Archive for the '4.03 BeHalotecha' Category

One-on-One: Basketball, BeHalotecha, and My Son’s Bar Mitzvah

Here is a D’var Torah I gave before Maariv this past Friday Night as part of our celebrating Yishama becoming a Bar Mitzvah.

At the end of Behalotcha, this week’s Torah portion, we read about Miriam and Aaron trash talking Moshe. In response God literally calls them out. There we read:

And God said, “Hear these My words: When a prophet of the Lord arises among you, I make Myself known to that person 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 פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה mouth to mouth, plainly and not in riddles, and he beholds the likeness of the Lord. ( Numbers 12:6-8 )

On the simple level God is explaining how God reveals God’s Self to Mosche as compared to how God will reveal God’s self to the subsequent prophets. Clearly with Mosche it is much more direct and intimate. But what might it mean for God and Mosche to speak פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה mouth to mouth?

In preparation for his Bar Mitzvah, Yishama and I worked on his Bar Mitzvah Bucket List. As part of that effort we started a number of different learning projects. None of them panned out, until we started to learn Perkei Avot. And even that was slow at the start, until we had the “Coach Carter” Breakthrough. Perkei Avot went from being irrelevant and meh, to a compelling and interesting  source of wisdom when we started to add a Basketball Coach’s Perush to our analysis.

Image result for coach carter

With that in mind, I ask how might Coach Carter explain the meaning of פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה –mouth to mouth? To answer that I think about the words of another basketball coach, Craig Robinson the  coach of the Oregon State men’s basketball team. In 2008 at the DNC Craig Robinson gave a speech in which he talked about the first time he met his sister Michelle’s boyfriend Barack Obama. There he said:

My sister had grown up hearing my father and me talk about how to judge a person’s character  by what type of sportsman they are, so she asked me to take Barack to play basketball. If you’re looking for a political analysis based on his playing, here it is:  he’s confident but not cocky, he’ll take the shot if he’s open, he’s a team player who improves the people around him, and he won’t back down from any challenge.

If you want to know who someone is you need to play them  פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה,  mouth-to-mouth, head-to head, or one-on-one.

So who is Yishama Frydman Orlow?

    • He is confident but not cocky. I cherish our nightly humble-brag ritual. He shares his successful with me so there is not trash talking on the court like Miriam and Aaron.
    • Yishama is an inspired and inspiring player. He is always trying to improve himself and others around him. On many occasions I have seen him seek out advice from coaches, competitors, and even referees. He is always looking to grind out some areas of improvement. There is no doubt that he was the one to inspire me to get my shoulder surgery. He is also one of my biggest cheerleaders helping me get into shape. I know that I am not there yet, but thanks to Yishama I am working on it.
    • Yishama won’t back down from any challenge. Despite or even because of the size difference he is a formidable competitor. He uses his strength to his advantage. He is not taller, but faster and smarter and this kid developed a left.
    • Yishama leaves it all on the court. Schwerer Arbeiter, win or lose he gets joy out of working hard.
    • Yishama is always a mensch on the court. There have been a number of parents who have come up to me to tell me how impressed they are with his work ethic or the positive influence he has had on their child, helping them learn to be a better baller.

Facing someone one-on-one you get to see their real character. As we see in Proverbs: “As water [reflecting] the face is to the face, so a man’s heart is to [his fellow] man.” (Proverbs 27:19) It is there when he shows up and is vulnerable. It reminds me to also show up and be vulnerable. This last year was hard for me with the passing of my father. In so many ways I still see my father when I look at myself in the mirror, but alas while my father appears to me in images he is still very much a mystery to me. Similarly,  Yishama when I look at you, it is impossible for me not to see some of myself in you. The difference is that with you I feel that we are getting closer to know each other פֶּ֣ה אֶל־פֶּ֞ה. We might butt heads, but there is no mystery there. I feel that in a profound way, in getting to know you, I get to learn something deep about myself.

My blessing for you Yishama is that you never trade your authenticity for approval. As Oscar Wilde said, “Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” 

My Blessing for the rest of you is that you get the chance to connect with him one-on-one. 

This past weekend was such a thrill. Thank you for sharing in this time together.

Ugly Delicious: Exploring the Taste of Authenticity in BeHalotecha

In BeHalotecha, this week’s Torah portion, we read about 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) To deal with them Moshe asks God to give them meat to eat. God concedes and gives in to desires. I have always been mystified by their kvetching. There we read:

We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!” ( Numbers 11: 5-6)

This seems a little hyperbolic. The Israelites lack any expression of gratitude. What could have been so good about the food in Egypt that made them yearn the place of their slavery? On top of that I wonder if the food was even that good. Memory is a fickle thing. Where they just yearning for the taste of a knish from an Anitevka which might never have been?

I want to suggest that this kvetching in our Torah reading might really be a discussion about authenticity. When it comes to food we have deep feelings about what is genuine. Even if what we are eating is good if not better that we used to eat, we often think that it could never be as good as it was in the old country.

In Pastrami on Rye, a history of the New York Jewish deli, Ted Merwin argues that deli did not reached its full flowering in the immigrant period, as some might assume, but in the interwar era. Deli’s glory days were when the children of Jewish immigrants celebrated the first flush of their success in America by downing sandwiches and cheesecake in theater district delis. Today, after a long period languishing in the trenches of the hopelessly old-fashioned, deli is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence. People are eating pastrami dripping with all of the imagined leeks, the onions, and the garlic of the old country.
We see the same dynamic being played out in other cultures while watching my new favorite binge worthy show Ugly Delicious. Each episode examines the cultural, sociological, and culinary history of one specific popular food. The show’s creator David Chang challenges and explores the attitudes in each dish’s lore in all of its varieties and orthodoxies. In my mind this is not just another food channel show that challenges my practice of keeping kosher and my desire to lose weight, but rather, like our Torah portion, a very subtle conversation about authenticity and its limits. 

Ugly Delicious.png

What makes “Ugly Delicious” compelling, ultimately, is Chang’s commitment to rejecting purity and piety within food culture. Chang said, “I view authenticity like a totalitarian state…It’s not that I hate authenticity, it’s that I hate that people want this singular thing that is authentic.” wrote in a review of the show in the New Yorker said:

In food culture, particularly American food culture, the concept of authenticity is wielded like a hammer: This pizza, made with San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala and a yeast-risen dough, blistered in an ultra-hot wood-fired oven for less than a minute, is authentic; that pizza, ordered on the Domino’s Pizza Now™ mobile app, dressed with toppings that arrive at a franchise location pre-sliced in a vacuum-sealed bag, passed through an industrial conveyor-belt oven, is not. The problem with such rigid categorizations, according to “Ugly Delicious,” is, for one thing, creative stagnation. Chang, after all, made his career on an exuberant disregard for convention. His restaurants—with their Japanese names, Taiwanese pork buns, Korean rice cakes, Continental flourishes, and intellectual-bro Americana twists—remix and subvert everything from ancient culinary traditions to standard restaurant-service expectations. ( New Yorker February 23, 2018)

I can only imagine what David Chang would have said to the  Israelites in our Torah portion. I would love to actually have this conversation with today’s Rabbinical students. That would be delicious.

 

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.

 


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