When the Ordinary Becomes Tragic, and the Tragic Becomes Ordinary

A d’var Torah on parashat Terumah, in response to this week’s shooting in Parkland, FL. For the Jewish texts, I relied heavily on Dena Weiss’s “From Table to Grave.” Cross-posted to This is What a Rabbi Looks Like.

The name of this week’s Torah portion is Terumah, which means “gift,” and it refers to the gifts that God requests from the Israelites for the purpose of building the mishkan. The mishkan is a dwelling place for God, also called a mikdash, or holy place. The Torah tells us:

“The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Tell the Israelites to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved….and let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. Exactly as I show you—the pattern of the Tabernacle and the pattern of all its furnishings—so shall you make it” (Exodus 25:1-9).

The instructions that follow deal with the interior furnishings—the ark, the table, and the menorah—as well as the external structure—the coverings, frames, and textiles, the altar and the enclosure.

The juxtaposition of the instructions for the aron, the Ark of the Covenant, and the shulchan, the table for the bread of display, caught the attention of 14th century Spanish Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, and reminded him of a peculiar custom of his French neighbors:

“It is the practice of the pious in France that they make their casket ([also called an] aron) for burial out of their table. [They do this] to show that a person will not take anything in his hand and nothing of his labor will accompany him, except for the tzedaka that he did in his life and the goodness he bestowed at his table. Therefore the Rabbis said, ‘One who sits at his table has his days and years lengthened’ (Berakhot 54b).”

At first glance, this custom reminded me of a story I told last month at Tisch Shabbat, in which a miserly man finds himself poor and hungry in olam habah, the afterlife, because he didn’t send anything ahead for himself (except for a piece of cake that had fallen on the ground). Whether we believe in such a model for the afterlife or not, stories like this remind us to share what we have while we are here, because we can’t take anything with us when we go.

This custom is, in a way, one step beyond the humility normally required in a Jewish burial. While our custom is to bury our loved ones in a plain pine box, here the aron must not only be plain, but recycled.

While for Rabbi Bachya ben Asher, the connection between ark and table signifies what awaits us after our death, forDena Weiss of Mechon Hadar, this custom might impact how we live our lives. An aron is a place of storage, whether we are talking about the Ark of the Covenant, our household closets, or our final resting place. As such, an aron has a sense of permanence and stasis, rather than of change and movement. A table, on the other hand, is “the domain of the temporary,” and as such, items—and people—are in constant motion, coming to the table, and being cleared away. Weiss writes:

“If your table becomes your coffin when you die, every time you see your table, eat at your table, set something upon it, or remove something from it, you are reminded that you are still alive. So long as your table is still a table, it is not a coffin, and you still have the option to do what you want and need to do with the days that remain. Yes, life is short, but it is not over.”

I had this realization myself about a year ago, when I asked the funeral director for a ride to a graveside burial during a snowstorm. He ended up putting me in the hearse. Someone later asked me what it was like, and I said, “Well, if you’re in the front seat, I guess there’s nothing to complain about.”

Sometimes it takes riding in a hearse, having a near miss, or realizing that your table will be your coffin, to shake us out of the fog of routine that keeps us from seeing clearly.

Weiss tells us that, if we let habit control our lives, our table can easily become a coffin in our lifetime. However, she adds, the reverse is also true: “You can look at your life’s course, look at your habits, and decide to revive what feels dead, hopeless, and irrelevant.”

When I initially read this interpretation of the Torah portion, I planned to give a lovely, upbeat little drash on how we can transform our coffin-like ways to a more table-like existence of movement, possibility, and generosity. And I hope that you do take that message away with you. I hope you take time this Shabbat to think about how you can make sure you are living your life fully present at the table, and not with one foot already in your coffin.

But this week, in the wake of the 18th school shooting in 2018, I can’t help thinking about how easily one’s table can become one’s coffin. On Wednesday morning, thousands of high schoolers in Parkland, FL woke up, probably reluctantly, checked their social media, showered, got dressed, did their hair and makeup, grabbed something for breakfast as they rushed out the door. It was Valentines’ Day: maybe they were engrossed in some romantic drama, their own or their friends’. It was Ash Wednesday: Maybe some of them stopped at Church on their way to school, felt the priest’s thumb on their forehead as they said, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” How many of them fought with their parents over hugging or kissing goodbye, since, as far as they knew, it was just going to be an ordinary day?

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What ordinary coursework were they studying—or not studying—when the fire alarm went off? How many of them were staring at the clock, willing it to be the end of the school day, as they always did, when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz entered the campus, armed with an AR-15, and began shooting?

Nearly 3,000 students went to school that morning, thinking it was an ordinary day. As of this writing, 17 of them will only come home in a coffin. Many others have been injured, and for everyone at that school, their family, their friends, and their neighbors—life as they know it has been changed forever.

All of these children are our children, but particularly close to our hearts in the Reform Jewish community was Alyssa Alhadeff, a fourteen-year-old freshman who spent her summers at URJ Camp Coleman. Her cousins go to synagogue with my cousins, at the Reform Temple of Rockland, just over an hour from here. She is part of our family.

Her mother, Lori Alhadeff, wrote on social media:

16victims-alyssa-master180“My Daughter Alyssa was killed today by a horrific act of violence. I just sent her to school and she was shot and killed. Alyssa was a talented soccer player, so smart, an amazing personality, incredible creative writer, and all she had to offer the world was love. She believed in people for being so honest. A knife is stabbed in my heart. I wish I could [have] taken those bullets for you. I will always love you and your memory will live on forever. Please kiss your children, tell them you love them, stand by them no matter what they want to be. To Alyssa’s Friends honor Alyssa by doing something fabulous in your life. Don’t ever give up and inspire for greatness. Live for Alyssa! Be her voice and breathe for her. Alyssa loved you all forever!”

Alyssa’s death, and the death of her classmates, is a painful reminder of how quickly our table—our ordinary routine—can become our coffin. But it is also a disturbing reminder that our coffin has become our table.

This is the 18th school shooting in the first six weeks of 2018. That means that, on average, children are being shot in our schools three times a week. We have allowed the tragic to become the ordinary.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As long as we are still alive, we owe it to those who have died to use our voices and our votes and our resources to bring about meaningful change.

This might take many forms. We can advocate for safer schools, not just with the presence of metal detectors and law enforcement, but with funding for social workers and psychologists who can address mental health issues, at school and at home, before they lead to tragedies like this one.

We can advocate for better mental health care in our communities, something that is always on the chopping block in state and national conversations about health care.

And we can and should demand sensible gun laws, particularly regarding background checks and the sale of assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons. Many recent shootings have been carried out with AR-15s, what some call a consumer version of a military-grade weapon. It is lightweight, affordable, and capable of penetrating a human body and the wall behind it. It can quickly fire off multiple rounds, particularly when modified with a bump stock, which is also legal, despite attempts to ban them following the Las Vegas shooting in 2017.

An AR-15 is not a handgun. An AR-15 is not a hunting rifle. An AR-15 is designed to kill people, quickly and efficiently, and it can legally be purchased many places in the United States. AR-15s, as “semi-automatic assault rifles,” were part of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004. Now they part of the epidemic that is killing our children, nearly three times a week on average. We have allowed them to become ordinary.

But as long as we are alive, we can still, as Dena Weiss suggests, “look at the priorities that [we] have stored away in [our] closet and restore them to [our] table.” After Shabbat, I encourage you to visit the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Everytown for Gun Safety to learn more about what you can do to remove the stain of gun violence from our table.

I offer, in closing, the words of Rabbi David Wirtschafter:

“It is the word gift, t’rumah, … that this Torah portion, Parashat T’rumah, takes its name. The slaughter of more young people, the squandering of yet more gifts, constitutes a level of grief that we cannot accept. The spilling of innocent blood can never become acceptable. It can not be tolerated, rationalized, trivialized, marginalized, or stoically endured. No one should have to endure it. So, may every person, whose heart so moves us, consider the cost of our current state of affairs.

May we be moved to ask if this is how God intended us to use the gift of life.

May we be moved to go beyond thoughts and prayers.

May we be moved to act on behalf of our children, our students, our neighbors, and our communities to demand a more responsible use of our most precious resource.

Children are among God’s greatest gifts to us.

Our ability to cherish, protect, nurture, love, and value them, is among the greatest gifts we have to offer in return.

To receive a gift is to accept the promise that comes with it.

To give a gift is to express the expectation that it will be received with gratitude and utilized responsibly.

For the sake of our children, past, present, and future let us become better guardians of our gifts. May this be our blessing, and let us say:

Amen.”

 

 

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Torah Study Notes 8-26-17

August 26, 2017

Rabbi Paul Golomb

Discussion of Zionism and the maintenance of Israel as a Jewish state.

In Israel, one cannot marry without the cloak of a religious organization. There is no civil marriage. The only form presently recognized is orthodox Judaism. It is unlikely that this will change without violence. It is the only country in the world that has existed without stable and recognized borders – with the possible exception of Kashmir.

Page 1294

16:18 the appointment and standard of conduct for magistrates. What is justice in this context? The standard is no partiality and no bribes. Society must be organized on an impersonal basis. Rhode Island is a good example of a small polity where everyone knows everyone else. Result: frequent corruption. It is recognized that there is a tendency to corruption but how is it to be contained? Jacques Derrida http://www.iep.utm.edu/derrida/

pointed out that most gifts are given in expectation of something in return.  Marvin Fox http://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/25/us/rabbi-marvin-fox-professor-73-led-school-at-brandeis.html?mcubz=0    – writing about Jewish organizations and fund giving pointed out the importance of peer pressure. The scales of justice balance punishment and mercy in the context of criminal law. Where was justice in Les Miserables?   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Mis%C3%A9rables

Jean Val Jean and Jabert clearly had different notions of justice. One of the over-arching themes of Deuteronomy is that the people are entering a land that they have no right to other than that G has given it to them. They are displacing another people. Where is the justice? This is saying that there is no natural right to the land without the establishment of a just society.  The forensic evidence suggests that the people of Israel actually organized indigenously within Israel itself. The flight out of Egypt is a construct. A group coalesced into a political unit about 1000 BCE around the time of David.  Until the Assyrian invasion there were primarily border conflicts with the Edomites, Moabites etc. Deuteronomy is a retelling of “back history.” For example we know virtually nothing about the history of Vassar Temple? We know the names of the founders from the articles of incorporation but not where the Torah scrolls come from. What did the composers of this scripture know about what occurred before the year 1000? Probably very little so they constructed a back story. See Noah Harari and Sapiens as well as Homo Deus. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yuval_Noah_Harari

This is mixture of retrospective constructs and some traditional “facts.” The notion of the displacement of an indigenous people is a particularly odd construct – but it is what led them to be forced out that is the theme here of Deuteronomy – idolatry.  In Leviticus the land is even more important in terms of establishing the identity of the people.  The term “Zion” meaning “…a marked place.” does not appear in Deuteronomy. It is a weaker term than a “promised land.” See David Aaron in Cincinnati   http://huc.edu/directory/david-h-aaron

who is very skeptical of anything that is pre-exilic. But we have actual evidence of a Davidic monarchy that cannot be ignored. The Redactor was active about the year 500 – after the exile to Babylonia. There is a built-in dialectic in Torah about what makes the people a people – is it the land or is it inherent in the people. It is unresolved. PG: the various forms of Judaism are not “denominated” as they are in Christianity – they are movements. Some are organized and some are not – like JewBu’s. But they are not denominations. They are informal aggregations.     We identify by association with the Jewish Federation. Jews for Jesus is not included. BN is shameless when it comes to staying in power – using demagoguery. We may see some riots and violence when the time comes to change administrations in Israel.

Torah Study Notes 8-5-17

August 5, 2017
Page 1188
3:23 Moses here describes the negative things that have happened during the exodus – including G’s injunction that Moses shall not enter the promised land. LL Note the recent report in NYT about the people of Lebanon being genetically identified as descended from the Canaanites. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/27/science/ancient-canaanites-bible-lebanon.html
Why is Moses being “punished?” This refers to the incident of drawing water from the rock – where he struck the rock rather than speaking to it as instructed. Moses here blames the others for all of this as he passes leadership to Joshua. Is there a connection here to the notion of original sin as it is viewed in Christian theology? This is clearly not a Jewish idea – in Judaism there is no community responsibility for the sins of ancestors. Each person is born with their own propensity to sin. What is our responsibility as a society for the “sins” of others? Mental illness has alternatively been seen as either externally induced or internal – consider the Dybbuk. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dybbuk
3:28 Moses recalls the incident at Ball-peor; sacrificing to alien gods in concert with the Midianite woman. All were wiped out in a plague as punishment. The injunction that one should not “add or take anything away…” from the Torah. However, consider the Talmud – which is extensive commentary and contains many rabbinically created rules. This instruction as to not adding or subtracting is more likely a reference to pagan rituals. Even today the Hasidim have been adding new regulations to the conduct of woman as a way of control. AF: There is an analogy to computer architecture that stays the same. LL: How are the various sects of Judaism dealing with transgender and LGBT issues? RB: The Reform movement has tried to be adaptable – the ultra orthodox have greater difficulty. Modern orthodoxy is different and likely to be more adaptable.
4:5 A light unto the nations. Make these words known to your children and your children’s children. The Ten Commandments etc. Make no sculpted images and don’t bow down to them. LL This seems to enjoin keeping and creating human or animal images of any kind – as is the practice in Islam. CL It is almost impossible to suppress the human urge to create images. LL: Do we not worship art? SF: The impulse to create is divine inspiration. The muse is the Eternal. See footnote 8 and Essay page 490.
4:21 Now the Eternal was angry with me on your account and swore that I would not cross the Jordan… A warning as to what happens when and if they worship idols. RB: The notion of a God that one cannot see or touch is original but divine feminine imagery is effectively suppressed by this idea. Has anything as grand as this ever happened… heard the voice of God? See: http://www.talkreason.org/articles/God.pdf for an analysis on the development of monotheism in ancient Israel. Consider the brief reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton as well who tried to introduce monotheism in Egypt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akhenaten
4:41 Then Moses set aside three cities to the east side of the Jordan to which a killer could escape, one who unwittingly slew a fellow… without being hostile to the victim. LL: This notion of cities of sanctuary is still referenced today on the issue of immigration.
LL//

Torah Study Notes 7-29-17

July 29, 2017

Page – 1161

Starting Deuteronomy – the second telling or Hebrew D’varim meaning “words.”

This entire book is a statement by Moses to the Israelites. They have crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land. There has been a reiteration of where they have been and a statement of laws       ( 70 new ones dealing with living in the land.) “Deuteronomic Theology” is the notion that our continuation in the land is dependent on our good behavior – the punishment will be communal. Rain will be the most common form of blessing. See maps on page 1158. This is thought to be the work of two authors.

1:1 Wandering in the same space for 40 years? See footnote 2. A character building exercise and a way to enter with the new generation that had never been slaves. A spiritual wilderness. Note that “Teaching” is capitalized as an editorial choice as a translation of “Torah.” The description of the land as recited appears to be a large geographical area. It has been suggested that there is an effort here to deny any divinity to Moses. That would be inimical to monotheism. Q -what does it mean here to “take possession” of the land? A system of deeds and land records? Or just military occupation? PC: If this is the land promised to Abraham 40 generations ago the current occupants were squatters. Note the role of the Rothchild family and others in buying up land in Israel. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_land_purchase_in_Palestine Purchases by “foreigners” were essentially forbidden by the Turks during the Ottoman Empire.

1:9 “I cannot bear the burden of you by myself.” This is resonant of Jethro and his father in law who used similar language. The fact that Jethro is not mentioned essentially erases the Midianite origins.  See footnote 16.

1:19 A recap of what led up to entry into the land – the spies etc. “You sulked in your tents…”  Their sin is lack of faith. Joshua shall attend you.  “Because of you the Eternal was incensed with me too…”

1:39 A recitation of the initial attack on the Amorites – that was not authorized by the Eternal. Thus they marched back into the wilderness via the Sea of Reeds. Note that there is detail here that does not appear in Numbers 14. See page 986. Suggestive of a different author with different oral memory. See page 991 discussion re two traditions.

LL/

Torah Study Notes 6-24-17

June 24, 2017

Page 1003

16:1 Korah raises a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Note that K is of the line of Rueben. His argument is that everyone should be equal before the lord. LL This has socio-political elements – almost a form of proto communism. Who can encounter God? Why should a small group enjoy all of the emoluments of leadership? But there are also the burdens of leadership. We cannot just look at the glory and benefits. This very issue was one of the key bases of the Protestant Reformation. And is more in accord with the attitudes of rabbinic and modern Reform Judaism. Moses argues that he is God’s choice. He urges them to make fire to divine the truth. See essay page 1001.

Moses remonstrates by arguing that K and the others have jobs as Levites.

16:16 The theory is that we have two stories of the rebellion here – that are weaved together. One reads as a rebellion against Moses and the other against Aaron.  The presence of the Eternal appeared before the community and threatens to annihilate them all. But they cried out “when one person sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?” Communal responsibility is an essential tenet of Judaism. LL note: There is a recurring theme in the Torah on this issue. We have Sodom and Gomorrah, Noah and this. In each instance the question is presented as to the liability of all for the transgressions of a few – or even the preservation of the few where the society at large is guilty.

16:23  Moses again says that he is just obeying the Eternal. The earth opens up and swallows them and their household. They went down into Sheol. There is a suggestion here however that rebellion is necessary and justified at a certain level.

17:1 et sec. A plague kills 14,000. God indicates that He can fix this. Moses supports and serves the people. He sees his job to protect the people. But note that it is Aaron who saves the people – denoting a shift in power. It is not until Ezekiel that parents and children are seen as separate from their father – they and wives were merely property.

Torah Study Notes 6-17-17

 

June 17, 2017

Page 979

  • Numbers 13:1| Spies Sent into Canaan

 

Multiple authors. Note that the chieftains are sent – indicating the seriousness of the mission. More of a tour rather than espionage? Why is G giving us the land occupied by others? Seems ethically wrong. A problematic precedent for Israel today. But we should not look at this through a modern lens.  Note that these translations are constantly “updated” – often to become more gender neutral. All translation is interpretation. The use of the word “representative” here instead of “man” is interesting because it implies responsibilities to the group. The Hebrew word used is “man.” “Anashim” is translated as “notables’ rather than “people.” See Deuteronomy 120:2 on page 1154. The latter suggest that “you” or the people have decided to reconnoiter. Later it is implied that the whole sending of spies was problematic – not just the peoples reaction.  Why the name- change to Joshua? It endows him with more gravitas.

13:17 What they are to look for. They scouted the land. It does indeed flow with milk and honey but the people are powerful. See map on page 997. LL I see a problem with consistently positing an omniscient God. It would eliminate free will. Maimonides argued that there must always be mystery.  Consider the philosophy of Star Trek. https://www.forbes.com/sites/janetstemwedel/2015/08/20/the-philosophy-of-star-trek-is-the-prime-directive-ethical/#287b2f462177

 

13:30 Caleb wanted to proceed but the others were negative. See a Wrinkle in Time as a midrash on the Noah story. There was likely hyperbole here. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Wrinkle_in_Time

 

 

14:1 The whole community broke into loud cries… “Let us head back to Egypt.” Can also be translated as “let us choose a new leader.” Note that Caleb’s message is not accepted until Joshua stands with him.

 

Torah Study Notes 6-3-17

June 3, 2017

Here we count the Levites. A census of the Gershonites, Merasites and Koathites and their duties in the tabernacle are detailed.

Page 923

Numbers 4:21

From last week – question as to conscription into the Israeli army. There are a variety of exemptions for woman. Orthodox woman can do a year of national service. One can be a conscientious objector but first must serve jail time. Loophole if you are in a Yeshiva. The Druse population are exempt but many of them serve. There is an inherent prejudice against anyone who has not had military service. There was a law some years ago requiring the Haredim to serve but this was changed by Netanyahu in order to form a government.

RL –  note that we are now considering individuals who are slightly older. They are in their 30s. RB – That is correct. It is unclear what they were doing before.

There is a biblical concept that is carried forward in The Handmaid’s Tale. Ihttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Handmaid%27s_Tale It has to do with the adoption of the child of a concubine. There is also leveret marriage. Note that one can start rabbinical school at a later age. There is a tradition of coming to Judaism later in life. Rabbi Akiva did not start Hebrew until later in life. Mysticism can only be studied at the age of forty or later. The is an ultra orthodox called “Baal teshuva” or “master of repentance.” See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baal_teshuva  …a Jew who turns to embrace Orthodox JudaismBaal teshuvah literally means “master of return” i.e., one who has “returned” to God. It is often contrasted with “FFB” (Frum from birth), which refers to Jews who are born into families that are already religiously observant, and who have been conceived, born, and raised in the Orthodox Jewish religion.

Originally, the term referred to a Jew who transgressed the halakhah (Jewish law) knowingly or unknowingly and completed a process of introspection to “return” to the full observance of God’s mitzvot. According to the Talmud, a true “ba’al teshuvah” stands higher in shamayim (lit. “heaven”) than a “frum from birth”, even higher than a tzadik, chasal says. In contemporary times, the phrase is primarily used to refer to a Jew from a secular background who becomes religiously observant (normally in an Orthodox fashion) later in life. The alternative term, chozer b’teshuvah (חוזר בתשובה) is more commonly used in Israel.

29: As for the Merarites… they shall be recorded from the age of thirty and up to the age of fifty… They are in charge of the posts and sockets for the tent.

34: So they were recorded and counted – the Koasites, Gershanites, Merarites. SF: To be counted means that you have affirmed your obligation to serve God. It takes maturity and wisdom to do so.

Torah Study Notes 4-29-17

April 29, 2017

Rabbi Leah Berkowitz

NOTE TO READERS: All page references are to Plaut “The Torah – A Modern Commentary” Revised Edition

Page 735 Defilement, Childbirth and Purification.

12:1 Woman’s impurity after childbirth. Metaphorical? Also, touches on skin diseases and heredity. Note that the uncleanliness here is ritual impurity. The woman cannot enter the mishkan in a state of ritual impurity. This clearly places a greater value on the son than the daughter. The latter is impure twice as long. What is the symbolism of the numbers here? Some of this has to do with circumcision and the necessity of having the mother present at the bris. The bris provides spiritual protection to both the baby and the mother. Note that there would be no mourning until a child has survived at least a month. Medically, there are no clotting issues after eight days. There is no place in rabbinic Judaism to mourn miscarriage and stillbirth. Note that 40 is a significant number representing wholeness. That is the total of 7 and 33. Woman are supposed to go to the mikvah once a month. See Notes on page 734. Question as to practices in other ancient religions. Polygamy was common at this time. Partly because death in childbirth was common. See work of Rebecca Goldstein on male preferences. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rebecca_Goldstein

12:6 The sacrificial offerings to be made by the woman who has given birth. Note the exception for woman not of means. If she can’t afford a sheep a pigeon will do.

13:1 Skin diseases. This section is most avidly read by dermatologists.  Note that there were rules against sorcery and witchcraft. Note also that the word “leprosy” here is a loose translation of a Hebrew word for an unknown disease. The priests were not healers or medical practitioners. How did the tradition of medical practice evolve among the Jews? Note that there was no distinction between philosophy and medicine/science. The rabbi’s would argue here that the described ailments are spiritual and the disease is punishment. The rabbis are not comfortable with unexplained suffering. LL The notion of physical isolation suggests that there was an awareness of the fact that some illnesses are actually communicable via contact. This suggests that there was something other than a spiritual malaise being addressed. The question is raised as to how we treat someone who is visibly ill. The limitation of day of “impurity” at least puts a limit on how the community might treat someone with disrespect. It appears that a pronouncement of “pure” is the same as a pronouncement of “cured.” One could use a flow chart to diagnose these diseases. See “Medicine in the Bible” https://blog.oup.com/2010/02/medicine-and-the-bible/

Until there was any proper understanding of the causative factors in disease and the actual disease processes themselves, there was a tendency to see sickness as the result of divine visitations and punishment for wrongdoing. The Bible itself knows little of physicians as such, and in the faith of Israel it was God alone who was the healer and giver of life. Ultimately, it was God alone who sent disease and disaster as a punishment for wrongdoing or, alternatively, rewarded the good with health and well‐being (see, e.g., Exod. 15.26; Deut. 7.12–15). It was seen especially with regard to contagious and disfiguring diseases, of which the best example is the disease complex unfortunately called leprosy in most English translations. Various ritual prescriptions were applied to such diseases in order to avoid the contamination of the community, which was seen as more important than the healing of the sick person.

Torah Study Notes 3-20-17

 

May 20, 2017

Rabbi Paul Golomb

Page 850

25:1 In the seventh year the land must rest. Note the shift in location from the beginning of Leviticus. The tent of meeting has moved from amidst the people to the top of a mountain. Moses is here alone and the people are camped nearby. There is a sociological philosophical/theological shift here. This is a continuation of the Holiness Code – a term used in biblical criticism to refer to Leviticus chapters 17–26, and is so called due to its repeated use of the word Holy.

Consider the notion of environmental ethics and sustainability. Both the earth and humans are entitled to a rest period. PG We must be aware of human intervention with the land. There is mutual dependence here that requires a process of conservation. To rest on Shabbat is fundamentally an act of faith – the notion that things won’t fall apart without us. This is more poignant as an issue for one tilling the land and caring for livestock. Can one lease his land for the 7th year and comply with this section? Consider the idea of “yenas” or first fruits in winemaking or “shmita.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shmita

Wine is used to sanctify so has a special place here. However, the use of wine is generally discouraged throughout scripture because it dulls the senses. There are two categories of violation when a ritual violation takes place – intentional or accidental. The penalty for the latter is lenient and can be remedied. Someone passing through the vineyard at night and touching the grapes would be considered unintentional or inadvertent. LL Note: There seems to be an assumption that leaving the land fallow will replenish it whereas there are crops that today are used to enrich the soil. See line 21 re the abundance of the sixth year.

25:8 The 50th year. The horn shall sound and this year shall be a Jubilee. No sowing or reaping – only eating what grows naturally in the field. In buying the use of land from your neighbor there are special rules because what is being sold is the number of harvests. PG: Note that there is no cultivation in the 49th year since that is a multiple of seven. A question is raised as to keeping the land fallow for two years in a row. LL This encourages the building of granaries and silos. The people must prepare for the two fallow years – occurring either naturally or by design. RL Who enforced these rules? In Egypt, it was Pharaoh. Solomon Zeitlin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_Zeitlin) has suggested that the definition of a “year” is not explicit. He suggests that the Hebrew year in Biblical times was 364 days so the same day of the week fell on the same day of each year. This lost a day to the solar year so they made up the loss by the 50th year. That year would only be fifty days. The land is held by a clan in perpetuity. Any exchanges are therefore leases or sub-leases.  At the end of the 50 year period the land returns to the clan. SF This could be massively destructive to social order. Business and market based codes are outlined here. Honesty is required as to pricing and valuation. Line 14 “You shall not wrong one another…”  This becomes significant after the Babylonian return – the text is promulgated and is being read. The question is why did they lose the land in the first place? Social injustice. The rich took advantage of the poor. This is picked up in Prophets. There is an analysis of what went wrong and what can be done right now.  This is being promulgated at Sinai because it is terribly important – social injustice leads to destruction. (If these are leases, do they decrease in value as the 50th year approaches? Compare 99 year leases of today.) In Israel today most of the population does not care about the shmeta. Only a smallpercentage are still able to engage in personal piety by strictly following these rules. PC There are lessons here for today’s society in America. The Jubilee was considered inoperative after the exile – it could no longer be done since the Jews were landless. That was certainly even more true after the Diaspora.

Torah Study Notes 4-22-17

April 22, 2017

The Rabbi Slept Late! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friday_the_Rabbi_Slept_Late

Not really, but this morning we gathered outside and socialized while waiting for the Rabbi. RB: Last week there were questions about the dates for the priesthood: First Temple was destroyed in 586. Solomon died in 930 BCE so we know that there was animal sacrificing happening at that time. The origins of the priesthood probably date back to that time as well. Remember that much of this is retrojection and likely incorporated extant practices into past events. In Israel the Bible is taught as history – in order to assert a claim to the land. Biblical teaching there starts with Kings – rather than Genesis.

We note that there are various versions of some of the events contained within the Torah. Just as there are four Gospels. This raises the question as to how we should approach God  – via the Torah or through something more internal and personal. Or both.  Obviously, different theologies have grown out of these approaches – just as between Catholics and Protestants. Does this matter? The stories are what bind us together as a people. That is what makes them important. LL: It could be argued that it is the discussion; the utilization of our minds and the consequent sense of community that is the “Thou’ of Martin Buber. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Buber

Page 707 We have just had the ordination of priests, here we address different kinds of sacrifices. Animal sacrifice is highly problematic theologically and very contrary to modern notions of worship.

9:1 The purgation offering. See Essays on page 734 and 705. Also, the burnt offering. This is happening on the eighth day of the ordination of the priests. The eighth day indicates starting over at a new level – one more than whole. Also, a return to “normal.” The peoples purgation offering, the meal offering, the sacrifice of wellbeing. Note the “elevation offering.” What does “presence” mean here? It could mean the smoke. It is unclear as to what made the people “fall on their faces.” A belief that God was present? How does G manifest to the blind and the deaf? Fire can be sensed by four of the five senses. This is a description of “doing it right.” insofar as the rituals are concerned.

10:1 Now come Aaron’s sons Nadah and Abihu. Alien fire consumes them. “You must distinguish between the sacred and profane…” But how does one distinguish? What is the good to the community that comes from this? Why can’t they mourn? Why hasn’t God warned them of the penalty for minor transgressions. Why is Moses explaining this rather than God? Aaron is not allowed to mourn because he is in the middle of the ritual practice. Today Cohanim are not allowed to go to a cemetery or to touch a dead body. The leadership has an obligation to strictly adhere to the proper procedures. They are held to a higher standard.  But what is the “alien fire.?” Compare the story of the Tower of Babel and arrogantly getting too close to God. Consider as well the story of Icarus. See verse nine where God tells Aaron not to drink wine during the ritual – were they drunk? The Rabbis have come up with several interpretations.  Were they excessively ambitious? Discussion of “staying in one’s lane.” “Nadab” means “giving.”

“Like most of Leviticus, the sidrah presents itself as relating what took place in the Sainai wilderness, in the Israelite camp. ..the sidrah opens on the eighth and final day of the ceremony…The joyous occasion is suddenly disrupted by tragedy, Aaron’s two oldest sons commit a ceremonial offence; and again a miraculous flame appears, this time to take the lives of the offenders…The terrible fate of Nadab and Abihu underscored the priests need to perform the rituals strictly according to rule. It stressed priestly accountability for the faithful discharge of their duties.”