Posts Tagged 'Re’eh'

Disgust for Hypocrisy

At the start of the Torah portion Behar, Rashi asks the oft quoted question, ” What is the issue of Shmitah doing juxtaposed Har Sinai?” Or as we say now, what does that got to do with the price of tea in China? Similarly in  Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion we see an interesting juxtaposition. We read that a false prophet, or one who entices others to worship idols, should be put to death. It seems logical to go from that topic to an adjacent discussions of how an idolatrous city must be destroyed and the idolatrous practice of tattooing. Then we take a big jump to identifying signs for kosher animals and fish, and the list of non-kosher birds ( which was already discussed in  Leviticus 11). There we read:

You are the children of the Lord your God: you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord had chosen you to be God’s own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth. You shall not eat any abominable thing. ( Deuteronomy 14:1-3)

While the laws of staying away from idolatry and keeping kosher have nothing to do with each other by keeping them we are keeping a holiness code. On a simple level they are both ways we have to live as a chosen people.

Another approach would be to claim that they are some how the same. It is surely possible that eating other forbidden animals had been part of ancient idolatrous practices. In this reading these laws of Kashrut are just a continuation of this holiness code instructing to not do idolatrous practices.

Today I would like to explore yet a third approach. Is it possible that while these law are completely separate, but their juxtaposition is there to teach us something else? To do this I want to start off with the case of the false prophet. While it seems bad to entices others to worship idols, it does seem barbaric to kill them for it. The person simply arrives on the scene with all of his/her signs and wonders. We need to remove them from the community with “extreme prejudice“.

Now I want to jump to the end, what does it mean to eat something? In the context of the holiness code there is a sense that we are integrating the kosher animal into our bodies. We are rejecting the non-kosher animals from our bodies. The worst of the case are animals that similar to the false prophet which arrive on the scene with all of their signs. The Midrash draws a comparison between the Roman empire and the pig:

Just as the pig sticks out its hooves when it is resting, as if to say “I am kosher,” so did the Romans put on a show of justice to mask their avarice and corruption. ( Bereishit Rabbah 65:1)

The juxtaposition of these two areas of law surface an addition lesson as for our disgust for hypocrisy.

 

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Cut Ourselves: Re’eh and an Argument for Competition

The continuity conversation seems to occupy most of the communal conversations. Be it the Jewish communal servant or the volunteer, we often sound like conspiracy theorists looking for the magic bullet that will save our community. In fact there is not ever going to be one solution. If we hope to make it into the 22nd Century a nation we will need a wide array of different approached to ensure our collective vitality.

I was thinking about this where reading Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

You are the children of the Lord your God: you shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead. For you are a holy people unto the Lord your God, and the Lord have chosen you to be God’s own treasure out of all peoples that are upon the face of the earth (Deuteronomy 14:1-2)

The plain meaning of this prohibition is tattooing our bodies because this represents our holiness to God. On this Rashi comments:

You shall neither cut yourselves: Do not make cuts and incisions in your flesh [to mourn] for the dead, in the manner that the Amorites do, because you are the children of the Omnipresent and it is appropriate for you to be handsome and not to be cut or have your hair torn out. ( Rashi on Deuteronomy 14:1)

Rashi emphasizes the issue of imitating our neighbors with these tattoos. In the Talmud we see a completely different read on these prohibition. There we learn:

Reish Lakish said to Rabbi Yochanan: Read the verse “you shall not cut yourselves”, which means do not form separate groups. (Yebamot 13b)

It is not about cutting our corporeal bodies, but rather dividing our national corporation. What is the fear of cutting the people of Israel into different groups?

In our era we have seen a wonderful proliferation of different expressions of Jewish life. While this might give cause for a sense of hope, still others like Reish Lakish  fear that we are losing a sense of a common Jewish life. While I too have that fear, I know collectively we will be better off continuing to differentiate creating many niche forms of Jewish life. While this will put certain stress on our resources it will foster a healthy competition for the nature of Jewish life. This regression to Reish Lakish’s point of view makes Judaism stale and not relevant (see suburban big top synagogue) and gives rise to the corruption and being ineffective (see the Rabanut in Israel). In our era it might be that cutting in different competing units itself is what makes us as a collective so holy.

 

Hard Reset- Shmitta and Socialism

In Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the upcoming shmita, Sabbatical year. There we read:

For the poor shall never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, saying: ‘You shalt surely open your hand unto your poor and needy brother, in your land.’ If your brother, a Hebrew man, or a Hebrew woman, be sold to you, he shall serve you six years; and in the seventh year you shalt let him go free from you. ( Deuteronomy 15:11-12)

Here we see a connection between the remission of loans and the freeing of the slaves on the seventh year. If some one is down on their luck regarding a loan or having been in slavery, the Torah commands the community to take responsibility to help them . Here we are called to look out for the needs of our fellow Jews. But what does it mean that, “poor shall never cease”? Why can we not imagine a time when poverty is over?

It seems that this question is answered in Isaiah’s Messianic vision in our Haftarah . There we read:

Ho, every one that is thirsty, come you for water, and he that had no money; come you, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Wherefore do you spend money for that which is not bread? and your gain for that which satisfied not? Hearken diligently unto Me, and eat you that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness.( Isaiah 55:1-2)

The ideal for the future is a time in which our needs are met without the disparity inherit in a society that is built around privilege, debt, and the imbalanced nature of currency. I am not foolhardy enough to think that our world can survive without the forces of capitalism, we just need to recognize that inherent in that system is perpetual poverty. It is also possible that our approach to poverty cannot be limited to any single community looking out for their own. But, as a Jewish person I can say that I am looking forward to the new year. It seems that we all could use a reset.


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