Friday, February 15, 2019

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tetzaveh 5779-Whose Shabbat Is It Anyway?

It’s not unusual for me to encounter a short bit of text that sets me off on a tangent in these musings. This week was no exception. I’m reading once again through the description of the ordination ritual for Aharon and his sons as priests. It’s all rather detailed (and messy. You may recall my offhand suggestion in another musing on this parasha that Moshe made the ritual a bit messier than perhaps G”d had instructed him, as a little payback to his brother for the golden calf and other transgressions.)

What brought me up short were these verses.


וְעָשִׂ֜יתָ לְאַהֲרֹ֤ן וּלְבָנָיו֙ כָּ֔כָה כְּכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־צִוִּ֖יתִי אֹתָ֑כָה שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים תְּמַלֵּ֥א יָדָֽם׃

Thus you shall do to Aaron and his sons, just as I have commanded you. You shall ordain them through seven days,


וּפַ֨ר חַטָּ֜את תַּעֲשֶׂ֤ה לַיּוֹם֙ עַל־הַכִּפֻּרִ֔ים וְחִטֵּאתָ֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ בְּכַפֶּרְךָ֖ עָלָ֑יו וּמָֽשַׁחְתָּ֥ אֹת֖וֹ לְקַדְּשֽׁוֹ׃

and each day you shall prepare a bull as a sin offering for expiation; you shall purge the altar by performing purification upon it, and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.


שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֗ים תְּכַפֵּר֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֖ אֹת֑וֹ וְהָיָ֤ה הַמִּזְבֵּ֙חַ֙ קֹ֣דֶשׁ קָֽדָשִׁ֔ים כָּל־הַנֹּגֵ֥עַ בַּמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ יִקְדָּֽשׁ׃ (ס)

Seven days you shall perform purification for the altar to consecrate it, and the altar shall become most holy; whatever touches the altar shall become consecrated.

“What’s wrong with this picture?” a voice in my head kept asking. Then it answered itself: “What happened to Shabbat?” If this ceremony is done every day for seven days, at least one of those days will be a Shabbat. Despite the elaborate and explicit descriptions of the ritual, it appears it is to be exactly the same for all seven days. Not a nod to Shabbat.

Now, this is not the only place in the Torah where it calls for something to be seven days long and does not explicitly mention what, if anything, is done differently on the one day of those seven which is Shabbat. We tend to overlook those as well. This one cries out to me precisely because it is in relation to the ordination ceremony of the first priests. If this ceremony is to be the same all seven days, then someone is going to have to do all the needed preparation, setup, and cleanup on the day which is Shabbat. Someone has to work so the rituals can happen as commanded. The priests, too, will have to work, making all the offerings. When do they get Shabbat?

This is, of course, a constant issue for contemporary clergy (and was likely an issue throughout the entire history of the rabbinate, and even before that, while there was a Jewish priesthood. The apologetics for this seeming inconsistency have been around for almost as long as the inconsistency has existed (though Torah doesn’t really explain it –though the very verses I am citing here can be used to bolster the case that the priests were a special case, and making sacrifices and doing other holy work on Shabbat is perfectly acceptable.)

Now, part of the explanation/apologetic is that it is self-evident that a Rabbi (or Temple priest) will be fulfilling their obligations to the community and congregation by conducting worship services and rituals. Another explanation/apologetic makes the argument that a rabbi (or cantor) might be able to fully perform their required duties without engaging in any prohibited categories of work (conveniently determined by the early rabbis themselves) though I think sometimes this rationalization proves to be a bit of a stretch. But we are an extremely creative people. We have the most amazing halakhik workarounds. I recently read a fascinating piece that was able to permit the use of a sound system at orthodox Shabbat services provided certain equipment and other conditions were met. They relied on the opinions of respected pos’kim, though it would not be difficult to find opposing positions. As they say in that community, consult your LOR (local orthodox rabbi.) I’ve also been teaching an adult ed group about the 39 categories work as defined by the rabbis, so I can see both sides of the argument that rabbis could be able or might not be able to adequately perform their duties on Shabbat within the stringencies of what the rabbis permit.

All this becomes ever more complicated to assess in the liberal Jewish institutional world. Definitions of acceptable Shabbat practice for clergy and lay-people alike vary widely in Conservative, Reform, Reconstructing, Renewal, and, for lack of better terminology, Millennial, and post-Millennial settings

I've no interest in, and I’m not here to engage in movement-bashing, rabbi/clergy-bashing, or accusing rabbis of hypocrisy. Quite the contrary. I’m here to advocate for all the non-clergy types it takes for a congregation to operate. Administrators, Principals, Educators, Maintenance and Custodial Staff, Tutors, Choir Directors, Accompanists, et al. Many of us in those roles (and I include myself in several of those mentioned) sometimes have to struggle with the same issues of Shabbat practice. Added to that is the ever-present issue for clergy and synagogue professionals as to when and where they get to have their own personal Shabbat.

Over the decades I have spoken with many klei kodesh (holy vessels) on how they handle issues of Shabbat observance, and how, if they desire it, they carve out some Shabbat time for themselves. There are a large variety of solutions employed. In addition, there is variance, often created by locale, size of congregation, and other factors in just how many hours of Shabbat klei kodesh are required to be actively serving their congregations. A smaller, more liberal congregation which holds services predominantly on Friday nights, with services on Saturday being less regular (before you shout “Oh, the horror” I urge you not to judge) might afford their clergy some actual personal time on Shabbat. In settings where one will find the full slew of normative services just before Shabbat, on Shabbat, and Motzei Shabbat I suspect klei kodesh might find it more of a challenge to find their own time.

As an aside, I should note that my understanding of the term klei kodesh has been expanded over the years  by the writings and observations of many wise leaders, among them, Rabbi Harold Schulweis, who wrote, in 2001 in the journal Sh’ma:

Those who have tied their vocation to the synagogue are klei kodesh, instruments of holiness. They each share the common agenda of the synagogue – to transmit the wisdom, ethics, beliefs, and practices of Judaism to a variety of seekers. How the receptionist responds to the inquiries of a human being teaches Jewish ethics. How the executive helps a person register as a member explicates Jewish theology. Klei kodesh are to be “humanly holy.”

At different points in my career in the Jewish world, I have chosen alternates days of the week to be my Shabbat, as I know other people do. In the 00’s I worked for quite some time being in charge of religious school for a congregation that shared space with a church and as a result held religious school on Shabbat as the church needed the classroom spaces on Sunday.(Being the crazy person I am, I still filled up my Sundays teaching and tutoring at other congregations in the area. So I had to choose another day to make my day of rest.)

Maybe I am the ultimate hypocrite, in that I want my Shabbat, but I want it my way. If you’ve followed my musings, you know that I have gone through periods with differing levels of Shabbat (and Kashrut) observance over the many decades. I suppose the hypocrisy level has varied parallel to those changes. Or not. It’s not for me to judge my own hypocrisy, is it? (Or is it?)

The National Shabbat of Unplugging is coming again soon, and again I won’t be unplugging because in my view the technology integrates into how I observe my Shabbat and makes it more meaningful. (You can read about this in this musing.) More hypocrisy? I’m not sure.

Now here’s the kicker. Presently, I am working for a congregation that doesn’t have services every Saturday. Most often, I attend morning services elsewhere. I am not technology free on Shabbat, for reasons I’ve explained in the earlier referenced musing. So yes, I do sometimes look at email and social media on Shabbat. As a result, I sometimes see business-related messages from congregations and others connected with them sent to me (either individually or as part of a group) on Shabbat. As hypocritical as it is, that bothers me. I don’t send business or synagogue-related emails on Shabbat (though I will admit that I sometimes do write emails or replies on Shabbat and use a “send later” feature to insure they are not sent until after Shabbat ends in my area.) In my (admittedly hypocritical) Jewish value system, I don’t believe even the most liberal of synagogues should engage in business transactions, or send out messages during Shabbat. I would ask laity– heads of committees, officers, and the like-to show similar restraint, if for no other reason than out of respect for those congregants who, like I, find it a problematic practice in a Jewish institution? However, in the informed-choice milieu of Reform am I being unreasonable. Is not the onus on me to simply not notice, open, or read such messages on Shabbat if that is my choice? However, my chosen form of Shabbat observance does include the use of online technologies – I just choose to use them only in ways that serve the ways in which I choose to observe Shabbat, to engage in activities that are different from the normative work tasks I perform the rest of the week.

Am I the victim of the same slippery-slope that I pooh-pooh all the time? I am not ordained clergy, though I am a synagogue/Jewish professional. I am admittedly inconsistent in my Shabbat observance, yet I still find in myself a burning desire to shape a meaningful Shabbat experience as a routine part of my life. Are my traditionally-observant friends right in telling me that it really only works if you’re all-in? Is selective observance invariably going to require compromise on my part in terms of what I can reasonably ask of others in terms of respecting my own Shabbat boundaries?

For Aharon, his sons, and the following line of priests – as well as for the rabbis from their beginnings until today, serving G”d has required some form of tailored Shabbat observance, and has required them to place the community’s needs above their own. In addition, they have always had support personnel (the Levitical clans of the Merarites, Gershonites, and Kohathites; the meturgaman, gabbaim, ba’al korim, hazzanim, shamash, and other synagogue personnel) whose own efforts similarly required some adjustment of their own Shabbat observances. I guess, in the end, what I am asking for here is some recognition that both the klei kodesh and those who support them make some sacrifices in terms of their own ability to experience Shabbat, and if for no other reason than respect for that, think twice before sending out a synagogue-related communication on Shabbat (or other time that they designate to allow them some Shabbat-like moments.) Do I ask too much?

I refer back to Rabbi Schulweis’ definition of klei kodesh. If we are all representing the synagogue, and seeking to be “humanly holy” we should try to reflect an ethic of respect for boundaries of individual Shabbat practice in addition to respect for the diversity of the same.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2019 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Tetzaveh/Zachor 5778 - STFU!
Tetzaveh 5777 - A Nation of Priests (and a Shtickel of Purim) Revised from 5770
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

No comments: