Archive for the '5.06 Ki Tetzei' Category

7 Years of Emunah: Reflections on Faith and Fidelity

While her secular birthday was on September 2nd, Emunah’s Hebrew birthday is today. It is crazy to realize that today she is 7 years old. It is also crazy for me to pause to recognize that I have been writing this blog for 7 years. This blog started with her birth and I has grown along with her for the years. Every year around this time I reflect on Emunah, the name, person, and concept. I feel blessed to have them Emunah in my life.

As I have quoted before Martin Buber writes:

This ‘existential’ characteristic of Emunah is not sufficiently expressed in the translation ‘faith’, although the verb often does mean to believe (to believe someone, to believe a thing). It must further be noticed that the conception includes the two aspects of a reciprocity of permanence: the active, ‘fidelity’, and the receptive, ’trust’. If we wish to do justice to the intention of the spirit of the language which is so expressed, then we ought not to understand ’trust’ merely in a psychical sense, as we do not with ’fidelity’. The soul is as fundamentally concerned in the one as in the other, but is decisive for both that the disposition of the soul should become an attitude of life. Both, fidelity and trust, exist in the actual realm of relationship between two persons. Only in the full actuality of such a relationship can one be both loyal and trusting. (Two Types of Faith 28-29)

This year I take pause to thing about what it might mean to falter in one’s Emunah. The paradigm of this in the Talmud is the life of Elisha ben Abuyah a rabbi born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 CE who adopted a worldview considered heretical by his community. So why did he lose his Emunah? We learn in the Talmud:

‘How did this happen to him? He [Elisha] once saw a man climb to the top of a palm-tree on the Sabbath, take the mother-bird with the young, and descend in safety. At the termination of the Sabbath he saw a man climb to the top of a palm-tree and take the young but let the mother bird go free, and as he descended a snake bit him and he died. Elisha exclaimed, ‘It is written, “Send away the mother bird, but the young you may take for yourself; that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days (Deuteronomy 22:7).” Where is the well-being of this man, and where is the prolonging of his days!’ He was unaware how Rabbi Akiva explained it, ‘That it may be well with you in the World [to Come] which is wholly good,’ And that you may prolong your days’ in the world which is unending. ( Hagigah 15b)

The Talmud depicts that Elisha lost his faith when he saw injustice in the world. As we see in Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, there is supposed to be a reward of life for sending away the mother bird before taking her eggs. In comparison Rabbi Akiva kept his faith because of his belief in a world to come where the perceived God’s injustice would be made right. In either of their cases it is about having or not having faith or belief. What about Buber’s idea of having fidelity and relationship?

It is said, “Mr Goldfarb goes to synagogue to be in relationship with God. I go to synagogue to be in relationship with Mr. Goldfarb”. It is interesting the Talmud does not say that Elisa did not believe Rabbi Akiva, but that he was unaware of his teaching. Is the assumption that if he was aware Elisha would have believed Rabbi Akiva? Maybe if Elisha was aware of Rabbi Akiva’s teaching he would have known that the system works for someone in his community and he would have stayed in relationship with Rabbi Akiva and his community.

Seven years later while Emunah my daughter might be a struggle times, my relationship with her is steadfast and unshakable, even if my relationship with faith is often a still struggle. Regardless I am still in dynamic relationship with my Emunah and look forward its development for many years to come.

 

 

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What About the T? – Ki Tzetzei and Transgender

It is great to see some more positive conversation regarding including LGBT members of our community. It is curious to me how the “T” sort of slips in there as if it were the same at the LGB, but at the same time ignored. Who we are attracted to is very different then how we want to present ourselves. Transgender people experience a mismatch between their gender identity or gender expression and their assigned sex. So, what about the T? How does our community deal with transgender members?

In Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the prohibition of transgender dressing. There we read:

A man’s attire shall not be on a woman, nor may a man wear a woman’s garment, because whoever does these is an abomination to God, your God. ( Deuteronomy 22:5)

Between the use of the word “abomination” and testing the limits of heteronormative lifestyle I understand why so many people for or against transgender people lump them all together. But still the Torah it seems like a different issue.

According to Rashi on the verse, cross-dressing can lead to promiscuous behavior. Wearing the clothes of a woman would enable a man to mingle inappropriately among women, and vice versa. Alternatively Maimonides argued that some of the ancient pagan rituals involved cross-dressing and that we must therefore distance ourselves from this type of behavior. ( Guide III :37). Beyond the presumptions of the person having lascivious or idolatrous motivations, I wanted to suggest another from the start of this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands, and you carry away captives, and you see among the captives a woman of goodly form, and you have a desire for her, and would take her as a wife; then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails.( Deuteronomy 21:10-12)

We see here that the practice would be to strip the captive women of the outward appearances of gender to determine his attraction to her. Is it possible that the prohibition for cross-dressing was limited to dealing with the military strategy?

Gender is such a fundamental aspect of what makes us who we are. In my experience of transgender members of our communities their motivation is neither lascivious, idolatrous, and certainly not a military strategu. Their need comes from a profound drive for self-expression. Given the profound amount of violence perpetrated against transgender people I think we need to reconsider how we talk about gender roles in our community and not just sexual orientation.  While we maintain our commitment to tzinuit, modesty, devotion to God, and of course maintaining the peace, how might we make more room for the “T”?

Fence on The Roof- 50 Years Since Fiddler

It has been 50 years since the production the Fiddler on the Roof. Til this day it stands as a unique artistic phenomena  explaining the old world Jew to the contemporary American audience. In her great article on the subject Professor Ruth R. Wisse brilliantly explores some of the challenges presented in the theatrical and film adaptations of Tevye and his Daughters (or Tevye the Dairyman) and other tales by Sholem Aleichem. Like others Professor Wisse thinks they went too far in rewriting  Tevye to make him more accommodating  to the new world. While this might be true, the idea of adaptation itself was part and parcel of the original conception of the character of Tevye. How will the simple old world Jew make his way in the emerging complex new world?

These issues are themselves explored in renaming the work as the Fiddler on the Roof. The title stems from  Marc Chagall surreal paintings of Eastern European Jewish life which often including a fiddler.

   

In the play Tevye says:

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word: Tradition!

The Fiddler is a metaphor for survival, through tradition and joyousness, in a life of uncertainty and imbalance. While life beyond Anatevka might be much more pleasant and simple, it seems that here America in relative security we are struggling to keep our tradition.

I remember when I was little I was climbing on the roof of the garage. My mother came yelling,”If you fall off there and break your leg I will smack you”. I was thinking about this and Dr. Wisse’s great article when reading Ki Tetzei , this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

When you build a new house, make a fence around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof. (Deuteronomy 22:8

Obviously their architecture was different at that time and they actually used their roofs, but still I have to ask, who would be stupid enough to go on a roof? Well, the Torah wanted us to take precautions even for the person who might end up on the roof. How might we preserve this sacred balance as we try to maintain our tradition in the 21st century?

This makes me reflect on the first teaching in the Perkey Avot. There we learn, ” Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.” ( Avot 1:1) If we are “cautious in judgment”  and work in the service of universal justice and not just “what is good for the Jews”, we will not have to worry about continuity. Simply put we will have “many pupils”. When we have many pupils will have many different interpretations. While this is exciting it might ultimately erode our sense of having one community to marshal a more just world. To this ends we need to build a fence. I realize that everyone will have different notions of what these limits are, but we can all agree we need them. With theses fences in place each of us needs to find our own way to become that Fiddler on the Roof.

Leaving The Nest

In Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion , we learn about the prohibition of Shiluach haken. There we read:

If a bird nest happens to be before you on the road, on any tree or on the ground- young birds or eggs- and the mother is roosting on the young birds or the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. You shall surely send away the mother and take the young for yourself, so that it will be good for you and will prolong your days.”( Deuteronomy 22:6-7)

It is clear that this practice is one that is meant to inculcate us with compassion. While we understand that we have a need to take the egg or young bird from it’s nest, we want to do that without the mother present. It is hard to read this section without reflecting on the similar prohibition to not boil a kid in its mother’s milk( Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21). They are both seem to rooted in the same desire to create a compassionate context for our consumption. The interesting thing is less the similarities than the differences. In the prohibition of milk and meat the Rabbis expanded it to extend to our plates, cutlery, sinks, dish washers, cutting boards, waiting between meals, ovens, etc. To the best of my knowledge there is no legal expansion of law of Shiluach haken. Why not?

I do not think I have a good answer for this question, but there is one thought I wanted to add. This summer we sent Yadid away to overnight camp for the first time. He had a great time and we are thrilled. I went to pick him up from camp and that got me out of having to take him to the bus to send him to camp. Camping is my profession and because of that I think I might just know too much of what is going on there at camp. Because of this I was really very happy not having to be there as our child went away for the first time. In our nature parents have a profound sense of connection to our children. Separating from them is just hard. So in response to my question, I do not think that the Rabbis needed to expand on the simple meaning of the law of Shiluach haken to help us be more compassionate and relate to the bond between a parent and a child. But I still think that my question is much better than this answer.

Building Mentchen for Others

Recently I read Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. The author recounts his connection with Joe Ehrman. Joe was once and NFL star and is now a minister, a high school football coach. Joe changes lives by teaching boys how to be men of substance and impact by focusing on relationships and a cause beyond themselves.The book has inspired me to give some deep thinking about what I have learned about being a man. I have found it to be a deeply moving and recommend the book. I have been thinking a lot about which masculinity have a received from society. What masculinity do I want to communicate to my children?

In discussing some of our biggest issues of our society Joe argues that its root cause is that boys do not know how to become men. All too often a man is built for himself. False masculinity is based on the “conquest on the ballfield, in the bedroom or the billfold”.  How might we  build men for others?  He teaches:

For those with no voice, no position, no privilege, no power, no authority, you be those things for them. Seek justice. Encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Please the case of the widow. ( page 108)

Echoing the words of Isaiah he is teaching boys to become men by taking responsibility for others. We are taught to be in competition for money, fame, women, and power.  Instead we should be working toward realizing the relationships in their communities.

I could not get his words ” Defend the cause of the fatherless” out of my head when reading Ki Tetzei , this week’s Torah portion. There we read about the stubborn and rebellious son who is killed in the name of the misdeeds he has as of yet to commit (Deuteronomy 21: 18-21). How did the this son end up this way?

Putting this back into the context of the first section of Ki Tetzei we see something interesting First we read:

10 When you go forth to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands, and you carry them away captive,11 and see among the captives a woman of goodly form, and you have a desire for her, and would take her to you for a wife; 12 then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; 13 and she shall put the raiment of her captivity from off her, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife. 14 And it shall be, if you have no delight in her, then you shall let her go where she will; but you shall not sell her at all for money, you shall not deal with her as a slave, because you have humbled her.      ( Deuteronomy 21: 10-14)

Here we meet a man who objectified another person. And not just a stranger, but his wife. Then the Torah goes on to talk about a man who takes two wives. It might be the same man who just took this captive wife as a second wife. The Torah instructs him not to treat the children differently. And then it seems that he does just this and we learn about the stubborn and rebellious son. In this reading of the Torah portion as a progression we see that the man in question was built for himself . In turn he builds a son who is built for himself. The progression is clear that if he is power-hungry and goes to war. This might lead to his “humbling” his wife. This might lead to his humbling his children.

We need to fill our children with love, hope, and affirm their goodness. We need to give more thought to how we can all rebuild ourselves to be for others. By the same progression we see how true masculinity will in turn help our children be built for others which will in turn make a better world. This stubborn and rebellious child has a father, but like so many people in our society this father is emotionally absent. Today we are called to defend both those that are fatherless and those who are functionally fatherless.  We need to rebel against the societal norm of masculinity. The only things that is in our way to achieving success is our own being stubborn.

One Leg at a Time

Our five-year-old Yishama started Kindergarten this week. We were very excited for him to go to the Carmel Academy. His brother Yadid loves the school. While Yishama’s experience has been amazing so far, I did not prepare myself for Yishama’s issues around this transition. Yesterday Yishama got into a bit of fight on the bus.

At the end of Ki Tetzei, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he stuck those of you who were in the rear, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God. ” ( Deuteronomy 25:17-18).

We are commanded to remember what someone did to us while we were in transition from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. It is obvious that transitions are always hard. It is in this time that we are the most vulnerable, but it also during this period that we can grow the most.

As we are making our way into the next phase of our lives, we should not take these transitions for granted. This is a time to remember. We are all pushed to next stage of our unfolding success. As an adult I pause to realize that I have spent the better part of my life putting my best face forward to succeed. When have I taken the time to deeply explore  my failures?

As a parent I want my children to have success.  I cannot just focus on what drives them forward. I need to also empower myself and my children to connect to the weaker parts, those parts of ourselves that might push to the rear. If we do not deal with them in a time of safety, someone else might exploit them later. As much as Yishama might have been a bully on the bus, it was out of weakness. While we might have punished him for his behavior, he needed to be supported to deal with it. This morning Yishama took responsibility for his actions and  made up with the other child.  And yes they hugged. I am confident that this was a huge growing experience for him. Now we just need to deal with Yishama’s difficulty in getting dressed in the morning. I think Yishama might still turn out alright, I just need to give him more time to pick out his pants. We do not want to get left behind and miss the bus.

 

“The” Principled Life

I have to admit that I respect people who live lives according to their principles.  Obviously, I feel more of a connection to them if I share these principles, but regardless, I feel that I can relate to people who live ideologically driven and reflective lives.  At the least, you know where you stand with these people. As an Orthodox Jew, it follows that I have an affinity for people striving to live lives committed to the structure of Halakha, Jewish law.  But, I am often put off when I confront people in my community who make claims that we alone keep the entirety of the Torah.  Implicit to this claim about the identity of Orthodox Jews is that any other Jewish lifestyle is inherently corrupt because it is less then complete.  We live our lives doing every Mitzvah, commandment, while they “pick and choose” their Judaism.

I believe that this identity of “Orthodox supremacy” is called into question within this week’s Torah portion Ki Teitzei. For example, no one would claim that in a effort to live a life committed to doing the 613 commandments that s/he should perform the commandment to divorce his/her spouse (Deuteronomy 24:1). Throughout the portion we see examples of the right way to deal with a non-ideal situation. One example is if you go out to war, then the Torah proscribes the procedure for taking an enemy bride. While I might portray myself as a follower of the law, I cannot abdicate responsibility for putting myself in certain situations, like going to war. Necessarily the religious life is inundated with having to makes choices. Evidently, we all “pick and choose”.

In a world plagued by a barrage of options, we can appreciate the allure of living in a closed community that will shelter us from many of these choices. Living with this structure might help foster a religious lifestyle, but it might miss the reality of how “choice-full” our lives truly are. On the other side, assuming that I am the lone arbiter of what is right and wrong seems to lead me down a path devoid of any lasting meaning. How do we make choices? Is living a principled life one choice or a choice that needs to be rehearsed many times a daily? May we all be blessed to realize our highest ideals. Shabbat Shalom.

– For more check out Peter Berger‘s Heretical Imperative: Contemporary Possibilities of Religious Affirmation


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