Friday, March 10, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Tetzaveh 5777 - A Nation of Priests (And a Shtickel of Purim) (Revised from 5770)

Does it bother you? It bothers me. Judaism is a religion with a hereditary priesthood. G"d does play favorites.

People still take this hereditary priesthood seriously, despite our pretenses otherwise. We still give the Kohanim the first aliyah, and a Levite is next in line. Geneticists have identified common genetic markers among the Kohanim. Are we waiting for the priesthood to reclaim its place? Do we really want a rebuilt Temple and a return to the cultic practices? Some clearly do – both Jews and gentiles – for very different reasons. Is our spiritual evolution that incomplete, that we're not past those needs? Does it really matter if someone is a Kohen? Should it matter? Are classist and elitist divisions meant to be eternally part of our religion? Perhaps this is not what G"d had in mind.

How cozy and convenient to have it all in the family. Maybe it's a way for G"d to assuage any hurt feelings Moshe might have that he wasn't getting the deal that Avraham, Yitzkhak and Yaakov got. To insure that Moshe would carry his humility all the way to the grave (and a grave to be located in a place unknown, so that Moshe should not become as one who is worshipped and overly revered) maybe G"d struck a deal. Maybe there are conversations that took place on Sinai that weren't reported in the Torah.

Moshe: Um, excuse me, G"d?

G"d: Yes, Moshe, what is it? Can't you see I'm busy inscribing these tablets?

Moshe: Er, I don't want to appear selfish and prideful, but I was wondering about my descendants?

G"d: [Pause] What about them?

Moshe: well, for one, will they be as numerous as the sands or the stars in the sky?

G"d: Literally?

Moshe: Well, maybe figuratively..but, wait, no, maybe…even literally. Yes, literally!

G"d: Moshe, I've made you a leader of these people, but not their ruler, King, or Sovereign. That's a role only I can fulfill. What, you were hoping maybe I'd allow your children to become a dynasty?

Moshe: I know, I know. You chose me because I am humble, and willing to be a servant leader to the people. Still, one likes to provide for his family, his descendants, and future generations. Will my status help put food in their bellies?

G"d: Moshe, your arrogance begins to trouble me. Is it not enough I have placed you as leader of these people, and enabled you to lead them out of slavery into freedom so that they might worship me alone, and follow my commandments? Don't push me, Moshe. Don't tee me off. You won't like the consequences. You saw what I could do to Pharaoh.

Moshe: So what, you gonna harden my heart too, and make me suffer extra? Hey, I'm on to your little tricks. This is me you’re talking to, former prince of Egypt and now leader of the Israelites, not some ignorant ex-slave.

G"d: Also a murderer,and a guy with a really bad speech impediment.

Moshe: [silence]

G"d: [after a pregnant pause] Well, that seemed to shut you up.

Moshe: Well, when You're right, You're right. Still, it just doesn't seem fair that my miskpokha don't get anything out of this.

G"d: Boy, you don't take a hint, do you? [Pause. Sigh.] Does this really mean that much to you?

Moshe: I guess it does. Say, maybe we can make a deal.

G"d: Who do you think I am, Monty Hall? I don't make deals!

Moshe: Oh yes, You do. Want me to enumerate some examples? We can start with your negotiations with Avraham over S'dom and Gomorrah. Shall I go on?

G"d: OK, I got it. What's your proposal?

Moshe: Well, since you don't seem to want to make my children a dynasty, What about my brother? My only brother. Whom I love

G”d and Moshe: [Simultaneously] Aharon.

God:[pause] Oh wait, I see what you did there. Haha, very funny Mister wise-ass. You just keep that up and see what happens.  [pause] So, you want I should do something for Aharon?

Moshe: Exactly. For an older brother to be in the shadow of the younger-well, that can't exactly be easy for him. He deserves more than to just be my spokesperson. He's a good egg. He works hard, he's patient, a lover of peace, and he absolutely worships You.

G"d: If you knew what your brother was up to right now, you might not be so sure.

Moshe: What's that supposed to mean?

G"d: Never mind, You'll find out soon enough, anyway. [Muttering to G”d’self] And to think I let him get away with gossiping with Miriam about your Cushite wife, while I gave her the freaky scaly white skin routine as punishment. Sigh.

Moshe: What’s that?

G”d: I said never mind! [G”d gets back to inscribing the tablets.]
(*-Author’s note – If you;re going to dispute that on the basis of Exodus 34:28 I suggest you go back and look at 24:12, 31:18 and 32:16)

Moshe: Well?

God: Well what?

Moshe: A deal.

God: Alright, tell you what. I will make a deal with you. I'll make Aharon my high priest, and all his sons and their descendants can be a hereditary priesthood. OK? He doesn't deserve it, especially with what he's up to at the moment, but I'll overlook that for your sake.[To G”dself: since I’ve already set a precedent there.]

Moshe: A priesthood? What the heck will we need priests for? I thought we left all that nonsense behind in Egypt? You, you're the REAL G"d, not these phony idols, or that pantheon of half-human-half-animals the Egyptians worship. Those Egyptian priests are no paragons of virtue, let me tell you. The control the granaries and so much more in Egypt. I suspect if some Pharaoh teed them off, they'd arrange quickly for a new Pharaoh. You really want to concentrate power in the hands of an aristocratic elite? Is that the sort of religion You have in mind? If so, I'm not sure I wanna go along for the ride. I may be an ex-prince of Egypt, but You’re the One who put me in charge of the rabble, and now I feel like one of them, and I care about their equality. Why should they trade one kind of enslavement for another? Is that freedom? Priests? I think we should be a whole nation of priests. Yeah, that's the ticket. A nation of priests. I'd like to see that. Wouldn't You?

G"d: Moshe, have you noticed my nose? It's really, really flaring. You are pushing it to the limit. How dare you? Look, this was your idea-to give Aharon something so that the family line could benefit from your service. I can take that way in an instant. Don't cross me. [Pause] Though I do like that "nation of priests" thing. I just don't think it's time yet. Moshe, deal with it. There are going to be priests!

Moshe: But a hereditary priesthood? Next I suppose you'll want sacrificial altars and regular tributes and all that. I thought You were above all that nonsense-that it was just for show.

G"d: [driven by intense anger, G"d is prepared to strike Moshe dead on the spot. Then G"d pauses, takes a deep breath, counts to infinity, and says:] Moshe, you're a good man. A pain in the tukhis, but a good man. Let me lay it out for you in simple terms, okay?

Moshe: OK.

G"d: Moshe, you're an educated man. Maybe you've read some philosophy. You can probably think of concepts well beyond the comprehension of the average Israelite, or Egyptian, for that matter (although there was that Amenhotep, but never mind that...) I am going to have to do all sorts of things at first to help people come to terms with the idea that I'm incorporeal, omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. So yes, we're gonna have altars, and incense, and sacrifices, and all that stuff. I'm gonna arrange it so that there's a Mishkan. that you’re gonna build, a place, a tent of meeting where I can come and be "present" among the Israelites. They're not fully ready for a theology as advanced as you think, Moshe. It could be millennia before they are. Lucky for Me, time doesn't matter much. I can wait until they evolve, spiritually. [trailing off] At the rate they're going now, I might be waiting a long, long time...

Moshe: Well, OK. I get it. Sort of. Just give me the instructions for this Mishkan thing, and all the rituals and sacrifices and stuff, and I'll make sure the people know it and do it right.

G"d: One step at a time, Moshe. One step at a time. Let's just start with the ten things I've written on these tablets, OK?

Moshe: Just ten?

God: There’s that flaring nose again…

Moshe:. OK, ok, I’ll behave. [pause] So, about my brother?

G"d: He's gonna be the high priest, and his sons will also be priests. I'll set it up so that his descendants will be the priestly family.

Moshe: Well, that ought to make him happy!

G"d: Don't be so sure. With privilege comes a price. Keep a close eye on your nephews.

Moshe: There's something You’re not telling me?

G"d: Moshe, my little boychik, there's a lot I'm not telling you. Get used to it. Deal with it. And now say "thank you" to Me for striking this deal with you.

Moshe: Thank You. I think.

G"d: You're welcome. I think. Now here, take these two tablets and head back down the mountain to the people. Your big brother has committed a great sin.

Moshe: But…You'll still make him High Priest?

G"d: That promise I'll keep. Now get out of here before I change my mind!

Well, maybe that's not what happened. Nevertheless, does it matter. Whether we had need for a hereditary priesthood then or not, do we really need it now? Is there any good reason to cling to the remnants of that system? Or is it time for all Israel to be as equals before G"d?

I should end here, but I can't resist, since Purim is also upon us, to reflect a bit on that. Boy, there's a great holiday. They tried to kill us, but we turned the tables on them and killed them first. Let's eat. I don't know about you, but I have a problem with some of the very basic underpinnings of Purim and its attendant celebration.

I’ve railed against teaching “pediatric Judaism” where we gloss over all the troubling stuff and just tell pretty little stories to our children and ourselves. Often this results in adults who, upon discovering what the texts really say, turn away from Judaism proclaiming that all they were taught were lies and half-truths. At least at Pesakh we acknowledge the pain and suffering of the Egyptians. We’re inconsistent about it, even just at Purim. We’ll celebrate the hanging (or at least the demise) of Haman. but we speak of a “beauty contest” when we know Esther, like all the others, was prepared in the Harem by its supervising eunuchs,  and the King got an opportunity to, shall we say, test-drive each applicant to be the new Queen. Do we acknowledge the misogyny of putting Zeresh in the role of planting the evil ideas in Haman’s head?  That the King’s councilors advised him to punish Vashti lest all the kingdom’s wives get sassy with their husbands? The fact that the solution to saving the Jews was for the Jews to kill those who were going to kill them first? Then there’s that mitzvah to get so drunk we can’t distinguish between Bless Mordechai and curse Haman.” Yes, the mitzvah of giving gifts to others and to the poor balance that out.

All these difficulties are not unique to the Book of Esther. Our religious texts are replete with things that are troubling. We can turn a blind eye to them, or we can engage them, and learn from them. Yes, there is much than can be learned from the Book of Esther (and all our sacred texts.) We can exegete lots of lessons, ideas, values and more. However, we ignore the warts to our own peril. It saddens me, for example, that we have clung to remnants of the hereditary priesthood, at least in the orthodox and conservative worlds. Why do we value being the descendant of a Kohen or a Levite when we consider how many of them were likely corrupt?

Although you know that sometimes I have issues with G"d, and the way G"d acts and behaves, I have to give G"d a thumbs up for one thing. G"d isn't in the Purim story. Oh, the rabbis like to pretend that, like "Esther" G"d is "hidden" behind the story. I'd like to believe that maybe it's more because G"d doesn't really approve of this story, and didn't want to be included. (Not that G”d is so innocent.) Yeah, Jewish pride is a good thing. Avoiding extinction is good, too. Sometimes, even turning the tables is desirable. But wholesale slaughter? You ever really look at the last few chapters of Megillat Esther? Sure, G"d as described in Torah and subsequent books is sometimes a warrior, and sometimes tells us to kill others. Yet there is a learning curve. I'd like to think that by the time of the Purim story, G"d had matured. And any mature G"d would certainly opt out of inclusion in that story. N'est ce pas?

Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2010) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Tetzaveh 5776 - House Guest (Redux and Revised 5763)
Tetzaveh 5775 - Aharon's Bells (Revised)
Tetzaveh 5774 - It's Not Urim or Thummim
Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor/Purim 5773 - Fighting Dirty
Tetzaveh 5772-Perfection Imperfect
Tetzaveh 5770 - A Nation of Priests? (And a Shtickel of Purim)
Tetzaveh 5768-Light and Perfection
Tetzaveh/Purim 5767-The Urim & Thummim Show (Updated)
Tetzaveh 5766-Silent Yet Present
Tetzaveh 5765 and 5761-Aharon's Bells
Tetzaveh 5764-Shut Up and Listen!
Tetzaveh 5763-House Guest
Tetzaveh 5762 (Redux 5760)-The Urim and Thummim Show
Tetzaveh 5758-Something Doesn't Smell Quite Right

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