Search Results for 'arufa'

Taking Responsibility: Emmett Till and Egel Arufa

A the end of Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the Egel Arufa, the heifer.  There we read:

1If, in the land that the Lord your God is assigning you to possess, someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known,2your elders and magistrates shall go out and measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns. 3The elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall then take a heifer which has never been worked, which has never pulled in a yoke; 4and the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to an everflowing wadi, which is not tilled or sown. There, in the wadi, they shall break the heifer’s neck. 5The priests, sons of Levi, shall come forward; for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to pronounce blessing in the name of the Lord, and every lawsuit and case of assault is subject to their ruling. 6Then all the elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi. 7And they shall make this declaration: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. 8Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.” And they will be absolved of bloodguilt.9Thus you will remove from your midst guilt for the blood of the innocent, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 21: 1- 9)

It is untenable in the Torah for a murder happen without fault. The ritual of the Egel Arufa, the heifer, is an effort to reconcile  society’s responsibility for that murder. It has profound implications in modern society in which we are at once more interconnected than ever online and more isolated than ever in our cubicles.

This year when reading about the Egel Arufa my attention went to the wadi. What is the significance of the sacrifice of this heifer being on a wadi “which is not tilled or sown”?  What is the meaning of the location being untouched?

I was thinking about this recently when listening to an NPR program on Emmett Till. Emmett Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. The Till case lives on in our national memory for all of the reasons that we have the ritual of the Egel Arufa in our Torah portion. No one has truly taken responsibility for the death of this young black child. Till posthumously became an icon of the Civil Rights Movement. The legacy of this case has become symbolic for all of the thousands of people who have been killed in this country due to systemic racism.

The Till case was back in the news recently when fraternity brothers of Kappa Alpha Order, an organization that glorifies the Confederate South, at the University of Mississippi posed with guns at the bullet-pocked marker of the sign by the river where Till’s body was found.

Three college students posed in front of the Emmett Till memorial sign in Tallahatchie County, Miss. Instagram/Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting

Instagram/Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting

The symmetry was too poignant to not point out. They wanted wanted to uproot Tills memory by shooting at the sign. While they have been suspended from the fraternity, still no one ever stood on the “non tilled” wadi to take responsibility for the death that happened 64 years ago.

So, why does this ritual of the Egel Arufa need to be done on land “which is not tilled or sown”? Rashi comments on this that the land is hard. It sounds like we needed to do this ritual on bedrock. We needed to strip everything else away, take responsibilty for a death, and from there we will have a sound foundation to rebuild society. It is clear from the case of Till in America, that we have never truly done the work of getting down to the “not tilled or sown” foundation of racism in this country. Until we get to the bottom of this injustice will fester. Until we do this “hard” work and take responisilbity for what has happened we will never build a just society.

-for another reading of the Egel Arufa check out this blog post on Apocalypse Now

Egel Arufa Now

A the end of Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the Egel Arufa, the heifer.  There we read:

1If, in the land that the Lord your God is assigning you to possess, someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known, 2your elders and magistrates shall go out and measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns. 3The elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall then take a heifer which has never been worked, which has never pulled in a yoke; 4and the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to an everflowing wadi, which is not tilled or sown. There, in the wadi, they shall break the heifer’s neck. 5The priests, sons of Levi, shall come forward; for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to pronounce blessing in the name of the Lord, and every lawsuit and case of assault is subject to their ruling. 6Then all the elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi. 7And they shall make this declaration: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. 8Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.” And they will be absolved of bloodguilt. 9Thus you will remove from your midst guilt for the blood of the innocent, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 21: 1- 9)

It is untenable in the Torah for a murder happen without fault. The ritual of the Egel Arufa, the heifer, is an effort to reconcile  society’s responsibility for that murder. It has profound implications in modern society in which we are at once more interconnected than ever online and more isolated than ever in our cubicles.

I would like to enjoin you to consider Francis Ford Coppola’s masterpiece Apocalypse Now as a modern perush, commentary on this Torah. The film opens, introducing Captain Benjamin L. Willard (played by Martin Sheen); a deeply troubled, seasoned special operations veteran. Willard is sent on mission deep into Cambodian jungle to find Colonel Walter E. Kurtz (played by Marlon Brando), a member of the US Army Special Forces feared to have gone rogue.

After his long journey up the river, away from society, and into the heart of darkness Willard arrives to terminate the Kurtz’s command “with extreme prejudice.”  The climax of the movie is when Willard enters Kurtz’s chamber  with the machete in hand. This entire sequence is set to “The End” by The Doors and juxtaposed with a local ceremonial slaughtering of a water buffalo.

Lying bloody and dying on the ground, Kurtz whispers “The horror… the horror…” before expiring.

Where as in the Torah the sacrifice of the heifer seems to restore justice, Coppola asks us to see the death  of the stranger far from society (Kurtz) at the same time as the society is “fixing it” through the bloody sacrifice of the water buffalo.  In the wake of Vietnam Coppola was asking us to build a society in which we really take responsibility for everyone. It is hard not to hear Kurtz’s comments come as a critique of the society that send Willard to hill him. The horror… the horror.

Today, in light of what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan and the many senseless deaths that are all around us today, we have to ask ourselves what will clean our hands of these deaths? Who is responsible? How will we restore justice?  What is the Egel Arufa Now?

Dear Child to Me: On Emunah and this Blog

I remind each of my children all of the time, ” I love them the most of all…just like their three siblings.” This year as I have been feebly trying to prepare for the High Holidays during Elul. One thing that had helped is that I have found myself singing again and again to different covers of Deveykus‘s Haben Yakir Li. The lyrics are taken from a section of Jeremiah that we read on the second day of Rosh HaShanah. There we read:

Truly, Efraim is a dear child to Me,
A child  in whom I delight!
Whenever I speak of him,
My thoughts would dwell on him still.
That is why My heart yearns for him;
I will receive him back in love
—declares the LORD.

Jeremiah 31:20

For me it expresses an extraordinary expression of God’s anthropopathic love of Israel. Here is one version with some nice violin:

There is some ambiguity about the text when it says ” Whenever I speak of him“. Is it when I speak to him, about him, or even against him? Rashi explores the meaning of “whenever I speak of him” and comments:

Every time that I speak of him. And the Midrash Leviticus Rabbah (2:3) explains: It is enough My speech (דַּי דִבּוּרִי) with which I endowed him, that I taught him My Torah, for Me to have mercy on him.

Rashi on Jeremiah 31:20

This is an interesting thought. It is as if God recalls learning with Efraim and that reminds God how much God loves him.

This parental love through learning reminded me of a Rashi from Parshat Vayigash. Yosef, Efraim’s father, reveals his identity to his brothers. Finding out that their father is still alive he sends agalot– wagons to bring Yaakov to Egypt. There Rashi comments:

By sending the wagons (agalot), Yosef sent him a sign. What was the (topic) they had studied before he (Yosef) left? The topic of the egla arufa -beheaded heifer (see Shoftim). Thus the text states, “when he saw the agalot which Yosef sent,” and not which Pharoh sent.

Rashi on Bereishit 45:27

There is something deep about parent’s love of a child. Even though he was told that Yosef died years earlier, once he saw these agalot Yaakov just knew that Yosef was alive due to the learning that they shared before Yosef’s abduction. This love gets even deeper when it comes in the context of their learning Torah together. This is a love that never could believe that Yosef is truly dead. This is also a love that wants to allow Efraim’s return regardless of his misdeeds.

I was thinking about this parental love in the context of learning while studying with Emunah in preparation for Bat Mitzah this coming spring. It feels special, just like the learning I do with her three siblings. They are all dear to me.

On another level I was thinking about Emunah when sharing this Torah thought with you through this blog. I started this practice of writing a weekly blog when she was born. Emunah and this blog* recently turned 12.

*For those following along at home this is my 756th blog post.

The DNA of Responsibility : Ending the Story of Racism

I recently watched momondo‘s video about ” The DNA Journey“. The video shares interviews with a broad cross-section of British society. In the first half they ask these individuals their feelings about their own group identity and their thoughts on other cultures/ nationalities/races and groups. The researchers then offer each of them free travel to visit their ancestral homes as determined by a DNA test. In the second part of the short film they share the DNA reports with the participants. It is worth watching to see the impact of these reports in challenging their assumptions about themselves and the world.

On their website momondo says:

We only have one world, but it’s divided. We tend to think that there are more things dividing us than uniting us.

It is fascinating how personal narratives rarely align to the stories told by our DNA. Race and other social groupings are clearly just a construct and not as “real” as we have been led to believe.

I  was thinking about this when talking to my friend Adina Konikoff this morning at the bus stop. She is giving a Dvar Torah at her Minyan on Shoftim, this week’s Torah portion,  race relations in the country, and the story of the Egel Arufa, the heifer.  There the end of Shoftim we read:

1If, in the land that the Lord your God is assigning you to possess, someone slain is found lying in the open, the identity of the slayer not being known, 2your elders and magistrates shall go out and measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns. 3The elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall then take a heifer which has never been worked, which has never pulled in a yoke; 4and the elders of that town shall bring the heifer down to an ever-flowing wadi, which is not tilled or sown. There, in the wadi, they shall break the heifer’s neck. 5The priests, sons of Levi, shall come forward; for the Lord your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to pronounce blessing in the name of the Lord, and every lawsuit and case of assault is subject to their ruling. 6Then all the elders of the town nearest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi. 7And they shall make this declaration: “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done. 8Absolve, O Lord, Your people Israel whom You redeemed, and do not let guilt for the blood of the innocent remain among Your people Israel.” And they will be absolved of blood-guilt. 9Thus you will remove from your midst guilt for the blood of the innocent, for you will be doing what is right in the sight of the Lord. (Deuteronomy 21: 1- 9)

It is untenable in the Torah for a murder to happen without fault and someone taking responsibility. The ritual of the Egel Arufa, the heifer, is an effort to reconcile  society’s responsibility for that murder. It has profound implications in modern society in which almost the entire world is inhabited and we are more interconnected than ever online. If we have this level of responsibility of the Egel Arufa when the victim is not connected to us, how much more responsibility do we have today?

I was thinking about this anew since watching the The DNA Journey video. We often resort to our tribal identity to define the sphere of responsibility. But these identities and narratives are just a social constructs. The story told by our DNA is that we all intermingled and truly responsible for each other. The surge of racially motivated violence needs to stop. In the The DNA Journey video in response to getting her report one woman replied saying, “I’m going to go a little far off right now, but this should be compulsory… There would be no such thing as extremism in the world if people knew their heritage.” How will we eradicate the scourge racism? We might need to sacrifice our old narratives, but we are responsible to tell a new story. This story is already in us, right there in our very DNA.

Confluent Education: The Wagons of Learning

I have spent most of my life thinking about and trying to craft optimal educational experiences. Recently I have come to realize that much of this work revolves around the ideal of Confluent Education. “Confluent” refers to the process of holistic learning, involving body, mind, emotion and spirit. In educational settings the term is used to describe methods for teaching traditional subjects such as math, science, social studies, reading, language arts, physical education and fine arts by applying effective, introspective, intuitive, body/mind, movement, and kinesthetic types of activities to the lessons being taught. In this process the students learn about themselves and others in a deep way at the same time they are learning the traditional subject matter.

I was thinking about this in the context of Parshat Yayigash, this week’s Torah portion. After Yosef reveals himself and saves his brothers, Pharoah sends wagons to bring Yaakov to Egypt to evade the drought.  There we read:

And they ( Yosef’s brothers’s) told him ( Yaakov), saying: ‘Yosef is yet alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt.’ And his heart fainted, for he believed them not. And they told him all of Yosef’s words that he had said to them, and he saw the wagons that Yosef had sent to carry him, and the spirit of their father Yaakov was revived.  (Genesis 45:26-27)

Why does it say that Yosef send the agalot – wagons, if we know it was Pharaoh who sent them? On this Rashi comments that upon seeing the wagons, Yaakov was reminded of eglah arufah (Deuteronomy 21:1), the last Torah topic they learned together. There are many fantastic aspects of Rashi’s idea. One is that there is the word play connecting agalot  to eglah arufah. More interesting is the idea that in the book of Genesis they were reading from the yet to be written book of  Deuteronomy.

For now the part that I find most compelling is the fantastic idea that Yaakov and Yosef had a regular Chevruta in the learning Torah. And what were they learning? They were learning the laws regarding the communal responsibility in the case of a death without a known culprit. Years later this memory seems to reside. This seems to be the gold standard of confluent education. The student had learned about himself and his father in a deep way and at the same time they learned the subject matter. It is also interesting to note that the impact was not limited to the student, it also had restorative power on the teacher. We learn from this Rashi the learning that fused revelation in relevance can even help Yosef reconcile his relationship with his brothers who finally took responsibility for be the culprits in selling into slavery. One challenge of good education is that might take years to see its full impact.

Play List

Here are some Torahs connected to Songs:

Here are some Torahs connected to Movies:


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 229 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: