Friday, September 30, 2016

Derashah: Chaggai the Optimist (Rosh HaShanah 5777)

Feedback welcome!

The Great Depression
Once upon a time, Jews lived as a minority, subject to the whims of the regnant majority. Impoverished and unpopular, they began to fall away from Torah; they stopped speaking Hebrew, they stopped observing Shabbat and Yom Tov, and they married out. Then, suddenly, unbelievably, that regnant majority granted the Jews permission to return to Israel and build up their land, we even held Jerusalem again – but most of the Jews did not take advantage of the opportunity, unable to believe that their redemption had arrived. Those who did go encountered nasty neighbours as well as difficult living conditions; the feebleness of their settlement was taken as evidence that this was no Messianic time, and their leaders failed to inspire the majority of Diaspora Jewry to join them.

This sounds a lot like the early years of the State of Israel, but as I suspect many of you recognize, it is actually a story that is 2500 years old. It is the history of the Jews who were allowed by the Persians to return to Israel and build the second Beit haMikdash.

We were small in number, and without resources, relying on the generosity of the Persian government. We lacked the sacred relics of the first Beit haMikdash – the Aron, the Tablets, and so on. The walls of Jerusalem were in ruins; we were without defenses, so that we needed to allocate precious manpower just to stand guard protecting those who were trying to build. The local Samaritans objected to our plans, and successfully lobbied the Persians to halt our construction of the Temple. The Jews still in Babylon sent a disheartened and disheartening inquiry: “Should we still fast on Tishah b'Av? It doesn’t look like your Redemption is happening so fast.”

And on to this depressing stage stepped one man, who would electrify the Jewish people and change history. His name was Chaggai, and here is the story of his four inspiring prophecies.

Message 1: The First of Elul
·         Recall that on the first day of Elul in the Jews’ first year in the midbar, Moshe ascended Mount Sinai to acquire the second set of tablets, replacing the first, broken Luchot.[1]
·         And on another first day of Elul, Chaggai proclaimed a message of equal renewal: Just as the original tablets were destroyed but replaced, so our Beit haMikdash, brutally shattered, will yet be replaced.[2]

But Chaggai did not merely put forth a message of potential rebirth; the prophet declared rebirth our obligation! He proclaimed,So declares G-d, Master of Multitudes: This nation says, ‘The time has not yet come, the time for the House of Gd to be built.’… Tell me something: Is it the time for you to dwell in your homes, while this house is in ruins?[3]

In other words: Don’t think that the default is to sit at home, and there is a particular time for building. Just the opposite: Sitting at home is only for a particular time! You are natural born builders, the default is to build, not to sit at home, so go do it!

Message 2: The 24th of Elul
Chaggai then followed up with a stirring second message which to me is the most important of his four prophecies: Don’t overthink it, don’t overanalyze your options and methods and particulars. Just build! “So declares Gd, the Master of Multitudes: Pay attention! Go up the mountain, bring wood, and build the house![4]” It’s that simple: just bring the materials, and ignore the static.

And unlike the experience of so many biblical prophets, the Jews listened to Chaggai. ביום עשרים וארבעה לחדש בששי, On the 24th day of the sixth month, the 24th day of Elul, the day before the anniversary of Creation of the World, the Jews began a new act of preparation for Creation, preparing wood as well as stone for the construction.[5]

Message 3: Hoshana Rabbah
But Chaggai was not done. On the 21st day of the seventh month, the 21st of Tishrei, Hoshana Rabbah, Chaggai proclaimed a third message.

Hoshana Rabbah is the last day of Succot, the last day of prayers for rain, a time when the first Beit haMikdash saw שמחת בית השואבה, the great water-drawing. The Talmud states that one who never saw שמחת בית השואבה has never seen true joy; there were jugglers of torches, there was ecstatic dancing and singing! But there were neither jugglers nor dancers for these Jews, who had only sticks and stones and an altar, and they must have been a most forlorn band on that Hoshana Rabbah.

Chaggai played the cheerleader for this dejected group, declaring: “Who among you saw this house in its former glory, and what do you see now? It seems like nothing on your eyes, I know. But Gd declares: חזק, be strong Zerubavel [the governor of Judea], and חזק, be strong Yehoshua, Kohen gadol, and חזק, be strong, O nation! עשו, just do! For I, Gd, Master of Multitudes, am with you.[6]

This was the third message: Despite your descent, Gd will be with you. If you build it, He will come.

Message Four: 24 Kislev
And then there was one more message, בעשרים וארבעה לתשיעי, on the 24th day of the ninth month. The 24th of Kislev, Erev Chanukah, to us. For the Jews of that time, who would not know the Greeks for centuries, it was significant for another reason: it was the end of the season for bringing ביכורים, the offering of their first produce.[7]

The process of bringing Bikkurim, dedicating the first of our crops to G-d, could not happen for those Jews in the first years of the second Beit haMikdash. And to them Chaggai offered one last message, a charge of responsibility. This message may be understood on many levels, but here I am following the approach of Rabbi Meir Leibush, Malbim.

Chaggai asked: “If you were to take meat from a korban inside your garment, and the garment were then to touch bread, stew, wine, oil or some other food – would that communicate holiness to the bread, etc?” And the answer was No; holiness cannot be communicated that way.

Then Chaggai asked:“If someone who was impure would touch any of these things, would that communicate impurity?” And the answer was Yes; impurity can be communicated with that kind of contact.[8]

What in the world was Chaggai talking about?! All of the other messages were clear, but what is this riddle about sacred items and impurity? Malbim explains Chaggai’s message to those Jews who were distressed at the lack of Bikkurim: Impurity is highly contagious, communicated easily. But holiness, like that of a korban? That isn’t transmitted easily. It takes prolonged, direct exposure.

Summary
These are Chaggai’s messages:
1.       On the first of Elul I told you that you must build, this is your basic nature.
2.       I also told you that you shouldn’t overthink it – just take the materials, go up the mountain, and do the job.
3.       On Hoshana Rabbah I told you not to be depressed at your insufficiency, for Gd is with you.
4.       And at the end of the season of the first fruits I tell you that you will need to persevere, to overcome obstacles and fight your way through challenges, in order to produce those fruits and parade with them to Jerusalem once more.

The Message
In context, of course, Chaggai’s message is about returning to Zion and building the Beit haMikdash – but it is equally applicable to each of us on the first of Tishrei.

I asked one of my classes last week, “What do you want to hear about on Rosh HaShanah?” To which one thoughtful participant replied by email, “I would want to hear a wise person discuss the topic: What does it mean to start a new year? What are man's obligations? What should we hope for from ourselves?”

I have been Mordechai Torczyner for too long to think myself wise - but Chaggai was most wise:
·         To start a new year means to recognize that we are builders by nature, that it is time not to sit in our homes but to act.
·         Man’s obligations at the new year are to take wood, go up the mountain, and build the house. Don’t overthink teshuvah and self-improvement, the way you can change yourselves and the world; we know our weaknesses and the needs of our community and our world, and we know the way to correct the weaknesses and fill the needs. We don’t need intricate plans and we certainly don’t need fear of failure. Our King is with us.
·         And what should we hope for, from ourselves? The perseverance to see the process through, catalyzing the communication of holiness by prolonged exposure and endeavour, so that when we come back here next year, we will be witnesses to a fine building perched atop that mountain.

Agnon
Just about fifty years ago, on December 10, 1966, the Nobel Prize for Literature went to S. Y. Agnon and Nelly Sachs. In an outstandingly Jewish Nobel acceptance speech, Agnon introduced himself to the King of Sweden with these words: “As a result of the historic catastrophe in which Titus of Rome destroyed Jerusalem and Israel was exiled from its land, I was born in one of the cities of the Exile. But always I regarded myself as one who was born in Jerusalem.”[9]

Agnon saw in himself a child of a nineteen-hundred-year exile, employing that age-old perseverance to return to our land. As he explained, “At the age of nineteen and a half, I went to the Land of Israel to till its soil and live by the labour of my hands.” He took wood, he ascended the mountain and he built a house – simple, but powerful. And oh, was Gd ever with him, and oh, did he ever succeed!

All of us are exiles of Jerusalem. And on Rosh HaShanah, we remember that we are also exiles of our own souls, driven out by the foolishness of the year past. But we also remember Chaggai’s eternal words – We are builders by nature. We only need to take simple steps. And when we persevere, HaShem will be with us, and grant us a כתיבה וחתימה טובה.



[1] Rashi to Shemot 33:11
[2] See Abarbanel to Zecharyah 1:1
[3] Chaggai 1:2-4
[4] Chaggai 1:7-8
[5] See Rashi to Chaggai 1:14
[6] Chaggai 2:3-4
[7] Mishnah Bikkurim 1:6; and Chaggai 2:19, which says they don’t yet have various forms of produce – 6 of the 7 bikkurim species – supports this association.
[8] Chaggai 2:11-14
[9] http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1966/agnon-speech.html

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Eighteen Hours Straight!

I wish I could take five minutes to blog; I have many topics in mind. But it's the old story - priority time must go to my classes and avreichim.

One of my current projects may be of interest to you: An Eighteen Hour Shiur, coming up this Sunday, 6 AM to Midnight EDT -


The goals are:
* To create a major learning opportunity before Rosh HaShanah;
* To showcase the different types of shiurim our Beit Midrash offers - Tanach, Ethics, Talmud, Halachah, History, Literature, etc.;
* To raise funds for our programs for university students.

For full details, and for source sheets and to watch on-line, click here; please share this with anyone you think might be interested. This program is modeled on the original "Longest Shiur", by Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Of Donald Trump and Khizr Khan: How Trump could be a force for good

Driving through rural Western Pennsylvania this week, I twice found myself behind cars with Donald Trump bumper stickers. It was a bit of surprise; I know he has many full-throated supporters, but having lived in Canada throughout the current electoral cycle, I've never met one. I know people who mistrust Hillary Clinton enough to vote for Trump, but no one who would actually sport a Trump logo.

Seeing the bumper stickers catalyzed the following thought: Donald Trump is not the first leader of angry people, who view themselves as disenfranchised; look at some of the figures who claimed to speak for the American civil rights movement - Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. And permit me to oversimplify the leaders of such people into two types: 1) Those who rabble-rouse, catering to their feelings of victimization, and 2) Those who lead, inspiring their followers to something better than selfishness and hatred.

To my mind, the followers of Trump have legitimate concerns: Finances. Terrorism. Basic Freedoms. But so do the people on the other side of these debates. The question is whether Trump will demonize everyone on that other side, or whether he will lay out the challenging questions which face society, and make a reasoned argument for his solution.

Khizr Khan's speech was a perfect opportunity to do the latter. Here's what Donald Trump could have said to Khizr Khan:

I am sorry for your loss, and grateful beyond words for your sacrifice. I would never want to deny you, and the many others like you, anything of what America has to offer. Under the Constitution we both uphold, Muslims are entitled to the same protections and opportunities as Jews, Christians, atheists, and so on. 
But here is my problem: The same people who killed your son are trying to kill the sons and daughters of everyone living in America - all genders, all races, are vulnerable to them here. I want to stop them, but it's very hard. The best way I have come up with to do that is to identify them by their proclaimed beliefs. 
My system is not a good system, and the broad net it casts will include people who are honest, hard-working, good people, like you. But let me ask you: what alternative would you suggest? Because look at the headlines around the world - the current system of combating terrorism in the name of Islam isn't working.

If Trump were a thoughtful and empathetic human being, that's what he could have said, and it could have led to a meaningful conversation. Too bad that's not the case.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Jerusalem: A City Surrounded by Walls (Yom Yerushalayim 5776)

I presented this derashah last Shabbos, and it seems to have been fairly well-received. Since I haven't had time to post, I'll offer it here for (hopefully) your reading pleasure.

Mending Wall
Something there is that doesn't love a wall / That sends the frozen ground-swell under it, 
And spills the upper boulders in the sun… 
I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;  / And on a day we meet to walk the line 
And set the wall between us once again… 
There where it is, we do not need the wall: / He is all pine and I am apple orchard. 
My apple trees will never get across / And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him. 
He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.

In 1914, Robert Frost published this classic poem, “Mending Wall”, about two neighbours whose properties are divided by a stone wall. The first neighbour describes the wall as an unecessary barrier; the other neighbour preaches an unquestioning devotion to received wisdom, that “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Torah: Walls create unhelpful division
At first glance, the Torah seems to take the side of the first neighbour, and to argue even more strongly, that walls are worse than superfluous; they create destructive divisions, and they should be eliminated:
  • With the mitzvah of shemitah, the Torah warns that walls separate haves from have-nots, preventing chesed. Yes, our property needs protection, but every seven years we must acknowledge the downside, drop our guard, and allow the world into our fields and vineyards. The Torah states, “You shall release your field and abandon it,[1]” and the Mechilta[2] comments מגיד שפורץ בה פרצות, that the Torah wishes us to actually smash holes in our fences,[3] and remove that barrier.
  • Second, with the mitzvah of batei arei chomah, the Torah warns that walls separate urban life from agriculture. The Torah bans family estates in walled-in cities. If a family sells an open field, they receive the field back in the Yovel year. But if a family sells a building in a walled city, that building never comes back.[4] Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that farming is the natural focus of human creativity, and the Torah wishes us to remain close to the land. Yes, we need to shield civilization from the wild, but because of this downside to urbanization, we must eliminate the wall.[5]
  • Third: The Torah’s tochachah threats of Divine punishment warn that there is even danger in the walls that separate us from our enemies, because they lead to faith in our manmade defenses. Walls of defense may be entirely necessary. But the Torah[6] warns that if these fortresses breed misplaced trust in our own strength, then a day will come when Gd will demolish our walls.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, in the Torah. There are negative, unhelpful walls – walls that insulate the wealthy from the needy, walls that enable urban stagnation, walls that lead to arrogance.

But there are good walls, too
On the other hand: The second neighbour, with his devotion to maintaining the wall, can also claim endorsement from the Torah!
  • Halachah identifies the manmade walls of Yerushalayim as sacred, imbuing the city with sanctity, just as the concentric walls of the Beis haMikdash enable a heirarchy of holiness within their precincts!
  • Further, Zecharyah promises regarding Yerushalayim, ואני אהיה לה נאם ד' חומת אש סביב, that Hashem will surround Yerushalayim with a wall of fire!
  • Further, we use walls for beautiful mitzvos – the succah in which we dwell with Hashem, the chuppah in which we initiate a Jewish home!

How, then, are we to understand the Jewish view of a wall? Are they bad, or good? Is there a single answer? What would Rabbi Robert Frost say?

Propinquity
In the 1940s, a team of MIT psychologists conducted the “Westgate Studies”, trying to figure out which interactions lead to friendships. They developed what is now known as the propinquity effect. To state it simply: Even though people say that “familiarity breeds contempt,” the truth of human nature is that the more you encounter someone, the more likely you are to like them, and to create a friendship with them.[7]

Those studies have influenced the way companies design their workspaces. For example: the successful animation company Pixar initially housed its computer scientists in one building, its animators in another building, and its executives and editors in a third building. Steve Jobs, as CEO, redesigned the offices to bring all of the groups together, into one space. Why? Because inhabiting a shared, collaborative space encourages relationships.[8] And this can be enhanced by a surrounding wall that accentuates the collaboration.

Two Kinds of Walls
So perhaps there are two kinds of walls: Exclusive and Inclusive.
  • The Exclusive wall is the wall around the field, meant to exclude and obstruct: the wall that locks out the needy; the wall that separates the city from nature; the wall that provides overconfident defense. This is the wall the Torah would demolish.
  • But there is also the Inclusive wall, that creates collaborative closeness, even intimacy, by enhancing propinquity for those within.

We, as Jews, identify ourselves as part of a nation, a community, a team. To promote that shared identity and cohesion, we build walls encircling and identifying our team. This wall, designed to include, to embrace, to envelop in private community – this wall is not merely appropriate, but glorious![9]
  • The walls of the Succah seclude us with HaShem![10]
  • The walls of the Chuppah isolate a couple exclusively for each other![11]
  • And the walls of Yerushalayim demarcate מחנה ישראל, a camp which the Rambam[12] said is invested with eternal holiness by those very walls.

The Walls of Yerushalayim
The walls of Yerushalayim are positive walls, meant not to exclude Beit Lechem and Chevron and other surrounding cities, but rather to encircle the people within, Jews of all ages and all ethnicities and all types of observance, to create a unified community. Those walls of Yerushalayim are large enough to embrace us all - and as the fifth perek of Pirkei Avos promises, no Jew will ever say, “I cannot find my place in Yerushalayim.”[13]

Our sages acted to encourage this sense of community in Yerushalayim.
  • Three times each year, Jews from far and wide would gather there for Yom Tov, fulfilling the mitzvah of aliyah laregel. Some of these were very observant Jews, and others were less so. This meeting of populations could have been a disaster – there could have been an insistence on separate shopping spaces for the ritually pure, separate eating areas for those who tithe more carefully, and so on.
  • But the Chachamim understood that the only wall Yerushalayim will tolerate is the wall surrounding it, the wall which identifies all of us as part of the same team! As the gemara records, they decreed that when we gather in Yerushalayim for Yom Tov, every Jew should be viewed as a חבר, credible to declare his own purity, credible to have tithed his produce. We could travel together, eat together, meet together, within those walls of Yerushalayim.[14]

This is what we want. There are legitimate differences between Jews, but what we want is not a nation divided by the questions of Who is a Jew, of Who goes to the army and who learns in kollel, of Who davens at the Kotel and in what way, but a nation that sees itself as one nation, indivisible, surrounded by walls which confirm our shared heritage and our shared destiny.

Beyond Yerushalayim
And this imperative for propinquity extends beyond Yerushalayim, mandating us to build physical and metaphorical inclusive walls surrounding us, marking us as one nation wherever we are, despite our legitimate differences.
  • No matter where they daven, and even if they don’t daven anywhere.
  • No matter what standard of kashrus they keep, and even if they don’t keep any.
  • No matter which approach they have to Israel, whether they believe it’s ראשית צמיחת גאולתנו or whether they believe it’s a secular catastrophe.
  • Inviting these people into our homes for a meal – not only because it’s kiruv, but because we are ערבין זה בזה.
  • Offering to daven on behalf of their relatives and friends who are ill – not only because davening for others a mitzvah, but because we care about each other.
  • Even just smiling and welcoming people who aren’t within the circle of friends and cousins with whom we grew up, and whom we’ve known for decades – not because it’s chesed, but because it’s the right way to build a wall.
These, like the walls of Yerushalayim, are the glorious, encircling walls beloved to the Torah.

Reagan
In 1987, with Soviet Communism teetering, US President Ronald Reagan visited West Berlin, and he delivered a speech which became an instant classic. Standing before the wall dividing East and West Berlin, he proclaimed, “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

That historic line almost didn’t happen. The speechwriter, Peter Robinson, wanted it in, but nervous diplomats insisted that Germans had grown used to the wall. So Robinson went to dinner with some local residents, and he asked them if they had “gotten used to” the Wall – to which the residents responded harshly that they certainly had not. The rest is oratorical history.[15] And two years later, the wall did finally come down.

With the laws of shemitah and walled cities, with the warning of the Tochachah, the Torah teaches us to “tear down this wall” which divides. But with the succah and the chuppah and the holiness of Yerushalayim, the Torah teaches us to “build up this wall” of propinquity which encircles and envelops, creating shared identity and community. Such is the beauty of the walls of Yerushalayim.

May we see Hashem rebuild these walls with fire; may we see Hashem rebuild these walls now; and may we view them not by live stream on our phones in Toronto, but as part of that sacred community, from the inside.



[1] Shemos 23:11
[2] Mechilta d’R’ Yishmael, Mishpatim, Masechta d’Kaspa 20
[3] Although the law does not require it due to its impracticality. And see Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Sheviis 4:24.
[4] Vayikra 25:29-31
[5] Rav Hirsch to Bereishit 4:1 and Vayikra 25:34
[6] Devarim 28:52
[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propinquity
[8] http://99u.com/articles/16408/how-to-build-a-collaborative-office-space-like-pixar-and-google
[9] Similar walls: The communal eruv, and the walls for קביעות מקום for a shared berachah
[10] One might also include Michah 6:8
[11] Bereishit 2:24
[12] Beis haBechirah 1:5
[13] The Tashbetz (3:201) claims that this miracle continues even now
[14] See Maharitz Chiyes to Niddah 34a
[15] http://parade.com/25838/viannguyen/the-story-behind-reagans-tear-down-this-wall-speech/

Thursday, May 19, 2016

The Blemished are Better Role Models (Emor 5776)

For any man in whom there is a blemish shall not approach: a man who is blind or lame or whose nose has no bridge, or who has one limb longer than the other; or in whom there will be a broken leg or a broken arm… (Artscroll translation of Vayikra 21:18-19)

Strangely, the Torah prohibits kohanim exhibiting certain physical defects from serving in the Beit haMikdash. Excluding a physically marred priest was not unusual for the ancient Near East (This Abled Body, pg. 26), but it seems inconsistent with the Torah’s broad messages regarding the relative unimportance of physical perfection.

Our greatest prophet, Moshe, the source of our Torah and the closest “confidante” of G-d, identified himself as having a speech defect, and G-d did not choose to heal him. (Shemot 4; although note that Sanhedrin 36b indicates that Moshe was not a baal mum, strictly speaking) When the prophet Shemuel was sent to select a king, and he was impressed by a candidate’s physical form, G-d rebuked him, “Human beings see with their eyes, but G-d sees the heart.” (Shemuel I 16:7) The Talmud records a story of a man who was insulted as ugly, and it approves of his response, “Go tell the Craftsman who made me.” (Taanit 20b) Torah and tradition render absurd the idea that there is any inferiority in, or any Divine rejection of, a human being whose form is damaged or incomplete.

Further: the demand for physical perfection hardly guaranteed a proper priesthood. The ranks of “unblemished” priests included Chofni and Pinchas, who abused their power in control of the Mishkan; the high priest Evyatar supported Adoniyahu’s coup; the descendants of the priestly Chashmonaim abused their power and fell in with the Greeks; and the heretical Sadducees claimed lineage from the high priest Tzaddok. We must also realize that exclusion of people with physical challenges runs counter to the respectful and protective approach to the vulnerable trumpeted throughout the Torah. How could the Torah, which inveighs incessantly against abuse of the weak, perpetuate a stigma regarding people who are blind, lame, or suffer broken limbs?

One explanation is that the Torah is concerned about popular perception of the Beit haMikdash and its service. As Sefer haChinuch (275) suggests, “if [the priest] is of deficient form and unusual limbs, then even if he is righteous in his ways, his deeds will still not be found as positive in the eyes of his beholders.” This rationale is difficult, though; in other areas of religious practice the Torah harshly condemns weaknesses of the human psyche, including hedonism and miserliness. Imagine the lesson had the Torah explicitly required the inclusion of priests who exhibited physical defects!

We might understand the exclusion of the challenged kohen by recognizing that physical defects are acceptable for kings, sages, prophets and judges. [A judge on the Sanhedrin must have no physical defect, per Hilchot Sanhedrin 2:6, but Lechem Mishneh says this is only for the highest court. Regarding a king, I should note Shevet haLevi 8:251:3.] In every arena of Jewish life, public and private, we promote respect for every individual, regardless of physical challenges; only regarding the kohen is the law different. Perhaps this is because the kohen who serves in the Beit haMikdash is not viewed as a human being at all; rather, the kohen is a representative of G-d. [See Yoma 19a and Kiddushin 23b.] Indeed, the prophet Malachi identifies the kohen as an angel of G-d. (Malachi 2:7) In G-d, there is no defect.

Life offers two categories of success: the easy victory, and the triumph over adversity. For human beings, the latter may be the greater achievement; as Pirkei Avot 5:23 says, “The reward is commensurate with the pain endured.” Therefore, our role models – king, sage, prophet and judge – include human beings who struggle with, and overcome, physical obstacles. The kohen, though, represents G-d, for whom there is neither obstacle nor struggle, and in whom no defect can be perceived. The Divine agent, like his Master, must represent success without challenge.

The unblemished kohen, inhabiting the Beit haMikdash of G-d, is not a role model for us. We are all incomplete and challenged in some way, and therefore our ideal role models are other challenged human beings. We would be criminally foolish if we failed to value the role model in every human being, recognizing the unique personalities, talents and contributions of people who triumph over all manner of adversity.

When we gaze upon the representatives of G-d, let us see a world in which success comes easily. But when we ask ourselves whom we wish to become, let us look upon the “blind or lame”, the one with the broken leg or broken arm, the Moshe. These are our heroes, and from them we will learn success.

[For other ideas regarding the exclusion of priests with physical blemishes, see Toronto Torah 4:29 and 6:31.]

Friday, May 6, 2016

Grief

I expect to take my teenage son to a levayah (funeral) for the first time today; it's for the grandparent of a friend of his.

I have mixed feelings, of course, about his readiness and so forth. But it seems to me to be important that a person's first exposure to intense grief come 1) vicariously, and 2) with the possibility of helping to mitigate it for others.

Thoughts?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

I get it!

An epiphany, as I prepare my shiurim on the closing chapters of Iyov -

Iyov = Shir haShirim!

Not exactly, of course. The roles and dynamics of the relationship at the core of each book are different. But fundamentally, both are books about:
1. a passionate desire for a relationship between the protagonist and G-d/King,
2. then launched into conflict,
3. addressed by outsiders who do not understand, and
4. brought to a resolution which is not a resolution.

Shir haShirim uses the model of two human beings pursuing a loving relationship (אהבה). One may be a king and the other a peasant, but the two are relatively accessible to each other. The conflict arises when the woman/reader falters, she then encounters people who attack her and malign her beloved, she defends her beloved. She returns to the relationship - but the book does not present a full reunion with her Beloved.

Iyov uses the model of King and citizen, with the citizen pursuing a relationship of reverence and fear (יראה). The King is not accessible, but the citizen/reader persists in the relationship. The conflict arises when the King fails to carry out justice, alienating the citizen. The citizen encounters visitors who attack him and misrepresent G-d; he defends G-d to them, even as he demands that G-d communicate with him. G-d ultimately communicates, but only to explain that true communication is not possible. Nonetheless, G-d presents the citizen with gifts, demonstrating that there is some form of relationship.

Two different religious experiences and outlooks.

It's beautiful.

There is much more here; this is going to be fun to write up for Tuesday's shiur.