David’s Corner – June 27, 2022

Korach

We know that Amalek

Was the worst of the worst

But really, Korach,

When you add up all the folks

Who were swallowed up

With you 

And those who died in 

The plague that followed

Yours was a worse crime,

For you destroyed a part

Of your own people from within,

While casting doubt on Moses and Aaron.

How could you not remember 

The fate of Nadab and Abihu,

When they each picked up a fire pan 

And placed incense in it?

You deserved to die,

For your rebellion was restless stupidity.

Korach, you the man!

david

David’s Corner – June 20, 2022

Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

It’s likely that the exodus generation

Invented this phrase.

Instead of taking the opportunity

To enter and fight for the Promised Land

They played on their own worst fears

Listening to the naysayer scouts   

Rather than listening

To the inner voice of possibility.

Their great reward:

A sentence of up to forty years

Wandering in a broiling desert

So they could drop dead 

Short of the Promised Land.

It’s been whitewashed

By commentators 

As the necessity of the older generation

To die  out so their children

Would enter the land.

What saints!

Don’t fool yourself.  

And don’t make the same mistake in your own life. 

 

 

 

David’s Corner – June 13, 2022

It's Grumpy Time

The Israelites are complaining about 

 

Having to eat mana all the time.

 

Miriam complains about 

 

Moses’s new black bride from Cush

 

Aaron complains about Moses 

 

Getting all the attention from the Lord,

 

Acting as if he is the only person the Lord talks to.

 

The Lord hears all this and is chagrined.

 

How to get them all to shut up?

 

Up to now the Lord’s response was merely 

 

To zap the troublemakers.

 

But if the Lord keeps zapping Israelites

 

They will never choose the Lord 

 

Or the society 

 

The Lord is trying to establish for them.

 

So the Lord takes a step back and decides

 

On different strategies

 

If the Israelites won’t stop complaining about 

 

Their diet lacking meat,

 

He’ll give them so much meat 

 

They’ll be throwing up for days.

 

This works!  The Israelites shut up already.

 

As for Aaron, as high priest to the one God, 

 

The strategy is straightforward:

 

The Lord tells him that Moses is unlike any leader 

 

That the Lord has communicated with.  

 

The Lord doesn’t have to talk to Moses 

 

In riddles or dreams.  

 

For the Lord can speak directly to him, 

 

Knowing that Moses will immediately get it.

 

Chastened, Aaron shuts up immediately.

 

Handling Miriam is trickier.  

 

She is Moses’s beloved sister, 

 

Who had saved him from certain death as a baby.

 

You can’t zap such an important person, 

 

However insulting she.has been to her brother.

 

Besides, Moses himself begins 

 

Begging the Lord not to punish her.

 

Moses is a good boy, a good brother, 

 

But he has to understand

 

Miriam would be better served 

 

By retreating from the camp for seven days.

 

How do you do this?  

 

Well, you strike her with a skin disease,

 

By doing so, the Lord immediately 

 

activates one of  the laws 

 

That he has dictated to Moses:

 

With a skin disease, the victim must be held 

 

Outside the camp for seven days. 

 

To assure that Miriam will not be left behind 

 

By her impatient compatriots,  

 

Another law is invoked:

 

The  Israelites are not allowed to break camp 

 

Until the Lord signals them to do so.

 

This works too, but far better 

 

Than the way the other complaints were handled.

 

In this case, the Lord is appealing to justice 

 

By invoking laws.  

 

Even better, by applying this to one of Moses’s siblings, 

 

The Lord is providing a precedent that 

 

All Israelites can see for themselves.  

 

A law isn’t thus merely an abstract:  

 

It can be concrete and practical and, yes, 

 

Far more merciful than 

 

The one response of zapping all complainers.

 

The rule of law has been established.

david

David’s Corner – April 25, 2022

Aaron

After the deaths of his sons Nadab and Abihu.

Aaron said not a word —

Not to his brother Moses,

Nor to his wife, Elisheba,

The mother of Nadab and Abihu,

Nor to his other sons, 

Eleazar and Itamar,

Who worried greatly about him.

Aaron awaited HaShem’s further wrath,

Entertaining fantasies of personal destruction,

Instead he awoke each day,

Astonished  he was still breathing.

Then one day 

Moses whispered  in his brother’s ear:

“You are not to die now.”

Aaron spoke as if for the first time:

“But how am I to live carrying so much guilt?”

“You shall follow HaShem’s commands to the letter,

You will atone for yourself, your family and then your people.

In so doing,

You will be a model of repentance for your people,

So that they can atone.

Aaron followed HaShem’s commands

Sending a goat to Azazel

Sacrificing a bull in purification

Confessing sin,

Making expiation for the priests and for

All the people of the congregation.

And to this very day, the leader of a Jewish community

Models Aaron’s atonement, 

Not by actual animal sacrifice,

But by first reading aloud from the torah,

Each step of Aaron’s repentance

And then by confessing his own sins

As his congregation confesses theirs.

In this way, neither the leader 

Nor the congregation 

Carry their guilt into the indefinite future,

But are instead purified

And forgiven by HaShem.

david

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)

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Passover 2022

Chapala

Passover 2022

It was a major success.
Forty eight people attended – 30 non-members and 18 members.   
Food was fantastic and a lot of it. Everyone raved about the food and the evening.  The room looked really, really nice (white tablecloths with a blue one over and white napkins), service great—the gentleman  in charge was always going around making sure everyone was happy. Hector was there the whole night and he couldn’t have done more for us.  He asked if he could keep one of the Hagaddahs and would Maureen Davis sign and date it for him. She did gladly!

David Rosett our service leader led us out of the land of bondage to enjoy matzah, charoses and chopped liver!

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.

david

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?