Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Sorry That You Feel That Way; The Only Thing There Is To Say; Every Silver Lining's Got A Touch Of Grey (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia "Touch of Grey")

Well Passover has passed over.  Of course with the end of the Passover, we try to return our kitchen back to normal. Pesach dishes, pots, pans and utensils are wrapped and boxed and stored away for another year. Hopefully everything will return to normal by the time Shabbat begins. As my wife and I get just a little bit older, and our home is now filled with three teen-agers who quite capable young people, we expect them to help us prepare for Pesach and to clean up after Pesach.  Well our son disappeared into his room, claiming he was tired. What’s so amazing about that idea is that he did not have school the first day after the Pesach holiday. He could have stayed up but he opted for bed. Ironically, he always asks to stay up, but if cleaning up, and schlepping boxes are involved, he discovers fatigue. As for our teen-age daughters, well for about 15 minutes the sixteen year old helped and then she collapsed upon the sofa. The fifteen year old couldn’t find the motivation to help unless she had Chametz…a sandwich, a bowl of cereal, anything really. However it took an hour of complaining about how there was nothing to eat, before she ate. When she was finally ready to help, she provided a whopping ten minutes before she lost interest and grew tired.  I just about lost it. My poor wife and I are wrapping and packing, and cleaning and they were doing next to nothing. I was tired, and aggravated that these capable young people did so little.  I made several hurtful comments concerning their lack of consideration and maturity. Before anything worse came out of my mouth, I stepped outside, calmed down, and collected my thoughts. I thought about what had just transpired. I thought how I should have behaved differently, behaved in a manner that would have de-escalated the tension as opposed to escalate the tension. Then I thought about what I could do to rectify the current situation. When I walked back in, the kids had gone upstairs. My wife said that they were very upset and went upstairs. Although she agreed with me, she thought I had been a bit harsh and clearly they were hurt by what I said. Personally, I don’t like apologizing to my children. However in this particular case, it was absolutely the right thing to do. I went upstairs, and spent some time with each child, explaining that I should have known better. I apologized for failing to act more like an adult and parent. My apology was contrite and heartfelt. They also apologized to me. We talked some more, hugged and then I said good night to each of them. I realized that had I not apologized first, none of them would have apologized to me, and we would have missed an opportunity to discuss the fact that as each of them grow older, we, the parents, expect our children to take on more responsibility in helping around the house. 
This Shabbat, we resume the weekly Torah Readings with Parsha Shemini. Divided into three chapters, Parsha Shemini begins the narrative aspects of the book of Leviticus. Until now, we have read God’s speaking to Moshe about all the various Korbonot (offerings) and Moshe speaking to B’nai Yisroel and the Kohanim about all the Korbonot (offerings). Now, Aaron, the Kohen Gadol, begins his preparations for and then engages in the actual slaughtering of the Ram as part of his own Sin Offering. First the Kohen Gadol must be without blemish, without sin, and ritually pure before he begins serving as the conduit between the individual/community and God. When the Kohen is ritually impure and attempts to approach God inappropriately we learn the results, as does Aaron (Lev. 10:1-2). Finally, we learn how the individual/the community can aspire to be holy without Kohen Gadol’s involvement. We learn this by the Torah’s enumeration of all the animals that are prohibited for consumption.
The Parsha begins with the word VaYehi: It was on the eighth day; Moses summoned Aaron and his sons, and the elders of Israel (Lev. 9:1). In the Talmudic tractate of Megillah (10b) we are taught that the word VaYehi often serves as foreshadow for troubling events. The Midrash teaches that this parsha occurred on the first of Nissan, an incredibly happy time since it serves as an indicator of Zman Cheiruteinuthe Time of our Freedom and the Pesach holiday. However this is a bittersweet moment. The sweetness is the fact that the community is gathering together for the dedication of the Mishkan. The bitterness lay in the fact that a Mishkan is even necessary. Prior to the sin of the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf), there was no need for a place for Bnai Yisroel to gather and engage in communal and individual Tshuva. Following the sin of the Eigel Zahav, we as individuals and as a community required a central gathering place to atone for our sins, and engage in Tshuvah.  Next we read Vayomer El Aharon Kach Lecha Eigel ben Bakar L’Chatat – [Moshe] said to Aaron: Take for yourself a young bull for a sin offering…(Lev. 9:3).What sin offering? What did Aaron do wrong that a Sin offering was required? Precisely because of Aaron’s involvement in the Golden Calf debacle, he needs to atone. So Aaron must bring a Chatat offering, a sin offering. Aaron must admit his sin, atone for it, and seek a spiritual return to God (Tshuvah) prior to serving on the behalf of the people. Even more powerful than Aaron’s fulfilling this obligation is the fact that Aaron’s two remaining sons, the Elders, and the entire assembly will bear witness to Aaron’s humbling of himself. Not only will Aaron know that he is worthy to serve on behalf of the people, but the people will know as well.
            Our sages hold Aaron in very high esteem. While the Rabbinic Sages are troubled with the way he handled himself during the incident of the Golden Calf; it is here in Parsha Shemini, when Aaron publicly humbles himself, we understand Aaron’s meritorious conduct.  Aaron’s behavior provides a powerful lesson for any individual in a position of authority or leadership. Our ability to engage in heartfelt Tshuva does not diminish our authority but rather enhances it.

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

So The Kids, They Dance, They Shake Their Bones And The Politicians Throwing Stones (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Throwing Stones")

For the past couple of weeks, I have watched my wife, like many Jewish women who clean for Pesach, make a Seder, and act as if they are not only slaves in Egypt but slaves in their respective homes. Granted if we were really slaves in Egypt, I think she, like so many Jewish Women would have been too exhausted to leave! Indeed the first two days of Pesach focus upon our bondage in Egypt and our preparations for Yetzitat Mitzrayim and eventual freedom as symbolized by the Sedarim. However Pesach is an eight day festival. With all the preparations, all the cleaning, all the cooking and the resulting exhaustion, it might be rather easy to lose focus on the last moments of  our national slavery and the immediate moments that led to our ancestors freedom. Once B’nai Yisroel left Egypt and began making their way toward The Reed S (The Yam Suf), they were free. They were free to travel, free to worship, and free to serve God. Yet, the process of becoming a free people was still in its nascent stages.
Now we have entered into the intermediate days of Pesach, commonly referred to as Chol Moed. On this Shabbat, Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, our focus begins to shift from the Yetziat Mitzrayim, the Exodus from Egypt, to B’nai Yisroel’s return to the land that God promise to our Patriarchs. The language has subtly shifted from leaving slavery and entering into freedom to leaving our exile and returning to our covenantal home. We see this in our reading of Shir HaSHirim the Song of Songs. While the text is clearly about the Springtime love of a young man and woman; ChaZaL, our Sages of Blessed Memory, explain that Shir HaSHirim is a Metaphor for this mutually very new and loving relationship between God and B’nai Yisroel. This is a love that has been renewed and this is a love in which both return to each other. Likewise the Haftorah, from the Prophet Ezekiel (37:1-14), also focus upon B’nai Yisroel’s return from Babylonian exile to its covenantal land.
Ezekiel does not focus upon the intensely loving relationship between God and the B’nai Yisroel. However he does focus upon slavery as another form of exile and redemption from exile as the ultimate form of liberation from slavery. Ezekiel lived before and after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash HaRishon, the First Holy Temple. It his here in this Haftorah, that Ezekiel shares with the people his prophesy of the “Dried Bones” that are in the land. Ko Amar Adoshem Elokim L’Atzamot HaEilah  Hinei Ani Mavi Vachem Ruach Vichyitem – Thus say the Eternal God to those bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live (Ez.37:5). From a literal perspective, Ezekiel is prophesying that God will bring these bones, the thousands of Jews that perished in the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple, back to life. These bones will experience the ultimate a return from exile; they will return from death to life. However Judaism doesn’t generally subscribe to re-incarnation or a physical life after a physical death. Rather Ezekiel’s prophecy invokes a very powerful symbol. Slavery, in its ultimate and most devastating form is spiritual slavery. Spiritual slavery is a function of being exiled from God, exiled from that fundamentally loving relationship based upon a covenant. When we are exiled from God, when we are spiritually afar from God, we are spiritually lifeless. We are only bones. We are not human. To be human means to be close to God for we are created B’Tzelem Elokimin the image of God.
We all experience spiritual slavery yet our own personal redemption; our moving closer to God’s presence is a direct function of God breathing Ruach HaKodesh – his Holy Spirit into our Neshama. This occurs through Study of Torah. This occurs through prayer. This occurs by engaging in Gemilut Chasadim, by giving Tzedakah, and by Bikur Cholim – visiting the sick. This occurs by making the Jewish community, a more learned, and a more caring community and less enslaved by the greed, selfishness and  arrogance.

Rav Yitz

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Come Wash The Night-Time Clean; Come Grow The Scorched Ground Green (John Barlow & Bob Weir - "Cassidy")

I have always wondered about how the rich and powerful prepare for Pesach. Sure it is very easy for me to point to Jared and Ivanka as the epitome of rich and powerful Jews. Maybe they are very busy dealing with Iraq, the Chinese Premier, or reminding her father about the importance of women entrepreneurs to roll up the old shirtsleeves and start cleaning for Pesach. I suppose they are too busy and I hope they have someone at their home cleaning up for Pesach. However it probably would have been a really good idea if Ezra Cohen- Watnick, the senior director of intelligence at the National Security Council had spent more time cleaning up for Pesach and taking out the garbage and chometz from his house instead of showing Devin Nunes (chairman of the House Intellegence Committee) the White House’s reports that justify the President’s false claim of being the subject surveillance. On Pesach we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, we celebrate The Jewish people’s freedom from Egyptian slavery. However before Pesach, we clean. We rid our homes of chometz since one is forbidden to “own chometz” during Pesach. So we vacuum cars. We vacuum and clean under beds, under sofas, behind the refrigerator. We use special dishes, special pots and pans and cutlery designated for Pesach. We throw out lots of trash. chometz, yeast, puffed up dough, is a symbol for arrogance. The message is clear. Cleaning up after oneself is humbling. Not having to clean up after one self can lead to arrogance. We hock and remind our children to clean their dishes rather than just live them in the sink for someone else to clean.  Maybe someone should have reminded Ezra that this is the season to clean up one’s own chometz, and rid oneself of arrogance.
This week’s Parsha is Tzav. It is also Shabbat HaGadol, the Shabbat that immediately precedes Chag HaPesach, the Passover Holyday. Like last week’s Parsha, Parsha Tzav focuses upon Korbonot (offerings). While last week we read of God’s commanding Moshe to tell Aaron and his sons, this week we read of Moshe actually telling Aaron and his sons. This week we read about the actual sacrificing, the actual sprinkling, the actual burning and the actual donning of appropriate clothing. The Parshah concludes with instructions for Aaron and his sons to remain outside of the camp for seven days. These are the seven days required for spiritual and to some degree, physical preparation. The Priests must remain outside of the camp because they are in the process of purifying themselves for this extremely sacred and vital position, Kohen Gadol.
Besides Moshe, the Kohen Gadol was the most vital role within Israelite society. It was the Kohen Gadol that served as a vehicle for the common person to draw closer to God. When the common person or the king needed to atone, they would bring a sacrifice to God. However it was the Priest that had to check for blemishes. It was the priest that had to slaughter the animal in a very precise way. It was the priest that had to sprinkle the blood.  Later on it was the priest who became the “spiritual advisor” to the king. Unlike any other position, the priesthood was based upon lineage and was promised by God to Aaron for eternity (or as long as there was a Temple). Yet as important as this was for the welfare of B’nai Yisroel’s relationship to God, the Priest was eternally reminded of the importance of humility within a leader. V’hotzi et a Hadeshen el Michutz La’Machaneh el Makom Tahor-“and he shall bring the ashes to the outside of the camp, to a pure place (Lev 6:4).” Here is arguably the most important position within the community and he has to shlep the ashes out from the Mishkan. What’s even more amazing is what the Talmudic tractate Yoma teaches. The Talmud explains that the priests were so anxious to take out the ashes that a lottery system had to be introduced to pacify all those who wanted this “honor”. Anyone could have been commanded to take out the ashes. Why the Kohanim (the Priests)? Like all other aspects of the sacrificial process, the priests’ sole concern was the Temple and everything about the Temple. No task was below the priest. No aspect of the Temple remained untouched or unaffected by the Priest. The Sefer HaChinuch, a thirteenth century work enumerating and explaining all 613 Mitzvot explains that Terumat HaDeshen is a positive commandment. The priest removes these ashes daily, and in doing so, he is enhancing the Mizbeach (the altar) and beautifying it to the best of his ability. Rashi adds that the priest would wear old clothes and nice his daily Priestly Vestments or his Holiday Vestments to do this type of menial work. All agree that the Kohen was never thought to be too important for such a lowly task.
So what can we learn from Parsha Tzav, and the Priest’s most menial of tasks? First we learn just how vital it is for leadership, of any kind, to roll of its shirtsleeves and do some of the dirty work. After all, if leadership is unwilling to “to get dirty” for a greater purpose, then the purpose is not so great. Also if the leadership is unwilling “to get dirty”, why should anyone else “get dirty”? Effective leadership is not only about convincing others to act; it is about one’s observance of the same rule. No matter how important we think we are, we always should be reminded to take out the ashes. We need humility in order to remind us of where we fit in, and who we are. Possessing this humility gives us credibility when dealing with anyone. Possessing this humility reminds us of how we should treat others as well as how we wish to be treated. By participating in the preparations, by cleaning up and throwing out the garbage; we remind ourselves that Judaism is about the individual fitting into the community. Hopefully my kids will begin to appreciate the importance of throwing out the garbage.
Peace & Chag Kasher v’ Sameach,

Rav Yitz