Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tazria-Metzora 5778–Excessive Prevention (Redux 5770)

Life interfered with my ability to create a new musing this week. How fortunate that just this week in the news we are learning news about new flu strains and drug-resistant infections once again – just as it was 8 years ago when I wrote this musing. So that lessens the guilt I feel at not being able to provide a new one.

From 2010:

Sometimes the ideas for my musings come from unexpected places. I’ve actually been having a somewhat difficult time finding words to speak once again about Tazria-Metzora. I’ve sat down several times, each time doing the digital equivalent of crumbling up the paper and throwing it away. So I took a break from it.

As I was doing other chores this afternoon, I was also listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation Science Friday. The topic was anti-biotic-resistant infections, and how they were on the rise yet again on our population.

Many interesting points were raised by the participants in the discussion, as well as by callers. We have a truly paradoxical situation here. Our efforts to prevent disease are actually working against us.

We’ve become an extremely germ-phobic society. We have anti-biotic agents that we build into our work surfaces, cookware, storage containers, clothing, linens, and more. Bottles of antiseptic hand wash are prevalent everywhere – even our supermarkets and big-box stores have anti-bacterial washing materials near their entrances. We’ve become ridiculously obsessed with preventing sickness.

As one expert on the radio said, it’s a pointless battle. It’s a battle between our intelligence and bacterial genes. The genes are going to win every time. It’s the job of every bacterial strain to find a way to survive. Survive it will. Put it in the presence of many anti-biotics, and evolutionary pressures will force the dominance of an anti-biotic resistant strain. One expert suggested that we should simply stop all the “routine” uses of anti-biotics (for example, in animal feed) and simply allow the normal, non-resistant strains of bacteria to thrive. This will reduce the presence of the resistant strains, an we can then treat those who get sick from the ordinary strains as necessary (but not too excess, or we’re back in the same vicious cycle.)

What’s all this to do with our parasha? Well, some obvious questions come to mind. Is this ancient obsession with skin diseases, molds, etc. really a good idea? Could such a strong focus on these conditions actually be counter-productive, and actually increase their occurrence?

Of course, like so much else in the Torah, this could all be metaphorical-really being about “spiritual rot” as I’ve written about in these musings in the past. Nevertheless, isolating one with an obvious skin condition from the rest of the community seems like a reasonably prudent idea, especially considering that they really had no clear knowledge or idea about disease transmission. (Of course, just as some still insist that the dietary laws were rudimentary forms of health codes, they say the same of the rules in Tazria-Metzora. I don’t buy it, personally, but I also agree with the idea that what we think of as primitive societies aren’t always so primitive.)

So, if this is all about spiritual rot, is there still a connection? Yes. Look at how obsessed we are these days about religion and G”d. Books critical of and supportive of religion and a belief in G”d. It’s a hot topic. It’s far too easy for us to get all wrapped up in a debate that maybe we really don’t need to be having. Or perhaps this debate is just what is needed to sustain the necessary balance between resistant and non-resistant strains of belief. Both sides in this debate are coming on strong. The opponents of religion see religion as a bacteria that we need to wipe out. Yet there seems to be an even stronger strain of resistant believers coming into existence. Maybe if the opponents of religion eased off on their attack, there’d be less of the fanatical resistant strains of believers. Similarly, maybe if people of faith stopped hitting back so hard at their opponents, they, too, would decrease in numbers, and a more natural balance could be restored to our society.

You know, with all the internal struggles and doubt we all deal with on a daily basis, with our constant struggle to be true (or deliberately untrue) to ethical and religious principals, it’s no wonder we aren’t all struggling with outward skin conditions that betray our inner turmoil.

Or maybe it’s not us showing these manifestations, but our greater society itself? Is our society showing physical manifestations of the spiritual rot that may be undermining our social structure? What might these manifestations be? (Could the Holocaust have been one of them?) Tough questions to ask. Even tougher to answer. enjoy the struggle.

Shabbat Shalom

Adrian ©2010 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Tazria-Metzora 5777 – The Overlooked Lesson (Revisiting 5767)
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 Stuents
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-Machar Chodesh–Drops That Sparkle (Redux and Revised from 5774)

Once again, this Shabbat has a special haftarah reading. Since the new month, Iyyar, begins after sundown on Shabbat, we read the special haftarah for machar chodesh – tomorrow is the (new) month. So even though it has only been 4.5 years since I wrote this musing, I’m going to share it again, with some revisions. It doesn’t come around all that often (but it’s not the rarest of the haftarot.)

Last year was the 20th anniversary of my “GEFTS” musing for Sh’mini, and I commend it to you. You’ll also find my original “Crispy Critters” musing about Nadav and Avihu and subsequent follow-ups, along with the other musings for Sh’mini linked at the end of this post. I had some new insights into the Nadav and Avihu story this year, but they’re too fresh, raw, and unworked through to share this year – but just wait until next year!

Also, a caveat to those of you intimately familiar with Buberian philosophy as expressed in Ich Und Du, I apologize for the simplicity and un-nuanced approach I take here.

Haftarah Machar Chodesh: I Samuel 20:18-42

This haftarah comes from stories from the Tanakh which have seen increased interest in the past few decades – the relationship between David and Jonathan. The question has been asked, for countless ages, if the relationship being described is platonic, homosocial, or homosexual.

While this topic, in and of itself, makes for fascinating discussion, it is not my focus today.  That being said, I believe there is ample reason to believe that  Oscar Wilde was correct when he spoke at his trial  when questioned as to the meaning of the “The love that dare not speak its name” (the closing line to Lord Douglas’ 1894 poem, “Two Loves.”) Wilde said, at trial:

” ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ in this century is such a great affection of an elder for a younger man as there was between David and Jonathan…”

This haftarah and the relationship between Jonathan and David spoke out to me this week mostly because I have been re-reading Buber’s “I and Thou” in preparation for participation in an online study group. In a most unusual circumstance for me, I find myself in almost total agreement with the rabbis, who in the Mishnah (Avot) cite the relationship between Jonathan and David in this way:

What love is that which is inspired by ulterior motives?E.g. the love of Amnon and Tamar. And what love is without such motives? E.g., the love of David and Jonathan.

Or a smoother translation/interpretation:

Any loving relationship which depends upon something, [when] that thing is gone, the love is gone. But any which does not depend upon something will never come to an end…. What is a loving relationship which does not depend upon something? That is the love of David and Jonathan. [Avot 5:18]

The story of the relationship of Amnon and Tamar is told in II Samuel, chapter 13. It is a sad tale. Amnon, one of David’s sons, is besotted with one of his half-brother Absalom’s daughters, Tamar. Through deceit he manages to get Tamar alone, and, despite her protestations, have his way with her (she was a virgin.) Yet once the deed was done, he lost all passion and interest for her, and, again despite her pleas to the contrary, sent her away. Absalom tells Tamar to keep quiet for the moment, planning to serve his revenge cold, which he does some two years later, having Amnon killed.

The relationship between Jonathan and David is the classic example of an “I-You” relationship. What makes this all the more amazing is the potential for the benefits of an “I-It” relationship between Jonathan and David.  Remember who they were. Jonathan was Saul’s son, potential heir to the throne. David was the young upstart that, upon G”d’s insistence (well, at least according to the prophet Samuel) would be replacing Saul as King.  To begin with, there was every reason for jealousy and rivalry between these two – even before David’s role as replacement for Saul became known. However, from the beginning, their relationship is one of admiration, respect, loyalty, and, most importantly, love. It was a mutual love, and one not based on how one could be of benefit to the other.

Such was the love between Jonathan and David, that when Saul decided to stand against David, Jonathan backed not his father, but his friend (lover?) with the knowing risk of forfeiting his own opportunity to sit on the throne. Jonathan seemed to believe that David would make a better King than Saul, and perhaps better than Jonathan himself.Consider the many other ways this story could have unfolded. Jonathan and David could have easily engaged in “I-It” relating, each seeking some ulterior purpose.

And what of Amnon and Tamar? Was that even a relationship? There’s no indication at all that Tamar was interested in Amnon. This was a one-way lusting. Love? Was there any love in this relationship? As profound and deeply as Amnon may have felt, there was no love present, at least not ahava love.

So, while I agree with the rabbis that the relationship between Jonathan and David was an example of pure, unselfish love, I (and you knew this was coming) have to take exception to their using the story of Amnon and Tamar as a comparator. Surely they could have found a better example of a love and relationship based on selfish motives? Cain and Abel. Jacob and Esau. Rebecca and Esau. Rebecca and Jacob, for that matter. David and Bathsheva? David and Uriah?

Jonathan winds up dead, and David is certainly no high moral achiever during the remainder of his life. Yet, in a  lifetime of questionable moral choices, David’s relationship with Jonathan is a Noah-like “not bad considering everything else” moral moment. It is worthy of being held up by the rabbis as a paragon of relationships.

I-It relationships can be easy, but eventually empty and meaningless. I-You relationships are difficult to establish and maintain. I imagine that all of us have experienced both types of relationships. In reality, I think many relationships hover between I-You and I-It, sometimes comfortably, sometimes uncomfortably.

(I’m not delving much deeper into Buber and “I and Thou” in this essay. I refer to it in a sort of stereotypical over-simplification. “Ich und Du” is too complex and profound a work to do much more than that here and now.)

In the haftarah, Jonathan arranges to meet with and/or warn away David. He defends David’s noticeable absence at court to Saul, who remains enraged and both David and Jonathan for siding with David. Seeing that there is no hope, Jonathan uses the pre-arranged signal to entice David from hiding, whereupon they meet, profess their abiding love, and go their separate ways. Knowing, of course, that this might likely be the last time they ever meet. It’s a heart-wrenching scene. Yet the relationship of David and Jonathan, being somewhat like that of Romeo and Juliet, was doomed, perhaps, from the start. David & Jonathan may have sensed this from the beginning, but they could not help themselves, so strong was the attraction, the bond, the love between them, even from the start. (How rare it seems, the affection or crush that turns out to be true, reciprocated, unselfish love.)

The story of David and Jonathan gives me hope. I’m not sure why, because it doesn’t turn out well, at least not for Jonathan. David, at least, was able to console himself with his many futures wives and concubines. But those relationships were likely different, and not as purely I-You as the one he had with Jonathan. Perhaps it gives me hope because it reinforces the notion of better having loved and lost than to never have loved at all. It gives me something to strive for, to be a better person, even with all my imperfections. Better, that for one, brief, shining moment, there was a Camelot. A story perhaps reflected somewhat in the stories of David and his son Solomon.

How do we work to make our relationships truly loving, to be truly as I-You as possible? How do we handle it when we are less than successful – when the relationship is asymmetrical. Can a true I-You relationship ever fail? If it fails, was it ever truly an I-You relationship? Hard questions to both ask and answer. If nothing else, reading about the relationship between Jonathan and David inspires me to keep trying, to the best of my ability, to have and maintain truly loving, unselfish, I-You relationships. Such relationships can exist in many forms – in a marriage or partnership, in a friendship, even I dare suggest, in a professional relationship. I-You relationships seem to go against the norm for business relationships in a capitalistic society, yet I believe they are possible, and can even be the gateway to a whole new way of doing “business” that is more predicated on an I-You way of thinking as opposed to “I-It.”

I don’t want to spoil anything for any of my readers who might later read “I and Thou” but I am also seriously considering how these relationships can and might work in educational situations. (Does, for example, standardized testing utilize an “I-It” perspective, and if so, how can we measure student learning in a more I-You way? I certainly find personality profiles, like the Myers-Briggs, DISC Model, et al) which are often used in organizations in their staff development programs ripe for abuse. While the oft-stated intent is to help staff work together by learning how to interact with the different personality types of other staff, the sad reality is more often they are used as exploitative tools by supervisors seeking to exert control over those they supervise.)

What re-reading “I and Thou” along with thinking about the relationship of David and Jonathan does for me is cause me to reconsider how I interact with all people – students, friends, lovers, spouses, merchants, strangers. It makes me want to have better relationships with all of them. It makes me want to show myself and others what is possible. It compels me to carry forward the message of what is possible in human relationships (and relationship with the Divine) by retelling the stories of those brief, shining moments.

What we see in our political system these days, and particularly in the executive branch and the oval office, are quintessential “I-It” relationships. Everything is about what others can do for me. The “ask not” days of the Camelot of the Kennedy administration are being forgotten. Having “I-It” relationships is what makes possible the demeaning and devaluing of entire groups of people.Sadly, some of this occurs on both sides. When others are only objects of use to you, it is easy to disregard their value, to treat them as worthless.

In these very troubled times, when human relationships feel as strained as they have ever been, when so many relationships are I-It in nature, we need all the hope we can get. There is, in each and every one of us, the ability to engage in meaningful I-You (and potentially I-G”d) relationships. In dark times like these, I look to the stories that inspired me in my youth. Stories like those ones that inspired JFK. T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King” and the Lerner & Loewe musical based loosely upon it, “Camelot.”

At the end of the musical Camelot, when Pellinore asks Arthur who was the young man he was talking to, the youth that Arthur instructed to leave the battlefield so that he might carry on the message and myth of Camelot, and not let it be forgotten, Arthur replies:

One of what we all are, Pelly. Less than a drop in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea. But it seems that some of the drops sparkle, Pelly. Some of them do sparkle!.

Let us all strive to be the drops that sparkle, and carry the message of hope to others now and in the future.

“Run, boy! Run, boy! Runnnnn! Oh, run, my boy.”


Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 (portions ©2013) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Sh’mini 5777 – GEFTS 20th Anniversary
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 22 Nissan 5778 – OTD: On and Off the Derekh?

This is one of those weird situations one encounters in the world of liberal Judaism. In the traditional world (and for most Conservative and even Reconstructing Jews) it’s not an issue at all. Observing 8 days of Pesakh is the norm. Therefore, on this Shabbat, they will use the Torah and Haftarah readings for Pesakh Day 8 when it falls on Shabbat.  Unless, of course, they are in Israel, where only 7 days are observed. So, for the next 6 Shabbatot, the Diaspora and Israel will be out of sync for the parashat hashavua – the weekly Torah reading. Traditionalists holding to an 8th day of Pesakh will be a week behind Israel, and will “fix” the problem by combining the last two parashiyot of Leviticus, Behar and B’khukotai, as is also done during other years of the 19-year soli-lunar Jewish calendar when necessary. So on May 19th, Israel and the Diaspora will be back in synchronization again as far as weekly Torah readings.

Reform Judaism, not wishing to make things too confusing, gives a nod to tradition and strives to stay in synchronization with the Diaspora cycle – and does so with the somewhat strange adaptation of dividing parashat Sh’mini into two parts – this week, Lev 9:1-10:11 and next week 10:12-11:47. Similarly, they divide the Haftarah up, the first week II Samuel 6:1-23 and the next week II Samuel 7:1-17. It should be noted that not all Reform congregations follow this custom.

So the question becomes “about what do I write this week?”  The 8th day of Pesakh reading with chunked up sections of Deuteronomy chapters 14-16 with an added maftir reading from Numbers 28, the hafatarah for Pesakh 8 from Isaiah Chapter 10, or the first half texts for parashat Sh’mini and the haftarah from II Samuel?

I could choose, I suppose, based on my custom of observance. Aye, but here’s the rub. I revel in my inconsistency, and go back and forth from time to time and even year to year between observing 7 or 8 days of Pesakh. Adding further to the ironic nature of my inconsistency is how often I have challenged, in these musings and elsewhere, the now somewhat ridiculous practice of continuing to observe second-day yom tovim where modern science has clearly eliminated all uncertainties. (The second day yom tovim having been added at a time when distant communities could not be certain of the exact times in Israel, so an extra day was added to play it safe.)

An additional rub – here it is just before the eve of the 7th day of Pesakh, and I am as yet undecided if I will observe the dietary restrictions for 7 or 8 days. It should be any easy decision, given my position about the obviation of the need for second-day yom tovim. However, I always strive to make such decisions with full intent and with comfort as to my choices. It would be much easier for me if I simply followed orthodox/traditional practice consistently, or Reform practice consistently. Actually, I suspect following traditional practice would ultimately be easier. While I’ll be the first to admit that a large percentage of people who consider themselves Reform Jews do not make conscious theological decisions on such things, and simply default to the simpler and easier option of 7 days without much thought, I am not one of them, and I am not alone. (I also believe the same hold true for many Conservative and Reconstructing Jews.) (Hey, don’t blame me, I’m not the one who changed the name from reconstructionist to reconstructing. I’m just trying to respect that choice, as much as I struggle with it.) Were I an adherent  to orthodox practice, there would not be a choice to make. The halakhah is clear. I do not mean to imply that living an orthodox life is easy. It is filled with many challenges. I do not mean to imply that orthodox Jews do not discuss and debate aspects of the halakhah – they do frequently. There are certainly small areas of difference in orthodox practice between different groups that fall under the orthodox umbrella (which is why even defining orthodoxy as simply adherence to Halakhah is problematic.) By and large, however, on the macro-scale of things, most orthodox Jews agree on accepted halakhic practices.

The Reform Judaism of the 50, 60s, 70s, and 80s was of a kind – and it developed its own set of customs, practices, and default preferences. From the 80s and on into the 90s, 00, 10s, and soon the 20s Reform has seen  significant change – though not all of it consistently towards one common understanding. It started with Jews of my stripe – who were convinced that Reform had indeed thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and yearned for reincorporation of some of the practices and liturgy that had been thrown aside. The new siddur, Mishkan T’fila, was largely a reflection of that yearning. It gave us back the choice to say m’khayeh hameitim in the G’vurot, recognizing that those words need not necessarily represent a desire for the clearly unscientific idea of a physical resurrection of the dead (though is anything – even the unscientific – truly impossible for G”d?) It provided the text for those who wished to do all the paragraphs of the Sh’ma. I’ve only scratched the surface of what the new siddur did. It also seems to have had some unintended consequences. WARNING – really long run-on sentence – try to follow. Though I am thrilled to see it include the full set of prayers in both the weekday and Shabbat amidah, coincident with the adoption of Mishkan T’filah the practice of reading the avot/g’vurot/kedusha followed by silent prayer until the end of the amidah – a harkening back to a more traditional practice in which the entire amidah is silent (the first time through – as it is repeated in a traditional service by the chazzan or leader of the service, with some communal responses) – has sadly deprived us of many brilliant and inspiring musical settings of the remaining prayers of the amidah.

One encounters many variations in practice when visiting Reform congregations around the country. While this might be a good thing, it becomes an even greater challenge for we Jewish educators who work in Reform settings, who, as part of our goals, have always wanted to enable our students to feel comfortable attending worship in other congregations. It’s difficult enough to prepare them for the differences they will encounter in Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructing, Chabad, Sephardi, and other settings – yet it is also an educational opportunity to teach them the theological underpinnings of the choices made by the various movements and how that impacts the liturgy. Trying to explain to students the not always small and subtle differences they might encounter from one Reform congregation to another can be really challenging. (I should also note at this point that one can certainly observe the same phenomena in Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructing, and other Jewish settings. Though they often lack enough background to understand the differences, I still find it a worthwhile practice to help students to note and try to understand these differences even among the supposedly homogenous Orthodox Judaism. As an adult Jew, I would find myself very lacking were I not able to understand such things. This is why I study Talmud, Shulkhan Arukh, the writings of the great sages and commentators, the writings of modern orthodox scholars, and participate actively in Facebook groups with Jews of all stripes – even ones where the liberal Jews are a clear minority. (Yes, sadly there are some groups where liberal Jews or traditional Jews would be unwelcome.) Even if I were not holding myself to the standard of informed choice that underlies Reform practice I would want to understand the parts of my Judaism which I do not practice – out of simple curiosity if nothing more.

Even writing all this out loud, I’m no closer to deciding if I’ll observe 7 or 8 days of Pesakh this year. As I’ve said – I revel in my inconsistency. I’ve kept Kosher at times in my life. I’ve also eaten foods which are not kosher at times. There are some things I do consistently. Though I do inconsistently observe 7 or 8 days of Pesakh, for all of those 7 or 8 days I do not eat food that is considered not Kosher for Pesakh. (As to kitniyot-a word meaning legumes, but expanded to include grains and seeds such as rice, corn, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, soybeans, peas, and lentils-which Ashkenazi Jews generally do not eat on Pesakh but Sephardim do – I’ve gone both ways. Nowadays, it seems even many orthodox Ashkenazim suddenly become Sephardi during Pesakh so they can consume kitniyot.  Same for gebrokts, I gone both ways – though that one was just to difficult to do with any consistency and I only tried it one year. Give up matzah balls and matzah brei? Pesadike cakes? Never! (Gebrokts, literally meaning “broken” is a term for matzah that has absorbed some moisture. It’s really a modern practice, only going back a few hundred years. Both the Talmud and Rashi seem to approve of the practice of mixing matzah and water, as long as the matzah was properly prepared within the 18 minute limit, it cannot again be made chametz by combining with water, hold most poskim (deciders.) But in the spirit of “my Judaic practice is more stringent than your Judaic practice” which seems to maintain its  annoyingly fervent grip upon the Orthodox world, not eating gebrokts and/or kitniyot has become a point of pride among many Ashkenazi sects.)

Seem what I mean? The idea that following Orthodox practice is any easier is silly on its face. Yes, the basic understanding of modern Orthodox practice is, when unsure, ask your LOR (local Orthodox rabbi.) Orthodoxy has, over the centuries, really thought about how to keep the commandments, even as the world changes. There’s a reason there’s an Institute for Science and Halakhah. I, and other liberal Jews may not find the halakha binding, but I think we deceive ourselves when we assume the Reform ideal of informed choice is necessarily the more difficult path than the orthodox one. It is true that, for the most part, the Orthodox have a path, a derekh to follow, and that could, possibly, make the destination easier to reach. The liberal Jew must contend with many possible paths, and, along each path. many, many choices. Now, if you’re the kind of liberal Jew who just says “chuck it all, I ain’t doing that, I’m Reform” – well, good luck to you. You may very well find your path rather easy to navigate. Me, and other liberal Jews who try to abide by the idea of informed choice, it is just as possible for us to go, as the Orthodox say, OTD – off the derekh. It’s a harder condition to ascertain, for sure, since they are so many paths, so many choices and options available to us. It would be easy for me and other liberal Jews who follow the informed choice route to simply write off the “we don’t do that, we’re Reform” crowd as being OTD in Reform terms. But who are any of us to make that judgment of another?

For some, the path, the derekh, is found in the words of the oral Torah, the Talmud, the Shulkhan Aruch and other commentaries and writings. For others, the path is found by examining the ideas found in all those texts and working to find a modern understanding that works with the world as we know it. For yet others, it is a constant process of finding a path, losing it, finding another (or the same path, without regard to ancient writings in which we place no stock other than a grudging respect for their centuries of tradition. It seems to me that whatever path we choose, even if it changes from moment to moment, it remains possible to fall off that path, to be OTD.

If I choose to observe only 7 days this year, will I feel like, on the 8th day, that I might have gone OTD? Or is it possible, if I observe 8 days, that, on the 8th day, I feel like I’ve gone OTD?

If, as we are taught, the gates of t’shuva – return/repentance – are always open, then going OTD need not be something to be feared. If we can find our way back to our path (or to a new path that fits us better) it will be as if we had returned. We should always allow ourselves that latitude, and not be so hard on ourselves if we find ourselves off the path. I remain unconvinced that having a well-worn, well-trod path, such as one encounters in traditional Judaism, makes t’shuvah, returning to the path, any harder or easier than for those whose Judaism allows them to experience a multitude of paths. Both are hard. Both take effort. Both take courage. Both are Jewishly meaningful. Both can also be paths of least resistance. Both can be the easy way out. Both can be abrogating your individual responsibilities.

Besides, which, and you knew this was coming. Ultimately, who cares about the path so much? It’s not the destination that really matters. It’s the journey.

Journey down your road, dear friends.

Shabbat Shalom (and Chag Kasher v’Pesakh Sameiakh to you 8-dayers,)

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5777 – Valley of The Donald
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–Pesakh 5778–Odds and Ends

Some odds and end for this Pesakh.

An odd.

Mah nishtanah hehaftarah hazot mikol haftarot?

Why is this haftarah different from all the other haftarot?

In the haggadah, we ask why on other night we do not dip our foods, but on Pesakh we dip twice.

In this haftarah from Joshua, for the first day of Pesach when it falls on Shabbat, we read of a second mass circumcision.


בָּעֵ֣ת הַהִ֗יא אָמַ֤ר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ עֲשֵׂ֥ה לְךָ֖ חַֽרְב֣וֹת צֻרִ֑ים וְשׁ֛וּב מֹ֥ל אֶת־בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל שֵׁנִֽית׃

At that time the LORD said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and proceed with a second circumcision of the Israelites.”


וַיַּעַשׂ־ל֥וֹ יְהוֹשֻׁ֖עַ חַֽרְב֣וֹת צֻרִ֑ים וַיָּ֙מָל֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֶל־גִּבְעַ֖ת הָעֲרָלֽוֹת׃

So Joshua had flint knives made, and the Israelites were circumcised at Gibeath-haaraloth.


וְזֶ֥ה הַדָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁר־מָ֣ל יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כָּל־הָעָ֣ם הַיֹּצֵא֩ מִמִּצְרַ֨יִם הַזְּכָרִ֜ים כֹּ֣ל ׀ אַנְשֵׁ֣י הַמִּלְחָמָ֗ה מֵ֤תוּ בַמִּדְבָּר֙ בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ בְּצֵאתָ֖ם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם׃

This is the reason why Joshua had the circumcision performed: All the people who had come out of Egypt, all the males of military age, had died during the desert wanderings after leaving Egypt.


כִּֽי־מֻלִ֣ים הָי֔וּ כָּל־הָעָ֖ם הַיֹּֽצְאִ֑ים וְכָל־הָ֠עָם הַיִּלֹּדִ֨ים בַּמִּדְבָּ֥ר בַּדֶּ֛רֶךְ בְּצֵאתָ֥ם מִמִּצְרַ֖יִם לֹא־מָֽלוּ׃

Now, whereas all the people who came out of Egypt had been circumcised, none of the people born after the exodus, during the desert wanderings, had been circumcised.


כִּ֣י ׀ אַרְבָּעִ֣ים שָׁנָ֗ה הָלְכ֣וּ בְנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֮ בַּמִּדְבָּר֒ עַד־תֹּ֨ם כָּל־הַגּ֜וֹי אַנְשֵׁ֤י הַמִּלְחָמָה֙ הַיֹּצְאִ֣ים מִמִּצְרַ֔יִם אֲשֶׁ֥ר לֹֽא־שָׁמְע֖וּ בְּק֣וֹל יְהוָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֤ע יְהוָה֙ לָהֶ֔ם לְבִלְתִּ֞י הַרְאוֹתָ֣ם אֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֩ נִשְׁבַּ֨ע יְהוָ֤ה לַֽאֲבוֹתָם֙ לָ֣תֶת לָ֔נוּ אֶ֛רֶץ זָבַ֥ת חָלָ֖ב וּדְבָֽשׁ׃

For the Israelites had traveled in the wilderness forty years, until the entire nation—the men of military age who had left Egypt—had perished; because they had not obeyed the LORD, and the LORD had sworn never to let them see the land that the LORD had sworn to their fathers to assign to us, a land flowing with milk and honey.


וְאֶת־בְּנֵיהֶם֙ הֵקִ֣ים תַּחְתָּ֔ם אֹתָ֖ם מָ֣ל יְהוֹשֻׁ֑עַ כִּי־עֲרֵלִ֣ים הָי֔וּ כִּ֛י לֹא־מָ֥לוּ אוֹתָ֖ם בַּדָּֽרֶךְ׃

But He had raised up their sons in their stead; and it was these that Joshua circumcised, for they were uncircumcised, not having been circumcised on the way.


וַיְהִ֛י כַּאֲשֶׁר־תַּ֥מּוּ כָל־הַגּ֖וֹי לְהִמּ֑וֹל וַיֵּשְׁב֥וּ תַחְתָּ֛ם בַּֽמַּחֲנֶ֖ה עַ֥ד חֲיוֹתָֽם׃

After the circumcising of the whole nation was completed, they remained where they were, in the camp, until they recovered.


וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יְהוָה֙ אֶל־יְהוֹשֻׁ֔עַ הַיּ֗וֹם גַּלּ֛וֹתִי אֶת־חֶרְפַּ֥ת מִצְרַ֖יִם מֵעֲלֵיכֶ֑ם וַיִּקְרָ֞א שֵׁ֣ם הַמָּק֤וֹם הַהוּא֙ גִּלְגָּ֔ל עַ֖ד הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃

And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away from you the disgrace of Egypt.” So that place was called Gilgal, as it still is.

Apparently, during our 40-year trek through the wilderness, conditions were just not right or safe for newborn babies to be circumcised. Well, that’s one of the explanations offered by the rabbis to explain this story. Other commentators view it not as a physical circumcision, but a spiritual one, a metaphor for a new start entering a new land, the land promised to the people of Israel.

We’re not talking about circumcising babies here – we’re talking about the generation born since the exodus, born during the 40 years in the wilderness, many of them now young or older, experienced soldiers about to embark on a conquest of promised land. There are practical issues, too. Recently circumcised adult males are going to need a little recovery time before being able to go forth as a conquering army. (You couldn’t promise us a land we could take without bloodshed? Or would that be too easy and cause us to not value the gift enough? Once again, G”d is certain that the Israelites just aren’t awed enough by the things G”d has done and will do for them, so they need to be forced to have some investment in receiving the gift so they will value it. Wasn’t the point of putting us through the 40 years in the wilderness to weed out those who were weak of faith? They’re all gone now except Joshua and Caleb, who did seem to have faith. The 40 years might not have been fun, but G”d did sustain them, they did have the manna, and many other gifts. So why wouldn’t these new generations have enough faith in G”d that G”d would let them into the promised land without having to fight for it? sometimes, I really think G”d talks out of both sides of G”d’s mouth. We are living in an age where talking out of both sides of one’s mouth seems to have become normative among our leaders. The biblical G”d might fit in quite nicely nowadays. Lest you think I’m being harsh on G”d, I suggest you go back and the Tanakh again in its entirety and decide for yourself if really portrays a G”d who is consistent.)

Though this is admittedly viewing it from a modern lens, this haftarah raises “yuck” to new heights. Take a look at verse 3. It says the men were circumcised at גִּבְעַ֖ת הָעֲרָלֽוֹת – Gibeath-haaraloth – the hill of foreskins. Wow, there’s picture that’s hard to get out of your mind once you’ve seen it or even pictured it.

We’ll just gloss over the עַ֖ד הַיּ֥וֹם הַזֶּֽה׃  – as it still is – at the end of verse 9, though it’s a classic bit of textual evidence of later redaction.

Another odd.

I think one of the most powerful yet strange moments in the Pesakh seder is at the very start of the Magid section – the Ha Lakhma

הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָלוּ אַבְהָתָנָא בְאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָיִם. כָּל דִכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵיכֹל, כָּל דִצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח. הָשַּׁתָּא הָכָא, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּאַרְעָא דְיִשְׂרָאֵל. הָשַּׁתָּא עַבְדֵי, לְשָׁנָה הַבָּאָה בְּנֵי חוֹרִין.

This is the bread of destitution that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt. Anyone who is famished should come and eat, anyone who is in need should come and partake of the Pesach sacrifice. Now we are here, next year we will be in the land of Israel; this year we are slaves, next year we will be free people.

From my modern, liberal perspective, I choose to view this passage as a universal call upon us to be responsive to those in need. Surely, we are not just calling on other Jews in need to come and partake in our Seder. Anyone came come join us.

However, it’s problematic. The Torah is explicit in stating that only those who are circumcised (well, whaddaya know, a connection between the two odds) are permitted to partake of the paschal offering. The paschal offering was a lamb that was slaughtered and eaten on the eve of Pesakh. In Ashkenazi tradition, lamb is not eaten at the seder because the Paschal lamb was part of Temple ritual. Sefardi Jews do eat lamb at their seders, as a re-enactment of the first Pesakh. The only restriction, per the Talmud, in tractate Pesakhim, is that a whole, roasted lamb should not be used.

An additional issue arises. Would not the time to make a proclamation to all those in need to come join us be more appropriate at the very start of the seder, before the first cup of wine and other blessings? 5 steps into the order of the seder seems an odd place to throw out an invitation to the poor and needy.

Four years ago, I stumbled upon a new haggadah, “Escape Velocity: A Post-Apocalyptic Haggadah” by Stanley Aaron Ledovic. I love his answer to this oddity. He posits that it’s actually meant to afflict those present at the seder, enjoying comfort and a sumptuous meal. It’s a reminder to all that we are still not truly free. Our exile continues. Only again when we are able to eat and taste the paschal lamb will we truly be free. On the one hand, that’s a very restored-Temple/messianic age take on things. Nevertheless, it has a certain ring of truth. How can we possibly be satisfied with the world we live in. None of us are truly free until all of us are free. We’ve lots of work yet to do.

Another question that arises is why we would be inviting those in need to come and partake at the moment of holding up the “bread of affliction?” Are we inviting them to join in our affliction, to suffer the matzvah and we and our ancestors do/did? I wondered about that for years, and often posed the question during seders I attended. Then I discovered that former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain Lord Jonathan Sacks addressed this question in his hagaddah. He suggests that the very act of sharing food is the mark of the moment when a person passes from being a slave, wary of sharing what little they have, to being free. Our invitation is part of our declaration of being free people.

In light of Lebovic’s take, I find myself struggling a bit with Sack’s understanding. I do think there’s room for both understandings, and my struggle these days is to do just that.

An end

שְׁפֹךְ חֲמָתְךָ אֶל־הַגּוֹיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יְדָעוּךָ וְעַל־מַמְלָכוֹת אֲשֶׁר בְּשִׁמְךָ לֹא קָרָאוּ. כִּי אָכַל אֶת־יַעֲקֹב וְאֶת־נָוֵהוּ הֵשַׁמּוּ. שְׁפָךְ־עֲלֵיהֶם זַעֲמֶךָ וַחֲרוֹן אַפְּךָ יַשִּׂיגֵם. תִּרְדֹף בְּאַף וְתַשְׁמִידֵם מִתַּחַת שְׁמֵי ה

Pour your wrath upon the nations that did not know You and upon the kingdoms that did not call upon Your Name! Since they have consumed Ya’akov and laid waste his habitation (Psalms 79:6-7). Pour out Your fury upon them and the fierceness of Your anger shall reach them (Psalms 69:25)! You shall pursue them with anger and eradicate them from under the skies of the Lord (Lamentations 3:66).

Pour out your wrath. Read after filling Elijah’s cup and opening the door.  Another one of the troubling passages in the haggadah. Some much so that many, many contemporary haggadot offer alternatives to it. I personally feel more comfortable with reciting an alternative text, but I am also forced to ask myself if one also needs to read/hear the original to gain a fuller appreciation and understanding of why an alternative might be needed.

Another end.

Next year in Jerusalem. But wait. There’s more. On the first night, we add

וּבְכֵן וַיְהִי בַּחֲצִי הַלַּיְלָה.

And so, it was in the middle of the night.

אָז רוֹב נִסִּים הִפְלֵאתָ בַּלַּיְלָה, בְּרֹאשׁ אַשְׁמוֹרֶת זֶה הַלַּיְלָה.

Then, most of the miracles did You wondrously do at night, at the first of the watches this night.

This is followed by a recounting of various miracles and good deeds that G”d did for us throughout history at night. Perhaps this is so we won’t fear going forth into the night to return home after a seder. The usual connotation of the night is that it is when bad, scary, evil things tend to happen. Perhaps it is simply to remind us that not all of G”d’s miracle happen in the open, in the full light of day.

There was evening, there was morning, day one. May we each come forth from our seder renewed, refreshed, yet still reflective, so that we might continue to use the things we have learned from our seder experience.

A zissen Pesakh, and Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Pesakh:

Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5777 – Valley of The Donald
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 5778–After You, G”d.

I’ve got problem with the haftarah for Shabbat HaGadol – Malachi 3:4-24. In previous musings on this haftarah I’ve held it up as an example of G”d’s infinite patience and forgiveness. I talked about how the charges that G”d levels at the Jewish people and could easily be made today. I’ve also talked, in more than one musing, about how the haftarah’s focus on a future redemption might only serve to increase our present apathy – that we need to focus on the here and now, do as the ha lakhma anya suggests and open our doors to those who are hungry in the here and now. They should not have to wait for Elijah and the coming messianic age.

הָא לַחְמָא עַנְיָא דִּי אֲכָֽלוּ אַבְהָתָֽנָא בְּאַרְעָא דְמִצְרָֽיִם. כָּל דִּכְפִין יֵיתֵי וְיֵכוֹל, כָּל דִּצְרִיךְ יֵיתֵי וְיִפְסַח.

Ha lakhma anya di achalu avhatana b’ara d’mitzrayim. Kol dichfin yeitei v’yeichol, kol ditzrich yeitei v’yifsach.

This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in Egypt. Let all who are hungry come and eat, let all who are in need come and partake of our Paschal offering.

I’ve spoken of how family gatherings around Pesach can be stressful, and we ought perhaps not wait for Eliyahu to come and turn the hearts of parents and children to each other – and make it happen ourselves.

This week, as I was reviewing the haftarah, I had a sudden, strong feeling about it that I’ve not never quite felt before. I’ve tried to make a note for myself to describe what I was feeling, and wrote this:

The price of the triumph of the righteous over the wicked is a G”d who destroys evil. But G”d will turn the hearts of parents to children and children to parents so that we won’t have to be wiped out. The evil won’t be around to witness that largesse, will they? Hmmmmm.

I’m not happy with the price for the triumph of righteousness. It’s too high. It’s the ten plagues and needless suffering of the Egyptians when G”d hardened Pharaoh’s heart all over again. Why does the price of the triumph of righteousness always seem to require the death and suffering of the the wicked and evil? Where is the forgiveness here? Where is the chance for repentance?

G”d will remember those who have been righteous and faithful. The rest of you – well, it’s not pretty. You’ll be burnt to ashes. You won’t be around to have your hearts and the hearts of your children reconciled.

Where is the line, G”d? How is it determined just how righteous and just how wicked someone has been? Is it truly possible that there are more than a mere handful of those who have always been truly righteous all of the time?

I’m not buying it. Wedding out and destroying the wicked is the lazy way out. Not to mention, G”d, if people are really saying things like:

אֲמַרְתֶּ֕ם שָׁ֖וְא עֲבֹ֣ד אֱלֹהִ֑ים וּמַה־בֶּ֗צַע כִּ֤י שָׁמַ֙רְנוּ֙ מִשְׁמַרְתּ֔וֹ וְכִ֤י הָלַ֙כְנוּ֙ קְדֹ֣רַנִּ֔ית מִפְּנֵ֖י יְהוָ֥ה צְבָאֽוֹת׃

You have said, “It is useless to serve God. What have we gained by keeping His charge and walking in abject awe of the LORD of Hosts?

maybe, just maybe, G”d you need to examine your end of things, and consider what You might have done to bring about this sorry state of circumstances.  If people are practicing sorcery, committing adultery, swearing falsely, cheating laborers of their hire, and are subverting  the cause of the widow, orphan, and stranger, it seems like a major systemic breakdown. You’re going to blame that entirely on humanity? You setup the system. Do You bear no responsibility?

How many people are committing all these offenses simultaneously? Might not one who is failing to tithe properly still be fulfilling their obligation  to the poor, widow,and orphan? Might no less be true for the adulterer, the sorcerer, the cheater, the liar? Are those who are doing this evil things only doing evil? Are they evil 24/7? What if they’re evil only 24/6?

Abraham maybe didn’t go far enough with his asking G”d if the innocent would be swept away with the wicked. Maybe he needed to ask: will you sweep away even the least transgressor?

I’ll admit that maybe my viewpoint is naïve and simplistic.It might also change next year, or tomorrow. I’ll also agree that humanity is indeed responsible for trying to do the right things, and to do things right (those are not the same, by the way, but that’s a discussion for another time.) No matter your personal understanding of G”d and Judaism, it is certainly a basic understanding that instructions were given to the Jewish people on how to do the right thing. To some extent Torah touches upon how to do things right, but only through rabbinic Judaism (or, if you accept the concept, oral torah) do we have a clearer understanding of how to do many of the things Torah asks us to do.

All that being said, right here and right now I can’t get past my my dissatisfaction with the price of the triumph of righteousness. G”d says:

שׁ֤וּבוּ אֵלַי֙ וְאָשׁ֣וּבָה אֲלֵיכֶ֔ם

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you

Hey G”d, why don’t You go first?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha/haftarah:

Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5777 – Payback: An Excerpt From the Diary of Moses (Updated)
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 5769 – Payback: An Excerpt From the Diary of Moses
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 5778–Kol Cheilev (Revisited)

[Originally written in 2003, I offer a revisiting of this musing.]

Blood and sacrifice. Burnt offerings. Washing innards, Arranging body parts. Wringing pigeon necks, and tearing their wings off. Burning grain cakes. Flinging blood. Guilt offerings. Sin offerings. Offerings for accidental and unknowingly committed sins.
Allow me to be the wicked child and ask – what is all this to me?

It’s yucky. It’s gross. It’s unpleasant.

Putting aside for the moment the thought that our ancestors were probably more comfortable with these acts than our modern sensibilities might allow us to be, the idea behind all these things can certainly have relevancy in our times.

It’s a simple idea, really. It’s about getting our hands dirty. It’s about understanding that there is no way to distance ourselves from having to roll up our sleeves and really work at having relationships with each other – and, as importantly, a relationship with G”d.

(If you think having any kind of relationship with G”d is supposed to a bed of roses, think again. Some people speak about having “found” G”d. Remember those ubiquitous bumper stickers that read “I Found It.” They were a product of the Campus Crusade for Christ back in the mid-to-late 70s. They were intended to give people the opportunity to witness for Christ whenever someone asked the obvious “what did you find?” question.  I always wanted to have a bumper sticker made the said “I Never Lost It.” But I digress. G”d, at least as described in the Jewish tradition – though perhaps sans the rabbinic white-washings and apologetics – is not a deity that demonstrates consistency and emotional maturity. If you’re not struggling to have a relationship – or in your relationship – with G”d, you’re not doing it right.)

Let’s face it — we have it easy. We communicate with G”d through the offerings of our lips, with song, prayer. For many of us, this seems to be enough. G”d demands much more of us than this. G”d demands the offerings of our hearts.

G”d has no needs of gifts, of offerings; no need of the same kind of bodily sustenance that we do. G”d has no need for the meat or blood of sacrifices, the fragrances and smells of offerings, the burnt cakes. All these things are for our sakes, and not G”d’s sake. G”d needs something from this relationship. Figuring out what each of us might have to offer that G”d might desire can be, if such a relationship is important to you, a purpose of life.

(An interesting aside. The text tells us, in Lev. 3:16b, that “kol cheilev l’Ad’nai” “all fat is Gd’s.” This is an additional prohibition to the consuming of blood. The text goes on to say that it is an eternal law for us that we shall not eat any fat and any blood. (Lev. 3:17) We always seem to remember that blood part, but the fat part seems to have been overlooked. Remember all those lovely jars of schmaltz in mother’s kitchen? Perhaps we’d do well to always remind ourselves that “kol cheilev l’Ad”nai.” Of course, being on a string of low-carb diets might make this a little difficult for me! But I digress.)

A relationship with G”d is not an easy thing. It is certainly a holy thing, but not a relationship one can have without recognizing that things physical, and not just spiritual need be involved. (Now there’s a great argument for observing the laws of kashrut.) G”d needs not just our hearts and our minds, but our bodies, too. And once our bodies are involved, we’re in the realm of potentially “icky” things, of having to get our hands dirty.

(An aside from 2018. Now meal kits are the new trend. They once again evoke mixed feelings. The modern grocery has already distanced us from the sources of what we eat that we generally take them for granted. Now we don’t even have to go to the store to get the food. Someday, we’ll have the food printer – actually, it’s already here, but in its infancy – and eventually the Star Trek replicator. Robots are starting to make in-roads. Computers are taking our orders at McDonalds. At least one good thing about meal kits is that people actually have to do the prep and cooking – though I can imagine the ultimate in yuppie comfort – ordering meal kits to be prepared by the housekeeper.)

All life is sacred. Animals are part of G”d’s creation. G”d does not ask us lightly to offer animals as sacrifices. While PETA may think it’s acceptable to compare the slaughter of millions of innocent Jews, gays, Romani and others to the routine slaughter of animals for food in their campaigns for more humane treatment of animals, they miss the point of what we learn in parashat Vayikra.

Sacrificing animals teaches us not that we are superior to them. It does not teach us that it’s OK to slaughter animals, or treat them inhumanely. The Torah is clear on the concept of not causing tzar baalei chayim (the suffering of living animals) and our obligation to treat animals with respect, honor and care. (It should be noted that the tzar in this commandment indeed comes from that same Hebrew root meaning narrow, or constricted that is used in the word mitzrayim – Egypt – the place of our constriction/suffering. I submit that one of the reasons for asking animal sacrifice of the people of Israel was to help them realize that all life, including the life of animals, is sacred. The animals used for sacrifice are carefully chosen, and must be unblemished. The “gift” of their lives is not wasted-what is not offered to Gd that is edible is consumed by the priests and others.
Rather than compare inhumane treatment of animals to the Shoah, perhaps PETA ought to use the example of the sacred nature of sacrificing an animal’s life as taught by our holy Torah.

There is a reason our tradition has developed prayers like the morning’s “asher yatzar” in which we openly discuss the inner workings of our bodies. There’s a reason that Torah speaks of how we deal with excrement. A relationship with G”d demands we accept that we have our physical bodies for a reason, and must offer them in service to G”d as much as we offer our spiritual and emotional selves. We need to be thinking about G”d just as much when we’re in the bathroom as when we are in the synagogue.

I’m not personally in favor of restoring animal sacrifice, even if  the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. (For that matter, I’m not all that enthusiastic for a restoration of the Temple and the Temple cult at all. I’m even less sure that the modern state of Israel is worthy  of being the successor to biblical Israel – not that biblical Israel was any paragon of ethics and virtues.) I am, however, in favor of incorporating into our daily lives the message and the lessons to be learned from G”d’s having asked us, at one time, to engage in ritual animal and plant material sacrifice.(Note to self – thanks, I needed to read that today, Adrian. Sometimes, in my desire to distance my ever-evolving theology from troublesome concepts, I lose that spark that drives me to be someone who seeks to redeem the irredeemable.)

After all, “kol cheilev l’Ad”nai” — “all fat is G”d’s.” We’ve certainly plenty of fat on our bodies. And the word cheilev is used to refer to human body fat as well as animal fat. It also is used to refer to the “best part of” as in the “fat of the land.” And it is also used in a negative way, to describe the “unreceptive heart” by comparing the heart to the unemotional mid-body fat that is near it.

Let’s not let our fat (or our hearts) be of the unemotional kind. Let’s give our “fat” to G”d – the best part of who we are — emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018(portions © 2003) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on This Parasha:

Vayikra 5777 – As G”d Is My Witness (aka Osymandias II)
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 5778–There IS Business Like Show Business

My musings on this parasha are among my favorites, and I commend them all to you. They’re all listed and linked, as usual, at the end of this musing.

This week, a new musing, rather than a recycling – although many of the ideas in this musing have appeared in my musings before. I’ve used a different angle, a different perspective this time.

Before making Jewish education and music the primary focus of my life and work, I had two-and-one-half decades of work as a theatrical production professional. The experiences I had and the lessons I learned during those years continue to influence me each and every day.  I also still engage into the occasional foray into the theatrical world. During my time in the DC metro area in the 00s, I lent my production skills to two mass choral events presented by synagogues from across the community. While in the Amherst/Northmapton, MA area I designed lighting for a production of Falsettos. Last year I did lighting design for an original play about Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah and his disputes with Rabbi Gamliel. This fall I will be directing another play by the same author, about King Solomon. Of course, all along, I’ve been supervising and writing Purim Shpiels, and lending my knowledge and expertise in the area of live and recorded audio to the synagogues I have served, and as an audio consultant to other synagogues and organizations.

My musings over the years have been peppered with references to this aspect of my life experience. Just as the piano is an intrinsic piece of who I am and how I live, so are my theatrical skills, and, of course, my Judaism. The combination makes me who I am today – and I daresay that in hindsight, I see how the latter career, as a Jewish professional, actually was part and parcel of the person I was in those years when I was doing other things in music and the theatre-I just didn’t know it yet.

Before I go on, I would be remiss if I did not bring up two life incidents. As some of you may know, last Friday, driving home after learning on my way to synagogue that services had been cancelled, a downed tree had forced me to take a different route, and while driving that route, a tree fell across the road in front of me. A second earlier and it would have hit me. I could have been injured or even killed. It shook me up for quite of while. Many of you lovingly responded to my call for a virtual minyan so that I could say birkat hagomel (and I have since had an opportunity to do so in a real minyan, but the virtual one was, frankly, the better one and the one filled with friends.) Yesterday, we had another bad winter storm here, and my neighbor alerted me to the fact that trees had fallen on our cars where we parked (to be courteous to the people who plow our complex, many of us move our cars before a storm to a separate visitor parking area so the regular tenant spots can be easily plowed out.) We managed to move a few limbs and free up her car, but my car had a huge limb hanging down on it that was severed from the tree – impossible for me to extricate my car without bringing the whole limb crashing down on it and damaging it. There is so much damage in the area (trees and power lines down) that tomorrow (Friday – it is Thursday afternoon as I write this) is the earliest the complex management said they could get a tree removal company to come and free my car, deal with some fallen trees across the road in the complex, and, worst of all, remove a tree that had fallen onto the roof of one of the buildings. Like my situation, the extent of the damage won’t be know until the tree limbs are cleared.

Schools were closed here yesterday and today, so I’ve already lost two days work to snow cancellations. Now I’ll lose the subbing I was scheduled to do tomorrow as I don’t have a way to get there (plus I want to be around when my car is extricated.) I’m also hopeful I’ll have my car so I can get to the synagogue for services tomorrow, where I am leading the choir as part of a Shabbat Across America celebration. I say none of this to seek sympathy or support – it’s just simply cathartic for me to write about it. so thanks for listening.

These things are out of my control of course, and it does no good to dwell on them or become stressed out by them. So here I am, stuck at home with no way to get anywhere. A little Torah study is a good distraction. Here we go.

So I’m reading yet again through parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei and it strikes me – something I never really noticed but should have. I have spoken about how this parsha teaches us to be cautious about separating craftsperson, artisan, and artist. Yet never in all my times reading through Vayakhel has it occurred to me that, in sequence, it describes the design and construction of a set and props (Ex 36 and 37,) the design and construction of the costumes (Ex 39,) and the load-in and set-up of the scenery, props, and costumes (Ex. 40) just as one might encounter with a typical theatrical production.  Chapter 35 could easily describe the efforts of the supporters of a community theater to obtain the materials and financing they would need to mount the production.

FWIW, the “theatrical designs” for the mishkan, and for the priestly garments are really quite spectacular, and make bold and clever use of materials. They are also extremely well-thought-out designs, describing in detail how certain elements are to be manufactured. In theatre, sometimes a designer will leave construction techniques to the technical director, and sometimes they will be more specific. Here, the designs come with details on how to build parts so they will fit together, and exactly how to do that.  As a set designer, I’ve always prided myself on providing good working drawings that not only show my vision, to how to realize it. Of course, I’m open to suggestions from the folks actually doing the work, just as I hope and suspect Betzalel was to those who worked with him, and as I hope G”d would have been in giving Betzalel and his helpers a chance to offer some input (though I somehow doubt that. Not G”d’s usual pattern, when G”d gets specific. Which raises another question, if you believe in human rather than Divine origin of the Torah, as to why the instructions for creation of the mishkan were so specific. It seems easier to me to imagine G”d being that specific, less so folks trying to creative the religious narrative and ethical framework for a people. Perhaps, if I may borrow from Gilbert and Sullivan as I often do, it is a purposeful literary device with “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” In other words, make it look real. make it look like G”d might really have said these things. Wow, I’m getting all the usual Adrian cliches into this musing, aren’t I? All that’s missing is a Broadway musical reference.)

I want to think about the specificity of these mishkan and wardrobe designs for a minute. I am someone who is greatly fascinated with ancient human civilization. They accomplished many great feats, yet we too often see them as primitive compared to ourselves. Yet look what the early kingdom Egyptians accomplished. The Babylonians. King Solomon. Some folks insist these ancient civilizations were too primitive to have accomplished such great feats, and claim the assistance of aliens. As much as “I want to believe” I believe the Egyptians, the Incans, the early Chinese and African dynasties, and others had the same human brain power we have today. We may have better tools, and maybe we can do things faster, but their works show great sophistication.

No matter your belief/opinion on the origins of the Torah (or the time period of its creation) you have to admit that it contains designs and instructions that are evidence of a very sophisticated culture.It should say and mean something to us that the Torah bothers to spend so much verbiage on the matter of the design, construction, and assembly of the mishkan and the priestly garments. That’s not a new thought – I’ve said this in other musings on this parasha and others.

All theatre requires community effort, just as all religious worship requires community effort. There are leaders to help move things along, but they work best as part of the community, not separate and apart from it. Theatre and religious services have their participants. Some might say that Theatre is different in that it involves an audience that may or may not be participative, but I might argue that some give and take between a show and its audience is an essential part of the process. This is just as true in religious services.

In the Jewish professional world, we often take great pains to remind ourselves that religious worship is not performance. That is an important thing to remember. At the same time, it is not entirely true, and we ignore that at our own peril. There is craft and artistry in creating a meaningful worship experience, and, truth be told, certain performance skills and devices can and often are a part of the arsenal of tools in making that happen. There’s no shame in that. If Torah can be that specific about the design of the mishkan and the priestly garments, that could be seen as a recognition that elements of performance and theatrics are a necessary part in worship. If you consider the structure of the Jewish worship service, in its daily, Shabbat, and Yom Tov versions, you can plainly and clearly see the evidence of performance planning elements. The whole story of the Exodus is one big spectacle from start to finish – that’s what made it easy for Cecile B.DeMille and others to create performance art from it. The same holds true for many other parts of our sacred texts (and not just Tanakh.)

It’s okay as long as we see and utilize the performance aspects as tools and methodologies to help the kehilla have a meaningful worship experience. (I originally wrote positive worship experience, but I decided it need not always be so to be meaningful.) It’s okay as long as we can be servant leaders; as long as we can control our egos, seek to have I-You and I-Thou relationships rather than I-It relationships; as long as we are “performing” as a component of the service, and not “performing the service.” It’s a difficult balance to maintain at best. All the while, those of us acting as worship facilitators need to also find our own spiritual sustenance in the process. It’s also okay to acknowledge that sometimes, our minds or bodies might just not be in the place we need it to be to do for the congregation what we need to do for it – and I, for one, believe it’s okay under those circumstances to “perform” your role. If you find you have to do this often, then there’s a problem you need to sort out. But occasionally, I think it’s okay. I know there are those who will disagree. However, realistically, I think each of us has found ourselves in a  circumstance where we had to act our way through it – and I’m referring to all people, and life in general, not just synagogue professionals and not just in worship settings.

Just last week I was substituting for a high school drama teacher, and worked on a  project in which they were tasked to discover and relate to others their
“I-Me.” That is, the central core of who they are as “I,” and the ways they are when they interact with others, as one of their many possible “me” personalities. Lots of them were able to identify their inner core I, but struggled with recognizing and describing their external me personalities. Yet we all do it. For some, there is greater consistency to the external faces, and for others, they can vary quite a bit. There’s no value judgment involved – we are who we are. Knowing who we are at the core, plus understanding how we interact with others is a good thing to understand. I think this ties in quite directly with our subject at hand. Know thyself – inner and external. Those external selves – those are the actors, presenting and performing “you” to the outside world. More tools to use, useful even in facilitating a worship experience.

No, no, it can’t be. Worship is a show. I say get over it. Maybe it’s time to think through our gut negative reaction to that a little more critically, and accept that other business can be like show business – and that’s not always a bad thing.

And now, on with the show.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vayakhel-Pekudei 5777 – Bell, Pomegranate, Bell, Pomegranate
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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