Sunday, March 30, 2014

Parshat Tazria, (Leviticus 12:1-13:5), 3/23/14

My dad said you could never move too slowly. After working with this for a week with my students, I called my dad and told him we had it figured out. “What,” he said. “What you said...that we could never move too slowly.” “Oh,” he said. ”I've never heard anything so stupid.”

So what about this waiting period for woman? Is it too long? Is it moving slowly? What is the meaning of this parshah?

It is living life very precisely according to rules. The rules themselves are somewhere between ill-construed and foolish, but the consciousness and intentionality are important. Besides, women need time after childbirth to recover and to bond with their baby.

Levitcus 13 deals with skin diseases. Again it is about intentionality. There are reference to conditions that are skin deep and those that are deeper. When it is deeper the kohen pronounces him unclean. Is this a metaphor for our behavior?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Parshat Shemini, (Leviticus 11:33-11:47), 3/22/14

This is the first parshah dealing with objects of everyday life. If anything that is unclean, like a turtle, went inside the vessel, then the vessel would need to be thrown away. But if it went on the outside of the vessel, then it would be ok. As well, once a vessel is unclean, then whatever goes in it is defiled. But other vessels that go inside the big vessel don't become defiled.

What is the vessel? Is it something more than a clay pot? Is it symbolically man. Touching something and eating something should be different then, but it is not. Is cleanliness about taking care...being intentional? Why does G_d care so much? Care that we pay attention? Because that is our relationship?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Parshat Shemini, (Leviticus 11:1-11:32), 3/21/14

Some interesting happenings here. For one, Moses, Aaron, and the two sons were all assigned to tell the children of Israel what food was clean and what was not. Rashi says they were all asked to do this because they had been silent when Nadab and Abihu died. They “accepted the Omnipresent's decree with love.”

For another, this seems to be about what is clean and what is not clean. All my life I thought clean/not clean had to do with health. Last week a rabbi said that was not a consideration back then. Rather, it has to do with what draws people to G_d, and what takes them away.

And I think, as all the rituals did, it has to do with being very intentional about what one eats and what one leaves. And the leaving seems like it has to do with leaving some for G_d. It is preaching against gluttony. Don't just stuff yourself. Look at what you are doing!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Parshat Shemini, (Leviticus 10:16-10:20), 3/20/14

Moses was upset that all three goats were not burned in the sin offerings. He investigated throughly and decided that the culprits with Aaron's sons. Aaron listens, but then tells Moses that it was not the sons, but it was he who made that decision. Moses says he understands.

What I like about this parshah is that Moses listens and changes his mind. Unlike a king, Moses is able to change a view that was well-researched with a “double” investigation. Normally a mourner can't do a sacrifice, but Aaron says he is a high priest so he can do it. Is the message that the rules aren't the same for everyone and every time?

It is interesting that priests can't go to funerals unless they are a brother, wife, unmarried sister, child, or parent. I wonder what the reason for that. Is it that they'd be too busy to take care of the living?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Parshat Shemini, (Leviticus 10:12-10:15), 3/19/14

Leviticus 10:12 speaks of Aaron and his surviving sons. Rashi reads "surviving" as escaping a sentence of death. He refers back to the wrath of G_d because the sin of the Golden Calf. As the story continues, we see a different G_d who is now merciful. He has commanded Moses to tell Aaron that he should sit down with his sons and daughters, and enjoy the remains of the offering. These are peace offerings for the children of Israel. So we are seeing the G_d now that loves unconditionally, after he wrathfully struck down Aaron's two other sons.

Stories. Sometimes I feel like I am a sucker taken in by stories. I remember reading a book review in the NY Times where the critic criticized a book because it took her in. She lost herself in the story, she complained.

Aaron's sons overstepped their bounds in the temple and got zapped to death by a foreign or alien fire. When I was a kid my cousin died by such a fire, though he was just performing his choir of burning the garbage.

Things happen. As sorrowful as they seem at the time, we don't really know if they are good or bad or neither. There is a Zen story about a man who loses his horse (bad), but the next day the horse comes back with a second horse (good). Then his son rides one of the horses and breaks his leg (bad). The following day the army comes to recruit the boy and they reject him because of his broken leg (good). I'm seeing these events...seeing these part of a continuing and interrelated chain of events.

After Aaron lost his sons, he sat silently. At that time Jews would wail for a number of days.When my father from Beirut was two or three and his father was killed in an explosion, his mother wailed and wailed without stopping. Some commentators suggest that because Aaron acted as he did G_d finally spoke to him.

My rabbi teacher talked to me about reading today, He suggested that one needs to read very carefully and find clues that suggest meanings. I thought tonight about the story of the Zen student who changes teachers and finally in shame gives her first teacher the tip of her pinky. At first I understand stories from my own experiences and think, “This is no big deal. I've been changing teachers almost daily.” When I placed myself into the time and place, I start to get an inkling of what might have "gone down" and for what reason.

Did Aaron's sons really die, or did they just die in Aaron's mind because they messed up in the temple? Did I mess up four or five times tonight in the Zen temple because I discussed with my rabbi teacher about messing up? How do I respond when I do the wrong thing? What can I learn from Aaron or from the Zen student who lives with unbearable shame?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Parshat Shemini, (Leviticus 9:24-10:11), 3/18/14

I was surprised to read the commentary by Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Ishmael on this passage because it was so different from our discussion in the reform temple today.

The story goes like this: “Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them to do. And the fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord....And Aaron was silent.”

In the Torah class today, I heard such comments as "even the priestly do not have a guarantee of immortality.” And that Aaron's sons did not die for anything they did, but rather because life is uncertain. We read Aaron's silence in a variety of ways, from it was a meditative silence to it was the silence representing the devastation a parent feels when they lose a child.

Rabbi Eliezer from the 1st or 2nd century reads this passage very differently. He says clearly that “Aaron's sons died only because they rendered halachic [Jewish Law] decisions in the presence of Moses....” Rabbi Ishmael, another commentator from the same time, “[The died because] they had entered the sanctuary after having drunk wine. His “proof” is that later in the parshah God tells Aaron that neither he nor his sons shall be intoxicated when they enter the Tent of Meeting.

I find here two divergent points of view between the old original commentators and our reform rabbis. The book, When Do Bad Things Happen to Good People, was mentioned. The old reading of this parshah says that bad things happen when people do bad things. The reform take seems to be that things happen, whether we are good or bad. The truth is ....

Here is still another reading of this parashah. It says that Aaron's boys were two zealous and that is what angered G_d. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Parshat Shemini, (Leviticus 9:17-9:23), 3/17/14

“And Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them.”

What does it mean when someone you respect blesses you? Do we think that G_d has blessed us? We  believe that G_d taught Moses and Moses taught Aaron, so actually we are being blessed by G_d.

Having this “blessing” might make us behave better, or to do something with more confidence. We give “blessings” to someone doing something with which we don't quite agree. “I know you don't agree with me, mom and dad, but will you give me your blessing?” “Yes, my son.”

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Parshat Shemini, (Leviticus 9:1-9:16), 3/16/14

Now it is time for Aaron to deal with the sins of his people. Sins are against G_d.  It seems that this is a point where the bar is being raised. Everyone is being cleansed by this offering. It is as if they will be getting on a ship, ready for the adventure of life, and they have on their Sunday best.

“3. And to the children of Israel, you shall speak, saying, ‘Take a he goat as a sin offering; and a calf and a lamb, [both] in their first year and [both] unblemished, as a burnt offering,
4. and an ox and a ram as peace offerings, to slaughter before the Lord, and a meal offering mixed with oil, for today the Lord is appearing to you.’”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Parshat Tzav, (Leviticus 8:30-8:36), 3/15/14

My friend, Levi, wondered why G_d was smoking. I took a workshop with a Jesuit priest/Zen teacher who said that G_d doesn't act against the laws of nature. It seems that would indicate that he has nothing to do but watch. So I let him smoke a pipe. And lately I've been using a water pipe (nebulizer) to keep my lungs I'm often smoking when I'm drawing. In the evening I "smoke" saline which is as close as I can get to the ocean in Austin. In addition, G_d loves the smoke from fat in a fire. Everything is smoke. Fat and oil make good smoke. 

“And Moses took some of the anointing oil and some of the blood that was on the altar, and he sprinkled it on Aaron and on his garments, and on his sons, and on his sons' garments, and he sanctified Aaron, his garments, his sons and his sons' garments with him.”

“And Aaron and his sons did all the things that the Lord commanded through Moses.” When you are mature, you can do everything that you are told to do. Their connection with the Lord is solid. As Rashi said, “...they don't deviate to the right or to the left.”

Monday, March 17, 2014

Parshat Tzav, (Leviticus 8:22-8:29), 3/14/14

So often we do things for ourselves. I see here and in other parshahs that these men are selflessly doing things for their people. In these investiture offerings they are establishing leaders for their temple. Over and over again for seven days. 

“And out of the basket of unleavened bread that was before the Lord, he took one loaf of unleavened bread, and one loaf of oily bread, and one wafer, and he placed them on top of the fats and the right thigh.”

The real work here is living the Torah. Their passion and their focus is on the rituals. Today we cut a ribbon to designate a new building. Their offerings suggest a new day. 

Parshat Tzav, (Leviticus 8:14-8:21), 3/13/14

This parshah was about the first burnt offerings. It went on for seven days. I believe that each day they took down the tabernacle and then put it up again.

Aaron and his sons leaned their full weight on the bull. If the bull moved away they would fall. They were fully engaged in the offering and were fully connected to G_d. Moses was the priest for these seven days. The teacher showed the Kohans how it is done.

By putting the blood on the horns of the altar, they made the altar holy. The blood represents passion. They committed their passions to the offering...and to G_d.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Parshat Tzav, (Leviticus 8:1-8:13), 3/12/14

I went to the “Purim” service tonight but then started to feel terrible that Haman was so hated by the Jewish people. All the kids in the temple were shaking rattles every time Haman's name was mentioned. I felt like I was in a Nazi youth camp with, over and over again, hate was being drilled into the kids. One might argue that hating the Jews is bad because the Jews are good, and hating Haman is good because he was a villain. But “hate” makes be feel sick inside. It is not something that should be encouraged with kids (or adults). I'd be more interested in a compassionate approach to Haman.

An interesting day in Torah study today with Rabbi Folberg. We read some commentary from Aharon-Ya’akov Greenberg (1900-1963). In his <i>Iturei Torah</i> he quotes Rabbi Shimon saying that “Anyone who is occupied in the study of the Torah has no need of burnt offerings, meal offerings, sin offerings, or guilt offerings.” “Sacrifice” (korban, le-hakriv) is from the same root as “to come near, to become closely involved in a relationship with someone.” When we read the Torah, or when we make an offering, we get close to G_d.

“And Moses did as the Lord had commanded him, and the community assembled at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.”

In this parshah Aaron is anointed, making him officially a leader. The entire community watched from the entrance of the Tent.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Parshat Tzav, (Leviticus 7:11-7:38), 3/11/14

There are two issues here. One is feeling grateful when something good happens. That is why we do a thanksgiving peace offering. But the second is more difficult for me. Why do we make the offering to G_d, who, for me, is a construct or a name for that which we don't understand? Why is this offering to him? How confusing this must be to a child.

Rabbi says that it isn't necessary to believe to be a is just necessary to practice. Seems that not everyone agrees with this.

I went to the kids’ Purim service today. As delightful and well-managed as it was, my wife was disturbed by a couple of things. I had to agree. One was the idea that Jews don't bow to anyone but G_d. She said, “That's isn't just Jews ... many people don't bow to anyone but G_d." And then she said, “Why is it emphasized that this is about Jews. Isn't it really about human beings.” Sometimes I get the impression that Jews are a super race beyond being human. This is just the idea that Hitler had of his super race (though different humans). Would I like my children to say, “I am a Jew,” or “I am a human being”? I think it would be the latter.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Parshat Tzav, (Leviticus 6:12-7:10), 3/10/14

In this parshah, we read about both sin and guilt offerings. Apparently the sin offerings when one does something wrong toward a fellow man, while a guilt offering is when one does wrong toward something holy. What I treasure about these offerings is that one can do the offering and cast aside both their sin and their guilt.

One might ask, why don't I just do as I please and then get reparation afterwards. I suspect that the offerings are both costly and injurious to one's reputation. It would be easier to do what was commanded of one.

Michael at the temple talked tonight about sacrifice. I didn't realize that the sacrifices/offerings as we read about then in the Torah ended when the Romans destroyed the second temple in 70 C.E.. But all human beings continue to sacrifice. In an earlier post I wrote about this, but Michael spoke of a sacrifice far more interesting. We sacrifice when we take chances, as when we make ourselves vulnerable.

Today, to be forgiven by G_d for our guilt and sins, we now depend on prayer. I'm curious whether this has the same curative effect that the offerings did. It seems that the offerings enable a person to come clean in front of their peers. That might work better.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Parshat Tzav, (Leviticus 6:1-6:11), 3/9/14

“And he shall lift out of it in his fist, from the fine flour of the meal offering and from its oil and all the frankincense that is on the meal offering, and he shall cause its reminder to [go up in] smoke on the altar as a pleasing fragrance to the Lord."

I read, “and the fire shall not go out,” meaning that one has to retain the faith ... and this faith continues to light the Earth. It is the constancy of our actions that makes so much difference. It is easy to make a fire, but much harder to keep it going, especially as one tires.

I thought the line “Any male among Aaron's sons may eat it” was curious until I read Rashi's interpretation that even if a son has blemishes he can eat it, and this eating of the unleavened bread shall continue through the ages. All people (men) have the opportunity to become holy (obviously the chauvinism is disturbing). And because this offering is holy, anything that touches the sons will also become holy. If we do good work, whatever we touch will do good work.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Parshat Vayikra, (Leviticus 5:11-5:26), 3/8/14

A couple of issues strike me with this parshah. For one, it is implausible that G_d would go to the trouble of describing all the details of building the tabernacle and the offerings for sins. I would feel hesitant, as a father, to tell my kids that we do this because G_d said we should.

I think the system is fair and just. But ... I don't like the idea that the animals suffer. What about the sin of hurting animals unnecessarily? What about the waste of all these resources? When a man gives an animal for an offering, he pays twice. Once because he no longer has the animal, and another because he has deprived his community from some of their wealth. Should the community comes into hard times (as happened often), the sacrifice would make the community more susceptible to going hungry or losing a war.

“He shall bring it to the kohen, and the kohen shall scoop out a fistful as its reminder, and cause it to [go up in] smoke on the altar, upon the fires of the Lord. It is a sin offering.”

Monday, March 10, 2014

Parshat Vayikra, (Leviticus 4:27-5:10). 3/7/14

This parshah covers various retributions based on the means of the offender, and on the nature of the infraction.

I like this non-criminal justice system. One does a wrong action, which might be not testifying to something one has seen, and they pay retribution and then the priest does expiation on behalf of that person, “who shall be forgiven.”

So there are no criminals, only those who do actions (intentional or unintentional) that need retribution. The important thing is that they return to society whole. It seems like a civil action as opposed to a criminal action. I wonder how we could implement such a plan in the United States.

“The priest shall take with his finger some of its blood and put it on the horns of the altar....”

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Parshat Vayikra, (Leviticus 4:1-4:26)-3/6/14

I'm a little perplexed by how one breaks a commandment unintentionally. In Buddhism we say that karma is intentional action. Unintentionally, no karma is produced.

If I drop an air conditioner out of a window while installing it and kill someone, is that a sin?
Or is it simply an unfortunate accident.

And how does an entire community sin unintentionally? Perhaps one could say that acting unintentionally is sinning. I do not know. Marrying your mother and killing your father is perhaps a sin, even if unintentionally done.

I think being unintentional is perhaps a sin when mindfulness would be more appropriate.

In any case, I'm stuck on the air conditioner image.

I found this good explanation about the various degrees of sin: It suggests that we are always responsible for the results of our actions, as we are responsible for the actions of everyone in our community. We could have done more.

Freud said there are no accidents. Did he get this from his Jewish background, even though he wasn't directly instructed in the Torah? On the other side, the Talmud does refer to accidents, saying that it is not a sin if you (unintentionally) fall out of a tree into a woman. The moral of this is that I need to stay away from branches that are thin or rotten (or both).

Parshat Vayikra, (Leviticus 3:1-3:17)-3/5/14

Always an offering should be without blemishes. We are told, by this, to give our best to the Lord. This is a peace offering, "instilling peace into the world." In order for this to happen, a portion of the sacrifice goes to the altar, a portion to the Kohanim (priest), and a portion to the owner.

I read this as a process of removing one's self from their daily tasks and concentrating their energies toward this higher ideal. It seems it would "work" to the extent that one would fully engage in the process. This process would begin in realizing the importance in such an offering and then in seeing what one could give.

I was once told that when you give art for a benefit, you should give your best piece. This seems to be an extension of the idea of giving an unblemished animal or pure ground flour.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Parshat Vayikra, (Leviticus 2-7-2:16)-3/4/14

They brought grains and oil for the sacrifice. Again we see that everyone has an opportunity to make it right with the Lord. The size of a gift is determined by what you are able to give. But besides the gift, it is important to adhere to the instructions. That is the meditation, in a sense. By making sure that only the best materials are used, and that everything is done in the right way, one makes a sacrifice and connects to him. It is wholehearted. How often do I not follow the instructions. How often does my mind wander? Is this Torah all about paying attention?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Parshat Vayikra, (Leviticus 1:14-2:6)-3/3/14

I was disgusted to read about the killing of the birds. That made me into an off and on vegetarian. And then I think about this urge I had to go out tonight and get some “meat.” It was only because of the cold weather that I wanted to stay home.

I was just thinking about the amount of time that Moses must have been talking to the Lord to get all these instructions.

The birds are an option for sacrifice for those who can't afford a sheep or a cow. I suspect they wanted to make sure that everyone has a chance to make a sacrifice. This might be seen as justice, but in a sense everyone benefits when everyone has a chance to "pay" for their poor judgement and/or to thank the Lord for good things that happen to them. It is the intent here that is most important.

But if you can't afford a bird, then you give fine flour with oil. I wonder if oil is a reference to the idea that oil gives light.

I put the triangles under the kohen (priest) to make sure that he would not be comfortable (so his heart would not be right about hurting the bird).

The reason for eating unleavened wafers is that leavening represents arrogance. I thought it was because they didn't have the time in the desert to wait for the bread to rise.

I put the triangles under the priest so that he'd be as uncomfortable as possible when killing the bird. He kind of looks to me like an auto-mechanic under a car.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Parshat Vayikra, (Leviticus 1:1-1:13)-3/2/14

“If his sacrifice is a burnt offering from cattle, an unblemished male he shall bring it. He shall bring it willingly to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, before the Lord."

My wife said my drawing looks more like a pig with long legs. I could have reminded her that she studied human anatomy, not animal anatomy. But instead, I agreed. I feel that pigs don't get a fair shake in the Jewish world ... and I can't draw cows without looking at a photo.

I'm glad most humans today don't do sacrifices. Or do they? Do we sacrifice for our children? Where else do we sacrifice? Do we sacrifice to spread the wealth? Do we sacrifice in the way we do so many things just because we feel guilty?

I liked the idea that you can't steal an animal and then give it for a sacrifice. The proof here is that Adam never stole ... because he owned everything so it wasn't possible. Whoever thought that up would not get an “A” in logic.

I've heard a few rabbis say that we do not sacrifice because it will make G_d happy or whole. It can do fine without our contributions. But when we don't share what we have it tends to eat us alive. My wife said tonight at dinner, “wouldn't it be good if everyone saw themselves as an interconnected molecule of everything?" Sacrificing in the sense of releasing some of what we have, and the unblemished part at that. It is a great cleansing. It makes us whole, because we recognize we are part of the everything. 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Parshat Pekudei, (Exodus 40:28-40:38)-3/1/14

They started from the inside out. Moses and his sons washed their hands in the washstand. Moses could not enter the Mishkan because the cloud of G_d filled it. “When the cloud rose up, the children of Israel set out in all their journeys. And from then on, there was a cloud over it by day, and fire at night.” The fire is the menorah that never goes out.

I like the idea that the children could leave when the Mishkan was finished. In a sense you can't leave home until you have a home. What would leaving mean if you had no place where you had roots?

I have roots in a number of places. When I go to a new place to live, I can't really leave until I have settled.

At first the cloud covers the Mishkan. Later it is over it, but not covering it. It would seem in the hot weather the cloud would be a relief from the hot sun. It would show that G_d was compassionate.