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David’s Corner – August 31, 2021

Netzavim (Deut. 29:9 - 30:20)

The parasha represents a shift in tone on the part of HaShem.  In the last parasha, Ki Tavo, the approach is one of tough love.  It discusses blessings and curses, with a heavy emphasis on the latter.

Netzavim begins with the whole community entering officially into the covenant with HaShem.  It is a high moment, yet it is fret with peril. 

HaShem warns the Israelites that they must not think themselves immune to the sanctions has has described earlier.  HaShem will never forgive that behavior. (29:19)

So far, the tone has still been harsh. But then, in Chapter 30, there is a change. The Israelites are told that even when things are at their worst, if the people return to HaShem, HaShem will “restore your fortunes and take you back in love.” (30:3)

It is useful to remember that HaShem is speaking not to the generation that left Egypt.  They are already doomed.  Rather, HaShem is speaking primarily to that generation’s sons and daughters.  They are the ones who will enter the promised land.

And so a different tone may be necessary.   Perhaps it is because HaShem realizes that younger people don’t respond so well to being ordered around.  Or perhaps HaShem wants this generation to be responsible for themselves and act as mature adults. Remember that there will be no Moses to guide them now.  HaShem will no longer be traveling in a cloud.

How to make this generation feel responsible for their lives becomes the central issue.  The answer is not easy, but it is simple. HaShem reminds the young Israelites that they have the capacity to choose. They can choose to behave a certain way and that way leads to disaster.  Or they can choose the way of HaShem and that leads to prosperity and contentment.  HaShem urges his people to choose life.  (30:19)

David

David’s Corner – June 21, 2021

Balak (Numbers 22:2 - 25:9)

Balaam is the unsung prophet of the Torah.  In the course of his appearance in the parasha Balak, Baalam transforms the perception of the Israelites from dreaded outsiders who are to be cursed, to a powerful people who enjoy HaShem’s approval.

Baalam’s contribution at first seems highly unlikely.  He has been hired, after all, by Balak, King of the Moabites, to curse  the Israelites and he doesn’t refuse the job per se.  Baalam does say, when approached by the elders of MIdian, that he awaits HaShem’s instruction.

HaShem, when told of the approach by these elders, tells Baalam not to curse the Israelites because they have been blessed.  HaShem allows Baalam to travel with the elders if they invite him, but that he must do whatever HaShem commands.

When Ballam does go with the elders, HaShem mysteriously changes his mind. An angel of HaShem puts himself in the way.  This causes the ass that Balaam is riding to bolt, and Balaam spends a great deal of time getting the recalcitrant animal to go where his master wants.  On three different occasions Balaam beats the ass.

Then the animal talks back!  In perhaps the only time in the Torah, a prophet is upstaged by a talking animal.  And Baalam is caught in the middle of a fight between HaShem and Balak.  What is he going to do?

If Balaam were anything like Jonah, he would try to flee.  But unlike the later hapless prophet who finds himself dumped overboard and swallowed by a whale, Balaam stays the course. He will do as HaShem commands.

Three times Balak tells Balaam to build an altar and curse the Israelites.  Three times Balaam follows through on the altars, but as for cursing, Balaam says he will only do what HaShem tells him to do.   

By the third time Balaam is not only refusing to curse the Israelites, but is actually blessing them.  They are to be the victors in the struggle with neighboring peoples.  The transformation complete, Balaam leaves the scene, unheralded and unthanked. 

david

David’s Corner – April 26, 2021

Emor

Just as Achrei Mot and Kedoshim assert and command ways that the Israelites are separate from their neighbors (diet and behavior), so does Emor assert and command ways the Priests of Israel are separate from other Israelites.

One way that Priests separate themselves is by staying away from bodies of the dead, with the exception of their closest relatives.  They are not, further, to shave smoothe any part of their heads or their sideburns for this makes them unholy, not worthy of offering “food” of HaShem.

Other unholy acts that defile the priest include marrying a harlot or a divorced woman.  Only a virgin of his own clan may be taken as a wife.  Physical defects such as a broken leg or arm, or yes, crushed testes or any of the eruptions cited in previous parashot make a priest ineligible to participate in sacrifices.

Lay folks are not allowed to eat any of the sacred donations at all.  The only exception is a person who is the priest’s property (not an Israelite, though that is not mentioned specifically), or those born into his household.  If a priest’s daughter marries someone who is not a kohen, she may not eat the donations either, though if she is widowed or divorced and living back at home, she may.

As with other parashot in Leviticus, Emor is punctilious about sacrifices.  What is offered may not have a defect.  Newly born animals may not be sacrificed until they have spent a week with their mother.  In addition to regular daily sacrifices, there are special sacrifices on the Sabbath and extra special sacrifices for Rosh Hashana (though it is not mentioned by name); the Day of Atonement, and Succot, during which everyone is supposed to live in booths.  Israelites are expected to abjure work on the Sabbath, on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and the first and last day of Succot.

In addition to maintaining the sacred calendar, it is the responsibility of the priests to insure a constant supply of olive oil to light the menorah and a supply of flour and frankincense, a token offering for the bread and a  display.  Lastly, the priest is to adjudicate whether someone has committed blasphemy, a crime punished by death.

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David’s Corner- April 12, 2021

Tazria-Metzorah (Leviticus 12:1 - 15:33)

In this double portion of Tazria-Metzorah concerning impurity, the priest has a most important role. It is he who must discern if various skin eruptions on a person’s clothing or flesh warrant that person being made to separate him or herself from the community until the eruption has disappeared.

It would be easy to see this as merely a medical precaution. That is, preventing others from catching this disease would seem paramount. Remember, however, that as long as the person is deemed impure, he is not allowed to come into HaShem’s presence, a great privilege. Being denied that privilege probably caused a great deal of suffering.

While modern commentators and most medieval commentators viewed the eruption on clothing as a natural phenomenon, according to a commentator in Aitz Chayim (p,658), Maimonides and Ramban saw it as supernatural, and something that could only occur in the Land of Israel.

Why Israel? Because of a sensitivity to immorality in the land. Impure clothing would indicate that the wearer was immoral and anyone who witnessed this would know it. Further, dumped as it were, outside the camp, separated from friends and family for at least 8 days, imagine the sense of desperation experienced by the sufferer until he/she was readmitted as “pure.”

Imagine the sense of relief when readmission did occur. Imagine being all too happy to follow whatever sacrifice ritual was prescribed. Imagine, finally, being able to come back into HaShem’s presence, rejoining the community, accepted as “pure.”

Questions for discussion: Is there a connection here with the current pandemic? How? What was your honest reaction when you first heard that someone you knew in the community had caught the virus? Was there a feeling you had that at the very least they had done something wrong and so morally they were due to be unapproved of?

david

David’s Corner – March 15, 2021

Va-Yikra. (Leviticus 1:1- 5:26)

“It is a burnt offering, a gift, of pleasing odor to the Lord.” (Lev. 1:13)

I have always found this verse quite weird.  Does HaShem really like the smell of burnt meat?  

Maimonides thought not. He believed HaShem did not necessarily appreciate animal sacrifice, or else people might assume they were feeding HaShem.  Moreover, today hardly any liberal Jew would want a return to animal sacrifice.  The practice is seen as cruel to animals, and smacks of superstition.

So why bother to read the exhaustive instructions for such sacrifice today?  Is it purely a matter of historical interest, a way to sit back and say, “Boy are we lucky we don’t sacrifice animals any more”?

If so, that tone of self-congratulation may be out of place.  It is not as if  trying to be close to HaShem has disappeared.  We may no longer expect that HaShem is thrilled to consume the smell of our barbecue,  but we hope HaShem will listen to our prayers.   

The connection through the centuries has been the spirit of offering.  As Debi Buckland once put it, “Imagine you have been invited to a birthday party.  Do you bring the absolute cheapest present you pull out of a drawer or do you consider what the celebrant might enjoy?  Do you present the gift in a department store bag or do you meticulously wrap the gift?”  

The sacrifices mentioned in the Book of Leviticus reflect the later choices rather than the former.  The very best, unblemished animals are reserved for sacrifice.  The process of a sacrifice and the intention behind it (expiation, elevation, for example) is laid out in careful detail.   

In reading Leviticus we can ask ourselves what we are really offering, our intention behind the offering, and whether we are really offering the best of ourselves. 

Questions for discussion:  What sorts of offerings can we make today that maintain the spirit of offering we read about in Leviticus?

david

David’s Corner- March 1, 2021

Ki Tassa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

The instructions from HaShem continue in this parasha.  The finest materials are now applied toward three elements:  the creation of the Priest’s vestments, the procedure for consecrating the priests, and construction of the altar for burning incense.

And then there was the big screw-up on the part of some Israelites, or the big explosion on the part of HaShem.  Was the Golden Calf episode inevitable?

 

Consider this.  The Israelites had no real antecedents to the new laws of HaShem.  As we saw in past parashot, there was no conception of rights, in Egypt.  The Israelites were to obey the Egyptian overseers, period.

 

Now, they were out of Egypt and, according to HaShem, have only to obey the word of HaShem in order to be happy.  Perhaps, though, some Israelites feel they needed a break from obeying authority, even if that authority sounds more reasonable than the Egyptians, even if that authority is truly looking after their welfare.

 

Perhaps, too, after the excitement of fleeing Egypt, perhaps because of so many wonders in rapid succession, the Israelites expect Moses to pick up the stone tablets quickly and to skate down the mountain to deliver them to the people.  When Moses doesn’t return after some days, some of the people grow restless and revert back to old polytheistic ways.

 

The people are creatures of habit, creatures who have not fully integrated the new habits of worshipping only HaShem and the habit of keeping the Sabbath.  The key to understanding this is Aaron’s behavior in the midst of the Golden Calf episode.  Aaron provides to Moses the lame excuse that Moses took too long coming down the mountain. It might be inferred that Aaron’s old habit before the Exodus was polytheistic sacrifice.

 

Both HaShem and Moses are furious at the lapse in the Covenant.  HaShem understandably instructs the Levites to kill the offenders.  But Moses, once calm, gets HaShem to calm down as well, or at the very least to realize that his anger could destroy all the Israelites.  HaShem creates a distance between himself and the Israelites so this does not happen.

 

Questions to be discussed:  What does Moses get HaShem to understand about his wayward people?  How does this affect HaShem’s expectations regarding the Israelites?

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Torah Study

“Talkin’ Torah Together!” 
Led by Mel Goldberg
 
The weekly Torah portion is the starting point for FASCINATING discussions. No preparation is necessary, and no Torah knowledge is required. 
The leader summarizes the portion and from there EVERYBODY has something to say! What makes a cubit relevant? How does the part about Hebrews wandering in the desert give you a Midnight insight into your own life? Does it matter if the Biblical stories are true or not? Is your COVID isolation part of what the Torah covers? 
Join in the Saturday discussion and laugh, argue, share from the heart, and feel connected to Judaism and LCJC in your own personal way. 
 

To join us on Zoom:
Date: Saturday, February 27, 10 am CST

https://us04web.zoom.us/j/72842335826?pwd=dXFMWmowYU5Uc2lwTnIwOTdhT2h1UT09 
 

Meeting Room

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Password

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Friday Night Service

Welcoming Shabbat 

We invite you to join us on Friday at 7PM for Shabbat Service

Facilitated by Maureen Sullivan (mopo@comcast.net)

 

To join us on Zoom:

https://us04web.zoom.us/j/72842335826?pwd=dXFMWmowYU5Uc2lwTnIwOTdhT2h1UT09 

Meeting Room

728 4233 5826

Password

ZoomRoom

The Zoom room will be open at 6:50 PM for kibitzing pleasure.

Zoom etiquette

  1. Mute yourself upon entering the room and during singing (unless of course you are the lead singer)
  2. Raise your hand when you wish to speak

Order of the Service

Welcoming Shabbat song
Candle blessing
Mishberach with Psalm 121, reading of names
Wine blessing
Challah blessing
Conclusion song

david

David’s Corner – February 22, 2021

T’tzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)

The instructions from HaShem continue in this parasha.  The finest materials are now applied toward three elements:  the creation of the Priest’s vestments, the procedure for consecrating the priests, and construction of the altar for burning incense.

Nothing is improvised.  Every detail is to be carried out exactly.  To be created are a breastplate, an ephod (a long vest), a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash; priestly garb for Aaron and his sons to wear as they serve HaShem.  

The materials are exquisite.  Here are those used for constructing a breastplate:  absolutely beautiful yarns of gold, blue, purple and crimson are employed, as well as beautiful stones of carnelian, chrysolite, emerald, turquoise, sapphire, and amethyst among others. (28:15)

The vestments must be consecrated, as must their wearers, the priests.  Here the instructions deal with the procedure.  With each vestment there is a pouring on of oil.  Yet the exacting procedure is only beginning, for a purification rite demands that unblemished bulls and rams be led to the altar to be sacrificed.  The blood of these animals is dripped on the right ear of Aaron and his sons.  Aaron’s vestments, once consecrated are passed on to the sons, and the purification right repeated every day for seven days.  Only Aaron and his sons may consume the meat of the animals. (29:1-28)

The odor is strong, to say the least.  Perhaps this is why instructions are made to construct an altar of the finest acacia wood in order to burn incense.  Incense can help neutralize or sweeten the odor.  No foreign incense is to be used, nor is a grain offering or a burnt offering to be made on this altar. It is to be cleaned once a year. (30:1-10)

In this worldview, the care that is taken in fulfilling these instructions is a mark of holiness, and obedience to them is the highest spiritual discipline.

Questions to be discussed:  Does holiness have its place today?  Is obedience still considered a virtue?  If not, what has replaced it in importance, now that we no longer have temple to make sacrifices?