Monday, December 29, 2014

Parshat Shlach, 4th Portion (Numbers 14:26-15:7), June 11, 2014

Lord says to Moses, “How much longer will this evil congregation who are causing to complain against Me [exist]? The complaints of the children of Israel which they caused them to complain against Me, I have heard.” —Numbers 14:27

I see G_d as something not separate from us, but rather a conceptual fiber that connects all things. Given that view, which is a pair of glasses that I created and then put on, the idea being so upset that A complains about B doesn't make a lot of sense. But what I do get from this is what happens when people don't have gratitude, and/or when they don't connect with a spirit greater than themselves. They become lost in their belief that the world is just created to serve them. They are unable to love and unable to give. And because of this, they lead miserable life and need to wander for 40 years in order that they can grow up.

“Your children shall wander in the desert for forty years and bear your defection until the last of your corpses has fallen in the desert.” —Numbers 14:33

And this is what happens when we judge the world in terms of how it fulfills our every whim:

“The Amalekites and the Canaanites who lived on the mountain came down and smote them and crushed them [pursuing them] until Hormah.” —Numbers 14:45

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Parshat Shlach, 3rd Portion (Numbers 14:8-14:25), June 10, 2014

It is curious that the Lord would care that people would believe in him. We think that leaders don't care if they are being followed, but in the case of the Lord this is not true.

It is curious too that G_d, who in this Parshat is said by Moses to be “slow to anger and abundantly kind, forgiving iniquity and transgression” would want to “strike them [the Egyptians] with a plague and annihilate them; then ... make you into a nation, greater and stronger than they.”

If I were to pick a G_d, it would not be one who would choose one people over another. Does the expression of this apparent injustice teach us what it feels to exhibit favouritism? 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Parshat Shlach, 2nd Portion (Numbers 13:21-14:7), Monday, 11 Sivan 5774 / June 9, 2014

“The twelve spies went to Hamath to see if the Jews could move to this land. They return and report:

There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes.”  —Numbers 13:33

On the other hand:

“6. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had scouted the land, tore their clothes.

7. They spoke to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, saying, "The land we passed through to scout is an exceedingly good land.” —Numbers 14:6-7

One would think that if you had 12 spies and 10 gave one opinion and 2 the other, that the majority opinion would be correct. But it was not. Do we learn that fear skews our vision?

The idea of having 12 jurors go back 800 years to King Henry. Or do they go back to these times, though in this case the majority was wrong. In the recent election, many claimed that the majority was wrong. How do we determine who has wisdom?

So many lessons here: Don't listen to others. Our perceptions are tainted by our fears. The truth is not always apparent. Often the lessons in the Torah are in showing us the results of poor behavior or advice.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Parshat Shlach, 1st Portion (Numbers 13:1-13:20), June 8, 2014

“Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst.” —Numbers 13:2

“Moses sent them to scout the Land of Canaan, and he said to them, "Go up this way in the south and climb up the mountain.” —Numbers 13-17

To me, this is about finding one's place in the world. And it is also about our tendency to not see things as they are, but rather as we fear or wish they might be.

Joshua is called to scout as well, and, according to Sotah, Moses prays, “May God save you from the counsel of the spies.” Joshua is warned in the prayer that he may not want to listen to others, but rather to make his independent judgment. So Moses suspects that the spies reports may not be reliable.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Parshat Behaalotecha, 7th Portion (Numbers 11:30-12:16), June 7, 2014

The people ask for meat, and God sends them quail from the sea. And the quail are at chest height so that they can catch them easily. And some of the quail kill the men, for God is angry at their craving.

In the next chapter, we discover that Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because he married a Cushite woman. Miriam learns about this inadvertently, but by relating what happened innocently is still punished for criticizing Moses. Aaron intentionally criticizes Moses which was worse. God gets mad at Miriam and Aaron, and causes an affliction (tzara'ath) on Miriam. Moses cries out to God to heal her. She was confined outside the camp for seven days and then could return.

Lessons: Don't speak poorly of another, even by accident.

And don't complain when you are released from slavery because you don't have meat. Take what you have.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Parshat Behaalotecha, 6th Portion (Numbers 10:35-11:29), June 6, 2014

I like this portion. The people were complaining that they didn't have meat to eat. The Lord was so angry about the complaining that a fire burnt the extremes of the camp.

Why doesn't the Lord like complaining? Why don't your parents like it when you complain? Why can't we express gratitude for what we have rather than complain for what we don't have?

They have nothing but manna to eat. They learned to make different foods with it, like an oil cake.

God speaks to Moses, telling him he wants to speak to 70 of the elders and officers.

And God tells the people that he will give them meat tomorrow. And he says that they should eat it until it comes out of their noses and nauseates them.

God says, “If sheep and cattle were slaughtered for them, would it suffice for them? If all the fish of the sea were gathered for them, would it suffice for them?”

The Lord asks if his power is limited. Does Moses not believe that he has these skills?

The portion describes how Moses picked 70 from the 12 tribes. Why did G_d not say 72 leaders?

My wife keeps saying, “If G_d is so good, why doesn't he ....?”

Finally two men remain after G_d gave his pep talk. Joshua asked Moses to imprison them. Moses criticizes Joshua for being zealous, asking Moses to do something that Moses should have already considered.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Parshat Behaalotecha, 5th Portion (Numbers 10:11-10:34), June 5, 2014

This portion is interesting. The Israelites didn't realize that they'd be 40 years in the desert. They thought they were just three days from their promised land. But because of their complaining that follows this portion, a simple journey becomes a long one.

This is the nature of life. Simple jobs get difficult and difficult jobs are sometimes easy. Part of the determinate is our attitude.

The legions or troops move to the next location one group at a time. We see a well-thought-out plan for the exit. And a cloud followed them as they traveled, believed to be the Eternal.

I think the word the Eternal is problematic because some people take it as a man in the sky, while I take it as the nature of what is. How do we converse when we use the same word to mean something so different?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Parshat Behaalotecha, 4th Portion (Numbers 9:15-10:10), June 4, 2014

We read in this portion how, when the Mishkan was erected, a cloud would cover it, and in the evening until morning, there was an appearance of fire (a sunset). Whenever the cloud left, they would travel, and whenever the cloud settled, they would encamp.

The question I had here is were they superstitious, or did they believe that the cloud was G_d. When we say that God led them through the desert, did we mean by this device?

The departure was to be announced by two silver trumpets. Blowing two trumpets was so that the entire congregation would assemble, and blowing one would call the princes who led the Israelites.

There were a number of different sequences of blowing the trumpets. This would indicate different actions for different groups of Israelites.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Parshat Behaalotecha, 3rd Portion (Numbers 9:1-9:14), June 3, 2014

6. There were men who were ritually unclean [because of contact with] a dead person, and therefore could not make the Passover sacrifice on that day. So they approached Moses and Aaron on that day.

7. Those men said to him, "We are ritually unclean [because of contact] with a dead person; [but] why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?

8. Moses said to them, "Wait, and I will hear what the Lord instructs concerning you."

9. The Lord spoke to Moses saying:  

10. Speak to the children of Israel saying, Any person who becomes unclean from [contact with] the dead, or is on a distant journey, whether among you or in future generations, he shall make a Passover sacrifice for the Lord.

What is interesting here is that either the Lord became a little more forgiving, or realized how important Passover is. Is this the same Lord that struck Aaron's sons dead for a minor infraction? Or is the Lord a reflection of the maturity of the people. Though, thinking about it, did this part occur before or after the death of Aaron's sons.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Parshat Behaalotecha, 2nd Portion (Numbers 8:15-8:26), June 2, 2014

In this portion we learn the role of the Levites. It says they should work at the Tent of Meeting from the ages of 25 to 50, and then they should work no more.

They are not to provide any services. They are just responsible to do the work in the temple.

What this says to me is that certain people should do certain work. We now call this “one's calling.” Not only do people have a calling, but there is a time for working, and there is a time to no longer work. 

Why would G_d make such a rule? Was it to give others a chance to work? Was it because when you are younger than 25 you are more likely to make poor decisions, and after the age of 50 your hands might be shaky and you might break something? Or perhaps you have paid your dues. 

In the same way that there is a weekly sabbath, there is the sabbath of one's life. 

Studying the Torah was not an avocation then, since it hadn't been written yet. And there were still animal offerings. But I wonder what the ancients would do with their life after 50, as I wonder what I should be doing now that I don't work at a regular job.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Parshat Behaalotecha, 1st Portion (Numbers 8:1-8:14), June 1, 2014

Speak to Aaron and say to him: "When you light the lamps, the seven lamps shall cast their light toward the face of the menorah." —Numbers 8:2

I read different commentaries on this. I have my own. That the menorah symbolizes G_d. The light ascends to G_d.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Parshat Naso, 7th Portion (Numbers 7:84-7:89), May 31th, 2014

“When Moses would come into the Tent of Meeting to speak with Him, he would hear the voice speaking to him from the two cherubim above the covering which was over the Ark of Testimony, and He spoke to him.” —Numbers 7:89

In this portion we hear about the offerings to comprise the dedication for the Tent of Meeting. This tent, a metaphor for the temples and churches throughout the world, formed the backbone for the community. By everyone giving to the temple they because invested. They were part of the Tent of Meeting. Everyone gave what they could. And the giving was well organized so that the Temple got what it needed as well. We see these people as very disciplined and very organized.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Parshat Naso, 6th Portion (Numbers 7:42-7:83), May 30th, 2014

One young he goat for a sin offering.” —Numbers 7:46

Lots of offerings for the priests in this portion. I wonder how the Jews could have owned so many animals that they had some to give to the priests. And there must have lots of priests for them to need all the animals and money. 

I wonder if this is a giant con job on the part of the priests. Did the people believe they'd get preferential treatment from G_d for their generosity? 

Were they good Jews or scared Jews? Why do people give so much today to their temples? Is it so they have a home?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Parshat Naso, 5th Portion (Numbers 7:1-7:41), May 29, 2014

In this portion, Moses has finished erecting the Mishkan. Then “he anointed it, sanctified it, and all its vessels, and the altar and all its vessels, and he anointed them and sanctified them.”

It is somewhat surprising that a group of people, recently released from slavery and traveling in a desert, would pay such attention to building a mobile temple. And that they would do it with such attention.

We hear that people pay attention first to their necessities and then to their luxuries. We need to assume that the Jews were having a difficult time in the hot desert with little food and water, yet they paid such attention to the Tabernacle and the offerings that were described later in this portion.

What was the reason for this? Was it that they were afraid that G_d would not support them if they didn't behave accord to his dictate? Is this really love when it is dominated by a quid pro quo with G_d?

Worship was not a luxury or an option. It was necessary for survival.

Is this really different that religious groups today? We even see that they build tents when they don't have brick and mortar structures. And we find that some of the poorest people are the most devout. Is that a quagmire? 

For me, religion is an option. I don't think that there is a being or computer out there that is tracking my actions and who will bring good to me if I follow an organized faith, and punish me if I don't. We have not seen evidence in the past that believers are cared for and non-believers are not.

“11. The Lord said to Moses: One chieftain each day, one chieftain each day, shall present his offering for the dedication of the altar.

12. The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nahshon the son of Amminadab of the tribe of Judah.

13. And his offering was one silver bowl weighing one hundred and thirty [shekels], one silver sprinkling basin [weighing] seventy shekels according to the holy shekel, both filled with fine flour mixed with olive oil for a meal offering.” —Numbers 17:11-13

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Parshat Naso, 4th Portion (Numbers 5:11-6:27), May 28th, 2014

17. The kohen shall take holy water in an earthen vessel, and some earth from the Mishkan floor, the kohen shall take and put it into the water.

18. Then the kohen shall stand the woman up before the Lord and expose the [hair on the] head of the woman; he shall place into her hands the remembrance meal offering, which is a meal offering of jealousies, while the bitter curse bearing waters are in the kohen's hand.

19. The kohen shall then place her under oath, and say to the woman, “If no man has lain with you and you have not gone astray to become defiled [to another] in place of your husband, then [you will] be absolved through these bitter waters which cause the curse.

20. But as for you, if you have gone astray [to another] instead of your husband and have become defiled, and another man besides your husband has lain with you...”

21. The kohen shall now adjure the woman with the oath of the curse, and the kohen shall say to the woman, “May the Lord make you for a curse and an oath among your people, when the Lord causes your thigh to rupture and your belly to swell.” —Numbers 5:17-21

When I showed my drawing to my wife, she was furious that any religion would do such a thing. It certainly reminded me of the Salem Witch Trials.

I wonder whether what we are seeing is much more humane than was the custom by others. Perhaps in other societies if a man suspected that his wife was cheating on him he could just throw her over the cliff. At least here she has a possibility to prove her innocence. Given it isn't what we think is a just trial. Nor do we get the impression that if a woman suspected that her husband was stepping out on him that he'd have to go through the same ordeal. That equality (if it exists) was slow to come.

I'm curious what kind of mechanism the Jews believed would determine whether the woman would survive this ordeal or whether her thigh would burst from the concoction? Would G_d protect her? If not, did they believe her guilt (if she had been a cheat) would have done her in?

Do we blame Judaism for what might have been a leap forward in justice for women? As primitive as the “test” sounds today, I suspect it was quite a leap forward.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Parshat Naso, 3rd Portion (Numbers 5:1-5:10), May 27, 2014

I'm surprised again about the lack of empathy for the disabled. Anyone who has been afflicted with tzara'ath (disfigurative conditions of the skin, hair of the beard and head, clothing made of linen or wool, or stones of homes located in the land of Israel) or a male discharge, or who has had contact with the dead should be banished.

Then the Lord tells Moses that if people swear to G_d falsely they should pay the injured party what they owe, plus one fifth. We see often that one fifth is added to a debt.

And if there is no one to give the restitution to them it shall go to the kohen, unless there is a kinsman of the injured. And the first fruit of the season should be given to the kohen.

In the commentary it says, ““Everyone’s holy things belong to him,” which informs us that their benefit [to give them to whichever kohen it pleases him] belongs to the owner. They [the Sages] deduced many other expository explanations from it [this clause] in the Sifrei (Naso 1:31-34). An Aggadic interpretation: “Everyone’s holy things belong to him” [means,] if one withholds his tithes and does not give them [to the kohen or Levite], those tithes shall be his, for eventually his field will produce only a tenth of its usual yield.”

This is interesting in terms of the karmic effect of not tithing.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Parshat Naso, 2nd Portion (Numbers 4:29-4:49), May 26, 2014

Again we learn about the project management for moving the Tent of Meeting from place to place. The sons of Merari, who are between the ages of 30 and 50, are in charge of the planks, the bars, the pillars and the sockets.

Look how no one is separate in this challenge of moving the Tent from place to place. It would have been so much easier to not build a tent.

I sense that this is an effort to cement together the people by giving each a critical role. As a by-product, each is learning to run a business. I suspect that those under the age of 30 are drafted into the army.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Parshat Naso, 1st Portion (Numbers 4:21-4:28), May 25, 2014

There are 8580 Levite men between the ages of 30 and 50 who have the job of transporting the Tabernacle.

They have a very important job to do. They are trusted with continuing their religion. The carrying of the Tabernacle was symbolic of carrying on their faith. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Parshat Bamidbar, 7th Portion (Numbers 4:1-4:20), May 24, 2014

So my challenge with the Torah today is to figure out how reading it could possibly be a religious, spiritual, or useful experience.

In this portion, Moses and Aaron, prodded by the Lord, are counting the sons of Kohath to recruit them to work in the Tent of Meeting. But Aaron and his sons take down the dividing screen in front of the Holy of Holies. The Levite sons of Kohath only carry them.

Are we talking here about defining our “calling?” Each of us has a job, and all these jobs work together the betterment of the community.

The alternative is chaos. Or so we are led to believe.

“ they should live and not die, when they approach the Holy of Holies. Aaron and his sons shall first come and appoint each man individually to his task and his load.” —Numbers 4:19

Are we seeing here the beginning of a very civilized society?

Are some things are so special that people will die if they see them? “They shall not come in to see when the holy [vessels] are being wrapped up, lest they die.” —Numbers 4:20

We saw with Aaron's other sons lose their lives because they did the wrong thing in the temple. This is a serious matter, what we do and don't do in our lives. Life can not be taken lightly. The community depends on you as an essential cog in the wheel.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Parshat Bamidbar, 6th Portion (Numbers 3:40-3:51), May 23, 2014

God tells Moses to count the babes and then the
parents have to give $ to his son and grandsons. 

Moses is asked to count newborns who are at least one month old. Perhaps babies aren't “really” born until they are one month old because could be premature. I suspect too that if they live for one month, the chances are better that they will be alive for a longer time.

 “So Moses counted every firstborn of Israel, as the Lord had commanded him.” —Numbers 3:42

This reading sounds like people are paying in advance for the temple. I notice my suspicion that stories are being told to get money from the people. So Papa Moses counts the babes and then has their parents give money for each kid to his brother Aaron and his two sons. This is done per G_d. Do we really believe G_d talks to Moses? What is the metaphor? We should contribute to the temple?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Parshat Bamidbar, 5th Portion (Numbers 3:14-3:39), May 22, 2014

“...any outsider who approaches shall be put to death.”

Now the Levites are counted. And the work for the Mishkan is distributed, again by family.

The Jews were slaves. They might not have had a lot of experience organizing workers. But they did it in a very orderly and logical manner.

I read, “...any outsider who approaches shall be put to death.” I notice how I wish it would say that outsiders would be hugged. Must we assume that this was a hostile world? Am I being tested again? Were the Jews paranoid? Do they put strangers to death because they are afraid of being killed or taken as slaves. Or is it because the outsiders worship other gods?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Parshat Bamidbar, 4th Portion (Numbers 3:1-3:13), May 21, 2014

Aaron and his two remaining sons manage the Levis who mind the vessels in the Tent of Meeting

Not as many people read my Torah study as they do my I was discouraged.

Then I remembered what I said in a Weight Watchers meeting, when the question was asked, what do you do when you've reached a plateau? “Oh,” I said, “I would congratulate myself on sticking with the program.”

So it will be with this Torah study, which is done as a practice for me. Studying the Torah took the place of offerings and sacrifices after the destruction of the second temple.

There is wisdom in the Torah, but for me, part of the usefulness is that I watch myself react to this or that insanity. It is in the watching that I grow.

For example, in this reading, it is clear that the tribe of Levi will serve Aaron and take charge of the vessels at the Tent of Meeting. So I ask myself, why should one tribe have the duty or privilege to do this? Why isn't this job given to the most deserving? While others might have to go to war, and perhaps be killed, the Levis are messing around in the Tent of Meeting. Is this fair? Of course not. It is fair that a crazy disease is scary the world to death? Of course not. But that's been our history.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Parshat Bamidbar, 3rd Portion (Numbers 2:1-2:34), May 20, 2014

Much organization of the camps. There are four divisions: Ephraim, Reuben, Judah, and Dan. Each of the divisions have three tribes. In the center, around the Tabernacle, should be the Levites who will not be counted.

Perhaps counting soldiers is a system to account for whether they all survive. The Levites are close to home, so to speak, so they will notice if someone disappears. Counting is not necessary.

I still marvel at the thought that the Torah is a religious book. What is religious about describing where people are going to be camped? Why are each tribe in an area with their families? Are families the highest value?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Parshat Bamidbar, 2nd Portion (Numbers 1:20-1:54), May 19, 2014

In this portion we learn more about the census. Only the males over 20 are counted, for they were the ones ready to go into the army. They were going to be led into the desert to fight, almost as if they would be led to a death camp, for they were part of those who sinned by making the golden calf.

The Levi clan, on the other hand, was not counted because they did not sin with the golden calf. And they had a job to do: they would assemble and disassemble the Tabernacle as it was moved through the desert.

Funny that those with the most important job were not counted.

This portion ends telling us that the children of Israel did as they were told. This indicates that they were growing up and realized the power and the wrath of the Lord.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Parshat Bamidbar, 1st Portion (Numbers 1:1-1:19), May 18, 2014

This first reading in the Book of Numbers tells about census taking. Everyone is accounted for, and their pedigree is recorded. So not only is everyone important as individuals, but they are distinct by their pedigree.

This happened on the first day of the second month after the exodus from Egypt. It was a tally of who were left after the sin of the golden calf. This would be the crew to man the boat for the next 39 years through the Sinai Desert. a momentous occasion.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Parshat Bechukotai, 7th Portion (Leviticus 27:29-27:34), May 17, 2014

Once a person has been sentenced to die (which only has happened once in modern Israel), he cannot be redeemed for money because his life is not worth anything. 

The tithe of the land belongs to the Lord so if someone redeems it they have to add a fifth to it. They might want to redeem it to give it to a foreign land.

I suppose here the priests are looking out for their reserves.

When you give your tithe in lambs or calves, then you should stand by the gate and hit every tenth one with stick that has been dipped in vermillion.

You should not check to see if the animals chosen for the tithing are good or bad. But if you do, you shall not offer a substitute for it. And if you do, then both the “one and its replacement are holy” ... in other words, you need to give the good one and eat the bad one. You should not use the bad one for shorn (wool) or labor. This is all about being fair, isn't it?

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Parshat Bechukotai, 6th Portion (Leviticus 27:22-27:28), May 16, 2014

I think there is confusion in my family, and in my own mind, with this Bar Mitzvah I'm working toward. Some people become a Jew or a Buddhist or whatever with a lot of pride. I was imagining how I'd give a talk at my Bar Mitzvah and explain how I'm proud to be many things, but most of all a human being.

When I hear people say "Jews do this" I wonder what regular folks do? I heard a rabbi talk about forgiveness today as part of a Yon Kippur event. He said that Jews must ask for forgiveness three times. It isn't enough, either, to ask in the same way three times. All of this is well and good, but I wish it was about being a human being, and not just being a Jew.

My parents didn't expose us to Judaism. I think they had different reasons for this. My dad wished to protect us. He believed that our chances would be best in the world being part of the human race rather than part of an ethnic/religious sect. He was friends with the whole gamut of the race, from Arabs (he spoke Arabic), to Christians, and finally to atheists and agnostics (which he claimed he was). My mom, on the other hand, thought that religion was backward and that it was opposed to her independence. She considered herself a rank individualist. Which she was.

The question is not what Buddha would do, not what Jesus would do, or not what a Jew would do? It is what would you do?

This reading in the Torah continues the rules for consecrating land to the Lord. It distinguishes between consecrating land that you acquire and land that you inherit, and how they are treated differently.

Then is says that since the firstborn animal belongs to the Lord that you shouldn't consecrate it since it already belongs to the Lord. I guess that would be double dealing.

Some of this seems to be about supporting the Kohanim.

“However, anything that a man devotes to the Lord from any of his property whether a person, an animal, or part of his inherited field shall not be sold, nor shall it be redeemed, [for] all devoted things are holy of holies to the Lord.” —Leviticus 17:28

This seems to contradict earlier verses. I don't understand why.

Here's some of the commentary, showing that the devil isn't in the really can be sold.

“...For all agree that devoted property specifically designated to kohanim does not have any redemption, until it falls into the possession of the kohen [and the property then becomes completely non-consecrated and can even be sold by the kohen (Sifthei Chachamim)]. Devoted property to the One on High [i.e., specifically designated to the maintenance of the Holy Temple, on the other hand], may be redeemed [at its market value even before it reaches the Temple treasury, and its redemption moneys go for maintenance of the Holy Temple, and the property itself then becomes non-consecrated].” —Sifthei Chachamim ; Arachin 29a

Friday, October 3, 2014

Parshat Bechukotai, 5th Portion (Leviticus 27:16-27:21), May 15, 2014

“And if a man consecrates some of the field of his inherited property to the Lord, the valuation shall be according to its sowing: an area which requires a chomer of barley seeds at fifty silver shekels.” —Leviticus 27:16

This reading has to do with all the variations should one consecrate some of their land. Should one make their land holy (building a temple on the land?), and then decide to take it back, he shall have to pay so much money.

I suppose that he received some benefit from giving some of his field to the Lord. Perhaps it acted as an offering. In order that he would not do this just to get on the good side of the lord, it seems important that there be a consequence if and when he decides to redeem his property.

“Indian giving” seems to be frowned up by the Torah.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Parshat Bechukotai, 4th Portion (Leviticus 27:1-27:15), May 14, 2014

“Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When a man expresses a vow, [pledging the] value of lives to the Lord,....” —Leviticus 27:1

We read about people vowing themselves, their family, or their animals to the Lord when they are in danger or distress. Usually they would buy back what they had vowed. We read that males are worth approximately twice what a female of the same age is worth.

Earlier today, in a Torah class, we read about how women are sequestered for 33 days when they give birth to a male, but 66 days when they give birth to a female.

There is also the issue here when making vows, that the woman is the property of the man and it is the man who decides what he should give to the Lord, supposedly for service to the temple.

One can make various arguments for these apparent inequalities. We still think it is unfair when women are paid less than men. Perhaps in the world of hard labor, the man could do more work than a woman.

In the case of childbirth, it is a privilege for the woman to have time alone with their child. The ritual of circumcision perhaps speeds up the time needed for the woman to be removed from society when she gives birth to a male.

As with so many of these rules, I need to remind myself that the Jews were responding to laws that they felt were unfair. For them, these new laws were compassionate and fair. To us, they seem unfair.

And we get infuriated, as we do when our partner throws out a half of glass of beer that we were going to drink. So, once again, we look in the mirror and see how yet another of our buttons are pushed.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Parshat Bechukotai, 3rd Portion (Leviticus 26:10-26:46), May 13, 2014

“14. But if you do not listen to Me and do not perform all these commandments,

15. and if you despise My statutes and reject My ordinances, not performing any of My commandments, thereby breaking My covenant

16. then I too, will do the same to you; I will order upon you shock, consumption, fever, and diseases that cause hopeless longing and depression. You will sow your seed in vain, and your enemies will eat it.” —Leviticus 26:14-26:16

This takes me back to the Garden of Eden. If you don't obey G_d then things won't be so good. We could say that things aren't so good on Earth. Is this because we didn't obey Him? I think Job is a clear case of a man who did obey G_d and had a rough time at it. I suspect we have Jobs throughout the Earth.

What was interesting to me is that I recognized my rage toward G_d for being such a dictator. This was a mirror for me to see myself. This is not about the wrath of G_d, but rather our own dissatisfaction that things are not as we'd like them to be (because we want them to be different that how they are).

I think the disasters that come from not following G_d are more internal than external. Sickness, old age, and death are givens. Gifts expire. But we can decide how we are going to respond to these changes. And having a belief that we did our best will sure help.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Parshat Bechukotai, 2nd Portion (Leviticus 26:6-26:9), May 12, 2014

“And I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten [you]; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land;” —Leviticus 26:6

“Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you.” —Leviticus 26:8

With each Torah portion I notice that I have a problem. Isn't the Torah clever the way it can become about me so quickly. 

G_d is making promises again about what will happen if you do what he says. We know that they are false promises in the literal sense. S--t happens, whatever you do. In fact, the promises are ridiculous if you take them literally.

But imagine the inner peace that comes from doing the right thing. Though the beasts and warriors may overwhelm us, we have an inner peace that can't be shaken.

Another issue I have is with this line, “You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you;”—Leviticus 26:7

So why does God protect us and not them. It would be like praying for G_d to help us win a football game. Does G_d not love everyone? 

In Buddhism, our enemies are not the “other,” but rather greed, hate, and delusion. I think we can think of enemies here in similar ways. They are not the “other side,” but rather that part of ourselves that circumvent our holy side. 

I wrote about this also in another of my blogs:

Monday, September 29, 2014

Parshat Bechukotai, 1st Portion (Leviticus 26:3-26:5), May 11, 2014

This is a short reading but full of promises.

“3. If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,

4. 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.

5. Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land.” —Leviticus 26:3-5

So if you follow, observe, and perform, the Lord will take care of you. Anyone who has been around for a few days on Earth knows that sometimes this is not the case. We can say that the individual didn't really do the work. Or we can say that they might not get material rewards from following the rules, but that they would get spiritual strength from the connection with G_d they acquired from their good work.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Parshat Behar, 7th Portion (Leviticus 25:47-26:2), May 10, 2014

This reading is in two parts.

In the first part we learn how to redeem a destitute brother from a “resident non Jew” (or “alien” as the Reform Torah calls them).

In the second part, Chapter 26 of Leviticus, we hear again about not making idols, statutes, or monuments...or even a stone to prostrate yourself.

The commentary says this is addressed to the destitute Jew who is now owned by a non Jew. The Jew is not to imitate the non Jew.

And you are not to prostrate yourself anywhere but in the Holy Temple.

This ends with the repeated message of keeping My Sabbaths and fearing My Sanctuary. At this moment, it seems like G_d is a control freak.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Parshat Behar, 6th Portion (Leviticus 25:39-25:46), May 9, 2014

“Your male slave or female slave whom you may have from the nations that are around you, from them you may acquire a male slave or a female slave.”

We also read here that if you brother is destitute and is sold to you, you should not work him with slave labor (degrading work).

And he shall live with you until the Jubilee year.

I was interested to read that we don't do the Jubilee year anymore because we are no longer the twelve tribes that live in the land of Israel.

It is somewhat surprising after Jews were slaves in Egypt that they would take slaves when they could. Perhaps they had some edicts about treating the slaves well...or at least better than they were treated in Egypt. It suggests here that the slaves were to work with rigor, because we hear that one's brother (should he be bought by you because he is destitute) should not be worked like that.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Parshat Behar, 5th Portion (Leviticus 25:29-25:38), May 8, 2014

And when a man sells a residential house in a walled city, its redemption may take place until the completion of the year of its sale. Its [period of] redemption shall be a full year. —Leviticus 25:29

We learn in this reading that homes are treated differently than land. Rashi writes, “Scripture states that one may redeem it [land] whenever one wishes after two years have elapsed [since the date of sale] and onwards [until Jubilee] and that within the first two years [following the sale] one may not redeem it, ....”

Then we read of a distinction between house in cities with walls and cities without walls. If it had a wall earlier, that counts as having a wall. If the house is in a walled city then it will not leave the possession of the owner in the Jubilee but it will if it is a unwalled city.

Houses in unwalled cities are treated like fields and revert back to the previous owner in the year of the jubilee.

We learn that “And, [regarding] the cities of the Levites, the houses of their inherited cities shall forever have a [right of] redemption for the Levites.” —Leviticus 25:29

I am surprised that the Levites have special privileges. But they are the priests. Still, it makes one wonder if they wrote this part of the Torah for their benefit.

Why should walled cities have different rules? Because the property might be more valuable because it is protected more from outsiders?

"If your brother becomes destitute ... you shall support him ....” —Leviticus 25-35

Nor should you charge your brother interest.

The last line is curious, “To be a God to you” ( or “To be your God.” (Reform Torah) Is the suggestion here that this is not the God of all people?

The commentary tells us “but anyone who leaves it [the land of Israel] [without halachic permission] is like one who worships idols.” — [Torath Kohanim 25:77; Keth. 110b]

Does this have anything to do with religion in a spiritual matter? It just seems like laws, however arbitrary they might be. By signing God's name to these laws, I suspect some might take them more seriously.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Parshat Behar, 4th Portion (Leviticus 25:25-25:28), May 7, 2014

This reading is about fairness and generosity. If you need to sell your inherited property because you are impoverished, then your brother shall buy your property back. And if you don't have a brother, but earn enough to buy the property back, then the person who bought it needs to return it. And if it hasn't yet been returned, in the Jubilee year, it shall be returned to the original seller.

This certainly gives the ownership of property another meaning. Being just, fair and giving seem to trump the sale itself. Would one buy property today knowing that it wouldn't be his forever, and maybe wouldn't be his even very long? But it seems like the point is to keep everyone on a somewhat equal basis—to be fair. I doubt there would be much of a gap between rich and poor.

In California, if a great profit occurs in a subsequent sale of an art work, some of the profit should return to the artist. The idea of “ownership” shifts, with the idea that if you make too big of a profit, you shall have to return some of your profit to the artist. I think this might make art a less attractive investment opportunity and thus would hurt the up and coming artist who would most need the sales. But fairness prevails what actually might really help the artist.

Is there a morality in business that is being suggested here? I suppose so.

P.S. I realized this morning this is a metaphor for our lives. They are a gift with an expiration date.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Parshat Behar, 3rd Portion (Leviticus 25:19-25:24), May 6, 2014

In Buddhism, we talk about attachment as being one of three poisons. No sooner do be have something, be it land or a wife, we worry that we will lose it. The worry causes us to suffer, not enjoying what we have.

The Torah tells us not to plant on the seventh year, for G_d will take care of us. It teaches us to save, and also that we must not work, work, work, but rather have time for contemplation. And as we need to rest, so does G_d.

“Therefore, throughout the land of your possession, you shall give redemption for the land.” —Leviticus 25:24

Another passage says that we can buy land, but that land should not be sold permanently, but rather can be redeemed by the original owner. How this would change our world! The Indians would redeem Manhattan and all their problems would be solved.

The reading points out that we really don't "own" the land, for it belongs to Me.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Parshat Behar, 2nd Portion (Leviticus 25:14-25:18), May 5, 2014

There are a number of issues to this reading for me.

“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

The Reform Torah is more generous, saying “When you sell property to your neighbor, or buy any from your neighbor, you shall not wrong one another.” —Leviticus 25:14

There are two views of capitalism. In one, it is a win-win situation; and in the other, in order for one to win, the other needs to lose. I prefer the former scenario. In terms of wronging one another, we don't want to misrepresent the product. If we know that people have been injured because of a problem with the item, we need to tell them. If the buyer knows that we are selling the item too cheaply, we should probably tell him. Or do we take the maxim, “let the buyer beware” be our guide?

These are not just ethical guidelines, but a means toward insuring continuing patronage. If you get a bad tank of gas from Costco you won't buy gas there. They might have earned a little more by diluting their gas with water, but in the long run, they will be broke.

Why does the Torah only talk here about transactions with fellow Jews. Is it ok to wrong someone who is not a fellow Jew? Would you, as a non-Jew, trust a Jew who was just told to treat other Jews right? I'm glad that the Reform Torah substitutes “neighbor” for “fellow Jew.”

“According to the number of years after the Jubilee, you shall purchase from your fellow Jew; according to the number of years of crops, he shall sell to you.”

We learn here that we should charge according to the number of years before the land will be returned to you. This seems to be particularly confusing if the land is sold a number of times in the 50 years before the Jubilee.

Hillel said that these rules should not be followed, declaring that a rabbi can trump G_d. Others say that these laws only cover private transactions, and therefore people should work through a public court so they are not bound.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Parshat Behar, 1st Portion (Leviticus 25:1-25:13), May 4, 2014

“And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom [for slaves] throughout the land for all who live on it. It shall be a Jubilee for you, and you shall return, each man to his property,_ and you shall return, each man to his family.” —Leviticus 25:10

This is about being grateful. Every seventh year you do not own the fruits of your labor, but you must share them. And every 50th year you should return to people their property. And you shall proclaim freedom for your slaves. Again, you have benefitted. Now it is time to share.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 24:1-24:23), 5/3/14

“And Moses told [all this] to the children of Israel. So they took the blasphemer outside the camp and stoned him, and the children of Israel did just as the Lord had commanded Moses.” —Leviticus 24:23

Yes, I know that this may suggest that the Jews were ready for eliminating capital punishment, but I notice more my anger and feelings of intolerance for G_d who was intolerant of the blasphemer. Is the Torah a mirror whereby we see our own failings? Probably.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 23:33-23-44), 5/2/14

“And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for a seven day period.” —Leviticus 23:40

I wonder about my kids not growing up with religion. I've been thinking today about how, in Buddhism, wisdom and compassion are one. Rational thought might drive wisdom, at least in the West. But not compassion. Do you need religion to find compassion? The roots are in experience. If we see the condition we'll know the needs. Right?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 23:23-23-32), 5/1/14

This reading is about Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Attonement)

“And any person who performs any work on that very day I will destroy that person from amidst its people.” (Leviticus 23:30)

Some say that religious laws are to control the people. On Yom Kippur we atone for our sins against God and against our fellow human being.

“It is a complete day of rest for you....” (Leviticus 23:32)

I waste a lot of time, but also never take a day off. Partly, maybe, because I waste so much time.

And what would I do, that wouldn't be work? Tomorrow is Saturday. I'll go to Torah study, then to my daughter's house, then write something for and for and take some pictures. That is my work every day, other than doing physical exercise. May not do that tomorrow (did a lot today, and will do some on Sunday). I'm a little speechless about what I'd do if I did nothing. I think I'd be bored to tears.

I guess G_d will destroy me.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 23:1-23-22), 4/30/14

“[For] six days, work may be performed, but on the seventh day, it is a complete rest day, a holy occasion; you shall not perform any work.” —Leviticus 23:3

In the same way that we leave part of our harvest for the poor, we leave part of our week for our connection with “the other.” This seems to me about not being greedy. To be grateful about how much was given to us, and to give back some of our bounty. “ shall leave these for the poor person and for the stranger.” —Leviticus 23:22

And on Passover: “And you shall offer up one he goat as a sin offering, and two lambs in their [first] year as a peace offering.” —Leviticus 23:19

G_d wants us to be holy. For us to do this we need to reflect on our behavior (sin) and on our relationship with G_d (peace).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 22:17-33), 4/29/14

Artists are often asked to donate works for charity. There is a temptation to not give your best works, but rather works you could never sell. This reading says, “Any [animal] that has a blemish, you shall not offer up, for it will not be favorable for you.” —Leviticus 22:20

There seems like an element of “payback” here where the Lord reminds the Jews that he took them out of the land of Egypt. Is this the parent asking for payback from the kid because they slaved away for him/her? Or is it to remind us that we are not an island. That we are possible because of a long chain of events, as our actions do and will continue to give others freedom?

“You shall not desecrate My Holy Name.” —Leviticus 22:32

I have trouble with the idea that G_d would say this. Or that he would be the one insulted. Maybe this is about us losing connection with the infinite? Perhaps G_d says this for us, not for him

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 21:16-22:15), 4/28/14

This reading is not the poster child for disabilities. “Any man ... who has a defect, shall not come near to offer up his God's food." (Levitcus 21:17)

Even long eyebrows or a cataract make one unworthy of offering God's food.

How many years has it taken to eradicate this stupidity!

Not only must one's wife be perfect, but one must be perfect themselves to be worthy of making a food sacrifice.

Curious that the same God who created eyebrows now finds some too long and unholy. Who is responsible?

Rabbi Baker said that the Torah was about what was holy, not what is moral. Morality seems to be in the domain of the secular.

Toward the end of this reading, the Torah says, “And they shall not desecrate the holy things of the children of Israel, those that they have set aside for the Lord....”

It seems particularly difficult to follow laws of holiness that are stupid (for lack of a better term).

How does one navigate through life when they have both holy rules and personal (or moral imperative) moral rules. I like the phrase that a Zen priest used, ”don't be a jerk.” What more do you need to know to not harm the world?

Monday, September 15, 2014

Parashat Emor, (Leviticus 21:1-21:15), 4/27/14

“They shall not marry a woman defiled by harlotry, nor shall they marry one divorced from her husband.” (Leviticus 21:7)

Priests [per the Torah], in order to retain their holiness and to remain clean, need to have unblemished wives.

One might say that it was not my grandmother's fault that she divorced my grandfather when he turned out to be an arsonist. Why should she be punished?

I think the emphasis was to preserve the holiness of the priest, not to do what might be fair for the woman.

This opened the door for Christ, who embraced Mary Magdalen and others who did not have pristine backgrounds.

If the priest was not surrounded by that which was without blemish then he could not perform sacrifices to G_d.

I'm curious about the idea of embracing an ideology that is so unforgiving. But I imagine that the Torah is the maxim, as expressed by Martin Buber. In practice, I'm hoping the circumstance would allow room for the former harlot or present divorcee... or my Grandma... to marry a priest.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim, (Leviticus 20:23-20:27), 4/19/14

G_d says that the Jews should not follow the “practices of the nation that I am sending away from before you, for they committed all these [sins], and I was disgusted with them.”

Is the creator here disgusted with his own work?

As a parent, I was sometimes disappointed with my kids. Was I also disappointed with myself as a parent? Probably. Did I admit it? Probably not. I did sometimes blame myself when my students did not succeed.

Was God admitting his mistake or was he simply saying when he made something it has a life of its own, and he could not control that.

Why all the laws? Was it brilliant to create creatures that would not be on “autopilot” as I assume animals are (at least untrained/undomesticated animals are.

Again we have the “chosen” people: “I am the Lord your God, Who has distinguished you from the peoples.” But there is a contract (a covenant) that “you shall distinguish between clean animals and unclean ones ....”

In our Reform Torah, it says “...I have set you apart from other peoples to be Mine.” If I was shopping for a religion this certainly would turn me off.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim, (Leviticus 20:8-20:22), 4/18/14

It has been some time since I've done my daily Torah posts.

This parashah starts by telling us that any man who curses his father or his mother should be put to death. What about when a woman does the same? The Torah is mute on this point.

Then we hear about all the other sordid acts that lead to a sentence of death. One basically should “lie” only with their wife. Being with anyone else will result in death.

This is certainly the edicts of a zero tolerance society. I wonder if people behaved any better with these dire consequences, whether they were really enforced, and whether other societies that they were familiar with set no boundaries for their sexuality?

My friend Greg wrote that we are all sinners at birth. I thought this must have come from the Christian Bible. Then I realized that the first mention of sin comes from Adam eating the fruit in the Garden of Eden.

Interesting too, as Greg said, that even our conception was a sin. Psalm 51:5 states that we all come into the world as sinners: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me."

I'm reminded of “right action” in Buddhism, one of the factors in the Eightfold Path to relieve suffering. The punishment in Buddhism is not death, but rather to be reborn with more problems than we now have, or to be reborn as some other creature than a human. In Buddhism, the universe seems to be the executioner.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim, (Leviticus 20:1-20:7), 4/17/14

Chapter 20
1. And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying,
2. And to the children of Israel, you shall say: Any man of the children of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among Israel, who gives any of his offspring to Molech, shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall pelt him with stones.

I wondered which is worse, to give your offspring as an offering, or to worship a false G_d. I think the expression of “adding insult to injury” applies here. He who gives their kid for a sacrifice to another G_d crosses the line twice. And for this, he shall be pelted with stones (and we learn a few lines later, to his death). If that is not so bad, if for some reason the people do not pelt him, then G_d said that if he is not put to death, then he'll cut him off from his people.

Do we pelt or cut off people who worship G_ds other than our own? Is this what the Middle East wars are about?

Is this parashah step one toward eliminating capital punishment because the community needs to participate in the death of the “criminal?” They need to feel what they feel when they “cast the first stone.”

Monday, May 26, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim, (Leviticus 19:33-19:37), 4/16/14

A couple of things struck me with this parashah (I was using the spelling parshah but discovered that was wrong. It can also be parsha, but parashah seems preferred).

A lot of wisdom is contained in these five verses.

The first message is that you should not taunt a stranger who travels with you, but rather “love him as yourself; for you [both] were strangers in the land of Egypt.” This reminds us that we were all once strangers. I was a stranger to Austin when I moved here in 2008. It was quite an eye opener to realize that I didn't have a network of people with whom I had shared experiences and trust.

The second message was “You shall not commit a perversion of justice with measures, weights, or liquid measures.” As a young man in Russia, my grandfather's job was to stand by the scale at his father's grain mill and to make sure that the people bringing the grain weren't putting their foot on the scale. But this metaphor of “true scales” goes farther. We should judge people fairly. Or maybe, not judge them, knowing that we do not know their intentions.

But a deeper thought here is about intention. The laws are about action. They suggest that we should be mindful, and intentional (are they different?). But there is not much said about what we should be thinking. Judaism is a bare bones religion, in a sense. It is not about thinking, but about doing. I like the saying that we judge others by their actions, but ourselves by our intentions. The problem with intentions is that they are always good (or so we rationalize).

Earlier I was sweeping the dining room with a broom and carelessly hit a valuable piece of pottery by a well-known deceased potter, Ken Ferguson. It was a tea bowl like this:

I just tapped the bowl and did not hurt it, but I watched my mind instantly create a story to tell my wife that would save our marriage. “I broken your lovely bowl because of the bugs who come into our house to die, and I needed to sweep them up, and if they didn't die, I wouldn't have to sweep, and that is why your pot is broken (having a father for a lawyer helped).” The law in our house is to not be a bull in china shop. Even our 2 year-old grandson gets it!
I've only broken one pot in 45 years, which I grieve.

Many of these verses end as does this one with “37. You shall observe all My statutes and all My ordinances, and fulfill them. I am the Lord.” Because I grew up without religion (or so I thought) I did things because they seemed to be the right thing to do (often rationalized to death by my devious mind). Why are we reminded over and over again that we should follow the laws because G_d told us to do so. My modus operandi is not to listen to anyone. Who is this G_d who bosses us around and tells why should we obey. These are good practices (sometimes), but why not just follow for that reason? Do some people need to be threatened by the wrath of G_d. Does it work? I don't know.