Posts Tagged 'Love'

Cover Over

Today is Tu B’Av, the 15th of the Hebrew month of Av. On this Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel said:

Israel had no greater holidays than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur, on which occasions the daughters of Israel used to go out in white garments, borrowed so as not to put to shame one who didn’t have a white garment. (Mishnah Ta’anit  4: 8).

What does today and Yom Kippur have in common? In the Talmud it seems to mark the start (today ) and end (Yom Kippur) of the grape harvest. But is there any other connection between these two days?   In some ways these two days seem to be at odds. On Yom Kippur we work on our relationship with God. The day atones for our sins against God and does not speak to all of our sins to our fellow human beings (aka most of our sins). In contrast, we see that on Tu B’Av the unmarried girls of Jerusalem would dress in white garments and go out to dance in the vineyards attracting mates. Where Yom Kippur seems to be solely between human beings and God, Tu B’Av seems to be solely between human beings and each other.

Maybe one of the answers to this comes from the Shma which we read in VaEtchanan, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for frontlets between your eyes. 9 And you shall write them upon the door-posts of your house, and upon your gates. (Deuteronomy 6: 4- 9)

Love is the key. For some, their relations with people flow from their relationship with God, and for most I would assume it is the opposite. It is in their experience of love in the relationship in their lives that they encounter the divine. On Tu B’Av they covered over their economic status to allow people to see each other and start relationships without that status clouding their vision. Similarly  Yom Kippur is the day we cover over ( kaparah) our sins and restart our relationship with God.  As we see in the Shma  we plaster love all over our lives. We say the Shma three times a day. We wear it on our bodies in the tfillin. We put it on the doors to our house in the Mezzuzah. And of course we teach it to our children.  There is no joy without love. How will we help our children see that Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel is right? There is no greater holidays than Tu B’Av and Yom Kippur. We should not cover this up. Love reigns supreme.

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Push The Button

Yishama our son just finished Kindergarten a couple of days ago. I got the following e-mail from Maya the mother of Ella  who is in his class. And yes, Yishama and Ella have been dating all year-long. Maya wrote:

A few weeks ago I saw Yishama and he asked me, “Do you know Ella has a button? Do you want to see how it works?”  Of course I was keen!  So, he proceeded to push his finger gently on Ella’s cheek and she immediately hugged him!  Ella said, “It’s a hug button, so when Yishama presses it I know he wants me to hug him.”  It was SO cute!!!!  I really hope they are in the same class next year…

We expect a lot from day school. We expect them to teach our children reading, writing, math, science, Hebrew, Jewish history, liturgy etc. And when you get a story like this, you just have to pause and realize how important it is to socialize our children. How would this world look if people had “hug buttons”? And even if we had them, would we be too proud to press them? We all need to learn how to share affection better.  I have so much to learn from Yishama and Ella. And yes, I have to admit that there is part of me that is keen to see the unfolding of the “…”.

Almond Lots

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we 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. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?

There is an interesting connection between this and Purim. In Megilah we read about Haman the number two to the king who want to kill all of the Jews. There we read:

And Haman said to King Achashverosh, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your  kingdom; and their laws are different from all people; they do not keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. (Esther 3:8)

Haman paid the king for the right to kill the Jews. He cast a pur–  lot – to determine the day of their extermination. There we read:

Wherefore they called these days Purim, after the name of pur. Therefore because of all the words of this letter, and of that which they had seen concerning this matter, and that which had come unto them ( Esther 9:26)

There was a lottery to determine the day to kill a people who the number two to the King portrayed as not keeping the kings laws. Clearly we were spared and this horrible day was transformed into a day of celebration for the generations, but there is still more. Aaron was person of significance. It was not just that the brother of liberator of the people; he was Moses’s interpreter (foreign minister) or you might even say his number two. Korach came forward and clearly represented a challenge to Moses and Aaron. Just as Korach and Haman are interesting foils for each other, so too are Aaron and Mordecai. In the end, Haman is not swallowed up by the ground, but rather hung from the etz– gallows that he built for Mordecai. After putting down the Korach insurrection Aaron might have lost his role as the number two. Instead his staff sprouts. While everyone walks around with a dead tree in hand, Aaron’s is a live etz– tree as the Cohen Gadol .

It seems that the Purim story itself might be a remix of our Korach story, but what do we make of this juxtaposition?  Regardless of your perception of God’s presence or absence in the world as the authority, the main story line in history is people wanting to maintain their own power, role, and authority. People need to learn to swallow their pride or they will get swallowed up. If only we could all learn better ways to deal with these issues? Do not leave it up to chance. I say get your love at home.

Get the Message

There are a lot of familiar parts to VaEtchanan, this week’s Torah portion. First of all we see the rehashing of the 10 Commandments and then of course we have the Shma.There is the Shma we read:

4 Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6 And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; 7 and you shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. (Deuteronomy 6: 4-7)

There is a huge amount one can say on this short section which has become the central credo of the Jewish People. Today I want to focus in on a small section. What does it mean when it says,  ” which I command you this day”? About this Rashi explains:

They should not be in your eyes like an old edict to which a person does not attach importance, but rather , like a new one, towards which everybody runs. This notion of an old edict denotes an order of the king which comes in writing.  ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 4:6)

In simple terms, Rashi is saying that we are commanded to keep the words of Torah relevant to our lives. But how?

It is hard to imagine Jewish life without Rashi. Similarly it is hard to  imagine contemporary Jewish life without Franz Kafka. In many ways Kafka’s An Imperial Message is a super-commentary to Rashi’s comment here. Kafka’s parable reads:

The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his death bed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, a tiny shadow which has taken refuge at the furthest distance from the imperial sun. He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his bed and whispered the message in his ear. He thought it was so important that he had the herald speak it back to him. He confirmed the accuracy of verbal message by nodding his head. And in front of the entire crowd of those witnessing his death—all the obstructing walls have been broken down, and all the great ones of his empire are standing in a circle on the broad and high soaring flights of stairs—in front of all of them he dispatched his herald. The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to stride through the courtyards, and after the courtyards through the second palace encircling the first, and, then again, through stairs and courtyards, and then, once again, a palace, and so on for thousands of years. And if he finally burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the center of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment. No one pushes his way through here, certainly not someone with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window and dream of that message when evening comes.– Translation by Ian Johnston

It is said that Rav Nachman and Kafka were cut of the same cloth. Rav Nachman was a believer and for Kafka the King is dead.  It is a struggle in the modern era to imagine that were were handed anything other then an “old edict”.  If we seek meaning in our Jewish lives we need to hear the message and transform ourselves, our life styles, and our homes. I do not believe that Judaism will last if we are just sitting at home waiting by the window. That Judaism is never going to be relevant.

We need to re-imagine ourselves as divine partners bringing the message out to the world.  It is living the life of the messenger and raising our children to be messengers after us that the Torah is alive and is not just an old edict. In my moments of doubt I often think about this message that I have been schlepping around this whole time. Who wants to be just a postal worker? But, the message is not for me.  We are couriers of a love letter spending our days looking for the home of the lover.  This letter might bring love and comfort to the intended recipient. For that person I feel an urgency, how ever futile it might be, to get the message there. That is my daily duty. Who am I not do my job?

Loving Elul

With the advent of Elul, we start looking ahead toward the High Holidays or more specifically Yom Kippur. Recently I was struck  by the preponderance of people I know who are getting married this month. It is explained that the bride and broom are judged on their wedding day as if it were Yom Kippur. On the day of their wedding it is customary for them both to fast and for the man to wear a kitel under the huppah. This is the same garment that he wears on Yom Kippur. He dresses up as an angel, white and free from sin.

It seems to me that you could also see it the other way around. That the husband wears the kitel on Yom Kippur in that it reminds him of his wedding day. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is reported to have said, ” On Tisha B’ Av– how could you eat? On Yom Kippur who needs to?”  Tisha B’Av is a day of national tragedy. Eating would separate you from the rest of your nation.  How could you eat? On Yom Kippur you are in love. It is like your wedding day. You are about to create a lasting bond with your life partner. You are so head over heals, how can you imagine eating? While few of us are blessed to be getting married in this season, we all are moving from Elul toward Yom Kippur.  I hope that we all find a way to connect to that love.

This message seems to be encoded in the very spelling of the month of Elul.  Elul is an acronym for the beginning of this quote from Song of Songs:

אֲנִי לְדוֹדִי וְדוֹדִי לִי, הָרעֶה בַּשּׁוֹשַׁנִּים

Ani Ledodi Vdodi Li- I am my beloved’s And my beloved is mine;       He browses among the lilies.(Song of Songs  6:3)

Yom Kippur is coming, but do not think of sin and guilt. Think of standing with your life partner. Love is in the air in Elul.


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