Archive for the '5.03 Ekev' Category

Packing for Mitzvah

I spend all of my time thinking about sending Jewish children to Jewish summer camp. It is funny when I pause to realize that two of my own children are actually away at summer camp right now. I love that they love it. I am happy for them and I can admit that it is validating to me and my work.

Just a few weeks ago we were packing the boys up for camp. I can admit that it was difficult. There were moments that we were not our best selves. How could we figure out what to pack and what not to pack? It was really helpful to have a list; I would have been lost without it. I was thinking about that list and our packing when reading Parshat Eikev, this week’s Torah portion.

In the Third Aliyah Mosche tells the Israelites that they will inherit the Land of Israel not due to their own merits and righteousness, but because of the promise God made to the Patriarchs. In fact, Mosche reminds them of the many times they angered God while in the desert, placing special emphasis on the sin of the Golden Calf, when God would have annihilated the Israelites if not for Mosche’s successful intercession on their behalf. He also makes brief reference to the other times when the Israelites rebelled against God. And then in the Fourth Aliyah Mosche recounts how after the Golden Calf debacle, God commanded him to carve two new tablets to engrave the Ten Commandments, to replace the first set of tablets which Moses had shattered.

And there we read:

At that time the Lord said to me: ‘Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first, and come up unto Me into the mount; and make thee an ark of wood. And I will write on the tables the words that were on the first tables which thou didst break, and thou shalt put them in the ark.’ (Deuteronomy 10:1-2)

What can we learn from the fact that both the broken tablets and the new Tablets go into the Ark?

As a parent I know I make mistakes. I am not perfect and I thank God every day for bringing my children into my life if for nothing else so you can remind me of this fact.

Can I come to peace with the old Tablets and the New Tablets? Can I come to grips with the life I want for my kids and the lives they write for themselves.  Thank God for the packing list. They both get placed/packed in the ark. I know that my children will forge their own path and I will always be there for them. I am very excited to see where this journey leads them. I am sure when they come back from camp we will get a glimpse of what their lives will look like in the future.  Both are holy and will be packed for life. 

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Faith Minus Vulnerability

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion we read:

The graven images of their gods shall you burn with fire; you shall not covet the silver or the gold that is on them, nor take it unto yourself, lest you be snared therein; for it is an abomination to the Lord your God.And you shalt not bring an abomination into your house, and be accursed like unto it; you shalt utterly detest it, and you shall utterly abhor it; for it is a devoted thing. (Deuteronomy 7:25-26)

What do we make of the use of the word”abomination” in the context of idolatry?  In the Talmud Rabbi Yohanan in the name of Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai noted the word “abomination” in common in both our portion and in Proverbs which says:

Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; my hand upon it! he shall not be unpunished(Proverbs 16:5)

They deduced from the common use of the same word “abomination” that people who are haughty of spirit are as though they worshiped idols (Sotah 4b).

I was thinking about this in the context of the work of Brené Brown. In her brilliant discussion of vulnerability she writes:

Faith minus vulnerability and mystery equals extremism. If you’ve got all the answers, then don’t call what you do ‘faith.’
Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai are on to something – there is a certain abomination of being too haughty and close minded to be vulnerable. The secret of whole-hearted living is to break the idols in our lives and be open to the mystery of the unknown, the Unknowable, and even yet to be known self. These are only revealed through the hard work and practice of humility.

Idolatrous Context: Eikev and Confederate Flag

In Eikev, this week’s Torah portion, we revisit the Golden Calf incident.  Moshe is up on the Mountain getting the Ten Commandments  from God and when he comes down with the two Tablets he sees that the Israelites had created an idolatrous Golden Calf to worship. First he breaks the Tablets and then he grinds up the Golden Calf. What was so bad about creating this idol? No one got hurt. Also it is noteworthy that Moshe destroys both the Tablets a gift from God and the Golden Calf, but why?

I was thinking about this since Palestinian infant Ali Dawabshe was burned alive when his West Bank home was set on fire by Jewish Israelis, and  since 16-year old Israeli Shira Banki — who was stabbed at the Jerusalem Pride Parade — died of her wounds. Both serve as a painful awakening to two forces of idolatry in our community: one of brazen commitment to the West Bank and the other of homophobia. While people want to explain away both killings as crazy acts of deranged  people, we as a community need to recognize our role. Rav Benny Lau said it well in his speech at the rally in Kikar Zion, on the Motzei Shabbat following the stabbings at the Jerusalem Pride Parade:

A Jew does not stab another person! Period. All those who prayed today in synagogues across the country.All those who prayed, just today heard with their own ears the Ten Commandments. They stood and heard the commandment “Thou shall not kill”

We create a context in which these destructive and insane acts make sense. We need to take responsibility for our role as accomplices.

Earlier this summer on the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooting took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. During a prayer service, nine people were killed by a gunman. The morning after the attack, police arrested Dylann Roof who later confessed to committing the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war. Like the killers of Ali Dawabshe and Shira Banki, Roof was deranged. History was made later in the summer when South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its post on the state Capitol grounds in Columbia.

PHOTO: The confederate flag is removed in Charleston, South Carolina, July 10, 2015. The larger group needed to take responsibility for the racist context of hate they had created with that symbol. They too felt like accomplices.

In creating the Golden Calf the Israelites proved that they might do anything as a group. Their group-think created a context where many bad things could happen. It would just take one bad egg to act on the spirit of the group and anything was possible. Moshe broke the God-given Tablets to awaken the people of the logical ends of their idolatry. They could soon be accomplices in breaking “Thou shall not kill”. What will awaken us to the idolatry in our community? What flags do we need to be taking down?

Muscular Judaism

In the Gemara Brachot we learn of a disagreement between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Rashbi) which seems to be based on Eikev, this week’s Torah portion (Berachot 35b). In this we find the second passage of the Sh’ma. There we read:

And it shall come to pass, if you shall hearken diligently to My commandments which I command you this day, to love the Lord your God, and to serve God with all your heart and with all your soul, that I will give the rain of your land in its season, the former rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your corn, and your wine, and your oil. And I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be satisfied. ( Deuteronomy 11:13-15)

Rashbi says a person should learn Torah the entire day and somehow that person will find a way to support himself and his family. Rabbi Yishmael disagrees and maintains that a person should combine Torah with derech eretz- the way of the world. In this context that means balancing learning and working to earn a living.

In another place in the Gemara we learn the story of when the Rashbi spoke out against the Roman government and their brazen devotion to their own physical needs (Shabbat 33 ). Out of fear of being killed by the Romans he and his son went to hide in the Bet Midrash, but they feared being caught so they escaped to a cave. There they lived on water and the fruit from a miraculous carob tree. By day they covered themselves in dirt and learned. When it came time to pray they would get out and put on their clothing. If you came in the middle of the day you would see two people learning submerged up to their heads. Or rather you would see the realization of the Rashbi’s ideal. He and his son had escaped to be living their disembodied existence learning Torah. In juxtaposition, Rabbi Yishmael claims that we need to balance our lives between our heads, hearts, and hands.

This disagreement between Rabbi Yishmael and Rashbi seems still to be unresolved today. It is not just manifest in the division between the Haredi Kollel society and the rest of the Jewish community. This disagreement can be seen in the very nature of Rabbinic Judaism itself. How much of what we call authentic Jewish living is itself lived with our bodies? For most Jews today even prayer, which was the one thing that the Rashbi needed to put his clothing on for, has become a disembodied gender-less experience. The Zionist had a clear response to this disembodied rabbinic Jewish life, but moving to Israel is clearly not the answer of Jewish continuity for all Jews or even for all Israelis for that matter. So what would Rabbi Yishmael’s response be in the 21st Century?

This past week I had the pleasure of visiting 6 Points Sports Academy in Greensboro North Carolina. There I had the pleasure of seeing Rabbis and Jewish educators training and playing with the campers. In these moments I saw Judaism take the field and become relevant in their lives. I have no doubt that this will have a long-term impact on the campers, but I am also curious to see if it has long-term impact on Judaism itself. Besides being a great sports camp serving the Reform Jewish community, 6 Points is emerging as a laboratory exploring the deeper meaning of muscular Judaism. In a profound way they are the students of Rabbi Yishmael.

Goodbye to Childhood

In Eikev ,this week’s Torah portion, Moses reflects on the years the Israelites spent in the Desert. There we read:

You should know in your heart that just as a father will chastise his son, so the Lord your God , will chastise you.(Deuteronomy 8:5)

This parental vision of God’s relationship with the Israelites brings up a number of questions for us as people living in the modern world. While the unbridled love of a parent for his/her child might seem appealing, what happens when that relationship goes sour? Do we want to be in a relationship with a God that will abuse us?  For those of us who have made that model work, that is wonderful. I can admit that I am a bit jealous. But, for the rest of us, what are we left with if we find this model to be too simplistic, childish, or abusive?

While there are many answers, as someone who used to be a Hillel Rabbi I want to share my reflections on the class of 2016 who are being dropped off at college in a couple of weeks. You are going away to college. This means that you will have to rethink and to renegotiate your relationships with your parents. Given the current state of the economy, this is not limited to the entering class, but it also includes the ones who just graduated and now have to return home. I hope that all parties involved are open to discuss what is involved in these changes. While it is difficult for parents to let their children grow up, we should have confidence that in the end they do not want their children to remain as dependent as they were as children. That is not to say that the children will ever really be independent of their parents’ love and support, but hopefully with our maturing we evolve past needing to be chastised. We can aspire for other ways of communicating. I hope to think that over the past 4000 years God might be open to renegotiating the terms of the relationship. There are pleasures and pains of growing up. Regarding our parents, this shift is predicated by our taking responsibility for ourselves and acting like adults. Regarding God, this means developing our own relationship with our heritage, people, and spirituality beyond what our parents and teachers have offered us.

The Examined Yarmelke

Recently I was doing hazara on, reviewing, Let You Down by the Dave Mathews Band. What a classic? If you look at the lyrics it is hard not to connect.

The chorus goes:

I have no lid upon my head
But if I did
You could look inside and see what’s on my mind
You could look inside and see what’s on my mind
I let you down, oh, forgive me
You give me love

 I have been wearing a lid upon my head for more time then I can remember. OK- So that is why I connect. So what does it mean for someone like me?

In Ekev, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all God’s ways, and to love God, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul; 13 to keep for you good the commandments of the Lord, and God’s statutes, which I command you this day? 14 Behold, unto the Lord your God belongs the heaven, and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that therein is. 15 Only the Lord had a delight in your fathers to love them, and God chose their seed after them, even you, above all people, as it is this day. 16 You shall cut away the barrier of your heart, and no longer be stiff-necked.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-16).

About this Rashi comments:

The barrier of the heart this means the blocking of your heart and it covering.  ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 10:16)

The Yarmelke is a sign of my being a Yareah Malchut Shamayim, one who fears the Kingdom of Heaven.  But I do not wear my Kipah out of fear. I aspire wear it as a sign of love. I want to remind myself to walk in all God’s ways and to serve the world with all of my heart and  soul in keeping the commandments. Or even in moments of doubt I am filled with love of the Jewish people and I want to remind myself that I represent our larger family.

While the Kipah, Skullcap, or Beany has come to be synonymous with being of a close minded or clannish,  maybe it should imply the opposite. In many ways I  cover my head so that I can regularly ” look inside and see what’s on my mind”.

As a modern Orthodox Jew, I do not pretend to exist solely within my little projection of a Torah world. My Kipah is  a reflective tool. While it is a life long commitment, putting it on is something I do every day. And with my lack of hair it is something I have to do many times a day.  It is an incessant reminder to me to explore my motivations and the examine my daily choices.

As a father is gives me “delight” to see my children make these choices. Socrates is right, ” The unexamined life is not worth living”. I think that wearing a lid is a great way to look inside.


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