Welcome to Mo-Drash ... the weird confluence of the Jewish tradition of Midrash and me!

What is Midrash? Literally, the word derives from the Hebrew root that expresses interpretation. Figuratively, it is the process by which Jews read between the lines of our sacred stories and seek insight from what we discover from each story, verse, word, letter and stroke of the pen.

Who am I? My name is Adam Morris, but known by many as Rabbi Mo. I spend a lot of my time serving in the role of rabbi, but I am also a husband, a dad, a runner and a 'weekend' craftsman (among other things). I try to move like Abraham to find my Place ... to wrestle like Jacob to know my Place ... and to snicker like Sarah to keep me in my Place.

B'makom she-ani omayd (from The Place where I stand),
Rabbi Mo

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Re'eh 5773 - Peace Talks ... Again.

For the first time in three years official representatives of Israel and Palestine are sitting down to engage in formal discussions about creating parameters for peace. We do not have to look very far to find those who think such an endeavor meaningless, hopeless or even dangerous. Cynics question the sincerity of either side’s intentions toward peace, pundits warn that very little movement is possible and then there are those who tell us the talks themselves are too little (Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talk Charade) or too much (Christian Israel-Backers Blast Obama on Peace). If this most recent round of talks were a horse race, the filly called ‘Peace’ might make the odds of a long shot look good. Forget about betting on ‘Peace’, is it even worthwhile watching the race?


Admittedly, the more that the current situation between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people continues the less optimistic I become about a resolution (even) in the near-distant future. Each side continues to become more and more entrenched in its position - building walls (both physical and psychological) between one another. Peace seems like an unattainable, naive abstraction. Reality is too messy, disjointed and plain unfair. Should we just batten down the hatches and defend ourselves against those who would threaten and take what is ours?


I came across a verse in this week’s Torah portion that - while I am sure that I have read it before - surprised me. This week’s portion, Re’eh, continues recounting Moses’ final speeches to the Israelites. This week Moses is reviewing various laws that relate to preserving the community’s holy place and helping to create a community in which holiness is cultivated. As Moses speaks to the people about being aware of and caring for the poor and needy in the community, he tells them: “There will never cease to be needy ones in your land, this is why I command you to open your hand to the poor and needy ... “ (Deuteronomy 15:11) Never?! For all the talk and promise of covenant; for all of the possibilities in redemption from slavery ... I was surprised by this non-utopian, messy, gray vision for the society that they will create. I find two important ideas in this statement: (1) An acknowledgement that no matter what the Israelites might do - their community will always have those in need, those who lack. It will be messy, imperfect and unfair. (2) Despite the messiness, imperfection and unfairness the Israelites are still (choose your own word here:) expected/obligated/commanded to confront it and do something about it. In the face of the size of the task at hand (in this case, hunger and homelessness), it is not acceptable to resign oneself to impotence.

Is it irony? Paradox? A sense of divine humor? Or, maybe it is just a Jewish way of seeing the world. No matter how dire or insurmountable before us the iniquity in the world may seem, we cannot stop opening our hands, our minds or our hearts to those whose lives are impacted by these iniquities. With this nudge from Torah, I will pay attention to the discussions between Israelis and Palestinians. While I will be all too aware of the messiness of our situation, I will also strive to to see the possibilities.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

V'etchanan 5773 - Crossing Lines

Being a young baseball fan, my son is having a hard time getting his head around the concept of an All-Star game. All of the players and teams have been playing so hard against one another (especially those hated Yankees) and then they just stop in the middle of the season and play with each other? Then in a few days they are going to go back to playing against each other? Seriously? When, where and which lines we cross can be a confusing concept for a young baseball fan.

Even for those of us who can wrap our heads around the idea of baseball’s midsummer classic, still may have a tough time with other kinds of lines and the conditions, variables and situations that mandate crossing them or not. Ask President Obama. As president he looks around the world and sees turmoil, injustice, cruelty and violations of basic human rights. When is it the right time and what is the right way to cross the lines between sovereign countries and governments and say something or do something? Ask any Jewish person who cares about the land of Israel. We look across the ocean and see things we love and see things that seem dissonant from our deepest values. When is the right time and what is the right way to cross that line of loyalty and support and offer loving and respectful critique and feedback? Ask any human being. We see a family member or dear friend in trouble (or at least what we perceive as trouble). When is the right time and what is the right way to cross the line to say something that may not be heard or understood and quite possible may injure that person or the relationship?

Unlike baseball’s mid-summer classic, there are no clear and fast rules that tell us when to cross what lines. These life decisions vary, change and depend upon the particular relationship, situation and other variables at play. Then how do we know the right time and right way to cross those lines between us and those around us? In this week’s Torah portion, V’etchanan (from the book of Deuteronomy), we find what may be the most often recited verse in Jewish history: The Shema. “Listen Israel, YHVH/Adonai is our God, YHVH/Adonai is One.” The Shema is not a declaration of monotheism, but something else. It is a declaration of Israel’s relationship to this deity - that YHVH/Adonai is the ONE and ONLY understanding of divinity for the community called Israel. ‘YHVH/Adonai is OUR god.” This declaration is Israel’s attempt at definition and differentiation. This declaration of self-understanding guided, guides and continues to guide Israel as it grows, loves and acts.

In wondering when and how to cross the lines in our lives, we all need what the Shema provides Israel - an understanding of who we are and where we begin and others end. There is not a steadfast template as to when to step on or over those lines between us and others. There is no handbook that guides us how to constructively involve ourselves in the problems of a friend - whether that friend is another country or another person. In each of those moments of decision perhaps the most helpful template is having a clear understanding of how each of us understands the nature of justice, compassion ... of divinity.