Friday, April 17, 2009

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Sh'mini 5769-srettirC ypsirC

Last year, on the tenth anniversary of its writing, I re-shared my "Crispy Critters" musing. It is as true now as it is then what I wrote:

How many times over the years have I made reference to my two favorite crispy critters, Nadav and Avihu? I've grown so found of them that I try to sneak them into musings year round. So this time of year has become sort of special for me, a time when I can really talk about them in context.

Yet, in once again re-reading my words from 5758, I am struck by how little I have learned from my own admonitions:

We have to learn, and it is a hard thing to do, to shed our skins, to step outside our paradigms, to eliminate or suppress our egos that we always know the best way to do something, when we offer help to someone. We need to find the humility to do it someone else's way, to play by their rules.

I am as people-pleasing and as co-dependent as I ever have been. Why is this tendency so hard to shake? In our relationships with others, and in our relationship with the G"d of our understandings, why do we continue to so fruitlessly struggle to try and discern, to know what it is the other person (or G"d)  wants from us?
Maybe the lesson from what happened to Nadav and Avihu is less about trying to do more when it is not asked for, than about a willingness to take a risk and give someone something of your choosing, whether you are certain they will approve or not?
One wonders, did Nadav and Avihu sit around and have a conversation of this sort:

N: Hey, what's wrong with sacrificing to G"d a little bit extra?
A: Shouldn't we give G"d exactly what G"d wants?
N: And how do you know what that is? Do you have a direct channel to G"d?
A: No, but Uncle Moshe does.
N: Maybe. But are you absolutely certain  that everything Uncle Moshe says is exactly what G"d said, and no more or no less?
A: Well, that''s the generally held belief.
N: Then it's a naive belief at best.
A: You have a point. I mean, I like Uncle Moshe, but after all that rigmarole during our ordination...
N: You think he made some of that up, don't you? C'mon, admit it?
A: Well, yes-some of it was definitely over the top-a show for the people, and probably a practical joke against Dad.
N: And Uncle Moshe got away with it.
A: True.
N: So whaddaya say, shall we go offer an extra sacrifice?
A: I'm in. Let's go.

Now, this is all conjecture, however, just as Nadav and Avihu might have been unwilling to completely accept that even Moshe knew exactly what G"d wanted, I am similarly skeptical and suspicious of a whole lot of people: those who first put the Torah in written form, those who redacted it, those who translated it, the rabbis who created the oral Torah from whole cloth (I'm unequivocal on that one-Torah mi Sinai I'm still open to. Mishna from Sinai, not really), the Geonim, the Masoretes, Rabbi Caro, and so on and so forth. Also, I have my own suspicions about what Moshe transmitted to us as coming from G"d. The Prophets, too, had an agenda. All social conscience and no ritual is as extreme as ritual with no social conscience.

So here we are, 11 years out from the original "Crispy Critters" musing, and I'm having a totally different understanding of what happened Nadav and Avihu.

N: You know, Avihu, there's some risk in what we're doing?
A: Yes. But you've convinced me that the risk is worth taking.
N: Are you really sure about that?
A: What's with you? Are you now trying to talk me out of it? Getting scared yourself?
N: Well, maybe a little.
A; Courage, my brother. G"d will surely reward us for thinking of him and offering a little something extra, n'est ce pas?
N: Yes, you;re right, my brother. Courage.
A: Tell ya what? Let's have a drink first.
N: Sounds good to me.

There are some scholars who have speculated that Nadav's and Avihu's fates really were a reward-that their being zotzed simply allowed them to go the heaven and be closer to G"d. (Oh, wait, that wasn't really party of the theology back then, was it?)

All I know is, is that I spend too much of my time trying to figure out what others (G"d included) want me to say or do before I actually do or say something. What kind of life is that? Yes, there is great risk in just doing what I want to do or saying what I want to say, without regard to what I think another might want to hear me say or have me do. Yes, I might wind up a crispy critter, just like Nadav and Avihu. Yet life is full of risks, and, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If I can't be sure that the words of any siddur are what G"d would want to hear me say, even though I may credit the creators of that siddur with great wisdom, I should not fear using my own words. How many of us simply iterate the words of the siddur simply because we figure that is what G"d wants to hear? (I hear the cries of "but we're still here-G"d hasn't wiped us out---yet-so these prayers must have some efficacy" in the background. Sorry, Don't buy it anymore.)

Judaism is not about playing it safe, about being codependent, about trying to say what you think others want you to say, or doing what you think others want you to do.  Judaism is about coming to your own understandings of what to say and do. Reasonable people can disagree on those understandings, as may happen.
Instead of viewing what happened to Nadav and Avihu as a warning about what not to do, why not try viewing as a lesson on exactly what we should do. No pain, no gain.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, April 10, 2009

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 - Valley of the Dry Economy

Chapter 36

37 Thus said the Head Economist: Moreover, in this I will respond to the House of Capitalism and act for their sake: I will multiply their savings like sheep. 38 As Jerusalem is filled with sacrificial sheep during her festivals, so shall the ruined banks be filled with bundles of currency. And they shall know that I am the Head Economist.

Sepharadim begin here
Chapter 37
1 The hand of the Head Economist came upon me. He took me out by the spirit (and not the private corporate jets) of the Economy and set me down in the valley of the Wall, the valley of recession, the valley of the dry economy. It was full of dried up, meaningless papers. 2 He led me all around them; there were very many of them spread over the valley, and they were very dry (and worthless.) 3 He said to me, "O mortal, can these securities, papers, derivatives, paper currency, stocks, mortgages, promissory notes, et al live again?" I replied, "O Head Economist, only You know." 4 And He said to me, "Prophesy over these papers and say to them: O worthless papers, hear the word of the Head Economist! 5 Thus said the Head Economist to these worthless, dried up papers: I will cause belief and faith of the people to enter you and you shall have value again and be traded. 6 I will lay bail-outs upon you, and cover you with assurances, and form stronger regulations over you. And I will restore the people's faith unto you, and you shall have value again. And you shall know that I am the Head Economist!"

7 I prophesied as I had been commanded. And while I was prophesying, suddenly there was a sound of bells and tickers and people fingering on Blackberrys, and the papers came together, paper to matching monetary standard, and the tickers ran, but the values did not always rise. 8 I looked, and there were  bail-outs on them, and assurances had grown, and new regulations had been instituted over them; but there was no faith in them, and unemployment among the people continued to rise. 9 Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the stock market traders of the people, prophesy, O mortal! Say to the stock market traders: Thus said the Lord God: Come, O stock market traders, from the four corners of the global economy, and instill the faith and confidence of the people into these worthless papers, that they may have value again." 10 I prophesied as He commanded me. The faith of the stock market traders entered them, and they came to have value and people began to trade in them, a vast multitude of papers.

11 And He said to me, "O mortal, these papers are the whole Economy of the World. They say, 'Our papers are dried up with no value, our  faith is gone; we are doomed.' 12 Prophesy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said the Head Economist: I am going to open your wallets and lift you out of the recession, O My people, and bring you to the land of sustainable economy and employment (that at the same time doesn't destroy your planet.) 13 You shall know, O My people, that I am the Head Economist, when I have opened your wallets and lifted you out of your recession. 14 I will put My faith in the economy into you and you shall shop again, and I will set you upon your own ship of financial security. Then you shall know that I the Head Economist have spoken and have acted"--declares the Head Economist.

Would that G"d would interfere, and restore our economy, and do it in a way that also allowed for the sustainability of all people, and of all of the planet. Yet I do not believe this is likely. We've created our own mess, with our own free will (and greed) and it is up to us to get out of it. We have followed and prayed to false gods. We have had our false messiahs, too.

If we come out of this economic crisis with nothing essentially changed, then we will have failed to truly rescue ourselves. We will simply stumble down the same insane path. It's not just about instituting controls that keep the greedy among us from getting carried away. It's about a fundamental change in the way people think; in the way people determine what is need and what is want, what is necessity and what is luxury. If we do not alter our habits, then we will just be encouraging the traders and others to try the same games and gimmicks.

I'm not espousing a particular economic system. Socialism and Capitalism both have their plusses and minuses. I am, however, espousing a wholistic, realistic, and truly communal approach to how we live, and the economic engine that is part of that.

I don't have Ezekiel's faith that the dry bones of our shattered economy will rise anew, for if they do rise anew in the same form they were before their death, then they will simply rise, expand, and eventually devour and consume us all.

I have given a great deal of thought to the subject of m'khayei ha-mei-tim, the raising of the dead. I have struggled and searched for a way of understanding the concept that is meaningful. In many ways, I have come to that understanding, and no longer refrain from using the words "m'khayei hameitim" when they occur in our siddur. It is through our continuance and re-enactment of the good that the dead have done in their lives, that they live again. Memory is a powerful tool.

Yet I now see that an element is missing from my understanding. We must not only carry on the good of those who are no longer among the living-we must learn from that which they did which wasn't as good, or was driven by wrong thinking, or following misguided leaders, which may have been particularly affected by the realities of their times, or a lack of knowledge we now have  or, put simply, that which they did which was wrong, bad, or evil. People do such things, and we ignore this reality at our own peril. We must learn, too, from those things that may have contributed to someone's death - greed, avarice, overwork.

In bringing our shattered economy back to life, we must learn from the mistakes. If we are to bring the Jewish people, who some would say are in great peril of dying out, back to life again, we, too, must learn from the mistakes as well as the good. Ideas and institutions which may have served us for centuries may well have served their time and need not be part of a renewed Jewish people. Other ideas that may have been lost or trampled over may be needed as part of a restored Jewish people. We won't know until we take a good, long, hard look. This is true for our economy, and true for the continuity of the Jewish people.

This period of the Counting of the Omer may just be the perfect time for such reflections. Before we are ready again for mattan Torah on Shavuot, we've some soul searching to do. Before we are ready for a revived economy, we've more of the same to do.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester

Friday, April 3, 2009

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5769-Payback: An Excerpt from the Diary of Moses

Dear Diary:

Oy, what I day I had today. It's not like I didn't have a million other things to do and take care of. You-know-who eats up hours of my day with more instructions for the rituals of sacrifice. I couldn't pick a deity with a simpler system?

I'm usually willing to accept the burdens of my role as leader and communicator for this rabble, and I don't mind so much when You-know-who is giving me instructions to pass on to the whole group. That, I can handle. But today, You-know-who goes on and on with even more instructions than what I've already gotten for my dear older brothers and his kids.  Priests, You-know-who had to make them. Yeah, he was helpful as my spokesperson when I was negotiating with Pharaoh, but was that enough to earn him this bonus? And I'm not forgetting, though I am surprised You-know-who seems to be forgetting) what my schmendrick of a brother did while I was up on the mountain the first time. Avodah zara is bad enough, but avodah para? Sheesh! A freakin' calf of gold he makes for them.

And those lame excuses he gave me afterwards. "I was just trying to buy time and keep the rabble happy." Yeah, right.  Today, at least, I got a little payback. More about that in a minute.

So after chewing my ear off for hours-finally getting to some rules for the whole community and not just my wacky brother and his peanut gallery, You-know-who says it's time to do the initiation rites for the priests. Hoo-boy, I though, this is not gonna be fun.

To begin with, I gave Aaron a bath. Then like those little dolls I used to play with, I dressed him up in his official wardrobe. It was kind of fun, adding layer after layer of stuff. At times, I thought he was gonna collapse under the weight of it all. When I stuck the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate (you know, those two auguring stones) I made sure to slam the cover closed over them nice and hard. You shoulda seen the look Aaron gave me.

Anyway, what he and all the people didn't know was that, for once, You-know-who, specific as You-know-who often gets, actually left me a little leeway in this ordination ceremony. So I improvised a bit. I mean, there was blood everywhere. I made the whole things as messy and cumbersome as I could. Oh, it was a little gross for me, hacking up those animals, gutting out their organs and fat, even having to gather up the poop and taking it outside the camp. (Well, that part You-know-who told me to do.) I put on quite a show. You-know-who had told me to use the ram insides to make a burnt offer that also had a pleasant odor, so  when I had the sacrificial ram all cut up and on the altar, I washed all the entrails with water and stuck them back on the grill--er I mean altar, which made a lot of smoke and smell. I hope You-know-who found it pleasing. I know I didn't, and neither did Aaron (chuckle.)

When it was time for the second ram, the one of ordination, I got really creative. I took some of its blood and dabbed it on Aaron's ears, thumb, and big toe. He looked so ridiculous, I just couldn't resist doing the same thing to all the rest of the clan. I was having so much fun, I just couldn't stop. I scooped out all the fat I could find from the carcass, grabbed some matzah from the bread basket, placed it on top of the fat, and them dumped some into all of their hands, and told them to hold them up as elevation offers. They had a heck of a time keeping the stuff from falling out of their hands. I was laughing so hard on the inside. Aaron shot me a look that could kill.

I couldn't resist one last jab, so when the time came for the official anointing with oil, I also grabbed some of the blood and spattered all over them and their nice white vestments. I tell you, it was hilarious. Sort of artsy-farsty, too. I'll bet someday someone will figure out how to just spatter stuff on fabric and sell it.

I decided I'd been cruel enough, so I wanted to finish off being nice. I told Aaron and the boys to go boil up all the leftover meat and have some of the leftover cakes. I told them to burn up anything that was leftover after they ate.

Then, and this was my final stroke of genius, I saw this great big loophole and took it. I told Aaron and the boys that they'd have to do this again every day for the next 6 days. You-know-who hadn't been specific about that, and I figured seven days sounded about right. I sealed the deal, as usual, by announcing to the whole community that everything that was done today had been commanded by You-know-who.

I know I took a few liberties, but so far You-know-who hasn't said or done anything about it. Maybe You-know-who was enjoying it, too.

Omigosh, diary. I've been telling this cock and bull story about being chosen by You-know-who, in order to get back at my no good "brother" of a Pharaoh so long, I'm starting to believe it myself. Still, there have been some unexplained things-like that business at the sea of reeds. I thought I was putting on a pretty good show, even though I really didn't have a good plan at that point. But man, when those waters parted, I just went with it. The there were those quail, and that sweet, gooey stuff on the plants every morning except once every 7 days. And the timing of that  rather cooperative bad weather at Sinai.

Hmmm, whether I believe in a You-know-who, or whether I just made it all up, there just might be a You-know-who looking after us after all. I could use the help--Korach and a couple of his friends are up to something, I'm sure.

Well, catch ya later, Diary. I got six more days of fun ahead. ;-)




Shabbat Shalom,


©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester