The energy level has definitely increased around here. Preparations for Kallah in Chicago are intensifying as are other activities. I will be leading davvening there, so please join me. And if you are not already a supporting member of Aleph, the Alliance for Jewish renewal, please visit the Aleph website: www.aleph.org Please join us on Jun 23rd for an International Shabbat meditation for peace. There have been many studies that show that group meditation can have profound effects on people and the world. So this is an effort to get everyone we can meditating on the 23rd of June -- check out the website: http://www.sabbathpeace.homestead.com/
My original plan for this d'var was to get it out early in the week because a)that's when it is most useful to others and b) I have a busy weekend ahead that will take some significant preparation (Special Shabbat at the Chavura dedicated to Fathers/Special Men, Synagogue Fair in Cleveland needing new brochures). So here I sit on Friday morning, after my meditation and davvening, with my thoughts still all jumbled in my head, looking for those distractions that will take me from this effort until my mind settles down. And isn't that such an easy trap in which to find ourselves? (but first, I need to...., oh, how did that get here, I need to put it...., etc)
As a Life Coach, when my clients find themselves in this type of situation, I know that they are wrestling with something that is the real block and everything else is just static. And in an exercise my own coach (hi Judith!) has seen me do other times, I ask myself the tough questions -- much more toughly than I would ever ask a client.
And I arrive at the recognition that this delay has allowed me to not focus on the loss of my father (a'h) back in the 70's. I was very young then -- I had just left rabbinical school to sort some things out. He had just accepted a pulpit at a small congregation outside of Pittsburgh the year before. I was living at home and deciding what to do -- whether to return to RRC (still painful) or do something else with my life (what?).
He was visiting a congregant at one of the hospitals in Pittsburgh when he himself felt a chest pain and was admitted with a major heart attack. That was toward the end of June. He would stay in the hospital for quite a while until the doctors decided to do a dye test (an earlier version of the catheterzation test done now). However, the machine in the hospital where he was needed a part from the manufacturer in Germany and they were waiting for it to arrive. Meanwhile, he was scheduled for the test at another nearby hospital -- but the appointment was a full week away. So the doctors decided to send him home that Friday for a few days and he would be checked into the other hospital the following Wednesday, test on Thursday.
He died just a little past midnight on Tuesday.
My uncle Izzie lived nearby (the only time in my life that we lived away from New York and that a member of my father's family lived nearby) and he jumped in to arrange for the funeral in New York at the "Family's Part" of one of the cemeteries there. I was content to let him handle those things while I attended to my mother (a'h) and things that needed to happen locally to allow us to drive to New York that afternoon (like buying a dress to wear (since my father had been adamant that we were not to wear black to his funeral and I had nothing appropriate to wear), boarding my Israeli import Poodle and my parents' two dogs).
And so, very tired and with little or no sleep, the three of us set off for the six-plus hour drive to New York, me driving (the funeral scheduled for the next day). Only once did my uncle have to yell at me to stay awake -- the rest of the time, Visine and No-Doz and lots of coffee and a wet washcloth helped.
We arrived at the most "modern" of my uncle's houses (Yanke and Sheila's), where we would stay for the duration. My brother and his wife also came to New York for the funeral. This was to be my first funeral experience with my father's family -- and it was an experience. We were sitting in the funeral home making those necessary arrangements, inspections, and so on. Suddenly, one of my aunts, burst through the door wailing copiously and brandishing a knife. My mother's quick hands were the only thing that saved my new dress from being cut as she said "ribbon, get a ribbon", which was then brought and cut (and now sits in my jewel case, pinned to its cover). I was thinking, "why is she crying, she never cared for my father because he didn't practice Judaism the way she felt he should."
The theme that was to carry through the rest of the funeral and shiva was making itself apparent -- it would be our immediate family against the bigger family -- would things be done according to the big family's ideas unless we insisted that we honor his wishes. They wanted a big service, he wanted it to be as simple as possible. They wanted a funeral home service, he wanted grave side only. They wanted to split us up, with my brother sitting with and davvening with the men, and my mother and I just sitting with the women. We wanted to be a family unit and even have some quiet time just by ourselves to talk and think and be quiet. It was a steady war of what should be done. Should we do the '"frumest" (most Orthodox) practices and rituals or should we do what would be meaningful to us and in accordance with his wishes.
It was years until I realized that a big part of what was getting to me was should. It is an interesting word. Should, aught to. It is a powerful English word that carries so much guilt and angst with it. I realized yesterday as I was talking about a recent encounter with a pushy Ba'alat T'shuva (returning Jew - newly Orthodox) to an Israeli friend of mine in Hebrew, that there is no Hebrew word for should. "Tzarich" (must) is often used, but must is not correct. When someone says you SHOULD do something, that means this is something they want you to do, but there is no authority in the speaker's position to force you to do it and there is no logical reason that will convince you to do it, so you SHOULD do it (or else Someone will be unhappy, etc...). When my ears hear SHOULD, I know that a major guilt trip is in the offing IF I BUY INTO IT.
SO.... Two things. I will work very hard to see that SHOULD is NOT something I say to others and second, I will recognize that when I buy into something, that is my doing and not the fault of the person shovelling it at me. If I do not want to have that thrown at me, I have a number of options. I can simply and not hurtfully explain that I would appreciate a different approach, I can tune it out or I can avoid situations that lend themselves to that situation.
This is about boundaries -- respecting my own and others and teaching by example, not guilt or pressure. Like emails that we get so many of each day -- we chose which ones to read and which ones to delete either after a quick skim or based on title and sender. I control what I chose to let through my boundaries -- that's not being a control freak with too much ego, that's about self-respect. That control is part of the wonderful gift from the Holy One -- to not use it correctly is my fault and mine only. But my control stops at my boundaries -- I have no right to hurt the person sending the message to me if it is one I chose not to hear. This is a delicate lesson in being connected in our communities -- and one I try to study often.
1. Parsha details: Num 8:1-12:16 ( tri 10:35-12:16 ) [ Haftorah Zekhariah 2:14-4:7 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Lighting the Menorah, dedication of the Levites, first Pesakh in the wilderness and the Pesakh Sheyni (second Pesakh)) for those who were unable to participate. The Presence and how it related to traveling and camping, Silver trumpets and the meaning of different soundings. A three-day journey, the invocation, a burning of people, cravings for meat and the plague that followed. Miryam and Aharon's complaints, Miryam's leprosy and healing. OY!
When I did a summary of our davvening leader's training at Elat Chayyim for the others in attendance, one of my fellow students remarked that it could be set to Billy Joel's "We didn't Start the Fire" -- I get that same feeling about this Parsha. At first, I thought that was why I was having trouble getting moving on this d'var -- the most I have yet experienced. And the clutter of dealing with boundaries, the real root to the retelling of my father's funeral, is a part of what this Parsha is about.
So my own clutter and unclear boundaries were stopping me from really listening to the wonderful teaching in this Parsha. Starting with the lighting of the Menorah, Aharon's duty. Midrash tells us that Aharon complained about not having such wonderful gifts from his family and tribe as the other tribes -- so God told him to light the Menorah. However, Aharon and his family and tribe do make offerings and they have the cattle that belonged to the Levi'im. So the real lesson here is much deeper -- it is about light which is knowledge and inspiration and Presence.
The issue is not that Aharon didn't have stuff with which to give gifts -- the issue was that perhaps he was allowing himself to become distracted by the gift-giving process and perhaps with the givers themselves. This is not the first time in Torah that we hear Aharon being instructed in the lighting of the Menorah (and everything in Torah has a reason). So perhaps this is a gentle reminder.
Such simple words "When you raise up the candles, to the front of the Menorah, seven candles will shine". And the Torah says "Aharon did this." And he goes to the front of the Menorah and raises up her (the Menorah's) candles and YHVH commanded. AHHHHHHHHH the volumes spoken by white space, by the words not verbalized. The gentle reminder that brings Aharon back to being present. He had drifted, perhaps caught up in the pomp and ceremony of the princely gifts, perhaps in the feasting that accompanied it, who knows? We all drift from time to time.
It is hard to be fully present, especially when glitzy stuff is around us. The only thing we can control in life is our responses to things around and inside us -- and we relinquish that control at the drop of a hat. And then it is so easy to blame others for what we allowed to happen. But that doesn't happen here. Aharon has been human and drifted somewhere (we can only guess where and why -- proximity to the gifts makes that a likely candidate). And the Gentle One says "Aharon, if you lift up the candles a bit, they would really shine forward". She could have said, "Hey, ding-dong, your job is over here, you should be doing your job and not worrying about xxxxx!" But then, Aharon might not have realized that he was being called a ding-dong and since there is no Hebrew word for should.... but more likely, if He had used those words, Aharon might have been hurt and angry and guilty and, if so, that would have interfered with what he was supposed to be doing, anyway. Or maybe he would have had the strength to say, "OOOPs, You're right, I messed up and I'll get back where I need to be" and recognized that God was also preoccupied with something else and didn't mean to put a guilt trip on him.
But God doesn't waste time or Energy. "If you lift up the candles...." -- "If you bring your mind and your being over here and become fully present, perhaps notching it up just a bit, OY, it will be so pretty." No guilt. No punishment. Aharon was human and for God to expect more of him would be foolish and unreasonable. God knows that we are human -- and humans are, after all, human.
And Aharon knows this, too. He recognizes that he could do things right now that would make the light, the knowledge, the Presence shine forth. And instead of making excuses or pounding his chest and beating his poor heart with shame, "Aharon did this". In less than the blink of an eye, okay, maybe a blink or two, Aharon steps up to what is being asked of him, namely holy service. The lighter and first caretaker of the light that we still see today in our hearts.
We are taught that the Menorah was only hidden away and not destroyed. Perhaps this is true for it is possible to glimpse a warm candle glow now and then, when we are very quiet and shut out the light of the world of doing and controlling and manipulating. Perhaps it has not yet been found because it has been hidden in feelings and where we know it to be.
The Menorah has long been the symbol of Judaism. Torah even goes on to describe it and explain that God had to show Moshe the design so that it could be crafted correctly. Most of the Mishkan was explained to Moshe, not shown -- the Menorah had to be shown. Words not spoken.
Knowledge is seen, perceived, not heard. The silence shows and teaches more than words can say. (A picture conveys a 1000 words....) "When you raise up the candles, to the front of the Menorah, seven candles will shine".
3. Some Observations
Seven candles -- again, Torah doesn't put in unnecessary detail. So why seven? Seven days of creation / Shabbat? Always a strong possibility. Another possibility is that, coming at the beginning of this Parsha, it refers to the 7 books of the Torah. Yes, 7. Tradition teaches that perhaps the book of B'midbar (Numbers) is really three books. The part through 10:34, 10:35-36, and the rest. And that middle "book" is in this Parsha -- the Invocation.
The Invocation is set apart from the rest of the text by two inverted nuns (the letter). That invocation is still a key part of our Torah service today "Vay'hi bin'so'a ha'aron...", " And it was, when the ark traveled, that Moses would say, Rise up, YHVH, and may your enemies scatter; and may those who hate you flee before you."
Hating YHVH. An interesting concept. Usually it means to feel hostility or animosity toward something or to detest it. Sometimes it means loving something less, like perhaps loving yourself more than YHVH. That might find expression in giving yourself credit for things that really came from the Source of All. It's proper to give oneself credit for the part of us that is uniquely us, but to deny the Divine Source of what is channeled through us might be considered a version of hate.
I think that someone who hates YHVH by feeling hostility or animosity is not hard to detect, but sometimes the more subtle expressions are tougher. And sometimes it is hard not to be infected by the negative energy around us -- if you find that welling up inside you, remember "When you raise up the candles, to the front of the Menorah, seven candles will shine".
The columns in this Parsha show short sections of text, not long flowing accounts. This is a collection Parsha started with the Menorah, centered on the Invocation and ending with Miryam being leprous for one week. This is the Parsha from which the healing phrase "El na, r'fa na la" (Please God, please heal her) is taken. This was Moshe's crying plea to God when she is "leprous as snow". An interesting scene. Miryam and Aharon were complaining about Moshe because of his wife being not of Israel. YHVH rebukes them in a private meeting of the four of them (YHVH, Moshe, Aharon and Miryam) and then the cloud of the Presence departs. Miryam is covered with what appears to be leprosy and it is confirmed by Aharon's trained eyes. He then turns to Moshe, who in turn cries to God.
Now, Moshe, who is pretty sharp about how God does things, does not ask that this NOT be leprosy and that she not be scarred from the leprosy -- he simply cries that she be healed. And God explains that it will take seven days and she will need to spend them alone (in meditation and contemplation?) before she will be able to rejoin the community. And the community waits for her to rejoin them before they travel on (the cloud of the Presence must have been willing to wait, as well, since the community followed the directions of the cloud).
The next time we will hear about Miryam will be her death in a few chapters.
It is an obvious question as to why Miryam is stricken and Aharon is not. Tradition explains that Miryam was the instigator and Aharon merely the follower. Perhaps. Perhaps the key is in the different personalities of the two individuals. From all other accounts, Aharon is always quick to own up to his errors and "jump to" being present. It is significant that he turns to Moshe asking him to do something while Miryam is silent. Perhaps it is more effective for him to see that his actions impact others. Perhaps Miryam just needs some alone time to reflect on her actions. What we see might be the One's tailoring of the lesson to the student.
4. Purifying Perseverance
This week's Parsha is about Purifying Perseverance. Perseverance is easily seen in the Menorah that still shines and in the lasting power of the Invocation prayer, which is still part of our Torah service today. Purifying can be seen in the week Miryam spends away from the camp and in the cleansing of the Levi'im for their service. One interesting detail about the cleansing is that it required that all of the hair on their bodies needed to be shaved. This is reminiscent of the Nazirim, who did not shave their heads except if they required purifying.
1. Candle light: In a dark or dimly lit room, light a candle. Study the light it puts forth. Raise the candle up a bit. What happens? Lower it to a table or similar surface. What happens? Light a second candle and place it near the first. How does the light compare? Raise them up a bit. What happens? Return them to the table. Repeat the process through eight candles. What was significant about the seven?
2. "El na, r'fa na la" (Please God, please heal her): Repeat these words quietly to yourself several times so that they are comfortable to you. Let them drift through your mind and echo from one part to another. What would Moshe's crying out sound like as he cried out these words? How would it feel to have been Miryam? How would it have felt to Aharon? How would it have felt to be Moshe? How would it have felt to be watching them?
3. "Vay'hi bin'so'a ha'aron...": What does it feel like when you join in singing these words today? Can you feel the power in them? Who did the scattering? What or who caused it? Who did the fleeing? What or who caused it? Hear Moshe sing the second part along with you. Perhaps your voice is his voice, calling to God to rise. How does God rise? What is that like?
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