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Humble Masterpiece: Original Hoodie

The Torah does not command wearing of a unique prayer shawl or tallit. Instead, it presumes that people wore a garment of some type to cover themselves and instructs us in Shelach, this week’s Torah portion, to attach fringes (ציצית‬ tzitzit) to the corners of these garment. We read there:

Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the LORD and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God.(Numbers 15:38-40)

These fringes are there to remind you when you look at them to keep the commandments. Still the commandment is to have tzitzit with the tallit. Do you have to wear a four-cornered garment?

The Shulchan Aruch (אורח חיים סי’ ח:ב) and most of the Achronim are of the opinion that one should wear aTallit over their head the whole time while praying. The Mishna Brura explains that the reason for this practice is that it “subdues man’s heart and induces him to fear of God.” Since getting married and wearing a Tallit I have to say I enjoy wearing the Tallit over my head in prayer. I enjoy the seclusion it provides me in this experience. Long before the 1930’s Knickerbocker version the Tallit is the original Hoodie .

You have to check out this amazing short TED talk on this humble masterpiece :

It is interesting to look back at the history of the hoodie in light of the original charge to where a Tallit. It is also interesting to look back at the experience of wearing the Tallit in light of the history of the hoodie. It is truly a humble masterpiece.

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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.

 

The Other Foot: Shimshon and #metoo

In Naso, this week’s Torah portion, we learn about the laws of becoming a Nazir. The Nazir is someone who  takes a vow to “consecrated” or “separated” themselves. This vow means that they need to abstain from wine, wine vinegar, grapes, raisins, and eating or drinking any substance that contains any trace of grapes. It also means that they are going to refrain from cutting their hair on one’s head. The final aspect of this vow is that they cannot become ritually impure by contact with corpses or graves, even those of family members.

It is not at all surprising that the haftarah coupled with this Torah portion is the origin story of Shimshon, the most famous Nazir in the Bible. Shimshon is not a normal Nazir in that he has superhuman strength. He also not a particularly good Nazir in that he appears to break his vows, by touching a dead body (Judges 14:8–9) and drinking wine (he holds a “drinking party”, in Judges 14:10). Lucas Cranach d. Ä. - Samson's Fight with the Lion - WGA05717.jpg

What is not covered in the origin story is the tragic end of his life. His immense strength to aid him against his enemies and allow him to perform superhuman feats came from his hair. Shimshon was betrayed by his lover Delilah, who used the secret of the origin of his strength against him. She ordered a servant to cut his hair while he was sleeping and turned him over to his Philistine enemies.

Delilah’s betrayal of Shimshon is an interesting foil for us today. As a nation we are reflecting on bringing sexual misconduct to light. The #metoo movement has surfaced the many situations in which men have used their power to take the hidden strength from women. For their pleasure men have compromised women and as a society we have been complicit in not making room for their voice. How do we all understand the power we have and the power we might take? As a man I read the Haftarah this week with an eye to asking myself to put the this shoe on the other foot.

 

Tent of God

These days Yadid is a big 14-year-old who likes his alone time, but a few years ago he used to smother his sister Emunah with love.  I remember distinctly one time he asked me if I would let her sit with him on the ground. He proceeded to spread a blanket on top of her. Not having any of it Emunah pulled the blanket off of her head. But Yadid was not deterred so he asked his sister to join him in the  “Tent of God”.

I was thinking about this tender image when reading BaMidbar, this week’s Torah portion. In Torah portion we read about the census of the Israelites, the priests’ duties, and their configurations of tribes as they broke down camp to move.  The Tent of God was at the center of their world. We learn with a lot of detail how they encamped and traveled around the Tent.

Image result for encampment israelites

 

Even if they might smother each other at points, it is thrilling to imagine my children’s relationships evolve over the years. I would like to think that at the center of that will be an abiding love and desire to be close to each other throughout life’s journeys.

What If God Was One of Us

In 1995 Joan Osborn released her one hit song ” What If God Was One of Us.” The song received Grammy nominations in 1996 for Best Female Pop Vocal PerformanceRecord of the Year, and Song of the Year. Written by Eric Bazilian (of The Hooters), the song deals with various aspects of belief in God by asking questions inviting the listener to consider how they might relate to God.  Here is her original vide:

 

All of these years later I have to admit that I still cannot forget the lyrics. The song goes:

What if God was one of us?
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Tryin’ to make his way home?

How would we experience the corporeality of God?

I was thinking about it while reading Behar Behukotai, this week’s Torah portion. There we read God saying, ” I will walk among you: I will be your God, and you shall be My people.” ( Leviticus 26:12) About this Rashi write:

 

I will walk among you— I will, as it were, walk with you in the Garden of Eden as though I were one of yourselves and you will not be frightened of Me. One might think that this implies: you will not fear (reverence) Me! Scripture however states, “but I will be your God” (Sifra, Bechukotai, Chapter 3 3-4).

I think it is interesting to think about the idea of reverence without being frightened.  Personally, I cannot even imagine the experience of the presence of God in my life. Thinking about these ideas open me to the divine potential of  the “stranger on the bus”.  It does not change my faith or struggle with the idea of God in my life, but it does improve my commute through life.

 

Invitation to Belong: Emor’s Recipe for Community

This week’s reading, Emor, discusses the laws which pertain to priests and the high priest, and various laws which relate to sacrifices. These are followed by a lengthy discussion of the festivals. The portion concludes with the story of a blasphemer who was put to death. It is interesting to me that if you look at all aspects of Emor as a composite we see a definition of community. We have a clear definition of the leadership of the community during the time of the Temple. We have the regulations for convening at the Temple. We even get to see the limits of the community with the story of the blasphemer.

This reminded me of the book Community: The Structure of Belonging by Peter Block. In this book Block encourages a shift in our way of thinking about community so we can bring about the qualities of an authentic sense of belonging. There he writes:

The key to creating or transforming community, then, is to see the power in the small but important elements of being with others. The shift we seek needs to be embodied in each invitation we make, each relationship we encounter, and each meeting we attend. For at the most operational and practical level, after all the thinking about policy, strategy, mission, and milestones, it gets down to this: How are we going to be when we gather together? ( Community: The Structure of Belonging)

Block understands that creating and sustaining a sense of belonging is fundamentally about the experience of community, not about it’s formal structures and mechanisms.

The leader is the convener of these moments of belonging. It is amazing to look back and see how we evolved over time.  What is described here in Emor worked in the time of the Temple. It evolved into something completely different during the Rabbinic period of Jewish life. And as Rabbi Yitz Greenberg argues, we are transitioning into the next epoch in which we will need another kind of leader for us to cultivate the experience of belonging. Rabbi Greenberg puts forward a compelling argument that this next epoch will be defined by lay leadership.

In order for us to be successful in our third phase we will need to follow the Emor recipe.  We will need to define the role of these leaders. We will need to put forward a plan for our regular occasions to convene as  a nation. And yes, even if it seems painful. we will need to define our limits. If we do all of these things we will find a sense of belonging. You are all invited.

Listen to and watch Rabbi Greenberg on the 3rd Epoch of Jewish History

Separateness and Holiness: Technology and Chukat Ha’Akum

There are a myriad of commandments in Aharei Mot Kedoshim, this week’s double Torah portion. As a collection these commandments set out a holiness code for what it means to be Jewish. At the end of we learn of the commandment of Chukat Ha’Akum prohibiting imitating Gentile manners in their dressings and practices. There we read:

You shall not follow the practices of the nation that I am driving out before you. For it is because they did all these things that I abhorred them (Leviticus 20:23)

This prohibition makes sense in my imagination of ancient tribalism, but modern life has created many dilemmas on what constitutes a violation. By design this commandment is relative to the environment in which we find ourselves.  Amidst this holiness code it seems like a clear drive for Kedusha, but less about holiness and more about separateness.

I was thinking about this challenging commandment when reading a New York Times article back in September 2017. In their article “In Amish Country, the Future Is Calling” 

Like our own, the Amish struggle with technology is an issue of Chukat Ha’Akum. Modernity and technology offer us both great things and pose real risks. Recently I had the opportunity to be at the Poeh Cultural Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico to learn from Stephen Tekaron-Hiarenkon Fadden, a gifted Native American educator. He wisely taught, “Don’t confuse communication technology with communication.” The answer cannot be to exclude technology completely or use it blindly.  The technology needs to serve the holy work of helping us communicate. We need to intentionally determine how we will preserve our Kedusha meaning both our separateness and our holiness. Ironically we have what to learn from our Amish and Native American brethren as to how to keep the prohibition of Chukat Ha’Akum .

 

 


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