Monday, February 29, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 2nd Portion, Exodus 35:21-29, February 29, 2016

“Every man and woman whose heart inspired them to generosity to bring for all the work that the Lord had commanded to make, through Moses, the children of Israel brought a gift for the Lord.” (Exodus 35:21-29)
We don’t hear much about women in the Torah. Especially not when they have important roles to play with the men.

The Israelites were not giving here due to an order by God, but rather because their heart inspired them to generosity. They were free here to do or to not do.

I like that.

We have a balance here of being commanded by the Lord and being inspired by the heart. These two go hand in hand. Without being inspired by the heart, giving is not a gift but rather it just adds bad vibes to what was supposed to be a good action.

I have a pet pieve about people thinking of giving as sending a check, and that they aren’t giving in their paid jobs, or in the love and care they give to their families and friends. It is all giving. In fact, it seems that charities are a minor part of the infrastructure that makes the world go around. All week long we give as we attempt to both hold things together and promote beneficial change. Charities are needed but their impact is not as great as our 9-5 jobs.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Parshat Vayak'hel, 1st Portion, Exodus 35:1-20, February 28, 2016

“Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: ‘These are the things that the Lord commanded to make.  

Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the Lord; whoever performs work thereon [on this day] shall be put to death.’” (Exodus 35:1-2)

I wrote a day or two ago that a commandment is not an order. We can refuse it if we are willing to take the consequences. Here the consequence for working on the Sabbath is death. 

In Hebrews 10:26-29, it speaks of a world where God is no longer the direct ruler, but rather when the evil-doer must look forward to the last great day of judgement. Is this what will happen to me because I work all the time (not that I get much done)? 

Would this be a good practice to not work on Saturday? What would I do? That still baffles me. I would go to Torah study, as I do... but then I'd go to the service afterwards... and I wouldn't do my Torah blog, and I wouldn't close up the holes in our living room wall, and I wouldn't this or that. I could make excuses, like I won't have my right hand for two months starting in about a week... but that hasn't been the case for most of my life.

I think I had mentioned before that work is not just work. It is in Judaism a practice as well. It is mindful and it is preparation toward making the world a better place. Then on Saturday we are suppose to lay low and appreciate what we've done. But must I? Why should I, I ask?

Why would God ever tell anyone not to work. I think of Wordsworth here, “Getting and spend we lay waste our nature. Little we know of nature that is ours.” But supposedly the mindful and creative work to make the world better is not "lay(ing) waste our nature.” 

I don't take vacations either. Because making stuff is what I want to do. Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Should I do it just once so that I can say, I observed the sabbath. I could walk to the temple. But could I open the refrigerator? That's the question. And could I use the toaster oven? Maybe my wife would do that for me. Which always seemed odd that you could have another do some of these things for you... where saving a life almost trumps everything (I guess the word "trump" will never be the same).

My uncle Irving, an Orthodox Jew, would work in my father's store on some Saturdays. He would not take money though, but have my father do that. Do you think on the last day of judgement that God will not remember? We'll see.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 7th Portion, Exodus 34:27-35, February 27, 2016

This is a beautiful chapter about enlightenment and teaching.
“And it came to pass when Moses descended from Mount Sinai, and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses' hand when he descended from the mountain and Moses did not know that the skin of his face had become radiant while He had spoken with him. (Exodus 34:29)”
It is interesting to me that the Hebrew word for radiant means horns. Michelangelo depicted the radiance as horns. My wife said that she learned in art history that Michelangelo was mistaken depicting them as horns. Luckily, I slept through those 8am classes, and didn't get misinformed.

Moses has horns like a bull. Are we back to the Golden Calf? And the radiance of gold? Is this why Donald Trump spray paints his face gold? Is he trying to project the radiance of Moses? Is he the Golden Calf or the real McCoy (Moses)?

When Moses taught the chapters of the Torah, he first taught Aaron and all the princes of the community, then the children of Israel would draw near. We saw earlier that children meant male Israelites who would go into the army. There was a succession of different people who'd come as the teaching proceeded so some heard it multiple times.
“The Rabbis taught in a Baraitha: How was the Mishnah ordered? Moses learned from the mouth of the Divine. Then, Aaron entered and Moses taught him his portion. Aaron then distanced himself and sat to Moses' left. His sons then entered and Moses taught them their portion. They then distanced themselves and Elazar sat to the right of Moses and Itamar to the left of Aaron. Rabbi Yehuda said, Aaron was always on the right of Moses. Returning, the elders entered and Moses taught them their portion. The elders distanced themselves and the entire nation entered and Moses taught them their portion. The result was that Aaron heard the teaching four times, his sons, three times, the elders, twice, and the entire nation, once. Moses then distanced himself and Aaron repeated his portion. His sons then repeated their portion and left. The elders then repeated their portion and left. In this way, everyone heard everything four times. Based on this method, Rabbi Eliezer said, everyone is obligated to repeat his teachings to his disciples four times. This is obvious, by force of argument: If Aaron learned Torah from Moses and Moses directly from God, and then ordinary people from each other certainly!” (Eruvin 54b)
We see here a little educational theory suggesting that Moses had learned the benefit of repetition. Or was it that ordinary people were slow learners and needed to hear it more?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 6th Portion, Exodus 34:10-26, February 26, 2016

At 16, I was a member of a religious discussion group at the Baptist Church near the University of Chicago. It was so liberal that they had been kicked out from the Southern Baptist Convention. The minister who led the group called me a religious globe trotter. Perhaps I told him that one Easter Sunday I went to six churches. That was after my mom forbid me to go to church, saying I was too impressionable.

As I look at the Torah, I waiver between wanting Judaism to be one of my religions or not. One day it is yes, and the next it is no. My dad thought intermarriage was the salvation of the world. On the other hand, my grandpa promised me a Jaguar if I married a Jewish woman.

I actually like how the Torah pushes my buttons. It is part of the cleverness of the Torah—it continually challenges me to explore my tendency to “leak,” as Buddhists put it. You can read here ( about Dharmic plumbing.

Today I read:
“Beware lest you form a covenant with the inhabitant[s] of the land into which you are coming, lest it become a snare in your midst. 
But you shall demolish their altars, shatter their monuments, and cut down their sacred trees.   For you shall not prostrate yourself before another god, because the Lord, Whose Name is “Jealous One,” is a jealous God. 
Lest you form a covenant with the inhabitant[s] of the land, and they [the gentiles] go astray after their gods, and they offer sacrifices to their gods, and they invite you, and you eat of their slaughtering,  
and you take of their daughters for your sons; then their daughters will go astray after their gods and lead your sons astray after their gods.” (Exodus 34:12-16)
We are aghast today when ancient monuments are destroyed. How should I take this? It almost makes me physically sick every time I read that line, “But you shall demolish their altars...”

No wonder the Jews have been persecuted. They deserved it if this was their practice. Of course, there is the issue of whether two wrongs make a right, and we usually agree abstractly that they do not.

The Israelites were projecting their immaturity onto God, saying he was jealous. Hopefully we are more tolerant now of those with views different from our own. We realize now that there are many ways to skin a cat.

And even Christ was intolerant to non-believers. One reading of his “I come with a sword...” is that he came to separate kids from their parents because their parents practiced other beliefs.

In fact, the idea of not treating others as you not want to be treated directly opposes this section, as does the “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for we were once strangers in a strange land. (See: for many teachings on this theme.

So why does the Torah contradict itself? Is it different than the way we behave? Is it an opportunity for us to look in a mirror.

We put people in jail for torturing their dog, and then we kill and eat our farm animals. Are we hypocrites in so many instances?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 5th Portion, Exodus 34:1-9, February 25, 2016

“So he [Moses] hewed two stone tablets like the first ones, and Moses arose early in the morning and ascended Mount Sinai as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 
And the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and He called out in the name of the Lord.” (Exodus 34:4-5)
This is such an important moment for Western Civilization. The people are ready for the laws, and Moses is going to get them. The Lord will join the people, not as a man, of course, but as a spirit. Moses prostrated himself, recognizing this awesome moment where God both gives the laws and will soon join the people in the Tabernacle.

I think “commandments” is a bad word choice. The laws form a covenant with God. God is not a dictator telling us what to do, but rather, she gives us a choice. She says, “Obey these laws and I will dwell in your midst.” We can choose otherwise and many people do. But we have another choice as well. We can be in her midst.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 4th Portion, Exodus 33:17-23, February 24, 2016

“He [Moses] said: “I will let all My goodness pass before you; I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you, and I will favor when I wish to favor, and I will have compassion when I wish to have compassion.” (Exodus 33:19)
This verse is interesting. I often hear that our image of God is a reflection of who we are. “Favor when I wish to favor,” is what we would often call a conflict of interest. I had recently come across an article saying that Hillary Clinton shouldn’t be speaking to Wall Street (at $200,000 per talk) because they will ask favors. The article (written after the Torah) suggested that the Talmud spoke against “favoring.”

I wonder, as well, what is the difference between favoring and compassion. Aren’t they very similar? Our heart goes out to the needy, so we favor them.
“And He said, “You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.” (Exodus 33:20)
  “And the Lord said: “Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock.” (Exodus 33:21) 
“And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by.” (Exodus 33:22) 
“Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:23)
Here’s a beautiful scene where God reveals his back to Moses, but not his face. It reminds us that to see God is to know God, and to know God would kill our relationship to her. Life is wonder. Live is about not pinning down God. We kill God by seeing his face, in the same way too much analysis can ruin a rich experience.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 3rd Portion, Exodus 33:12-16, February 23, 2016

Yesterday I didn’t want to have anything to do with Judaism. Yes, both God and Moses were having temper tantrums. And we thought they were angry because the Israelites were worshiping the wrong god... a golden calf. And all because Moses, on an heroic journey to get law from God, was a little late returning.

That wasn’t the real story. It was the story of idolatry. It wasn’t that the golden calf was the wrong god, but rather that it was about the Israelites knowing what god looked like.They were not being humble—one of the greatest sins in Judaism. And for the 3000 who were killed for making the golden calf, they thought that they knew, and they worshiped their misconception. We cannot know God.

Today’s portion is very short, and maybe my favorite in the Torah. If I had to do it all over again, I’d pop out of my mom today so that this could become my Bar Mitzvah portion. But I’m almost 70 years too late... actually not about. I should have been born 70 years ago on this day.

Moses says to God, “And now, if I have indeed found favor in Your eyes, pray let me know Your ways, so that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your eyes; and consider that this nation is Your people.” (Exodus 33L:13)

Moses doesn’t get it. He tells God here that he’d like to know her. And this is just what he had Levi’s children kill 3000 Israelites for doing... knowing. As William Blake said, “Never pain to tell thy love, love that never told can be.”

It is the uttering of such knowledge that makes the feeling impotent. An idea no longer has power because it has been articulated.

Once a little boy went up to a great violinist and asked him how he played this one note. The violinist looked at his violin and could never play that note again.

On the other hand, there is the story of the little girl who asked her mom for paper and crayons. What do you want to draw, the mother asked. God, the girl answered. But no one knows what God looks like, the mother answered. Now they will, the girl answered. (So let's ignore that story.)

Moses speaks of his ignorance (not the not knowing kind of ignorance, but the desire to know kind): “For how then will it be known that I have found favor in Your eyes, I and Your people? Is it not in that You will go with us? Then I and Your people will be distinguished from every [other] nation on the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33:16) 

Where we have heard that Judaism brought the world monotheism, here (and other places) it is suggested that our God is not a universal god but one that distinguishes Israelites from others.

Even the Christian's “Lord’s Prayer,” “Our father...” suggests that there are other fathers in Heaven.

Perhaps Moses will get it straight tomorrow... That we cannot see or know God, and that is her grandeur. 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 2nd Portion, Exodus 31:18-33:11, February 22, 2016

Big day in the soap opera. Moses is late returning with the tablets, and his people make and worship the golden calf. Moses first persuades God to have mercy on them and not annihilate them. Then Moses comes down the mountain and was angry himself, so he had the sons of Levi kill 3000 of those that made the golden calf. But then the lord struck the people with a plague anyhow.

What happens here is very interesting. There is a transition from God being the one who punishes to Moses being the executioner and then back to God. I think we see this happens in our time when we have wars and also catastrophic weather events. Some of the events are the result of our actions, and others seem to be the “act of God”—a phrase used in the law meaning something out of our control.

We see the two sides of God, and the two sides of Moses—justice and mercy. We see that Moses is so angry that he throws down the tablets and breaks them. These are the tablets that would cure the people of their bad behavior. They are needed (an understatement). And yet he destroys them. Is it because they aren’t yet ready for them. Do they have to grow up? Do they have to suffer?

This is the story of human kind, over and over again. We are impatient. We worship false gods (a great subject for another day). We are told the truth (the tablets), but we are not ready for the truth. 

And in the end, this is not just the story of the ancients, but also our story, today.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Parshat Ki Tisa, 1st Portion, Exodus 31:11-34:35, February 21, 2016

The Census Tax

11 “The Lord said to Moses, 12 ‘When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them. 13 Each one who is numbered in the census shall give this: half a shekel [1] according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), [2] half a shekel as an offering to the Lord. 14 Everyone who is numbered in the census, from twenty years old and upward, shall give the Lord’s offering. 15 The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the Lord’s offering to make atonement for your lives. 16 You shall take the atonement money from the people of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may bring the people of Israel to remembrance before the Lord, so as to make atonement for your lives.’” (Exodus 31:11-16)

Depending on the translation I read, this passage has a different meaning. In the Torah, it speaks of an atonement for one’s sins, but here below we read of ransom for your life, which I take to mean to free from slavery.

12 “When you take the sum of the children of Israel according to their numbers, let each one give to the Lord an atonement for his soul when they are counted; then there will be no plague among them when they are counted.” (Exodus 30:12)

So when people say, I believe in the Bible... one has to ask “which Bible.”

I like because it neatly divides the Torah into manageable bites... one for each day. It has commentary by Rashi. It also is a little more spiritual. Freedom is ultimately not about who has chaines around your legs, but rather whether your mind has been liberated. Are you a creature of habitual actions, or are you dealing with your challenge (life) in a creative way? 

Something rubs me the wrong way when I read about giving... where really it is payment for atonement or freedom, depending on which Torah you are reading. Giving is ransom when it is done under a threat. Who wants to be hit by a plague as the Egyptians so sadly were?

Let’s call a spade a spade. Dare I trust a religion that asks for money to keep you from getting sick, eternal damnation, or whatever the threat might be? 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 7th Portion, Exodus 30:1-10, February 20, 2016

“But Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year; with the blood of the sin offering of the atonements, once a year he shall effect atonement upon it for your generations; it is a holy of holies to the Lord.” (Exodus 30:10)

When I hear “sin” I think of Christ dying for our sins. I wonder what that means. Does it mean that we’ll all go to Heaven now?

Here are two different translations of Romans 4:25:
New International Version
“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” 
New Living Translation
“He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God.”
Did Aaron make atonement once a year for our sins as Jesus did? Was this done to make us right with God, or was it done so we could start off on a new foot?

I have a feeling that Christ died for our eternal life, while Aaron’s atonement (now Yom Kippur) was about this life. Students get to start off on a new foot each semester. People divorce and remarry to start off on a new foot. People move and change jobs to start off on a new foot. Early on, I taught at three different colleges in five years, each time starting off on a new foot. I blamed the schools for stuff I should have blamed myself. In any case, in time I realized that 1) all places are essentially the same, and 2) wherever you are, you need to take yourself with you.

Aaron didn’t just do the offering for those who had sinned, but “effect atonement upon it for your generations.” In other words, one could make the argument that he ended sin for the Israelites. “Swept it up,” so to speak.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 6th Portion, Exodus 29:38-46, February 19, 2016

“It shall be a continual burnt offering for your generations, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord, where I will arrange meetings with you, to speak to you there.” 
“There I will arrange meetings with the children of Israel, and it will be sanctified by My glory.” 
“I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will sanctify Aaron and his sons to serve Me [as kohanim].”  
“I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel and I will be their God.”  
“They will know that I, the Lord, am their God, Who brought them out of the land of Egypt in order that I may dwell in their midst; I am the Lord, their God.” (Exodus 29:42-46)
There is the obvious implication here that when God says that he will be their God that he won’t be the God for someone else. Of course, if a parent would say to their kid that they’d be their parent, that doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be the parent of another kid... but this is different.

God brought the Israelites out of Egypt as an act of favoritism. You could say that the Egyptians used them as slaves and deserved the plagues. But the Israelites also took slaves, sometimes from their own tribes, and sometimes others.

Was this really a God for all people? If God were to dwell in the midst of the Israelites was she also in the midst of other? It would be possible if you think of God as part of everything... but then the favoritism implicit in the statement, “... I may dwell in their midst.” doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So one approach here for a Rabbi to take is to tell me not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Sure there are some parts of the Torah that don’t suggest that God loves everyone... but look at the great laws that were given to Moses.

Certainly even yours truly could be dismissed for a variety of reasons, but I hope that one would look at my whole being before such a severe judgement.

Another approach would be to read God as a parent—that her love for one group doesn’t speak to her love for another group. But you do have to play favorites if you are deciding where the next tornado will touch down or who wins the primary in South Carolina.

Oh, you say, God doesn’t rig the ballot box. If so, one could retort, then why pray? Is it so you can connect to the divine? To what advantage, one could ask? At which point, blows could be exchanged and more beer could be consumed.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 5th Portion, Exodus 29:19-37, February 18, 2016

“For seven days you shall perform atonement upon the altar and sanctify it. Henceforth, the altar shall be a holy of holies. Whatever touches the altar will be holy.” (Exodus 29:37)
Rabbi Kerry Baker today, in discussing a passage in Leviticus that used the term “fixed times which you shall proclaim as sacred,” explained that work in Judaism has a different meaning than how we generally use the term.

Work is a sacred activity as is the sabbath. The Israelites worked to build the Tabernacle. Because of the amount of detail, they not only had to be mindful that they did it right, but in the process they created a community of 36 different professionals (and many more assistants). But this was just the beginning. As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:2, “...there is a time to plant and a time to harvest.”

We see in the Torah portion the beginning of the time to harvest, sanctifying the altar. When you are done making a piece of pottery, the sabbath is your using the pottery. Work, explained Rabbi Baker, was, as Erich Fromm put it, “changing the world.” It is not less important than the sabbath. Our work is punctuated with time for prayer, and even the work itself, in the way that it binds us, is prayer (my words, not Rabbi Baker’s.)

In Bali, and probably many other places, after a new building is made, space clearing with the ringing of bells takes place. (I once took a workshop with Karen Kingston who does this work.) The cost of space clearing is figured into the cost of the building. This portion is about that space clearing, making the altar the holy of holies.

The Tabernacle doesn’t get that status just by knocking together some materials. It needs more to take it from just a pot pourri of pretty materials to a place where connections can be made with the Eternal. This takes seven days, as long as it took to create the heaven and the earth. It is no easy task. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 4th Portion, Exodus 29:1-18, February 17, 2016

Backtracking 10 days ago:
“The Lord spoke to Moses saying:
Speak to the children of Israel, and have them take for Me an offering; from every person whose heart inspires him to generosity, you shall take My offering.” (Exodus 25:1-2)
And todays portion starts with: 
“And this is the thing that you shall do for them to sanctify them to serve Me [as kohanim]: take one young bull and two rams, perfect ones.” (Exodus 29:1)
and this portion ends with:
“and you shall make the entire ram go up in smoke upon the altar; it is a burnt offering made to the Lord; it is a spirit of satisfaction, a fire offering for the Lord.” (Exodus 29:18)
Some random thoughts:

I want to work with this idea of offerings. First, making an offering suggests that God has a consciousness to notice that an offering was made. I think it would take a lot to convince me that this was the case. 

When I first read of these offerings I felt that they were both cruel to the animals, and that they were wasteful, given our limited resources on Earth. Neither of these attitudes seemed to bother the Israelites. 

In the last line (Exodus 29:18) we hear that the animals should be perfect. And yet, nothing is perfect but God. And even God's perfection cannot be seen, because the viewer (us) cannot see that well. We more create what we are looking at (in our own image) than really see.

The offerings ended with the destruction of the second temple. They say it is because there was not a place to do the offerings, but perhaps another factor was that they grew out of the need for them. 

If the offerings were the only way to get from impurity to purity, then were the Israelites continually impure from that point? It seems that if they were still believed in so throughly then they would have built another Tabernacle to perform the rituals. 

I've heard that studying the Torah took the place of the offerings. See: The article quotes the Talmud: “Whoever is busy with [learning] Torah need not bring an Olah, Chatas, Mincha, or Oshom (types of sacrifices).”

Interesting that circumcision is the only remaining sacrifice. 

The article above also mentions that the offerings were not to appease God, but rather to draw us closer to him. So they were a form of prayer. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 3rd Portion, Exodus 28:31-43, February 16, 2016

If you don’t do it right you will die.

We should remember that Judaism was not a religion at the time of the Torah. That came when Memonidies introduced Aristotle or Neo-Aristotelian thought in the 12th century and there was uncertainty—essential for belief. What we read in the Torah was taken as fact, as we took as fact what we read in science textbooks in high school.

“They shall be worn by Aaron and by his sons when they enter the Tent of Meeting or when they approach the altar to serve in the Holy, so they will not bear iniquity and die. It shall be a perpetual statute for him and for his descendants after him.” Exodus 28:43

I and others are struck by the penalties for incorrect temple behavior. We live in a relatively permissive country (unless you are a jaywalking African-American). The Torah is not that world. We are meant to take God's commands very very seriously. A little mishap can mean a severe punishment. Moses hit the rock rather than talked to it to get water, and he was prevented from every getting to the promised land. Worse, Aaron’s two son, who inappropriately made an offering, were consumed by fire.

Why was/is it so important to do the right thing? I wish I had a good answer. Certainly doing a job well is how we make the mundane into the sacred.

Imagine proposing to a woman you wanted to marry, and text messaging a friend at the same time. That would be making the sacred mundane.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 2nd Portion, Exodus 28:13-30, February 15, 2016

“The first two garments that G‑d described were the high priest’s Ephod and Breastplate. The Ephod was an apron-like garment tied around the waist, possessing two straps that rose in the back from the waist up to and over the shoulders. A precious stone was attached to the upper end of each of these straps; on these two stones were engraved the names of the twelve tribes. The Breastplate was a square piece of material onto which were fastened twelve different precious stones. The names of the twelve tribes were inscribed on these twelve gems. The Breastplate was tied to the Ephod at the top and bottom with wool cords. From Monday: The Sublime and the Mundane

“The Breastplate must not come loose from the Ephod.” Exodus 28:28

“...Zen maintains a stance of “not one” and “not two,” i.e., “positionless position,” where “not two” signals a negation of the stance that divides the whole into two parts, i.e., dualism, while “not one” designates a negation of this stance when the Zen practitioner dwells in the whole as one, while suspending judgment in meditation, i.e., non-dualism. Free, bilateral movement between “not one” and “not two” characterizes Zen’s achievement of a personhood with a third perspective that cannot, however, be confined to either dualism or non-dualism (i.e., neither “not one” nor “not two”).” From

So the breastplate for the priest represents the divine and the ephod the mundane world. And yet they are attached that they are one.

Even though we devote the sabbath to the divine, there are daily prayers that are prescribed. And on the sabbath, we eat (though some Jews don’t cook). So there are no days that are not devoted to both the sublime and the mundane.

I asked my wife about the difference between the two and she said that we create the distinction. In Zen, washing a bowl can be both the sublime and the mundane. In the most mundane act, being still, we can touch the sublime. In fact Dogan (13th century Zen Master) said that we are “one with the universe.” (For more, much more:

What is so special here is that both the breastplate and the ephod are laden with jewels and gold. The ephod was hardly mundane, though it represented the mundane.

Tonight I was reading mention in Buddhism of the supramundane to refer to the opposite of the mundane. I like this better than sublime because it is not different, but rather where you go when you move through the mundane. A art teacher of mine claimed that the greatest discovery of his life was that corners pick up dirt—perhaps he was defining the supramundane. It is not another place, but rather a way of (really) understanding what is already there.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Parshat Tetzaveh, 1st Portion, Exodus 27:20-28-12, February 14, 2016

“And you shall command the children of Israel, and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually.” —Exodus (27:20)

This portion speaks of the eternal light... the light in the temple that is supposed to always be lit.

In I read about how we can’t all be priests because there is work to be done in the world. That’s why we do what we do and then support the priests. But it also talked of the priest within all of us—a portion that we allocate of ourselves (beyond our money) to the divine. Sweet thought, especially on Valentines Day.

I attend a group called “Hidden Lamp” at a Zen temple on Sundays. Today I left extra early because I needed to take a much longer route there because of a marathon in town. That longer path was stuck in a gridlock, so I circled back around and thought I’d get as close as I could, and then walk the rest of the way, crossing the path of the runners. That too failed. All the possible parking spots were only for residents of that neighborhood. 

I scolded myself for being so upset that I couldn’t get there. What good has all this meditation been if I can’t even endure a little difficulty in my life? I was on the outside and couldn’t get in, or visa versa. I was frustrated as hell. A simple job was undoable. I finally gave up and went home. The lamp was truly hidden.

When I got home, I discovered our other car’s battery was dead. So off to Costco, stopping at Home Depot, Sprouts, and then Costco. Then I read the Torah portion, standing in line at Costco. By that time the race was over... and what I thought would be a quiet afternoon at home turned out to be a marathon of my own.

I enjoyed reading about how the lamp needed to stay lit. Maybe that’s our obligation. To keep our lamp lit so we can help others keep their light lit. And the dead battery didn’t help, but now it is replaced... and I received a refund of $2 and change. Always nice to buy something and have them give you money.

In any case, though I “suffered” with missing the Hidden Lamp, I knew all along that I shouldn’t be suffering. I realized that the suffering was much worst than the mishap itself. In fact, it turned out that the others did fine without me. I was just a child screaming “I want it. I want it.” And I could really see myself “out of sorts”... perhaps an improvement for me... but it didn’t seem to help.

But something good happened when I read about keeping the lamp lit. Even if the lamp was hidden to me, it could not be ignored. 

And who was I, complaining about a little frustration when the Israelites took 40 years in the desert to get to the promised land... and their journey was so arduous that only their children made it... only to find that things were not so peachy in the promised land?

So my new mantra from the day: kindle the lamp continually. Keep it lit. Shield it from wind and water. Don’t let it go out. Whose lamp? Mine? Others?

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Parshat Terumah, 7th Portion, Exodus 27:9-19, February 13, 2016

“And you shall make the courtyard of the Mishkan on the southern side [there shall be] hangings for the courtyard of twisted fine linen, one hundred cubits long on one side.” (Exodus 27:9)

This portion is about the courtyard around the Mishkan. Perhaps one could say, if we are Mishkan, then the courtyard is the life we build around us. A teacher would tell us, “Take care of your life and your art will take care of itself.” Perhaps he was saying something similar. You can’t plop something good in the middle of something that is haphazard.

Another teacher would tell me, “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” Over the years I’ve seen plenty that fulfills each quadrant.

I’ve come to realize that there isn’t much that isn’t worth doing. After the “take care of your life...” teacher told me that the greatest discovery of his life was that corners pick up dirt, I started to realize that it is all worth doing. Another artist, visiting for the day, talked about how she kept her students from going down bad paths. I asked her what were some of those paths... I’d like to give them a try. Years later, we were colleagues. I asked her the same question. She said she had changed her mind. There are no bad paths.

In Torah study, we talk today about Reform Jews and prayer. An hassidic rabbi (and our head rabbi’s mentor) last weekend said that Reform Jews don’t do prayer very well. There was a lot of discussion with our head rabbi about his mentor’s statement. I like the way our head rabbi said that just the fact that the hassidic rabbi’s statement had been bothering people for a week meant that his visit was worthwhile.

I wish I could say more about prayer. If you believe in a God that pulls strings if you say the right thing, then prayer makes a lot of sense. If you believe that prayer is an opportunity to express and align our intentions with our actions, then prayer still makes sense. I’m reminder of the book of the Russian Pilgrim who searched through Russia to learn to pray. Finally, on top of a mountain he finds a man who teaches him the Jesus prayer, to be said unceasingly. The man learns to pray. The next volume describes his travels back through Russia teaching others to pray.

Buiding a beautiful Mishkan and a fitting courtyard are prayer. They are caring from their Tabernacle as one should care for the divine. That seems like prayer.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Parshat Terumah, 6th Portion, Exodus 27:1-8, February 12, 2016

You shall make it hollow, out of boards; as He showed you on the mountain, so shall they do. (Exodus 27:8)

I’ve been looking at my buttons. Coming from a libertarian background, from parents who were self-employed, from a mother who got the heebie-jeebies” from cults and directives, my button is pushed when someone tells me to do something.

As an artist, I’d start out doing the opposite of what I’m told, and go from there. I’m more interested in making mistakes that in doing it right. I did find a blog about someone who said they were a Jewish Libertarian. They certainly run in my family.

A friend was asking if Buddhists could be selfish. Wasn’t there a moral imperative to help others?

It seems the moral imperatives take all the fun out of giving. Am I going to be run by someone who tells me that it is a moral imperative to do this or that.

Will I obey the sabbath because someone told me to do it? Will I go to Friday night services to be a better Jew?

I’m so proud of my kids that they listened to themselves first. And they are doing so well.

I think of what one of teachers would tell us, “Listen to everyone and believe no one.”

So what I’m trying to put together is a spiritual life where my actions are directed by me. Is that possible? Can one be a Jew and hear the beat of a different drummer?

P.S. Toward the end of making the drawing for today... I thought to myself... sucker, you got taken one more day with your perfect reaction to the Torah. Who is this God that tells me what to do but me, myself and I? Who am I fighting but myself? Who is pushing all these buttons but me? This is all another stop on my journey... a stop to keep it rich and exciting.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Parshat Terumah, 5th Portion, Exodus 26:31-37, February 11, 2016

What is a place?

Ramsey Park. It needed some updating. It looked shabby. So we did that. The neighborhood pitched in with time and cash. And it turned out beautiful. I was surprised to be there on the opening day, and to see how it had brought together kids of all agents, adults, and local government officials. It was the people in the park that made the day. The park itself was just a place. It was improved, but the real accomplishment was how the people came and enjoyed the facilities... and each other.

So it is with the Tabernacle. A building, no matter how beautiful, means nothing compared with its potential to teach, to bring people together, and to bring us closer to the divine. That should be what a building is about. has an interesting perspective on the Tabernacle. It suggests that it is a representation of not only our mind, but of our spiritual journey. It describes the two chambers of the Tabernacle, saying that the outer chamber represents our intellect with three furnishings, “the Candelabrum, the Table of twelve loaves, and the incense Altar.” It goes on to say that we orient our consciousness toward Divinity by focusing our intellect on God. No wonder we can't understand her (my comment, not from the article). [The three furnishings] “signify the three components of the intellect: the ability to gain insight (chochmah, in Hebrew), the ability to comprehend (binah) the meaning of that insight, and the ability to make what we comprehend relevant to our own lives (da’at).”

Being in the outer chamber is like walking on a stony path with your eyes on the sky. You'll trip again and again because you aren't seeing the stones. And your faith is easily broken when you do fall.

The inner chamber has the Ark. Here we have “supra-rational consciousness” of God, where our consciousness is “engulfed by Divine consciousness.” Supra-rational means to transcend the rational. I suspect we use it daily without knowing it. In any case, maybe we are using it 100% when we enter the inner chamber (which only special priests enter). Perhaps Aaron's sons were still using their intellect when God's fire ended their lives.

Having read this article, the Tabernacle, like Ramsey Park, will no longer just be a place or a building. It represents our minds that move from thinking to knowing. How we move through the outer chamber (the world that we see) to the inner chamber, the world that extends endlessly in ten directions (as Buddhists say), is your guess as much as mine.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Parshat Terumah, 4th Portion, Exodus 26:15-30, February 10, 2016

“And you shall make the planks for the Mishkan of acacia wood, upright.” (Exodus 26:15)

“The Hebrew word for “acacia” (shitah) means “bending.” The acacia tree is called the “bending” tree because it bends to the side as it grows, rather than growing straight up. The Hebrew word for “foolishness” (shetut) is another form of this word, since foolishness is an act of “bending” from the path dictated by logic.”

There is lots to play with here. First, using a bending wood, upright, to make walls? Maybe it was the only wood available... but it seems to go against its nature. Do we go against our nature when we are upright?

Bending seems to me about mercy. Justice is upright. An eye for an eye. The scales of justice, when fulfilled, are not bending. Compassion bends. We care and we sometimes go overboard to give to someone who is in need. That is bending, as in bending over for a kid, an animal or someone who is sick.

And then there is the idea of foolishness. According to article cited above, there are two types of foolishness—holy and unholy. Unholy foolishness is when we go against God, like when we make a golden calf and worship it as an idol. But holy foolishness is when we recreate the torah (with a small t). It is when we define our particular path for faith. How can I connect with the universe in a compassionate and loving manner? Holy and foolishness are almost opposites. To build an upright wall from a bending tree is holy foolishness. We take our lives, bending, and make them worthy of a temple for God. Much cooler than using a straight piece of wood for a straight wall. Isn’t it?

They say that there are no extraneous words in the Torah. Is “upright” extraneous? Are walls anything but “upright.” Is it “holy foolishness” to use a bent piece of wood upright to make a home for God? Are we bent pieces of wood who stand upright to God (I meditated for an hour tonight and I kept thinking of all the ramifications of the instruction “upright.” I wanted to take notes... but that wouldn’t be “upright.” That would be “unholy foolishness.”)

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Parshat Terumah, 3rd Portion, Exodus 25:31-26:14, February 9, 2016

The Torah today talks of a menorah. This is the original menorah, not the one that we use for Hanukah. It has six branches with another branch in the center. Oil and a wick were put in the branches and lit. The first branch to be lit was the one in the center, but it would not go out, like the burning bush when Moses met God.

Jews think of themselves as the light, first to bring to the world monotheism (though probably this may be a stretch), and next to offer the world an ethical system based on a balance of justice and mercy.

Judaism was not initially a religion, which is said to have come later with the idea of faith. When one knows something for sure, that there is a God and the God talked to Moses and gave him laws (for example), then they don’t have religion. But when uncertainty develops and one doubts (not abandons) their beliefs, then they start to have a serious spiritual practice.

So the light symbolizes Judaism, but also represents the light in us that is (not “comes from”) the divine. It is not our bodies, but rather the spirit that was breathed into our body when we came alive. Rabbi Jonathan Slater speaks of “out breath, in breath” suggesting that, as Jews start the day in the evening, we start our life breathing out the gift of life from the universe.

It is prosperous to think that our lives just come from a biological process. That process gives us mechanical function, but it takes the universe to give us life, as God breathed life in Adam in the first creation story. The menorah, only to be housed In a temple, represents that glow... the lives of a people, the gift of the universe, the symbol of the glow of pure love. As we connect with others and even with who we are, a bright light comes from the menorah. Quick, where are my sunglasses?

Monday, February 8, 2016

Parshat Terumah, 2nd Portion, Exodus 25:17-30, February 8, 2016

We most often have incomplete information.* We are told to do such and such, but there is a lot we don’t know. We might know the odds when we play roulette, but we don’t know how the Gods (or chance) will decide what numbers for the roulette wheel to land on.

God gives Moses instructions for the Tabernacle. If he gave complete instructions, then robots could build it. Or even with a random number generator, the robots could allow chance to make decisions. But the building of the Tabernacle, as is true for all the following of the rules of the Torah, is truly a matter for human decisions.

One of the benefits of building the Tabernacle was that people were brought together to work on a very ambitious project. They weren’t working as slaves, but rather they were given the opportunity to make plenty of decisions. Just as there are two Torahs that I wrote about yesterday—the book and our lives—so there were Tabernacles—the portable temple and the building of a community.

Zen practitioners take on Soji, a period of mindful temple cleaning. My job on a particular day was to rake the gravel under the oak tree. I was a real newbie and stupidly asked, “how should I rake it.” I wanted more instruction, which I was given, “In a Zen way.”

So, now with more information, I raked the stones. Before long the bell rang and we returned to our cushions for meditation. I was “saved by the bell” as we said in school. But other times I was not so lucky. I was given incomplete information and then criticized for not doing it right. Butttt..... I’d say, to no avail. I did it wrong as the Israelites often did things wrong, and brought out the wrath of God.

The incomplete instructions for the Tabernacle were beneficial. Now the Israelites would have to work together to build their shrine, even if it wouldn’t have a permanent place for many years. And again, in the process, they would work together. They had a mission, and they were trusted to do it right. 

In the same way, the laws that are given in the Torah were equally ambiguous and become great subject matter for endless debates in the Talmud. In the end, we shift from the authority of God to the authority of men. But the real authority becomes the individual and community who must decide in many cases how they will interpret the law. The commandment might say that one should honor their mom and dad, but it doesn’t say how. Did the Madoff sons honor their dad by turning him in? One could make that argument. In spite of Madoff’s imperfections, perhaps he raised his kids right. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Parshat Terumah, 1st Portion, Exodus 25:1-16, February 7, 2016

Terumah is what the people set aside for the priests. That is the name for this parshah. It is also the most important practice in Buddhism. Imagine having a magic eraser that would eliminate the line between ourselves and others. That is what giving is about.

Actually no giving occurs, though, because “giver, receiver, and gift” are all one, as one of my Zen teachers would say. And Terumah isn’t a gift after all, but an obligation. Charity is something else.

Terumah is an expression of faith. Terumah supports priests. Priests perform offerings to make us pure again. Quid pro quo. Tit for tat. 

And in this passage, the gifts are to God. Actually terumah is putting aside for God with the priests being the conduit. And seeing God as permeating everywhere, that is all we can do... to give to God.

One can see this transaction as both mental and monetary. I give X to the priest for these rituals, where they go to God. But, more important, would be the body connection with God. By sharing terumah with God via the priest we are not only connecting to God as two entities touching, but we are becoming one with God. 

Don’t like the word God? Call her whatever you’d like. It is that which appears (or better, that which we experience) when you use a magic eraser, eliminating boundaries between ourselves and the other.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Parshat Mishpatim, 7th Portion, Exodus 23:26-24:18, February 6, 2016

“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me to the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets, the Law and the commandments, which I have written to instruct them.’” (Exodus 24:12)

“And Moses went up to the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain.” (Exodus 24:15)

“And the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire atop the mountain, before the eyes of the children of Israel.” (Exodus 24:17)

“And Moses came within the cloud, and he went up to the mountain, and Moses was upon the mountain forty days and forty nights.” (Exodus 24:18)

We have Jonathan Slater from the Institute of Jewish Spirituality here in Austin this weekend. He has been talking about how Abraham had the Torah, or Torah, which he says is the wisdom that permeates our lives. I asked him if the Torah was discovered or created. I told him how I felt that the dharma in Buddhism is discovered and then forgotten (when it is time for a new Buddha). He also spoke of God as being not something out there but rather something throughout everything. 

I asked him about my conception of God—that it is a word we use to describe that which is indescribable. He agreed, but added that it was an experience, with which I agreed. I don’t think one can deny God any more than they can deny love or beauty. Though they (God, love, beauty) may have no scientific basis, even if they have move us in profound ways.

If the Torah had said that Moses makes up God so that he can convince the masses that the laws have some real bite to them, or if Moses had said that the plagues that finally convinced the Pharaoh were coincidental... and not really directed by God to convince the Pharaoh to free the Israelites... well, who’d believe him?

In Buddhism, we call stretching the truth skillful means. It is the idea that you need to present a situation in a way that it will take someone to the next step. As Torah (as opposed to The Torah) lives and develops, we find new ways to present the information.

I regret that so many have been presented with liturgy that is so hard to believe given our knowledge today. Miracles aren’t events when laws of nature are broken, but rather when the spectacular occurs. A beautiful sunset, the birth of a child, and the beating the four-minute mile are all miracles. The fact that I’m able to write this and send a link daily to almost 2500 people is pretty amazing. My friend, N, says that those things aren’t miracles. I disagree.

It took the Israelites 40 years to get to the promised land. And none of the original troopers made it. It took Moses 40 days to get the tablets. And it took Christ 40 days of fasting in the Judaean Desert, during which time he fought with Satan. I guess when their writers were thinking up numbers they have limited imagination. 

“I will send My fear before you, and I will confuse all the people among whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you.” (Exodus 23:27)

God makes some mighty promises. Some say he didn’t keep to his promises because we didn’t follow his rules. But perhaps his rules were skillful means to get us to the next step in our lives. But there are cost and benefits to promises that aren’t kept. Trust is lost, exemplified by the many Jews who questioned God’s love after the Holocaust. 

Friday, February 5, 2016

Parshat Mishpatim, 6th Portion, Exodus 23:20-25, February 5, 2016

“For My angel will go before you, and bring you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, and I will destroy them.

You shall not prostrate yourself before their gods, and you shall not worship them, and you shall not follow their practices, but you shall tear them down and you shall utterly shatter their monuments.” (Exodus 23:23-24)

There are a few lines that pushed a few buttons. My first thought is that this is the tipping point. I will never be a Jew.

Luckily, before I could burn my Torah, a friend came over and I told her about the destruction of the monuments for other religions. I explained to her that this might be the first step toward pluralism... that as we contemplate such a destructive act we would not do it.

Can the Israelites not destroy the monuments? One has to follow the Torah, don’t they? I then made the argument that stoning is the first step toward ending capital punishment. She took the opposite view, saying that stoning would eventually make people less sensitive to killing others.

Later, at Friday night services I asked another friend, “why destroy the monuments?” Our conversation led me to another conclusion, that the Israelites believed that worshiping other gods was detrimental to the existence of society. I believe ISIS took a similar perspective. Hitler, as well, believed that the Jewish people were detrimental to the betterment of mankind. These are all (IMHO) dangerous. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, as the saying goes. I just read that half the women in Indonesia have had their genitals altered. Again, from a liberated American’s viewpoint, good intentions gone bad.

I wish that God would say what she means. Really! Isn’t life hard enough without being given commands that we are supposed to kill and destroy when really she wants to make us more compassionate and pluralistic.

It is one thing not to worship false idols and another to destroy the idols of others. We blamed the Muslims for destroying relics, and then find that we (Jews, that is) are supposed to do the same thing.

Would I send my kids to a school that taught them to kill people who weren’t in their tribe? And then tell them, to add insult to injury, to destroy their monuments. (Actually, my grandkids go to school at the temple.)

Geez, glad I don’t have a problem with blood pressure. Leaking again. Rationally I can find a way of reframing this positively. Buddhists call this an “an opportunity for practice.” If this is an opportunity for practice... destroying six groups of people and their monuments... what about the Holocaust? Did we (Jews, that is) start the whole Judeo-Christian ethic? Was it even an ethic.

The problem with an eye for an eye, as I mentioned before, is that we’d all be blind, as M.L.K. jr. said.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Parshat Mishpatim, 5th Portion, Exodus 23:6-19, February 4, 2016

“And you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, since you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

“Six days you may do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, in order that your ox and your donkey shall rest, and your maidservant's son and the stranger shall be refreshed.” (Exodus 23:12)

There is an interesting connection between these two passages. First we say that we know what it is like to have the feelings of a stranger, and so we shall treat strangers well. A stranger is a convert. The Palestinians are not strangers. But this is a step toward embracing all people... not just those who vow to follow the laws of the Torah. Were the Jews converts in Egypt? Did they follow Egyptian law? We read earlier in Mishpatim that you should not charge interest to “My people.” Oppressing a stranger has to become broader, as I believe it has in Reform Judaism.

Then we read about the sabbath, and how we should observe it because our animals, our maidservant, and the stranger shall be refreshed. This becomes a very practical, business justified, reason for observing the sabbath. It is not about spending a day when we look up rather than down.

I'm not sure what it would be like to follow the sabbath. On the extreme side, I wouldn’t drive and I'd turn off my computer. But since I drive and use the computer to study the Torah, am I really not following the sabbath every day?

Here's a good FAQ on Shabbat:

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Parshat Mishpatim, 4th Portion, Exodus 22:27-23:5, February 3, 2016

“Your fullness offering and your heave offering you shall not delay; the firstborn of your sons you shall give Me.” (Exodus 22:28)

There are many readings of this verse. Some believe that early Israelites and others did sacrifice their firstborn, and only later substituted the offering of animals.

Two issues come up for me. One is, what does it mean to make an offering to God. Are his/her emotions so fragile that he cares. Is he happier when an offering is made to him. Does he say to his wife, “Good day at the office, hon, the Israelites gave me lots of goodies today.”?

I like to take the position that Moses and/or the writers of the Torah knew that our connection to that which is beyond us was very important. We should not think of this or that being mine. What we earn is a product of what we are given. To give back helps us realize our interconnection with others. Nothing is so precious that we shouldn’t we willing to share it. So we do the offerings, which, after the destruction of the Second Temple, morphed into studying the Torah.

Second, what is this about giving your first son? This contradicts other places in the Torah where it says that the firstborn were originally the priests and later the Levites:

“Now behold, I Myself have taken the Levites from among the children of Israel instead of every firstborn who opens the womb among the children of Israel. Therefore the Levites shall be mine, because all the firstborn are Mine. On the day that I struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, I sanctified to Myself all the firstborn in Israel, both man and beast. They shall be Mine: I am the Lord.” (Numbers 3:12-13)

So now “They shall be Mine:....” has a different meaning. It means that they should devote themselves to my service. It is that they need to take care of their siblings and parents when they grow old. They are the leaders of the ever important family.

We (I’m a firstborn son) have a job to do.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Parshat Mishpatim, 3rd Portion, Exodus 22:4-26, February 2, 2016

I’ve been leaking today. That’s when I’m reacting. First someone said they were going to bring their cute little puppy to our group meetings... and I felt we had enough going on so I complained.

Then I read in this portion that “When you lend money to My people, to the poor person [who is] with you, you shall not behave toward him as a lender; you shall not impose interest upon him.” (Exodus 22:24) If the dog didn’t push my button, then this did.

Rashi wrote that this lending is obligatory. It is not the “if” that the Hebrew word sometimes designates. And it says that you should not act as a lender (requesting to be paid back?) and... and... you should charge no interest.

Then a friend writes and says that the Torah and the Talmud are capitalist. Sounds more like Bernie Sanders to me.

According to the mishna, if an Israelite and a gentile ask for a loan, and you have just enough to give to one, you should give to the Israelite, even though the gentile is willing to pay interest (that you would not charge the Isrealite).

Buttons pressed. And then I remembered a situation where I offered something to my daughter’s sister-in-law. It was to be a gift. She said to me, “I can’t use it, but I have a friend who can.” If I had been a good person, like Bernie Sanders (since he’s a topic these days), I would have said, “Oh, sweet, I hope they enjoy it.” But no, I said, “Well, it was just an offer to you. I’ll hang on to it.”

So I discriminated for one of my own people, so to speak, and against a stranger.

Yet, a few lines earlier the verse reads, “And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 22:20) Having separate laws for strangers and Israelites seems like it would be a source of much ill-will. Strangers apparently are those born in another land, but are sojourning in your land.

I have a friend (probably more than one) who doesn’t agree that you should make money when you aren’t working. Collecting interest is an example of this. I imagine this scenario: you loan money to an Israelite without interest who turns around and loan money to a gentile with interest. How would you feel? Has he taken money out of your pocket?

Some say that Jesus threw out the moneychangers in the Temple because they were charging interest. Some say that Jesus wasn’t objecting so much to the money changing, but rather that it was being done in the temple. The temples then were giant entire communities that performed many functions, so I don’t know the final word on this.

Now I know why you shouldn’t discuss politics, religion, or maybe even dogs. The phenomena of certain things pressing our buttons is all that more interesting to me than the issues at hand.  Am I my beliefs, and have my beliefs been threatened? Would a more open-minded person have said, “Ok, I’ll try out having the dog join our group? And I’ll lend money without interest to “My” people (whoever they might be). And I won’t leak, ever again... I promise (until tomorrow).”

Monday, February 1, 2016

Parshat Mishpatim, 2nd Portion, Exodus 21:20-22:3, February 1, 2016

Is “an eye for an eye...” another expression of “don’t do onto others what you would not want them to do onto you” as Hillel said when asked if he could summarize the Torah standing on one foot.

There is a legal term, lex talionis, meaning that punishments should fit the crime in severity. It might not mean the literal meaning of poking out one’s eye who poked out another’s eye, but a punishment of equal severity.

The purpose in the Code of Hammurabi was to limit the punishment to the crime. We often, in this modern world, go to the other extreme, saying that poking an eye out is pretty mean. But, perhaps in comparison with what was done before, the law limits the punishment.

In the Sermon on the Mound, Christ says, “You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” (Mt 5:38–39, NRSV)

He is saying, enough is enough. Perhaps he is suggesting a second stage of mercy. The first stage was “one eye for one eye,” making sure that the punishment wasn’t too great, and then Christ says that love is the best just solution.

Now we put a person in jail for such an act. We don’t put out their eye, but perhaps we do something worse.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind.”

With nuclear weapons, we would soon have total annihilation of the Earth if everyone followed suit.

Is the purpose of this law to make us think twice before we injure our neighbor? What is best? I don’t know.