Archive for the '3.03 Shemini' Category

One Dance Remix

 

Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, starts on the eighth day, following the seven days of their inauguration of the Tabernacle. Connected to this theme we see in the Haftarah the image of King David dancing and whirling around with all his might as they brought the Ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the City of David to inaugurate its new location. While he was rejoicing his wife Michal was disgusted by what she perceived to be David’s completely demeaning to the office of the King.

There we read:

David went home to greet his household. And Michal daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “Didn’t the king of Israel do himself honor today — exposing himself today in the sight of the slave girls of his subjects, as one of the riffraff might expose himself!” David answered Michal, “It was before the Lord who chose me instead of your father and all his family and appointed me ruler over the Lord’s people Israel! I will dance before the Lord and dishonor myself even more, and be low in my own esteem; but among the slave girls that you speak of I will be honored.” ( II Samuel  6:20-22)
Michal was discussed with David and claims that be embarrassed himself. In return David lashed out at her rubbing her father’s down fall in her face. At the core of their disagreement is a discussion as to what is the proper conduct.

For Michal people need to dress and act appropriately to that might actually manifest greatness. For David he saw himself as but a small creature with the opportunity to celebrate God. How was this beneath him?

I was thinking about this recently when listening to Noey from Maccabeats King David Remix of Drake‘s One Dance.  As you will see below at the start of this video they quote our Haftarah.  Check it out:

Noey takes Drakes trivial but sensual song about a guy picking up a girl up in bar and transforms it into a meaningful song about David’s pleading to have one dance before God. I love the move from banal sexuality to divine intimacy. Clearly Michal was listening to Drake’s original and not Noey’s remix.

Marshmallow Experiment: Nadav, Avihu, Esav, and the Kosher Kids

As an Orthodox Jew living in the modern world I often get asked about my dietary restrictions. I get questions all the time. Why do you keep Kosher? Is this Kashrut code? What are all these little symbols? Do you really think the Creator of the universe cares what you eat? Wait how long do you wait between meat and milk? And so so so many more questions.

I was think about these questions while reading Shmini, this week’s Torah portion. There we read a whole code of dietary restrictions. May they be on land, in the sea, in the air, or even in the land we learn which ones we, Bnai Yisrael, can and cannot eat. Beyond this Kashrut code in this week’s Torah portion we  also learn about the death of Nadav and Avihu. After their deaths God says to Aaron,”‘Drink no wine nor strong drink, you, nor your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, that you die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.” ( Leviticus 10:9)Many commentators take this as an explanation for the death of his sons Nadav and Avihu. What is the connection between this and this Kashrut code?

When thinking about this question I thought of the depiction of Esav  and Yaakov in their youth. There we read:

And the boys grew; and Esav was a cunning hunter, a man of the field; and Yaakov was a quiet man, dwelling in tents. Now Yitzhak loved Esav, because [his]trapping was in his mouth; and Revkah loved Yaakov. ( Genesis 25: 27-28)

The simple meaning is that Yitzhak loved Esav because Esav put his trapped game into Yitzhak’s mouth. On another level Esav actually trapped is game with his own mouth. There was no delay between trapping and eating. It was one action with no delay and no delayed gratification. In a way the Torah is depicted Esav as the child who “failed” the Stanford marshmallow experiment. This image is juxtaposed to Yaakov who was in the tent and his people Bnai Yisrael who uphold the Kashrut code. In following these laws I can never just go and eat. I am constantly coaching myself to get the benefits of delayed gratification. We are warned that if we like Esav, Nadav, and Avihu do not think before drinking or eating we will run the risk of giving up our long-term aspirations for short-term rewards. That is why I am one of the Kosher kids.

 

Listening To Survivors: Shemini and Yom HaShoa

Just about a week ago we celebrated our salvation at the division of the Red Sea with the concluding days of Passover. There we were witness to God’s miracles and the death of other people’s children. Our response was to sing songs. The Gemara says:

The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God, and the Lord, God, said to them: ‘My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?’ (Sanhedrin 37)

Here we see God silencing the angels for their callous behavior. The death of the Egyptians seems to be a moment for silence, or at the least not a time for singing. By implication this Gemara is teaching us a lesson of compassion. If this is true for our enemy, we can only imagine the appropriate response for  the death of a friend or a loved one.

As a parent the voice of God admonishing the angels stings. It is hard to imagine how I would respond upon hearing the death of one of my children, let alone two of them. In Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Aaron’s response to hearing the death of two of his sons. There we read:

Then Moses said to Aaron: ‘This is it that the Lord spoke, saying: Through them that are close to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3)

I could imagine many responses, but not one of them is silence. What can we learn from Aaron’s deafening silence?

With Yom HaShoa being commemorated this past week, I am shocked as to the tremendous amount of literature still being written about the Holocaust. All of these years later, we cannot even imagine slowing down on that topic. I am not saying we should silence, forget, or deny history for a moment the atrocities of the Holocaust. The opposite is true. There is a certain urgency now more than ever to tell those stories. Sadly we are in the waning years of having survivors in our community. We need them to share their stories before they are gone.

While we need to hear their stories about how they survived near death, it is even more important to learn how they lived. My friend Rav Josh Feigelson recently pointed out:

The 2013 Pew Research Center survey of American Jews found that 73 percent of respondents said that “remembering the Holocaust” was “essential to being Jewish,” the highest item on a list that included “leading an ethical/moral life,” “caring about Israel,” “observing Jewish law,” and “eating traditional Jewish foods,” among others.

If we are blessed to hear their stories we need to hear their whole story. As Rav Josh pointed out we, “unwittingly brought about a Jewish self-image in which Auschwitz is not just on par with Sinai, but comes to displace it.”  We need humility and inner fortitude to hear the faint voice of Sinai. It takes a moment to learn how Jews have died, it takes a lifetime to learn how we should live.

In conclusion I want to point out the difference between what we want and what they the survivors need. We want them to talk, but do they want to talk? Aaron was silent at the death of his children. Surely we are humbled by the presence of survivors. We are here to listen to anything they want to tell us.  We need to need to  give them that time and space to speak, even if they like Aaron want to be quiet.

Checklist Manifesto

Just today it seems that they might have finally discovered some wreckage from the missing Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370. Over close to two weeks on every news outlet, every page, every website, people are talking about this flight. There has been an incredible amount of  ink  spilled on the reaction or lack of reaction by authorities, or on possible motives or explanations for its disappearance, but there has been comparatively little on the passengers, their families, or their communities. Why are we so focused on the  idea of a missing aircraft  to the exclusion of an actual missing aircraft? What about the people they left behind, the people waiting for them, and the people themselves who are missing?

This seems pretty straight forward; we are all self-interested. We are more concerned how this or something like this might impact us than what it means to people we do not know on the other side of the world. This got me thinking about Atul Gawande‘s 2009 The Checklist Manifesto .   Gawande points out that, while airplane pilots use checklists to ensure optimal outcomes, surgeons do not. While the surgeon might think that their education is beyond needing a remedial checklist, that is not the biggest difference. The biggest difference is if the surgeon fails the patient dies while if the airplane pilot fails he goes down with the ship. It is easy to distance yourself when you do not have as much invested in the outcomes. The book’s main point is simple: no matter how expert you may be, well-designed check lists can improve outcomes.

This idea got me thinking about Shmini, this week’s Torah Portion. There we read:

And Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which God had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moshe said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke, [when God said], ‘I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ “And Aaron was silent. And Moses called Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Uzziel the uncle of Aaron, and said to them: ‘Draw near, carry your brethren from before the sanctuary out of the camp.’  So they drew near, and carried them in their tunics out of the camp, as Moshe had said. And Moshe said to Aaron, and to Eleazar and to Ithamar, his sons: ‘Let not the hair of your heads go loose, neither rend your clothes, that ye die not, and that God be not wroth with all the congregation; but let your brethren, the whole house of Israel, bewail the burning which the Lord has kindled. And you shall not go out from the door of the tent of meeting, lest you die; for the anointing oil of the Lord is upon you.’ And they did according to the word of Moses. ( Leviticus 10:1-7)

Similar to our silence around the missing passengers from the Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370, I have always felt Aron’s silence to be painful. How could a father stay quiet when faced with the death of his two sons? But I think it is also interesting to think about the role of the priest.  In Gawande’s terms is the priest more like a surgeon  or more like an airplane pilot?  You might think with their special status and their role in ancient society that they are like doctors, but Moshe treats him like an airplane pilot. In response to tragedy he does not join him in morning, but rather gives him checklist of what he and his sons need  to get done. The priest serves the entire nation and needs to understand that he is responsible for the patient on the table ( AKA the nation of Israel). But at the same time they need to know that they are flying the plane and are at risk. I think this has interesting implications for today’s Jewish communal professionals. We too need to understand our role. We cannot pretend to be removed surgeons operating the community at arm’s length. If we understand that we are flying the plane, we need to have our own checklist manifesto to ensure that we achieve optimal outcomes for our entire community.

And most importantly, may the friends and family of the pilots and passengers of  Malaysian Airlines, Flight 370 find a voice for their sorrow and comfort from their mourning.

– Thank you to Alon Meltzer for inspiring this post.

Where I Stand

I work on the fourth floor of an office building in Manhattan. This week my eyes glanced up in the elevator and I noticed that my building does not have a 13th floor. I realize that is common, but it still seems strange that it goes from 12 to 12A to 14. And in some buildings they just skip the floor completely.  It seemed a little crazy that in an industrialized country in the 21st century we still have a fear of the number 13. What is the origin of Triskaidekaphobia?

According to Cecil Adams:

But 13’s stock dropped like a rock in the middle ages. The proximate cause of this apparently was the observation that Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, made 13 at the table. Other great medieval minds, I read here, pointed out that “the Jews murmured 13 times against God in the exodus from Egypt, that the thirteenth psalm concerns wickedness and corruption, that the circumcision of Israel occurred in the thirteenth year,” and so on.

Pretty thin excuse for maligning a number that never meant any harm, you may think. I agree. We must inquire further, and if we do we conclude that while open hostility to 13 may be relatively recent, folks have had their suspicions about it for quite a while. Thirteen is a prime; primes have always attracted attention (compare 7). What’s worse, 13 is one past 12, the dozen, almost universally regarded as a perfect number, signifying harmony and all good things. Thirteen, by contrast, is a number of transgression, taking matters one step too far, turning harmony into discord. ( The Straight Dope)

Having just finished Passover, I am not that interested in any more Last Supers, but I am interested in the idea of going beyond perfection and or the norm. 13 is just past the perfect 12 ( Hours in 1/2 a day, months in a year, tribes, and of course the disciples). But why is this bad and not good?

In Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the ceremony to ordain the priests and consecrate the Tabernacle on the eighth day. Moses instructed Aaron to assemble calves, rams, a goat, a lamb, an ox, and a meal offering as sacrifices to God, saying: “Today the Lord will appear to you.” ( Leviticus 9:1-4) They brought the sacrifices to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and the Israelites assembled there. Aaron began offering the sacrifices as Moses had commanded on this the eighth day. What is the significance of the number eight?

Seven are the days of creation.  This eighth day is the first commemoration of the first day of creation.( Megilah 10b)  It is the number of the natural world. Eight is also one day beyond God’s creation. Eight is the number related to our impact on the world. Eight is what makes us partners in creating the world. Similarly we perform a Brit Milah on the eighth day. While in Jewish imagination we are born without sin, it does not mean that we are born perfect. We still have work to do to better ourselves. The number eight corresponds to our realizing our role in the universe.

It seems that both 7 and 12 represent important natural numbers. Going one beyond these numbers is a mixed lot. For us as Jews the number eight is an auspicious number, and for our neighbors the number thirteen is not as lucky. So I am confused when I get off on the 12A-th floor, but at least on the “eighth day” I know where I stand. I still have a lot of work to do to realized my role in making the world a better place.

 

Listening for Silence

Just a few days ago we celebrated our salvation at the division of the Red Sea with the concluding days of Passover. There we were witness to God’s miracles and the death of other people’s children. Our response was to sing a song. The Gemara says:

The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God, and the Lord, God, said to them: ‘My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?’ (Sanhedrin 37)

Here we see God silencing the angels for their callous behavior. By implication this Gemara is teaching us a lesson in compassion. There seems to be moments for silence, or at the least not singing. If this is true for our enemy, we can only imagine the response for a friend of a loved one.

As a parent it is hard to imagine how I would respond upon hearing the death of one of my children, let alone two of them. In Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Aaron’s response to hearing the death of two of his sons. There we read:

Then Moses said to Aaron: ‘This is it that the Lord spoke, saying: Through them that are close to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3)

I could imagine many responses, but not one of them is silence. What can we learn from Aaron’s deafening silence?

With Yom HaShoa being commemorated this past week, I am shocked as to the tremendous amount of literature still being written about the Holocaust. All of these years later, we cannot even imagine slowing down on that topic. I am not saying we should forget or deny history for a moment. The opposite is true. There is a certain urgency now more than ever to tell the story. We are in the waning years of keeping the holy company of survivors in our community. We need them to share their stories before they are gone. The only things I wanted ask is what do they the survivors want? We want them to talk, but do they want to talk? Aaron was silent at the death of his children. Surely we are humbled by their presence. We are here to listen to anything the survivors want to tell us. We need to need to  give them that time and space, even if they like Aaron want to be quiet. We can try to drown our sorrows, but never our memories.

Apex in Creation

At the end of Shemini, last week’s Torah portion, the Torah went into a lot of detail regarding the laws of Kashrut. What can we eat? What we cannot eat? And why? There we read:

For I am the Lord your God; therefore sanctify yourselves, and be  holy; for I am holy; neither shall you defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moves upon the earth. For I am the Lord that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.This is the law of the beast, and of the fowl, and of every living creature that moves in the waters, and of every creature that swarms upon the earth; to make a difference between the unclean and the clean, and between the living thing that may be eaten and the living thing that may not be eaten. ( Leviticus 11:44-47)

A simple reading seems that God wants us to imitate God. But what does it mean to be holy like God? What do we make of the out-of-place reference to the Exodus from Egypt? And most importantly this week, what do we make of the transition from Shemini to Tazria, this week’s Torah portion?

At the start of Tazria we read:

Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness shall she be unclean. (Leviticus 12:2)

On this Rashi quotes Vayikra Rabbah and comments:

Rabbi Simlai said, ” Just as the creating of man came after {the creation of ]all of the cattle, beast, and fowl in act of Creation, so this law is explained after the law of the cattle, beast, and fowl. (Rashi on Leviticus 12:2)

Rabbi Simlai, my Amoraic hero, points out the sequence of the laws of Shemini and Tazria mirrors the creation narrative. It is telling that the next large section of the Torah deals with a series of aweful dermatologic issues. Before this story of birth we learn all of these laws of Kashrut in which we are told to eat different to separate ourselves from lower creatures. After the story is the birth of children we learn how we fall a part as people. Most of life is controlling how we fend off parasites and other creatures living off your bodies, until ultimately we return to the earth. At our base we are no different from the animals we eat. Birth is the apex of the biblical imagination of creation. Is it any surprise that soon after Adam and Eve are created they eat something they are not supposed to eat and are condemned to mortality? But it is also after this act they become parents. As parents having a children represents our fulfilment of the directive to imitate God as a creator.

And so what do we make of the reference to the Exodus  from Egypt in the middle of all of this? In many ways, when we were slaves we were closest to being seen by others and seeing ourselves as animals. It was only after the Exodus from Egypt  that we became people again. The crossing of the Red Sea was our national birth. Just as Tazria is followed by issues (pun intended)that ailed us as individuals, the time in the desert was a time in which the Israelites were dealing with numerous national problems. In many ways it was our adolescence, with all of the acting out of base animal desires and even the acne. It is fitting that on Shabbat of Tazria in which we allude to a high point in becoming creators with the birth of a child we look ahead to celebrate Passover, the moment of our national birth.  So we keep kosher and remember the Exodus from Egypt to remind us of where we came from and the risk of forgetting our mission. We are all but animals, but we are vested with the infinite potential to create. Birth is just the beginning, we all have a long way to go toward realizing our divine potential.


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

Join 3,303 other followers

Archive By Topic


%d bloggers like this: