How do you say Treason?

How do you say treason  in Russian? Evidently the answer is “измена- IZMENA.” In Hebrew the word is ” בגידה- BEGIDAH.” It has the same root at BEGED- meaning clothing. So in many ways the act of treason is figuratively the act of being a turncoat, changing closes to move your agenda forward. 

I was thinking about all of this in wake of a comment made by John O. Brennan the  former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency from March 2013 to January 2017.  Recently he tweeted:

Brennan seems to know a lot about national security. I would trust that he knows the definition of treason. 
So the better question is not how you say treason in Russian or Hebrew, but how do you say treason in Republican? Our republic depends on their patriotism.  We can only hope that they act on in before it is too late.

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Authentic Return

We find ourselves in the drive toward Tisha b’Av. Liturgically that translates into a series of sad Haftarot. The haftorah we read for Matot Masai, this week’s Torah portion, is full of Jeremiah’s condemnation of the Israelites for being backsliders. It ends on an encouraging note, assuring the people that if they return to God with sincerity, they will be restored to their full glory. There we read:

If you return, O Israel, says the Lord, to Me, you shall return, and if you remove your detestable things from My Presence, you shall not wander. And you will swear, “As the Lord lives,” in truth and in justice and in righteousness, nations will bless themselves with him and boast about him. ( Jeremiah 4:1-2)

What is the metric for sincere return? You could assume that God would know, but how would an individual let a lone the nation know if they had experienced authentic redemption?

This line of questioning reminded me of something I had learned in Rambam’s Mishnah Torah with my my son recently. In a discussion of cultivated good character Rambam writes:

… he shall not be one thing with his mouth and another with his heart; but his inner and outer being must be the same, for the subject of the heart is the matter of the mouth… But man must be of true lip, steadfast spirit, and pure heart, free from all travail and clamor. ( Sefer De’ot 2:6)

If nothing else Rambam provides a way of measuring when something is inauthentic. If the insides are not like the outsides it is not authentic.  There is no doubt that our current state of representing ourselves online and in social media makes this increasing difficult. There is just so much sizzle and so little steak in how we see others and how we see ourselves. It is so difficult to allow ourselves to show up, let alone “return”. Each of us and all of us should strive to return to an authentic state of being true lipped, having a steadfast spirit, and being pure of heart.

-See more on Authenticity in a post on Ugly Delicious

Pinchas and the Pitch 

In a conversation this week with Corey Cutler, the heads of Fundraising for the Foundation for Jewish Camp, we got to talking about the art of the fundraising pitch  and Pinchas, this week’s Torah Portion. In preparation for entering into the new land the Israelites had a lottery to determine who would get what property. There we read:

Then drew near the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.  And they stood before Moshe, and before Eleazar the priest, and before the princes and all the congregation, at the door of the tent of meeting, saying. ‘Our father died in the wilderness, and he was not among the company of them that gathered themselves together against the Lord in the company of Korah, but he died in his own sin; and he had no sons. Why should the name of our father be done away from among his family, because he had no son? Give unto us a possession among the brethren of our father.’ ( Numbers 27:1-4)

The daughters of Zelophehad nobly presented their case to Moshe. Corey pointed out how they must have prepared, they went together, they defined their common cause with Moshe, and they made their pitch short and sweet. 

I was intrigued  by their fear of their father’s legacy disappearing because of an oversight. To me it seems that this is what gave their pitch gravity to Moshe. Even if Moshe could not relate to these women, how could Moshe not empathize with Zelophehad? For many philanthropists one of the motivators to invest beyond a common cause and a relationship with the person making the pitch is establishing their own legacy.  

As I discovered in my conversation with Corey, all of us involved in not-for-profit work need to learn from the  example of the daughters of Zelophehad. 

Animals: Balak and Maroon 5

In Balak, this week’s Torah portion, we read various stories regarding animals.   Long before we get to the climax of this story where Bilaam’s donkey talks to him, we meet Balak. There we read:

And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites. ( Numbers 22:2)

Balak the king of Moav was afraid of the Israelites and  he sent messengers to Balaam. We wants this prophet to curse the Israelites.  But what is his name? Balak the son of Zippor- Balak the son of Bird. And of course this story of animals fits into the larger context of the book of Numbers where the people of Israel are acting like animals. We saw this last week from when they were being struck down by snakes and at the end of this week’s Torah portion when they succumb to animal-like sexual promiscuity. What do we make of all of this “parsha menagerie“?

To understand this we need to focus in on the story of the Bilaam’s donkey. In the story the donkey understood the Angel’s presence while Bilaam just did not understand. And Bilaam a prophet of God not only missed the Angel, but in the process also revealed his own ugly side by striking the donkey. Even this prophet who can see the will of God cannot see what the donkey can. A human being is the blend of divine and animal qualities. The question is how we choose to show up.

Even as the Israelites are spared the curse of Bilaam and instead are blessed, they are still cursed in the end by being seduced by the Moabite women.  This reminds me of Animals by Maroon 5.

In this super disturbing video a guy is obsessed with either an ex, or just a random woman (customer) in his life. He’s convinced he means as much to her as she does to him. The song seems to be celebrating their basic animal qualities. In the books of Numbers and in life we are animals, but we can decide to be so much more if we open ourselves up to see that.

 

The Trump Holy Bible: Lessons from the Red Heffer

At the start of Chukat, this week’s Torah portion, God tells Moshe and Aaron to instruct the Israelites regarding the ritual law of the Red Heifer (פָרָה אֲדֻמָּה‬) used to create the water of lustration. The cow was to be without blemish, have no defect, and not have borne a  yoke. Eleazar the priest was to take it outside the camp, observe its slaughter, and take some of its blood with his finger and sprinkle it seven times toward the Tabernacle. The cow was to be burned in its entirety along with cedar wood, hyssop, and crimson stuff. The priest and the one who burned the cow were both to wash their garments, bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. The ashes of the cow were to be used to create the water for purification from having had contact with death.

It is noteworthy that all other communal sacrifices were of male animals, but the Red Cow was of a female animal. Rabbi Aibu explained the difference with a parable: When a handmaiden’s boy polluted a king’s palace, the king called on the boy’s mother to clear away the filth. In the same way, God called on the Red Cow to come and atone for the incident of the Golden Calf. (Numbers Rabbah 19:8)

To me this parable is relevant in at least four ways to the horrid events from this last week when the Trump administration took to separating children of immigrants from their parents. On the most basic level, this Midrash suggests the sense of connection between a mother and her child. Just as the Red Cow has to clean up for the Golden Calf, children cannot be separated from their parents. On a second level it points to the fact that it will take a miracle for this administration to cleanse themselves  of their sins. Ain’t no magic burnt dust going to help them at this point. Thirdly we need to have more female leadership to clean up Washington. I am having trouble believing that a female commander-in-chief would have suggested this idea.I might be wrong about the gendered assumption, but we do need to clean up our government.  Finally this use of this Midrash comes to point that you could take almost any proof texts from almost any where to prove almost anything you want. AG Sessions will be damned by any God he believes in.  Immorality is immorality, it has no place to hide behind religion or scripture.

 

Seeking Affirmation: Korach and Trump

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we see the most brazen challenge to Moshe’s authority. For Korach there was no Arab spring. His uprising against Moshe is put down, way down. Korach and his band get swallowed up by the ground.

It is interesting to juxtapose this story to Aaron’s appointment to becoming the High Priest that we read at the end of the Torah portion. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shalt write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moshe spoke to the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moshe laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass tomorrow, that Moshe went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod.25 And the Lord said unto Moshe: ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept there, for a token against the rebellious children; that there may be made an end of their murmurings against Me, that they die not. Numbers 17: 17-25

As compared to the story with Korach, this process of determining leadership is marked by transparency. While many people died with Korach for the restoration of Moshe’s authority Aaron’s authority was established with no harm done to anyone. Korach was seeking affirmation and with that many people died.

From a moral perspective the story of almond blossom seems a lot better than the loss of human life, but in another context it is much worse. When Korach is gone there is no evidence. The miracle of Aaron’s authority is kept as a reminder of his authority. It resonates with the whole tragedy of the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelite could not sit with the trust in a God or a leader which they could not see, touch, or hold. It was Aaron himself that helped them craft the Golden Calf.

But, it is not just the Israelites. We all seek confirmation and validation in our lives. While compliments are great, a physical representation of that affirmation makes all the difference. It is hard to live with ideas, we all seek a physical manifestation in our lives.  It is interesting to see in our own lives that we keep these things as totems of our achievements, but at the same time it could be idolatry.

I have no idea what Mueller will find in his effort for transparency in his investigation of Trump’s presidential campaign. I am not saying that the Russian handed Trump the election, but I think we can safely say that it is was not as clear as a budding almond staff. It is really weird how Trump is always looking for compliments, physical representation, and affirmation of his leadership. This was very apparent when you look at his response to the comparison between attendance at  his and at Obama’s inaugurations.

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No one was denying that Trump is the President, but it was clear that Obama’s was bigger. Trump’s profound narcissism makes me afraid that we will not see a peaceful transfer of power when he is down his presidency. I would hate to see a repeat of the Korach situation.

Emil Fackenheim Day

It was recently brought to my attention that yesterday was being 6/13 was a Mitzvah Day of sorts in our Gregorian Calendar. I will take any excuse to reflect on our collective accountability to keeping these 613 commandments.  If that is the case, that would make today 6/14 Emil Fackenheim Day.

Fackenheim was a professor of philosophy who researched the relationship of the Jews with God, believing that the Holocaust must be understood as an imperative requiring Jews to carry on Jewish existence and the survival of the State of Israel. He was always saying that continuing Jewish life and denying Hitler a posthumous victory was the 614th commandment.

I consider remembering Emil Fackenheim today a win.

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