Posts Tagged 'Behalotecha'

Being A Helper: Shabbat BeHa’alotecha, Pesach Sheni, and Becoming a Bar Mitzvah

Yishama Frydman Orlow’s Speech on Becoming a Bar Mitzvah June 22, 2019:

Mr Rogers is often quoted saying:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.When things look grim, there are always people helping and they deserve our attention.

In this week’s Parsha we learn about the case of men who are deemed impure and are on the verge of getting cut off from the people. They could not participate in giving the Korban Pesach with the rest of Bnei Yisrael and are going to be punished with Karet. The Torah describes them as:

אֲנָשִׁ֗ים אֲשֶׁ֨ר הָי֤וּ טְמֵאִים֙ לְנֶ֣פֶשׁ אָדָ֔ם וְלֹא־יָכְל֥וּ לַעֲשֹׂת־הַפֶּ֖סַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא

… men who were unclean by reason of a corpse and could not offer the Passover sacrifice on that day( Numbers 9:6)

These men went to Moshe and Aharon saying :

לָ֣מָּה נִגָּרַ֗ע לְבִלְתִּ֨י הַקְרִ֜ב אֶת־קָרְבַּ֤ן יְהוָה֙ בְּמֹ֣עֲד֔וֹ בְּת֖וֹךְ בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל

Why must we be held back from presenting the Lord’s offering at its set time with the rest of the Israelites? (Numbers 9:7)

In response to this line of questioning, we get the only do-over in the Torah. A month after Pesach they are told to offer the Korban Pesach celebrating Pesach Sheni and avoid getting Karet, getting cut off from the nation.

This parsha of Pesach Sheni raises a few questions for me:

    1. Why does this case deserve a do-over?
    2. Why are they so disturbed about being left out and getting Karet?
    3. And who exactly are these people?

In Masechet Sukkah in a discussion about the halakhic principle that “one who is engaged in a mitzvah is exempt from performing another mitzvah” the Rabbis explore various identities of the men in question (Sukkah 25a-b). The one that most intrigued me was taught by Rabbi Yossi HaGalili and Rabbi Yitzhak. They reasoned that at the time of giving the Korban Pesach the men in question in our Parasha were impure because they had carried Yosef’s bones out of Egypt.

What is the significance of this? While these men were nameless, their act was not a random one. There at the end of the book of Bereshit we read:

So Yosef made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “When God has taken notice of you, you shall carry up my bones from here.” (Genesis 50:25)

These people were clearly not doing a random act of chesed. They were fulfilling a commitment of their ancestors to bring Yosef’s bones home. Despite having sold their brother into slavery, when they showed up in Egypt to escape the famine in Canaan, Yosef helped them. These men who could not give the korban pesach were fulfilling a long standing commitment to help the helper.

But who was Yosef? Looking at his life we come to a deeper understanding of our parsha. Yosef was sold by his brothers into slavery. He spent his life cut off from his family and even spent years unjustly incarcerated being cut off from society. In many ways his life is the paradigm of Karet, being cut off from the nation. In a symbolic way, these men are trying to repair Yosef’s life of Karet. This goes a long way to explain why these men would be indignant that for the reason of helping the helper. In 1940 Rabbi Jacob Kohn of Temple Sinai in Los Angeles wrote:

Our faith is kept alive by the knowledge, founded on long experience, that the arc of history is long and bends toward justice.

It took generations, but of course these men deserve a do-over, that is justice for the helpers. We can learn a valuable lesson about our jobs as human beings from the helpers carrying Yosef’s bones who got a second chance so that they would not cut off the nation. Indeed, we need to look out for the helpers who were looking out for the helper, Yosef.

In a critique of what he sees as the misuse of the “Look for the helpers”quote Ian Bogost wrote in the Atlantic:

We must stop fetishizing Rogers’s advice to “look for the helpers” as if it had ever been meant for us, the people in charge—even in moments when so many of us feel powerless. As an adult, it feels good to remember how Mr. Rogers made you feel good as a child. But celebrating that feeling as adults takes away the wrong lesson. A selfish one. We were entrusted with these insights to make children’s lives better, not to comfort ourselves for having failed to fashion the adult world in which they must live. (Atlantic October, 2018)

On the occasion of my Bar Mitzvah, my becoming an adult, I ponder what it means to join the group of people who have power. We cannot just look for the helpers, we have the responsibility to be the helpers so that generations to come live better lives. As Rav Nachman teaches, “If you believe you can break, believe you can fix.”

Thank you to everyone here for helping keep me accountable for stepping up and being a helper and I hope together we can fix the problems in our world.

I am so proud of the person that Yishama is and the helper that he is becoming.

Advertisements

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.

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.

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.

 


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 185 other followers

Archive By Topic

Advertisements

%d bloggers like this: