Parsha Shimini: Nadav and Avihu: Original Hippies

In parsha Shemini at the height of the inauguration of the Miskan (Tabernacle), two sons of Aharon the hight priest bring a “strange fire” into the Tent. They are immediately consumed. It kills the joy of the time. The commentaries discuss why this happened; arrogance? drunkeness? The most plausible and kind is that they were so engulfed in a spirirtual frenzy they went too far.

The Holy Ishbitzer says the following: Their intention was to break loose of boundaries. He seems to say that they wanted to break the constraints of the restrictions, prohibitions and guidelines of Torah and make the religion more about feeling, emotion or connection than structure.

The great modern Jewish thinker Shaul Magid discusses two paradigms of Judaism. The first is “Abrahamic” . Abrahamic is where your Judaism is centered on acts of kindness, mercy, meditation without the strictures and rules of the formal Torah. The second is Mosaic/Sinaitic. This is the formal structure of Torah which outlines the rules of charity, kindness, shabbos, society etc. This is all formally legislated.

THE SD thinks Nadav and Avihu seem to want the best of both worlds. They want the Mishkan and its trappings and they also want the hippy freedom of no rules. The SD thinks this is the challenge of Judaism. Finding that Spiritual high within the structure of Torah.

As Brother Shlomo Carlebach sings :”Lord get me high, get me high, get me high…Higher and Higher”

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Chagiga 27: Modern Day Altar

The last pages of Chagiga argue about the status of the altar and table in the Temple. The discussion is whether these items are in essence “wood” or does the gold plaiting makes them different and subject to Tumah. Frankly it is complicated.

But out of nowhere the Talmud pulls out a beautiful thought. To bolster the argument that its essence is wood it quotes a section of Ezekiel :The altar is wood three amos high and and the angel said This is the Table of Hashem.” The Talmud asks why switch from altar to table. The answer given is pricelesss. During the time of the temple, the altar atones for our sins. During our day, our home table when we bring in guests and the needy atones for our sins.

This is a pretty radical thought. Atonement switches from ritual to acts of kindness. The message is simple. Our religious observance is rooted in acts of charity and kindness.

This is the nicest ending of all.

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Chaggia 18:Wash Your Hands

The Mishna on page 18 states that to eat “chullin” or regular non-holy bread and Maaser Sheni food (a portion of your produce taken to Jerusalem to eat) requires that hands be washed with a vessel.

The Talmud presents a statement which contradicts the Mishna in another source. The resolution is one refers to eating and one refers to touching.

The more interesting question is why does eating bread require this seeming stringency where other foods do not require handwashing, meaning one does not have to been in a state of hand purity.

The SD would like to weigh in. We know from the Talmud that in the ancient world people used bread to dip, to convey food from plate to mouth. It seems that bread was like a utensils. One imagines all the Israeli dips that we have at a table and everyone shoving the bread into the dip and then into their mouths. If there hands are dirty, the bread is dirty and then it gets transmitted. In a communal setting this is basic hygiene. But why Maaser Sheni also require washing? My friend Zach Prensky once commented that a farmer in a good year would have lots of produce to Jerusalem for consumption. The farmer and his family could not possibly eat all that food. Therefore they probably invited guests, strangers and poor people to help finish off the food. He imagines a big food party in Jerusalem. A big sharing generous event. It is a communal event where everyone is putting their hands on food. Again a communal setting requiring hygiene.

What is the common thread? Community and sharing. We must eat together . We must enojoy life together. But community requires cleaniness and hygiene.

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Chagiga 4: Midlife Crisis Daf Part 1

Chagiga 4 is one of the most powerfully thought provoking in shas. It can be seen as pessimistic and arbitrary.

One the last part of 4b, there is a bizarre story. The Angel of Death sends a messenger to take the life of “Miriam the hairdresser”, yet the emissary mistakenly takes the life of “Miriam the child watcher.” When the mistake is realized the emissary asks, “shall I return her?” and the answer is flippant and casual. Essentially, dont bother.

For those of us who look to text for inspiration and answers to life, to difficulties, obstacles or seeming injustices- this is a tough one. Is heaven and it emissaries so flippant with out lives. It sounds like the greek gods playing with humans.

Rabbi Schwartz of OZ gave a comment. When somone one is taken or someone is taken seemingly before their time, dont ask questions. Dont’ look for a reason why such a thing happened. There is mazal in this world and lack of mazal.

Herein is the midlife dilemena. All our lives we are taught that hard, discipline, rigour or righteousness is the key to a happy or fulfilling life and in one page of talmud that is shattered. This daf feeds into the midlife dilemna. We realize that life is really not fair, is arbitrary, and most importantly not really understandable or in our control.

There are some harsh lessons in Judaism. This is one of them.

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Taanis 21B: Acts of Kindness: Its Not a Miracle.

Taanis 21 B has two stories about regular people being credited with saving a community rather than the presence of rabbi. The first story is about a neighborhood in a town that is saved from pestilence despite other areas being stricken. The talmud says it is NOT due to the presence of a great Rabbi, but to the man who lent out his shovel to bury the dead.

The second story about a town which was free of fires. Again, the credit do NOT go to the presence of a great Rabbi, but rather to a women who lends out her oven so all can cook.

The SD would like to chime in. Neither situation is a great miracle or unexplainable. In the first situation, burying dead stops the spread of pestilence and disease. Clearly, by lending his shovel and allowing the dead to be buried, his act of kindness saves the community. It is not miraculous or a credit to the presence of a great rabbi but science.

The second story is equally logical. The person who lends her oven prevents fires from being started in houses which have no proper ovens. Again, common sense. These two stories demonstrate that kindness and mercy within the natural order of the world gives the appearance and effect of a miracle

Today is the Fifth day of Chanukah. Chanukah is about miracles. These two stories demonstrate that kindness is transformative. It allows normative and logical acts and behavior to be miraculous.

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Primacy of Conduct

It must first be clear that, important as subjective feelings are Judaism does not stand or fall by how deeply we think we experience religious stirrings. Neither theology nor emotions will in the run, determine the quality of our lives, our conduct and behavior will

“God is Alive, A Jewish Reaction to a Theological Controvery”

Rabbi Norman Lamm as writtten in 70 Faces: Articles of Fait

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Life Lesson from Koheles 6:1-2

Yesterday we read Koheles. Chapter 6 sentence 1: There is an evil under the sun. Gd gives man riches, property and honor, but Gd gives him no power to use it.

The strange part of this verse is that it is Gd who prevents the happiness. It is Gd who precludes the enjoyment and fulfillment of property.

This bothered the SD. Rabbi Jack Varon offered an explanation based upon the Rambam. He said the Rambam includes in Hilchos Daos alot about belief. It is in Daos because man needs to search, inquire study and focus his mind on things in order to come understand. He says this is similar. Man must train himself not to dwell on materials objects, not to make them so primary in is life . By training his mind, his behavior and his desires Gd will give him the power of understanding and knowledge as to how to enjoy the gifts and blessings of life. Material gifts need our understanding to appreciate and fully enjoy them. It is a gift from Gd to enjoy but we must learn and train for gd to give us that power to use them and enjoy them.

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A Yom Kippur Message from Beitzah 15

eToday is Erev Yom Kippur. Todays daf, Beitzah 15 has a funny tangent. It has a message clearly belongs to the days before Yom Kippur. The discussion is regards to one who finds tefillin in a field during shabbat or yom tov. Normally, one does not wear them on shabbat or yom tov so what should one do with them if found lying around unattended on those days?

The Talmud first proposes to cover them with your hands and bring them home. The second opinion is to bring them to the closest house. The reconciliation is kind of nutty. Whether the first house is protected or not protected from thieves and whether they are Jewish thieves.

The Talmud says if they are Jewish thieves who would not desecrate tfillin they can be left at the nearest house.

How crazy: Jewish Thieves? Despite being professional thieves we can rely on their fear of heaven not to desecrate tfillin.

Maybe there is a SD Yom Kippur lesson?

The SD thinks that the lesson is that our respect for others, our respect for our fellow man should at least equal our fear of heaven. The SD does not think for one second that the Talmud here is really being serious, rather is taking a shot at the hypocrisy of many who are diligent and scrupulous is their heavenly observance and lax in their interpersonal relations. Clearly Yom Kippur is about improving our character and most importantly being a kinder, nicer, more thoughtful person than the year before.

May this year bring us all to respect, care and be mindful of others.

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A Rosh HaShanna message from Beitzah 6

Fortuitiously, today’s daf which falls on Erev Rosh Hashaana discusses the holiday. The top of page 6 ask what happens when someone dies on the first day of Rosh Hashana. Then we allow non jews to bury, but if someone dies on the second day, then Jews bury him. The implication is the second day of Rosh Hashana is a doubt.

The Talmud then says, now, when we are concerned with “Chavrei, ” Jews do not bury even on the second day. Who are the chavrei? Rashi tells us they are Persians who persecute Jews. However, despite the persecution, the Jews can withstand the Persian desire for them to work on shabbat and holidays. Rashi tells us that the Jews were concerned that if the Persians saw them burying dead on Yom Tov, they will say..The Jews can work on Yom Tov and push us to work.

What is the Rosh Hashanna lesson?. A Jew who is observant is being observed. A Jew wearing a kepah or a baseball hat at a bar is being watched. Frankly, it is easy to pick out the Jew. People are always ready to point out the Jew in the bar or the street. We are under scrutiny. Our behavior or statements our always being judged. Besides the non-jews, even Gd is watching us. Therefore, the lesson is that we should behave all the time. Be careful how loud we are speaking, what we are saying, how we are dressing. We must be sensitive to how people see us. Even more so we must behave because Hashem sees all.

Have a Happy and Healthy New Year from the SD.

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Beitzah 1: Foreseen and Unforeseen Events

I guess I have mistakes or slip ups on my mind. I guess it is that time of year.

The Mishna is Beitza one starts: An egg laid on Yom Tov is permissible to eat according to Shammai, but impermissible to eat according according to Hillel.

The Talmud asks: does Shammai not hold of the concept of Muktzeh. Mukzteh is an item that has no use or utility on Shabbos therefore, cannot be touched. Muktze is a stick or a stone or a pencil. Something which is of no use. Using certain items not designated or prepared for before shabbat is prohibited.

The Talmud then seems to distinguish between an item of Muktzeh which was extant prior to the holiday and could have been designated for use and the egg which was not in existance or in the world before the holiday. The Talmud seems to say that “muktza” and “nolad” (the egg born on the holiday) are two separate circumstances and dealt with differently.

THe SD does not know why, but throughout this daf, he could not stop thinking of events of the past year. The things that he knew about, could have done something about, prepared for an event, a circumstance, something that was foreseeable, but failed to do so. It felt like Muktza is all those things, that could have been “designated” or handled or dealt with, but the SD, just dropped the egg. Pun intended.

The Nolad is different. It is out of the blue. Something just comes up and hits you in the face. You did not see it coming. The circumstance was just nolad.

The SD might be waxing a little too philosophical this morning, but for some reason, the two ideas, NOLAD (just born) and Muktza (pre-existing and could have been designated) are like metaphors of life. Things we can know about and brace ourselves for and things that come out of the nowhere.

May the New Year which is coming up bring us the proper state of mind and emotional energy to deal with things we know about and can prepare for and react properly as well as the wisdom, calmness and strength to act when the unforeseen pops up.

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