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Weekly Portion

  |   Judaism


When Wrestling is More than Entertainment

One of my most beloved teachers would offer, “Is the Bible the religious text of Western civilization because it is a great book, or is it a great book because it is the religious text of Western civilization?” Self-evidently, rabbis insist on the former conviction, and the regular submissions for “Torah From Around the World” are meant to provide strong supporting evidence.

Indeed, if we had only one fragment of the vast literature of our tradition that passes down to us from antiquity, this week’s Torah portion includes several strong candidates for the capacity to convey the heart of Jewish conviction to the world and in us.

Specifically, I shall refer to the well-known wrestling match out of which Jacob emerges with a new name, his and our name – Israel.

To unpack just some of its insights, ones hidden in plain sight, is to uncover a universe of Jewish values and ideals.

Consider the Hebrew is unequivocal that Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him. Was the encounter, as the Prophet Hosea suggests (Hosea 12:4), with an angel, or a person, his conscience? All are viable options, and the text gets even more complex and vital as it reaches a climax with Jacob receiving a new name, our patronymic, with the declaration (citing the JPS translation) “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.”

That English may obscure some especially radical ideas. For the Hebrew for “beings divine” is in fact nothing less than one of the names for God. Additionally, you “have prevailed” may similarly be a little off, as well suggesting an element of hubris, for the Hebrew recalls a modern Hebrew “street phrase” (yachol lihiyot), which means it is possible as in you are capable, competent; it’s what you do, both with God and with persons, which is your skill, capacity, duty, your role.

The matter becomes even more curious as Jacob emerges from the encounter limping, which, even as it may be description of a physical condition, also must be a metaphor for the wounds life inflicts on him, on all. As he leaves that place, he names the location Peniel because – and now a direct translation of the Hebrew – “I have seen God [not as so often translated, a divine being] face to face and my life was preserved.” The reference or challenge, of course, to a well-known conviction that no one can behold God in full connection and survive the encounter.

Question: did he wrestle with God or a man? And the deep answer is yes. As supporting evidence, I refer us to the next chapter as Jacob meets and, perhaps, reconciles with his brother Esau. The text informs us that Jacob responds to Esau’s embrace with a radical insight or formula (Genesis 33:10).  “… [F]or to see your face is like seeing the face of God, and you have received me favorably.”

In brief, our tradition teaches that when we truly encounter, meet and connect with the other, with all others, even our adversaries, we are as close as humans may approach to seeing, embracing and being part of a divine encounter. Put simply, I recall the battles that were so often drawn along the lines between secular humanism as a devilish alternative to biblical conviction and any serious consideration, let alone connection to God.

The text seems to argue that secular humanism is an oxymoron or, more positively stated, there is no such thing. Rather our encounters with each other are always potential moments to meet the sacred; every meeting may be filled with blessing. Simply put, how we deal with each other is holy work, or, as I like to call it, sacred humanism. What we do with and to each other, we do to God. Our actions bring a sacred dimension into the world, or, as we push away or discount the other, even an adversary, we are diminishing holiness, turning away from a moment to arrive at Peniel – a place, a moment where we just might meet the face of God.

Weekly Torah Portion: פרשת וישלח
Tel aviv
Beer sheva
Daily Zmanim
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Yom Kippur at Ohel Jacob Synagogue

  |   Holidays, Institutional, Judaism

This year’s Yom Kippur, at Ohel Jacob had a wide participation of members and visitors.

At the sunset of the October 8th we all met in a room at the Novotel José Av. Malhoa in Lisbon, under the leadership of András Fehervari. Facing East in unison, we intone Kol Nidreh, and so welcomed Ohel Jacob members and visitors to the holiest day of the year. In our Synagogue, we gathered for the ceremony of Neílah on the 9th of October. The Ark was opened and the Shofar echoed. Next year in Jerusalem!

The joy of feeling our empowered and increasingly participatory Community made this beginning of the year a very special moment. All together we are building a great community!

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Rosh Hashanah 5780 at Ohel Jacob Synagogue

  |   Holidays, Institutional, Judaism

The Ohel Jacob Synagogue entered the year 5780 in celebration!

We were many celebrating the moment at Ohel Jacob, so many that our Synagogue space was not enough. The Community has enthusiastically cohered to the Invitation to the celebration and many visitors from around the world wished to join us at the entrance of the New Year at Novotel José Malhoa Av, in Lisbon. At a table occupying three rooms and with no shortage of date palms, pomegranates and the sweetness of apples with honey, we shared a moment of great spirituality. András Fehervari led with enthusiasm and joy and it was with great satisfaction the Ohel Jacob Community welcomed the New Year to the sound of the Shofar.

Shanah Tovah!

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Rosh Hashanah 5780

  |   Holidays, Institutional, Judaism

Rosh haShana, Jewish new year, is different from popular new year celebrations known in different cultures and religions around the world as it is not a overjoys carnival like festival of expectations for the new beginnings, merrymaking and fun. Rosh haShana combines joyous celebration and anticipation for new beginnings with anxiety and trembling before God who judges our deeds through the past year on this day. We trust our God is merciful and forgiving, but we also know that God can see and know all, nothing could be hidden from God.

Rosh haShana has a mixed character, it is a mirror of our existence where all is mixed. Very seldom we have moments of pure joy or sorrow, most of our lives we experience mixed emotions. And thus, Rosh haShana is true and accurate representation of life, no idealizations nor exaggerations. Joy and fear, celebrating and trembling mixed together.

On Rosh haShana God will judge us in accordance with our deeds. It is frightening to stand before the Judge of the Universe, but it is also optimistic as we are judged *only* for our actions. It gives us control and ability to influence our destiny: everything depends on us. There is no random and whimsical deity who does as it pleases. But rather the Righteous merciful Judge who won’t miss any good deed. It is our responsibility to make our best to make sure there are enough good deeds to prevail our shortcomings.

God does not judge us for our feelings nor for thoughts but for our words and deeds. It is natural and human to have all kinds of fleeting thoughts that are not all good and pure. Many times, we have feelings that makes us feel embarrassed afterwards. But all the time we don’t surrender to talk and act according to our unfortunate thoughts and angry feelings, we may hope for a favorable judgement. It is all in our hands. We need to try to translate our trembling before the Judge into the actions of good will in God’s world.

Let it be God’s will that we’ll merit to be inscribed into the Book of Life, and in the new year we increase our merits through good deeds.

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Rabbi Alona Lisitsa of the Reform Judaism Movement

  |   Institutional, Judaism

In this past 29th and 30th of Av (30th and 31st August), the Ohel Jacob Synagogue had the privilege of welcoming Rabbi Alona Lisitsa who officiated the Cabbalat Shabbat and Shacharit ceremonies of Rosh Chodesh for the month of Ellul. Our house was full at the Shabbat dinner! During her time with us Rabbi Alona also participated in several follow up meetings and mentorship with our community and promoted stimulating reflections on the theme of the weekly Parasha (Re’eh). At the end of the day our Rabbi clarified several practical and doctrinal points regarding Selichot for Ellul. Rabbi Alona brought from Israel a set of Rimonim that are now decorating one of our Siphrei Torah. It was a short visit, but the support and the the guidance provided has been more than valuable for the next steps of the development of our growing community that is establishing itself as the home of Reform Judaism in Portugal. The Hehaver Association thanks the EUPJ for their support in bringing Rabbi Alona Lisitsa to our community. It was certainly one of the most rewarding moments of this year in our Synagogue.

Rabbi Alona Lisitsa, Leonor Gama and Adriana Souza

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Thanks to Rabbi Danny Freenlander and World Union Jewish Music Cruise Delegates

  |   Institutional, Judaism

Dear Rabi Danny Freenlander and World Union Jewish Music Cruise Delegates,

The Juventude Israelita Hehaver Association/ Ohel Jacob Sinagogue would like to thank you for your generous gift our community, we are very touched for your support. Through your donation we are able to consider on the restoration of all our Sefer Torot and continue working towards to strengthen the values of the Judaism within the framework of Progressive Movement in Portugal. We would to give a special thanks to:

Phyllis Dorey,
Arnold and Elizabeth Beman,
George Starkschall,
Jacquiline Getreu,
Ann and Manuel Martin,
Barbara and Larry Shuman,
Ethel and Robert Singer,

and all the anonymous contributors to this project.

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