For My German Readers: Bring den Müll raus! (Kurzkommentar zum Tora-Abschnitt Tzav)

Der größte Hit der Coasters von 1958 „Yakety Yak“ beginnt: „Bring das Papier und den Müll raus…!“. Diese Liedzeile und der Song begannen in mir zu klingen, als ich Tora-Abschnitt für diese Woche bedachte: Tzav (Levitikus 6, 1-8 und 36).


Yakety Yak The Coasters

by oldiesdude8807

Aber in der Tora ist es kein geplagter Teenager, der den Müll rausbringen muss. Es ist der Priester höchstselbst. „Und er … soll die Asche hinaustragen aus dem Lager an eine reine Stätte.“ (Levitikus 6,4) Es ist als sagte der EwigEine: „Du hast die Unordnung angerichtet, nun machst du das auch sauber.“ Wenn wir gut zuhören, können wir in dieser Anweisung Gott zu uns sprechen hören. Die Anführer des Volkes glänzten nicht nur im Ruhm ihres Amtes. Sie mussten die dreckige Arbeit machen. Sie mussten die Asche wegputzen von den Feuern, die sie entzündet hatten.

Auch wir müssen unseren Müll wegräumen!

Wir entzünden auch etliche Feuer und hinterlassen Asche. Mit geliebten Menschen leisten wir uns feurigen Streit. Wenn die Flammen verloschen sind, müssen wir einem Weg finden, wie wir die Asche des Ärgers und der Ressentiments los werden, die unsere Beziehungen zerstören können, wenn wir es versäumen sie “aus dem Lager hinaus zu bringen”.

Die Coasters haben Recht
Auch wir müssen in Ordnung bringen, was wir angerichtet haben. Unsere Asche hinausragen bedeutet:
· Hör auf die Gefühle derer, die du verletzt hast
· Bitte um Verzeihung, wenn nötig vielleicht mit einem Tut-Mir-Leid-Geschenk.
· Sei entschlossen, zukünftig nicht so verletzend zu sein.
Das ist viel leichter gesagt als getan. Aber die Coasters haben recht: Nur die, die „den Müll raustragen“ werden auch „Samstag Nacht ausgehen“ (Natürlich nach dem Schabbat), und werden auch in Zukunft liebevolle Beziehungen pflegen können.

Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg

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Book Excerpt: The Meaning of Passover

slfuchs:

As Passover approaches, I am pleased to share this excerpt from my book, “What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives

Originally posted on FindingOurselvesInBiblicalNarratives:

To understand the Exodus narrative, we must view it as a war – a boxing match if you will –between gods. In one corner, we have the Egyptian god, Pharaoh. Pharaoh is like any pagan god. One worships him by glorifying him with monuments, pyramids, sphinxes, and garrison cities. If slaves are required in order to build these structures, so be it. If it is necessary to beat those slaves in order to keep them working, or even kill one or two occasionally to send a message, that is fine too. And if overpopulation becomes an issue (see the First Chapter of Exodus), simply throw their baby boys into the Nile.

In the other corner, though, we have the one true God of the Hebrew Bible, who created us in God’s image! God’s highest goal is that we create a just, caring, and compassionate society. God wants us to treat…

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Take Out the Trash (Quick Comment on Torah Portion “Tzav”)

The Coasters’ biggest all-time hit, “Yakety Yak (1958)  begins, “Take out the papers and the trash  …” The line and the song reverberate as I ponder this week’s Torah portion, Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36). But in the Torah it is not a beleaguered teenager who must “take out  … the trash.”  It is the priest himself. “And he shall … carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place (Leviticus 6:4).” It is as though the Eternal one were saying, “You made the mess, now you clean it up!” If we listen, we can hear God speaking to us in this instruction. The leaders of the people did not just bask in the glory of their office. They had to do the dirty work. They had to carry out the ashes of the fire that they created.

We must clean up our mess too

We too create a lot of fires and a lot of ashes. With those we love we have fiery arguments. When the flames die down, we must find a way to rid ourselves of the ashes of anger and resentment that can destroy our relationship if we fail to carry them “outside the camp.”

The Coasters were right

Taking out our ashes means

  • listening to the feelings of those we have hurt
  • apologizing when necessary—perhaps including an “I’m sorry” gift—
  • resolving not to cause such hurt in the future.

It is much easier said than done, but the Coasters were right. Only those who “take out … the trash” will enjoy going “out Saturday night (after Shabbat, of course),” and continuing to build a loving relationship in the future.

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My Torah Portion Many Years later (Longer Comment on “Va-Yikrah”)

 When I studied the first Torah portion in Leviticus, Va-yikrah for my Bar Mitzvah long ago, it seemed void of contemporary meaning. How wrong I was!

Two Gems

The portion contains two gems I hold dear.

  • The first is familiar to us: “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” If a person commits a sin, however unwittingly, he/s she is guilty and must take responsibility for his/her wrongdoing.” (Leviticus 5:17)
  •  The second by contrast promotes a three-thousand-year-old concept of justice that modern society is just beginning to employ. The common term for it is retributive justice, but I prefer to call it victim compensation.

If a person steals or gains something through oppression or extortion and then wishes to make up for it, he shall pay his fine, of course, but also: “He shall repay (to the victim) the principal and add a fifth part to it (Leviticus 5:24)” as compensation for the loss. How much better it is if people who commit economic crimes would make restitution and then some to their victims rather than simply go to prison and be a further economic burden to society.

Victim Compensation

Indeed the tradition was so enamored of the idea of victim compensation that they interpret the text to give the victim an even greater pay out than the Torah seems to mandate. The Torah says, “v’hamishitav yosef lo. He shall add a fifth part to it (Leviticus 5:24).” So, if I steal a hundred dollars, the Torah says that I should pay an additional a fifth, which would seem to mean 20 extra dollars, to my victim. Makes sense, but no: Our Sages mandated that the total payout by 125 dollars. Why? The fifth part” added to it would be not a fifth of the principal but a fifth part of the total sum paid by the offender (B. Baba Metzia 54A). The point is not the extra five bucks. The point is that the shapers of Jewish ethics wanted to reinforce just how important victim compensation is to a system in which God has called on us—beginning with Abraham–to do what is “just and right. (Genesis 18:19)”

What’s in It for Us Today?

in interpersonal relationships, these two lessons can have great meaning. Should we feel obligated to adhere only to the letter of the law or should we make diligent effort to avoid actions that cause another pain? Especially with those we claim to love we should be sensitive to things that will cause hurt.

Later in Leviticus we read, “You shall not curse the deaf nor put a stumbling block before the blind. (Leviticus 19:14).” This instruction goes beyond the literal. I have never seen a person shout curses at a deaf person or trip one who is blind. But oh how often are we guilty of exploiting other’s areas of vulnerability? We should not excuse ourselves by saying, “I didn’t know.” It is our job to know.

When we do–-as all of us have done—cause hurt, the portion teaches we have an obligation to set those things right. Both the Torah and the Sages clearly emphasized how important it is to try to compensate the one who suffers.

The “meaningless“ verses I read from Leviticus at age 13 now speak to my very soul. By taking these ancient teachings to heart we can be better people and build a more just caring and compassionate world than the one in which we now live.

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For My German Readers: Translation of “From ‘Why’ to ‘Wonderful'”

Aus “Warum” wurde “Wundervoll”!

Als mir vor vielen Jahren der Tora -Abschnitt vorgelegt wurde, den ich für meine Bar Mitzwa studieren sollte – Leviticus 5, 17-26 – war ich sehr enttäuscht! “Welchen Sinn sollen diese alten Gesetze haben?” fragte ich mich. “Warum kann ich nicht so eine coole Geschichte bekommen wie meine Freunde?”

Jahre später habe ich begriffen, dass mein Tora-Abschnitt zwei wichtige Lehren für uns heute enthält:

  • Unkenntnis des Gesetzes ist keine Entschuldigung. (Levitikus 5:17),
  • Opfer eines Verbrechens müssen vom Täter entschädigt werden. (Levitikus 5,24).

Später habe ich herausgefunden, dass diese Entschädigung für die Rabbinen so wichtig war, dass sie die von der Tora verhängt 20% -Strafe auf 25% erhöhten (B. Baba Matzia 54a). WOW! Wie gut wäre es, wenn dieses Gesetz heute eingeführt würde. Stellt euch vor Bernhard Madoff müsste jedem seiner Opfer alles zurückgeben, was er erschwindelt hat, und noch 25% dazu!

Daraufhin habe ich mich gefragt: Wenn mein trockener Bar Mitzwa Abschnitt so aktuell und lehrreich ist, wie viel mehr können wir lernen, wenn wir die spannenden Geschichten der Tora auf unser Leben anwenden?

Im Rückblick erkenne ich, dass hier meine Berufswahl ihren Ausgangspunkt hatte. Mein wachsendes Interesse an den Geschichten der Tora bestärkte meine Entscheidung Rabbiner zu werden. Jahre nach meiner Ordination studierte ich vier Jahre in Teilzeit an der Vanderbilt Divinity School für meinen Dr. Ministri in Bibelauslegung. Nach zwanzig weiteren Jahren Tora-Studium entschloss ich mich, mein kleines Buch “What is in it for me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives” zu schreiben.

Ich wundere mich über die merkwürdigen Art, in der der Ewig-Eine handelt. Wenn ich einen “interessanteren” Tora-Abschnitt bekommen hätte, wäre vielleicht mein ganzes Leben anders verlaufen. Jetzt freue ich mich über jede Gelegenheit, die der Ewig-Eine mit gibt, die Ideen der Bibel mitzuteilen, die mein Leben verändert haben und die, glaube ich, dein Leben auch verändern können.

Translation: Pastorin Ursula Sieg

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From “Why?” to “Wonderful!” (Quick comment on Torah portion Va-Yikrah)

When I was handed my Torah portion to study for my Bar Mitzvah—Leviticus 5:17-26—many years ago I was SO disappointed. “What possible meaning,” I wondered, “do these ancient laws have? Why couldn’t I get some of the cool stories that my friends got?”

Years later I realized my portion contained two vital teachings for today:

  • Ignorance of the law is no excuse. (Leviticus 5:17)
  • Victims of financial crimes must be compensated by the perpetrator. (Leviticus 5:24)

I later learned that such compensation was so important to the rabbis that they interpreted the 20% penalty mandated by the Torah into 25%. (B. Baba Metzia 54a) WOW! How great it could be if that law were applied today. Imagine Bernard Madoff having to pay each of his victims everything he swindled from them plus 25%.

I also began to ask: If my dull and dry and dull  Bar MItzvah portion could have so much to teach us today, how much more can we learn if we apply the Torah’s exciting stories to our lives?

Looking back I see that is where my career choice began

My growing interest in the meaning of the Torah’s stories contributed to my decision to become a rabbi. Years after my ordination I studied four years part-time at Vanderbilt Divinity School to earn a D. Min. in Biblical Interpretation. Twenty years of continuous study after completing that degree I decided to write my short book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.

 

I marvel at the strange ways the Eternal One works. If I had received a more “interesting” Torah portion, my whole life might have been different. Now I treasure every opportunity the Eternal One provides to share the ideas in Biblical stories that have changed my life and which can, I believe, change yours as well.

 

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It’s Not Funny, Bill Cosby!

It's not funny, Bill!

It’s not funny, Bill!

It gives me no pleasure to write this. It’s wrong to kick a man when he’s down, but Bill Cosby is not down. He is up and bragging that his career is, “far from finished.”

But it should be!

Yes, I know he has not been “found guilty in a court of law,” but after hours of reading about him I find the evidence so compelling that I believe with all my heart:

Anyone who attends a Bill Cosby performance is complicit in his sins!

It is inconceivable to me that 39 women with their dignity to lose and nothing to gain would come forward with essentially the same story if there were no truth to it.

Sadly, Mr. Cosby has ratified the biblical image of his name.

The Hebrew root of Cosby is כזב. We can find it 47 times in the Hebrew Bible as a noun or a verb, and it connotes a liar or lying.

As a proper name, (כזבי) Cosby appears twice more (Numbers 25:15 and 18). Both times it refers to a Midianite woman who wantonly engages in sexual intercourse with an Israelite, “in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the people of Israel …  (Numbers 25:6)”

Like his biblical namesake, Bill Cosby is throwing his immorality in our faces. He has disgraced himself and his legacy.

The shame stains all of us, but we have a choice. We can be part of the problem or part of the solution. When one chooses at this juncture to support Bill Cosby in any way, he or she is definitely part of the problem.

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For My German Readers: Wir dürfen das nicht zulassen! (Kurzkommentar zum Tora-Abschnitt Va-yakhel-Pekude)

Wir haben etwas weiter vorne im Buch Exodus gelesen, dass Mose in das Zelt der Begegnung ging, wo Gott mit ihm redete (Exodus 33.9). Am Ende des Buches Exodus allerdings lesen wir: “Mose konnte nicht in das Zelt der Begegnung, weil die Wolke auf ihm ruhte” (Exodus 40,35).

Professor Ellis Rivkin erklärt, dieser radikale Umschwung markiert die Machtübernahme über das jüdische Leben durch die Nachkommen Aarons, indem sie die erblich herrschende Klasse wurde und die völlige Kontrolle des jüdischen Lebens an sich riss: “Wenn ein Fremder sich naht, soll er sterben” (Nummeri 3,10).

Was lernen wir daraus?

Wir müssen die Wolke aus dem Zelt schubsen und Gottes Weisungen als für uns so zugänglich ansehen wie sie für Mose waren. Wir wollen nicht riskieren Priestern, Rabbineren oder Imanen absolute Autorität einzuräumen. Ja, wir wollten ihre Lehren respektieren und studieren. Aber unser eigenen Gewissen und das Bestreben, “zu tun, was Recht und gerecht ist”, wie Gott es Abraham aufträgt (Genesis 18,19).

Wie oft in der Geschichte haben Menschen Grausamkeiten begannen, einfach weil die herrschenden Autoritäten es ihnen sagten. Die Nazis konnten ihren Horror ausbreiten, nicht nur wegen böser Führer, sondern weil gute Menschen unhinterfragt Autoritäten gehorcht haben, die sie auf einen schrecklichen Weg treiben.

Gottes größte Geschenk an die Menschheit ist ein Verstand, den wir gebrauchen können um überlegt zu entscheiden, wie wir handeln werden. Wenn wir einer “Wolke” erlauben uns von Gottes Unterweisung fernzuhalten, verarmt unser Geist. Wenn wir stattdessen durch Studieren und ernsthafte Suche nach der aktuellen Botschaft der biblischer Weisung die Wolke aus der Stiftshütte hinausbefördern, können wir uns dem Bild Gottes annähern, als das wir geschaffen sind, und die Welt besser machen für unsere Kinder, Enkelkinder und zukünftige Generationen.

Translation: Pastorin Ursula Sieg

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Cloud Control (longer comment, corrected, on Torah portion Va-yakhel – Pekude

In its account of the completion of the desert tabernacle, the Torah includes a startling detail: When the work of the Mishkan (tabernacle) was complete, a cloud of smoke filled the sanctuary. It was so thick that Moses himself could not enter. Only Aaron and his sons had the privilege. (Exodus 40:35)

Professor Ellis Rivkin, z”l, of the Hebrew Union College in his 1971 book, The Shaping of Jewish History wonders: How could it be that Moses who regularly went out to the simple tent of meeting to commune with God and relay God’s instructions to the Children of Israel (Exodus 33:8-9) could not even enter the elaborate Tabernacle whose completion the Torah celebrates?

The answer, Rivkin writes, is that by the time the Torah was actually written, descendants of Aaron had effectively taken control not only of religious life in ancient Israel but political and economic life as well. Moses’ role in our people’s history would never be matched, but it would never be replicated! The cloud in the Mishkan excluding Moses but allowing Aaron and his sons to enter represented this starling takeover.

The Clouds Are Still There

To a significant extent the cloud still fills the sanctuary. There are those who would stifle the Progressive Jewish voice and leave many to regard our precious heritage as a daunting set of rules and regulations which they do not understand.

We must push that cloud up off of the tabernacle that represents our sacred tradition! Each of us should encounter and understand God in our own way as Moses did before the cloud filled the sanctuary.

Before the cloud descended God made a sacred Covenant with Abraham and with our people forever! In that Covenant God promised to:

·     Protect us

·     Give us children

·     Make us a permanent people – 4000 years certainly strikes me as permanent –

·     Give us the land of Israel!

A Reciprocal Covenant

But a covenant is reciprocal; we do not get those wonderful rewards for nothing. In return God charged us to do three essential things:

·     “ברכה והיה Be a blessing!” (Genesis 12:2)

·     “תמים והיה לפני התהלך   Understand and follow God’s teachings as best we can! (Genesis 17:1),” my translation. Literally: “Walk in My ways and be worthy!”

·     Fill the world and teach your children and future generations to fill the world with: ומשפט צדקה Righteousness and justice! (Genesis 18:19)

To Repair the World

When we push the cloud off of the tabernacle, we shall realize that the essential message of Judaism is for each of us to work in our own way and with our own individual talents and interests to uphold our end of our Covenant with God. In so doing our ultimate goal is: העולם את לתקן to repair this broken world, fill it more and more with “righteousness and justice”, and leave for our children and grandchildren a more just, caring and compassionate society than the one in which we now live.

ומשפט צדקה–וצדקה משפט Righteousness and justice – justice and righteousness! These are the values the prophets continually exhorted our people to uphold. These are the values that have inspired the world at large!

When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. concluded his most famous speech in August, 1963, on the Mall in Washington DC, he invoked these values in an unattributed quotation from the Prophet Amos (Amos 5:24): “Let (משפט) –justice—roll down like waters and (צדקה) like a mighty stream!”

The Cloud over Israel

Nowhere, perhaps, will the cloud of entrenched religious authority be harder to lift off the tabernacle than in Israel itself. The work of Progressive communities – which I have seen with my own eyes – in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Mivaseret Tzion, Modi’in, Haifa, Rosh Ha-Ayin, Carmiel, and Tivon is inspiring. Our rabbis there have built communities against all odds starting from scratch.

In Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv. Standing on the balcony with Rabbi Meir Azari of Mishkanot Ruth, with a panoramic view in every direction, he told me, “Within our sight range there are more potential Progressive Jews than anywhere in a similar sized area in the world.”

The Prophet Isaiah taught us more than 3000 years ago (Isaiah 2:3): “From Zion shall go forth Torah and the word of the Eternal One from Jerusalem!” Israel is the birthplace of our history and the symbol of our ideals. Our love for her – with all her imperfections – is without measure!

We Need Israel, but Israel Also Needs Us

Yes, From Zion shall go forth Torah, but the reverse is also true: To Zion we must bring Torah and the word of the Eternal One to Jerusalem! Israel needs our visits, our wisdom, our experience, our encouragement and our support. When Israel appears to fall short of the values of “righteousness and justice” we must stand with those within Israel who offer their loyal critique!

When I first visited Kehilat Bavat Ayin in Rosh Ha-Ayin six years ago, Rabbi Ayala Miron spoke of the difficulties she encountered as a female Reform rabbi in a heartland city in Israel with a strong Yemenite Orthodox tradition. “You can be sure,” she said, “that the City Fathers did not greet me with flowers.” When I spoke there three years ago, I made it a point to greet her with flowers to let her know: “Jews around the world are with you!”

But we have a long way to go!

As Vickie and I sat with the professional staff of Bet Daniel in Tel Aviv they shocked us when they said: “The biggest problem in Israel is assimilation! If we begin our most important prayer: “שראלי שמע, Hear O Israel“ they continued, “an alarming percentage of Israelis would not be able to complete the sentence from Deuteronomy with, “”The Eternal One is our God, the Eternal One alone (Deuteronomy 6:4)!”

We must push the cloud of the Tabernacle and replace it with knowledge and spiritual meaning. We must restore our houses of worship to their original purpose: a place where God’s spirit can dwell (Exodus 25:8) If we wish to meet that formidable challenge, we must offer our people serious study of Torah and an understanding of the meaning of our prayers.

We must make our mishkanot worthy of the description of the word we often sing on entering the synagogue: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your mishkanot –your tabernacles – O Israel (Numbers 24:5)!”

If we are to push the cloud away we cannot simply intone our prayers mindlessly! We must know and teach what they mean, what their historical context is, and how can they help us live more meaningful Jewish lives!

No outside force can destroy us!

As the children of Israel were on their 40-year journey from slavery in Egypt toward the Promised Land, Balak, King of Moab was afraid that we would overrun his land.So he hired Balaam, a world famous sorcerer, to put a curse on us so that his forces could defeat us! Despite all the riches Balak could offer, Balaam – try as he might – could only bless us with the words: “Mah Tovu! How lovely are your tents…” When we understand its biblical context, the ancient prayer teaches us a vital modern lesson:

No outside force – no Balak, King of Moab, no Pharaoh, no Haman, no Torquemada, no Tsar, and no Hitler – can ever destroy us!

But Will We Destroy Ourselves?

Only we can destroy ourselves. We can destroy ourselves by turning away from our sacred Covenant! No! No outside force can destroy us, but we can destroy ourselves by failing to keep pushing the clouds that block understanding, purpose and meaning from our lives as Jews! We must always strive to push the cloud off the tabernacle and make real the world of which the prophets Isaiah and Micah dreamed when they said:

“They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Eternal On as the seabed is covered by waters (Isaiah 11:9).”

And all humankind shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees with none to make them afraid (Micah 4:4).”

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We Can’t Let This Happen! (Quick Comment on Torah portion (Va-yakhel-Pekude)

Earlier in Exodus we read that Moses would go into to the Tent of Meeting where God would talk to him (Exodus 33:9). By the end of Exodus, though, we read: “Moses could not to enter into the Tent of Meeting because the cloud settled upon it…  (Exodus 40:35).”

As Professor  Ellis Rivkin pointed out in The Shaping of Jewish History this radical shift represents a takeover of Jewish life by the descendants of Aaron who became a hereditary ruling class and usurped complete control of Jewish life. “Any outsider who encroaches shall be put to death (Numbers 3:10).”

What does this teach us?

We must push the cloud off the tent and see God’s instruction as accessible to us as it was to Moses. We dare not cede ultimate authority to priests ministers, rabbis or Imams. Yes, we should respect and study their teachings. But our own conscience and desire, as God charged Abraham, “To do what is just and right (Genesis 18:19)” should determine our actions.

How often in history have people done atrocious things simply because the ruling authorities told them to. The Nazi era was able to wreak its horrors not just because of evil leaders, but because good people unquestionably obeyed an authority that led them down a horrible path.

God’s greatest gift to humanity is a mind we can use to make considered decisions as to how we will act. When we allow “a cloud” to block us from God’s teaching, we impoverish our spirit. If instead we push the cloud off the tabernacle by studying and earnestly seeking the contemporary message of Biblical teachings we can draw closer to the Divine Image in which we were created and make a better world for our children, grandchildren and future generations.

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