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.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim, (Leviticus 19:23-19:32), 4/15/14

The parshah here starts with “when you come to the Land” suggesting that one should be prepared for the future. When you plant a food tree you should not eat from it for five years. Waiting to wait, so to speak. Self-discipline to the extreme. I have observed that fruit trees take a number of years to bear fruit (as do females to bear children), but in the case of the trees, it makes no sense to wait and waste the fruit that it does bear in its early years. Did the Jews know this? Is this the same as waiting for your wife to sit down at the table before you eat (a good idea)?

Next we read that we should not eat over the blood, meaning that first you sprinkle the blood of the animal as an offering and then you eat it. First things first.
1. Everything has an appointed season, and there is a time for every matter under the heaven. 2. A time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot that which is planted.
—Ecclesiastes 3
Then we learn about cutting the hair and the beard.

Originally cutting the hair was done as part of mourning.

The prohibition of the rounding of the beard was one more way that the Jews would be separate from those of the surrounding nations.

We hear next that you should not cut yourself to express your grief for one who has died, nor should you have a tattoo. Periodically my daughter would ask my permission to have a 2nd or 3rd piercing in her ears. I'd say no until she threatened to get a tattoo. “Go at it, I'd say...get the piercings.”

You should not make your daughter a harlot (giving her to someone for relations outside of marriage).

You shall observe sabbaths and revere the temple. “I am the Lord.” We are reminded over and over again that there is something bigger than we are. We cannot control what unfolds. But we can choose how do deal with it.

You shall not turn to sorcery. Again, this would be the worship of other idols, and would align the Jews from their neighbors who practice sorcery.

You should respect the wise and the elderly. Again, “I am the Lord.” Respecting others, even the elderly who are not free from sin, is a humbling act.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim, (Leviticus 19:15-19:22), 4/14/14

My friend commented on my last post, “lots of laws.” And so I started thinking about all the laws we have, and then I started thinking about all the harm that is done even with the laws that we do have. Could we do without laws? Sometimes Judaism doesn't seem like a religion. Rather, it is just a bunch of laws so that we conduct ourselves well. What is the religious part? Where is that in the Torah?

These laws are justified because they came from G_d. It is not that they are not good laws, but I feel uneasy following something just because they were told to Moses by a voice. How do we know that Moses didn't just make this stuff himself?

Here are the laws in this parshah:
  1. You should not be a corrupt judge. I keep thinking that things are brought up because the Jews had experienced a corrupt world.
  2. You shall not favor a poor person or a rich person. How often I do this. Probably a lot. And it is clever how it just doesn't say that you should't not just favor a rich person. 
  3. Judge your fellow favorably (give her the benefit of the doubt).
  4. Don't gossip.
  5. Don't stand by while someone is being hurt.
  6. Don't hate your brother.
  7. Don't embarrass someone in public. If you have something critical to say, say it in private.
  8. Don't take the blame for something that you didn't do (to help someone else out).
  9. Don't take revenge or bear a grudge.
  10. Love your neighbor as yourself.
  11. Don't crossbreed livestock, mix seeds, or make a garment a mixture of wool and linen.
  12. If you make love to a woman who is not emancipated then you shouldn't be liable to the death penalty, but he should bring a guilt offering. (This seems a little odd to be here. It doesn't fit with the others). 
I can see that a society will function better following these “laws.” But the added benefit will be to the individual. Imagine how tall the person could walk. But it would be hard not to adopt a “holier than thou” attitude.
According to this view, the key to getting lots of strangers to work together is not to create an endless stream of new laws or institutions but to create a set of shared values. Laws are something you merely obey. Values are something you feel. Once internalized, values function just like other forms of hot cognition – fast, automatic, unconscious, wu-wei. Looked at this way, we can begin to see how the paradox of wu-wei emerges as a kind of natural consequence of our transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers and city dwellers.—From Edward Slingerland, Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity
As suggested by Slingerland, when we obey these laws as values, we are becoming a different and better person rather than a robot or a good soldier.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Parshat Kedoshim, (Leviticus 19:1-19:14), 4/13/14

There are many laws in this parshah:

 1) You shall be holy for the Lord is holy. Logically this makes no sense. We would not say, “You shall not move because a boulder does not move.” Is this about us trying to be like God? Rashi says that holy is separating yourself from sexual immorality, sex being something that G_d doesn't do. So what does it mean that G_d is holy? Perhaps it is to always have the best of intentions, as is suggested later in this parshah. Assuming that one wants to connect to the Lord, the best way might be to be good like the Lord. I do wonder if the “fear of G_d” was a device that was written into the Torah to persuade people to behave.

 2) Next we hear that every man shall fear his mother and his father, and you shall observe My Sabbaths. The reason that the Lord doesn't command women is that women need to obey their husbands (I'm just the messenger). The question might come up what one should do if their father desecrates the Sabbath. One should not listen to their father when he tells his kids not to obey the commandments.

 3) Again we hear that we should not worship worthless idols nor molten deities. I wonder how many molten deities I worship. How many things do I believe in that aren't G_d?

4) “When you slaughter a peace should slaughter it for your acceptance.” Again we are told that our intent is foremost in making an offering legitimate.

 5) A person should eat the meat from an offering on the first two days. If one eats it on the third day, he shall be cut off from his people. This seems like a pretty intense penalty here. I wonder if they were worried about the meat going rancid...or if again this is a thing about intention and timeliness.

 6) You should not eat the food on the ground. Leave it for the poor. Don't be a miser about hoarding your wealth.

 7) Be honest.

 8) Don't say, “I swear to G_d” if you aren't telling the truth.

 9) You should not rob nor keep your worker's wage to the next morning.

 10) Don't curse a deaf person. Don't trip a blind person. And fear your G_d.

 Lots of good rules here.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Parshat Acharei, (Leviticus 18:22-18:30), 4/12/14

22. You shall not lie down with a male, as with a woman: this is an abomination.  
23. And with no animal shall you cohabit, to become defiled by it. And a woman shall not stand in front of an animal to cohabit with it; this is depravity. 
24. You shall not defile yourselves by any of these things, for the nations, whom I am sending away from before you, have defiled themselves with all these things. 
30. And you shall observe My charge, not to commit any of the abominable practices that were done before you, and you shall not become defiled by them. I am the Lord your God.
So we hear that Judaism and homosexuality (or beastiality) do not mix.

I asked my dad once about morality. He said there was no morality—only the law. At first this sounded all wrong, but I’ve grown to accept it.

How confusing this Torah portion would be to a youngster who found him/her self attracted to the same sex or the family dog. 

We can say that the Lord said these things because he wanted the Jews to multiply, and none of these acts lead to that. Or we can say that the Lord made these rules because others did not follow them.

In the same way that there is a proper place to do an offering, so there is a proper mate to “lay down” with. In the “Lord’s” mind, that person is a wife or husband (one’s own, of course).

Today we have new criteria for what constitutes a proper mate. And that, for me, doesn’t go against the Lord’s intent of intentional loving connections. That is, until it conflicts with the “do onto others as you would have them do onto you.”

 A friend (who follows the Bible pretty literally) wrote that homosexuality was a sin. I found this reading of the passage (from interesting:
Leviticus, in the Hebrew Scriptures, condemns homosexual behaviour, at least for males. Yet, "abomination", the word Leviticus uses to describe homosexuality, is the same word used to describe a menstruating woman.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Parshat Acharei, (Leviticus 18:6-18:21), 4/11/14

This parshah starts with the prohibition of “uncovering nakedness” (having sex) with close relatives, siblings, or parents. So why?
10. The nakedness of your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter you shall not uncover their nakedness, for they are your own nakedness.
This parshah tell all the people we should "lay" with, including our neighbor's wife.

At the end, we learn that
21. And you shall not give any of your offspring to pass through for Molech. And you shall not profane the Name of your God. I am the Lord.
Molech is a pagan ritual where you hand over a child to a pagan priest who would build two fires. The child was then passed through on foot between the two fires.

This child sacrifice was practiced by the Canaanites, Phoenicians, and related cultures in North Africa and the Levant.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Parshat Acharei, (Leviticus 17:8-18:5), 4/10/14

One must not do an offering in any place but the Tent of Meeting. If you do so, you'll be cut off from your people. Again, I take this like taking a short cut. Someone lazy might do an offering in their home so they don't have to venture out into the cold. I sometimes would try to straighten a zabaton with my foot. The priest would yell at me.

Jews don't eat blood because the soul of the flesh (life) is in the blood. Blood is life. Maybe the Jews believed that animals have a soul too, which is why the sacred blood would be sprinkled on the horns of the altar. Perhaps people should not eat blood because blood is sacred.

When we trap a wild animal or bird, we shall cover its blood with dust.

Probably the most interesting passage in this parshah for me is that one should not follow the laws of other people.
3. Like the practice of the land of Egypt, in which you dwelled, you shall not do, and like the practice of the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you, you shall not do, and you shall not follow their statutes.
The Torah continues,
5. You shall observe My statutes and My ordinances, which a man shall do and live by them. I am the Lord.  
I think the Buddhist take on this is that if we follow a law that is not based on experience then we have problems. I think what “the Lord” wants us to do is to be careful.