Tuesday, April 25, 2006

rally rally here i come

check out my latest post over at Jewschool about:
  • April 24, Armenian Genocide Day.

  • 28 Nisan / April 24-25, Yom Hashoah V'hagevurah (the Memorial Day for the Holocaust and Heroism)

  • The Save Darfur Rally this Sunday, April 30 in Washington, DC

  • here's one of my favorite photos from the sign making/havdallah party i had on my roof a few years back i preparation for the march opposing the republican national convention, april 2004 (the hebrew sign on the right translates to "justice, justice you shall pursue"):

    here's me with a fabulous jew-crew at the march for women's lives in DC, april 2004:

    dc, i'm coming to you in just FIVE DAYS.

    Friday, April 21, 2006

    SHMINI: A D'var Torah for this Week

    Below is the d'var Torah I'm giving tonight here at my student pulpit in St. Croix. Enjoy!

    Friday, April 20, 2006
    Parshat Shmini
    Jewish Community of St. Croix

    What does a community do when they have put all of their energy, their heart and soul, into building a structure that everyone will benefit from? Do you remember a time you attended a dedication ceremony for a local building or a community playground? What about a new addition to your house or office? I have a strong memory of being nine years old when a community built playground was dedicated in my hometown. There was a huge ceremony which finally ended with a ribbon cutting, at which point I ran to my favorite section – the swinging monkey bars. What an exhilarating rush I felt to be the FIRST PERSON ever to swing on those bars. For years and years, every time I would return to the park, I would look at those bars and think – “I was the first one to swing on those!” Participating in the moment of dedication, being among the first to touch those brand new bars – it was an exciting and important moment.

    The most important and extensive building project in the Torah is the building of the mishkan, which was the portable sanctuary that contained all the instruments and furniture necessary for the ancient sacrificial rituals. Just a few weeks ago we closed the book of Exodus with its completion. The book of Leviticus opened with God giving instructions for its use. The last Torah portion went though the details of the seven day dedication ceremony for the sanctuary. Additionally, Moses, who has been learning how to divide up his leadership roles by delegating various tasks, is now training his brother Aaron, as well as Aaron’s four sons, to be kohanim, or priests.

    This week we read Parshat Shimini – literally “The eighth” – referring to the eighth day of the dedication ceremony. It opens with great excitement and elaborate ritual slaughtering. The climax is at the end of Chapter 9:

    Moses and Aaron went into the Tent of Meeting, and came out, and blessed the people: and the glory of G-d appeared to all the people.

    And there came a fire out from before G-d, and consumed the ascent offering and the fat [of the other offerings] upon the Altar. And all the people saw, and sang out, and fell on their faces.

    The next chapter opens with the following two verses:
    "And Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, each took his pan, put fire in them, and placed incense upon it, and they brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them. And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord."

    Why were Nadav and Abihu killed – right in the middle of this inauguration ceremony?

    In response to the incident, And Moses says to Aaron: "This is it that which G-d spoke, saying: I will be sanctified in those who are close to Me..." (10:3)

    Based on these words, perhaps the death was not a punishment at all. Rather, he sons of Aharon were on such a high spiritual level that they could not function in this world; their souls were thus separated from their bodies and they ascended to heaven so that they could be closer to God. Though these are the words that God speaks to Moses and Aaron, I do not recommend saying these words to anyone who has just lost a family member or friend.

    Rashi, an 11th century commentator, who is well-known for his logical analysis, attempts to find the answer in the context of the narrative.

    Just as the commandment to not worship foreign idols exists in proximity to the golden calf incident, Rashi links the next closest commandment – indeed, just a few verses later, God commands Aaron, "Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication." Therefore, Rashi writes, “We know from this that they died precisely on account of the wine.”

    Based on some verses later in the Torah, Rashi propsoses that: Nadav and Avihu died because of Aaron's making of the Golden Calf, since Moses later states: "And against Aaron did G-d verily rage to destroy him; and I prayed also for Aaron at that time" (Deuteronomy 9:20). Moses' prayer was halfway effective, so that two died and two remained alive.

    One Midrash or ledgend, states that Nadav and Avihu resented the authority that Moshe had invested in their father Aaron, asking: “When will these old men pass on so that we may be the nation’s new leaders?” God thus struck them down in punishment for this sin.

    While these answers of blaming people for Nadav and Abihu’s death may have satisfied some, I cannot accept a God who strikes down two young priests in training just for any reason. Though I do believe in some sort of legal punishment, I also believe that Judaism is a religion that believes in forgiveness and repentance – not divine zapping during public ceremonies.

    I wish to present one last interpretation of this story.

    Rashbam, Rashi’s grandson, says that Nadav and Avihu did no more than enter the holy of holies, the innermost chamber of the sanctuary, at the moment the divine fire descended. While some commentators refuse to see anything in the Torah as an accident, and evidence that their death was an accident is also not quite comforting, I believe that Rashbam’s method of showing us how this chain of events took place teaches an even broader lesson that we can all take with us.

    As I mentioned earlier, a climactic moment precedes the death of Nadav and Abihu. One of the verses I read before was:

    "And there came a fire out from before G-d, and consumed the ascent offering and the fat [of the other offerings] upon the Altar."

    Just two verses later, at the start of chapter 10, we read:

    “And there came a fire out from before G-d, and consumed them.”

    Since both cases use the exact set of words, “And there came a fire out from before G-d, and consumed”, Rashbam claims that perhaps these two events happened simultaneously, thus being a case of resumptive repetition. In other words, it is up to the reader to notice that the same fire that burnt up Moses and Aaron’s offering at the end of chapter 9, also accidentally struck Nadav and Abihu.

    Though we cannot erase the fact that the text describes Nadav and Abihu as having “brought before the Lord foreign fire, which He had not commanded them,” Rashbam gives us a crucial shifting of perspective that puts the scene in a whole new light.

    How often do we jump to conclusions or act overly judgmental without much investigation? How often are we disappointed that others do not give us the benefit of the doubt, looking favorably upon us in a difficult situation?

    (Bavli Shabbat 127b)

    The sages teach: 
One who judges his friend favorably will be judged favorably. 
The following story is told: 
A man went down from the Upper Gallilee and was hired as a worker for a landowner in the south for three years.

    On the day before Yom Kippur the worker came to his boss and said, “Give me my wages so I can support my wife and children.” He replied, “I do not have them.”

    He said to him, “Give me produce.” He replied, “I have none.” He said to him, “Give me land.” “I have none.” “Give me animals.” “I have none.” “Give me pillows and covers.” “I have none.”

    The worker slung his things over his shoulder and went home frustrated.

    After the festivals the employer took the worker’s wages in hand, and along with them loaded three donkeys -- one full of food, one with drink, and another with tasty foods -- and went to his worker’s house.

    After they ate and drank he gave the worker his wages.

    He said to him, “When you asked me for your wages and I told you I have no money what did you suspect me of?” “I said perhaps you came across inexpensive merchandise and bought it.”

    “And when you said to me to give you animals and I replied that I have none, what did you suspect me of?” “I said perhaps they were hired out.”

    “And when you said to me to give you land and I told you I had none, what did you suspect?” “I said perhaps it was leased out to others.”

    “And when I told you that I had no produce what did you suspect? “I said perhaps it was not tithed.”

    “And when I told you that I had no pillows or blankets what did you suspect? “”I said perhaps he donated all of his property to Heaven.”

    He said, “I swear that is what happened. I vowed off all of my property because of my son Hyrkanus who did not go to learn Torah. When I went to my friends in the south they annulled all of my vows. As for you -- the same way you judged me favorably, the Omnipresent should judge you favorably.”

    Even in Judaism we are innocent until proven guilty. Though we should still use our logic and reasoning to look at a situation thoroughly, we must always remind ourselves to give the benefit of the doubt, just as the landowner in the story. We all want to get the benefit of the doubt, so doesn’t it make sense to routinely give the benefit of the doubt? It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

    Shabbat shalom.

    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    this will make you laugh. i promise!!

    if you're in nyc, or you can make it there by monday night, don't miss the fabulous, the sexy, the talented, the hilarious Late Night Players playing at on of NYC's top comedy club's, Carolines, located just north of Times Square - B'way between 49 and 50th. BONUS: And...if you RSVP in advance by calling 212 757 4100 and mentioning "Late Night Players" you can go for only FIVE BUCKS!!!!!!

    Tuesday, April 11, 2006

    every animal product is made of corn!

    ...you can still devour them on passover, but you may not want to the rest of the year. CORN:
    "Corn is what feeds the steer that becomes the steak. Corn feeds the chicken and the pig, the turkey and the lamb, the catfish and the tilapia and, increasingly, even the salmon…. The eggs are made of corn. The milk and cheese and yogurt, which once came from dairy cows that grazed on grass, now typically come from Holsteins that spend their working lives tethered to machines, eating corn."
    - via aldaily.com

    Monday, April 10, 2006

    zeek and passover at jewschool.com

    check out my recent posts about zeek and passover over at jewschool. you'll be glad you did!

    i am now on my last break of the semester. four more days of class, two oral exams, one final, and one seminar paper...then graduation may 18! it's all about may 18...