In looking at this week's Parsha, I almost get the feeling that my water crisis would have been more timely this week. Fortunately, it is apparently resolved, except for the markets that now have stockpiles of water. As a previous retailer, I wonder how much water they have on order to meet the anticipated need and must accept when it arrives. For them, this will be the opposite of a windfall profit. They had it priced very low.
We are getting ready for Kallah in DeKalb, near Chicago -- we leave tomorrow morning. This will be my first time at a Kallah and it will be a tremendous growth and learning experience. I will be leading davvening Tues through Sun (not Shabbat), so if you will be there, please come join us. I will also be doing a special guided imagery for our 17th Tammuz davvening -- "Within the City Walls".
I expect July will pass by faster than I can even imagine. First a week at Kallah and then home for a week and then two weeks at Elat Chayyim. Then home for a day or two and off to Minnesota for a business conference. These div'rei may get a bit scarce during that time, especially during the EC time -- no computer unless someone will let me borrow one long enough to type a d'var into it -- so you are fore-warned. After August, things will slow down to the normal pre-HHD insanity.
I used to be this hectic all of the time -- travelling almost all of the time. I knew I enjoyed the slower pace Bill and I have adopted this past year -- I think this month will remind me of exactly why. I was talking about Shabbat with a friend recently and she commented that the Orthodox have it so wonderfully simple -- Shabbat with no compromises while we 'have' to do this and that and so our Shabbat is ruined. I nodded to her to acknowledge her comment, not really knowing what to say.
And so I thought about her comments for quite a while, as is my habit. The easy response is that, of course, we can simply choose to be equally strict about Shabbat and the it won't be 'ruined'. But that isn't the issue -- there are really several issues imbedded in the simple statement. One is symptomatic of the prevalent perception that to have a full life, one must be DOING something all of the time. We often forget that breathing deeply and fully and NOT DOING are also part of a full life.
Another even bigger issue is that we usually fail to recognize the power of our own words. Our inner Self hears the words we say and she believes us. And not wanting to refute us, she works very hard to make our words come true -- whether we really wanted that or not. We need to listen with our conscious minds to what we are telling the rest of us.
Another issue is the belief that we must "do it all" in order to benefit from some. If we are not completely observant of the most minute of details, we can't do any of it or we won't benefit are the two most common variations of this concept. Our belief in this concept can be more powerful than reality. In fact, anything that requires effort or skill requires developing into that level. Few would argue that we do not have to read an entire encyclopedia to benefit from the information in one or two of the articles.
Other demonstrations of the all-or-nothing concept are binge eating (having to eat everything to not be hungry), rejecting the TaNaKH because we don't agree with/believe/understand one part literally, compulsive shopping, in fact, most compulsive behaviors.
We are learning more every day that balance and intention are far more critical than any other aspect of our lives. And we can only achieve these things by being fully present. Now wait a minute, I hear you say -- fully present -- that means all, doesn't it?
Fully present is not about tunnel vision or extremely focused -- it is about conscious decisions based on many facts and options. Fully present is exactly about not being in an "all-or-nothing" place. It is about gaining the most benefit from whatever amount of an activity (or non-activity) that we choose to do. It is about "bang for the buck" for our Soul and for our lives. It is about seeking win-win for all concerned.
When two people reach for the one remaining orange on the shelf simultaneously, we might think that there is only one fair approach -- they each get half. That is what the rules of "fair compromise" would dictate. That approach is being fully not-present, because in the scenario I am envisioning, half of an orange each would mean both people lose -- neither will achieve their goal which requires a full orange. So we ask them what use they have planned for the orange and they both say for a cake they planning to bake. And if we stop there, nothing is any better and a we appear to be faced with either two losers or one winner and one loser. If we dig deep enough, we might learn that person A wants the rind to grind for the frosting of a really special cake and person B wants the juice for a recipe that must have it. With some coordination and effort, B can get the juice of one complete orange and A can get the rind of one complete orange.
Finding that solution is being fully present. It means digging deeper than the surface. This week's Parsha about Red Heifers and Khukim (statutes) is about digging deeper than the surface.
1. Parsha details: Num 19:1-22:1 ( tri 20:22-22:1 ) [ Haftorah Judges 11:1-33 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Red Heifer, purification procedures (may nida), Miryam's death and burial,the water of Meribah, Kadesh of Edom and the battle, appointing of Eleazar and death of Aharon,
fight with Arad, the Canaanite, poisonous snakes, camp movements, battle with Sihon of the Amorites, battle with Og of Bashan.
Such a Parsha. The first part of it is the maftir(special last reading) for Shabbat Parah -- one of the special Shabbats before Pesakh. (See Ki Tisa from March) This khuk, or statute, is traditionally considered one of the most baffling. In fact, tradition says that even Solomon, who figured out many khukim, despaired of understanding this one. For a quick discussion about types of laws, see the section on Laws: Mitzvot, Mishpatim and Khukim below.
The baffling part to people is that these are ordinances about purification and everyone that has a part in the process is made "tamei" by participating. I think if there is a key here, it is perhaps seeing something in the tamei/tahor issues we talked about in reference to possibly unfaithful wives. Tamei or tahor are very much states of mind as much as anything. People become tamei when they are likely to be distracted and preoccupied.
We already know that if a priest is distracted, death can happen. Fiery deaths were not uncommon among distracted Cohanim. So what is there about this ritual that is so intense that it renders the participants tamei? Two possibilities appear. Perhaps the actions associated with the concept of making things tahor is enough to make people need some 'decompress' or tamei time, either because the concept is so deep and awesome or because the comparison to Self is a bit daunting as it looms before us?
Another possibility is that the procedure is tedious and requires precision, even though there aren't many details cited here in Torah. If the priest knows that he will be occupied with it all day, there is no benefit to rushing the procedure. Those familiar with health protocols (as they are called) might see a reasonable pattern here for dealing with the possibilities for contagions in handling the dead.
The sprinkling of the water to signify the transition from tamei to tahor for people and objects is fairly straightforward and hints either at health issues or a mechanism that would allow the family time to get itself in order (shiva) before having to deal with property and the like.
And so Miryam dies and is buried. Part of one pasuk (verse) tells it all, five words. This is the very next mention of Miryam after she is infected with Leprosy. Are they related? Torah doesn't say. We are left to our own conclusions.
And so we get into another water squabble between the people and Moshe. Most of these occur early in our journeys in Sh'mot (Exodus), but we have not come very far yet either physically or mentally or spiritually. Miryam dies -- does the singing and the spirit-carrying die with her? Tradition tells us that Miryam's well was what supplied the water during this part of our journeys and with her death, it vanished.
So the people rise up against Moshe and against Aharon -- separate events -- perhaps they went from one to the other to complain? In any event, the One give Moshe specific instructions -- take your rod, gather the people and "speak to the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth its water." Pretty simple instructions -- and Moshe starts out to do just that. However, his temper, that has caused him problems before, rears its powerful head. Moshe, in his anger, fails to sanctify the One.
How did Moshe fail to sanctify? Tradition (Midrash) tells us that Moshe lost his temper and struck the rock in anger. Well, we know that Moshe DID have a temper. And even though he is in his eighties, he has certainly not found the ability to control it. Can you picture the scene? Moshe and Aharon take the people (how many?), as directed, and head out to the rocks. The people continue to complain to them to 'get on with it, we don't need any of that silly ritual stuff' before Moshe even has the time to point out that the water will come at the will of God -- and to offer thanks to YHVH for the water. It takes some quiet and a bit of time to speak to a rock, but the elders do not allow for that. So he loses that famous temper and says "Alright, we'll give you water!" and strikes the rock, twice, probably hard. Poor rock. And the waters flow abundantly, says Torah.
In anger we sometimes say things that we wish we hadn't, like "we'll give you"... And Moshe was apparently still quite steamed after a bit of silence when YHVH says simply "Because you did not believe me to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Yisrael, therefore you shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them." (Compare D'varim (Deut) 32:51) Moshe never repents about his anger. And this is the end of the account -- there is a summary note that this is the story of the water of M'rivah (strife, quarrel). Then the narrative continues with the journeys -- which have a great deal of strife in them.
The white spaces shout at us in this Parsha here. There are open spaces before YHVH speaks and after the summary note. These white spaces are the type that need to be chanted during a reading (how do you chant a white space? with loud silence). The loud silence tells us that Moshe could not let go of his anger -- I wonder what type of look he had on his face as he heard the One pronounce the consequences. Did he make excuses? Did he glare? Did he stomp his feet all of the way back to the camp? And what did She mean by "you did not believe in me?" Obviously the Hebrew means much more than we ascribe to 'believe' -- do you think for one second that Moshe did not believe in God? Emuna ( _ - M - N ) - like Amen, is faith, trust, nourishing, not just the simple 'belief'. Perhaps the failure to demonstrate the love and caring of the One is to not "believe in" or was it simply saying we instead of the Source?
And then Aharon dies because he shares in Moshe's consequences. What did Aharon do to warrant inclusion here? We can only guess that somehow Aharon did not calm and quiet either the crowd or Moshe -- Aharon is often silent (of his own thoughts -- he is probably still Moshe's "voice") and usually that works for him. In this case, maybe he urged Moshe to "just do it quickly" before the crowd gets too nasty? Certainly if he had said something other than what Moshe directed him to say, Torah would indicated that.
3. Some Observations
This is a transitional Parsha. Miryam and Aharon both die and Eleazar, Aharon's son, takes over the priesthood. Who takes over Miryam's tasks? The heifer section deals with the transition from tamei to tahor.
Miryam led the people in song and she was a Nevi'a, a prophet (she was important enough to have her death recorded, even if only briefly). The people still sing in this Parsha (a song about water), but no leader is named.
Eleazar had already been taking over at least some of the activities of the priesthood -- he is the priest named in the heifer details, not Aharon. Aharon was quite old by this time. He was older than Moshe by some amount and Moshe was in his eighties when he talked to Pharaoh. However, when the people see Eleazar in Aharon's robes, they know that Aharon has died. Eleazar now becomes Moshe's companion and voice.
And Torah transitions from talking about building and developing to talking about battles and growth pains. Yisrael is becoming a teenager -- quarrelling and fighting internally and externally. Yisrael has the outer appearance of a young adult or a people, but not yet the maturity to thrive "on their own". At first, when passage is denied, they go around, grumbling as they go. And then they transition to battling with those who deny them passage. Tradition tells us the Aharon was the peace maker.
Looking at the text itself, we can see that the section dealing with the heifer is a solid section. As always, this indicates a well read unit that becomes very smooth and probably well rehearsed. And so the parts and the order here are not the least bit haphazard. And yet, as we read it today, it seems a bit disjointed. So this is a summary, probably referring to a more extensive text for greater details -- this is the public explanation.
There is another indicator of texts now lost is in this Parsha -- the Book of the Wars of YHVH is cited for additional details. I sometimes wonder how many books have been lost over time -- what details might they have supplied to help us understand details better.
4. Purifying Grounding
This week's Parsha is about Purifying Grounding -- Kingdom or Presence of Glory. This is about what Moshe and Aharon failed to do. They failed to enter the Presence and to extend their arms toward those that might have journeyed with them. Since they failed to facilitate the sacred grounding of the people, the children of Yisrael, by teaching about how the One is intimately involved in even mundane activities, they were denied entrance to the Land, the rest-place.
This Parsha is from the consequences side -- about what happens when we don't provide space and time for Sh'khina, Her Presence. This is about Shabbat and resting, after all. If we don't make time and provide space, we don't get to have the peace and the rest of Shabbat. Shabbat is a taste of the Kingdom, the Presence, the grounding that gets us through the rest of the week.
When we sanctify or purify that time and space, that glory, then we believe, we nourish. We are only just beginning to grasp from the secular side just how critical Shabbat really is to our psyches and our spirit. To sanctify it is to protect it, to 'shomer' it, to make sure we "do" it.
5. Laws: Mitzvot, Mishpatim and Khukim
There are types of laws in Torah: Mitzvot(commanded things -- large laws), Mishpatim(judgements - people relationship laws) and Khukim (statutes - seemingly illogical laws that could not be derived from anything apparent at the time).
Tradition has taught that we do all of these "just because". Or perhaps -- I can't understand this, but my parents said to do them, so you do them, too.
I guess I have trouble with that logic, too. I can accept that I do not understand everything, that's easy. But I cannot accept that we are not to drash and dig and ferret out the meaning and the reasons behind things. The One is not illogical -- far from it. The more I dig, the more I marvel at the logic and systems absolutely interwoven throughout the universe.
But I will agree that Khukim are the hardest to understand. Mitzvot are, of course, the easiest -- throughout time they make sense -- they are basic rules that make communal living work. Mishpatim are the next step -- they are the details that help us live in our communities. They are mainly concerned with the day-to-day implementations of the precepts of love and support expressed in the Mitzvot. The scary part about them is that they really do still apply, more than we might want to admit.
But what about Khukim? As we learn more about ourselves and our bodies and the world and the universe, the more sense they make. Thanks to a friend of mine, I have been doing a considerable amount of research recently on ADD and ADHD. Thanks to my Jewish background I noticed, as I scanned the list of allergic sensitivities of subject children, that many (if not all) were allergic to pork. We have long known about the dangers of trichinosis, but this sensitivity is much more subtle -- perhaps often unnoticed in the daily events. How many others have reactions to pork of which they are not aware? And isn't it interesting that doctors have noticed it strongly enough to include it in a standard allergy profiling test? It will be interesting to see where this goes over time -- what we learn?
Does this mean that one meal of pork is devastating -- no. It seems that Khukim are concerned with long-range wide area effects. In general, they often appear to have health-based kavanot (intentions). But then, balance and intention are critical items. His love is often expressed through ways that tend to help us maintain that balance and to recognize our own as well as Her intentions.
As with most khukim, we are only now developing enough understanding of man and our inner working to see that there is logic there, even if we do not yet grasp all of the nuances.
1. Water: Take a glass or cup or bowl of water. Consider (or look at) a large body of water, such as an ocean or lake or river. Join that small amount of water to the larger body of water and see that water surrounds the world, nestling it, supporting it. Join it to the water that is in the air around us and in the air we breathe. Take a sip of the water. Taste it and feel it in your mouth. Feel it go into your body as you swallow it -- be aware of it as long as you can. Put some water on one of your hands. Feel that water, note its temperature, its texture. Do this a total of three times for each hand. This is the blessing of washing our hands.
2. Passage: When you seek something, is it granted? If it is not granted, do you have to 'go around'? Do you become discouraged at how much longer, harder, frustrating it is to go around? When do you fight for passage? What things make you "take up arms" and fight? Do you ever carry a grudge and fight later? What would it take for a peaceful resolution -- can you find a win-win?
3. Sanctification: How do you sanctify the One? What actions can you do to sanctify the one as you deal with others. What are your thoughts as you do these actions. How do they "shine through" your actions? Have you ever failed to sanctify the One? Can you take ownership of that event and approach the One?
ADS: ALEPH -- the Alliance for Jewish renewal. www.aleph.org If you aren't a member yet, please give very serious consideration to joining. The magazine, New Menorah, alone, is worth whatever you give. (Plus it helps pay for the rabbinic program where I am studying!)
And you can order the Torah Cards and my jewelry through Mercaz at (216)595-0707 -- ask for Larry)
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved