1. Parsha details
Shabbat Emor - My bat mitzvah Parsha -- talk about memories. Oy, and such a busy week this has been. Last weekend was the Rabbi Shefa Gold Shabbaton in Michigan. That was wonder-full. Thanks Shefa for such a marvelous experience. And thanks Elliot and Linda for hosting this great weekend. We even got a little taste of what Reb Shefa will be teaching at Kallah! And for those that might want to spend some serious time learning from Reb Shefa, she is conducting two intensive retreats in New Mexico this year -- check out her website for details: www.rabbishefagold.com And then I drove to Philadelphia for a class and meeting with Rabbi Marcia Prager, Dean of the Aleph Rabbinical Program (8 hours driving each way). The class on Wednesday morning was truly great -- if you are within driving distance and can take this course with her, you owe it to yourself to do so. This course if through the Jewish Renewal Life Center, Email: JRLifeCenter@aol.com, Web site: www.jewishrenewal.org/lifecenter While I'm plugging things, if you haven't yet been to Aleph's website, go take a look. This is the program through which I am studying for my S'mikha. (And if you are so inclined, please join Aleph and get a subscription to New Menorah, a great magazine) www.aleph.org
And now it is a wonderful Lag b'Omer and we have had a great time. If you are wondering what I am talking about, check out Just a Bit on L'G b'Omer below.
And so we turn my clock back to the very first time I did a d'var on Emor. I cannot remember what I said, at all. And while it may be hard to some of you to imagine, I was actually quite shy back then. I wasn't afraid to stand on the Bima and lead davvening, and I would tell you why I liked a certain candidate, but I hadn't yet come to grips with the concept that one needs to stand up now and then for one's rights. But this was the mid-sixties and, well, girls just didn't do much of that kind of thing, but I would learn. And in shul, my father never made girls do any less than they wanted to.
Back then we lived in Stroudsburg, PA. My father was the rabbi at the local conservative shul. Our home, the congregational house, was just a short walking distance up a slight hill from the shul. Our back yard melted into woods where we would pick wild raspberries, blueberries and a few strawberries (the rabbits got most of them since they were close to the ground). We also saw a lot of deer -- they would knock on the windows of the house for my father to fill the water bowl he kept for them or for some other treat now and then. Some times they would be standing in our yard waiting as we walked back from shul.
But my proudest memory of my bat mitzvah was that my Bubbe came, along with some uncles, aunts and cousins from both sides. My Bubbe was my father's step-mother (his own mother, for whom I am named, had died when he was a young boy). Bubbe had basically raised him and his siblings. And my Bubbe was proud of me, even if she did have some trouble with a girl leyning and standing with the men on the Bima. I had only gotten to know her recently, when we moved back east and within traveling distance to New York. And so, I came to know the woman with whom I had previously only exchanged a few short Yiddish phrases on the phone.
In fact, after we had lived in PA for a few months, my parents had taken me to New York to spend a few days, including a Shabbat in Bubbe's New York world and we had gotten to know each other a little better. Her world was Eastern European New York black coat Orthodox. Shomer Shabbos all the way, torn toilet paper, cholent and all. My uncle went to davven on Erev Shabbat while I helped Bubbe get the last few things done for her apartment. We set the table and lit the candles while my one unmarried uncle (Izzy) was away. When he returned, we ate dinner and they both went to sleep quite quickly. Izzy tried to stay and talk, but it didn't last long.
For me, this was still early and I was simply not tired. But there wasn't much to do by myself -- my immediate family used to look forward to this time to just talk and sing and be together. So I read by the light of the Shabbos candles and felt guilty that I was making the candles 'work' to shine their light on my book. In my house, the kitchen lights burned all of Shabbat, as did bathroom lights and a small light by each bed. As a funny sidelight -- in this house, the first Shabbat there, we were surprised to find fresh brewed coffee when we went out into the kitchen. You see, there was a milk man that brought fresh milk every other day, including Saturdays. He had learned to make the coffee for the previous rabbi on Saturday mornings, and so, he figured we would enjoy the same service -- and we did, at least after we had gotten used to it.
Any way, back to my Bubbe in New York. Shabbat morning we went to shul (yes, upstairs in the m'khitza, the women's section behind the wooden lattice). The men were doing their thing downstairs and the women sat on little wooden chairs and followed in little siddurim that were there, except when they talked, which was often. My Bubbe pointed to where we were in the davvening and followed the service with her finger for me for one page. And then we turned the page and it was now on my side. So I started pointing to the Hebrew and following along with my finger. She stared at me and back at the book with my finger and back at my face, which I tried to hold steady.
And then she turned to her friends and said to them proudly in Yiddish, "This is my little one, Yidisel, Shuley's daughter, from Pennsylvania." Well, I had never heard myself being called Yidisel (it's Yehudit), and hearing my father called "Shuley" made me smile, even though I had heard her call him that before. It was much later that I realized it was the first time she had referred to me by my Yiddish name. We spent Shabbat afternoon walking all over the few blocks that made up most of her world and we talked to so many people. She was showing off the little one from Pennsylvania, who could davven, even though she was so young.
And so she and two of her sons and one wife came from New York and moved into our house for the Shabbat of my bat mitzvah. She brought paper plates and plastic silverware and a lot of fruit to eat. But she did accept my father's hechshir (kosher-ness) after a lot of discussion. The dishwasher was a major point of contention. He ran it once without dishes and opened it mid-cycle for her to see all the steam. And she watched my mother wash the dishes thoroughly before they even went into the dishwasher -- she always did that, never trusting the dishwasher to actually clean the dishes....
And so my bigger family was in PA for my bat mitzvah. I led Erev Shabbat and Shabbat morning services and leyned maftir and did the Haftorah. I wore a little Tallit and a kipa made of yellow baby roses that went with my color theme. It was much later that I realized how tolerant she was of our practices, which included this little girl wearing a small Tallit. She beamed as I sang out both the Friday night and Shabbat morning davvening. We had made a little m'khitza section for her in the front row with my mother and one aunt, which my father made sure met her requirements. My mother's family, who were much more secular, sat just a few seats away.
And what I said then, was much less important than the simple fact that I WAS doing it. And she was willing to come all the way to our house and stay over Shabbat to see and hear what I said about Emor, even if she barely understood any English.
1. Parsha details: Lev 21:1-24:23 ( tri 23:23-24:23 ) [ Haftorah Ezekiel 44:15-31 ]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: Special rules for Cohanim, especially the sons of Aharon. Rules for acceptable sacrifices and eating of the sacrifices, Feasts of YHVH: Shabbat, Pesakh, Shavu'ot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Succot and Sh'mini Atzeret and associated sacrifices and practices. The menorah and bread, penalties for blaspheming and other crimes.
Special rules for the Cohanim to keep them spiritually ready to execute the office of priest and high priest. And this actually points to an interesting problem for today's world and those who might want to see sacrificial practices reinstituted. And that is the problem of who is a Coheyn. If biblical requirements were indeed kept, Coheyn would have to marry Coheyn (and not a divorcee, either). While many Cohanim do observe the death avoidance restrictions, even though they are not actively offering sacrifices these days -- and that is the tahor/tamey issue we talked about two weeks ago.
The marriage restriction is a little more long reaching -- if a coheyn does not marry a coheyn, is the child a coheyn? One is deemed Jewish if one's mother is Jewish, although some traditions accept either. So what about Cohanim? Obviously this mitzvah is a little more difficult to follow -- the heart does not always read the restrictions of Torah before it falls in love.
If one does not follow these restrictions, then the implication is that they, perhaps are Levites, but not eligible for the office of priest. But then there were many more children than could fill the few slots of priests that the restriction was easier then to uphold. In fact, there is at least one clue that not all priestly children married Cohanim -- 22:12 talks about the priest's daughter who marries a stranger, let alone not another Coheyn.
And so we turn to holidays, times of YHVH. The word is usually translated as feasts, but it is the same word that is the meeting part of the Tent of Meeting. Of course, they did eat the sacrifices there, so there is certainly a relationship, a connection with eating. And eating is a big part of our traditions. We eat a lot -- and that is not new. They ate at significant events and offering and holidays then. It was part of meeting and of approaching YHVH.
There is an interesting ceremony that my father taught me to do with cherries when they first appear on the scene. I have always had a passion of cherries, and still do. I like cherry pie, cherry yogurt, canned cherries and certainly fresh bing cherries. In fact, I have a much loved bing cherry tree in my back yard now. I was checking on the fruit growth even this morning as I walked outside. So the coming of cherry season was always something I looked forward to. After much waiting, the first few cherries would come from the store. They would be hand picked by my mother -- dark, firm, mouth-watering. I couldn't wait to eat them. We would wash them and lay them out on a towel to dry. And then we would take about a tenth of them and put them into a small bag. The cherries we had washed would be put into a container and put in the refrigerator to chill. And the cherries in the bag? They were flung into a woods for the animals. Then we would go back home and eat a single cherry for about a minute, savoring the taste and the feel of it in our mouths and even down the throat.
In fact, my father used to collect all of the seeds of the fruit we ate and disperse them into wooded areas. So if you ever come across a cherry tree or a peach tree in an unexpected place and wonder how the seed that it came from got there, this might be a clue. I still try to do this, but I have not been as good at it as my father was.
The discussion on Yom Kippur is interesting. Soncino translates 'ani as afflicting the soul. Today's dictionary uses words like: "poor, wretched, indigent, destitute" or "torture" or "to answer, to acquiesce, to comply". I find acquiescing my soul to the One as a much description of where I am coming from on a day of at-One-ment. And certainly answering to the One and to my Self about what I have and haven't done through out the year and owning my own shortcomings is part of the Work of that day. Torah tells us that the penalty for failing to do this at a Soul level is being cut off from our people. When you realize how much support and sustenance we draw from community, the enormity of that penalty becomes obvious.
And you might say, yeah, that was then, not now. Not so. If we do not periodically shed the baggage through this work, it will accumulate and embitter us and enflame us against our Selves and our neighbors. And acquiescing is about relinquishing control of the world and our environment to the One who does control -- and that gives us peace and control in our souls. It is always intriguing to explore how letting go of control empowers one more than struggling to control things ever did. In fact, I will be brazen enough to suggest that it is control that makes people exhausted and over tired after daily activities. Control is such an impossible and vast task that it is destined to failure and stress and frustration. The One controls, but even He gives us free will -- and so He does not control the minutia, either. It is the eventual outcome that She controls. And that is why, when we comply and acquiesce to the One who Rules, that things work out much better, we are more in control of our Selves, more healed ('cause we do fight this all the time...), and more in connection with the One AND with our people.
And so this is also a Shabbat. And Shabbat is the first time, the first meeting of the One that is discussed in this list. Doing a little meeting, a little coming together with the Source every Shabbat makes Yom Kippur much easier, much more profitable. A little bit often does much more than a lot once in a while ever did -- and it doesn't matter what we are talking about.
And the Parsha ends by telling us that we are to have one law -- both for ourselves and for the stranger (whether or not he dwells amongst us or is just passing through) -- because YHVH is our God.
3. Some Observations
The column shapes make this a fairly open and broken Parsha -- lots of bits and pieces about this and that. One such snippet is the part about the Menorah, the Lamp. Three short pasukim (verses) tell a great deal about the Lamp. It is to be fueled by pure olive oil and burn continually.
Yes, this is the eternal light, the ner tamid that every shul is to have. It commemorates the ancient menorah that was Aharon's specific responsibility. Tradition teaches us that Aharon felt bad that he did not have the possibility to make the offerings that others who would have property would be making, and so the Holy One gave him this responsibility, forever, unto all generations. That light still shines in the hearts and eyes of the children of Yisra'el -- if only we take the time and the effort to see it. It shines out from inside the veil to all who would see it.
The incident with the son of Shelomit of the tribe of Dan and an Egyptian (did he come out of Egypt with her?) is interesting. We are not told his name, only that of his mother. He is stoned for blaspheming the Name perhaps during the fight mentioned. It would be naive to think that this was the only fight that ever happened on the outskirts of the camp and laws were so strictly enforced that a single infraction was typically punished by death. Much more likely it was that this particular man/boy was such a burden because he habitually did these things to the point where it became a point of descension among the people. And apparently he was not intimidated by the crowds for several people heard him and saw him in these acts. Was it a mob in one scene or was it a collection of witnesses over time. I believe it was the over time. And finally they could take it no more and action was in fact taken. How sad to have one's short life recorded this way. And what did it feel like to his mother to hear her name repeated this way every time this Parsha would be recited? Do you think she felt connected to the community?
Like many women who appear only fleetingly in Torah and are even named -- they are not trivial. Torah mentions many people without mentioning their names. Torah calls her bat Dibri, which may have been her mothers name, or it may have meant that she was a talker (from d-b-r, meaning word). Perhaps she was the root of the problem? Perhaps she bragged about this son of hers? Her name is related to being paid -- perhaps she is not named by her name, but by her nature? Are we ever called by our behavior in place of our given names?
4. Persevering Grounding
This week's Parsha is about Persevering Grounding. Certainly many of the things we talked about fit into that category. Grounding also refers to Sh'khina. Perhaps this parsha is about what to do and what not to do to foster and maintain Her Presence within ourselves?
1. Acquiesce: Answering to the One -- let go of one thing. Take ownership of one thing that could be done better. Ask for Her help. Take that thing and lift it through your body and grab it in your hands. Hold your hands above you and offer it up in smoke to the One who heals all. Let go of it. Feel the glow and the warmth as She bathes you in Her Presence. Feel the healing of letting go and acquiescing.
2. Free will offering: What can you offer to the One today? What can you give up to Him in thanksgiving for all the things He does for us in creating and sustaining this world. How do we partner with the One? What can you do that will be a sweet savor to yourself and to the Holy One?
3. YHVH: Why does God repeat His Name after certain injunctions? Why is it sometimes just "I am YHVH" and other times it is "I am YHVH, your God". What is God signifying by these words and when they are used and when they are not used? What does God mean when She says. "your God"?
6. Just a Bit about L'G b'Omer
Lag b'Omer is the 33 day of the Omer (lamed-gimel 30+3). Until today, the omer has been a time of intense seriousness and internal Soul work. Today the mood shifts to those things that have been forbidden for the last 32 days -- haircuts, weddings, and so on. Traditionally, people go on outings and picnics today. And then we march on toward Shavu'ot, the giving of the Ten Commandments, 50 days after the start of Pesakh.
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