Looking for Water: a drash for Parshat Toldot

by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat


Isaac dug his father’s wells anew.
This doesn’t mean he just treaded old ground.

Avraham had plumbed the earth’s deep wisdom.
Where his pick struck soil, compassion poured.

Isaac opened up his father’s pipes
so kindness, long-delayed, could flow again.

In all who drank, a memory arose:
water, shared in the desert, saves a life.


When Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi
found a spring, the herdsmen quarreled: “This is ours.”

Frustrated, they named that place Contention.

He dug another, they fought again: Dispute.

This trend should sound familiar. Today, who drills
— and who drinks only the infrequent rains?

What new name might we choose if we could build
a world where everyone gets enough water?


Source of all, flow through us like the rains.
Turn the spigot of abundant blessing.

Teach us we won’t die, parched and alone,
but live renewed like hillsides kissed with dew.

When we can share the stuff of which we’re made,
what makes our earth the firmament’s swirled blue,

then we will find the ample space we need
to share this earth as kin with all who thirst.

(And let us say: Amen.)

“Isaac dug his father’s wells anew.” Genesis 26:17.

“But when Isaac’s servants, digging in the wadi, found there a well of spring water, the herdsmen of Gerar quarreled with Isaac’s herdsmen, saying, ‘The water is ours. He named that well Esek, because they contended with him.” Genesis 26:19-20 

“And when they dug another well, they disputed over that one also; so he named it Sitnah.” Genesis 26:21

“In today’s world, ask: / who may drill, who only gets the infrequent rains?” See The Gap in Water Consumption between Palestinians and Israelis, B’tselem 2013.


Ta’anit Teshuvah: A High Holiday Fast for Palestinian Human Rights

by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb

It is a tradition for the pious to fast from dawn to dusk during the Ten Days of Teshuvah, as it is written, “I am with them in distress.” (Psalm 91:15) Suffering is ever before us. We mourn the unnecessary loss of life that stems from preventable harm: racial, gender and economic oppression, police violence, military occupation, forced dispossession and deadly conflict. These harmful conditions deny millions of people the opportunity to fulfill their dreams. During the holy days, we take time to heal our broken hearts, nurture our capacity for reconciliation, and breathe new life into our shared struggle for a just and compassionate world. We do this so we can lovingly and fiercely pursue justice and peace over the long haul.

In 2011 Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence initiated a Ta’anit Teshuvah during the seven intermediate days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Ta’anit Teshuvah culminates in renewing a shomer shalom vow of nonviolence during Kol Nidre.

Why fast? Public fasting gives witness to calamities. Public fasting is an act of remorse and reconciliation. Public fasting is also a call to action!

On the third of Tishri, a person who wants to undertake the fast proclaims the following before two witnesses:

I, ______________, take upon myself a Ta’anit Teshuvah from the third of Tishri through Yom Hakippurim. May this fast purify my heart so I can become a steward of nonviolence and reparative justice, compassion and peace throughout the year. I undertake this fast to (insert your intention). When this period of fasting is over, may I (as a shomeret shalom) continue to fulfill my obligation to engage in acts of nonviolence, reparative justice and reconciliation. Amen.

This year, JVP is focused on stopping the Prawer Plan, which is one more link in the long, unbearable chain of persecution that has bound Palestinians to continuous oppression for the past sixty years. You can dedicate your fasting to stopping the Prawer Plan by wearing white, and pinning a mourning ribbon on your clothes that says, “Stop Prawer.” (Click here to see what other actions you can take during the High Holy Day season to stop the Prawer Plan.)

I am also fasting to give public witness to the persecution of Native Americans, African Americans and Latinos by the United States in the form of police brutality, the war on drugs and gangs, closing of schools, mass incarceration, the militarization of the border, deportation and economic exploitation. One Oakland pastor who oversees the prophetic ministry program of his church lamented that it feels like a holocaust. “We are literally being locked up or killed in the streets while white America goes about its business as if nothing is happening.”

Recently, Noura Khouri and I initiated the Facing Urban Shield Action Network in the Bay Area which is composed of over 20 organizations that address different aspects of the militarization of police. Urban Shield is the weapons trade show and training ground for police agencies from the US and around the world. The IDF is connected to Urban Shield. Protesting Urban Shield is an opportunity to link domestic and international struggles against occupation, incarceration and war and build the global movement for justice and peace.

JVP is a place for alternative community building, a place where we commit to honoring the dignity of every human being, a place where we experiment with the methodology of nonviolence, a place where we live into a world rooted in creativity, resiliency, reconciliation and love. We are not afraid to struggle, to stand up for our rights and the rights of others. During this season of fasting, let us go into the streets and proclaim publicly:

This is the fast we have chosen:
Shatter the chains of oppression.
Unbind the yoke of unethical action from around our necks.
Dismantle prisons and end administrative detention.
Stop policies of dispossession
and let the oppressed move freely throughout the land.
Break the hold of corporate greed
Redistribute bread and resources to hungry
Build affordable housing
and establish a living wage.
Do not withhold a helping hand.
See every person as sister/brother
And banish violence from the land.
Then shall our inner light break forth
as the light of dawn.

(A riff on Isaiah 58)

The Politics of Weeping

by Rabbi Margaret Holub

I’ve been struck this past week, reading my various rabbis’ words as we process Operation Pillar, by all the talk of weeping.  “I weep for Israelis terrorized by sirens….”  “I weep for Gazans terrorized by Israelis….”  “I weep for everyone on both sides….”  There was a nice comment that someone made somewhere about how we shouldn’t forget to weep for the Bedouin in the southern Negev while we are weeping for both Israelis and Gazans.  And so on.

Then there were the comments telling the rest of us who we are allowed to weep for; I read one posting in another place from a rabbi admonishing the rest of us that we’re not entitled to weep for Gaza unless we have a first-degree relative in Israel, preferably directly in harm’s way.  That pissed me off.

And I also saw disgruntled comments that certain kinds of weeping — for the four Israeli dead, for example — just feed the evil delusion that this is a symmetrical conflict.  Or that if you only weep for the dead and destroyed of Gaza, you are self-hating, or at the very least, no one in the Jewish community will take your weeping seriously.

For a couple of days now I’ve been kind of anti-weeping.  But, like many of us, I’ve been feeling pretty damned impotent to do anything useful.  And today I got to thinking that maybe this is one role for rabbis: to weep.  And to share our sorrow and rage and all the rest, whatever piece of the whole scenario brings us to tears.  There’s plenty to cry about.  I haven’t personally shed any tears yet, but I’ve had knots in my stomach a lot and some sleepless nights.

But mostly I think it’s probably a good idea, at least for me, to try to stay centered and think.  What I am trying — not totally productively — to think about is what I have to offer that might be of help.  I don’t think that any of us can do absolutely the one perfect thing that will end the blockade, end the occupation and bring peace and justice.  It’s going to be partial from each of us.  So I’m also thinking that it’s probably not too productive to try to look tougher than I actually am, or smarter, or more radical.  though it’s hard for me not to try.  I was particularly moved by one person in our Rabbinic Council who said the other day that she’s not really in a position to be out front in public right now, but she can see doing some behind-the-scenes things, like making phone calls or writing press releases or even reaching out to other rabbis who are having a hard time right now dealing with this stuff.  When she said that I thought, wow, that’s something useful being said here.

But back to the weeping…  I think that all of us are moved to weep by different things, which is as it should be.  I don’t really think that one kind of weeping is better than another at this moment.  I kind of imagine us all at home, looking at our various computers and weeping, each in our own way, so that between us all we’re weeping over much of the tragedy/crisis/war/massacre and trying to find our voices and think how we can help.

And I find this comforting.

There Were Three Trees in the Garden: A Midrash

by Rabbinical Student Alana Alpert

In Al Arakhib, tree planted by JNF

And the Lord God caused to sprout from the ground every tree pleasant to see and good to eat, and the Tree of Life in the midst of the garden, and the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2:9)

There were three forbidden trees in the garden: the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge, and the Tree of Violence. The Tree of Violence is placed just behind the Tree of Knowledge, for it only takes effect after you become aware of right and wrong. When you eat of its fruit, what you have learned to be true will become false and what you have learned to love will turn against you. Were Adam and Eve to eat of this fruit they would not have been banished – remaining in the Garden of Eden, suddenly a scary place, would have been punishment enough.

It’s been hard year in Israel, when things that had once seemed benign, good, or even perfect, slowly become shadowy, even threatening: A Jewish star, a blue box, a flag…

There is a particular pain that comes when my religious and cultural symbols are being disfigured, when violence is being done to and issuing from them. But the sinisterization of the most basic human symbol, a tree, is a crime even harder to digest. The Jewish National Fund in Israel is using trees as tools of displacement, as facts on the ground, as soldiers in the quiet war against the Bedouin in the Negev. I will not easily forgive the JNF for making a tree something to fear.

But this is bigger than the JNF. Here are just a few examples of places around the country I have visited recently where theft is being perpetrated in the name of the environment:

West Bank: Wadi Kana has been declared a nature reserve by the Civil Administration and Palestinian farmers have been told to uproot 2000 trees from their own lands or pay for the cost of the bulldozers themselves. Of course, this designation has not affected over 100 buildings built within the “nature reserve” by Jewish settlements, which by the Civil Administration’s own law are illegal.

East Jerusalem: growth of the Palestinian neighborhoods of Issawiya and A-Tur is being prevented by the designation of parts of their lands as a national park.

Negev: the village of Al Arakhib has been destroyed and is being forested, in an effort to force its residents to move to the recognized Bedouin village of Rahat.

I offer the words of naturalist Enos Mills:

The forests are the flags of nature. They appeal to all and awaken inspiring universal feelings. Enter the forest and the boundaries of nations are forgotten.  It may be that some time an immortal pine will be the flag of a united peaceful world.

Ken yehi ratzon – May it be God’s will.

To read more about the “forestation” Al Arakhib and take action, click here.

To read more about the “Nature Reserve” in Wadi Kana and take action, click here.

To read more about “National Parks” in East Jerusalem, click here.