Showing posts from October, 2014

Land of Confusion

Parashat Noach  Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 
The Land of Confusion 
Over a decade ago, I had a bit of a fight about Torah. It’s normal to have a discussion about a piece of text or an interpretation, but this got slightly more heated. A friend and I were reading Parashat Noach and we got to the story of Migdal Bavel, the Tower of Babel. 
I read the story with fresh eyes, taking the text at its face-value. My ‘psh’at’ (literal) interpretation was that humanity was still unified. There was no war, no bloodshed, no racism and no national distinctions. (After all, humanity got a fresh start after the Flood just a few verses prior). It sounds like a model United Nations, avant-la-lettre. They settled and wanted to build a city with a citadel to prevent them from being scattered across the earth and to establish an honourable reputation for themselves as a united human community. 
I argued that the text betrayed God’s pettiness and judgment. Why decry that people are united and living in peace?…

The Season of Our Joy

Sukkot Sermon 2014 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 
The Season of our Joy 
There’s a bit of an urban legend floating around that the Inuit community have over 20 different words for ‘snow’. Of course, peoples are shaped by their historical and geographical experience and whether or not this platitude is true, it does speak to a truism: Arctic peoples must be deeply familiar with the subtleties of ice and snow. 
There is a similar urban legend floating around about the Jewish community. Shaped by our historical experience, often fraught with difficulty and sadness, we have come to place a premium on ‘joy’. 
And so, we have many words indicating shades of happiness. We have ‘asher’, which means happy in a blessed or fortunate way: ‘Ashrey ha’ish’ – happy – or fortunate – is the man. We see this a lot in psalms, in particular in psalm 145, the so-called ‘Ashrey’, which has the same root: ‘ashrey yoshvei beteicha…’ – ‘happy are the dwellers in Your house’. We also have ‘rinah’, to ‘shout for …

Yom Kippur Sermon: A Tale of Two Futures