Monthly Archives: December 2009

From Ish Ben Partzi: The Concept of Shalem and Parashat Vayeishev

I wanted to share this beautiful post from my wise friend, Jonah. His words are directed to the Jewish people, but the Goyem of the world can learn much in these words. Let us all remember that the only thing that divides us is our ability to deny the wholeness of our life and world. Thich Nhat Hanh, a great scholar from the Buddhist traditional, wrote in his book “Anger” that the only way cool the flames of anger is to embrace our fear and suffering. The truth that Jonah speaks is the same as coming to the understanding that life is suffering, that light is dark, and truth is non-truth. The world and life is whole because it is both negative and positive. It is Shalem!

And to my friend should you read these words – thank you and peace be with you, Julia, Bina and the Geffen clan. ~ Brian

via Ish ben Partzi by Ish ben Partzi on 12/9/09

Do we truly pay attention to the lessons of our tradition’s wisdom? This is the fundamental question of my relationship to Torah. This is how I try to read the Holy texts of our people. And how Jews have seemingly approached text for millennia. And yet, all too often we witness the lessons of the past disregarded or distorted. Or we chose to see one side of an issue, ignoring a truth on the other side. Torah is truth we say. Torah is שלם Shalem, complete. And Shabbat, well Shabbat is the day of completeness – the day of pure truth. After all, we say Shabbat Shalom.

Since this summer I have spent a great deal of time in contemplation of our tradition, our history, and how to study each with a mind to the other. Each day I read the news from Israel waiting for some glimmer of hope, and am often left wanting. But I have come to realize one thing. I do not believe that we have chosen to come to complete terms with our tradition. I believe we ignore our past reality when dealing with our present. And that we do so at our peril. But I know that Torah is truth. And so the answers are there.

And so we come to parashat Vayeshev, a story where dreams dance between reality and fantasy, where truth and lies are intermingled, where hatred and love seem to exist simultaneously. Joseph is sent to search for his brothers as they tend their flocks in Shechem. This seemingly innocuous introduction to the story leads, as we all know, to the eventual acts of the brothers that lead to Joseph’s sale into slavery and, later on, the entire Jewish people’s as well. The gemara
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קב א

on the verse
וַיִּשְׁלָחֵהוּ מֵעֵמֶק חֶבְרוֹן, וַיָּבֹא שְׁכֶמָה (בראשית לז:יד)
So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem (Braishit 37:14)

notes that Shechem is

תנא משום ר’ יוסי מקום מזומן לפורענות בשכם עינו את דינה בשכם מכרו אחיו את יוסף בשכם נחלקה מלכות בית דוד (מלכים א יא)
It was taught in the name of R. Yossi: A place predestined for evil: in Shechem Dinah was violated; in Shechem Joseph was sold by his brothers; and in Shechem the kingdom of the House of David was divided (I Kings:12:1).

Shechem is trouble the tradition says, and implies that we should stay away.

And yet, today Shechem is the subject of dispute. It is a city called Nablus, which sits in the West Bank. And in it is “Joseph’s tomb.” And so Jews, religious Jews like you and I have connection to it. At the onset of the 2nd Intefadeh it was a centerpiece, destroyed by rioters it became a symbol for many that peace was an current impossibility. That the other had nothing but hatred for us Jews, that when given the opportunity they destroy our history rather than protect it. And so a “holy” place became a site of hatred and contention.

Yet it seems apparent that we discarded one piece of the wisdom of our tradition for the sake of another. Joseph is buried there, so the place is holy. Yet tradition teaches us that this is also “a place predestined for evil” – a place where bad things happen. And so the question arises, when we returned to Eretz Yisrael after 2000 years, when our holy sites heretofore existing only in the communal memory of our people became real places – we CHOSE a specific narrative as our truth. Shechem ceased to be a place of evil, and became only a holy place. And so our truth ceased to be shalem, as we left part of it behind.

I see similarities in our discussions of an egalitarian approach to Halacha in the manner presented to us this summer by Rav Eitan. More specifically, in the existing reaction to Halacha of our type from the other halachic minded Jewish communities of the world. The current focus seems to be that Halachic rulings that are lenient in essence, are less true than their stringent counterparts. And so a Torah-true halachic reading that increases egalitarian practice in the Synagogue by Rav Eitan is on its face less real than a reading that says buses in Israel should be gender segregated. Each opinion is a halachic reaction to modernity, each is a departure from Jewish tradition as it has existed up to this point, yet the Halachic community seems to only value the strict. Why? It is choosing a half truth. It is an existence that denies shalem. It is calling Shechem a holy place while ignoring warnings that it is also dangerous.

So our goal then is, I believe, to attempt to see the whole of the lessons of the tradition. It is our responsibility to search deeply into our texts, locate the wisdom, and if it sets before us difficult situations, if it shows a complete truth that is complex and requires conscious decision-making – then we must take it upon ourselves to make the hard choices.

For Israel, this is leaving Shechem – and by extension the holy site of Joseph’s tomb – in the hands of a non-Jewish population that is at current time a hostile population. And to do so with the comfort of knowing that we are, in fact acting in a way that is Torah-true.

For us it is to always remember that we are as true to the tradition as anyone else, that we have chose different emphasis, turned right where others turned left – but have not left the system, have not left the wisdom behind.

My friends we are the present כלי קודש – the receptacles of holiness. The wisdom of the ages is within you. Use it wisely.


White House to Announce Open Governent Plan

The White House released the following statement today.  Tomorrow Vivek Kundra and Aneesh Chopra will announce the comprehensive Open Government Plan.  Hopefully it will be good.

Office of the Press Secretary
December 7, 2009

ADVISORY: Administration Officials to Launch Comprehensive Open Government Plan

with Webcast Open to All Americans

 WASHINGTON – Tomorrow at 11:00am ET, U.S. Chief Information Officer
Vivek Kundra and U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra will
launch the administration’s comprehensive Open Government Plan,
furthering the President’s commitment to increasing transparency and
accountability in Washington and ensuring greater access and
information for the American people.

 This announcement will be streamed live on, and will
be followed by a web forum where individuals will be given an
opportunity to ask questions and offer suggestions about the
administration’s Open Government Plan.

 WHO: U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra and U.S. CTO Aneesh Chopra

WHAT: Administration Launches Comprehensive Open Government Plan

WHERE: Watch it live and participate at

WHEN: Tuesday, December 8

11:00am ET