Friday, April 4, 2014

Watching What We Say

This week’s Torah portion, Metzora (Lev. 14:1 – 15:33) picks up where last week’s left off, discussing the purification rituals for impurity brought about by a disease which the Torah calls “tzara’at”, which translates as “leprosy”, although its symptoms do not seem to resemble the disease we know as leprosy today.  This week’s portion creates even more confusion by talking about “leprosy” occurring in cloth or leather, or even in the walls of a house.  What kind of disease afflicts humans, clothing and walls?

The most common explanation given by the commentators is that tzara’at is not a physical illness, but a spiritual disorder.  As as example, the Talmud (Arachin 15b) explains the word “metzora” as a sound-alike for “motzi shem ra”, one who spreads evil talk; a gossipmonger.  It is no wonder why explanations like this one are given.  This is a very confusing text, and we look for explanations that make more sense than the literal one does.

However, we should be careful when making those kinds of associations.  In our liturgy, too, we sometimes run across phrases such as, “we are deaf to their pleas” or “our blindness causes their pain”.   How does it feel to a person who has a disease or a disability when they hear their affliction compared to a moral defect?  Perhaps we need to take those factors into account, and not use metaphors that we would not use if a person with the impairment in question was standing before us.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Here's Must Read

North of BostonNorth of Boston by Elisabeth Elo

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story is compelling and the writing is elegant.

View all my reviews

Monday, March 24, 2014

Heading Toward The Next Project

After far too long working on nothing I am writing a children's book.  I have never written a children's book before and am focused not only on the story but on the age group who might read the story.  This is an interesting and different challenge.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Daddy Played The Harmonica

On this date in 1970 Ira Walker, at a very young age, died.    Tom and I still miss him.  Luckily we have more than faded photographs for memories.  Enjoy the man's music.

Friday, March 21, 2014


This week’s Torah portion, Shemini, (Lev. 9:1–11:47) tells the puzzling tragic story of the death of Nadav and Abihu, the two eldest sons of Aaron.  It is the final day of the dedication of the Tabernacle, the day of the solemn ordination of Aaron and his sons as the priests of the Israelite people.  Nadav and Abihu bring “strange fire” before God; an offering that God had not commanded, and fire came forth from the altar and consumed them, and they died before God.  Moses then says to Aaron, “This is what God meant by saying, ‘Through those near to Me I show Myself holy and gain glory before all of the people’”.  And Aaron was silent. (Lev. 10:1-3).

Moses seems to be saying that Nadav and Abihu died for the sake of God’s glory.  Does that mean he thinks God punished them, or exalted them?  It is hard to say what it means. And Aaron’s response neither affirms nor contests Moses’ declaration.  He is simply silent.

The Jewish laws of mourning dictate that a visitor paying a condolence call should not speak to the mourners, not even words of greeting, until they speak first.  This shows a great wisdom and insight into human behavior.  There are times when no words are fitting or even possible. This time, when two young men are shockingly killed at a time that should have been one of sacred celebration, is one of them.

Author Blu Greenberg, in her commentary on this Torah portion in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, writes: “Aaron’s response is the profoundest human and religious response to the reality that there are times when good people die unjustly or are consumed in tragedies that seem to be arbitrary, shocking, without justification, and with nothing to ameliorate the pain and loss of those who love them…Sometimes the deepest response of love is to be silent”.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thanks A Lot

 This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, (Lev. 6:1 – 8:36) concerns the particulars of the burnt offering, the guilt offering and the offering of well-being.  The portion ends with the narrative of the first seven days of the preparation of Aaron and his sons for ordination to the priesthood.

The zevach shlamim, the offering of well-being, has different forms.  The first is the thanksgiving offering; the offering brought by someone who is grateful for something that has happened in his or her life.  Unlike the burnt offering, in which the entire animal is consumed on the altar, in the thanksgiving offering, certain parts of the animal are sacrificed to God, and the remainder is to be eaten by the donor and his or her family and friends. 

Although we have come far from the time from sacrificing animals to God in the Tabernacle, we still retain the human need to give thanks to God for our good fortune.  Perhaps we can make more of a connection with our ancestors if, when we are sharing a festive meal with loved ones and feeling gratitude for what we have, we realize that our emotions may not be that different than were theirs.  A midrash in Leviticus Rabbah states, “Though all sacrifices may be discontinued in the World to Come, the offering of thanksgiving will never cease.  Though all prayers may be discontinued, the prayer of thanksgiving will never cease.” 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Modern Day Sacrifice

The opening chapters of the book of Leviticus, parshat Vayikra (Lev. 1:1 – 5:26) spell out the details of the animal sacrifices that the Israelites will offer in the newly erected Tabernacle in the wilderness.  In fact, much of the book of Leviticus deals with animal sacrifices.

So far in the Torah, much of what we have read has been comprehensible to us.  We understand the family stories of Genesis, and the oppression and liberation of Exodus.  But how may we relate to the slaughtering of bulls and rams as worship of God?  We may find Leviticus irrelevant, embarrassing, or offensive. 

The word “sacrifice” in Hebrew is “korban” from the verb which means “to draw near”.  Leviticus 1:2 reads, “When a person presents from themselves an offering of cattle to the Lord…”  The offering must be from themselves, that is, it must come of one’s own possessions.  So even though we may not be able to relate to animal sacrifices, the concept of sacrifice remains with us.  What commodity is valuable to us today?  What can we give of ourselves to draw close to God?

I would suggest that the answer for many of us is “time”.  Our lives are packed with so many things that we must do; things that are urgent draw us away from things that are important.  Perhaps  we can start this period of the reading of Leviticus with a resolve to sacrifice some of the time we spend on other things thinking about what it means to draw closer to God, and how we can achieve that.