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For Your Shabbat Table


Something real.  I can touch it, see it, feel it. It exists.  
Unless you start getting into quantum physics kind of stuff.  
Which I don't need to: I have enough real things around me.  
Especially toys: big toys because I'm a big kid.  
And lots of toys, because the one who dies with most toys wins.  And I want to win.

As long as I have enough toys nothing else really matters.  People call me lucky.  
As long as I'm sleeping a sweet dream nothing else matters.  People call me lucky.
As long as I'm drunk, high, spaced nothing else matters.  Unless I wake up.
And because I might wake up, those who aren't drunk and high feel sorry for me.  
Are they right, or am I?
"Reality is an illusion brought about by the lack of drugs" a student of mine (a jazz player) quoted to me.

So then, if I stop feeling good because of all my toys, am I lucky?  Well yes, maybe.

Because there is something other than toys.  
Whether they are dangerous, bad toys, (drugs, self-mutilation, gang-violence): 
Harmless toys (sitcoms and now, some insist, body-piercing) 
Or even vaguely worthwhile toys, whose main job is to keep me happy. 
If I break through my toy-induced contentedness, I am lucky.

Now I wake up to a whole new world.  
Whole: I have seen beyond a fractured, dimensional room to a seamless, timeless life.  
New: even if this life was here the whole time, if I just noticed it, then it is new.  
Not "new to me": new.  My perception counts. Not for a little, but for everything.  
He created this whole galaxy-filled, continent-filled, anxiety-filled, strife-filled existence only that I should be able to see through it all and see something different.  
Something new.  

(Torah speaks of the "new moon", not because the-ancients-believed-that-

on-a-monthly-basis-and-came-back -but-now-we-know-better-thanks-to-the-telescope-in-my-backyard, but because if people, specifically the Sanhedrin, say something, pronounce something, determine something, then from a Divine point of view that pronouncement, that determination, becomes reality.)

Sometimes I wake up to this whole new world by thinking deeply into it - something stirring inside of me.  Often because one of my toys broke, forcing me to look elsewhere.

This week's entire parsha speaks of tumah tahara, and mikvah.  If you translate them as impure, pure and ritual bath then you are sticking them into a toy world.  They only resonate in a land beyond toys.  And languages other than Hebrew and Yiddish don't operate as well in this other world.  

But I don't have to wait for a world transformation before getting to know taharah and mikvah; just rubbing shoulders with them helps rub off the murky film that shrouds from view everything but toys.  

Because, as the Kabbalah insists, we aren't superficial or dimensional.  We only think toys are us.  Just shake yourself a little and the real you wakes up.  To the real world.

Two Rabbis, One Shul

Sound like double trouble?  Over-employment?  The latest synagogue sitcom?  Probably; but Jewish history is never probable.  

We started that way.  Moses could not, would not, lead alone; Aaron had to be there.  Moses' older brother never was quite his associate rabbi.  Aaron was vastly more popular.  He was the nice guy: arbitrator in congregants' business disputes, mediator in spousal clashes, peacemaker in sisterly spats, and conciliator for anyone with a teenager at home.  Mr. Nice. 

Moshe was more the patrician than the paternal.  The teacher, not the counselor; the lawgiver, not the therapist.    Mr. (sorry relativists and wannabe brides) Right. 

Moshe embodied truth; Aaron embraced peace.  Truth demands integrity; peace requires compromise.  Torah insists on both, hence a team - not an individual - was needed for the making of a people. 

Moshe rarely enjoyed public support; his method, qualifications, and integrity were regularly challenged; accusations of nepotism drained him.  Aaron was rarely taken to task, and then only because of his association with you-know-who.  

The brothers' disparity did not end with their deaths; the turnout at Aaron's funeral nearly doubled Moshe's.  

But significantly, it was only upon Moshe's passing that despair threatened the people.  Aaron's popularity rewarded him with a large funeral, Moshe's instruction earned him the role of leader.  Aaron's passing evoked mourning; Moshe's passing created a terrifying void.  Like money, you appreciate leadership when you lose it.  

We need Aaron and we need Moshe.  One without the other creates imbalance.  If we favor peace over truth because peace makes allowances and truth makes demands, we'll get neither.  It might not play well in the sitcoms, but Jewish legacy is no sitcom.

Sweet Dreams, Wake Up to Something Sweeter

Sleep is not a delicate or romantic.  We slobber. We belch. We mess up freshly-pressed linen.  We mutter senseless, groggy drivel. And all those contour pillows, satin duvets, imported headboards and lacey skirting -- try as they might -- can't hide the fact that we, thinking, sensitive, provocative, insightful, caring individuals, have by way of sleep morphed into embarrassing slobs.
And yet, we need sleep.  Deprived of it, our bodies simply demand it: the eyes refuse to see, or even stay open; the ears cease to transmit data.   As does the nose, as does the tongue as do millions of the body's sensors.  The body shuts them down because important work has to be done: every cell discards its waste and simultaneously rejuvenates.   Think of it as your neighborhood supermarket: they close the doors to customers for a time to wash the floors, restack the shelves and count the money you've given them.  Without this down time the store cannot function at optimal level, if it functions at all.   Without consistent, adequate sleep we fall apart, slowly but surely: degeneratively.
Still, sleep feels like a waste of time.  It is the least dignified part of our day.  Our bodies are all that is working, our minds, our sensitive side, our spiritual quests are all but dead.  Or so it seems.
Life for us is asleep.  We primarily feel the immediate need of our digestive systems, not our spiritual system.  Our stomachs, our businesses occupy the vast majority of our time and thought; our spiritual journeys are inside books or for the books.  The word reality conjures physical need, not religious endeavor.   That is the way it is.
Because, well, we are asleep.  That is how the Psalmist and the Talmudist see our state of life: exile.  We are asleep.    And so is the Almighty, as it were.  We don't see his connection with us other than in a groggy haze – and primarily as Facilitator-of-All-My-Needs Deity.
It is evident that we are asleep.  But we are also sleepers.  We will be awakened one day to a different reality.   It all sounds a bit, well, dreamy.  But then reality usually sounds dreamy when I am asleep.
"On that night the kings slumber was shaken," cites the story of Esther.  The obvious reference is to the wicked king who decreed death to the Jews.   He couldn't sleep at all that night until he remembered that he owed his life to a Jew.  That was the beginning of the happy end, or, perhaps, the end to a scary beginning.
But the king who couldn't sleep at all that night is reference too, to a King on high.  Whose connection to his people below resembled the soul's connection to the body when the body sleeps.   Disconnected.  Not present.  Or present but only in a limited, paradoxical way: the lack of spirit highlights the function of body -- and its connection to something beyond the body.
Sweet dreams.  And wake up to something even sweeter.

Love in All the Gross Places

 “This is a book about love” Peggy Noonan begins her book on 9/11.  It’s a captivating read: raw, unedited.  Written at the time and in the aftermath of when jets crushed towers into rubble and white smoke smothered Manhattan, and death choked the streets for days.  Its reads battlefield, not memorial.  And yes, with all the terror and bleeding and gory horror, she’s right – it is a book about love.  Across the pages she sifts through her mind, her conscious, her life, her generation, our ethos.  And she brings us through with a generous spirit.

I don’t remember the title and I read it years ago, and since this isn’t a review of her book, I’m purposefully not googling.  But her opening words came back to me this week.

The rhythm of Jewish life, whether most Jews recognize it or not, is set by the parsha: the reading of the Torah as it cycles through the year.  And this week we come to the book of Vayikra, named Leviticus in Latin, because it speaks of the service of the Levi, the tribe of Moses, who guarded and nurtured the Temple mount. the Bais Hamikdash.

It doesn’t sit well with Western sensibilities.  It talks of the sacrifices (offerings would be a better translation) that were brought -- animal sacrifices -- the crop of the bird, its wings and how to slice its throat.  The livers and spleens of cows, the quarters of sheep.  Blood, guts, livers spleens and more blood guts livers spleen.

It’s hard enough to digest (interesting term) the gory details, we, raised in the refined echelons of higher culture, where the physical is not becoming of the religious.  So the Occidental in us cannot fathom what this all has to do with coming close to the Creator of all things.  Until we realize He is their Creator too, and then a bit of reason seeps through into this meat-packing joint and we hear the echo of the shadow of symmetry that the beating heart of matter must too come unto its source and interface with the Infinite.  But I digress.

What I was thinking is -- this is not a book about guts and blood.  This is a book about love.  That this holy mountain, this interface that the Almighty appointed, where heaven touches earth and earth can feel the breath of heaven, that this place exists, is an act of love. 

The Hebrew name of the book, Vayikra, is indicative of something the English-Latin translation doesn’t capture.  Vayikra, which literally means ‘and he called’, is a term of endearment, the classics point out.  It is an expression unique to the Living G-d calling His people.  To the prophets of others the term used is vayikar, and he called – same words, same meaning, vastly different connotation.  Vayikar is, cold, distant, by chance, happenstance.  Vayikra is love.  When G-d calls to Moses He calls in love, when G-d commands Moses He calls in love, when G-d says speak to my people, the children of Israel, say to the children of Israel, command the children of Israel, He calls in love.

If your wife senses you stopped off the last minute and picked up a bouquet on sale, she won’t be impressed.  If she knows, you spent time, compared, pestered the saleslady or her sister with questions, she’ll love them, even if you have no taste.  Because detail means you care.  It means you love.

This is a book about love.  And we respond with love, even if we don’t mean to.  Why else would we open the book again to talk about livers and crops? 

For all the explanations as to why the gore, I think we’ll be left with more question than answer.  That’s just the way it is, we don’t sense G-d in in the back of the butcher shop, it is not a sacred space in our minds, in our experience, in our expectations.  But then, what do we really know, in the intimate sense of knowing, of the physical: of its innate holiness, of its spiritual beauty? 

No matter.  Who cares?  This is a book of love.

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