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.