Thursday, April 27, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tazria-M’tzora 5777–The Overlooked Lesson (Revisiting 5767)

A decade ago, I had an insight that I probably should have had sooner. Like others, I had been so caught up trying to find the modern relevancy in these two parashiyot, and too blinded by the more accepted interpretations and rationalizations, that I had missed the forest for the trees. As I wrote ten years back, our readings of Tazria and M’tzora  will forever be illuminated/tainted (chose your verb) by the later rabbinic interpretations that read these skin conditions as a physical manifestation for a moral failure, most often associated with "gossiping" (based on word play with the Hebrew of the word m'tzora - one who has tzara'at (whatever that really is - leprosy, or a variety of other skin conditions) and the phrase motzi shem ra, a colloquialism describing a person who gossips (literally, bringing forth [from another's] name evil, thus read as "giving another a bad name.") To the rabbis and sages, tzara'at was an outer affliction of certain inner bad behaviors, notably slandering, gossiping, lying, plotting to kill, quick to do evil, being a lying witness, or causing others to fight.

Similarly, the tzara'at that affected clothing, linens, and the stone walls of houses are "marks by G"d" that indicate one who has moral failures. Thus, if your clothes or house were affected, you must be guilty of something.

I do believe these ideas taint our view of these parashiyot. Knowing what we do these days about bio-feedback, it is not out of the realm of possibility that one's inner guilt or other issues might cause some physical symptom. Yet, in general, the idea that our inner moral failures are the cause of leprosy and other skin eruptions and conditions, and that G"d would mark those who sin by causing their clothing or houses to be moldy just don't square with our modern understanding of "the way things work." (Not that there aren't those in this world who might be perfectly happy believing what the rabbis and sages taught.)

And so we tend to dismiss these parashiyot as irrelevant, dated, out of touch. For many, they are. I have written many times in the past of valuable lessons that we can draw from these sometimes troubling and odd parashiyot, but there's one thing even I had overlooked until musing about these parashiyot some 10 years ago..

Yes, Tazria and M'tzora describe how to determine if a person, linen, clothing or house has tzara'at. Yet all of those processes of determination (i.e. diagnosis) are but a prelude to what comes next: the cure. The underlying assumption throughout these parashiyot is that those who develop these conditions and are thus impure can be made pure again. Had the culture truly been as primitive as some think it was, they could just as well decided to kill anyone who developed tzara'at as the quickest and most efficient way to keep the community pure.

There are rituals which one who has tzara'at must undergo in order to become pure again-but they can become pure again. Even if we apply the rabbinic interpretation, then perhaps doing t'shuva for one's moral failings is the equivalent of the priestly rituals and sacrifices used to make someone pure. And, as the rabbis teach us, t'shuva is always possible.

That is one lesson we can draw from these parashiyot - that one who is impure can become pure again; one who has done wrong can make t'shuva and become right again. And the other lesson I think we can draw is that when we ourselves fall into patterns of bad or negative behaviors, to remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. It will almost always require effort on our part to get back to a place where our behaviors are more positive-the point is to not give up hope. Remember that, the next time you cheat on your diet, the next time you find yourself unthinkingly engaging in gossip, the next time you cheat on your taxes, the next time you break out in a rash.

I am not so naïve as to believe that the bad things that happen to us can always be made to go away. Diseases can be terminal, medical conditions can be life-long, etc. (Though I would point out that the occasional case of spontaneous remission does occur. In addition, it’s not just miracles and unexplained phenomena. Modern medical science, especially now that we have entered the age of gene-level therapy, has come a long way at providing, or being on the cusp of providing cures for ailments long thought incurable.)

So, too, is modern medicine and science beginning to reveal to us that matters of the mind, the heart, and the spirit can have profound effect upon our physical state. Not that we haven’t known this for a long time. No one pooh-poohed the idea that stress could bring about stomach ulcers. Is it such a stretch to imagine that internal feelings of guilt, discomfort, despair, stress, etc. could manifest themselves in internal and external physical ways in our bodies? So our ancestors, and the rabbis might not have been so off the mark. While “lie detectors” are not fully reliable, there are still measurable galvanic and other stress responses that our bodies can and do manifest when we attempt to deceive.

We get further afield, however, when we jump to the idea of our internal psychological state having an impact upon the places where we live or work.  Oh, there are pseudo-scientific explorations of this concept in lots material these days. Things like “What the Bleep Do We Know” and the work of others suggesting that quantum theory, superposition, quantum uncertainty enable human beings to have directed (and possibly even intentional) impact upon the physical world with their minds and thoughts.) As intrigued as I am by such ideas, and as open as I remain to exploring them, my scientific side still feels compelled to reject them as being pseudo-science at best. Then again, I could be wrong.

From whence did our ancestors get the idea that mold and other physical signs of rot and decay on walls, houses, fences, utensils, etc. could be caused by the impurity of those who live within use, and encounter them. The idea of a leper causing leprous-like symptoms to appear on the walls of a stone house seems absurd on its face from our modern viewpoint.  I’m not even sure how sensible it seemed to our ancestors. 

Of course the Torah doesn’t suggest that people cause their house to become beset with an “eruptive plague” In fact, G”d states “when I inflict an eruptive plague upon a house…” (Lev. 14:34.) However, the Torah does state that such a plague upon a house can cause those who live or venture inside it to become impure. We get into some pretty convoluted logic when we suggest that people who happened to live in or wander into a house with an eruptive plague have done so because they bear some inner guilt or shame for some sin they have committed. The Torah says that the priest makes “expiation for the house.” (Lev 14:53) It goes on to say that all such eruptive plagues – whether on houses or cloth, require examination by a priest. Lev 14:54-57.) The point is, once again, that which has become impure can be made pure again.

It doesn’t happen automatically, like Esmerelda in Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” becoming a virgin again with each new moon. There is ritual, there is ceremony, there are requirements, there is expiation. But what became impure can be made pure again. (The Torah sidesteps the question of whether or not something that  was impure to begin with can be made pure. There’s a whole other musing in that question. Not to mention that “original sin” concept in Christianity. In some Christian understandings, it took a significant act on the part of G”d t make expiation for us all, because we were all tainted to start. I think the Torah takes a different viewpoint. While humankind is forced from gan eden, there appears to be no assumption that humanity is perforce impure. Were that the case, there could have been no Aaronic priesthood. There are physical conditions that could prohibit one from serving as a priest, but those of the priestly line were assumed pure enough to serve otherwise.)

I’m wandering far afield, as usual.

So, in summary, many of the negative physical and spiritual things that happen to us, whether we bring them upon ourselves, or they simply happen to us, can be cured. Once impure does not mean forever impure. There's a lesson and a reminder to keep with us always. That is the oft overlooked lesson in these parashiyot. We should take them to heart.

Shabbat Shalom

©2017 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Tazria-Metzora 5775 - Singing a Song of Leprosy Again
Tazria-M'tzora 5773-Even Lepers Bring Good News-Redux, Revised, & Expanded
Tazria-Metzora 5772 - We Are the Lepers
Tazria-Metzora 5770 - Excessive Prevention
Tazria-M'tzora 5767-Once Impure, Not Always Impure
Tazria-Metzora 5766 - Comfort in Jerusalem
Tazria-Metzora 5758/5764-Getting Through the Messy Stuff
Tazria-Metzora 5761-Lessons For Our Students
Tazria-Metzora 5762-Sing a Song of Leprosy

Tazria/Shabbat HaHodesh 5774 - Fifty Fifty
Tazria/Shabbat HaHodesh 5771 - It's Good To Be the King
Tazria 5768 - Just Not Good Enough is Just Not Good Enough
Tazria 5765-If Naaman Can Be Forgiven...
Tazria 5760-Preventing Spiritual Rot

Metzora 5774 - Go With the Flow
Metzora 5771 - Afflict This!
Metzora 5768 - Human Nature
Metzora 5765-Defiling the Tabernacle
Metzora 5763-Not So Irrelevant
Metzora 5760-Even Lepers Bring Good News

Friday, April 21, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat - Sh'mini 5777 - GEFTS 20th Anniversary

It's  hard to believe that I've been writing these musing for over 20 years. Over the years I've seen my viewpoints and interpretations on many parshiyot and haftarot change, adapt, transform even come a full circle. The one I am resharing today certainly represents a younger, simpler, more naive viewpoint than I hold today. Indeed, I have come back to this story many times with varying interpretations and analysis.  Just as interesting, the following year, in 5758, I wrote one of my most popular musings ever from the early years - the one I titled "Crispy Critters" in reference to Nadav and Avihu. (How my views on this story from Sh'mini have changed over time is so clearly illustrated by the fact that some 11 years later I wrote a musing called srettirC ypsirC just to illustrate my change in approach.) 5758's Crispy Critters," one of my most popular posts, will get it's due honor next year on it's 20th anniversary. However, in honor of the twenty-year anniversary of one my earliest weekly random musings, I thought I would reshare it in all its naive glory. Remember, too, that at the time I was still in the theater business, on the threshold of making the switch from doing the Jewish thing on the side to making it my full-time work. My musings drew heavily on that experience.

Random Musings Before Shabbat-Shemini 5757. GEFTS

Out of all the many things one could learn from and talk about in Shemini (dualities-sacred and profane, clean and unclean; holiness, why G”d cares about what we eat, etc.) one thought kept coming back into my head. I kept thinking about what happens to Nadav and Avihu. What a bummer. They thought "more is better." And what is their reward? Fwoosh-burnt to a crisp. Proof that there really can be "too much of a good thing."

Now that may be a flippant way to put it, but it's an important lesson nevertheless. It teaches us, as do so many other things in Torah, that life  needs balance. And indeed, that fits with much else that we learn about in Shemini. After all, there's no clean without unclean, and vice versa. No profane without sacred.

I have a philosophy that I use at work. It's one I learned from a old, experienced theatre professional. He called it:

GEFTS-Good Enough For This Show.

Now, at first hearing, it sounds like a negative approach. Like the old "close enough for government work" philosophy. But that's not what GEFTS is about. It's about balance, It's about "more isn't always better." Here's how I apply it - though this may be a theatrical example, I think the concept is transferable to life:

It takes many components to create a show. The capabilities of each component are determined by the resources (people, time, space, money, dedication, attitude, et al) available to it. Each component therefore has a "highest achievable level of quality" affected by those resources. The production will benefit most if all departments work together towards a highest COMMON achievable quality level. Therefore, each component should work towards this common achievable level (which, theoretically, could be somewhat lower than the level achievable by that unit alone. And lot's of people don't like that idea-but hear me out.)

Some of the best shows I have ever seen were productions in which everything was mediocre. Now, I'm not saying that one should only aim for mediocrity (though as Frank Loesser and Abe Burroughs aptly put it in "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying" - "mediocrity is not a mortal sin.") The shows worked because everything gelled together into a complimentary whole. If the acting were brilliant but the costumes were slipshod, it wouldn't work. If the lighting was magnificent but the scenery was only so-so - well, I think you get the drift. When all shoot for the same common achievable level of quality, you have a production that can't be beat.

The same is true in daily life and in serving G”d. Think about it. This is the true lesson of Nadav and Avihu.

Shabbat Shalom to you and yours,

(c)2017 (portions (c)1997) by Adrian A. Durlester
Other Musings on this parasha
Sh'mini 5775 - Vayyidom Aharon (Revisiting Calm In A Crisis)
Sh'mini 5774 - Indubitably Delicious
Sh'mini 5772 - Collect Call
Sh'mini/Shabbat Parah 5771-So Say We All
Sh'mini 5770 - Don't Eat That, It's Not Kosher
Sh'mini 5769 srettirC ypsirC
Sh'mini 5767-Don't Be a Stork
Sh'mini 5766-Palmwalkers
Shemini 5765-It All Matters
Shemini 5764-Playing Before Gd
Shemini 5763 - Belly of the Beast
Shemini 5762-Crispy Critters
Shemini 5761-Lessons From Our Students
Shemini 5760-Calm in a Crisis
Shemini 5759-Porking Out

Friday, April 14, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat-Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesakh 5777–Valley of The Donald

Thus said The Donald: Moreover, in this I will respond to the House of America and act for their sake: I will enrich my family and friends as I enrich myself. As Washington, D.C. was filled big-league with red hats during my inaugural, so shall the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people in red hats, made in China. And they shall know that I am The Donald.

Sepharadim begin here
Chapter 37
The hand of the Trump came upon me. He took me out by the spirit of reality TV  and set me down in the great middle America. It was full of coal mines. He led me all around them; there were very many mines spread over the states, and they were very tapped out yielding only coal of questionable value and high in the potential to pollute and increase global warming. He said to me, "O mortal, can these mines live again?" I replied, "O DJT, if they live again, I suspect many millions more of Your people will die when our planet is overwhelmed by global warming. But, then again, only You know." And He said to me, "Fake news. I will ignore the clear scientific consensus. Prophesy over these  miners and say to them: O miners, hear the word of The Donald! Thus said The Donald to these mines: I will place profit over environmental concerns and you shall be mined again. I will lay subsidies upon you, and cover you with tax write-offs, and break international agreements over you. And I will put investments into you, and you shall live again. And you shall know that I am the Donald"

I prophesied as I had been commanded. And while I was prophesying, suddenly there was a sound of machinery, and the pipelines were built over the objection of the people, non-American-made steel to non-American-made steel. I looked, and there were factories belching pollutants, and a giant wall, and people without basic human needs; but there was not yet enough profit from them.  Then He said to me, "Prophesy to the bankers and brokers, prophesy, O mortal! Say to the bankers and brokers: Thus said The Donald: Come, O profit, without fear of government regulation, and line your pockets , that you may live in the style to which you are accustomed." I prophesied as He commanded me. The money entered them, and they hid it all in overseas accounts, a vast multitude.

And He said to me, "O mortal, these mines are the whole House of America. They say, 'Our profits are dried up, our rich lifestyle is threatened; we are doomed.' Prophesy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said The Donald: I am going to open your tax loopholes and lift you out of the depths of government regulation, O My people, and make America great again. You shall know, O My people, that I am The Donald, when I have opened your tax loopholes and lifted you out of government oversight. I will put My alternate facts into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil which now all belongs to me and my rich friends. Then you shall know that I The Donald have spoken and have acted"—declares The Donald.


Shabbat Shalom and Moadim L’Simkha

© 2017 by Adrian A. Durlester

Others Musings for Pesakh:

April 11, 2015 - Cop Out
Pesakh 5775 - Day Off (Literally)
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5773 - The Whole House of Israel
Pesach 5772 - Don't Believe This
Pesach 8th Day 5772 - The Bread of Freedom
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5771-Admat Yisrael
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 - Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 - Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5777–Payback: An Excerpt from the Diary of Moses (Updated)

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 yet 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 and on and on, well you get the drift -  with even more instructions than what I've already gotten for my dear older brother and his kids. Priests, You-know-who had to make them. (Oh wait, I asked for that – didn’t I? – see from about a month ago.)  Yeah, Aaron 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 parah? (Get it? Sometimes, I crack myself up!) 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 thought, this is not gonna be fun. Then again…

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 (don’t say a word – I was raised in the royal household of Egypt, you know. We played with dress-up dolls.) 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 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. Just call me bloody-bloody Moshe. I made the whole ceremony 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.) Nevertheless, I put on quite a show. You-know-who had told me to use the ram insides to make a burnt offering 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.) Now I get why we’re going to need all this incense.

When it was time for the second ram, the one of ordination, I got really, 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 offerings. 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. But the people were all watching. This was serious business. I had Aaron and his kids just where I wanted them.

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 it 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 for lots of silver.

I decided I'd been cruel enough, so I wanted to finish off being nice. Or, better yet, maybe I could lure them into a false sense of security and then hit them with one final whammy! 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. This was just a setup before the coup de grace - 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. Even better, they were going to have to do this on one of those days of rest You-know-who commanded us to observe. So not only was I sticking it to Aaron, I was secretly sticking it to You-know-who, too.

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 unconsumed burning sneh, all those plagues, and 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. Then 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 of it.

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




Shabbat Shalom,

©2017 (portions ©2009) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings On This Parasha:

Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5775 - Two Way Street (Revised)
Tzav/Shabbat Zachor 5774 - Does G"d Need a Shrink?
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5773 - The Doorway to Return
Tzav/Shabbat Hagadol 5772 - Not Passive
Tzav (Purim) 5771 - A Purim Ditty
Tzav 5768 – Jeremiah's Solution (Updated from 5761)
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5767-Redux 5762-Irrelevant Relavancies
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5766 - Dysfunction Junction
Tzav 5765 (updated 5760)-Of IHOPs, Ordination and Shabbat
Tzav/Shabbat HaGadol 5764-Two Way Street
Tzav 5763 - Zot Torahteinu?
Tzav 5761/5759-Jeremiah's Solution