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For Your Shabbat Table

Kenahora Pu-Pu-Pu!

Kenahora Pu-Pu-Pu!

Why did Bubby always say that?  And does it really have to do with the evil eye?  Is this evil eye a cousin of walking under ladders with black cats on the Friday the thirteenth? The answers, in order, are:  Because she loved you.  Yes, but with an explanation.  No.

Kenahora, although everyone thinks is a Yiddish word is actually three words slurred together in Yinglish - the vibrant language of Native Americans of the Lower East Side:  kein, the Yiddish word for no or negating, ayin Hebrew for eye, and hara, Hebrew for Evil.

Now think back to when she used it:  "Such a sheine punim, kenahora."  "You've grown, kenahora."  "He's making money hand over fist, kenahora."  (you should only be so lucky)  

I have a friend in, well, I'm not saying where they're from, because I want to protect myself from what will happen if I don't protect their anonymity.  They make in the seven-digits a year (kenahora).  They drive a five-year-old station wagon.  He once told me why she insisted on it.  Their neighbors don't have as much, and their neighbors' neighbors have even less (and they're still not slumming, mind you).  If she gets a new car then her neighbor will be compelled to keep up -- and her neighbor likewise.  Somewhere down the line someone is going to be hurting from racing too hard.  She doesn't want that frustration to be caused by her.  And not for purely altruistic reasons.

Hashem gives us things.  Hashem does not give others these same things.  This can and does cause jealousy, an unvoiced "Why does she deserve it?" and somewhere on High that energy does not dissipate. It gravitates, and brings into question "Maybe she doesn't deserve it after all?"

Those-who-have-don't-show doesn't have to be grounded in smugness.  We don't want that our good fortune should accentuate what others are missing.  Which is why boasting is unJewish.  And why when something said could be seen as boasting, it is hurriedly whispered and sandwiched between kenahoras and pu-pu-pu's.  

The pu-pu-pu, incidentally, is spitting noises.  Spitting as if in disgust.  It's an appropriate Yiddishism: when you see an exceptionally beautiful child you say "Miyuskeit! Pu!"  ("Disgusting!")   

Asking Jewish grandmothers how many grandchildren they have can risk a faux pas.  While some won't hesitate to blurt out a number, others will fidget and mumble.  Putting a number on a blessing is considered bad taste.

You might also notice when men are counting a Minyan they won't count one-two-three but do something more convoluted.

Think it originated in Eastern Europe?  This parsha begins with the warning not to count people directly.  (There is another reason not to count directly; it negates the quality of Infinite in the person, but that's for another time.)  

See how much your Bubby loved you?

No Jew Is Complete Unless All Jews Are Complete

This parsha is unique.  Since recording Moshe's birth until the last parsha of the Torah, every sedra mentions Moshe by name.  Except this week.  Except Tetzaveh.

We read (in next week's parsha) the unfortunate story of Jews abandoning their Redeemer for a calf of gold.  G-d is incensed, ready to destroy His People and guard His covenant through Moshe alone.  Moshe concedes that their sin was audacious, "Yet if you forgive their sin, it will be good, if not -- blot me out from Your Book which You have written."  Hashem pardons the people, and, of course, Moshe's name remains throughout the Torah.  So identified is G-d's Torah with this leader that until today it is known as Moshe's Torah -- Torat Moshe.  However, words of a Tzaddik are not treated lightly by G-d, and although Moshe's threat never needed to be carried out, it did to some extent, affect Torah.  One Parsha, it was decreed would remain without Moshe being mentioned.

Yet, the parsha opens "And you shall command the Jewish People,"  you obviously referring to Moshe, for even in the parsha where he remains nameless, we sense his connection.  It could even be said that his presence in this parsha is too profound to be referred to by a  name.  Names denote relationships;  an individual can be called Dad, Bernie, Dr. Weissberg, Doc, Son, Bernard F. Weissberg MD or Zaidie.  All these names reflect the relationship between the individual and those who call him.  You  is a different class of names.  It refers to a person without defining him.  It can reflect on how the individual stands outside the dynamics of superficial relationships.   It is the quintessential person, all by himself.   Absolute Moshe.

"And you shall command the Jewish People."  Command -- or the Hebrew original, mitzvah, reflects a connection between the one issuing the command and the one fulfilling it;  (in English the word "enjoin" means both to connect and to command).  Mitzvot, aside from being good deeds or commandments are our connection to the Creator. 

"And you shall command the Jewish People" can be understood as "And you -- in your truest essence -- shall connect the Jewish People."  Even stronger than a Tzaddik's connection to G-d's Torah is his connection to His people.

Who were these people that Moshe staked his reputation, no, his very being, on their inclusion?  They were the sinners of the worst kind.  Without them, though,  he could not survive.  He could not be Moshe, he could not be.

As a teacher, the lesson he gave us is that no Jew is complete unless all Jews are complete.  Staking everything we have on that somebody else's inclusion, is our responsibility.

Why Jews Like Gold

Granted gold has some practical applications: photography, conducting electricity and other things we remember as vaguely vital.  But that is not gold.  That is not gold's worth, that is not why people have been gaga over it for as long as we can remember.
  
It's not even that it looks nice; bronze has its own look that in some settings surpasses gold -- but it has never caught attention like gold. Gold is simply a way of marking stature, status if you 're more familiar with that word.  A phenomenon that has no intrinsic, concrete worth.  The story is told that in Stalin's Siberian gold mines the guards didn't check the forced laborers after a day in the mines; even if the prisoners stole, what could they do with gold in Siberia?  Against the moldiest bread it held no value.

So if gold does nothing but separate the haves and the have nots, if it does nothing other than feed the ego of the status-climbing, uh, gold digger, than why would a just and caring and perfect Creator create a virtually worthless empty non-commodity?

But there is an important function that gold - together with other of the fine things in life do; they say I care.  Ask a new husband; he's probably already learned you can't give appliances for anniversaries.  They're too functional, they carry too many messages.  "Gee, I hope you're baking is easier now."  "You love waffles, don't you?" "Happy Vacuuming!"  

The useless however carries only one message: you are precious. Precious as . .  yeh, you guessed it.  And this message is the raison d'etre for all of creation.  To tell friends, certainly. Spouses, definitely. And in this parsha, Hashem- like good communicative husbands everywhere - says what He wants: "Build me a mikdash that I may dwell within you."  It is the act of building that allows for G-d to be there, it's building it out of gold that says you want Him.

For reasons the Rebbe told us he could not fathom, Hashem is not allowing us the Mikdash yet.  For now, we must build it out of the intangible (but very real) elements of our relationships with each other and with Him.  But it must be done in the best way possible.  Go for the Gold.  He deserves it.

My Son the Doctor

"My Son the Doctor", and "Oh Doctor have I got a daughter for you",  were the two most eligible bachelors in the American Jewish community for over half a century, from the old neighborhood and on over in the move out to the suburbs.  Now we've heard so many stories of doctors in the slammer for you-don't-want-to know-what, that we tend to deify them a bit less.  Or do we?

We still tell tale of the guy who died and went to heaven and on his tour he sees someone walking around with a white jacket and a stethoscope around his neck.  Who's that, he asks.  Oh, don't mind him, he's told, that's G-d, he likes to play doctor.

Talmud tells us that the best of the doctors should be shipped off to Hell.  (I'm not making this up and I'm not exaggerating.) But can you blame them?  When a man's life is in the palm of your hand -- squeeze too hard and all the blood rushes out of the heart, let go too soon and all the blood runs into the heart -- when you have life in your hands like that, you can't well be humble, and maybe that's a good thing because it is not a humble moment.

But that's not enough, it's never enough.  The doctor then thinks he can predict-he should predict -- what will happen after he let's go and comes up with "he's not gonna make it" or in more subtle milieus "things don't look good".

But can you blame him?  What's a man to do when everyone's calling him doc and his momma's so proud and his staff trusts him and his patients think he knows it all, what's the man to think of himself?  How does he see that he may be holding a heart in his hand but life is not in his hands, that he can make a man live or make a man die but he has no right over life and death and has no right to do anything but heal?

How does he stop making determinations?  How does he remember he's in a white suit but he is not G-d?  

"Verapo yerapeh".  And you shall surely heal.  Heed these words.  They tell you that you shall heal -- not anything else.  You have an education and good grades and long nights in med school and accolades from your colleagues for the advancements you've made in medicine -- but all you get to do is heal.  Not predict. Not determine. And never - to judge.  

There is an angel of healing named Malach Rephael.  He comes into the room with the doctor and for all I know he leaves with him too.  There is an angel of judgment, his name is Gavriel and we don't want him in the room.  Not in this room.  Not at this time.

Maybe when you're a doctor and you see how fragile life is you become immune.  Or insensitive.  Or just plain scared and therefore bravado.  Don't worry about it.  Remember you are a healer and the angel is doing your work.  And like the plumber you can go home at night and open up a mishna and the angels will be with you.  Listen and you can hear them, singing the sweet tunes of the Talmud that if you were lucky you heard your daddy singing in the other room as you drifted off to sleep in your bedroom, a lullaby that could never be condescending and you never outgrow because it was real and wasn't directly done to you or for you.

Nowadays patients are encouraged to become their own doctor and that's good because no one knows you better than you know yourself.  So you read up on this and that, surf the web, take out books, buy supplements and present your findings to whomever will listen.  And that is good.  And then you can't leave well enough alone so you become a full-fledged doctor and start predicting and deciding what will happen and what should happen and you get so lost you forget about healing.

Come back, come back, come back to the parsha, to a sanity that begets humility.  Heal you shall surely heal -- and surely you should stay away from anything that is not healing.

"Es mispar yomecha amaleh", I (says the Living G-d) will fill the number of your days.  Reinforcements have arrived. Even patients don't have to play G-d.

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