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 1st Learnings: There's a good question we should ask ourselves...

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daniel eliezer

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PostSubject: 1st Learnings: There's a good question we should ask ourselves...   Wed Feb 20, 2013 6:32 am

“Why is it that in the world of law we speak about crime and punishment, but in the world of medicine we speak about sickness and healing? Don’t both law and medicine deal with malfeasance and abuse, regardless of cause? Yet in the first we’re ‘criminals’ – to be judged and punished, while in the second we’re ‘patients’ – to be diagnosed and treated!?”

We first asked this question in the Forum: Conversion Discussion & Issues under the Topic: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me - this Jew I am looking at and for?” There we said what we said for the purposes of what we were learning, but this question truthfully deserves it’s own topic.

Because it does, I’m opening up this topic, however, unlike in the topic, ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’, etc., I don’t intend to write as I did there. My intentions are to write in brevity, posting for the sake of opening and exploring, and inviting commentary from everyone. We are not looking for answers (and definitely not for information). We’re looking for open thinking – something which comes more naturally to Gerim.

In wonderment, we know that in the Torah there are 613 mitzvot (commandments), and we know that the 613 mitzvot are categorized primarily according to whether they are ‘positive acts we have to fulfill’ or whether they are ‘negative acts we have to refrain from doing’. Altogether there are 248 positive mitzvot and 365 negative mitzvot, and the numbers are meaningful. Primarily, we equate the 248 positive mitzvot to the 248 organs of the body and the 365 negative mitzvot to the 365 tendons and ligaments of connecting tissue (which certainly is not the modern, Western medicine we know).

What’s important to us is that the 613 mitzvot, which are the entirety of Torah’s mitzvot given to us, are, at the least, unequivocally parallel to the construction of our bodies. Could it be conceivable that the question we’re asking relates to the ‘Torah and the 613 mitzvot which comprise it’?

Worth mentioning is that included in these 613 mitzvot are the mitzvot of the ‘משכן’ - the Mishkhan, the Tabernacle, which, in this week’s Torah portion T’zaveh, we are continuing to learn more of what we began learning in the portion of Trumah. The purpose of the mitzvot in Trumah and T’zaveh is describing for us what we need and need to do in order to create the ‘משכן’ - the Mishkhan, the Tabernacle. In considering these particular mitzvot, it begs our understanding how building the Mishkhan, the Tabernacle, could in any way be connected to what we’ve asked.

How, if indeed they do, do the 613 mitzvot embrace and encompass the question we’re asking? Furthermore, from within the 613 mitzvot, is it possible to perceive the purpose of the mitzvot pertaining to the ‘משכן’ - the Mishkhan, the Tabernacle?

Let it be a blessing for all of us and we be a blessing for each other that we’ll teach each other how to look at Torah with new eyes. Doing so is the purest of Purim simcha [joy]!

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer


Last edited by daniel eliezer on Sun May 26, 2013 7:13 am; edited 1 time in total
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PostSubject: Re: 1st Learnings: There's a good question we should ask ourselves...   Wed Feb 27, 2013 7:15 pm

The Golden Calf

The beginning here is part of a correspondence I had several years ago with a Ger, a person who at birth came into the world with real problems, and this bears on our exchange. (All italicized comments are his remarks.)

[To Him] You write: “I am home-bound, with no Jewish community nearby,…”

And I answer: “ I am surrounded only by Jewish community and I am homebound…”

Like you, “my attraction to Judaism is first and foremost about G-d, Torah and Self”, and this search too often leaves me contrary to Jews who are complacent or who feel no need to be any different than what they are or what they’ve inherited as Jews from those who precede them.

On one hand, as you write, they have a luxury that we don’t have: “We’re family!”…without so much as a conscious thought about it. When they come into this world they are already Jews, whereas we have to think about it…usually strenuously and nerve-rackingly…think about it before we decide to become Jews.

On the other, we have a freedom that all too often they don’t have. WE CAN CHANGE! And we have and we do.

Your comment: “about those who come from a line of Gentile mongrels (no offense intended)…” Please be careful about what you say concerning dogs; they’re sensitive! I hope that they won’t take offense. (LOL)

As exceptionally clear as you are, the first Ger is unquestionably Abraham and even ardent Jewish purists can’t deny that. In truth, the Passover Haggadah begins exactly and intentionally with this truth. We, i.e. Jews, began from a source of spiritual impurity – Abraham – and we moved to a life of spiritual purity. Abraham may not be our lineal ancestor, but the ability and the reality of moving from spiritual impurity to spiritual purity began with him and consequently every subsequent Ger inherits from him. Because we are ben Abraham (and Sara) or bat Abraham (and Sara), means that when we say, “the God of our [Fore] Fathers”, we are speaking only the truth. Had he not done it and made it possible, then we neither could have nor would have either.

Now that we know that we’re Jews, how about this rendition of the Sin of the Golden Calf:

…or as God says, “Grrr….them wool-heads…..”

Moshe Rabbainu: “Uh, that’s ‘sheep’, Sir.”

God: “I’m gonna wipe those brats out of existence...”

Moshe: “You mean the Children of Israel…”

God: “…confusing Me with a fraternity house trophy….”

Moshe: “They were a little lonely and bored….”

God: “I don’t care. Forget them. I’ll start over with you….”

Moshe: [Thinking to himself, “Dear God, just what I need. Here we go again. What a nut!]
“No! Please, Sir! That would be a most un-Godly thing to do. Calm down already. We’ll work it out. There’s too much distance between you and them. You’ve got to give them some way of reaching you, some….

God: [Thinking to Himself, “He hasn’t got a clue, I love him, He’s the sweetest and deepest and most genuine friend I’ve got, BUT HE’S AN ABSOLUTE IDIOT! If he thinks that I – EVEN I – can do anything with the Children of Israel, he’s hopeless. Maybe when they grow up…]

“Okay, Moshe, we’ll play this one your way, but remember – when it backfires don’t come crying to Me. I’ve given you the last of what I’m going to give you. You’ve already taken too much off of My hide.

….and so the saga continues…..oops, excuse me…as creation continues to unfold……

Returning to us, this is not exactly what’s taught in Sunday school or in a rabbi’s sermon, but within what is said there is heard our question that opens this topic. Here we, too, are this week in the portion, ‘Ki Tisa’, where Moshe Rabbainu has received the completion of his instructions on Mt. Sinai, and as he prepares to descend the news breaks: “Moshe, they’ve made a Golden Calf. Mazal Tov!”

Although it is not totally clear from the description of events who the ‘they’ in question are, no less an authority than Rashi explains that the Erev Rav, the Gerim who left Egypt at Moshe Rabbainu’s invitation, are accredited with this masterpiece of sculpture. (This is certainly proof that Gerim have what to offer, but, because other opinions say B’nei Yisrael were the more talented and gifted and impatient, we needn’t over praise ourselves. Still, our timing couldn’t have been more misjudged, and we certainly have what to own up to.)

What is the most baffling part of the Golden Calf is that we all personally heard the first two commandments, then comes the Golden Calf and we’re all personally violating them. Added to this is while we’re doing this Moshe is descending the mountain to fulfill the completion of our receiving the entire Torah, all 613 mitzvot worth of it.

We couldn’t last 40 days holding on to the two mitzvot we all personally heard, and we’re supposed to receive the remaining 611 mitzvot that our emissary Moshe Rabbainu has received for us. Not only this, but when the entire episode of the Golden Calf concludes, Moshe Rabbainu again ascends the mountain to restore or to renew our receiving the Torah, all 613 mitzvot of it?!

Before he does ascend the mountain a second time, Moshe Rabbainu’s total energies are devoted to the Golden Calf: its presence, its aftermath, and what will be. Without any argument or doubt, the most notable and impressive thing that Moshe Rabbainu does is to reduce the distance between us and the Source of All Being. We actually become closer than we were before!? This doesn’t mean that other things haven’t changed, because they have. It does mean, however, that there is purpose here which is not immediately visible.

Against what we’ve shared above and against our [topic’s] question, we must ask, “is the Torah - all 613 mitzvot of it, connected to what we’re undergoing or is the Torah - all 613 mitzvot of it, connected to another realm and other dimensions?”

Shalom
Daniel Eliezer
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PostSubject: Re: 1st Learnings: There's a good question we should ask ourselves...   Sat Mar 02, 2013 8:03 pm

“…a Kingdom of Priests, a Holy People…”

Our closing question - Against what we’ve shared above and against our [topic’s] question, we must ask, “is the Torah - all 613 mitzvot of it, connected to what we’re undergoing or is the Torah - all 613 mitzvot of it, connected to another realm and other dimensions?” - could almost be a mantra. At the least, it’s a question…and maybe ‘the’ question…that we need to be conscious of as Jews.

We’ve just witnessed two extremes. In concluding 40 days of intense and exalted confinement with the Source of All Being, Moshe descends Mt. Sinai into the bawdy revelry of infidelity. As we all know, the two mitzvot we all heard personally at Mt. Sinai have been duly trampled into submission, if not oblivion, and in the rendition of events obliterating us is an entirely viable option.

And why not? In what’s been revealed by us, by what capacity can it be possible to do what’s being attempted? When we arrived at Mt. Sinai and Moshe ascended the mountain for instructions, he returned to tell us what’s intended, “If you will listen to My voice and will guard our relationship, you will be a treasure from among all the nations, because all of the earth is Mine. You will be a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy People...” [Shemot 19:5,6]

We listen to what Moshe reports and respond, “And all the people answered together, ‘we will do’…” [19:8]

It is upon this which has been offered and which has been accepted which is what allows the Giving and Receiving of the Torah.

A month and a half later Moshe is praying his heart out to prevent us from being obliterated. Who is right: God…who wants to do it? We…who have proven it can’t be done? Moshe…who refuses to give up?

I don’t know so much about religions, even Xtianity which I was born into and with. And while I may sound knowledgeable about being a Jew, having encountered some of the magnificent neshamot (souls) who have born and who bear the responsibility for caring for God’s Holy Children, I know that I don’t even begin to know anything about being a Jew. Despite this, what Moshe Rabbainu did during the episode of the Golden Calf is without doubt one of the signature moments for mankind as a whole and for Jews in particular.

Moshe Rabbainu, through the enormity of his commitment and the immense depths of his prayer, outright convinces the Source of All Being to believe in man – not merely the man of prodigious proportions, but man like you and me. “Believe in us. Believe in us.”

It’s in the light of this incredible revelation is from where we ask all our questions…every single one of them.

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
21 Adar 5773
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PostSubject: Re: 1st Learnings: There's a good question we should ask ourselves...   Wed Mar 06, 2013 8:53 pm

…inside, inside, inside it’s Holy

We read his week two portions, ‘VaYakhal’ and ‘Pekudei’, portions that relate to our absorption with gathering and organizing and creating all that is needed for the construction of the Mishkhan, the Tabernacle’. The preparation for all this was described in the portions of Trumah, Ki Tizaveh, and Ki Tisa, when Moshe Rabbainu was still on Mt. Sinai. Now that Moshe has returned and instructed us regarding all that’s entailed in building the Mishkan, we immerse ourselves in the work. There’s only one problem. Sandwiched between Moshe Rabbainu receiving all the instructions on Mt. Sinai and between our receiving them from Moshe and fulfilling them…

…we took it upon ourselves to build a Golden Calf. Perhaps had our elegant creation been solely intended for a lawn ornament, it could possibly have been tolerantly ignored, but given that it’s prominence was intended for the most intimate place in the house - the master bedroom – it was a blatant comment on a significant personal relationship…

What do you do?…the other side do?…we do?

On one hand, there’s a contractual violation with even criminal intent. On the other side, there’s wanton violation of an inviolate binding commitment. What will be? How does one respond?

If it’s legal, we asked: “Why is it that in the world of law we speak about crime and punishment,…” while if it’s personal we asked, “…but in the world of medicine we speak about sickness and healing?…”

So how do we determine what we did violate? It probably depends upon which source we use to determine, whether it’s a legal source or a medical source, right.

Why can’t it be both, one who’s knowledgeable both in law and in medicine? Better still, what if it’s possible to uniquely use legal comprehension to heal and medical comprehension to right what’s wrong?

But before we get to this, which hopefully will be in our lifetime, we still haven’t resolved this dilemma of the juxtaposition of the Golden Calf to our immersing ourselves in building the Mishkhan, the Tabernacle, the home for the Divine which accompanies us.

As everyone knows, it was Moshe Rabbainu’s immensely deep prayer, crying his heart and soul inside-out, which is what stayed our execution and enabled the resumption of receiving Torah and what it’s all about. But from where does Moshe Rabbainu’s conviction come that we…we the ones who have truly violated and truly fallen…are and will be capable of doing…?

In Sefer Tehilim [the Book of Psalms], which is the songs of our return, King David says, [103:12] “כרחוק מזרח ממערב הרחיק ממנו את פשענו.” – “As is the distance of the East from the West distance our [criminal] transgressions from us.”

Who has never cried from the depths of his or her being for this very same relief? Could ever relief and salvation be defined in better terms? Could there ever be a greater description of what a new start in life means?!

Of course, even in something as elementary as this, it’s important to ask, “What is the distance of East from West?...infinite, no?"

It’s one hundred and eighty degrees - solely dependent upon which direction we’re looking.

From the depths of his prayer on the mountain, Moshe Rabbainu said, “look at your people.” In the aftermath of our baseness, at the base of the mountain Moshe Rabbainu told us, “Look up at where it’s all coming from.”

From that looking at and seeing…really, really, seeing each other…is where all the healing and fixing began. So much so, that we could literally begin constructing the Holy Sanctuary – not because we were healed and fixed – but because building the Holy Sanctuary ourselves is the healing and fixing.

When we know that inside, inside, inside we’re Holy, then we can heal and fix anything, which is what Moshe Rabbainu told the Source of All Being and what Moshe Rabbainu told us, “inside, inside, inside we’re Holy. There’s work to be done, healing and fixing, but what makes it possible is that inside, inside, inside it’s Holy.”

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
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PostSubject: Re: 1st Learnings: There's a good question we should ask ourselves...   Wed Mar 13, 2013 2:08 pm

“it isn’t about them it’s about us”

This week we begin reading Sefer VaYikra (the Book of Leviticus), which is overwhelmingly all aspects of קדושה - Kedushah, of Sanctity, and because it is, when young children begin learning Torah it is often Sefer VaYikra which is taught and not Sefer Bereshit (Genesis), the first book of the Torah. Curiously, Sefer VaYikra immediately connects itself to the beginning of Creation, in particular, to the creation of man, which we’ll get to further along.

The opening of this topic derived from a question we had asked: “Why is it that in the world of law we speak about crime and punishment, but in the world of medicine we speak about sickness and healing? Don’t both law and medicine deal with malfeasance and abuse, regardless of cause? Yet in the first we’re ‘criminals’ – to be judged and punished, while in the second we’re ‘patients’ – to be diagnosed and treated!?

We first asked this question in the Forum: Conversion Discussion & Issues under the Topic: ‘Feeling Jewish’ and ‘being a Jew’ are not the same thing: “Is this me - this Jew I am looking at and for?” There we said what we said for the purposes of what we were learning, but even though we began discussing the question separately several weeks ago while we were in Sefer Shemot (Exodus), all the time we were doing so our intentions were always focused on Sefer VaYikra.

Before I explain, as everyone has clearly noticed, the question that’s been asked makes no sense, seemingly or otherwise. Admittedly it is a novel question and it definitely raises an intriguing comparison, particularly for those of us who are willing to give it serious thought, but other than this it’s also a question which appears to be totally disconnected or detached from our world and lives. Still, the thought that justice could be a system of healing instead of a system of punishing would be a welcome improvement to society, the world, and our lives.

The reason we’re discussing this question at all and discussing in a forum for Jews by Choice, who really are only Jews who came by another path, is because just as this Jew and that Jew are from the Torah, so, too, is our question. But it doesn’t come as a question anymore than this Jew or that Jew comes as a question. Like they do, it comes as a reality of the Torah.

Anyone who’s ever gotten past the question of, “What does Judaism say about God?” and has hung around awhile and poked into learning more about Judaism, they’ve discovered that living as a Jew is a complex undertaking. Even for those who seemingly have less or no observance of Torah and mitzvot, it is impossible for them to refute that there is a vast compendium of Jewish law and literature – a compendium that relates and connects the entirety of Torah to life - our lives…from the most minute to the most magnificent part of it. To say it simply, we literally have an entire structure to our lives and society, which is entirely and completely visible in Jewish law and literature.

If we would ask the questions, “Why is it so that we have it…yet we don’t live our lives according to it?”…and “Do we have to be this way?”, we could provide many answers, no too few of which would find their sources in how we live as Jews and with and among which Jews we live.

If, however, we would go all the way back to the Exodus and Redemption from Egypt and to our receiving Torah at Mt. Sinai, without any doubt all of us would agree that the purpose of it all and of everything we experienced is that we are on our way to the Land of Israel to create and build our own homeland and society. For this we definitely need structure to our lives.

Okay, all that we’ve said is a matter of ‘what is’. Today we’re here and like this; yesterday we were there and like that and etc. There’s nothing to argue about other than to blame whoever needs to be blamed for why-ever they need to be blamed for why things aren’t…or why things are, or why whatever. As we’ve discovered, “….and so the saga continues…..oops, excuse me…..as creation continues to unfold……”

This last, despite the levity, is more level than it sounds. When learning Torah, there’s a very fascinating principle: the first time a word appears, this is where we learn the source of the word or term. So to speak, it’s the home for the word or term. Some of the incredible strength and beauty of this principle is that whenever we subsequently discover the word or term elsewhere in the Torah, we are not only free but often outright obligated to return to the original use of the word, i.e. it’s source or home, in order to help us understand what is being taught.

By way of example, the very second pasuk (sentence) of Sefer VaYikra begins like this: “..דבר אל בני ישראל ואמרת אליהם אדם כי יקריב מכם קרבן” – “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them, ‘If or when a man from [amongst] you will sacrifice a sacrifice..’” The word that we are looking at is ‘אדם’, which means man…and that’s the problem. While in Hebrew the word for man is ‘אדם’…‘אדם’ – Adam is also ‘אדם הראשון’ – Adam HaRishon, the first man!?

Now we understand how Sefer VaYikra connects itself immediately to Sefer Bereshit and the very beginning of the Torah. It may not be the very first word in the Torah, but already in only the 26th pasuk, “ויאמר אלוקים נעשה אדם..” – “And God said, ‘Let us make Adam…” ‘אדם’ – Adam appears. Then, after only a few more pasukim (pl.), already we’re in Gan Eden and the rest is history…the history of man - of ‘אדם’ Adam!

And here…here at the very beginning of Sefer VaYikra we again discover ‘אדם’ – Adam!?

[For technical understanding, the word ‘אדם’ – Adam does appear a number of times in the Torah, but it’s usage is limited. In general, when we’re being instructed in mitzvot the word that is used is ‘איש’ – which means man, both as an individual and as a male. ‘אדם’ refers to ‘אדם’ – Adam: man as species and as mankind and, as well, man for whom all creation has been created and for whom it exists. In Torah usage, ‘איש’ is the rule; ‘אדם’ is the exception.]

The importance of all this is what we said when beginning here that “Sefer VaYikra is overwhelmingly all aspects of Kedushah, of Sanctity,” about which we exclaim, “And therefore it is not strange at all that ‘אדם’ – Adam appears here of all places.” If any of us can remember back to the beginning of Sefer Bereshit and Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), I don’t think that many of us doubt that Kedushah (Sanctity) (regardless of how we perceive it) was the first environment that ‘אדם’ – Adam existed in. Had Adam and Chava (Eve) not turned their backs to God…they hid, right?…in all likelihood they would never have been expelled. But they did and they were. Why didn’t they go back? There’re guards to guarantee they can’t.

Guards, however, make absolutely no sense at all. If they can’t return, why not obliterate either it or them? Guards?…guarding whom from what? To the contrary, maybe just as it was anticipated…and even expected…that they’d eat the fruit and be expelled, so, too, apparently it’s expected that they’ll also return. If so, then the only question is “How…how to return?”

“To where?”

It’s time for a good story.

From time to time I go to Hebron, the City of the Patriarchs, to say Sefer Tehilim (Book of Psalms) at the Ma’arat HaMachpelah [in Hebron], at the Cave where our Forefathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Foremothers: Sara, Rivka, and Leah are buried alongside Adam and Eve. When I was there a month or so ago, two young American yeshiva boys came up to me and asked, “Where’s the entrance to Gan Eden?” (We’re taught in the Talmud that the entrance to Gan Eden is located in the Ma’arat HaMachpelah.) Since I was absorbed in saying Tehilim, their question startled me, and I looked at them somewhat in disbelief, not really grasping what they were asking. However, as there is no lack of these kinds of ‘people looking for this or that in our Holy places’, I shrugged my shoulders, vaguely waved “go look over there,” and returned to my Tehilim. A few minutes later they came back and left. Before they did, however, I’d somewhat come to my senses and remembered what the Talmud teaches, and then I thought to myself, “What? They think that you can just walk up to some opening and look in or walk in to Gan Eden?! If they’re really serious and mean it, I’m holding in my hands the means of getting into Gan Eden.” I didn’t bother to tell them this, though, knowing that they wouldn’t begin to understand I was talking about.

What I was holding in my hands was Sefer Tehilim, which is solely ‘the book of returning’, of what we call ‘teshuvah’, but I won’t go into this other than suffice it to say, “this is the kind of return that is needed if we want to get back to Gan Eden.” Obviously we’re speaking less of the place Gan Eden and more about the environment of Gan Eden…of the Sanctity.

And that’s what Sefer VaYikra is coming to teach ‘אדם’ – Adam: how to return to Sanctity.

In this being so, instead of waiting for us to become competent, knowledgeable, sophisticated adults before teaching us ‘how’, the ones who know begin teaching us when we’re children…when we’re more open and unburdened and free to begin our life in that direction and on that path. This doesn’t mean or guarantee that we won’t get lost or won’t complete or will not succeed on the road. It simply means that when we’re ready to return at least we know where to find the answer to “How…how to return?”

But we have to know, a good part of Sefer VaYikra is…really, really is…exceedingly strange to us, because it deals with קורבנות - korbanot, sacrifices of different kinds that are brought in the Holy Temple. Not only this, but in simply reading what’s taught about קורבנות – korbanot it often seems dry and technical and without any real meaning or understanding of ‘why and for what purpose’. Even when a general reason is given: e.g. atonement, gratitude and thanksgiving, etc., sacrificing animals, cutting them up, spilling their blood, and so forth are, well…yuck. How primitive can you get?!

It may be our responsibility and obligation in this world to clean it up of it’s primitiveness, but Torah and Jews have never been primitive, despite however primitive the world has been. Please God, we’ll discuss this more in the coming weeks and months, but for the time being let me say this.

Yesterday (Tues) was Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the day of the New Moon for the month of Nissan (in which Pesach, Passover) occurs. Like all the Holy Days in the Torah, on Rosh Chodesh we add an additional praying to our morning prayers, and this praying is known as מוסף – Musaf (Added). The Musaf praying for each Holy Day specifically relates to the special קרבנות – karbanot which are brought for that particular Holy Day, however…each Musaf praying includes and is focused on why this is a Holy Day.

The Musaf praying for Rosh Chodesh is for כפרה – kaporah, atonement, and written in the praying is, “תשועת נפשם מיד שונא” – ‘save their [our] souls from hatred’…and…“אהבת עולם תביא להם” – either ‘love for the whole world or eternal love bring to them [us]’.

The sacrifices do have a purpose, but it isn’t about them it’s about us. Yom Kippur may be the time we do atonement for the entire year, but long before we get to Yom Kippur, month in and month out on Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of each month we are praying to be freed of hatred and praying to be encompassed in greater love. If this is primitive…maybe we really don’t understand.

I studiously refrain from doing this, but it’s necessary to make an exception. For those of us whose prayer books, and therefore prayers, don’t contain this praying, maybe we should genuinely ask, “Why don’t they?” From the advent of Jews in this world our prayers have been an essential message both to ourselves and to the world. Now all of a sudden, in today’s modern world we don’t need it? Has anyone taken a look around?!

Maybe God really does know something we don’t.

Shalom,
Daniel Eliezer
II Rosh Chodesh Nissan 5773
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PostSubject: Re: 1st Learnings: There's a good question we should ask ourselves...   Thu Mar 21, 2013 10:21 pm

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

* * *

“Contradiction and Oneness”

As we’ve discovered, Sefer VaYikra (Leviticus) is directly related to the very beginning of Torah, particularly how it is fundamental to Adam’s and Chava’s (Eve) being sent from Gan Eden to their living in this world. It’s because of this connection is why we were able to learn that Sefer VaYikra is coming to teach ‘אדם’ – Adam how to return to Kedushah - to Sanctity.

Kedushah – Sanctity is something without which we wouldn’t have Creation and Existence, not even a little bit. Exactly, however, what Kedushah – Sanctity is…is a complex, sophisticated and fascinating reality, one that we are only capable of touching upon, but, thank God, one that we can and will. Before this, though, let’s stay with Adam and Chava a little more.

It’s as mortals that Adam and Chava leave Gan Eden, and seemingly their leaving appears to be punishment for their discovering mortality - their own. The reality, however, is that the proper place for them to live is this part of the created world – the part which was designed for them. In Tehilim (Psalms), King David says, [115: 16] “השמשים שמים לד' והארץ נתן לבני אדם” – “The Heavens are Gods’ [domain] and the Earth is the children of Adam’s (man’s) [Domain].”

We know that Creation was twofold. The beginning of Creation was solely through the attribute of ‘דין’ – of pure righteousness, and then, ‘דין’ gave way to the attribute of ‘רחמים’ – of pure compassion. Both attributes comprise and accompany Creation, but it is within and according to the latter through which we sustain Creation and Existence. That compassion has dominion is evident with Adam and Chava.

In beginning their lives in Gan Eden, doing so gave Adam and Chava what they would need to make it in their world. Considering the way that Gan Eden is supposedly flawless there really isn’t such a visible need for compassion. Everything works as it should: Adam did and Chava did…and even Snake did. Inexplicably, the perfection of Gan Eden is that it could include the ‘perfectly-imperfect (i.e. not perfect) Adam and Chava’, accepting that Adam and Chava had an incomplete awareness of themselves. Had they had a complete awareness, not only would they not have needed a warning against eating the fruit, the eating itself would never have affected them. What would have been left for them ‘to see and to discover’ about themselves?

So Adam and Chava discovered what they discovered, and now knowledgeable of their duality - immortal in design; mortal in creation – they leave Gan Eden to continue their life. What we want to know, however, is what had changed in Adam and Chava? What had they ‘discovered’ about themselves that made them mortal?

Torah teaches us that when Chava was created and Adam was introduced to her, Adam said, “she is mine (made for me)”; he is ‘איש’ (Ish) – man, she is ‘אישה’ (Ishah) - woman. And then we’re taught, “The two of them were ‘ערומים’ – naked, Adam and his wife, and they weren’t ashamed.” We know, though, that after they had eaten the fruit, Torah teaches us, “their eyes opened and they knew they were naked and they made garments…” Whether there were or weren’t mirrors in Gan Eden really doesn’t matter, because it’s not that nakedness we’re talking about, as Rashi explains, “even a blind man knows he’s naked.” What, therefore, is the difference between ‘the nakedness that God creates’ and ‘the nakedness that Adam and Chava discover’?

The difference is that once they ate from the fruit they could see themselves in a way they couldn’t see themselves before. They saw their humanity. Until the moment that Chava and Adam (she ate first) ate the fruit, their lives and perceptions were as God saw them. It was eating the fruit that caused them to perceive, “who God thinks we are and who we think we arethey are not the same thing!?” Whatever ‘ערומים’ – nakedness is and means, God wants man to have it and creates Adam with it, but when Adam discovers this aspect of himself he recoils from it!?

About this we have to ask, “did Adam and Chava experience ‘perception’…or did they experience ‘imperception’?” The reason we ‘have to ask’ is because when they leave Gan Eden it is either their ‘perception’ or their ‘imperception’ or both which they are going to take with them.

Thus it was that Adam and Chava left Gan Eden with consciously growing awareness of their ‘humanity’ but without any real understanding and comprehension of what it means. “Live here, live there; does it really matter? Aside from recognizing that in Gan Eden everything is at hand while outside Gan Eden it will have to be discovered, what difference can it make?” Were Adam and Chava naive…or were they immature?

Let’s ask a very intriguing question. When Adam was created, he was placed in Gan Eden and explained that it’s for him to work and develop and sustain and protect Gan Eden. Now that Adam (and Chava) have left Gan Eden is Adam relieved of his responsibilities, or are they his responsibilities for which he was created, and, as such, it’s impossible that he’ll be relieved of them? His life just became more difficult, but so what. Intriguingly, maybe…just maybe…it’s now when Adam has left Gan Eden is when his responsibilities commence!?

Why not? Apparently the answer depends upon what is meant by ‘to work and develop and sustain and protect Gan Eden’. One understanding is ‘תפילה’ – prayer. It’s Adam’s (man’s) prayers which makes Gan Eden viable and fruitful. If so, praying then is something Adam can do anywhere.

Returning now to VaYikra, why does the road from Gan Eden intersect particularly with Sefer VaYikra? Genealogically there is no question about the lineage that descends from Adam HaRishon to Noach to Abraham, and then from Abraham onward to Am Yisrael. Given this is Adam’s descendency, it means that not only the rest of Sefer Bereshit but all of Sefer Shemot and Sefer BaMidbar and Sefer D’varim, as well as Sefer VaYikra are equally on the road that led from Gan Eden. Why is it, therefore, that VaYikra most directly connects to the beginning of Torah?

In addition to what we’ve already learned in the previous post, VaYikra is where Adam - and therefore ‘we’ - most encounter Kedushah – Sanctity. On one hand and unlike how we usually tend to think, Kedushah – Sanctity isn’t something external to and thus imposed upon us, and on the other hand neither is it a passive state of being. Kedushah – Sanctity is where we meet. To this we very rightly ask, “Who is this ‘we’?”

Remember what eating the fruit caused Adam and Chava to perceive, “who God thinks we are and who we think we arethey are not the same thing!?” It’s our grappling with this perception…or this imperception…or both is where we encounter Kedushah – Sanctity. Kedushah – Sanctity is our answering this question or questions, “Who am I?…Is this really me?” - questions that are life itself: of where and when and how we encounter Kedushah – Sanctity. “Who am I?…Is this really me?” - composite and complimentary views of me.

So given all this, what does this have to do with animal sacrifices and altars and so forth, which is what we immediately begin to learn about in VaYikra? Primitive stuff…pretty primitive stuff animal sacrifices. Perhaps…but what if we consider this?

There is not a single human being who has not experienced - both as a victim and as a perpetrator - behavior that is potentially soul destroying or psyche destroying or physically destroying. We are not talking about malicious, destructive, vengeful, malevolent, psychopaths but about normal, rational, sane, educated, caring human beings. We only have to examine our own behavior as children of parents, as parents of children, as siblings, and as husband and wife to understand just how great the demands upon us are. And these are relationships that should be the most positive ones in our life; the ones we should care the most for. Forget any other relationships! How now do we restore, make restitution, recover, and heal?

And we have to, even if mostly we don’t and don’t know how and there’s no one to really help us. Time, time and forgetfulness, and hopefully contriteness and lessons learned the hard way help get over…even if they don’t exactly restore, make restitution, recover and heal. It’s recognizing and admitting this truth which makes it possible for us to say, “Where to bring sacrifices has always been less of a question than ‘why’.”

We begin the Shemoneh Esrei – the 18 blessings of the Amidah – with these words “אדני שפתי תפתח ופי יגיד תהילתך” – “My Master, open my lips and my mouth will praise you...,” words that King David teaches us in Tehilim (Psalms) [51:17]. And immediately continuing [51:18] “…because You don’t yearn for sacrifices [in order] that I will bring nor [do You] even desire them. [51:19] Sacrifices to God are broken spirits and broken hearts and downtrodden souls, God doesn’t despise [these].”

It is this teaching of King David’s is how we know why we bring sacrifices at all. It’s not about God, not about the animals; it’s about us. Whether momentarily or for whatever duration our lives have damage, even wreckage, and we’ve shrunken or are broken and less than ourselves. The Kohanim and the Leviim – the Priests and the Levites in the Tabernacle and Holy Temple, truly servants of God, are there to bring us back, restore us, and set us on the road to recovery and healing. Sacrifices?…they are solely the means – not the reason.

In Hebrew the word ‘קורבן’,which we translate as ‘sacrifice’, is from the root ‘ק-ר-ב’ (quf, resh, beit) to bring close(r). We are bringing ourselves back, i.e. closer to who we are, and we are doing so by bringing ourselves closer to God.

Although we haven’t be able to develop this here, it’s imperative to understand that even though we’ve only focused on Adam as an individual, we’re aware that he’s also mankind, and because this is true Adam’s responsibility - and hence our [Jews] responsibility - is to teach the world how to do it, to teach the world how to be close. As such, it’s a process, a process that has taken many, many generations to help the world overcome how it perceives. There is no question that sacrificing of animals (and even human beings!?) was a greater part of mankind once upon a time, but today it’s the aberration; not the rule. For Jews it’s been 2000 or so years, and whether sacrifices will be restored when the Holy Temple is rebuilt is not universally accepted. Please God, we will no longer need them, but…but if we do, it’ll be because we need to restore our Kedushah – our Sanctity…not because God needs [animal] sacrifices.

Torah unifies, which is seen simply in the Tabernacle and then the Holy Temple which were the singular place where ‘קורבנות’ – Sacrifices could be brought. It was all for the sake of Unification – for Oneness, and because this is true, even seemingly primitive ‘animal sacrifices’ contributed, affected, and influenced. As someone very special recently taught me, “Contradiction and Oneness”…meaning: Amidst all the Contradiction there is really Oneness!

What many don’t know is that both the Tabernacle in the Midbar and the Holy Temple in Jerusalem were places of tremendous uplift, of genuine simcha (joy) and elevated consciousness and awareness. There were incredible amounts of music, abundant quantities of tantalizing fragrances, and an atmosphere approached and reached by no other. It was all meant for our neshamot, our souls, and the Kohanim and Leviim were literally soul doctors of the highest order. Their serving God was their serving us. It was their uplifting us…whether from depths of brokenness or merely from mind-numbing hum-drummery of life…to bring and to elevate us to where we’re capable again of genuinely tasting and feeling and enjoying life and of being One with that genuine life within us: to return us to where we feel life flowing in us and through us and from us – the most genuine Oneness of Creation. As we know from our Musaf prayers (remember what we learned about Musaf last time?) of Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippur, “ביתי בית תפליה יקרא לכל העמים” – “My [God’s] house - a house of prayer it will be called - for all peoples.”

It’s Pesach so we’ll close with blessings.

A child runs away from home, a home filled with all kinds of conflict, and very quickly parents send out messages, “All’s forgiven, come home. Just come home!” When the child doesn’t, the message isn’t taken down; it remains. “All’s forgiven, come home. Just come home!” Adam and Chava, too, ‘ran away from home – away from it all’...

We should all know that Pesach is when the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple will be rebuilt, this time forever. Why on Pesach?…because at that point when we were so destroyed, so close to annihilation, so seemingly far away from home the Holy and Compassionate One, Blessed be He, reached in to bring us out, to restore and heal us – to bring us home: home to ourselves, home to the Holy One, home to whom we together are. How do we end the Seder?…we sing, “Next year in Jerusalem!”

…and when they did little could Adam and Chava realize that they were bringing us home.

Chag Kasher v’Sameach Pesach (Blessings for a Kosher and Joyful Pesach),

Daniel Eliezer
10 Nissan 5773

(There won’t be another posting until after Pesach, when we resume regular Torah reading.)
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