Random Musings Before Shabbat – Acharei Mot-Kedoshim 5777 – Insults Don’t Weigh Anything (Revisited from 5767) (or A Hymn to Homonyms)

Twice in parashat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim (well, actually, just Kedoshim) we are told that we must not insult.
First, we must not “insult the deaf” (Lev. 19:14) and later anyone who “insults his mother or father” shall be put to death (Lev. 20:9)
The Hebrew word that is translated in both cases as “insult” is from the Hebrew root Qof-Lamed-Lamed, קלל , which means (among other things) to be light, trifling, slight. In certain verbal forms it might be thought of as “to treat with contempt.” Another use of the root means a curse, or to curse.
In the case of insulting the deaf (which, in context appears right before “or put a stumbling block before the blind”) the sages argue on exactly what it means to treat a deaf person “lightly.” The Rambam suggests that we may be tempted to succumb to being physically violent with a deaf person when we realize our insults are falling on deaf ears, and that is why we should not curse the deaf. I’ve never been quite sure where Maimonides was going here, because there’s an implicit assumption that there may be times when an insult is acceptable, and I don’t accept that, nor do I believe it is what Judaism teaches us. To help redeem what the Rambam says, you can spin it this way: we shouldn’t put ourselves in a position where we know our words will be ignored, because that will just make us upset, and thus we’re more prone to doing something physically violent. There’s some rather practical sense in that. However, I think it takes a great deal of skill in discernment to know exactly when our words might be ignored by another to such an extent.
Better, for me, are what the Talmudic sages say: that, of course, we should never insult anyone, and they further suggest that we should not assume it is acceptable to curse or insult someone just because they cannot hear what we are saying. It’s another “tree falls in the forest” question, and the sages of the Talmud suggest that whether or not your insults are heard, you have done wrong by uttering them. Maimonides focused on consequences of actions, and the Talmud focuses on the actions themselves, which we should not take. In the end, both viewpoints are about potential hurt – to both the one being insulted and the one doing the insulting. Of course, this hardly makes an insult something that is “light” and trifling. This kind of “light” has heavy implications.
When it comes to insulting our parents, one has to wonder if this is a serious enough offense to warrant a death penalty. Of course, one can spin the translation a bit here as well. With only modest license in Hebrew syntax, you can read the text as saying that one who insults his parents will surely die. In other words, by taking the teaching and instructions of one’s parents lightly, or with disdain or scorn, one is likely to wind up dead. When your parents tell you to not cross against the light and remember to look both ways, and you insult them, by taking their wise advice lightly, you certainly do increase your risk of being run over by a car and killed.
It’s funny that something (insults) which can inflict such hurt on both those who utter them and those who they are uttered about/to comes from a root that means “light.” It’s sort of the opposite of the root kaf-bet-dalet – weight, heaviness – the root of words like kavod – honor, glory. Gravitas, if you will. When we do not show “kavod” to someone, it can be as if we are uttering klalim, curses.
In another orthographic oddity of Hebrew, for qof-lamed-lamed קלל there is another homophonic homonym – kaf-lamed-lamed – כלל. Whereas qof-lamed-lamed means light, kaf-lamed-lamed is a root that means complete, perfect, absolutely, everything, all things. Klal Yisrael, the community of Israel, literally, the whole of Israel or everybody of Israel. Klal, meaning rule or principle. Kol, meaning all or everything. (Interestingly enough, Kol, qof-holem vav-lamed, also from the Qof-Lamed-Lamed root, means voice. So our voice is light or slight – yet this “light” thing is enough to create hurt in others by treating them “lightly” or “insultingly.” All from the same root. Ya gotta love Hebrew.)
(And speaking of loving Hebrew – a brief side diversion here. Reb Nachman’s oft quoted “Life is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to not fear” ends with the word klal, from the kaf-lamed-lamed root. The last part of the sentence, “v’ha’ikkar lo l’fakheid klal” parses out to “and the principle do not dread is all.” Or “and the principle do not dread is rule.” Or “and the principle do not dread is everything” Or it could be “and the principle is do not dread everything” – though admittedly Nachman would probably have used a different word at the end if he had truly meant to say “everything.” That pesky lack of present tense forms of “to be” just makes it so much fun to guess.
Of course, we could get into the oddities of English. Consider the word “light.” Do we mean “not heavy” or do we mean “that mysterious wave-particle duality our brain perceives when it impacts our eyes” or do we mean a fixture or source that produces light” ? It’s a pretty safe bet, by the way, that light exists, even when it is not perceived, just as sound does when there’s no one around to hear it. And just as insults can hurt, even when hurled at a deaf person. But I digress.)
Insults, when uttered, demean the person who utters them as much as they attempt to demean the person about whom they are uttered. Yet the category of action that the JPS editors and other scholarly bodies translate as “insult” seem to actually represent an entire class of actions – and failures of action. Simply to treat the words and suggestions of another “lightly” is a form of insult. We would all do well to remember this. Far too many conversations these days are “across” each other, rather than true communication-which requires listening and consideration. Yes, a lot of that we can blame on our quest for efficiency, and our over-programmed lives which we believe don’t leave us the time required for each and every interaction and conversation we have with another human being to be fully mutual. In a very Buberian sense, in many of our conversations, the other party with whom we are conversing really is an object to us, an it. Our goal often seems to be to get whatever it is we want from this person in the least amount of time and with the least amount of effort possible. Well, when you put in least effort, you get least result.
Now, I’ll happily admit that I think I might be far less productive in my work if every little encounter and conversation were truly at a level where both parties were listening intently and considering what the other has to say. Yet I ask myself if that is truly the case. Sometimes we look for efficiency in the wrong place – most often assuming it is to be found in the dimension of time. Might it not be just as efficient if we spent our precious time in the precious act of treating every other human being as a human being, and not as an object? Is this not how true community is created? And is not true cooperation among members of a community sort of the ultimate in efficiency? We can be “efficient” and loving/caring at the same time.
Then again, maybe efficiency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In all things perhaps we need to seek out that “stop and smell the roses” attitude. Imagine if Moshe has been “too busy” to listen to the sage advice offered to him by his father-in-law Yitro, or he only listened with half and ear?
If we accept the idea that taking the thoughts/words/ideas of another lightly, or viewing them as having no import or value is an insult, then I suspect we all spend a lot of time insulting others. Not a good way to live, nor to operate a society. We may think it a matter of small import to not pay full attention to another-but that is, ultimately, a very selfish and self-centered attitude. (Looking at these words ten years later, in our present political circumstances they seem oddly prescient.)
We must remember that while the root of insults may lead us to believe they are matters of treating others lightly, we can’t say that insults do not weigh anything. In deed, they are quite a weighty matter, and they can do a lot of damage. So, giving or receiving, don’t treat insults (and I use the word in its broadest definition here) lightly. Those insults might (hopefully, will) come back to trouble you.
I read my words and thoughts from 2007 again now in 2017 and my head is spinning. I fear that insults have become so commonplace we have started to accept them as normative discourse. We ought not allow this to be the case. Not that I would wish harm to anyone, but there is a certain poetic justice if Insults do come back to trouble and plague those who so callously and willingly dispense them. Additionally, now is a time when we especially might want to not insult others by treating them and their views lightly. If there was ever a time when understanding each other mattered, this is it. We must not stand idly by as insults and invective are hurled about. We should not tolerate hateful speech, bigotry, prejudice, hate against anyone. While the liberal side that I align myself with has been guilty of misuse of speech and abuse through words, including insults, from my perspective the present administration, both in the executive and legislative branches, have lost all restraint and use insult deliberately and purposefully and we must not allow this to ever become normative.

But let’s end on a lighter note. If an insult-er you be, may it be G”d’s will that you won’t have to wait long for the weight of your insults to come back along the way and weigh you down while you’re eating your whey. That was pretty cheesy and I think I’ve milked that enough. (Now go and think about what variant sentences involving “cursing/insulting the whole/everything/all” might sound like in (Biblical) Hebrew. If you’re into altogether amazing alliteration it’s quite fun.)

Shabbat Shalom
©2017 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tazria-M’tzora 5777–The Overlooked Lesson (Revisiting 5767)

A decade ago, I had an insight that I probably should have had sooner. Like others, I had been so caught up trying to find the modern relevancy in these two parashiyot, and too blinded by the more accepted interpretations and rationalizations, that I had missed the forest for the trees. As I wrote ten years back, our readings of Tazria and M’tzora  will forever be illuminated/tainted (chose your verb) by the later rabbinic interpretations that read these skin conditions as a physical manifestation for a moral failure, most often associated with “gossiping” (based on word play with the Hebrew of the word m’tzora – one who has tzara’at (whatever that really is – leprosy, or a variety of other skin conditions) and the phrase motzi shem ra, a colloquialism describing a person who gossips (literally, bringing forth [from another’s] name evil, thus read as “giving another a bad name.”) To the rabbis and sages, tzara’at was an outer affliction of certain inner bad behaviors, notably slandering, gossiping, lying, plotting to kill, quick to do evil, being a lying witness, or causing others to fight.

Similarly, the tzara’at that affected clothing, linens, and the stone walls of houses are “marks by G”d” that indicate one who has moral failures. Thus, if your clothes or house were affected, you must be guilty of something.

I do believe these ideas taint our view of these parashiyot. Knowing what we do these days about bio-feedback, it is not out of the realm of possibility that one’s inner guilt or other issues might cause some physical symptom. Yet, in general, the idea that our inner moral failures are the cause of leprosy and other skin eruptions and conditions, and that G”d would mark those who sin by causing their clothing or houses to be moldy just don’t square with our modern understanding of “the way things work.” (Not that there aren’t those in this world who might be perfectly happy believing what the rabbis and sages taught.)

And so we tend to dismiss these parashiyot as irrelevant, dated, out of touch. For many, they are. I have written many times in the past of valuable lessons that we can draw from these sometimes troubling and odd parashiyot, but there’s one thing even I had overlooked until musing about these parashiyot some 10 years ago..

Yes, Tazria and M’tzora describe how to determine if a person, linen, clothing or house has tzara’at. Yet all of those processes of determination (i.e. diagnosis) are but a prelude to what comes next: the cure. The underlying assumption throughout these parashiyot is that those who develop these conditions and are thus impure can be made pure again. Had the culture truly been as primitive as some think it was, they could just as well decided to kill anyone who developed tzara’at as the quickest and most efficient way to keep the community pure.

There are rituals which one who has tzara’at must undergo in order to become pure again-but they can become pure again. Even if we apply the rabbinic interpretation, then perhaps doing t’shuva for one’s moral failings is the equivalent of the priestly rituals and sacrifices used to make someone pure. And, as the rabbis teach us, t’shuva is always possible.

That is one lesson we can draw from these parashiyot – that one who is impure can become pure again; one who has done wrong can make t’shuva and become right again. And the other lesson I think we can draw is that when we ourselves fall into patterns of bad or negative behaviors, to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It will almost always require effort on our part to get back to a place where our behaviors are more positive-the point is to not give up hope. Remember that, the next time you cheat on your diet, the next time you find yourself unthinkingly engaging in gossip, the next time you cheat on your taxes, the next time you break out in a rash.

I am not so naïve as to believe that the bad things that happen to us can always be made to go away. Diseases can be terminal, medical conditions can be life-long, etc. (Though I would point out that the occasional case of spontaneous remission does occur. In addition, it’s not just miracles and unexplained phenomena. Modern medical science, especially now that we have entered the age of gene-level therapy, has come a long way at providing, or being on the cusp of providing cures for ailments long thought incurable.)

So, too, is modern medicine and science beginning to reveal to us that matters of the mind, the heart, and the spirit can have profound effect upon our physical state. Not that we haven’t known this for a long time. No one pooh-poohed the idea that stress could bring about stomach ulcers. Is it such a stretch to imagine that internal feelings of guilt, discomfort, despair, stress, etc. could manifest themselves in internal and external physical ways in our bodies? So our ancestors, and the rabbis might not have been so off the mark. While “lie detectors” are not fully reliable, there are still measurable galvanic and other stress responses that our bodies can and do manifest when we attempt to deceive.

We get further afield, however, when we jump to the idea of our internal psychological state having an impact upon the places where we live or work.  Oh, there are pseudo-scientific explorations of this concept in lots material these days. Things like “What the Bleep Do We Know” and the work of others suggesting that quantum theory, superposition, quantum uncertainty enable human beings to have directed (and possibly even intentional) impact upon the physical world with their minds and thoughts.) As intrigued as I am by such ideas, and as open as I remain to exploring them, my scientific side still feels compelled to reject them as being pseudo-science at best. Then again, I could be wrong.

From whence did our ancestors get the idea that mold and other physical signs of rot and decay on walls, houses, fences, utensils, etc. could be caused by the impurity of those who live within use, and encounter them. The idea of a leper causing leprous-like symptoms to appear on the walls of a stone house seems absurd on its face from our modern viewpoint.  I’m not even sure how sensible it seemed to our ancestors. 

Of course the Torah doesn’t suggest that people cause their house to become beset with an “eruptive plague” In fact, G”d states “when I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house…” (Lev. 14:34.) However, the Torah does state that such a plague upon a house can cause those who live or venture inside it to become impure. We get into some pretty convoluted logic when we suggest that people who happened to live in or wander into a house with an eruptive plague have done so because they bear some inner guilt or shame for some sin they have committed. The Torah says that the priest makes “expiation for the house.” (Lev 14:53) It goes on to say that all such eruptive plagues – whether on houses or cloth, require examination by a priest. Lev 14:54-57.) The point is, once again, that which has become impure can be made pure again.

It doesn’t happen automatically, like Esmerelda in Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” becoming a virgin again with each new moon. There is ritual, there is ceremony, there are requirements, there is expiation. But what became impure can be made pure again. (The Torah sidesteps the question of whether or not something that  was impure to begin with can be made pure. There’s a whole other musing in that question. Not to mention that “original sin” concept in Christianity. In some Christian understandings, it took a significant act on the part of G”d t make expiation for us all, because we were all tainted to start. I think the Torah takes a different viewpoint. While humankind is forced from gan eden, there appears to be no assumption that humanity is perforce impure. Were that the case, there could have been no Aaronic priesthood. There are physical conditions that could prohibit one from serving as a priest, but those of the priestly line were assumed pure enough to serve otherwise.)

I’m wandering far afield, as usual.

So, in summary, many of the negative physical and spiritual things that happen to us, whether we bring them upon ourselves, or they simply happen to us, can be cured. Once impure does not mean forever impure. There’s a lesson and a reminder to keep with us always. That is the oft overlooked lesson in these parashiyot. We should take them to heart.

Shabbat Shalom

©2017 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Tazria-Metzora 5775 – Singing a Song of Leprosy Again
Tazria-M’tzora 5773-Even Lepers Bring Good News-Redux, Revised, & Expanded
Tazria-Metzora 5772 – We Are the Lepers
Tazria-Metzora 5770 – Excessive Prevention
Tazria-M’tzora 5767-Once Impure, Not Always Impure
Tazria-Metzora 5766 – Comfort in Jerusalem
Tazria-Metzora 5758/5764-Getting Through the Messy Stuff
Tazria-Metzora 5761-Lessons For Our Students
Tazria-Metzora 5762-Sing a Song of Leprosy

Tazria/Shabbat HaHodesh 5774 – Fifty Fifty
Tazria/Shabbat HaHodesh 5771 – It’s Good To Be the King
Tazria 5768 – Just Not Good Enough is Just Not Good Enough
Tazria 5765-If Naaman Can Be Forgiven…
Tazria 5760-Preventing Spiritual Rot

Metzora 5774 – Go With the Flow
Metzora 5771 – Afflict This!
Metzora 5768 – Human Nature
Metzora 5765-Defiling the Tabernacle
Metzora 5763-Not So Irrelevant
Metzora 5760-Even Lepers Bring Good News

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Random Musing Before Shabbat – Sh’mini 5777 – GEFTS 20th Anniversary

It’s  hard to believe that I’ve been writing these musing for over 20 years. Over the years I’ve seen my viewpoints and interpretations on many parshiyot and haftarot change, adapt, transform even come a full circle. The one I am resharing today certainly represents a younger, simpler, more naive viewpoint than I hold today. Indeed, I have come back to this story many times with varying interpretations and analysis.  Just as interesting, the following year, in 5758, I wrote one of my most popular musings ever from the early years – the one I titled “Crispy Critters” in reference to Nadav and Avihu. (How my views on this story from Sh’mini have changed over time is so clearly illustrated by the fact that some 11 years later I wrote a musing called srettirC ypsirC just to illustrate my change in approach.) 5758’s Crispy Critters,” one of my most popular posts, will get it’s due honor next year on it’s 20th anniversary. However, in honor of the twenty-year anniversary of one my earliest weekly random musings, I thought I would reshare it in all its naive glory. Remember, too, that at the time I was still in the theater business, on the threshold of making the switch from doing the Jewish thing on the side to making it my full-time work. My musings drew heavily on that experience.

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Shemini 5757. GEFTS

Out of all the many things one could learn from and talk about in Shemini (dualities-sacred and profane, clean and unclean; holiness, why God cares about what we eat, etc.) one though kept coming back into my head. I kept thinking about what happens to Nadav and Avihu. What a bummer. They thought “more is better.” And what is their reward? Fwoosh-burnt to a crisp. Proof that there really can be “too much of a good thing.”

Now that may be a flippant way to put it, but it’s an important lesson nevertheless. It teaches us, as do so many other things in Torah, that life  needs balance. And indeed, that fits with much else that we learn about in
Shemini. After all, there’s no clean without unclean, and vice versa. No profane without sacred.

I have a philosophy that I use at work. It’s one I learned from a old, experienced theatre professional. He called it:

GEFTS-Good Enough For This Show.

Now, at first hearing, it sounds like a negative approach. Like the old “close enough for government work” philosophy. But that’s not what GEFTS is about. It’s about balance, It’s about “more isn’t always better.” Here’s how I apply it – though this may be a theatrical example, I think the concept is
transferable to life:

It takes many components to create a show. The capabilities of each component are determined by the resources (people, time, space, money, dedication, attitude, et al) available to it. Each component therefore has a “highest achievable level of quality” affected by those resources. The production will benefit most if all departments work together towards a highest COMMON achievable quality level. Therefore, each component should work towards this common achievable level (which, theoretically, could be somewhat lower than the level achievable by
that unit alone. And lot’s of people don’t like that idea-but hear me out.)

Some of the best shows I have ever seen were productions in which everything was mediocre. Now, I’m not saying that one should only aim for mediocrity (though as Frank Loesser and Abe Burroughs aptly put it in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” – “mediocrity is not a mortal sin.”) The shows worked because everything gelled together into a complimentary whole. If the acting were brilliant but the costumes were slipshod, it wouldn’t work. If the lighting was magnificent but the scenery was only so-so – well, I think you get the drift. When all shoot for the same common achievable level of quality, you have a production that can’t be beat.

The same is true in daily life and in serving God. Think about it. This is the true lesson of Nadav and Avihu.

Shabbat Shalom to you and yours,


(c)2017 (portions (c)1997) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this parasha

Sh’mini 5775 – Vayyidom Aharon (Revisiting Calm In A Crisis)
Sh’mini 5774 – Indubitably Delicious
Sh’mini 5772 – Collect Call
Sh’mini/Shabbat Parah 5771-So Say We All
Sh’mini 5770 – Don’t Eat That, It’s Not Kosher
Sh’mini 5769 srettirC ypsirC
Sh’mini 5767-Don’t Be a Stork
Sh’mini 5766-Palmwalkers
Shemini 5765-It All Matters
Shemini 5764-Playing Before Gd
Shemini 5763 – Belly of the Beast
Shemini 5762-Crispy Critters
Shemini 5761-Lessons From Our Students
Shemini 5760-Calm in a Crisis
Shemini 5759-Porking Out

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Random Musing Before Shabbat-Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesakh 5777–Valley of The Donald

Thus said The Donald: Moreover, in this I will respond to the House of America and act for their sake: I will enrich my family and friends as I enrich myself. As Washington, D.C. was filled big-league with red hats during my inaugural, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people in red hats, made in China. And they shall know that I am The Donald.

Sepharadim begin here
Chapter 37
The hand of the Trump came upon me. He took me out by the spirit of reality TV  and set me down in the great middle America. It was full of coal mines. He led me all around them; there were very many mines spread over the states, and they were very tapped out yielding only coal of questionable value and high in the potential to pollute and increase global warming. He said to me, “O mortal, can these mines live again?” I replied, “O DJT, if they live again, I suspect many millions more of Your people will die when our planet is overwhelmed by global warming. But, then again, only You know.” And He said to me, “Fake news. I will ignore the clear scientific consensus. Prophesy over these  miners and say to them: O miners, hear the word of The Donald! Thus said The Donald to these mines: I will place profit over environmental concerns and you shall be mined again. I will lay subsidies upon you, and cover you with tax write-offs, and break international agreements over you. And I will put investments into you, and you shall live again. And you shall know that I am the Donald”

I prophesied as I had been commanded. And while I was prophesying, suddenly there was a sound of machinery, and the pipelines were built over the objection of the people, non-American-made steel to non-American-made steel. I looked, and there were factories belching pollutants, and a giant wall, and people without basic human needs; but there was not yet enough profit from them.  Then He said to me, “Prophesy to the bankers and brokers, prophesy, O mortal! Say to the bankers and brokers: Thus said The Donald: Come, O profit, without fear of government regulation, and line your pockets , that you may live in the style to which you are accustomed.” I prophesied as He commanded me. The money entered them, and they hid it all in overseas accounts, a vast multitude.

And He said to me, “O mortal, these mines are the whole House of America. They say, ‘Our profits are dried up, our rich lifestyle is threatened; we are doomed.’ Prophesy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said The Donald: I am going to open your tax loopholes and lift you out of the depths of government regulation, O My people, and make America great again. You shall know, O My people, that I am The Donald, when I have opened your tax loopholes and lifted you out of government oversight. I will put My alternate facts into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil which now all belongs to me and my rich friends. Then you shall know that I The Donald have spoken and have acted”—declares The Donald.

Shabbat Shalom and Moadim L’Simkha


©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Others Musings for Pesakh:

April 11, 2015 – Cop Out
Pesakh 5775 – Day Off (Literally)
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5773 – The Whole House of Israel
Pesach 5772 – Don’t Believe This
Pesach 8th Day 5772 – The Bread of Freedom
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5771-Admat Yisrael
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 – Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 – Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5777–Payback: An Excerpt from the Diary of Moses (Updated)

Dear Diary:

Oy, what I day I had today. It’s not like I didn’t have a million other things to do and take care of. You-know-who eats up hours of my day with yet more instructions for the rituals of sacrifice. I couldn’t pick a Deity with a simpler system?

I’m usually willing to accept the burdens of my role as leader and communicator for this rabble, and I don’t mind so much when You-know-who is giving me instructions to pass on to the whole group. That, I can handle. But today, You-know-who goes on and on and on and on, well you get the drift –  with even more instructions than what I’ve already gotten for my dear older brother and his kids. Priests, You-know-who had to make them. (Oh wait, I asked for that – didn’t I? – see http://migdalorguysblog.blogspot.com/2017/03/random-musing-before-shabbat-tetzavei.html from about a month ago.)  Yeah, Aaron was helpful as my spokesperson when I was negotiating with Pharaoh, but was that enough to earn him this bonus? And I’m not forgetting, though I am surprised You-know-who seems to be forgetting) what my schmendrick of a brother did while I was up on the mountain the first time. Avodah zara is bad enough, but avodah parah? (Get it? Sometimes, I crack myself up!) Sheesh! A freakin’ calf of gold he makes for them.

And those lame excuses he gave me afterwards. “I was just trying to buy time and keep the rabble happy.” Yeah, right. Today, at least, I got a little payback. More about that in a minute.

So after chewing my ear off for hours-finally getting to some rules for the whole community and not just my wacky brother and his peanut gallery, You-know-who says it’s time to do the initiation rites for the priests. Hoo-boy, I thought, this is not gonna be fun. Then again…

To begin with, I gave Aaron a bath. Then like those little dolls I used to play with, I dressed him up in his official wardrobe (don’t say a word – I was raised in the royal household of Egypt, you know. We played with dress-up dolls.) It was kind of fun, adding layer after layer of stuff. At times, I thought he was gonna collapse under the weight of it all. When I stuck the urim and thummim in the breastplate (you know, those auguring stones) I made sure to slam the cover closed over them nice and hard. You shoulda seen the look Aaron gave me.

Anyway, what he and all the people didn’t know was that, for once, You-know-who, specific as You-know-who often gets, actually left me a little leeway in this ordination ceremony. So I improvised a bit. I mean, there was blood everywhere. Just call me bloody-bloody Moshe. I made the whole ceremony as messy and cumbersome as I could. Oh, it was a little gross for me, hacking up those animals, gutting out their organs and fat, even having to gather up the poop and taking it outside the camp. (Well, that part You-know-who told me to do.) Nevertheless, I put on quite a show. You-know-who had told me to use the ram insides to make a burnt offering that also had a pleasant odor, so when I had the sacrificial ram all cut up and on the altar, I washed all the entrails with water and stuck them back on the grill–er I mean altar, which made a lot of smoke and smell. I hope You-know-who found it pleasing. I know I didn’t, and neither did Aaron (chuckle.) Now I get why we’re going to need all this incense.

When it was time for the second ram, the one of ordination, I got really, really creative. I took some of its blood and dabbed it on Aaron’s ears, thumb, and big toe. He looked so ridiculous, I just couldn’t resist doing the same thing to all the rest of the clan. I was having so much fun, I just couldn’t stop. I scooped out all the fat I could find from the carcass, grabbed some matzah from the bread basket, placed it on top of the fat, and them dumped some into all of their hands, and told them to hold them up as elevation offerings. They had a heck of a time keeping the stuff from falling out of their hands. I was laughing so hard on the inside. Aaron shot me a look that could kill. But the people were all watching. This was serious business. I had Aaron and his kids just where I wanted them.

I couldn’t resist one last jab, so when the time came for the official anointing with oil, I also grabbed some of the blood and spattered it all over them and their nice white vestments. I tell you, it was hilarious. Sort of artsy-farsty, too. I’ll bet someday someone will figure out how to just spatter stuff on fabric and sell it for lots of silver.

I decided I’d been cruel enough, so I wanted to finish off being nice. Or, better yet, maybe I could lure them into a false sense of security and then hit them with one final whammy! I told Aaron and the boys to go boil up all the leftover meat and have some of the leftover cakes. I told them to burn up anything that was leftover after they ate. This was just a setup before the coup de grace – my final stroke of genius. I saw this great big loophole and took it. I told Aaron and the boys that they’d have to do this again –  every day for the next 6 days. You-know-who hadn’t been specific about that, and I figured seven days sounded about right. I sealed the deal, as usual, by announcing to the whole community that everything that was done today had been commanded by You-know-who. Even better, they were going to have to do this on one of those days of rest You-know-who commanded us to observe. So not only was I sticking it to Aaron, I was secretly sticking it to You-know-who, too.

I know I took a few liberties, but so far You-know-who hasn’t said or done anything about it. Maybe You-know-who was enjoying it, too.

Omigosh, diary. I’ve been telling this cock and bull story about being chosen by You-know-who, in order to get back at my no good “brother” of a Pharaoh so long, I’m starting to believe it myself. Still, there have been some unexplained things-like that unconsumed burning sneh, all those plagues, and that business at the sea of reeds. I thought I was putting on a pretty good show, even though I really didn’t have a good plan at that point. But man, when those waters parted, I just went with it. Then there were those quail, and that sweet, gooey stuff on the plants every morning, except once every 7 days. And the timing of that rather cooperative bad weather at Sinai.

Hmmm, whether I believe in a You-know-who, or whether I just made it all up, there just might be a You-know-who looking after us after all. I could use the help–Korach and a couple of his friends are up to something, I’m sure of it.

Well, catch ya later, Diary. I got six more days of fun ahead. 😉




Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2009) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha:

Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5775 – Two Way Street (Revised)
Tzav/Shabbat Zachor 5774 – Does G”d Need a Shrink?
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5773 – The Doorway to Return
Tzav/Shabbat Hagadol 5772 – Not Passive
Tzav (Purim) 5771 – A Purim Ditty
Tzav 5768 – Jeremiah’s Solution (Updated from 5761)
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5767-Redux 5762-Irrelevant Relavancies
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5766 – Dysfunction Junction
Tzav 5765 (updated 5760)-Of IHOPs, Ordination and Shabbat
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5764-Two Way Street
Tzav 5763 – Zot Torahteinu?
Tzav 5761/5759-Jeremiah’s Solution

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Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayikra 5777–As G”d is My Witness (aka Osymandias II)

This is a fresh and expanded take on a musing I wrote 11 years ago in 5766.
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair
Percy Bysshe Shelley
King of Kings am I, Osymandias.
If anyone would know how great I am and where I lie, let him surpass one of my works”.
Generally accepted translation of the inscription on a fallen statue in the Ramesseum, Luxor, which Shelley paraphrased for his poem
אֲנִ֤י רִאשׁוֹן֙ וַאֲנִ֣י אַחֲר֔וֹן וּמִבַּלְעָדַ֖י אֵ֥ין אֱלֹהִֽים׃
Ani rishon, v’Ani akharon, umibaladai ein El”him.
I am the first and I am the last, and there is no G”d but Me.
-Isaiah 44:6b

So what do these all have in common? The plain connection should be apparent. The arrogance and haughtiness of any Egyptian Pharaoh, Shelley’s ironic juxtaposition of these words in his poem, and G”d’s simple statement that G”d was here first and will be here long after we’re gone.

The full text of Shelley’s poem makes clear the irony through the description of the setting:

I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said:—Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

As to the quote from Isaiah, it is from the haftarah for our parasha, Vayikra. The parasha describes, at great length, ritual sacrifices. In the haftarah, the people are chastised for abandoning those very practices. And in another connection, which the rabbis really seized upon, the parasha speaks of the obligation of one who has witnessed, or in this case, heard, a public blasphemy, that person is obligated to testify. If they do not testify, then they bear guilt for which they must confess and offer sacrifices. And in our haftarah, just a few verses after the quote we have used, is another famous quote:

וְאַתֶּ֣ם עֵדָ֑י הֲיֵ֤שׁ אֱל֙וֹהַּ֙ מִבַּלְעָדַ֔י

You are My witnesses. Is there any G”d then, but Me?”  (Isaiah 44:8)

We are obligated to be G”d’s witnesses, and when we fail in that obligation, we incur guilt. In these days and times, we may have disagreements about what Torah teaches and what G”d expects us to do, but the obligation to be G”d’s witnesses is as strong as ever. We may even disagree on just exactly what or who G”d is, or if G”d truly exists, or if G”d is just a metaphor. Whatever your understanding, if we are not G”d’s witnesses, then G”d is not. (More about this in a bit.)

OK. So what’s the other quote, the direct rendering of the text upon which Shelley based his poem? What is its connection? Aha.


Cartouche of Ramesses II

Pesach time is approaching. One of the “major characters” in the maggid of Pesach is Pharaoh. Which Pharaoh, we don’t know. Traditional scholarship had once held to the belief that this Pharaoh was Ramesses II (aka Ramses II, aka User-maat-re Setep-en-re, which, poorly transliterated into Greek comes out-in English transliteration-Osymandias.) While most scholars no longer believe that Ramesses II could have been the Pharaoh of the biblical exodus, the traditional understanding remains popular. (User-maat-re Setep-en-re is part of the throne name of Ramesses II, of the 19th dynasty, who ruled Egypt from 1279 to 1212 BCE, or 1290 to 1224 BCE, depending upon which chronology you accept.) Ramesses II is also known as Ramesses the great, as his reign was quite remarkable, producing many monuments, and having great prosperity (not to mention his 8 wives.)

Yet how much like the biblical Pharaoh of the exodus is this Ramesses II, this Osymandias appears, if he is like the one in Shelley’s poem, the one self-described in the inscription found at Luxor. His statues and temples and obelisks have mostly cracked and fallen or even disappeared. Ironically, his name does indeed still live on-as his works have lasted long enough for archaeologists to find them. That’s a pretty darn long time. About as long as Judaism, in some form, has been around. Seems we’ve fared a bit better than Osymandias, though we’ve suffered from far more than sand withering us away to ruins.

Wow. 3000-3500 years. Pretty amazing. (And remember that Egypt’s first dynasty dates back to 2920 BCE, another 1600 years or so.) Pretty impressive. Look upon our works and despair.

Hardly. G”d was around long before, and will be around long after we’re gone.

Provided, that is, G”d has someone around to be G”d’s witnesses, for, as it was written:

כשאתם עדי – אני אל; וכשאין אתם עדי – אין אני אל

“If ‘you are My witnesses,’ then I am G”d; but if you are not My witnesses, then, so to speak, I am not G”d.” (Sifre to Deuteronomy 346.) *

Osymandias’ name still lives, because we were around to read his inscriptions. When we’re gone, who will remember Osymandias? Yet Osymandias only thought he was G”d. what about “the real thing?”

So which is it? G”d was and will be around even when we aren’t here to be G”d’s witnesses, or we are necessary for G”d to be G”d?

Now that’s something to ponder.

At least, that’s where I left it eleven years ago. Now, in this time, it feels incomplete.

To begin with – who was around to witness for G”d before G”d created us? If G”d’s existence is dependent upon our witness, there is a logical inconsistency here. Perhaps it was only the act of our creation that generated this mutual dependency? Hm. That’s feels awfully anthropocentric. A mutual Deo-anthropocentricism? What if there is life elsewhere in the universe? (A friend of mine suggested, the other day – that perhaps life arose spontaneously elsewhere in the universe, but on earth G”d specifically interfered. Could it get any more anthropocentric than that?)

Is the mutual dependency between G”d and humanity to witness for each other at the center of why G”d really spared Noah and his family?

Oy, my head is exploding, And that’s not even the stuff that got me started down this path for my musing this year.

These are trying times. It is hard to be optimistic, hard to feel positive – even about G”d. Yet it is a time when, perhaps, we need G”d even more, and therefore we must bear witness to G”d.

That is not an easy thing to do. As I was reading through the haftarah this week, I found myself in the most cynical of moods. It’s easy, I think to myself, for G”d, through Isaiah, to pontificate (and I choose that word even knowing all the modern baggage that comes with it) and tell us that are idols are worthless, and cannot help us or do anything for us. So I find myself thinking “oh yeah, Mister invisible, incorporeal G”d, like we can be sure you can do the things that you say our idols can’t or won’t? If my idols don’t help me, I can just throw them out and get new ones to pray to. If I pray to you and don’t get the help I need, just what am I supposed to do? What’s that? It’s all part of Your plan? You’re ineffable, and we puny humans just can’t comprehend your ways? Yes? Yes, we’ve all read the book of Yonah. We’ve also read Qohelet. Are you really just trying to confuse us. (Or maybe there really is something to this “ineffable stuff.)

Yeah, yeah, we know. You freed us from bondage to Pharaoh. But in the process you made all the Egyptians serfs to their own leader, you were off somewhere else diddling while we suffered for 400 years, and then you keep hardening Pharaoh’s heart so his people have to suffer even more?  I’ll just bet there really were at least ten good people in S’dom and You destroyed the place anyway.

But…but…but. Man, I just gotta stop this. I’m making myself more miserable. I need to find a rainbow here. A reason to be G”d’s witness right here, right now, because G”d knows we need that right now.

A great man who left us last year said if we were asking “where was G”d in the Holocaust?” we were asking the wrong question. We should be asking “where was humankind?” Maybe there’s some truth in that, and not just specifically in reference to the Shoah.

Is that how we witness You? It’s not about avowing Your miracles, compassion, mercy, and all those other attributes. It’s about being Your witnesses by being the kind of people You have asked us to be.

This still begs the question of what happens to G”d if there is no one left to witness for G”d. It’s no longer enough to ask if G”d can create a a rock too heavy for even G”d to lift. Now we must ask if G”d can create a universe which will eventually have no need of G”d and G”d will therefore cease to exist but the Universe G”d created will carry on? Might that be the highest achievement of a universe-creating G”d. to obviate the need for itself? Could G”d become Osymandias in G”d’s own universe? But for all the right reasons, instead of the wrong ones? (Not that G”d, as described in Torah, is without vanity.)

I’ve opened yet another theological wormhole for me to fall into. Help. Time to him my LifeCall! I’ve fallen and I can’t get out! Lucky for me I have this alert button. It connects me directly to Torah, to Shabbat. To G”d. Seriously! As G”d is my witness. Oh wait…

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Vayikra 5776 – Stuff That’s Still Bugging Me
Vayikra 5775 – Meaningful Gifts II
Vayikra 5773 (Redux 5761) – Mambo #613: A Little Bit Of Alef In My Torah
Vayikra 5772 – Confession: Not Just for Catholics
Vayikra 5771 – I’d Like To Bring To Your Attention…
Vayikra 5770 – You Can Fool Most of the People Most of the Time
Vayikra 5768 – Redux 5763 – Kol Kheilev
Vayikra 5767-Stuff That’s Bugging Me
Vayikra 5766 – Osymandias
Vayikra-Shabbat Zachor 5765-Chatati
Vayikra 5763 – Kol Cheilev
Vayikra 5759 & 5762-Salvation?
Vayikra 5760-Meaningful Gifts
Vayikra 5764 and 5761-Mambo #613: A Little Bit of Alef in My Torah…

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Random Musing Before Shabbat Vayakhel/Pekudei 5777–Bell, Pomegranate, Bell, Pomegranate

I’m starting off this musing with a thought that I plan to repeat later. Will I repeat it verbatim or not? Does it matter? Time will tell.

פַּעֲמֹ֤ן וְרִמֹּן֙ פַּעֲמֹ֣ן וְרִמֹּ֔ן עַל־שׁוּלֵ֥י הַמְּעִ֖יל סָבִ֑יב לְשָׁרֵ֕ת

A bell and a pomegranate, a bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the robe for officiating in… (Ex. 39:26)

I don’t know why I constantly find myself drawn back to this imagery. We first encounter it in parashat Tetzaveh, which we read just a few weeks back.  The first time, the text is slightly different:

A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, all around the hem of the garment (Ex. 28:34)

I wrote one of my favorite musings over the years based on that first occurrence of those words in parashat Tetzaveh, Aharon’s Bells. I suppose I could just as easily have drawn upon the text here in Pekudei as inspiration for that musing. I was always aware of the repetition, but for some reason, this is the year I decided to reflect upon it.

Now, we know that anything that appears more than once in Torah is considered to be of significance. There’s no shortage of repetition, but it’s still a relatively small percentage of the entire text. Key ideas, mostly. Boiling a kid in its mother’s milk. Stuff like that.

There’s an example of a broad repetition right here in our parasha – as the saga of the design and building of the Mishkan that begins way back in parashat T’rumah continues through to Pekudei where it reaches it’s conclusion. First we get the instructions, then we read of the instructions being carried out, then the assembly – all one giant repetition. As with any repetition, there are a few small differences. (I mean after all, we couldn’t even keep the ten commandments the same!)

In the original mention of the bells and pomegranate motif, it specifically states “a golden bell” whereas here in Pekudei it only says “bell.” There’s no question that the bells are gold, for it says so in the previous verse. The version in Tetzaveh says in a whole subsequent verse that the robe was by Aharon when officiating

“so that the sound of it is heard when he comes into the sanctuary before the Lord and when he goes out – that he many not die.” (Ex 28:35)

whereas here in Pekudei, it mentions the robe is worn while officiating, but does not elaborate upon the reasons as it did in chapter 28.

If you go back and forth between chapters 28 and 39 you’ll find lots of small differences like these – with no apparent rhyme or reason, no consistent pattern that one could point to and say “aha!”

We can “spin” these differences in opposite ways, much the same as people are doing these days with news and facts.  We can say that the differences suggest the stories aren’t entirely true, because they don’t match. Or we can say that the fact they don’t match exactly makes it even more plausible that they’re true, because that’s just a natural human characteristic. The more paranoid cynics among us might suggest then that the differences were deliberate precisely to cause us to believe one or the other of those viewpoints! If you’re from the “this text is direct from, and the inerrant word of G”d” well then there are no differences and all is as it should be.  More on that in a bit.

Frankly, if the texts were identical, I’d be more suspicious of them. Then again, they didn’t have “copy and paste” back then.

I watch all these news stories come across my various feeds on social mediia, the web, news sites, radio and TV broadcasts, and more. Even time there’s a slightly different take on the story. I guess that’s as it should be, but it sure makes it harder to get at the actual truth, doesn’t it? So is the Torah teaching us that each time we retell a story, little changes creep in? That’s one possibility. Consider, for a moment, that your belief is that G”d wrote the Torah, exactly as it is (never mind the clear evidence of tedaction and scribal errors over the millennia.) Does this mean that even when G”d retells the same story G”d tells it slightly differently? (This fits in, of course, with my “b’tzelem anashim” concept in which if we are in the image, then all that we are and do, good and bad, are reflections of the Divine and therefore part of the Divine.

How far down the rabbit hole do we want to go with this? Already, my head is swimming with possibilities. I’d better stop now and save myself some time to contemplate this on Shabbat and in the future.

This musing is ending with a thought that I planned to repeat. Was it repeated verbatim or not? Does it matter? Will time tell?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Pekudei 5776 – Metamorphosis
Vayakhel 5776 – An Imaginary Community (Redux & Revised 5768)
Vayakhel-Pekudei-Shabbat Parah 5775 – New Heart, New spirit
Pekudei 5774 – Pronouns Revisited
Vayakhel 5774 – Is Two Too Much?
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5773 – Craftsman. Artisan. Artist. Again.
Vayakhel-Pekude 5772 – Vocational Ed
Pekude/Shabbat Sh’kalim 5771 – Ideas Worth Re-Examining
Vayakhel 5771 – Giving Up the Gold Standard
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5770-Corroborative Detail
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 – There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself
Vayakhel 5768-An Imaginary Community?
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5767-Redux 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 – So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns
Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V’hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing

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