitzraim and survived to the dark periods of slavery and death.  She communed with Moses, helping him when he led the people to freedom.  She was a voice for King David in a time of need. She lived through The Temple period and the Roman occupation.  Every major event in ancient Jewish history she was in the center of and   some even say she was with the people of Central Europe at the time of the Shoah.  Leading her into our own time period and maybe, just maybe she is still with us.  

She would be by far the oldest person to ever live.  But her long life was not just one of existence.  Her stories teach us that reaching back into our past is as important as striving to find the future.  

Life is constant motion, every day there is a new break through that allows us to do more, see more, and learn more.  We are always looking for the next big thing.  Judaism itself is struggling with our future, what will we look like in the next generation?   I believe that we are at the water’s edge of our own Sea of Reeds.   It is easier to be Jewish, at least in North America, than in any time in history.  We now have so many ways to be Jewish in the world and connect with God or a Godness that doesn’t have to be defined by a single understanding of Torah.  But those would be meaningless if we don’t remember the history of where we came.  Serach’s roles seemed to be to keep everyone honest to their past, not simply the tradition and not simply to follow the voice of their ancestors but to add to it.  When Kaplan said that the past has a vote but not a veto he seemed to me to evoke the power of Serach who can remind us where the bones are and what the children of Israel looked like when the erev rav left slavery, not sure of a future and following a sort of stranger into a wilderness.  

Today we don’t see Amalikites, Hittites and Assyrians coming over the walls of our cities.  While anti-Semitism exists it is still mostly socially unacceptable.  We can be fully in the world around us and fully Jewish.  We are at a place where young Jews are redefining Judaism for ourselves and Rabbis are writing eulogies for whole movements and the synagogue as an institution as well.  Serach is not coming to the rescue, it is up to us to remember for ourselves and to help wonder about what the future can hold.  This change is not as dramatic as many in the past, in part because unlike the slavery of Mitzraim,  Exile into Babylon, the destruction of the Temple, the Crusades, repressions, and the Shoah, we own this change more than any other.  Maybe that is why we don’t need Serach because we are not being forced out of our comfort zone we are walking with our eyes open.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that there are many things we can take from Serach as the times are changing around us.  And maybe that is enough for her to offer.  

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, January 3, 2014


In these two parshiot we are treated with one of the most famous sections of Torah and for many it is troubling.  The plagues of Mitzraim (Egypt).  The plagues are an ever increasing series of supernatural punishments visited upon the people of Mitzraim because of the failure of the Pharaoh to let the people of Israel leave.  In fact each time a plague comes there is a direct or implied promise of freedom from the Pharoah which is then dashed in the end when the plague is no longer in action.  It is only after the death of the first born does Pharaoh relent and again has second thoughts which brings one more serious supernatural punishment as he gets to watch as his entire army is swallowed into the Sea of Reeds after the Israelites crossed the split sea to freedom.

But why is it troubling?  Well at first there is the very nature of the acts.  It isn't only Pharaoh who is punished for his actions but the people as a whole.  This story that is retold with great joy every year at Pesach has a little bit of discomfort in it.  We express this discomfort when we take a drop of wine, the symbol of our joy, out of our cups at the Pesach Seder for each plague.  We understand that we lessen our joy for the sake of the suffering of the Egyptians.  This lesson is punctuated by a Midrash that tells as the army of the Pharaoh are drowning, Moses, Miriam and the children of Israel sing praises to God for their salvation.  Angels in heaven join the Israelites only to be rebuked by God who asks "How can you sing as my children are dying?"  So the complication of the plagues is something that sits awkwardly in our modern understanding of the text.  It is impossible to justify the killing of all of the first born of the Egyptians.  Some seemed nice to the Israelites, some even seemed to fear the God of Israel.  However the story is clear, they didn't escape the wrath of God and God's need to show the power of God not only to the people of Israel but to the world.  The story of the plagues and the freedom spreads across the ancient near east according to the Torah because very soon Yitro will walk onto the scene having heard these stories.  There is another take on this from the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel who says, “Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” Citing this idea we can make the statement that the Egyptian people aren't directly responsible they stood by and let a leader like Pharaoh remain in power, leading to this end.  I am not sure I buy that but more on that later.

Another troubling aspect is the very nature of the plagues.  They are supernatural and unbelievable by many modern thinking people.  We read these stories and see them as fanciful but not true stories.  God doesn't split seas, kill children and bring forth frogs.  These miraculous notions troubled early Reconstructionist thinkers who removed the plagues from early Haggadot only to find people putting them back in because they resonant with people.  There is something about that piece of the story that we feel deep.  And that is the power of the story.  The deep feeling of drama and play and the sense of battle between two different ways of seeing the world.

This notion is lost on those who have sought to find explanations for the plagues.  Countless hours have been devoted to finding something, anything, to explain these miracles as possible.  Watching frogs emerge from the mud after a cold snap, the series of possible complications that can lead to lice, boils, cattle disease and finally death of the first born.  One such exploration went into great detail to suggest that the first born son would get the first of the grain in storage and that it must have been contaminated by the results of the locust and hail leading to a form of natural poison forming on the grain.  The apparent stretching that had to go into linking the plagues to each other was stunning but for this person the fact that they could have occurred was more important that strain credulity.   For the writers of this notion, the plagues were a lynch pin, without faith is gone.

But the plagues likely didn't happen and certainly not as they are written in the Torah.  In fact we have little evidence that Israelites were ever slaves in Mitzraim.  What we have is a powerful story of freedom and redemption that we can see as a lesson for all of us.  The Bible in general is not meant to be a book of facts. I don't think even the earliest of people who studied the text thought so either.  It is meant to be a book of lessons.  Worrying about whether God was fair to the Egpytians or that it is possible the a Sea split for a time for a troop of hundreds of thousands to walk across is irrelevant.  What is relevant to the modern reader, to us, is the timeless lessons in it all.  There will always be parts that we don't like.  We will always argue with God, but if we approach the text with an open mind and heart we can find something in it to expand our understand of ourselves, our neighbors and our world.

The plagues trouble me.  Like many times in the Torah when someone has to die for the sake of a good I can't understand I struggle.  But the struggle is what makes the text great.  The story of freedom that is so dear to the Jewish people is a powerful one, in part because of the role of God in the story.  But we can also remember the cost of our freedom.  The destruction of Mitzraim and the death of so many will live with us for a long time.  But it is good to remember our stories and digest them for the future.   Who knows what we might find.  Shabbat Shalom.