Friday, May 27, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Bemidbar 5771 – Moving Treasures

Though I am sometimes puzzled over the level of detail the Torah sometimes contains about certain subjects, this week, I find myself not at all puzzled by the instructions for the preparation of the ritual items in the Mishkan in preparation for the Israelites moving to their next location. I’ve just recently completed another move. If I’m counting correctly (and excluding “temporary relocations like college) I have moved my household/personal belongings between states eleven times since 1977, the year I graduated from college. Four of those moves were completed with the assistance of professional moving companies, and the remaining seven utilized the services of various moving companies.

For some of these moves, I have been extremely well organized in advance. (Only once did I employ a moving company to actually pack things, all the other times I did my own packing.) For a few of these moves, including my most recent back to the NYC area after 3 decades away, my procrastinating instinct  found me hastily packing things at the last minute, and not always in the best and safest manner.

All things considered, my property has survived these moves fairly well. My Steinway upright, though its exterior is worn, has fared quite well. Over the years I’ve lost a few small items to breakage, and a few larger pieces of furniture were damaged (mostly because they were made of particle-board, which just doesn’t travel well.) I’ve only lost one piece of furniture completely to breakage, and that was a Sauder particle-board desk that didn’t survive the short trip to northern VA to MD. This most recent trip, the only casualties were a corner of my favorite TV/Stereo stand, and my favorite bedside lamp (a model that has both a regular torchiere-style room lamp plus another lamp just for reading.)

On those moves when I have been a better advance planner, I usually took the time to complete breakdown more sensitive furniture pieces (like IKEA desks, my keyboard recording studio desk, bookshelves, and the like.) Some movers have insisted on this, others have said as long as things are broken down enough to fit through doors and around corners, that’s enough for them.

I’ve a lot of items still packed, and it could be some time before I actually get some of these items unpacked, and who knows what else I may discover, but I remain hopeful. Yet, if I discover some hastily or less-than-optimally wrapped items broken, I need but think upon this parasha to remind myself that I have no one but myself to blame for failing to do due diligence when it comes to packing. Nothing I own is really as sacred to me as the ritual objects of the Mishkan were to the ancient Israelites (well, there are a few things I hold quite dear) yet if I expect them to survive the trip, I must be prepared to take the same care as Aaron and his sons did in preparing the ritual items to be moved by the Kohatites.

Similarly, I need to be sure that the people I entrust to actually load and move my items are as trustworthy and reliable as the Kohatites. For the most part, I’ve been satisfied with the care shown to my property by the various movers I have utilized. There have been a few hot shots, and others that take risks I think are unwise. I imagine even among the Kohatites there were a few overly gung-ho, or, oppositely, slackers.

I have noticed in myself the signs of age influencing the care with which I pack (or with which I supervise those packing/loading/unloading for me.) I used to be a much more fastidious person when it came to careful packing. Having experienced items less than optimally packed still surviving the trip, I have allowed myself to become a little more lax. I’m actually unhappy about that, and making a vow to myself that for the next move (and I’m sure there will be one at some point) I will return to the habits of my younger self, carefully disassembling and packing things. (One measure of my laxness is that I barely managed to use half a roll of bubble pack, and I didn’t buy a single specialized picture frame/mirror box, and simply used un-formed boxes as covers for some of the larger pieces of art.) I even allowed the movers to to take my 42” HD TV without packing, just wrapped in moving blankets, even though I still had the original carton available.  I didn’t completely disassemble my desk or keyboard workstation.  I even let the movers take the oldest of my three desktop computer CPUS and it’s monitor in just moving blankets, as I didn’t have the original cartons and hadn’t packed them up into other boxes. (I just can’t imagine having ever thrown the original packing out-I am really careful about saving those sorts of boxes-so I am at a loss as to what happened to it.) Imagine if Aaron and his sons had been as lax in preparing the ritual items of the Mishkan for traveling? I suppose after 11 moves, it’s hard to care as much, but that’s silly. (On the other hand, I’ll bet the Kohatites were relieved when the Israelites finally had a permanent location for the Mishkan. However, on the other other hand, this just left the Kohatites without enough to do and eventually to led to lots of infighting among the priestly clans.)

So, for at least the present moment, this explains to me why chapter 4 of Bemidbar outlines the specific steps in preparing the ritual articles for being moved. There’s a lesson in that for all of us, and for all time.

I recall that some years ago, North American Van Lines boasted as having moved the treasures of a King, being the company chosen to transport the Tutankhamen exhibit around the US. Imagine the slogan of the Kohatite Moving Company: we moved the treasures of our G”d. We would all do well to learn to take the time to carefully prepare items for moving, just as Aaron and his sons were instructed to do.

Having spent another week unpacking, and getting re-used to life in tNYC, I’m definitely ready for Shabbat! How about you?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Some other musings on this parasha:

Bemidbar 5770 - Sense Us
Bemidbar 5769 - That V'eirastikh Li Feeling
Bamidbar 5767-What Makes It Holy? (Redux & Revised 5761)
Bemidbar 5766-Redux 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5764-Doorway to Hope
Bemidbar 5763-Redux 5759 (with additions for 5763)
Bemidbar 5762-They Did As They Were Told? You Gotta be Kidding!
Bemidbar 5759-Marrying Gd-Not Just for Nuns
Bemidbar 5760-Knowing Our Place
Bemidbar 5761-What Makes it Holy

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Bekhukotai 5771 – The Long Road Ahead

In the haftarah for this parasha we read:

Like a partridge hatching what she did not lay,
So is one who amasses wealth by unjust means;
In the middle of his life it will leave him,
And in the end he will be proved a fool. (Jer. 17:11, JPS)

Would that Jeremiah's words proved true in most cases, but, alas, history has shown us that they do not. The wicked, the greedy, the unjust often seem to succeed and rarely suffer any sort of Divine justice. It's just another corner of the "theodicy" question - trying to understand why evil exists in the world, and whether evil is as much a creation of G"d as is good.

Some who amass wealth unjustly are brought to some kind of justice, but is it truly justice when those who suffered at the hands of this evil doer never truly get full recompense? The Torah reminds us that sometimes justice takes time to mete out, and can consequently span generations. However, even measured across generations, I have a feeling that the scales of justice aren't balanced all that often.

I think if all we do is sit around and wait for G"d, or simply nature and time to balance things out, we're missing the boat. Justice, like so many other things, is really up to us. I don't believe that G"d wants us to wait around for G"d to act. It is up to us to act - we must feel obligated, compelled to act to bring about justice. It can be an uncomfortable thing to do, and it can also be sadly seductive. Admit it - we all enjoy those moments of schadenfreude, especially those in which the mighty, the rich, the famous, are brought low. So, if we are to seriously take on the the obligation of meting out justice, we must heed the Torah's call to not show favoritism to anyone in the process.

Our current legal system does a horrible job. While it gives lip service to the idea of impartial justice, the reality is far from impartial, as most studies show. The rich and famous get better treatment. People of color generally are not treated as well by the system. This extends beyond the legal system. I saw an article the other day which talked about how Countrywide kept an "A" list of mortgage and loan customers, all of them rich, famous, influential, and many of them not even aware they were on such a list. Seems these people got much better treatment than your average Joe.

Justice is so difficult a thing to manage, it's no wonder we want to turn it over the G"d. Given G"d's track record, I'm not sure that's such a good idea. As imperfect as our efforts are, we must continue to try. Maybe between the "two" of us, that is to say, G"d and us, we might stand a slim chance at seeing true justice in this world. To do so requires us to accept that a human lifespan may be too short a time to see justice done. However, rather than trust to G"d to insure the justice is meted out of the decades, centuries, millennia, we must pass the responsibility down generation to generation, along with the understanding that each generation may only be a small part of a very long chain leading to eventual justice. It's the old "planting a tree for future generations" story. Rather than see our limited time scale as an obstacle, let us view it as a challenge to overcome.

Judaism is one way we can pass on our values about justice. It's not the only way, but for those of us who choose the Jewish way, this is reason enough to care about insuring that Judaism survives and its values handed down to future generations. As depressed and unhappy as I am that justice does not seem to prevail easily in this world, I'm unwilling to just turn it all over to G"d. I'm motivated to try and continue to teach young Jews everywhere that there is intrinsic value in learning about Judaism and the Jewish way. Are you with me for the long road ahead?

Shabbat Shalom,


©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

B'har-B'khukotai 5770 - Bad Parenting 301
Behar-Bekhukotai 5769- Scared of Leaves?
Behar-Bekhukhotai 5767-A Partridge in a Tree of Life
Behar-Bekhukhotai 5766-Only An Instant
Behar-Bekhukotai 5764 - The Price of Walls
Behar-Bekhukotai 5762 - Tough Love
Behar-Bekhukotai 5761-The Big Book (Bottoming Out Gd's Way)

Behar 5765-Ki Gerim v'Toshavim Atem Imadi
Behar 5763-Ownership
Behar 5760-Slaves to Gd

Bekhukotai 5765-I'll Take the Hard Way
Bechukotai 5763-Keri Is So Very...
Bekhukotai 5760-Repugnant Realities

Friday, May 6, 2011

Random Musing Before Shabbat – Emor 5771 – B’yom HaShabbat, B’yom HaShabbat

In re-reading parashat Emor in preparation for writing this musing, I kept coming back to one particular bit of Hebrew in 24:8

ביום השבת ביום השבת יערכנו לפני יהוה תמיד מאת בני־ישראל ברית עולם

He shall arrange them before the L”rd regularly every Sabbath day-it is a commitment for all time on the part of the Israelites (JPS)

This is referring to the twelve loaves of bread spread out in two rows that is to be presented as a gift to G”d. This is a great example of where reading the Hebrew points out something not obvious in the English.  The English word “every Sabbath day” appear in Hebrew as “on the Shabbath day, on the Sabbath day” (b’yom HaShabbat, b’yom HaShabbat.) There are plenty of simpler and more common ways to say this in Hebrew rather than rely upon the well-known fact that in Hebrew repetition can be a way of expressing regularity. Yes, this is not the only example in Torah, nevertheless I still find myself asking why, in this particular case, this particular way of saying “every Shabbat” was used, as opposed to using simpler Hebrew words meaning “every” (b’khol being the most common.)

Maybe the comparison doesn’t work as well in English, but let’s try it. Imagine yourself an actor. What are your reactions to these different ways of saying it? (You can even try different inflections and emphases.)

  • On every Shabbat you will….
  • Each Shabbat you will
  • On each and every Shabbat you will
  • On Shabbat, on Shabbat
  • On Sabbath day, On Sabbath day

They all essentially mean the same (or similar) things yet I find myself reacting quite different to them. Of course, there’s no way for us to know how our ancestors might have heard the Hebrew “b’yom HaShabbat, b’yom HaShabbat” as opposed to, for example, “b’khol HaShabbat.”

I’m really caught here. Part of me wants to really figure out why the Torah uses “b’yom HaShabbat, b’yom HaShabbat” here. After all, every little thing in Torah is meaningful (or so we are taught.) Part of me just wants to say “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” There’s no special and underlying meaning here, this is just how the author (whoever that might be) chose.  Right now, the latter impulse is winning, and so I’m going to stop this musing. I have a feeling, however, that, during this Shabbat, the former impulse will ascend to dominance and I’ll spend time on it again. Perhaps you might do the same. After all, that’s what I do b’yom HaShabbat, b’yom HaShabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Emor 5770 - G"d's Shabbat II
Emor 5767-Redux and Revised 5761-Eternal Effort
Emor 5766 - Mum's the Word (Redux 5760 with new commentary for 5766)
Emor 5765-Out of Sync
Emor 5764-One Law for All
Emor 5763-Mishpat Ekhad
Emor 5758-Gd's Shabbat
Emor 5759-Lex Talionis
Emor 5760-Mum's the Word
Emor 5761-Eternal Effort