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Showing posts from March, 2022

Don't Turn Away from Illness

This past weekend I ran into a former student who said, “I always remember my bar mitzvah Torah portion?” “Why?” I asked. And he responded, “It was about leprosy. I will never forget that!” Indeed, one thing that can be said for certain about this week’s portion is that it leaves a lasting, and memorable, impression on the students who chant its words. We read about how the ancient Israelites approached this feared disease. When people developed a suspicious looking skin infection, they would go to the priest. If he suspected it was leprosy, he would instruct them to quarantine for seven days. (Sound familiar?) If it disappeared, or diminished after the week, they were allowed to return to the camp. If, however, the infection grew, and the priest determined that they indeed had leprosy, they would take on some mourning customs, rending their clothes and bearing their heads. They were required to dwell outside the camp for as long as they had leprosy. On their way out the door, so to

Feeding the Spirit

People often think that eating and the preparation of food are not religious acts. They are simply among the mundane activities we do, day in and day out, that sustain our bodies. Going out to a restaurant with friends, gathering around the dining room table with family, or even schmoozing with one another as dinner preparations are made, are secular affairs. This could not be further from the truth. Religions in general, and Judaism in particular, add two key ingredients to every meal: gratitude and limits. Whether it is the Passover restrictions against the eating of bread or this week’s detailed list of prohibited animals, the preparation of meals is infused with the question of “Does my God permit me to eat this or not?” For some this may appear like an inopportune, or even outrageous, question in the rush of preparing breakfast before heading out the door to work or school, but the asking makes us pause. It adds a sense of religious intentionality to something that our bodies re

Take In Some Joy!

Today is Purim, the day in which the tradition suggests all rules are suspended. We are commanded to celebrate our victory over Haman’s genocidal designs with wild abandon. We dress in outrageous costumes, drink far too much wine and drown out Haman’s name when reading the megillah. It seems like a counterintuitive response to a history filled with suffering. Purim urges us to look within and ask, should we always fixate on antisemitism? Should we dwell so much on the many tyrants who sought to destroy us? What is the cost to our own souls of speaking so frequently about antisemitism and hate? Purim asks and answers its own question. It suggests that mourning, and eternal vigilance, must not be our only responses. Purim commands. Let loose. Celebrate. Party. When the world’s travails can dispirit even the most optimistic of people, Purim suggests that we put these aside at least for this one day. Contemporary struggles tug at our compassionate hearts. Our history gnaws at our souls

Sacrifices Are the Best Prayers

This week we begin reading the Book of Leviticus. It details the ancient rituals surrounding sacrifices. Until the Temple was destroyed, in 70 C.E., we approached God by offering animals as sacrifices. Because we instead pray, and offer words, it sounds strange to read the details of slaughtering animals, sprinkling their blood on the altar and then turning their flesh into smoke. My students often turn away in disgust. Even though every single one of them loves a good barbeque, they are repelled by the Torah’s details and the notion that God would want us to bring the choicest bull, sheep, goat or turtledove to the Temple and then kill it. The notion of sacrifice is foreign to them. The idea of making sacrifices, however, derive from this ritual. We must give up something of value, something that we want and even need. These animals were prized. They were therefore given to God—first. By giving something up our ancestors drew nearer to God. In fact, the Hebrew word for sac

Stand with Ukraine!

This feels different. And I would like to ponder why. The war for Ukraine—I believe this to be the better descriptor than the benign Russia-Ukraine war—has affected me in ways that other conflicts and humanitarian crisis have not. While I remain exercised about America’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, the collapse of the country’s economy, and the knowledge that over twenty million Afghanis will soon face hunger and starvation (there are innocent children in that land too!), my heart looks toward the hourly reports from Ukraine. Why my focus turns toward Europe, why my heart weeps more for Ukrainians gnaws at me, but at this moment I can only look toward Ukraine. This place matters to us. It matters to us as Americans. And it matters to us as Jews. I have only begun to articulate why. I hear Hayyim Nachman Bialik’s words in my ears: Arise and go now to the city of slaughter; Into its courtyard wind thy way; There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes of thine head, Behold o