Parsha Toldot by  Rabbi Dr. Douglas Goldhamer


In 586 BCE, Babylon attacked Israel and destroyed the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. The Jews were exiled to Babylon. And for the first time in our history as a people, we no longer lived in Judah or in Israel, but we lived in a foreign country. About 100 years later, King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jews to go back to Judah, to build the temple again.

On the first Rosh Hashanah, after the Jews came back for the first time in 100 years, there were High Holiday services in the temple.  Unfortunately, when the people heard the Torah for the first time in 100 years, they couldn’t understand what the rabbis were reading. They had forgotten how to understand Torah, read Hebrew and speak Hebrew. And when they heard the Torah, they wept.

But then the great prophet Nehemiah spoke, “Today is a holy day to the Lord your God. Don’t mourn.  Do not weep.  Go and enjoy good food and sweet drink. Share good food with those who don’t have. Today is Holy to the Lord. Do not be sad. Do not cry. For THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH.”

THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH. Even in times of sadness, the Jewish people have always known that the JOY OF THE LORD IS THE MOST IMPORTANT COMMANDMENT.  I recently reread the best English book I’ve ever read, Viktor Frankl’s  book, MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING.  The book, written by a prisoner in Auschwitz, a doctor, records that even in the concentration camp, the Jews would secretly celebrate weddings, secretly sing prayers, and deep into the dark of night, they would find joy in God as if they had no concerns in the world.

I said to Peggy last week, “How can we Jewish people say, ‘God loves us,’ or ‘God has chosen us, when we Jewish people have suffered in Egypt, in Spain, in Russia, in Germany, again and again in Israel.’”

And Peggy answered me, “Because we, the Jews, are still here. But all the ancient nations–all the ancient people of the world have disappeared.”

“What kept us alive?”

Peggy answered me, “I think that the strength of the Jewish people is that we never allowed our enemies to rob us of our ability to laugh.  Remember the great comedian Mort Sahl, who just died a few days ago?  Think of Jack Benny, Myron Cohen, Milton Berle, Don Rickles, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. The list goes on and on.”

Why did the bee wear a yarmulke?  He didn’t want people to mistake him for a wasp.

The ancient rabbi in the ancient city of Jerusalem, in the year 500 was right. THE JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH.  When Nehemiah said, “The JOY OF THE LORD IS YOUR STRENGTH,” he meant that we have to find JOY in everything that the Lord made. We need to find joy in life.

Life in community, life in the birth of a child, life in love. This past Sunday, I blessed Gabriel Clinkman, the newborn son of Zach and Ayala Clinkman, and grandson of Ken and Charlene Clinkman. We did it via Zoom, with Ayala’s parents from Israel participating.  Even though we were separated because of the pandemic, we were able to find joy in the mitzvah.

God doesn’t want us to be happy only on Friday night. God wants us to feel happy every day, even during a pandemic. God is in the long-term happy business. God wants each one of us to have a life filled with joy. Because God loves each one of us. Good Shabbos and Shavua Tov.