Saturday, July 2, 2016

Parshat Bchukotai, 1st Portion, Leviticus 26:3-5, May 29, 2016

“If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,
I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.” (Leviticus 26:3-4)
Initially before I started reading the Torah I read this as a false promise. You don’t have to be alive very long to learn that bad things happen to good people (as the book title suggests).

And God says, “and I will...” not “and I may...”

I can imagine that many have turned from God because of this empty promise. Some say that they can’t be Jews because of the Holocaust. How could he have let that happen?

If a drought comes, one could doubt whether they followed “My statutes and observe My commandments...” carefully enough.

As a contract, this (on the surface) sucks... (sorry for the language).

Is it a Zen koan? 

I used to trick my kids. I’d tell them if they cleaned their room I’d take them to McDonalds. They’d do the job, and then tell me they were ready to go. I’d say, “I didn’t say’” Soon they learned to ask “when” before they cleaned their room. And soon they learned to also ask if they could buy anything besides orange juice. If they had not of turned out so well they could have blamed their abusive dad.

Is this a false promise to make kids behave? Some say this Torah verse is about social engineering. But did anyone believe it?

Buddha said the same thing... that 
“So awake, reflect, watch.
Work with care and attention.
Live in the way, and the light will grow in you.” (From the Dharmapada)
though this also gives a clue of the benefit of “right action.” It may not change our external world, but our inner world will be much better. We will not stop “sickness, old age, and death.” But the “we” will become (or return to) a person that can be “ennobled” by life itself. 

Should the Torah have been more explicit? 

I asked Rabbi Baker how he’d present this portion to a kid. They know that sometimes you do the right thing and the wrong thing happens.

He started to talk about how our actions affect the environment, including the rain. I realized then that the “you” referred both to the individual and the community. Our single vote rarely matters, but our collective vote is like a tornado. So it all becomes an interesting quandary. Do you make a difference? Does one drop of gas removed from your gas tank cause you to run out of gas? Of course not. Yet a small hole in your tank will cause you to run out of gas... one drop at a time. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Parshat Behar, 7th Portion, Leviticus 25:47-26:2, May 28, 2016

”You shall not make idols for yourselves, nor shall you set up a statue or a monument for yourselves. And in your land you shall not place a pavement stone on which to prostrate yourselves, for I am the Lord, your God.” (Leviticus Chapter 26:1)
Is this about God not being able to share? I like to think of “making idols” as knowing, where “not knowing” is about not attaching ourselves to that which we cannot know. In the same way that all the commandments are important, so to is it presumptuous to choose one person or thing to idolize and not another.

I believe that we should not even idolize God because we cannot know her. Idolizing is reducing something bigger than we are to something we can understand. But we can’t possibly understand the unknown in the same way that a two-dimensional shape can't know what it would be like to be of three dimensions. 

It is convenient to have statutes to worship. It is interesting (and I may be wrong) that for that years after their death, there were no statutes of Buddha (500 years  after his death) or Christ (200 years). As Blake wrote, “never pain to tell they love, love that never told can be.”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Parshat Behar, 6th Portion, Leviticus 25:39-46, May 27, 2016

“And if your brother becomes destitute with you, and is sold to you, do not work him with slave labor.“ (Leviticus 25:39)
In the NJPS (New Jewish Publication Society) the word kinsman is used. A brother/kinsman is one from your own country, as opposed to a slave that you would get from another land. It appears that slaves (from other lands) wouldn’t go free in the Jubilee year.

How is it that a group of people who placed justice as one of their highest values would have slaves? It is more understandable if the slave worked for you because they were indebted to you... but taking slaves in war? Is that right?

We know that Jews had a big role to play in the Civil Rights Movement. So this acceptance of slavery didn’t prevail. The idea of treating well your brother/kinsman slaves points to the beginning of realizing that we shouldn’t treat (some) as slaves even if we could. But what about those from another land?

Later we read that if you poke out the eye of slave or knock out a tooth you should let him go. So there is some movement toward ending slavery altogether. Maybe this was economically and morally as far as this ancient civilization could go.

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but didn’t post it because I hadn’t done a drawing for it. Now I think about something a rabbi said a few years ago, and something that Buddhists ascribe to their vows. It isn’t that we don’t follow the commandments (vows). It is that we don’t follow them yet. Doing the right thing is a path. We should try to improve. That’s the best we can be and/or do.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Parshat Behar, 5th Portion, Leviticus 25:29-38, May 26, 2016

“If your brother becomes destitute and his hand falters beside you, you shall support him [whether] a convert or a resident, so that he can live with you.” – [Leviticus 25-35)]
The commentary reads:
“Do not allow him to fall down and collapse altogether, in which case it would be difficult to pick him up again [from his dire poverty]. Rather, “support him” while his hand is still faltering [for then it is easier to help him out of his trouble]. To what can this be compared? To a load on a donkey-while it is still on the donkey, one person can grasp it and hold it in place. Once it falls to the ground, however, [even] five people cannot pick it up.” - [Torath Kohanim 25:71]
It was interesting to discover that brother (Hebrew: ach) can mean another, relative, fellow, companion, brethren. So where the word fellow meant Jew, the word brother could include anyone. See:

Here is a maxim that it is better to help someone before they have hit the bottom. I suspect it is sometimes true, and sometimes false. In any case, it is clear that the meaning is that you should help your fellow man (or woman).

If anyone had any doubt that Jews are told to help all people, they should see from this that they are commanded to do so. Generosity, in this context, is something that you “shall” do because it is a commandment. Here are the 613 commandments that Rambam (Maimonides): (Though, for some reason, Rambam missed this one.)

All the Mitzvah's (commandments) are equally important because as humans we don't know how God weighs one against another. This suggests that it is important to do them all, no matter how trivial one might seem.

One rabbi here in Austin said that it isn't that we don't follow some commandments, it is that we don't follow them yet.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Parshat Behar, 4th Portion, Leviticus 25:25-28, May 25, 2016

“If your brother becomes destitute and sells some of his inherited property, his redeemer who is related to him shall come forth and redeem his brother’s sale. and redeem his brother’s sale: and the purchaser cannot impede [the redemption]. 
And if a man does not have a redeemer, but he gains enough means to afford its redemption, he shall calculate the years for which the land has been sold, and return the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, and [then] he may return to his inheritance.” (Leviticus 25:25-27)
I read a couple of positive messages here:
  • That we should take care of our own (whatever that might mean). If a brother is in trouble, you should help him.
  • You should not gain from another’s bad luck.

But the other side of the coin:
  • Economically, this may not work for the destitute man. His inherited property will not be worth as much if it has the potential to be repossessed. So, to “add insult to injury,” his good fortune to inherit property has been diminished. 
  • Psychologically, this may encourage the classic “enabling” syndrome, where the brother bails out the spendthrift. Though the intention is admirable, will one be more apt to be responsible if they know they will not be bailed out?

Of course, there are circumstances where one is not responsible for becoming destitute. But the problem with this law is that the brother doesn’t have a choice to decide if it is time to help his brother or time to let him be destitute for awhile. Nor is the redeemer brother able to perform a generous deed, for he redeems because of a commandment rather than an open heart.

P.S. I tried this out on my kind-of brother-in-law (daughter’s father-in-law). I told him I was destitute and had to sell some inherited property. I asked him to buy it back for me. “No way,” he said. I replied, “But the good book says you need to do it.” And my plea went downhill from there, despite that he’s (normally) a very generous man. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Parshat Behar, 3rd Portion, Leviticus 25:19-24, May 24, 2016

“And the land will then yield its fruit and you will eat to satiety, and live upon it securely.” (Leviticus 25:19)
Every seven years Jews are told not to plant crops. Some say, “Oh, they knew about crop rotation.” 

In Torah study last week we discussed this section from another vantage point. Someone mentioned that not planting reverts the fields to the Garden of Eden, where fruit is plentiful. 

The seventh year parallels both the seven days of creation and the six days leading to the sabbath. In both cases, our work is not just rote work, but work to bring us back to God and the Earth. We appreciate the fruits of our labor. We are not just work horses, but we are given time to stand back and appreciate our labors. So our work is work, but it is work to create the Garden of Eden, a glimpse of the past and the future (when the Messiah comes). It is meaningful far beyond the yield of the crop. The rabbi suggested that our ability to work for God separates us from animals. I could object to this separation of man and animals, but I won’t. I thought the story, read this way, was pretty beautiful.

I had a number of sabbaticals every seventh year while I was teaching. It kept me and my colleagues “alive.” Doing the same thing day in and day out can get old. It would be nice if more people had an opportunity to try something different every once in a while.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Parshat Behar, 2nd Portion, Leviticus 25:14-18, May 23, 2016

“And when you make a sale to your fellow Jew or make a purchase from the hand of your fellow Jew, you shall not wrong one another.” (Leviticus 25:14)
This is a big topic for discussion by both the rabbis and atheists like Dawkins. Though the word “Jew” doesn’t occur here in the Hebrew, the particular word, “fellow,” meant a Jew.

One reading of this is that it is okay to wrong someone who isn’t a fellow Jew. Logically this is a stretch. If I say that the food at Safeway is safe to eat, I’m not saying anything about food at other groceries.

Later in Leviticus we read, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.” (Leviticus 34:19) This seems to put to rest the idea that the Jews don’t care about others. Though I wish that the argument wasn’t “that we were strangers in the land of Egypt.” First off, as strangers they were slaves. They were not treated well. And for another, are we only good to others because they were good to us? Or that we know how it is to be a stranger, because we were abused? Is the justification for our moral code simply that one will benefit if everyone follows it? That sounds more like pragmatism.

Another argument is the incremental one, that we (individually or collectively) practice fair play and generosity on larger and larger groups as we grow up. First it is one’s family, then the neighbors, and then everyone.

How is it that a president can talk about killing an enemy with pride, and condemn another for killing as if they were the scum of the Earth? Aren’t each a sentient being? I’m starting to stray here. Time to do a drawing.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Parshat Acharei, 4th Portion, Leviticus 17:1-7, April 20, 2016

The story here is that there should be a statute that you should not make offerings anyplace but the Tent of Meeting. If you do so, you'll be making sacrifice to the satyrs (woodland gods of Greek and Roman origins). You'll be breaking the commandment of worshiping other gods. 

It is important in Judaism that you do not study alone. Mistakes can be made, as I often do.  Doing sacrifices on your own incurs a similar problem. Doing the sacrifices in a proper place and time helps to insure that it will be done correctly.

“Any which way” will not suffice. This gets into the territory of an involuntary transgression, where we aren't mindful and the good intentions lead to bad outcomes.

A rabbi suggested that the law that offerings be done in the Tent of Meeting was the first step toward ending offerings. As the population grew, it would be inevitable that the Tent of Meeting wouldn't be large enough. And then the two temples were destroyed, ending the practice for good.

My wife asks why bother with any of this stuff about offerings when we aren't going to do them? What difference do they make now?

It was hard to explain, given the noise of the popcorn popper, the faucet running, and the TV on. But I'll try here. 

In Ecclesiastes 3 we hear that there is a time for everything. As there is a time for everything, so there is a place. This “statute” tells us that we need to be deliberate where we do things. We learn from Aaron's sons being zapped that how we do things is equally of consequence.

This is a teaching story, as we find other teaching stories throughout the Torah.

In a sense, only some spaces are sacred. And, looked at another way, all spaces are sacred. And, one more way, no place is sacred. Maybe it is our faith that makes our spaces sacred. In any case, doing an offering out in the woods is messing with dangerous territory, whether it will be worshipping satyrs or another involuntary (or voluntary) transgression. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Parshat Acharei, 3rd Portion, Leviticus 16:25-34, April 19, 2016

“And he shall effect atonement upon the Holy of Holies, and he shall effect atonement upon the Tent of Meeting and upon the altar, and he shall effect atonement upon the kohanim and upon all the people of the congregation. [All] this shall be as an eternal statute for you, to effect atonement upon the children of Israel, for all their sins, once each year. And he did as the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Leviticus 16:33-34)
I wrote earlier today a sequel to yesterday’s post: Involuntary Transgressions: Lifting up the Chair.

What interests me in the above Torah passage is the idea of atonement, and that the act should be a statute.

Atonement is Christianity appears to be about reconciling with Christ. I’m sure my Christian friends will correct me if I’m wrong.

In Judaism it seems that it is also about reconciling, but this time with God. I do not think that it is a process of God forgiving, but rather that the harm we do keeps us from experiencing the good, in the same way that hate keeps us from love.

We need to take a shower of the crud that we accumulate. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the holiest of holidays. Perhaps it is because it is the point where we become “throughly scrubbed of our transgressions” from the last year, so that we can love more purely.

Statute vs. statue: Is it a coincidence that the words are so similar. The idea of a ceremony becoming a statue is interesting too. Especially in a religion that speaks against graven images. I like the idea of a statute/statue not being a physical object, but being a procedure and an ideal. The ultimate goal is reconciliation. I suspect, because we are humans, we are not reconciled for long. The crud quickly comes back, ready for another shower. Buddhists believe that the world reconstitutes itself moment by moment. Each moment is a new moment. It is constant work to even attempt to be reconciled, be it with God, a family member or friend.

P.S. A friend sent this quote:
“Each activity you perform is an opportunity to observe the ways mind and body can work together and how they can sometimes conflict. The mind can spend hours worrying about a simple task that will take the body only minutes to perform. Although the music may be long, the dance itself is short.” —Gary Thorp, “The Dust Beyond the Cushion”
Perhaps one can see atonement as not unifying us with God, but rather bringing our body and mind together. And bringing our intentions and actions together.

P.S.S. Driving home, I thought atonement not being about shame or guilt. Guilt, for me, has to do with low self-esteem, and shame is about how we think others see us. What separates and quiets us is simply moving the crud away. Then we can reunite, not only with ourselves, but with others as well.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Parshat Acharei, 2nd Portion, Leviticus 16:18-24, April 18, 2016

“And Aaron shall lean both of his hands [forcefully] upon the live he goat’s head and confess upon it all the willful transgressions of the children of Israel, all their rebellions, and all their unintentional sins, and he shall place them on the he goat’s head, and send it off to the desert with a timely man. 
The he goat shall thus carry upon itself all their sins to a precipitous land, and he shall send off the he goat into the desert.” (Leviticus 16:21-22)
There is another way to think about the possibility that one man can confess the transgressions of the many. Rather than one man being separate from the many, suppose that he is just part of the whole.

When I say, I see you, it is actually my eyes that see you, and then my mind identifies “what I see” as you, yet I attribute all the seeing to “I” rather than to my limited eye and mind.

In the same way, we can think of the priest as part of the community. Like a lawyer, he represents the community and can act on their behalf because he is one with the community.

My foot doesn’t need to know that I’m seeing you... and yet it is part of the entire event.

Who is the goat that carries away our sins? Is this a parlor trick? Is the goat a metaphor for our confession and regret for our sins?

Have we hurt the goat, burdening her with our sins? Some say the goat goes over a cliff. Is this fair if it really is a goat and not just our confession and remorse?

We know that the scapegoat doesn’t really excuse the perpetrator. Maybe a good reading of this section would be: who are you kidding... the only way to get rid of sins is to deal with them directly. They can’t be thrown out by a priest or a goat.

Some of our transgressions are unintentional. Here’s a discussion of the Talmudic interpretation of such acts. As is often the case, the rabbis disagree whether it is allowed to do an unintentional transgression.

An example that is mentioned in the Talmud is suppose your child wants to play with the head of a chicken. There is no problem here in cutting off the head of the chicken, other than it should have been obvious that the chicken would die, which is a transgression (taking life for no purpose). So the guiding light should have been whether you should have known better. Manslaughter is another example from our modern world. You don’t intend to kill someone while you are driving home inebriated. Yet your car jumps the curb and kills someone. You did exhibit poor judgment which led to a bad deed. Unintentional? Yes. Ok? No.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Parshat Acharei, 1st Portion, Leviticus 16:1-17, April 17, 2016

“And no man shall be in the Tent of Meeting when he comes to effect atonement in the Holy, until he comes out. And he shall effect atonement for himself, for his household, and for all the congregation of Israel.” (Leviticus 16:1-17)
I think it interesting that one person can atone for the sins of his community. I'm not sure what the benefit of such an action would be.  If he or she atoned for me, would I feel less guilty? Would I go to Heaven (which Jews don't quite believe in)? Will they please God on my behalf? Would I feel remorse?

If Aaron atones for my sins, do I still have to do so? Do we believe that God has an extensive data base which keeps track of all this?

I suspect that the act of atonement is one of setting an intention without any expectation of benefit. That is all we can do—saying I'm sorry or expressing gratitude. What the world gives me in return is up for grabs? But if I'm not aware that Aaron has atoned for me, or that Christ died for my sins, would it make any difference in my life?

We learn in Leviticus 16:1 “and they died,” referring to Aaron's two sons who died by improperly making an offering. There are many kinds of death. For a man not to have a son is a type of death. My father's stepfather divorced my dad's mom when it was discovered that she could not have any more children. He needed a son for his pseudo-immortality. Another type of death is to be estranged from community or God. Perhaps these deaths are even more painful than the physical death that we abhor.

Is there a 1:1 correspondence between our actions and what happens to us? It doesn't appear so in the physical realm. But how about the mental realm. How we are treated by others is sometimes more important than our physical lives. That is why some kids who are bullied will take their own lives. They want to be released from a punishment worse than death. Or why more US soldiers die of suicide that in battle. They have died spiritually as they faced the horrors of war. Ending their physical life was the only release.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Parshat Metzora, 7th Portion, Leviticus 15:29-33, April 16, 2016

“And on the eighth day, she shall take for herself two turtle doves or two young doves, and bring them to the kohen, to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting. 
And the kohen shall make one into a sin offering and one into a burnt offering, and the kohen shall effect atonement for her, before the Lord, from the uncleanness of her discharge. 
And you shall separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness, so that they will not die on account of their uncleanness, if they defile My Sanctuary which is in their midst.” (Leviticus 15:29-33)
We try hard to understand these laws, using every bit of our rational mind. Many of the laws we can rationalize, that is, we can see that the world will work better if we follow them. An example of them it that we should not do onto others as we would not want them to do to us.

But other laws, such as the law concerned the exiling of a women who is menstruating, are called chukkim, which means that they are decrees from God and cannot be rationalized. In a sense, we do them a disservice when we try to rationalize. A good attorney can justify any action. Anything can be rationalized. But not necessarily understood for what it is.

The obvious question for an outsider like myself is whether I want to follow laws that are not logical. A law against text messaging while driving makes sense, especially if we are going to trust the statistics. But a law about not kissing in a public place... well, maybe not.

I suspect we have a huge number of conventions that we follow because we've learned to do them. In a sense, that makes us part of a group when we obey, and an outsider when we do not. Some of the streets in Austin are narrow. When you see someone coming in the opposite direction one person should pull over. The convention is that you pull over if you are able and let the other car through. Some outsiders just rush through, and force you to play “chicken” with them. 

Starting in the Garden of Eden, humans make choices, and having the ability to make choices makes us human. The world is filled with opposites, including the idea that some behavior (voluntary or involuntary) makes us clean or unclean. 

In Buddhism there is a heavenly realm where things are like we'd like them to be, and the human realm where we can follow our habitual patterns... or we can create new karma. That is the best realm to be born into. That is our choice at all crossroads. For example: you are cut off when driving... you can raise your middle finger, or realize that you don't know what kind of day the cutter offer has had. You have a choice and that makes you human.

In a homogeneous community, the penalties if you rock the boat are severe. In America, you can rock the boat with less criticism because we are so diverse. You'll have many on the sidelines either cheering or booing, as we see with presidential candidates that don't follow their party's line.

What about the dying on account of their uncleanness? Is that to get us to follow the commandments? Or is it metaphorical, saying that if we don't pay attention and make the right choices, we'll be shunned from our community? Remember that God says to Adam and Eve in the creation story that they will die because they did not obey God.

Life is a serious business. Which may be why some don't like to think of it as a game, which is what I proposed yesterday.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Parshat Metzora, 6th Portion, Leviticus 15:16-28, April 15, 2016

“A man from whom there is a discharge of semen, shall immerse all his flesh in water, and he shall remain unclean until evening.” (Leviticus 15:16)
“If a woman has a discharge, her flesh discharging blood, she shall remain in her state of menstrual separation for seven days, and whoever touches her shall become unclean until evening.” (Leviticus 15:19)
More about discharges here. Remember that “unclean” is not something that one should necessarily avoid, for discharges are inevitable for both the man and the woman. This is not about sin, but rather about whether people should be separated from the community and whether they need to immerse in water before they can perform religious acts (prayer, study of Torah, etc.).

Some say that the women is unjustly punished for menstruating. Maybe she looks forward to this time away from a litter of kids. I suspect my daughter, as much as she loves her kids, wouldn’t mind living somewhere else occasionally and getting a break.

And the man has to immerse every morning unless he stayed up all night studying the Torah. So the bias isn’t clear.

I mentioned yesterday the idea that life is a game. The Torah is the rule book. For those who try to apply the Torah to their lives, they find that their situation might not fit the situation defined in the Torah. So they read the Mishnah and the Talmud for further clarification. I suspect they would also ask their rabbi. They might have to make a decision on their own. For example, what constitutes a discharge? A drop? Two drops?

I like this blog post: Life is a Game and You Make the Rules, especially the part of value statements. We see all around us a range of values. Some think everyone should have the right to own guns, and others believe they should not. Some think that wealth should be redistributed, and others don’t. We believe our values are “right.” The post suggests that wanting them to be right doesn’t make them so. Yet we call your neighbor “stupid” because they don’t share our values.

In Buddhism, there is the concept of Âçrava, which means “leaking,” “oozing,” or “flowing out.” It is a general name for evils, like letting out avarice, anger, and lust. It is not that we won’t feel these urges, but that we don’t have to act on them. I’ve heard it described that we can alternately learn to let them come to their natural end. In the Torah, that is often done with time and immersion, and sometimes capped off with an offering or two or three. Is this another possible reading for the discharges?

Friday, April 15, 2016

Parshat Metzora, 5th Portion, Leviticus 14:54-15:15, April 14, 2016

“Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them, If any man has a discharge from his flesh, his discharge is unclean.” (Leviticus 15:2)
Is life a game? Imagine the promiscuous Christian girl who does crazy things on Saturday night and then on Sunday goes to confession and tells it all, only to repeat her crime wave the next weekend. Is she playing a game?

Or imagine the student who buys essays and aces college? Is this someone who is playing the game well? It was pointed out at the college I taught at that if every teacher gave students a second chance when they cheated, the students would be graduating with a high GPA before you could say “Jack Rabbit.”

Is the discharge the result of not taking life seriously? Does “playing a game” necessarily mean that you are demeaning life? Is the discharge metaphorically a spiritual discharge—evidence that we lost our connection to the Lord?

There is that saying, “you are just playing a game.” In the debate tonight with Bernie and Hillary, a question was asked about where the guns in NYC came from, and Bernie laughed. Hillary was very solemn and said this was a very serious matter. In this moment, we saw how her heart had been touched by those families who had lost loved ones in a shooting. It seemed like she was thoroughly invested in reducing guns to save lives.

When we see a serious “player” we sense they are not playing a game. Martin Luther King and Jackson Pollock were not playing. They were fully embodied in their work. We trust each of their messages because we don’t think they were acting. When MLK said, “I have a dream,” he wasn’t (or so we believe) playing. He meant it with his heart and soul. And he’d give his life for that dream. And the same goes with Jackson Pollock. He wasn’t a graphic designer conjuring up a marketable look. He was embodied in his paintings, again as if they were a matter of great consequence.

The discharge is the inauthentic. It is that part of us that doesn’t take the other seriously. We can say “I love you” in a multitude of ways. Do we mean it? We discharge that which isn’t who we are. We insult our inheritance (who we really are, our original nature).

Perhaps, in the case of professional athletes, I’m insulting them by saying that they are just playing a game. They are serious... beyond serious... as is my 14-year-old grand niece swimming champion. She’s activating every bit of her embodied self to beat her own time and the time of others. Maybe the answer is: Yes, life is a game... and games are very serious. I don’t know.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Parshat Metzora, 4th Portion, Leviticus 14:33-53, April 13, 2016

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, When you come to the land of Canaan, which I am giving you as a possession, and I place a lesion of tzara'ath upon a house in the land of your possession, and the one to whom the house belongs comes and tells the kohen, saying, "Something like a lesion has appeared to me in the house," the kohen shall order that they clear out the house, before the kohen comes to look at the lesion, so that everything in the house should not become unclean. After this, the kohen shall come to look at the house.” (Leviticus 33-36)
We read here that the Lord has placed the tzara’ath in the house. Did he do this because he's mean, or for some other reason? I'm assuming that God is not mean, though if you talk to people, you'd hear about all the unfortunate things that happen in their lives. Perhaps the mold is a mirror to let us see that something is awry.

My son called with some unfortunate news. I apologized to him for not telling him earlier in his life that good and bad things happen to us. They alternate, like a pendulum. And when we get upset, then we have two problems to deal with... the original problem, and our being upset because we have a challenge. One problem is easier to solve than two. (See the Sallatha (Dart) Sutra.)

Leprosy in the Torah is associated with evil speech, gossip and murmuring. The home is an important institution in Judaism, second only to the temple. Torah should be discussed at every meal. Having a family is one of the greatest acts that a Jew can do. The menorah sits in the window to light the world.

When something is wrong in the house, it demands attention. Typically there is an issue with speech. Someone either said something that they shouldn't, or didn't say something they should have said.

Unlike mold remediation companies, the kohen just inspects the mold. If there is mold, he quarantines the house. If that doesn't cure the problem, he has the people plaster the house, and take the stones near the mold away from the house.

Finally, when the mold is cleared, the kohen performs an offering. I love this two step process. Solve the problem, and then offer gratitude that the problem is solved.

We often don't do step #2. We are fixing things all the time, but not looking enough at why things broke. Your family is dysfunctional. You go on a family vacation, or to a family therapist, and learn to talk together. Problem solved. But not really any closure. You don't assess what really caused the problem and you have just eradicated the symptom rather than the problem. It is time for an offering. We often miss that final step, and the mold quickly reappears.