There’s a classic joke about a rabbi on vacation in France. Far away from congregants, the rabbi orders a roast suckling pig with all the garnishes—potatoes, vegetables, the apple in the mouth, all on a bed of kale—the full works. Just as the loaded-down platter arrives, the president of the synagogue appears as though from nowhere and is completely shocked. “Rabbi, what are you doing!?” Thinking quickly, the rabbi exclaims, “Oy, what a crazy country, I ordered a baked apple, and this is how they serve it!”
What you consider a home or house may look different from everyone else’s. This week’s Torah portion reminds us that we all come from somewhere, whether your “somewhere” is a specific block in a suburb or the whole planet, but even more important is the somewhere you make for yourself.
In the continuing saga of emptying my mother’s house, two large cardboard boxes arrived at my house. Each carton was approximately three feet by three feet. Inside were thousands of 35-millimeter slides that my father shot over the years. As part of my siblings’ divide and conquer approach to the old family homestead, it fell upon me to get all of these slides digitized, and thankfully, Portland still has a couple of places for this sort of work.
Reading Parshat Noach close after the High Holidays is our yearly reminder that how we act in the world is up to us and not where we come from. Like Noah, we are fully capable of doing the hard work to change patterns, hold ourselves to higher standards, and make our example the one that future generations want to follow.
Sight. Whether we are talking literally or metaphorically, sight is precious. None of us want to be blindsided, even as we all wear blinders. We seek insight to our problems and greater clarity to how we see the world and others. Heck, in the most mundane example, many of us who wear glasses have tried to keep our lenses clear of mist while wearing masks. Good vision is precious.
Like lots of children, I had an imaginary friend who I occasionally blamed for my own mischief. Why do we play the blame game, and why does it begin at the start of the Torah as soon as there's more than one human being on earth?
It is late September. While Simchat Torah is upon us, the larger thrust of the Jewish High Holiday cycle is behind us, and with it there is a risk that all the energy and spiritual insights we gained can be forgotten. Nonetheless, we all feel how essential it is to recharge, refocus, and recommit--and not just during the High Holidays. If not, we may find ourselves spinning in place and rehashing what was.