Selective Hearing – Parshat Vaera 5778

selective-hearing.jpg

I often wonder whether my voice is somehow mysteriously muffled like the adult voices in the animated Charlie Brown movies, or if perhaps I am just not a clear speaker. It occurs to me that occasionally my voice becomes the background noise to the rest of life. Sometimes it’s when I’m asking Shiri to put her shoes on, other times it’s relaying to Duncan the schedule for the day, but I find myself having to repeat things three times before a task gets done or even remembered.

I’m not totally innocent either. When I was a child, I’d selectively hear what my parents were asking me when it served my purpose, although sometimes this got me into trouble because I missed an important instruction or reminder. Selective hearing has a positive side, too. It can be a great self-preservation tool so you don’t go nuts with all the idle chatter around you. All of these thoughts led me to wonder what it means to actually listen.

This week we read Parshat Vaera, which kicks off Moses’s official role as the leader of the Israelite nation. His job is to convince Pharaoh to “let his people go” and to convince the Israelites to go with him. The text begins with God reminding Moses about the generations-long covenant that was made, but Moses shows he is still hesitant in his leadership. Moses and Aaron then go before Pharaoh to plead their case for freedom and begin to bring the first seven of the ten plagues upon the Egyptians.

What’s interesting to note is how selective hearing plays a role in the major steps Moses needs to take. Moses is told by God to go to both Pharaoh and the people and get both parties to listen to him and follow his direction. In each case, there is selective listening at play. When Moses first goes to the Israelites, they completely disregard his leadership. They perhaps hear him, but they don’t listen to his words. This happens again with Pharaoh; he goes and delivers his message, threatening him, and Pharaoh doesn’t take the threat seriously. Ten times in total Pharaoh hears the words leave Moses’s mouth, but does not listen to what they mean. This act of hearing but not actually listening is the cause for great strife among the Egyptians and leads to severe consequences.

So often in our lives we can see that people have something to communicate, but we don’t truly listen to what they’re sharing with us. This week’s parshah, Vaera, is a stern reminder of our obligation not just to hear what others are saying, but to internalize the message. In the news, on social media, at home, too many words are thrown around without enough regard to what they mean. It’s time we paid attention.

 

 

Advertisements

The Nature of Nurture – Parshat Shemot 5778

nature-of-nurture.jpg

I get emotional when I stop to think about my beautiful daughter growing up. Each phase, even the tough ones, are precious and so fleeting. I look forward to each new milestone she will achieve, but still mourn the passing of each day as she grows out of her younger self and relies less on me. Obviously she’s still a child and will depend on me for many years to come, but early milestones like weaning and transitioning to solid foods meant that for the first time in her existence it wasn’t my body directly nourishing hers. I was simultaneously sad this specific bond was broken and proud that we’d come so far together and were both ready to move on to the next phase. As a mom, I was sentimental yet satisfied that I did what I needed to do in order to care for, nourish, and sustain my baby.

In Parshat Shemot, Moshe’s mother Yocheved is faced with a difficult choice. The parshah, which begins the second book of the Torah, illustrates for us how skewed our own perception of self can be, and it serves as the turning point from the leadership of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to that of Moshe. Shemot leads us quickly through the change in Egypt as a new pharaoh who isn’t so keen on the Israelites decrees that all males born should be put to death. Thankfully the midwives ignore this decree, and Moshe is kept alive. As an adopted Egyptian, Moshe joins the palace, but later learns he’s an Israelite. He flees out of fear for his life, marries a Midianite woman, and becomes a father. It then takes an unusual interaction with God for Moshe to become a leader to his true people and confront his former grandfather figure with the support of a God he has only recently learned about.

At the beginning of the text, Moshe’s birth itself is an impossibly difficult parenting moment. Yocheved knows that if she keeps her son, he is likely to be murdered, given Pharaoh’s decree. However, she exhibits incredible faith and hopefulness by letting her son go, putting him in the Nile, and praying that some kind soul finds the baby, takes pity on him, and takes him in. When Pharaoh’s daughter does find Moshe in the river, Moshe’s sister Miriam, who had been watching the path of the basket, offers to have a “Hebrew woman be his wet-nurse.”

Pharaoh’s daughter is often the focus of this section, since she is the one who acts on her pity and rescues the baby, but it’s really all three women who conspire to sustain and support this child and allow him to thrive. Yocheved acts on faith, Pharaoh’s daughter shows compassion, and Miriam uses quick, intelligent decision making.

Parshat Shemot brings to light the notion that a parent or guardian has to make tough decisions all the time, and the right decision for one family isn’t necessarily the same decision another family would make. We can only strive to be as bravely hopeful as Yocheved, as compassionate as Pharaoh’s daughter, and as keenly observant as Miriam when it comes to doing what is right for our children and our community.

Carry Me With You – Parshat Vayechi 5778

carry-me-with-you.JPG

I have a variety of keepsakes I carry with me on any given day. They remind me of my father, my grandparents, and my kids. I wear my father’s Jewish star every time I’m going through a major life moment. It was around my neck at my rabbinic ordination, as I birthed both of my babies and other milestones I knew he would have wanted to be there for. This star is my way of carrying him with me in those moments. I also wear a piece of jewelry from each of my grandmothers on moments when I want to link my experience to generations past. Every day I wear my engagement ring, which carries a diamond from my husband Duncan’s Bubbe in it. When I have a particularly important prayer moment, I use my Zayde’s siddur from his bar mitzvah. Using these physical items connects me to these loves ones in a tangible way, creating the feeling that they are with me.

The Torah (and our forebears) understood this desire to have physical, tangible reminders of our past carried with us. The first time we see this is this week in our parshah. Parshat Vayechi, the last in the first book of the Torah (Bereshit), teaches us about the ultimate favor asked. The parshah centers around the death of Jacob, the blessings he gives to his grandchildren, and the mourning that the brothers do for their father. It then turns to focus on Joseph mending the final pieces of his relationship with his brothers, but the central focus of our text is the death of Jacob, then later the death of Joseph, and what each one asks of his loved ones before he dies.

In chapter 47, verse 29, it says:

And when the time approached for Israel (Jacob) to die, he summoned his son Joseph and said to him, ‘Do me this favor, place your hand under my thigh as a pledge of your steadfast loyalty; please do not bury me in Egypt.’

At the end of the parshah, Joseph makes a similar request of his brothers. Our forefathers valued the past and the people who came before them just as much as we do now, and they looked for ways to carry that past with them to help them face the future. Carrying Jacob’s bones out of Egypt into the promised land was more than just granting a dying man’s wish. This was the Israelite nation carrying with them a reminder of the past and a promise for the future.

We all carry with us pieces of our past, whether physically, emotionally, or both. The true value of these artifacts and heirlooms isn’t just how we remember where we’ve come from, but what we do with it.

Hello, My Name Is – Parshat Vayigash 5778

hello-my-name-is

I have quite the collection of name tags. Some of them are nice metal ones from former positions, and some are stickers I’ve collected on my bookshelf or closet door after an event. And because I have a title that goes with me, the names range from simply “Eve” to “Rabbi Eve” to “Rabbi Posen” to the occasional “Shiri’s mom.” Each of these pieces of my identity is important to me and represents a different facet of my daily life. In certain circumstances, like performing a life cycle event or working on a rabbinic project, I am clearly Rabbi Posen. In other places I am Rabbi Eve, playing with the kids in Foundation School or our young families group Shoreshim. For simplicity I introduce myself as “Eve” when I go to an exercise class or an event for my husband Duncan. Of course when I’m in my mommy role for Shiri or Matan, I am simply that – Mommy.

How you introduce yourself to others tells at least a portion of the story of your identity. Every setting and situation, from parent/grandparent mode to professional environments to a casual night with friends, might require a different side of you.

The theme of names and the identities they carry with them is part of the focus of this week’s parshah, Parshat Vayigash. This week we read about how Joseph and his brothers have many moments of heartfelt joy. Joseph’s brother Yehudah tries to redeem himself by asking to be imprisoned instead of Benjamin, and Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and heroically invites the whole family to Egypt to save them from the starvation they face in Israel. In addition, Joseph and his father Jacob are reunited, and Joseph is able to finally reveal his new-found position of power.

Joseph makes a deliberate choice when he reveals himself to his brothers. He says, “I am Joseph.” He had achieved a level of fame and notoriety in Egypt, so he could have identified himself by his Egyptian name and title, but instead he simply shares his name. “I am Joseph.” He knew he would need to rediscover his brotherly identity if this was to be a successful reunion.

Sometimes it feels like we’re wearing multiple name tags all at the same time as we carry different aspects of our identity with us. The challenge is always to figure out which one is best suited for any given moment. What’s important to remember is that having these multiple names doesn’t dilute or diminish who we are; it forms and strengthens who we are able to be.