Posts Tagged 'Aaron'

The Lottery: Shirley Jackson and Korach

In her 1948 short story “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson describes a small town in contemporary America which has an annual ritual known as “the lottery”. In a small village children gather stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, which in the local tradition is practiced to ensure a good harvest. The lottery preparations starts with making paper slips and the list of all the families. Once the slips are finished, they are put into a black box, which is stored overnight in a safe at the coal company. The next morning the townspeople start close to 10 a.m. in order to have everything done in time for lunch. First, the heads of the households draw slips until every head of the household has a slip; Bill Hutchinson gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. The second round is for the family members to draw. For the first round, the men have to be over sixteen years of age; however, in the second round everyone is eligible, no matter their age. In keeping with tradition, each villager obtains a stone and begins to surround the “winner” of the lottery.

Clearly this the root story that inspired the Hunger Games. It also seems like it has a connection to Korach, this week’s Torah portion.  learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership. Eventually Korach, Dattan, and Aviram, along with their entire families were swallowed up by the earth, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire. While they repressed a threat to Moses and Aaron’s authority their extreme nature of their punishment seems out of proportion. At the end of the Torah portion we read that Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. Aaron’s election is confirmed through a test of the staffs. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shall write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod. (Numbers 17: 17-24)

This seems like such a more reasonable way to resolve conflict. Each loser takes his staff home, no one gets eaten by the earth or burned to death, and the winner gets an almond treat.  It seems that the Levi bracket in the tournament was really tough. There is a lot to be learned by the juxtaposition between the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery.

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Listening To Survivors: Shemini and Yom HaShoa

Just about a week ago we celebrated our salvation at the division of the Red Sea with the concluding days of Passover. There we were witness to God’s miracles and the death of other people’s children. Our response was to sing songs. The Gemara says:

The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God, and the Lord, God, said to them: ‘My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?’ (Sanhedrin 37)

Here we see God silencing the angels for their callous behavior. The death of the Egyptians seems to be a moment for silence, or at the least not a time for singing. By implication this Gemara is teaching us a lesson of compassion. If this is true for our enemy, we can only imagine the appropriate response for  the death of a friend or a loved one.

As a parent the voice of God admonishing the angels stings. It is hard to imagine how I would respond upon hearing the death of one of my children, let alone two of them. In Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Aaron’s response to hearing the death of two of his sons. There we read:

Then Moses said to Aaron: ‘This is it that the Lord spoke, saying: Through them that are close to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3)

I could imagine many responses, but not one of them is silence. What can we learn from Aaron’s deafening silence?

With Yom HaShoa being commemorated this past week, I am shocked as to the tremendous amount of literature still being written about the Holocaust. All of these years later, we cannot even imagine slowing down on that topic. I am not saying we should silence, forget, or deny history for a moment the atrocities of the Holocaust. The opposite is true. There is a certain urgency now more than ever to tell those stories. Sadly we are in the waning years of having survivors in our community. We need them to share their stories before they are gone.

While we need to hear their stories about how they survived near death, it is even more important to learn how they lived. My friend Rav Josh Feigelson recently pointed out:

The 2013 Pew Research Center survey of American Jews found that 73 percent of respondents said that “remembering the Holocaust” was “essential to being Jewish,” the highest item on a list that included “leading an ethical/moral life,” “caring about Israel,” “observing Jewish law,” and “eating traditional Jewish foods,” among others.

If we are blessed to hear their stories we need to hear their whole story. As Rav Josh pointed out we, “unwittingly brought about a Jewish self-image in which Auschwitz is not just on par with Sinai, but comes to displace it.”  We need humility and inner fortitude to hear the faint voice of Sinai. It takes a moment to learn how Jews have died, it takes a lifetime to learn how we should live.

In conclusion I want to point out the difference between what we want and what they the survivors need. We want them to talk, but do they want to talk? Aaron was silent at the death of his children. Surely we are humbled by the presence of survivors. We are here to listen to anything they want to tell us.  We need to need to  give them that time and space to speak, even if they like Aaron want to be quiet.

Mark of a Tzadik

In Tazria-Metzora, this week’s Torah portion, we read about various forms of biblical ritual impurity. It addresses cleansing from skin disease (צָּרַעַת, tzara’at). What was tzara’at, this skin disease? The person with tzara’at has to present their case to a priest to determine the right course of action. Why would you need to present a medical case to anyone other than a doctor?

One approach  is simply that  tzara’at not a medical condition.  In the Talmud Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan that skin disease results from seven things: slander, the shedding of blood, vain oath, incest, arrogance, robbery, and envy (Arakhin 16a.) Even so, how would a priest help you deal with one of these seven sins?

Ideally the priests followed in the ways of Aaron. The priests tried to literally be the “disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; love your fellow creatures and draw them nigh unto the Law!”( Avot 1:12) They were peacemakers. Who else would be able to deal with these seven sins?

I was thinking about the person of Aaron this past Shabbat. My wife was away and I was having Shabbat dinner with our three children. While I was making Kiddush Emunah (3)  started screaming. In response Yishama (6) yelled at her saying he hates her and her screaming and stormed off to the living room. Emunah started to cry. Without saying a word Yadid (9) went off to the living room leaving me head in hand. I have no idea what they talked about, but a couple of moments later Yadid returned to the dining-room.  He gently but his arm around his crying sister and said, “Yishama apologizes for what he said”. And just like that, we had peace again.

At that moment all I could think about was Aaron.  He was an ideal priest of the people, far more beloved for his kindly ways than was Moses. While Moses was stern and uncompromising, brooking no wrong, Aaron went about as peacemaker, reconciling man and wife when he saw them estranged, or a man with his neighbor when they quarreled, and winning evil-doers back into the right way by his friendly interactions. (Avot de-Rabbi Natan 12 and Sanhedrin 6b). I grabbed Yadid  and give him a big hug. I said to him that he is the gilgul, reincarnation, of Aaron. Yadid is a Tzadik.  I hope by the time Yadid reads this blog his tender soul is revealed to more of the world. But, for now I am happy that this Tzadik saved my Shabbat meal last week.

Having this experience with my son makes we question what else could restore peace to the world. Other then someone who works tirelessly to help people make peace for themselves, what else could heal the world? What else could remove the blemish of one of these seven sins?

I hope that this Shabbat goes smoother for everyone. Shabbat Shalom.

Work Life Balance

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we read,

God spoke to Moses after the death of Aaron’s two sons, when they approached before God, and they died. And God said to Moses: Speak to Aaron, your brother- he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary, within the Curtain, in front of the Curtain, in front of the Cover that is upon the Ark, so that he should not die; for in a cloud will I appear upon the Ark- cover. (Leviticus 16:1-3)

It seems logical to read this as an explanation for the death of Aaron’s sons. Nadav and Avihu  must have approached the special space at the wrong time. Or does it mean something else?

Seeing that Adina and I are coming up to our 10th wedding anniversary it must have been a decade since my mother gave me the per-wedding-advice talk. One thing I remember clearly is her suggestion that we should never go to sleep angry. In light of this wisdom I might offer another interpretation of this section of our Torah portion. I imagine that Moses was giving Aaron advice on how to do his job. Do not try to do your work , which is representing the people in their relating to God, when you are angry at God.

It is hard to just let things go or to actually deal with the issues when we are tired.  And worse than either of these options is to make-believe that there are no issues. We cannot just sleep these issues away. If Aaron was angry at God for the death of his sons ( which he should have been) then he should not try just to work through the pain. That is just unhealthy.

This is a challenge to many of  our lives. It is hard having a professional life separate from one’s personal life. If one is passionate about his/her work there is always a part of this work that is personal. This runs the risk of leading to a lot of drama at work. The answer for many people is to make a clear line between their personal and professional lives.  I think we can learn from Aaron that this is not always possible. To achieve deep satisfaction in our places of work we have to be open to the risk of being hurt personally. What is the other choice? If we live our lives with purpose we might even find a deep encounter with God in our places of work.

But maybe this is an over statement.  I realize that we all need balance. As much as I love my work, I also know that I get my love at home.  That seems healthy.

 

Listening for Silence

Just a few days ago we celebrated our salvation at the division of the Red Sea with the concluding days of Passover. There we were witness to God’s miracles and the death of other people’s children. Our response was to sing a song. The Gemara says:

The Egyptians were drowning in the sea. At the same time, the angels wanted to sing before God, and the Lord, God, said to them: ‘My creations are drowning and you are singing before me?’ (Sanhedrin 37)

Here we see God silencing the angels for their callous behavior. By implication this Gemara is teaching us a lesson in compassion. There seems to be moments for silence, or at the least not singing. If this is true for our enemy, we can only imagine the response for a friend of a loved one.

As a parent it is hard to imagine how I would respond upon hearing the death of one of my children, let alone two of them. In Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Aaron’s response to hearing the death of two of his sons. There we read:

Then Moses said to Aaron: ‘This is it that the Lord spoke, saying: Through them that are close to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3)

I could imagine many responses, but not one of them is silence. What can we learn from Aaron’s deafening silence?

With Yom HaShoa being commemorated this past week, I am shocked as to the tremendous amount of literature still being written about the Holocaust. All of these years later, we cannot even imagine slowing down on that topic. I am not saying we should forget or deny history for a moment. The opposite is true. There is a certain urgency now more than ever to tell the story. We are in the waning years of keeping the holy company of survivors in our community. We need them to share their stories before they are gone. The only things I wanted ask is what do they the survivors want? We want them to talk, but do they want to talk? Aaron was silent at the death of his children. Surely we are humbled by their presence. We are here to listen to anything the survivors want to tell us. We need to need to  give them that time and space, even if they like Aaron want to be quiet. We can try to drown our sorrows, but never our memories.

Manifest- Nation

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we see the most brazen challenge to Moses authority. For Korach there was no Arab spring. His uprising against Moses is put down, way down. Korach and his band get swallowed up by the ground.

It is interesting to juxtapose this story to Aaron’s appointment to becoming the High Priest that we read at the end of the Torah portion. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shalt write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shalt write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass tomorrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord unto all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod.25 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept there, for a token against the rebellious children; that there may be made an end of their murmurings against Me, that they die not. Numbers 17: 17-25

As compared to the story with Korach, this process of determining leadership is marked by transparency. While many people died with Korach for the restoration of Moses’s authority Aaron’s authority was established with no harm done to anyone.

From a moral perspective the story of almond blossom seems a lot better than the loss of human life, but in another context it is much worse. When Korach is gone there is no evidence. The miracle of Aaron’s authority is kept as a reminder of his authority. It resonates with the whole tragedy of the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelite could not sit with the trust in a God or a leader which they could not see, touch, or hold. It was Aaron himself that helped them craft the Golden Calf. Theologically there is a certain strength of Moses who has nothing to show for his authority.

But, it is not just the Israelites. We all seek confirmation and validation in our lives. While compliments are great, a physical representation of that affirmation makes all the difference. It is hard to live with ideas, we all seek a physical manifestation in our lives. While they need not assume that it is idolatry, it is interesting to see in our own lived that we keep these things as totems of our achievements. These need not be expensive to represent excellence. Alas, this is the brilliance of paper plate awards. Happy camping.

Missing the Silence

As a parent it is hard to imagine how I would respond upon hearing the death of one of my children, let alone two of them. In Shemini, this week’s Torah portion, we read of Aaron’s response to hearing the death of two of his sons. There we read:

Then Moses said to Aaron: ‘This is it that the Lord spoke, saying: Through them that are close to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ And Aaron was silent. (Leviticus 10:3)

Why would God take his two children? I could imagine many responses, but not one of them is silence. It seems even more peculiar when you continue reading the Torah and Rashi’s commentary which are clearly seeking a rational for the death of Aaron’s sons. Than we read:

The Lord spoke to Aaron saying. Do not drink intoxicating win, you and your sons with you, when you come to the Tent of Meeting, that you not die – this is an eternal decree for your generations.( Leviticus 10:8-9)

Don’t you think this “eternal decree” would have been nice to hear about before his sons got killed at the hands of God? This just seems unjust. I do not understand how Aaron could possibly hold his silence upon hearing this. While I do not ever think I can understand Aaron’s deafening silence, what do I make of Moses attempt at theodicy? How is it that the greatest teacher of Israel has no pastoral skills?

At the end of the very same chapter we read:

And Aaron spoke to Moses: ‘Behold, this day have they offered their sin-offering and their burnt-offering before the Lord, and there have befallen me such things as these; and if I had eaten the sin-offering today, would it have been well-pleasing in the sight of the Lord? And when Moses heard that, it was well-pleasing in his sight. (Leviticus 10:1-20)

On this, Rashi reads in an entire back story in which Aaron and Moses are discussing the finer points of mourning and sacrificial laws. What does it mean that Moses approved of what Aaron said? Rashi interprets it to me mean that Moses admitted that Aaron was right in his interpretation of the law.  Moses was not ashamed to admit” Lo Shamati“- that he had not heard the Law. Aaron was right and Moses was wrong in terms of interpreting these laws.

On another level this comment by Aaron is his first words after the death of his son’s. This is what ended the silence. Above and beyond Aaron’s ability to hold his tongue, his ability to stick to his job and serve in the Temple after such a perceived injustice is truly remarkable. In light of this, I want to offer a drasha on Rashi’s  understanding of Moses saying ” Lo Shamati“.  While Moses saw Aaron doing his job and was happy to see that.  By saying Lo Shamati – Moses admitted that he did not hear Aaron. What did Aaron say? Nothing and that is the point. Moses missed the profundity of Aaron’s silence.

All to often, as a Rabbi and for that matter as an educator,  father, and husband I am reactive and not proactive. I am less of an actor and more of a re-actor in my own life. I know of myself that I do not always know what to do with silence. Often the best response is to recognize it and to just sit with it. It seems that Moses was obtuse to Aaron’s silence, but in admitting his fault  Moses shows us all how we might all strive to deal better with others’ tragedies. Often there is nothing to say. You just have to be present and do a lot of listening.



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