Archive for the '4.03 BeHalotecha' Category

Biblical Slander: Trump and Comey

In Behalotecha, this week’s Torah portion,  we read about the time when Aaron and Miriam slander Moses for taking a Kushite wife. There we read:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moshe because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a Kushite woman!” They said, “Has the Lord spoken only through Moshe? Has He not spoken through us as well?” The Lord heard it. Now Moshe was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth. Suddenly the Lord called to Moshe, Aaron, and Miriam, “Come out, you three, to the Tent of Meeting.” So the three of them went out. The Lord came down in a pillar of cloud, stopped at the entrance of the Tent, and called out, “Aaron and Miriam!” The two of them came forward; and God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to him in a vision, I speak with him in a dream. Not so with My servant Moshe; he is trusted throughout My household. With him I speak mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. How then did you not shrink from speaking against My servant Moshe!” Still incensed with them, the Lord departed. As the cloud withdrew from the Tent, there was Miriam stricken with snow-white scales!  (Numbers 12:1-10)

While there is plenty to explore here about the issues of race and belonging, for now I am now more interested in the consequences of slandering someone. It seems that Miriam is afflicted with Tzaraat because of her speaking poorly about Moshe. Are there supposed to be such serious consequences for talking about people?

Related there is an excellent story:

Once there was a person who had said awful things about someone. Realizing that he had done something terrible, he went to his rabbi and asked, “Rabbi, what can I do?” The rabbi thought a bit and told the man to bring her a feather pillow. The man brought the pillow, and the rabbi told him to go outside, rip the pillow open, and shake out the feathers. The man did just that. And sure enough as he shuck out the feathers a wind came and spread them everywhere. The man came back to his rabbi and asked what to do next. The rabbi responded, “Now go back outside and pick up all the feathers.” The man looks startled and said, “How can I do that? After the wind, I
don’t even know where they are.” The rabbi said, “Exactly. Just like your words. Once they’re out, it’s impossible to get them back”

This story teaches us that we need to take our words very seriously because it is impossible to recover them once they are in public.

I was thinking about all of this the other day listening to James Comey testimony. From his opening remarks, the fired FBI director made clear he believes President Trump was not truthful when he stated he fired Comey because the FBI was in disarray and poorly led. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said, adding that Trump “chose to defame me and, more importantly, the FBI” in those remarks. Here are the highlights of his testimony:

From Comey’s testimony it is clear that he feels slandered by the President. We are all waiting to hear those tapes. It seems impossible for Trump’s administration to recover all of those feathers. It is hard to imagine how the President might get out of this misuse of his power and his words unscathed.  Maybe the orange hue of his skin is itself Tzaraat.

To borrow the line from Moshe about Miriam for our great country, “O God, pray heal her!” (Numbers 12:13)

 

Full of It: Rethinking the Second Amendment

As I sit down to write this blog post our country in embroiled in a debate about public safety since the horrific shooting in Orlando. At some level it is an honest debate regarding the Second Amendment, and at another it is calling into question our being complicit with the NRA’s control of our government. When ratified into Law the Second Amendment read:

A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

It is clear that this virtue of self-defense is baked into the core of the American psyche. Even beyond the grip of the NRA, it is clear that we are in a cultural deadlock on the issue of Gun Control. How did we get there?

I was thinking about this question when reading  BeHalotecha, this week’s Torah portion. There we see the Israelites wandering in the desert. Sick of the tofu bland Manna day after day they complained saying that wanting meat to eat. (Numbers 11:4) In turn to deal with their kvetching Moshe asks God to give them meat to eat. God concedes and gives in to desires. There we read:

You shall not eat one day, nor two days, nor five days, neither ten days, nor twenty days; but a whole month, until it come out at your nostrils, and it be loathsome unto you; because that you have rejected the Lord who is among you, and have troubled God with weeping, saying: Why, now, came we forth out of Egypt?’ ( Numbers 11:19-20)

This gives new ( or old) meaning to cutting off your noses to spite your face. The Israelites kvetched so much that they got the meat they wanted, but it came in such volume that it was literally coming out of their noses.  The Israelites needed to grow up and understand how setting limits would be good for their own health and happiness.

While I deeply respect this drive for self-defense and to defend our families, but I think we need to consider that adding some commonsense limits to the Second Amendment would save lives. I have to say that this blind commitment to “security” is killing us and those who think otherwise are full of it.

 

Food Kvetching

Yesterday my children and I were discussing the custom of eating milchigs on Shavuot.  The Mishna Berurah suggests that at the time of Matan Torah, the receiving of the Torah, the Jewish people became obligated in all of the mitzvot of the Torah (Mishna Berurah 494:12). As such, in order to eat meat, they would have had to follow the complex procedure involved in producing kosher meat. Because this procedure required time in order to properly prepare the meat, the only food items available immediately after Matan Torah were dairy products.  In talking with my children we got to talking about their impatience.  Why could they not wait for a nicer meal? They could not wait for a few hours to make a nice fleishig meal?

It is interesting to think about this in the context of the Original Sin? Despite the sexual reading of the Bible, the plain meaning seems to suggest it was simply that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit. While I am sure that the themes of sex and sexuality run throughout the Bible and human history, all too often they overshadow the similarly complex relationship we have with food.

I was thinking about this in reference to BeHalotecha, this week Torah portion. There we read:

1 And the people were as murmurers, speaking evil in the ears of the Lord; and when the Lord heard it, God’s anger was kindled; and the fire of the Lord burnt among them, and devoured in the uttermost part of the camp. 2 And the people cried to Moshe; and Moshe prayed to the Lord, and the fire abated. 3 And the name of that place was called Taberah, because the fire of the Lord burnt among them. 4 And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting; and the children of Israel also wept on their part, and said: ‘Would that we were given flesh to eat! 5 We remember the fish, which we were wont to eat in Egypt for nothing; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic; 6 but now our soul is dried away; there is nothing at all; we have nothing save this manna to look to.’ 7 Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium. 8 The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil. 9 And when the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell upon it. 10 And Moshe heard the people weeping, family by family, every man at the door of his tent; and the anger of the Lord was kindled greatly; and Moshe was displeased. 11 And Moshe said to the Lord: ‘Wherefore have You dealt ill with Your servant? and wherefore have I not found favor in Your sight, that You lay the burden of all this people upon me? 12 Have I conceived all this people? have I brought them forth, that You should say unto me: Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing-father carries the sucking child, unto the land which You didst swear to their fathers? 13 Whence should I have flesh to give unto all this people? for they trouble me with their weeping, saying: Give us flesh, that we may eat. 14 I am not able to bear all this people myself alone, because it is too heavy for me. 15 And if you deal thus with me, kill me, I pray of You, out of hand, if I have found favor in Your sight; and let me not look upon my wretchedness.’  (Numbers 11:1-15)

The Manna is described in contrast to the nation’s desire for “real food”. Moshe expresses his frustrations as leader, and God promises to send quail to satisfy the people’s desire for meat. In all things it seems that we as human beings are not happy with what we have and desire the forbidden or that which is out of reach. So maybe this is not so different then how we talk about our sexual desires.

In Michel Wex’s Born to Kvetch, he defines a kvetch as a declaration of unhappiness that identifies the complaint. He goes on to write, “ Had Isaac Newton been struck by a potato kugel instead of an apple, the whole world would now know that for every basic kvetch there is an equal and opposite “counter kvetch”, a retaliation in kind provoked by the original complaint”. Their kvetching for meat gets the “counter kvetch” of way too much quail and for dessert they get a plague. As the adage goes, “May you get what you want and want what you get.” What are the best ways to deal with our kvetching? What are the best models for consequences that can be measured out kvetch to “counter kvetch”? As a parent I think about this all the time with my children. And at this stage of their lives most of this happens at the dining room table. One is eating like a Chazir, another is taking food of a siblings plate, and a third I cannot get to eat for the life of me. But who can complain on Shavuot, all of my kids were happy to have ice cream for dessert.

2nd Chance

A couple of weeks ago I was in Israel for a training for Summer Shlichim, emissaries sent by Israel to work in summer campers. These Israelis are doing very important work, but I have no doubt that it is also very hard work. Summer camps are designed as intentional communities. People stay in these communities for a long time.  How do these Shlichim become part of the fabric of that community and also create some change?  How do people join communities if they have missed out on so much of the history?  What are the activities which are a prerequisite for membership to the group?

I thought about this again this week on Parshat BeHalotecha. We read about the first Passover offering being sacrificed a year after the initial one during the Exodus from Egypt. We also learn the laws of Pesach Sheini, the makeup Passover offering for those who were unable to bring the Passover lamb at the appropriate time (Numbers 9:1- 14). Membership to the community was predicated by participating in the ritual of the Passover Lamb. 

There are certain activities that we do or have done as a group that truly define the group.  For various reasons people are left out of the group.  How might we integrate these people? Doesn’t everyone deserve a second chance to make the first impression?

Clouds of Dust

In Behalotecha, this week’s Torah portion,  we read about the movement of the Pillar of Clouds and the sound of two silver trumpets. There we read:

And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped. ( Numbers 9:17)

The absence or presence of the cloud indicated that it was time to set up or break down the camp.

This Sunday starts another season of overnight Jewish camping across North America. Camp would be nothing without the campers. As everyone in camping knows,  the foundation of camping is realizing that it is all about the campers. We train our staff to put the campers first. Camp is all about the campers’ health, safety, emotional well-being, happiness, and spirituality growth. And once we get our whole staff to understand this truth we can explain to them that it was a lie.  It is not only about the campers, it is also founded on the growth of the staff.

In security, safety, and sanctity of camp this summer campers will have the time of their lives. And in making this camp the staff will also be completely transformed. Just as the cloud of God prompted the creating the camp, buses all across North America will kick up clouds of dust bringing in the campers to start another great season of camping. Just like our Torah portion we will encamp. Holiness will reside in our camp communities. I am excited for another summer of security, safety, and sanctity.

 

Second First Impression

In many ways Passover represents the story of our national birth. It was during the Exodus that the Israelites learned of God and it was their first chance to introduce themselves to God. We the Jewish people revisited this ritual every year by reenacting the Korban Pesach, and later the Passover Seder.  As we learn in BeHalotecha, this week’s Torah portion, there were certain cases in which people did not have that chance to make that first impression. As we read:

5 And they kept the passover in the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, at dusk, in the wilderness of Sinai; according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did the children of Israel. 6 But there were certain men, who were unclean by the dead body of a man, so that they could not keep the passover on that day; and they came before Moses and before Aaron on that day. 7 And those men said unto him: ‘We are unclean by the dead body of a man; wherefore are we to be kept back, so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed season among the children of Israel?’ 8 And Moses said to them: ‘Stay you, that I may hear what the LORD will command concerning you.’ 9 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 10 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If any man of you or of your generations shall be unclean by reason of a dead body, or be in a journey afar off, yet he shall keep the passover to the Lord; 11 in the second month on the fourteenth day at dusk they shall keep it; they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs; 12 they shall leave none of it unto the morning, nor break a bone thereof; according to all the statute of the passover they shall keep it. (Numbers 9:5-12)

It is natural to blink and make snap decisions, but that does not mean we are always right. It is great that we a model for how to have a second chance to make a first impression.

As first time campers are getting off the bus in the next few weeks, I cannot stop thinking about how we all saw Susan Boyle. If you are one of the few people who have not seen this you must.

We all should heed the call of Pesach Sheni from this week’s Torah portion. We should all think about what it would take to not judge people too quickly. If this is true for the first time campers, is it not also true for the returning camper who wants to reinvent him or herself? What would it take to find it in our hearts to give everyone a second chance to make a first impression?


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