Collective Effervescence

According to Emile Durkheim, collective effervescence refers to moments when individuals come together and communicate in the same thought and participate in the same action. “Electricity” is created and released, leading participants to a high degree of collective emotional excitement or delirium.

In explaining “and Israel encamped (in the singular) there opposite the mountain” (Exodus 19:2) Rashi comments that the singular form of the verb is used because they encamped together as though they were “One person with one mind”.

In many ways the experience of a Tikkun Leyl Shavuot is our reconnecting as the Jewish people did at Sinai in a collective effervescence. I like to think of it as a decentralized divine mosh pit. Enjoy the electricity.


A Model of Resilience

We are living through tumultuous times. This is having a huge impact on our personal and professional lives. Often I have found myself reflecting on the wisdom of Simon Sinek. I really enjoyed this last book, The Infinite Game. There he writes:

Traditional competition forces us to take on an attitude of winning. A Worthy Rival inspires us to take on an attitude of improvement. The former focuses our attention on the outcome, the latter focuses our attention on process. That simple shift in perspective immediately changes how we see our own businesses. It is the focus on process and constant improvement that helps reveal new skills and boosts resilience. An excessive focus on beating our competition not only gets exhausting over time, it can actually stifle innovation.

How are we building our companies, organizations, and communities to be resilient?

I was thinking about this question when reading Bamidbar, this week’s Torah portion. When the people broke camp, the three Levite clans dismantled and transported the Sanctuary, and reassembled it at the center of the next encampment.

They then erected their own tents and other around it in a very specific order. From here we see they needed to organize for modularity, mobility and order. These are critical features of being resilient. You have to know what is movable and flexible as compared to what order and structure you need.

Important lessons during these difficult times.

Revelation of Shmitah

This week’s Torah portion, Behar  Behukotai, starts:

God spoke to Moshe on Mount Sinai, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them: When you come into the land that I give you, the land shall observe a Sabbath rest for God. For Six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyards and you may gather your crop. But the seventh year shall be a complete rest for the land, a Sabbath for God, your field you shall not sow and your vineyard you shall not prune.

Leviticus 25:1-4

Rashi asks the oft quoted question, “What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Or in other words, what does this have to do with the price of Tea in China? Why is this Mitzvah getting top billing at Sinai? Was not the whole Torah given at Sinai? 

I was thinking about question and then I got to thinking about the forecasted impact of climate change. This list includes but is not limited to:

Sea Level Will Rise 1-8 feet by 2100

Global sea level has risen about 8 inches (0.2 meters) since reliable record-keeping began in 1880. By 2100, scientists project that it will rise at least another foot (0.3 meters), but possibly as high as 8 feet (2.4 meters), if we continue carbon emissions at our current rate. Sea level is rising because of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms.

Hurricanes Will Become Stronger and More Intense

The intensity of North Atlantic hurricanes, as well as the frequency of the strongest (Category 4 and 5) hurricanes, have all increased since the early 1980s.

More Droughts and Heat Waves

Droughts in the Southwest and heat waves (periods of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks) are projected to become more intense, and cold waves less intense and less frequent.

Longer Wildfire Season

Warming temperatures have made the wildfire season longer and more severe in the West, and deepening drought in the region has added to the risk of fires. Scientists estimate that human-caused climate change has already doubled the area of forest burned in recent decades. By around 2050, the amount of land consumed by wildfires in Western states is projected to further increase by two to six times. Even in rainy regions like the Southeast, wildfires are projected to increase by about 30%.

Changes in Precipitation Patterns

Climate change is having an uneven effect on precipitation (rain and snow) in the United States, with some locations experiencing increased precipitation and flooding, while others suffer from drought. On average, more winter and spring precipitation is projected for the northern United States, and less for the Southwest, over this century.

Frost-Free Season (and Growing Season) will Lengthen

The length of the frost-free season, and the corresponding growing season, has been increasing since the 1980s, with the largest increases occurring in the western United States. Across the United States, the growing season is projected to continue to lengthen, which will affect ecosystems and agriculture.

Global Temperatures Will Continue to Rise

The climate of the United States is directly linked to the changing global climate. The last eight years have been the hottest years on record for the globe.

Arctic Is Very Likely to Become Ice-Free

Sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean is expected to continue decreasing, and the Arctic Ocean will very likely become essentially ice-free in late summer if current projections hold; this change is expected to occur before mid-century.

I am not foolish enough to think that if everyone kept the laws of Shmitah we would avert global warming. But I believe that the foundational to the practice of Shmitah is the believe that we do not actually only the earth and we are are mere stewards of God’s creation. If we acted on this belief I believe that we could be a much better situation when it comes to climate change and mitigating its impact. That is some important Torah.

So to return to Rashi’s question, “What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” I want to turn it on its head in light of our current climate crisis. What Torah is there to learn beyond the lessons of Shmitah at Har Sinai?

Everlasting Relationship: Not Taking God’s Name in Vain

I have a fond memories of college. I went to Columbia College which is known for the Core Curriculum in which the entire school has to take the same battery of classics in Western Literature, Philosophy, Art, and Music. One sharp memory is from the Literature and Humanities Course. The instructor was a super smart graduate student who was getting two PHDs at the same time. He was looking at two writers who were also architects, comparing their writing to their buildings and to each others works. Clearly a big brain person.

After we had read sections of the “Old Testament” the instructor came in and asked the class, ” Who can write God’s name (the Tetragrammaton) on the board?” As I recall I was the only one to raise their hand. At this point he offering me his chalk and asked me, “Will you do it?” I said that I would not do it. A big smile came across his face as the rest of the class was befuddled by what just happened. To push the topic even further he repeated the whole interaction for the class and I played along. He then remarked, ” While I want people to do their reading every week, this week Mr. Orlow has done the unusual thing of actually DOING his reading.”

Of course he was referencing to prohibition from the 10 Commandments to not take God’s name in vain. We had just read book of Exodus where is says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”(Exodus 20:7) I had not just read the book, I was following it. I would not write on the board lest it be erased.

I was thinking about this story this week when reading Emor, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

You shall faithfully observe My commandments: I am the Lord, ולא תחללו You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people—I the Lord who sanctify you, I who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God, I the Lord.

Leviticus 22:31-33

In context on the 10 Commandments using God’s name in vain in the the context of swearing by God’s name. Here is seems to have a broader context. But what does it mean here? What does ” ולא תחללו you shall not prophane” mean? Clearly it is not limited to not writing on a chalk board.

I want to offer a reading of what this means in the context of another use of this word from the beginning of our Torah portion. There we read about the limits of who the Priest is allowed to marry. There we read:

They shall not take a wife that is a whore, וַחֲלָלָה֙ or profane; neither shall they take a woman divorced from her husband: for he is holy unto his God.

Leviticus 21:7

While it is all based on some deeply challenging assumptions of gender and sexuality, the cases of the priest not being able to marry the whore or the divorcee seem pretty clear. I still do not know the case of the “prophane” woman that the Priest cannot marry. Rashi explains:

חללה — This is a woman born from a marriage which is forbidden to the priesthood alone (Kiddushin 77a), e. g., the daughter of a widow and a high priest, or the daughter of a divorced woman [or one released from levirate marriage by the appropriate ceremony (cf. Deuteronomy 25:9)] and an ordinary priest…

Rashi on Leviticus 21:7

According to one of Rashi’s explanations the prophane woman is the child of one of the forbidden relationships with a priest or a woman who has been in another union with another Priest. This is ethically charge to limit the child by the choices of her parents. But, how might this understanding חללה impact our understanding of what it means to prophane God’s name?

The bond between the Jewish People and God is eternal. Tested throughout our rough and tumble history, our connection is very much unbreakable. In many deep ways we imagine this relationship to be a holy marriage. While people might get divorced, we do not have the capacity to break that unique relationship with God. Clearly there are religions that are animated by notions of supersessionism. They want Judaism to be obsolete. They assume that their relationship with God as God’s second wife is predicated by our divorce. Clearly we do not believe that is possible for us as a people, but how might this play out for us as individuals.

A deeper reading of the prohibition of taking God’s name in vain in the context of the the forbidden relationships of the priest unearths something compelling. God is articulating how God wants us to enter into this sacred relationship as a people and as individuals. Regardless what our parents’ relationship or issues with God might have been, we need to approach God under our own terms. We must believe that we can enter into divine relationship with a sense of purity and without any generational baggage. I am not saying will be easy, but we have to have the clarity to do our reading and the conviction to act on it. This is a testimony to our everlasting relationship. The chalk board can be erased, but not our divine relationship.

Say Something: Sitting with Painful Silence

In Acharia Mot, this week’s Torah portion we read:

The Lord spoke to Moshe after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they drew too close to the presence of God. The Lord said to Moshe: Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come at will into the Shrine behind the curtain, in front of the cover that is upon the ark, lest he die; for I appear in the cloud over the cover.

Leviticus 16:1-2

What could you possibly say to your brother after the tragic death of his two sons?

When the death happened in Parshat Shmini Aaron himself was silent. There we read:

Then Moshe said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord meant by saying: Through those near to Me I show Myself holy, And gain glory before all the people.” And Aaron was silent.

Leviticus 10:3

It is easy to get lost in the anguish of the human condition. The pain of loss the price of love. In this context the silence makes sense. The question I am sitting with is, “Why we are all so uncomfortable with silence?”

With this silence in mind I found myself listening to “Say Something” by Justin Timberlake and Chris Stapleton. I did enjoy the video:

The lyrics go:

Everyone knows all about my transgressions
Still in my heart somewhere, there’s melody and harmony
For you and me, tonight (whoa)

I hear them call my name
Everybody says, “say something”
Say something, say something
Then say something, say something, then say something

And then it ends with, “Sometimes the greatest way to say something is to say nothing at all”. Maybe the we need to grow in our capacity to sit in silence. It need not be about reporting back to people their “transgressions”, but just allowing the space for silence.

The Power of Symbols: On Jews, Sikhs, and Dr. Ruth

I have many fond memories from my years learning in Yeshivah. One particularly memorable experience is from when I was studying in Rabbinical School and we had Dr. Ruth Westheimer come and speak to us. She was amazing. She came in and allowed us to submit any question we wanted on 3×5 cards. In so doing, the embarrassing questions on sex and sexuality could be asked anonymously and without shame. It also allowed her to take these cards home with her as she was always looking for material for her next book.

Dr. Ruth won me over right from the start when she came standing 4’7″ with her thick German accent that reminded me of my Oma. She said, “I am a sex symbol… You laugh, but when I walk in you think about sex.” I have been thinking about this a lot as of late. How do we identify ourselves? How to other people identify us? In what ways are we symbols of things to people in their lives. What is the nature of being a living symbol?

I was thinking of all of these questions recently when I went to a conference. I go to conferences all the time, but most all of them are Jewish in one way or another. This was different in that I was one of very few Jews there. I was the only one there who was clearly identifiable as being Jewish. Beyond the beard and Kipah, I also had the conspicuous airplane meals.

In this context I was prepared for the requisite “bageling” from the hand full of Jews there. I can appreciate our desire to connect. One person wanted to connect of his being on the Board of his local Jewish Day School. Another wanted to connect about his Jewish camp experience. But, that was not the surprising part. I know I enjoy these tribal reunions.

I was taken aback by the number of non-Jews who “Auschwitz-ed” themselves to me. I realize I making up a word here, but what do you respond when non-Jews of good character steer the conversation toward the Holocaust. They seemed to just want to speak of the moral outrage or the expression of compassion. This happened a few times, which made me ask of myself a question inspired by Dr. Ruth. When I walk in the room what do they think of? Am I symbol of being a victim?

It is notable that today is not Holocaust Remembrance day. Today we commemorate Yom HaShoah , Yom HaZikaron laShoah ve-laG’vurah -יום הזיכרון לשואה ולגבורה, ‘Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day’, on the day of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. today was the day that Mordechai Anielewicz , who was the leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization led the Warsaw Ghetto uprising; the largest Jewish insurrection during the Second World War. This inspired further rebellions in both ghettos and extermination camps. His character was engraved as a symbol of courage and sacrifice, and to this day his image represents Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. We do not curate our memory around our victimization, but rather, we choose to create memory around our fighting back.

This comes into additional focus in that this Friday marks Vaisakhi, one of the most significant and widely observed annual celebrations for Sikhs, who make up the fifth-largest major world religion. It is noteworthy that there are over 26 million Sikhs in the world and only 15.3 million Jews. Some how we expect people to know about our myriad of holidays and we know little of theirs.

Vaisakhi – sometimes spelled Baisakhi – has long been celebrated as a harvest festival across South Asia and especially in the Punjab region of India, where it is also observed by Hindus. But in Sikhism, the day honors a pivotal moment in the evolution of the religion more than 300 years ago, when the tenth in a line of Gurus — or spiritual leaders — unified Sikhs and formalized many aspects of the faith. In 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji chose the harvest festival of Vaisakhi to start what is known as the Khalsa Panth, a community of committed, initiated Sikhs. These Sikhs vow to live by the principles of Sikhism, including remembrance of God, truthful living, service to humanity and standing up against tyranny and injustice. The Khalsa were initiated as warriors with a duty to protect the innocent from religious persecution.

This is clearly represented in the Kirpan one of their 5 “k”s of faith. The Kirpan is an iron blade in different sizes and is only a weapon of defense and religious protection. It is used to serve humanity and to be used against oppression.

The Sikhs like the Jews have experienced much oppression, violence, persecution, and murder throughout history. Both these noble peoples do not want to be seen as victims. Both Vaisakhi and Yom HaShoah are expressions of our respective yearning to be symbols of heroism, justice, and strength. We should not pity them. When we see a Jew or a Sikh walk in the room, do we see the Khalsa Panth or members of Anielewicz’s rebellion?  We are both symbols of honor and valor. This has its own appeal.

In Pursuit of Truth: The Passover Process

I was reading a book recently that quoted Gotthold Ephraim Lessing the 18th Century German philosopher in saying:

The true value of a man is not determined by his possession, supposed or real, of Truth, but rather by his sincere exertion to get to the Truth. It is not possession of the Truth, but rather the pursuit of Truth by which he extends his powers and in which his ever-growing perfectibility is to be found. Possession makes one passive, indolent, and proud.

Accordingly one could postulate that hunt for anything truly important is more valuable than the attainment of that thing.

I was thinking about this in preparation for Passover. The primary objective of the Seder is to verbally recount the Jews’ bitter, oppressive experience as slaves in Egypt, as well as their miraculous deliverance from that country. As we say:

And you shall tell your child in that day, saying, ‘This is done because of what the Lord did for me when I came up from Egypt.’

Exodus 13:8

In contrast to the daily mitzvah of remembering the Exodus (see Deuteronomy 15:15), this mitzvah of retelling requires active, detailed participation and discussion. Just as we learned from Lessing, the core Mitzvah it is not enough to be free or remember becoming free, rather, we need to retell and relive the pursuit of freedom. As we say in the Haggadah:

In each and every generation, every Jew must consider that he, himself was personally redeemed from Egypt.

This is rooted in our obligation to relive the experience of the exodus. “A person is obligated to see himself as if he were leaving Egypt.” (Pesachim 116b) In the not enough that we left or that the belief that if we had not left we would still be slaves in Egypt, rather, the commandment is in the leaving. Or as Lessing would say, the core act is the pursuit of freedom.

The Rambam states that a person’s obligation in this area is of such significance that it is not sufficient for a person to simply view himself as one who has personally left Egypt. Rather, he must act as a slave who is currently experiencing the exodus, by engaging in the type of behaviors that symbolize both slavery and freedom (Laws of Chametz and Matzah 7:6). These include the various mitzvot of the seder, such as eating marror and reclining while eating matzah and drinking wine. In addition, we possess numerous customs which are designed to reinforce this concept, including carrying sacks over one’s shoulders, so as to reenact the exodus.

In this way the freedom of Passover is an ongoing, never ending process. Our obligation is to try to achieve our own personal freedom by identifying the servitude of today, and finding ways to overcome it.

This is true on a personal level, but it might also be true on a National and Universal level as well. In many ways this Passover experience stirs the Messianic drive of the Jewish people. This is a profound and powerful element of Jewish life. Far too many of us have ignored the Messianic Project. We have ceded the whole discussion to those who think they have the answer. When it comes to the Messiah I believe that we all have much to learn from Lessing and Seder. The search for the Messiah is much more precious than the possession of that truth. Or to put it in other terms, the Messiah is a much better question than any of its so-called answers.

This Passover- may we all be blessed to experience the pursuit of truth and freedom.

The Sister of Invention: Passover and Innovation

Archimedes of Syracuse famously said, “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.” As we get ready for the redemption of Passover I ponder, what is our responsibility to “move the whole world”? And accordingly I wonder what is our place to stand and what is that lever? What is our position and practice when it come to transforming the world?

For me this comes into focus in reviewing the story that leads us into the Passover narrative. All Israelite boys were being cast into the Nile. Our savior Moshe is the product of vision and tenacity of Yocheved and Amram. And as much credit as the parents deserve, we cannot forget the critical role of his sister Miriam played . There we read:

A certain member of the house of Levi went and took [into his household as his wife] a woman of Levi. The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw how beautiful he was, she hid him for three months. When she could hide him no longer, she got a wicker basket for him and caulked it with bitumen and pitch. She put the child into it and placed it among the reeds by the bank of the Nile. And his sister stationed herself at a distance, to learn what would befall him. The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe in the Nile, while her maidens walked along the Nile. She spied the basket among the reeds and sent her slave girl to fetch it. When she opened it, she saw that it was a child, a boy crying. She took pity on it and said, “This must be a Hebrew child.” Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a Hebrew nurse to suckle the child for you?”

Exodus 2:1-7

This image captures the nature of how things worked. Moshe could not be hidden any longer and Miriam is depicted in the bullrushes watching over him. But I think there is more happening here.

Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l said, “Hope, even more than necessity, is the mother of invention.” Hope is huge. Without hope there is no way that Moshe would have been born. And I do not question the role of hope, rather I question the notion of the “mother of invention”. I do not think this would have worked out well if Yocheved was hiding in the bullrushes. How could she ever let her son go? She would have held on to him too closely.

Miriam provides structure in the form of a basket. She also had a capacity of letting go. Literally and figuratively floating Moshe out into the world. She also provided oversight from her perspective in the bullrushes. Like all true innovators she has to let’s go and in that moment a revolution can happen. The bullrushes is her place to stand and Moshe was her lever.

Maybe more than the mother of invention we need the sister of invention. There seems to be a subtle balance between a plan and winging it. We all need the structure of the basket and the flow of the water. Miriam is ever vigilant but also just floats her brother our there. Innovation is held in the balance between structure and creativity. Miriam stands in a place where Yocheved could not and she moved the world.

We should all be blessed to find our place and our lever. From there we can make an offering and move the whole world.

Chag Kasher V Sameakh – have a liberating Passover.

There’s Something Bigger than Phil: On the Rule of One Law

In his classic 2000 Year Old Man, Mel Brooks played a character who has lived for 2000 year old man with an old-school Yiddish accent and Carl Reiner interviewed him as the straight man. Her is a short introduction:

In this amazing “interview” they explore the origin of faith:

INTERVIEWER: Did you believe in anything?

OLD MAN: Yes, a guy – Phil. Philip was the leader of our tribe.

INTERVIEWER: What made him the leader?

OLD MAN: Very big, very strong, big beard, big arms, he could just kill you. He could walk on you and you would die.

INTERVIEWER: You revered him?

OLD MAN: We prayed to him. Would you like to hear one of our prayers? “Oh Philip. Please don’t take our eyes out and don’t pinch us and don’t hurt us….Amen.”

INTERVIEWER: How long was his reign?

OLD MAN: Not too long. Because one day, Philip was hit by lightning. And we looked up and said…”There’s something bigger than Phil.”

I love this as a Rabbi, student of religion, and most interesting as a parent. I was thinking about this last Shabbat when Libi, who is 7 years old, asked me a law of Shabbat. Without getting into the details she asked me if X is permissible on Shabbat can she do Y. I love intellectually as it shows he facility and ownership of Jewish law. I also love it because it demonstrates that she understands that there is something bigger than Phil and I am not Phil.

I was I do thinking about that this week reading the start of Tzav, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

The Lord spoke to Moshe, saying: Command Aaron and his sons thus: This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.

Leviticus 6:1-2

What do we make of this language of being commanded? For many modern people the notion of command is complicated by the notion that there must be an Commander. But I think that misses the point that this command was not just said to Aaron or from Aaron, but rather there is one command for Aaron and his sons. What do we make of the command being to both the Father and the sons?

This question brings be to one of my favorite ideas by Prof. George Lakoff in which he juxtaposes the intellectual frame of conservative vs liberal thinking through the metaphor parenting styles. Lakoff described conservative voters as being influenced by the “strict father model” as a central metaphor for such a complex phenomenon as the state, and liberal/progressive voters as being influenced by the “nurturant parent model” as the folk psychological metaphor for this complex phenomenon. According to him, an individual’s experience and attitude towards sociopolitical issues is influenced by being framed in linguistic constructions.. He writes:

Deeply embedded in conservative and liberal politics are different models of the family. Conservatism, as we shall see, is based on a Strict Father model, while liberalism is centered around a Nurturant Parent model. These two models of the family give rise to different moral systems and different discourse forms, that is, different choices of words and different modes of reasoning.

In this context God might be the commander, but Aaron along with his sons of equally commanded. I am intrigued at this notion that there is something bigger than Phil, meaning that we have no value of the Strict Father. God might know best, but daddy foes not. This has huge implications for us here today in the United States, Russia, and Israel. No one is above the law; not Trump, Putin, or Bibi. We need to evolve out of the looking for Phil. We need to strive to be nurturing parents equal under the law. And yes this even includes me with Libi regarding the laws of Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom- to all of us equally.

In Your Hand: A Reflection on the Chevra Kadisha

In our zoom existence it is so unusual to actually have a visceral experience. Everything feels two dimensional. Now when I have truly grounded experience it is a little jarring. It can really get me in my kishkes.

For years I have been involved in the work of the Chevra Kadisha for years. I pause in writing this to reflect that I have been doing this for over 25 years. We in the Jewish burial society see to it that the bodies of deceased Jews are prepared for burial according to Jewish tradition. It is holy and at times even mystical work. The customs are diverse and wild. When you stop to think about them it seems that we are looking at a pastiche of ritual. In response to death we pull together so many different threads from so many elements of Jewish life.

One powerful element of the ritual is dressing the men and women up in Tachrichim (Hebrew: תכריכים). There are traditional simple white burial furnishings, usually made from 100% pure linen, are for interment after undergoing a taharah (ritual purification). In Hebrew, tachrichim means to “enwrap” or “bind”. This came up recently on Purim because it comes from the Biblical verse “And Mordechai left the king’s presence in royal apparel of blue and white and a huge golden crown and tachrich butz– a wrap of linen and purple, and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was happy”(Esther 8:15).

The universal use of shrouds protected the poor from embarrassment at not being able to afford lavish burial clothes. Since shrouds have no pockets, wealth or status cannot be expressed or acknowledged in death. In every generation, these garments reaffirmed a fundamental belief in human equality. In addition to tachrichim, men are wrapped in the tallit in which they prayed. The layers of this white cloth along with lack of pockets harken to the cloths of the Priest in the Temple that we read about recently in Exodus.

I had not thought about all the garments and their think to the Priest until a few months a go. David Cohen, a lovely man from our synagogue, passed away and I had the honor to do his taharah along with some other friends from shul. As part of the ritual we clean the body head to toe. One of the things we do to clean the body is to take toothpicks to clean out the dirt from their nails. I always find holding the dead person’s hand to clean it to be a powerful, humbling, and intimate expression of care.

But with David it was different. It was not just that I knew him. It was not just that I liked him and wanted to honor the father, husband, educator that he was in his life. It was different because David took his being a Cohen seriously. There holding his hand and cleaning out any dirt from under his thumb I got to thinking about Vayikra, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read:

The priest shall bring it to the altar, pinch off its head, and turn it into smoke on the altar; and its blood shall be drained out against the side of the altar.

Leviticus 1:15

In explain what “pinch off its head” means Rashi says:

The nipping of the bird’s head must not be done with an instrument but by the priest’s very self:. He nips with his finger-nail close by the nape, cuts right through the neck-bone until he comes to the “organs” (the wind pipe and the gullet) and cuts them through too (Sifra, Vayikra Dibbura d’Nedavah, Section 7 3; Zevachim 65a).

Rashi on Leviticus 1:15

There I was for a moment looking at David’s nail being transported past all time and space. I got to imaging this very nail being the agency of our sacrifices in the Temple. Even if that is just fantasy, this DNA was the same DNA that did that in the Holy Temple.

We have spent so much time removed from humanity over the last three years. Holding his hand in mine reconnected me to our people throughout history. I was reminded of the importance of ritual. Doing this really got to my kishkes. It is not only that the “Torah is not in Heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12), to hold compassion and history in my hand reminded me that there is infinite capacity for redemption in all of us. There is a profound connection to Torah is in our very bodies.

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