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: http://blog.kimmosley.com/2014/09/rage-is-empty.html

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” (Chabad.org) 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 blog.kimmosley.com and for kenshinsbarmitzvah.blogspot.com 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. “...you 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.