Friday, July 29, 2005

Haftarat Matot - When I Was a Child, I Spoke as a Child


The Prophet Yirmiahu (Jeremiah) begins his career by downplaying his own prophetic gift. His own first words are (1:6) "Oh! Lord G-d, here am I, not knowing how to speak, for I am a child." Yet, G-d reassures him and coaches him through the initial steps to his career as Prophet of Israel. As shall become clear, a child is exactly what is needed.

Yirmiahu undergoes an initial trial session, and his vision is succinct. When G-d asks, "What do you see?", Yirmiahu answers, "I see an almond [-wood] staff." And G-d commends Yirmiahu: "You have done well in your seeing." Many of us would have answered: "I see a piece of wood"; or "I see a wooden staff." The specificity of Yirmiahu's perception bespeaks his gift.

"A boiling pot" he responds when asked again. "Its spout turned from the north side."

The first chapter of Yirmiahu is read on the first Shabbat after the seventeenth of Tammuz, and introduces the string of Haftarot leading up to Tisha Be'Av. This year, we read the separate Haftara for Parashat Pinhas - the story of Eliahu at Horeb. But this is an unusual year in many respects, as regards the calendar. In most years, Parashat Pinhas is read after 17 Tammuz, and Matot and Mas'ei are read conjoined. In those years, the Eliahu story is omitted, and this Haftara is read for Pinhas, with the Haftara of Mas'ei being read for the double Sedra. Our tradition tells us that the Rabbis established all other Haftarot to correspond to the message of the Parasha - or sometimes to serve as a corrective to a common misinterpretation of the Parasha. The ten Haftarot between 17 Tammuz and Kippur, however, were intended to convey the message of the period in the calendar, and not necessarily to correspond to the Parasha.

Why did Chazal choose this section to introduce the tragic period of the three weeks - and, in larger context, to introduce the period of introspection that leads to Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur? Three Haftarot are read between 17 Tammuz and 9 Av, collectively referred to (in Aramaic) as "Tlat de-pur'anuta" - the three of affliction. Seven are read between the Shabbat following 9 Av and Rosh HaShana, collectively referred to as "Sheva' de-nechamata" - the seven of consolation. There is a powerful double meaning in the Hebrew word "Nechama" - "Comfort" or "Consolation" - which is brought out in the Midrash on Tisha Be'Av. Because the root NHM means To Forbear, Withhold, and is first applied to G-d's own self control - to Divine Anger Management. We shall return to this BS"D in our discussion of Shabbat Nachamu.

To return to Yirmiahu: In the period of the Three Weeks, we are on the brink of national tragedy, of a military and societal defeat on a massive scale. It has been estimated that between two and three million Jews died during the Roman wars. These were soldiers slain in combat, civilians put to the sword, the followers of Rabbi Akiva, people who died of starvation, disease, exposure and the other trials of attempting to survive while fleeing or hiding for their lives. The Jewish People very nearly ceased to exist.

Indeed, during the three-week period we are now observing, the Romans massacred some hundred thousand within the walls of Jerusalem alone. The "Three Weeks" was not the amount of time it took them to travel from the breached city walls to the Beit HaMikdash - rather, it was the time it took them to accomplish the true goal of the occupation: to make Yerushalaim Judenrein - to cleanse it of its Jews.

This calls to mind an event from our earliest history in which the main actors, similarly, delayed. When a direct line to their destination would have taken them there so much sooner. Abraham Avinu, commanded to take Yitzhak to the top of Mt. Moriah, takes three days to travel from Hebron to Har HaBayit - the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. To arrive, in fact, not even at the mountain itself, but at a point from which the mountain may be seen. The text tells us explicitly that on the third day, Abraham saw the mountain from far off.

Perhaps Abraham spent three days walking slowly, taking deliberate steps, contemplating at each moment the enormity of the commitment he was about to take on. Perhaps it took him three days of prayer and meditation to internalize and fully comprehend G-d's message. Chazal tell us that Abraham knew all of Torah, even though the actual giving of Torah was hundreds of years in the future. Perhaps it is during these three days of reaching out, reaching and striving to understand G-d's message, that he received Torah, learned it, absorbed it. And at the end of this time, Abraham had fully established his relationship with G-d. So much so that he unhesitatingly carried through the actions commanded to him by G-d. The message is: he acted without hesitation, without doubt. Without thought. In Zen, there is the concept of the moon reflected in the water. The moment the moon rises, the water gives back its reflection. There is no moment during which the water questions what must be done; no moment during which the water hesitates, when it wonders or doubts what course of action to take; no moment during which the water is not conscious of the appearance and presence of the moon.

As Abraham had, so to speak, the Zen of his relationship with G-d - the Zen of Torah - so too, our enemies have the Zen of our destruction. There is no way in which our enemies can ever be brought to reflect on what they are doing. No way in which our enemies will ever be made to pause, to stand still for a moment and ask whether what they are doing makes sense, is right, is G-d's will, is in any way questionable. Today's Haftara suggests that, possibly, it is our own task to reflect on this: to reflect, even on the actions of our enemies. Even as they seek to destroy us.

We will have much occasion to visit the concept of Sinat Chinam - Baseless Hatred - during this period. I lay before you the following question: Is there any other kind?

The Three Days of Abraham - three days during which the relationship between G-d and a single human being was perfected. The Three Weeks from 17 Tammuz to 9 Av. Three weeks during which our enemies very nearly succeeded in destroying us, merely because we are descended from this man and the son he bore with him.

But, like Yitzhak, we did not die. The Midrash says that Yitzhak died, then was brought back to life. And modern rabbis often compare Yitzhak to Holocaust survivors. We, too, are survivors of multiple holocausts, which we here commemorate.

Nehama Leibowitz, in her commentary on today's Haftara, observes that the final Psukim of this Haftara are appended to give hope to Klal Israel - not to end on a negative note. The assignment of this particular Prophet is not a joyful one - there will be few uplifting moments in the book that bears his name. Further, we witness through his eyes, as it were, the destruction of Yerushalaim and the tragedy of Tisha Be'Av.

With so much destruction, such wanton killing, so much hatred spilling forth from every quarter, why did Chazal even bother with the uplift of the final Psukim? Why not, for once, allow us to end on a down note? To strike a mournful chord more appropriate to the season?

We are told that G-d created the world for the sake of Torah. The Zohar says that the world continues to stand each day, only for the sake of the voices of little children as they study and chant Torah aloud each day.

And did G-d, then, create the world for the sake of the Jewish People? Or did G-d create the Jewish People for the sake of Torah? While both of these positions have their adherents and apologists, let me suggest that perhaps the Jewish People emerged when it was our time. That our Chosenness is at once an accident of birth, and the result of our being prepared.

G-d addresses Yirmiahu and says, "Before I formed you in the belly, I knew you. And before you came forth from the womb, I made you holy. I set you as a prophet to the nations." To which Yirmiahu replies, "I do not know how to speak. I am just a boy."

The mystical poem Adon Olam, which we recite each day, addresses the utter and astonishing cosmic aloneness of G-d. And out of this aloneness comes the Creation. And after the Creation has ceased to be, still G-d will remain in G-d's aloneness. The poet calls G-d a King before, during, and after G-d's reign of the world of space, time and motion. If G-d created the world in order to enter into a relationship with that world - if the ultimate goal of human existence is to enter into a relationship with G-d - if 'Am Israel, through adherence to Torah and Mitzvot, has the singular opportunity to perfect the human relationship with G-d - then the three stages of G-d's kingship are different. For the purpose of relationships is to magnify the human experience. In this instance, to magnify the singe most important experience in Creation: the interaction between G-d and G-d's Creation.

As Jews, we have Torah to guide usw. And we agree that the truth of Torah is universal. To those other nations of the world, G-d has commanded us to be a Light Unto The Nations through our very behavior. The mere existence of Klala Israel is supposed to serve as a constant source of blessing for the World. It is as though the Torah is G-d's message to us; and we, in turn, are the Torah to the World.

We have a paradigm for the concept that even G-d's perspective may change through cosmic history.

After King Solomon was deposed, the text says he was King over his stick. Though he was alone, and old, and had been thrust from the throne to wander like a solitary beggar - still, he was Shlomo HaMelech. He was a king. "King over his stick" the text says. This is not a mere joke. Rather, it is the recognition that new relationships leave a permanent mark. That being a king, however briefly, effects a permanent change in a person.

Are we to believe any less of the most important relationship in Creation - the relationship of G-d to that very Creation? The relationship that hangs in the balance between G-d and Humanity, with Torah and the Jewish People as its poles, and with observance of the Halacha and the constant striving to achieve human justice as its moment-to-moment working out?

I had an inkling, G-d seems to be saying to Yirmiahu. It all comes down to the moment when one person is ready to hear My voice. It only takes one person, G-d says. I always knew someone would come along.

The Chassidish Peshat in Parashat Lech-Lecha is, not that G-d was speaking solely to Abram. G-d is always calling to all of us: Lech Lecha! Come to me! But in the world, and in his time and place, and in all of humanity, only Abram heard and acted on what he heard. Others may have heard, but did not realize it was meant for them. Others may have heard, but did not realize it was G-d's voice. Only Abraham, who combines insight with action - who joins recognition to action as seamlessly as the water reflecting the moon - only he took up the call. Which is why the tale begins with him.

Perhaps it is useful to read our history this way: that G-d created the world as a home and a laboratory for Torah. That G-d knew that - like the paradigm of the million monkeys who eventually write Hamlet - someone, somewhere would hear the call.

I can't do what is required, Yirmiahu objects. I am but a child.

A child is what is needed, G-d says. Do not think. Just act. Be the moon reflected in the water. You see what is before you so very clearly, in such detail, Yirmiahu. Yet, you can not figure out what lies beneath? G-d says: Yirmiahu, go forth and announce to all the world the images you see, and I will proclaim the truth which lies beneath. Go, says G-d, for I have made you a Prophet for all Nations.

How significant is this phrase: A Prophet for the Nations? In Sefer Shemot (Exodus), G-d tells Moshe that G-d will do wonders and miracles, "And Mizraim will know that I am G-d." G-d, in fact, never expresses concern that Israel will know. This is the inheritance of Abraham. This is Chosenness. We are stuck with our heritage and our destiny. It is not for us to accept or reject who and what we are. But, if we can see clearly, if we can find within our hearts the full acceptance of Torah - and if we can then, through the sanctity and justice of our own lives, serve as a Torah to the Nations - then we shall be living up to the requirements for which we were Chosen. Until then, G-d seems to be saying, I will have to resort to mere wonders, signs and miracles.

When will the Nations truly know that G-d is truly G-d? When they see 'Am Israel as we truly have the calling and the destiny and the gift and the ability to be: the paragon of justice, the beacon of holiness. It is not enough to Take Care Of One's Own. Charity begins at home, but if it remains at home, it is not Charity, but only self-dealing. The Rabbis of Pirkei Avot exhort us again and again to go out into the world, lest our Torah shrivel, rot and die.

The Haftara ends by affirming that, in the midst of despair and tragedy, G-d shares our suffering. When we invoke Bitachon - Reliance, Faith - we are not saying that we have Faith that G-d will save us, will protect us. The G-d of Judaism is not a G-d that works miracles at our behest. The faith of Abraham is the faith that G-d is with him - no matter what. Even in personal tragedy. The faith of the Jews is that G-d keeps our Destiny in readiness, and our Nation in readiness for that Destiny. When we suffer, G-d suffers, for G-d is Ba'al HaRachamim - the Master of Mercifulness. G-d, who shares our suffering, even as G-d does not intervene to prevent it.

Du sollst nisht meinen, az vos iz shayech zu Klal Yisroel, iz shayech zu Reb Yisroel. - "You should not believe that what is applicable to the Jewish Nation is also applicable to the individual Jew." We are Chosen. G-d's plan takes our people down to the far reaches of time, to the end of human history. It is in aligning ourselves with the Klal that we realize our personal destiny. And it is in striving to bring G-d's Torah into the world that we contribute to G-d's ultimate goal: That all Mizraim will know that G-d is, indeed, G-d.

"A child?" G-d asks Yirmiahu. "But this is just what is called for!" Because a child dwells in certainty. Because a child's world is unambiguous. To a child, whatever is going on appears to be eternal. Mommy and Daddy are here, I am fed, I have a home. The child will not have to think or ponder before reflecting the moon on the surface of the waters.

This child-like quality is the Greatness of Abraham. The unmitigated-ness of childhood. The immediacy.

And, even though the history of our relationship is fraught with tension, even though we complain bitterly throughout the years of our wandering - even though G-d grows angry repeatedly, repeatedly tells Moshe to step aside so that G-d can destroy us, can wipe the slate clean and start over - still, Moshe keeps the relationship together. It is as though G-d falls into the very pitfall that brings down Eliahu in last week's Haftara: Eliahu, who was so perfect that he called for punishment after punishment. So G-d, who is far more perfect than Eliahu, often loses patience with us when we do not live up to G-d's expectations. At these moments, it is Moshe who steps in and reminds G-d that any Relationship has two sides. That it takes both a Captain and a crew to sail the Ship of Relations. And that, ultimately, the relationship of G-d and Klal Israel is based on a natural intimacy that is more powerful even than love. On the natural and urgent yearning of a parent for a child, of a child for a parent.

Now, at the end of the Haftara, G-d reaches out to us through G-d's own sobbing and tears. "I will always remember your child-like love towards me," G-d says, weeping. "How you followed me, trusted me."

When you come home at the end of the day, does your daughter or son run to you with a gleeful shout? Or, perhaps, if they are "too old", you still recall that feeling. Are we to love G-d any less?

Finally, let us once again note that G-d tells Yirmiahu he is a Prophet to the Nations - and not merely to the Jews. G-d's message is one message - for all people and in all times and places.

G-d surely weeps at the destruction of Yerushalaim - surely weeps at the Churban Beit HaMikdash. From time to time, we meet those who say they can not believe in G-d after the Holocaust. For those - Rachmana letzlan - who actually experienced it, I have no words. For who can stand in their place? But for those who "experienced" the modern Churban, the Holocaust, through documentaries, through books and articles and "Schindler's List", and who have now chosen to reject their destiny of Chosenness, I say: you have not read the most basic history books. You can believe in G-d after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the mass murder of millions - but you can not believe in G-d after the killing of six million in mid-twentieth century? Where have you been?

You can believe in G-d after the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, after the Spanish Inquisition, after the Crusades, after the Pogroms, but not after the Holocaust?

Worse yet, how self-centered is our Humanism! How small-minded must we seem, even in our own eyes. How many times does the Torah exhort us to reach out to others in need - Jew and non-Jew alike - which is the direct legacy of our enslavement in Mizraim? To fail in this, is to fail in carrying out the mandate for which we were chosen: then will the Nations know that I am G-d.

You can believe in G-d after Cambodia? You can believe in G-d after Congo? You can believe in G-d after Armenia? After Algeria? After Guernica? After Dresden? After Afghanistan and Srebrenica and Darfur and Rwanda ?

But not after Auschwitz?

Yours for a better world.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Parashat Matot - Passing the Baton


For Feminists who cheered Tzelophechad's Daughters last week - and who are dismayed at the apparent backlash in the opening section of this week's Parasha - there is further good news on the horizon. It was recently reported that Madonna is changing careers: She has decided to become a Rabbi. This is in furtherance of her interest in spreading the message of Kabbalah, which is described as a "Mystical Religion". (I'm not making this up.) It was not reported whether she anticipates receiving her Semicha from Shmuley Boteach, or from Michael Jackson. Presumably at some point after she receives her rabinnic ordination, she may discover - lsomewhat along the lines of Hillel's convert who wished to be made Cohen Gadol - that she also needs to become Jewish.

Literary clues abound throughout the Torah. Today's first one is the title of the Parasha itself, which uses the word Matot - "staves" - to mean Tribes. The standard Hebrew word for tribe is Shevet, and one which the Torah uses throughout. By using this unusual word, the Torah is making a literary link to the devolving of authority that transpired between G-d and Moshe in Mizraim. There, the power and authority of G-d were manifested publicly, first by Aharon's Mateh - Rod - and later by Moshe's own Mateh. We deal with the rich imagery of Mateh / Yad - Rod / Hand - elsewhere, but the full transfer of authority and power is finally accomplished in Shemot 14:21, when Moshe stretches out his hand - rather than his rod - over Yam Suf and the sea splits. In today's Parasha, the use of the word Matot once again invokes the process of transferring authority and leadership, the critical final stages of Moshe's own career as leader of Klal Israel.

The opening section of the Parasha is intellectually jarring, in light of the incident of Banot Tzelophechad told last week. A case may be made for "voluntary obligation" - for people assuming responsibilities not automatically allocated to them, and thereby taking on certain rights or status within society. Last week, the Daughters of Tzelophechad refused to be forced to accept the domination of a man to enfranchise them, but rather insisted on standing on their own, as full and equal members of Klal Israel. And, though G-d's dictum to Moshe is in response to their specific plea, that this same rule applies to any other such families. As we said last week: it can hardly be that Tzelophechad was the only father in Klal Israel who dies leaving only daughters.

The opening section of this week's Parasha is a counterweight to that ruling. Not an antidote, but a balance - the other side of the coin. While certain Jewish thinkers might style it a "corrective", the message is significantly more complex. The Torah is re-emphasizing the social structure in place. This is a male-dominated society. What clearer proofs could we ask for than the law of inheritance, and the nullification of women's vows by their fathers or husbands?

And yet, Banot Tzelophechad did inherit. And, as we saw last week, it is possible to read their inheritance in the larger context of rights and obligations. By taking on their father's inheritance, they may even become responsible for military service.

Why is the Torah so stringent on announcing men's ability to countermand their women's vows? Are men being told that they should prevent their daughters and wives from taking on additional obligations? Or is there some subtler message?

Consider the perilous case of the Convert. There are Halachic opinions that the level of obligation of the Convert is higher than that of one who is born Jewish. The moment the Convert steps out of the waters of the Mikveh, she or he is 100% obligated to observe 100% of Mitzvot and Halacha, 100% of the time. There are those who hold that this level and standard of obligation is more stringent than the level required of one born Jewish.

My understanding of the Rambam's Laws of Prayer is that women and men are both obligated to pray every day. For men, the obligation is met by three formalized daily prayer services: the words are fixed, the order and content of the prayers is established and is not to be altered. But what are women to do?

Women are supposed to acknowledge, to praise and to supplicate G-d in some fashion. It looks to me that men have it much easier. We look at our watch, slap ourselves on the forehead and say "Gevalt! I almost missed Mincha! 'Ashrei yoshvei beitecha...'" Women have an amorphous obligation to step aside from their day's activities and commune with G-d. A simplistic reading of this concept places women's prayer much closer to what appears to be the Rambam's ideal for the Jewish relationship with G-d than men's prayer can ever come. Women, it would seem, are required to be religious philosophers. Men are only required to be obedient apprentices.

When we left Mizraim, the Rambam writes, G-d commanded us concerning the rituals, the offerings and sacrifices of the Mishkan, so that we would believe that we had a religion. The ideal would appear to be a direct communing, a relationship with G-d. But to our minds, there is no relationship without a formal religion, and formal religion means ritual, means incense, offerings and the ritual slaughter of animals. "Have it your way!" G-d says. The substitution of Tefilla for sacrifice is, according to Rambam's thought, a gigantic step in the right direction. Is the Rambam's own notion of women's prayer a radical further step? I may be showing more my ignorance of the Rambam than my knowledge, but from my rudimentary understanding, it appears that women may be much closer to the Torah's ideal than men can ever come.

Why does the Torah lay it on so thick with men's abilities to limit women's voluntarily taking on additional obligations? Is it to foresee, and somehow mitigate the expected backlash? Or is to to inject into the discourse a note of Realpolitik, to make it clear that the woman who takes on a man's duties and rights will be the exception in our society, and not the rule? Indeed: to emphasize how rare it is that anyone chooses to step over the bounds of what is merely required, and take it upon themselves to give much, much more.

Those wishing to view the Torah as a repressive document will dismiss this section of the Parasha as male-chauvinist claptrap. Those viewing the Torah as a complex and eternal document may see in these restrictive dicta a cautionary word: Last week's portion made clear the natural rights of women in our society. This week's points out forcefully that, just because something is your natural right, it does not mean it will be easily won.

Finally, the notion that women might take on men's roles can, in some measure, make their lives simpler. How much easier to step aside for a few minutes three times a day and recite a prepared text, rather than having to make time for an introspective and heartfelt reaching-out to G-d.

Last week, after Moshe brings the case of Banot Tzelophechad for divine intpretation, G-d instructs him that he will now "be gathered to his people", that he will die, as did his brother Aharon.

This week it may appear that G-d has a change of attitude, when Moshe is ordered to undertake the military foray against the Midianites. We apparently knew nothing of the drama that played itself out over our heads, as Bil'am and Balak ranged across the mountaintops. It would seem that the Midianites themselves knew of it, though. The fact that we fell into the local practices could be seen by us as a moral lapse. The Midianites, however, may view it as the efficacy of their curse. If we had merely left them, they could say: "Their god has much power, but turns aside for our gods." Therefore, we are commanded to destroy them, in order to assert the dominance of G-d.

Yet, if we look forward to the end of Sefer Bamidbar, the end of next week's Parasha, we see that Moshe does, in fact, end his career with a statement about Banot Tzelophechad, and articulating the principle that property is to be retained within the tribe. Thus, there is individuality, even within the Klal.

At the beginning of chapter 32, the Tribes of Gad and Reuven request lands outside the borders of Cana'an. And, while there is some discussion about their request, Moshe ends up giving these lands, not only to these two tribes, but also the the Tribe of Menashe. The phrase used in Hebrew - Chatzi shevet Menashe - is ambiguous: is the Tribe of Menashe a "half-tribe" which, together with its brother half-tribe Efraim constitute the whole Tribe of Yosef? Or is the land being given only to half the Tribe of Menashe?

The real question remains: what is the Tribe of Menashe doing here at all? They did not ask for a possession outside the Land.

Who are "one-half of the Tribe of Menashe"? Presumably, the women. The Daughters of Tzelophechad, for example, who were of the Tribe of Menashe, and who will be ordered, next week, to keep their inheritance within the Tribe. Which half did Moshe give the new lands to? Perhaps he divided the women from the men, knowing that the power of the women of Menashe would be curtailed if they were required to submit all their own decisions to their fathers and husbands - as detailed in the opening passages of this Parasha.

The Daughters of Tzelophechad identify themselves with their father. To them, the inheritance is not about what they will own, but about keeping their father's name alive. Why is this important, in the context of this Parasha?

In Parashat Beha'alotcha, Eldad and Medad stand in the midst of the camp and utter prophecy. Rashi tells us they were prophesying the death of Moshe - that G-d would bring the People to the Land, and Moshe would die. Could it be that Gad and Reuven - following the Midrash - had enriched themselves by looting and pillaging the conquered peoples? That their desire for lands outside of the Land was motivated by greed, and by the wish to retain autonomy - to not be subject to the moral laws dictated by Torah?

But look: if their possession is in the lands of the conquered peoples outside the borders of Cana'an, then does this become part of the Promised Land? Are the "facts on the ground" sufficient to establish these lands as part of Eretz Israel? And if so, does that not mean that Moshe is already inside the Land? And if so, he might not have to die. Perhaps there is a way to trick G-d, to countermand the order. To outwit G-d.

G-d - so said Albert Einstein - does not play at dice with the universe. G-d does not manipulate human history for the mere fun of it. If the purpose of granting the request of Gad and Reuven was to respond to a new political reality, it can be seen as G-d and Moshe co-opting what was about to happen anyway - of human Free Will unleashed, and beyond the control of Heaven. But if - as when G-d sanctioned the request of Banot Tzelophechad - these upstarts are retroactively defined as having acted properly, there can be no dissension.

The Half-Tribe of Menashe is brought in, and we see that Moshe is a master negotiator - especially for the sake of the unity of Klal Israel. Moshe negotiates with Gad and Reuven and then plants the seed of Menashe among them, because Menashe is the tribe that evinces a pure love for the Land, whose daughters do not want land for themselves, but only to perpetuate their father's name.

Gad and Reuven want to receive a gift. In return, Moshe requires that they accept a responsibility. The Daughters of Tzelophechad want to take on additional responsibility. In return, G-d gives them a gift. And G-d puts them all together now, so that the selflessness of Menashe can temper the acquisitiveness of Gad and Reuven.

At the incident of the Golden Calf, G-d told Moshe: "Stand aside! I will consume them in an instant. Then you and I can have a new relationship." Moshe had to point out that this was not the Plan. That unity can not be imposed, but must come from the free desires of the People.

It has taken some doing, but it appears that G-d has learned a new trick or two.

Let us hope that the Leaders of Klal Israel are able to learn from this as well.

Yours for a better world.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Haftarat Pinhas - The Covenant of Peace


Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.

-- Shakespeare
Twelfth Night: II, 159

Who is Eliahu Ha-Navi? He appears out of nowhere. In I Kings, 17:1, Eliahu the Tishbi, the Giladi, tells Ahab that he has decided to bring a drought, because of the wickedness of this king. Like Noach, who was born perfect and thus had no choice but to remain a Tzaddik, Eliahu springs full-blown from the heart of the whirwind of the history of Klal Israel. Some, indeed, are born great, and that is their terrible burden.

Eliahu's innate greatness, his dire gift of prophecy, is very much beyond his own control. The drought that he invokes almost kills Eliahu himself, until G-d appears and sends him to a brook. So Eliahu dwells in the wilderness, fed by ravens and nourished by the water of the brook until, at the end of a year, even this brook dries up.

And so G-d appears again and sends Eliahu to the city of Tzarfat, where a widow takes him in and cares for him. After another year, her son falls ill and worsens until he dies. The Hebrew is poetic, is powerful and poignant. "Ad asher lo-notrah-bo neshama" - Until there was no breath / spirit remaining within him. And the woman turns to Eliahu and asks: What is there between me and you, Man of G-d? You have come to me to remind the world of my sins and to kill my son!

So Eliahu takes the boy to his upper chamber and prays over him, and stretches himself over him, and exhorts G-d to return the boy's life within him - his prayer uses language evocative of the blessing we recite each morning in which we thank G-d for the daily restoration of our soul, our awareness, our life. And G-d listens. The text states it explicitly: not merely that the boy comes back to life, but that he comes back to life because G-d listens to Eliahu.

"Now," says the Widow, "now I know that you are a Man of G-d. And the Word of G-d is in your mouth. 'Emet'![Truth]" The second clause of this verse may be read variously: And the Word of G-d in your mouth is Truth; And the word of G-d is truly in your mouth; And the Word of G-d is in your mouth. Truth! (my preferred reading).

What has happened between the first speaking and the last? In her grief and rage, the Widow accuses Eliahu of being a Man of G-d. After he restores her son's life, she praises him as a Man of G-d, with the same words. What is the difference between Eliahu at the death of her son, and Eliahu at her son's return to life? How does Eliahu make the transformation from being the austere and unforgiving Man of G-d who calls down cosmic punishments on the Wicked, to being the compassionate and loving Man of G-d who tenderly cares for the weakest among the People?

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach reminds us that the reason the Haftara is assigned to a particular Parasha is that the Prophet who authored the text brought that particular prophecy on Motzaei Shabbat of that Parasha. That there is an intimate and exalted connection between the Parasha and it Haftara. In most years, this Haftara is not read. This year, when Parashat Pinhas comes before 17 Tammuz, we read the Haftara of Eliahu Ha-Navi.

What is the connection of Eliahu to Pinhas? Why is Eliahu both Man of G-d who destroys, and Man of G-d who restores to life, who performs miracles of destruction and miracles of resurrection? Eliahu, who is born great, and Pinhas, who has greatness thrust upon him. Eliahu, who would kill, but who instead restores to life despite himself: Pinhas, who kills in a burst of uncontrolled rage, yet who is immediately designated the successor to the line of Aharon?

Chapter 18 of I Kings opens with G-d sending Eliahu to Ahab. G-d announces: I will give rain upon the face of the earth. And Eliahu races to fulfill G-d's command, races to confront Ahab. Along the way, he stops at Mt. Carmel to perform a monumental conjuring trick, bringing down fire from Heaven to consume the sacrifices. Unlike the story of Korach and his rebellious nobles, the fire does not consume the False Prophets of Baal. Apparently the false worship of false gods is not life threatening. It is only the false worship of the true G-d that brings death.

As Pinhas slays Zimri ben Salu, Eliahu slays the four hundred and fifty Prophets of Baal. No sooner does the promised great rain come, breaking the three-year drought, then Eliahu flees for his life before Ahab and Izevel. He finds himself alone in the wilderness and is saved by an angel who brings him bread and water - just as he was miraculously sustained for a year in the house of the Widow and her son.

The Rabbis bring down a tradition that Pinhas and Eliahu are one and the same person. But Eliahu has qualities we do not see in Pinhas. Or rather, Eliahu is the realization of qualities that G-d plants in Pinhas, the blossoming of the fruit. After Pinhas kills the offenders, G-d imposes upon his the Covenant of Peace. And Pinhas simultaneously inherits the mantle of Aharon - Aharon, the one who achieved greatness, merely by standing on the sidelines and waiting to be called upon. Aharon, whose greatest and most profound and most unattainable attribute is that he was always, always in a state of readiness to serve.

The Man of G-d who brings drought and famine upon an entire nation, merely to punish its king, is a harsh and merciless judge. The Man of G-d who restores life to an innocent boy - who, but for Eliahu's living in his house, might have just as well died during the famine - is a man who has at least attempted to embrace the Covenant of Peace.

At the opening of II Kings (1:1-9), Achaziah ["I shall behold G-d"] King of Israel, sends for Eliahu. His captains approach Eliahu where he sits atop a mountain and call out to him: "Man of G-d!" But this is the first Man of G-d, the Man of G-d who has not yeat encountered the Covenant of Peace, for Eliahu calls down fire from Heaven and the soldiers are consumed.

Finally, G-d takes Eliahu away in a whirlwind, in a chariot of fire, leaving Elisha, Eliahu's disciple and a;ppointed successor, to carry on.

The greatness of Eliahu is his immense innate holiness. Because only someone who is perfectly holy can invoke a drought, a famine, even against the wishes of G-d. The Rabbis tell us that Eliahu was one of four people who never sinned throughout their lifetimes. This is why Eliahu is taken up in the chariot, rather than being permitted to die and be buried. But it is also a terrible burden that robs Eliahu for most of his lifetime of the possibility of being merely human. Some are born great. It is only in moments, in the gaps within the story, that Eliahu's profound human-ness emerges. Moments such as the episode of restoring to life the son of the Widow.

In I Kings 19 Eliahu flees for his life. He walks for forty days and nights without food or drink, until he arrives at Mt. Horeb, which is Sinai. Like Moshe, who touches neither food nor drink for forty days and nights, Eliahu communes with G-d and thus takes no earthly nourishment. Like Moshe, he arrives alone at Mt. Horeb / Sinai, and here he complains to G-d. Out of earshot of the People, of even his closest associates, he can speak freely with G-d, from whom there are no secrets; before whom modesty has no meaning, because all is known. "Kano kaneti la-Shem," says Eliahu: I have been very jealous for the sake of G-d, for Bnei Israel have forsaken your Covenant.

This dialogue takes place in the cave at Mt. Horeb - in the cleft prepared in the rock where G-d hid Moshe after the Sin of the Golden Calf - after Bnei Israel had forsaken G-d's Covenant, had figuratively destroyed G-d's altars and killed G-d's prophets. And in this hidden place, G-d answered Moshe's prayer and revealed G-d's Glory.

And what is the Essence of this Glory? "G-d! G-d! Compassionate and Gracious; long-suffering and great with Kindness and Truth! Preserver of Kindness for thousands; forgiving iniquity and error, and who cleanses!"

Although Eliahu will ascend in whirlwind and fire, yet his lesson in this life is taught in other elements. G-d takes Eliahu out of the cave and onto the Mountain. There, G-d passes before him. Just as before Moshe, G-d's passing is accompanied by a great wind that breaks down mountains and shatters rocks; and G-d's passing is accompanied by an earthquake; and G-d's passing is accompanied by fire.

At Parashat Ki Tisa, after the Golden Calf, Moshe is told: You will not see my face, but you will see my "Achorai", usually translated as, You will see my back. (The Midrash says that, after G-d had passed, Moshe looked up and saw the knot of the Tefillin at the back of G-d's head.) But perhaps the story of Eliahu clarifies what is happening. G-d tells Moshe: You will not see my face, but you will see those things that follow behind me. You will see, as it were, G-d's wake. And G-d is not in the wind, and not in the fire, and not in the earthquake. All these are the wake created by G-d's passing. Do not be fooled by loud noises! Do not be taken in by raging forces, by fire and whirlwind as they rage and storm.

Do not fall under the spell of forces that spin wildly out of control. Do not fall under the spell of Eliahu's burden and gift of prophecy, without also digging down to unearth the human side - for even the most terrible of prophets has a human aspect.

Do not fall victim to the mind set that believes we must punish, that we must use anger to achieve G-d's will. Don't you see, G-d seems to be telling him, you can not change what is in the hearts of people by punishing them. Change rather your own self. Accept, accept and stand patiently by, ready to act when the moment ripens.

Eliahu, G-d seems to say, I'm sorry I made you the way I did. Let your human side emerge. Don't be so damned perfect all the time!

For where is G-d, finally? For the text tells us where G-d is not, but we are left to assume that G-d resides in the Kol Demamah Dakka (19:12).

The phrase Kol Demama Dakka is usually translated as "a still, small voice". But what does this phrase reveal when we take it apart?

Vayikra 10:3: Aharon's sons, Nadav and Abihu, were just destroyed by a fire from Heaven. Unlike the false prophets, the prophets of Baal, who sacrifice to their non-gods with impunity, a single false step toward the True G-d can be fatal for us. Even for the truly holy ones among us. Capter 10, verse 3, ends: Va-yidom Aharon. - And Aharon held his silence.

The word in our Haftara "Demama" is the same as the word that describes Aharon's response. And this is why Eliahu is Pinhas' retroactive spiritual forebear, even as he is his ancestor. Even as, perhaps, they are the same man.

Aharon "Yidom". He actively made himself maintain his silence, even in the face of the greatest of personal tragedies, as he had just watched his two older sons perish. And, for all the Achorai - the wake, the wind created as G-d passes by - for all that is impressive, yet it does not compare to Moshe's ability to calm G-d's passions, the rage, the furious need for revenge.

Aharon is the Man of Peace. The "Savlan" - the Patient One. Aharon brings peace to the world because, through his profound self-knowledge, he knows all humans by their inner nature. Aharon's deep understanding of those traits that make us All Too Human also gives him the strength to Yidom - to actively maintain his silence when others need him.

Eliahu gives vent to his rage, and the land is smitten with three years of drought, of famine, of devastation. This is the Big Picture, the response of a perfect man to the elevation of a highly imperfect king. Yet, in the house of the Widow, Eliahu embraces his own humanity, the Covenant of Peace. He recognizes the need to Yidom, to control these passions. All the punishments in the world will not prevent wickedness. Me'at min ha-ner dochhe harbe choshech. A little bit of light pushes away great quantities of darkness. A single act motivated by selflessness and compassion can truly save a life, and perhaps this one act, saving the Widow's son, does more to guarantee the future of Klal Israel than all the punishments that Heaven can rain down upon the heads of the Wicked.

The Midrash says, Great is Peace, because it says Bakesh shalom ve-rodfehu. Ask for Peace and pursue it. The true Man of G-d combines the zeal of a Rodef - a person chasing after someone else to murder him - with the quality of Aharon, of being Bakesh shalom: always seeking after Peace.

Kol Demama Daka - the small voice that is straining to be silent.

How easy it is to give vent to our passions! To punish, to criticize, to judge all the world harshly and to lash out. How difficult it is to maintain our silence in the interest of Shalom.

Elisha is a worthy successor to Eliahu. He is not distracted by the flames of the chariot, by the whirlwind. He watches and sees clearly as Eliahu ascends, thereby attaining a greater prophetic gift even than his Master.

It is so easy to fall prey to the Grand Gesture, whether in others, or whether we ourselves make it. Eliahu in the fiery chariot; Moshe on the mountaintop with the flame and smoke, the thunder and lightning; Joshua making sun and moon stand still; Abraham and Yitzhak at the Akeidah; Yaakov wrestling with the Angel; Yoseph lording over the vast land of Egypt. What powerful images these scenes evoke!

By contrast, Aharon's life hardly makes much of a movie. No miracles, no grand oratory, no romance or big battle scenes. A life of refusing to be governed by passions; a life of constant readiness to serve Klal Israel. A life of being Bakesh Shalom and Rodef Shalom.

This Haftara is only read in years when Parashat Pinhas falls on the shabbat before the Fast of 17 Tammuz. The sixteenth day of Tammuz was the day on which we worshipped the Golden Calf - a monumental cinematic extravaganza if ever there was one - The seventeenth day was the day on which Moshe broke the Luchot - the first set of Tablets. On this day, even the Torah itself fell silent. Was this the Peace or Peacefulness of those who strive to distance themselves from excessive passion, or the dark silence of an eternal tomb.

Aharon achieves his greatness by being ever patient, ever accepting, ever prepared to serve Klal Israel. But it is in Pinhas that the future of our nation resides - it is Pinhas and Yehoshua who will lead us forward in nationhood. A High Priest who is a murderer, together with a military leader who can not distinguish between revelry and battle.

But we are human - only human. And we must make the best of it.

And so G-d thrusts greatness upon Pinhas, forces on him the Covenant of Peace. The Covenant that Aharon possessed naturally. Now, immediately before the period leading up to Tisha Be'Av, Moshe literally throws in our face the Silence that is the consequence of excess of passion. Our relationship with G-d was based on a multitude of miracles, rather than on our understanding of our own nature. The Beit HaMikdash represents a kind of perfection that must, in time, leave this world, if we are to grow in our humanity. The first set of Luchot must be broken, because they are written by G-d. Only after they have been written by the Moshe - written, as it were, by each of us individually - only then can Torah truly enter our lives.

Eliahu, in order to truly become the Man of G-d, must learn G-d's Covenant of Peace.

So do we.

Yours for a better world.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Parashat Pinhas - Separation of Powers


The news of the world this week has been dominated by the stunning revelation that Presidential advisor Carl Rove, a bona fide Member of the Inner Circle, may have leaked the content of the sixth book in the Harry Potter series to a reporter from Time Magazine. Coming as a close second for Story of the Week was the speculation that George Bush, POTUS (that's "President Of The United States" in Beltway-speak) was seriously considering nominating Lord Voldermort to replace departing Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. "He's really far more centrist than people realize," the POTUS was overheard to say at a recent cocktail party, thus giving rise to the rumor. [Harry Potter trivia note: in France, Lord Voldemort's middle name is Elvis. Hey, I only work here...]

And people wonder why observant Jews don't own television sets...

The Gemara in Sanhedrin discusses capital crimes and the requirements for an execution to be carried out. The most famous portion of the discussion is the statement that a court that actually imposes a death sentence - the sentence being carried out - that court would be known as a "Bloody Court". It is not merely sensibility or morality. Indeed, those who are pleased that Jewish law conforms to their own moral standards should recognize that morality comes from Halachah, and not the reverse. Situations arise constantly in which Midot, good qualities, do not help. We must known the Halacha in order to know how to behave; in order to know what the Torah demands of us.

In an odd twist, the Halacha offers dispensation to a King. A King of Israel may impose the death sentence unilaterally. Not only does the King not require the Sanhedrin to impose the sentence, the King also does not require the legal mechanism required for punishments to be meted out: Warning to the perpetrator of the prohibited nature of the act, and of the consequences; the Perpetrator must commit the act before qualified witnesses; there must be scienter - the mental state of the Perpetrator must be such that it is clear that the act was done purposefully, willfully, and that the perpetrator was fully aware of the prohibited nature of the act and of the consequences. Thus, it is extremely difficult to bring an ironclad case in the best of circumstances. Add to this the fact that, in the Great Sanhedrin, the vote to condemn must not be unanimous - for if it is, the alleged criminal is seen as a person who has no advocate, and everyone, no matter how low or vile, is entitled to an advocate and to the benefit of the doubt. Thus, if the final member of the Sanhedrin to vote to condemn truly believes the accused to be guilty, and deserving of the death penalty - and if that final member, in casting his vote, would make the vote unanimous - he is forbidden to vote to exonerate, thereby ensuring that the death penalty will be imposed. Justice, the Torah tells us, justice we must pursue.

Kings do not have to go through this process. "Off with his head!" cries the monarch. And off goes the head. Yes, Chazal tell us that Kings of Israel are possessed of an innate sense of justice - King David was a completely just man, they say, whose every act was for the sake of Heaven - and Kings must be given the ability to cut the legal Gordian Knot, for the good of society and in the interest of ultimate justice.

Not to compare George Bush to David HaMelech - lehavdil! - but as Governor of Texas, George Bush took the position that he was Making the Tough Decisions. That imposing the death penalty, and making sure it was carried out, was a social benefit that only those who are truly tough can see through to completion. This is a truism. However, it does not follow that all of George Bush's acts are LeShem Shamayim - in the name of heaven. King David slept no more than ninety minutes a night; the rest of the time he studied Torah. I am not sure what it is that keeps George Bush awake nights, but I find it odd that the President who make so much of his identification with Christian causes does not attend church on Sundays. Let us not believe that things that have a characteristic in common are identical. By permitting the exercise of strength, muscle-flexing, saber-rattling, George Bush appears to have been good for Israel. Bravo. Let us not forget, though, that the Christian Right ends up at The Rapture, where the first thing that happens is the Jews are literally vaporized. I just thought I'd mention that.

But I digress...

The Torah's game plan is to install the Kingdom of G-d on Earth. Yet we have seen the Consequences of Creation: that G-d, having set the cosmos in motion, watches as things wobble, diverge from their intended paths, and ultimately spin wildly out of control. The Perfection in G-d's mind does not translate smoothly to the completed work, and so G-d must intervene, intercede, interfere frequently in order to set things right.

G-d will not force the issue. Humans must arrive at the point where we are prepared to make the commitment to a life of Torah. Only then can we work towards establishing G-d's kingship on Earth; only then can we begin the process of making ourselves a Holy People.

Pinhas' act, at the end of last week's Parasha, was an act of spontaneous, yet clearly intentional violence. It was of a higher level of intent than was Moshe's killing of the Egyptian, for example. The text tells us that Pinhas attacked with a spear. The intent was clearly to kill.

In response to Pinhas' act, G-d says that Pinhas' descendants will inherit Aharon's mantle. Yet G-d stops short of stating explicitly that Pinhas himself is to be made Cohen Gadol. We see from the Book of Yehoshua that this is, in fact, what happens. And so there is a conflict, which the Midrash seeks to resolve.

The Midrash states that, when Pinhas thrust his spear through the illicit couple at the end of Parashat Balak, they did not bleed, and they did not die immediately. The Halachic reasons for this are: if they had bled, the blood would have caused Pinhas to become Tamei - ritually impure - which would prevent him from serving as a Cohen. If they had died on the spot, Pinhas would be a murderer, and thus incapable of receiving the office of Cohen Gadol. We recall that this one one of the main stumbling blocks that prevented Moshe from unifying both the temporal and the spiritual leadership of Klal Israel. (The Midrash also tells us that Pinhas lived for about four hundred years, or through the entire historical period of the Judges, only to be killed by Goliath.)

As we observed at Parashat Chukat, the story has now reached its denouement. With the establishment of the Moshe / Abraham parallel in Parashat Chukat, the Torah is using literary markers to tell us that the story of the wanderings, of the development of the Hebrews into Klal Israel is now complete. Ready or not - and we are in very many respects quite obviously not ready - we are about to take possession of the Land. In order for this to happen, we must embrace the ongoing process of self-improvement, of seeking out Torah, of bringing Torah into our lives. Of giving ourselves over to Torah. In order to accomplish this as a society, we need mechanisms whereby we can help each other out. "Kol Israel 'arevim ze el ze" - All Israel are guarantors for one another - this requires a separation of powers. If all authority is concentrated in one or two figureheads, then there is no personal responsibility. No personal responsibility also means no communal responsibility. G-d recognizes that there must be separation of powers, there must be spheres of containment, as well as crossover spheres of influence.

At the beginning of this vast enterprise, Adam blamed Chava and G-d for the Fruit; Chava blamed the Serpent; the Serpent had no one else to blame, so G-d - perhaps unjustly - punished the Serpent along with Adam and Chava.

Cain kills his brother, and when G-d asks What have you done? - Cain's response is: I never realized I was supposed to protect him.

Never again, says G-d. Never again will humans be able to say they did not recognize the moral consequences of their actions. G-d plants Torah in our world; G-d creates an entire nation whose sole duty is to practice Torah openly, for all the world to see, so the nations of the world understand the fundamentals of morality, of justice, of proper dealings, of Karma, of reward and punishment. And in order for that nation to function properly, there must be a separation of powers.

Consider the opposition of Church / State. If they are combined in one individual, there is no balance. Who can argue with a Supreme Leader? By definition, that one person embodies everything. And woe to the nation who has a Supreme Leader! Chazal tell us of the moral perfection of King David. Nonetheless, David's perfection arises from his unstinting efforts to learn Torah, and from his open willingness to accept rebuke, both from Prophets and from common citizens. [See, for example, the episode of Shim'i ben-Gera' (Shmuel II, 16:5 ff.); see the episode of the Woman of Tekoa' (Shmuel II, 14:4 ff.).]

More than the State needs the Church to counter it, the Church needs a counterweight. States are based on temporal rulers. Kings and queens, presidents and prime ministers, legislators, cabinet ministers, Supereme Court Justices - they are voted out of office, or die, or retire, or go mad... And the spiritual authority of the Church stands over against them setting boundaries to their behavior.

The Church... That's another story. For religions are deemed to be founded on eternal principles, and religious rules do not evolve along with the greater society. So that, in modern America, the Jewish community still has difficulty accepting the notions of women as Halachic authorities - forget the title "Rabbi" - the Orthodox world still actively supports the legal abuse of women's rights by permitting the proliferation of Agunot (women who are not legally divorced because their husbands withhold the Get) - the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative actively support divisiveness within Klal Israel by insisting that Orthodox standards for conversion are not valid, thus giving rise to generations of children who will not be legitimately married within Klal Israel. The list goes on...

While many of these problems will continue, because of normal human stubbornness, there remains the possibility, within a society that has checks and balances, of progress. Achingly slow progress, to be sure, but it is still a possibility. It is, to quote Winston Churchill's assessment of democracy, the worst system in the world - except for all the other systems in the world.

Pinhas, the imperfect, is elevated to the status of Cohen. Moshe deputizes his not-yet-perfected amanuensis Yehoshua to become the next leader of Klal Israel. And we prepare to launch into a destiny for which we are still unprepared today, more than three thousand years later.

Speaking of social evolution... How do Tzelophechad's daughters win the right to their own inheritance, and why is it given to them?

The simple answer is: they were the only ones who asked.

O do we believe that Tzelophechad was the only man in Klal Israel to die without sons? What happened to all the other women whose fathers died? They married, and their fathers' possessions passed into their husbands' families. But these five women - so important that each one's name is given twice within this Parasha - did not choose to bring husbands into their lives. Or perhaps they chose to have husbands, but only on an equal footing. If a man without property is a nobody, how much moreso a woman! And so they approach Moshe and make what probably appeared to him to be a reasonable request.

There are some opinions that hold Moshe actually did not know the answer, and so he went to G-d. This is Rashi's Pshat on the matter. Others believe that Moshe knew, but wanted to give G-d the respect of making a pronouncement.

Perhaps Moshe knew perfectly well what the right answer was. But he also realized that he would have a very hard time selling it to the people. He needed it to come from G-d directly, so there would be no arguing. A second advantage is: if G-d stipulates that Tzelophechad's daughters inherit, the Moshe could approach G-d and claim the inheritance of his leadership for his own sons, just as Aharon's sons received the Kehuna.

This latter argument falls apart when G-d selects Pinhas - who was not a Cohen at the time, because he was born too late - and settles the Kehuna on his descendents.

Now, on the brink of our entry into the Land - on the eve of our truly becoming a Nation - personal qualities are emerging as being at least as important as birth. Temporal considerations must be weighed alongside eternal ones. There is a growing separation of powers.

For example, overlooked in the discussion of Tzelophechad's daughters is the fact that they may well be taking on much more than mere title to a piece of real estate. They demand an 'Achuza - a possession, which is a Hebrew word which the Torah applies to possession within the Land of Israel by Jews - within the context of the census. The census, ordered by G-d at 26:2, is limited to men fit for military service. Kol yetze tzava be-Israel - all who go out to the Legion of Israel. Are Tzelophechad's daughters offering to perform military service in return for their full enfranchisement? It is not fanciful to imagine that this is, in fact, the case. They may well be the fore-mothers of the women who have fought and died in the IDF over the decades.

Finally, the Parasha wraps up with an extended list of animal sacrifices, listed in the order of: daily, Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, Pesach, Shavuot, Rosh HaShana, Kippur, Succot, Atzeret. This catalogue of the holidays focuses exclusively on animal sacrifices. Two of the holidays in the list - Shavuot and Succot - are explicitly associated with fruits and vegetable. Shavuot is the Chag HaBikkuirim - Festival of the First Fruits, and Succot is the festival of the Pri 'Etz hadar - the fruit of the beautiful tree. Why does this Parasha exclude from the list all mention of anything that grows from the ground?

The original offering brought to G-d was an offering of fruits and vegetables. It was brought by Cain, and did not take much notice of it. The first offering to be acceptable to G-d was the copycat offering of Abel, the offering from the flocks. When Cain said "What about my offering?" G-d's response was: "You'll have to pull up your socks and do better next time." So much for parenting skills...

The transformation of Klal Israel, the creation of a freestanding nation, is accomplished partly by one Jew killing another - by Pinhas thrusting his spear through Zimri ben Salu. The apologetics of the Midrash notwithstanding, it is clearly an act of murder. It may be excused as a Crime of Passion, as the justifiable act of a Zealot - as a precedent for permitting the King to circumvent due process and order executions - and how wise of the Torah to allocate that right to the King, and not to the Rabbis! Because temporal excesses can be corrected, whether it is compensation for wrongful taking of life or property, or land for peace, or money payment for damages, pain and suffering. But excesses wrought in the name of The Eternal - who shall combat those!

Finally - and sadly - Moshe receives the word of his impending death. We mention this now because in the coming weeks, as we delve into Sefer Devarim, we shall have to deal with the Midrashic tradition that says Moshe tried to convince G-d to let him live. But it is clear that Moshe's first concern was for his People; that his urgent desire to live longer was motivated by his fear that, without him, the People would founder, would panic and be lost, much as had happened in the past. And so, when G-d announces Moshe's death, Moshe's immediate response is (27:15-17) "Let G-d appoint a man over the congregation; a man who will go out before them and who will come in before them; who will take them out and lead them back in; and let G-d's congregation not be like sheep without a shepherd."

We are truly becoming a Nation like all other nations. We kill each other in arguments over morality. But our ultimate task and destiny is to bring Torah into the world, to live the life - both as individuals and as a nation - that G-d set out for us. Maybe we should not yet try to mingle the animal offerings with the offerings of the fruits of the land. It is probably premature to hope that Cain and Abel can get back together. And so - with all our imperfections, with our terrors and trepidations, with our faint-hearted faithfulness and with our overpowering doubt - forward march into the Promised Land!

Like all nations, Klal Israel needs leaders. Like all human beings, our leaders will make mistakes. Sometimes with the best of intent, and after much reflection; sometimes in haste, or in anger, or in an excess of zeal. If we maintain our balance, we will, G-d willing, be able to stay the treacherous course. Our history shows that we get the leaders we deserve, so it is not sufficient to blame our leaders when things go wrong - not the leaders of the State of Israel; not the leaders of the world Jewish community; not the rabbis of our synagogues, the teachers in our childrens' schools, the heads of our yeshivas - each one of us has the right, the ability, the obligation to make this world better. If Torah stands for nothing else, it stands for that!

And if we are very fortunate, our leaders will always stand for something - for their own leadership, if nothing else. As the leaders of the IDF have always bravely exhorted their troops - taking their cue from our first and greatest leader, Moshe himself: "After me!"

Yours for a better world.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Parashat Balak - Walk Like an Egyptian...


Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch says that Bila'am, the "hero" of this Parasha, is one of four non-Jews who recognize the truth of G-d, yet fail to grasp the truth of Torah. The other three are: Job, Yitro and Malkizedek.

The Gemara brings the story of three of these - Bila'am, Job and Yitro - who were advisors to Pharaoh. The story is told that, when Moshe was born and fished from the Nile, he was brought before Pharaoh. Pharaoh asked his advisors what should be done with this newborn, clearly a Hebrew boy. Bila'am recommended killing him on the spot. Job did not speak either for or against letting Moshe live. Yitro fled, rather than be drawn into so vile a discussion.

Who is this Bila'am - after whom the Parasha is not named, and who plays so vital a role in this little anecdote, a story which, in itself, seems to have no bearing on the overall story the Torah is telling at this point. Or does it...?

Arching over last week's Parasha is the complex literary construct that clearly binds the figure of Moshe to that of Abraham. It underscores the notion that we have come Full Circle, and the impending entry into the Land is the re-enactment of Abraham's first entry - this is a theme which we shall see again, and which is by no means incidental to the narrative at this point.

Similarly, this Parasha contains a striking reference to the Abraham narrative, coupled with a sly evocation of Moshe. At 22:21, after having received G-d's instruction to accompany Balak's men, Bila'am wakes in the morning and saddles his donkey. Rashi immediately jumps on this image: "'Wicked One!' says G-d. 'Their father Abraham beat you to it!'" The words are slightly different. Bila'am "arises" [va-yakom], but does not "arise early" [va-yashkem]. Bila'am saddles an ass [aton] and not a donkey [chamor]. Bila'am goes ['im sarei moav] "with the princes of Moab. But the word for princes - sarei - if unvocalized can also be read Sarai. The sentence becomes: "Bila'am went with Sarai to Moab." Or perhaps: "Bila'am went with the Sarai of Moab."

In the very next verse - just to remind us that the Torah at this point equates Moshe with Abraham; that the long cyclical narrative started with Abraham is now drawing to a close and bringing us back to our point of entry (exactly, as we shall see in a later Parasha - Watch This Space!) - The Torah states that G-d was furious because he was going. This inverts the episode where someone, presumed to be G-d, tried to kill Moshe who hesitated on the road to Mizraim. But here, again, things are not quite in the same balance they were in the original text. Indeed, all of Bila'am's stumblings-about make him appear as some sort of Bizzarro Moshe: he speaks directly with G-d - but then, so does his donkey. He utters prophecy direct from the lips of G-d - but he doesn't believe them himself. He acknowledges that G-d has ultimate power over all - but he doesn't bother to worship G-d, nor does he seem to worship anything. He is not so much an idol-worshiper as an apparent practicing atheist who just happens to have a direct line to G-d.

Gevalt! What's going on here?

Why does the Parasha, which is about Bila'am, bear the title Balak? Balak sets the tone; Balak is the clue. But the working-out of the story is much more subtle.

Balak wishes to curse Israel because, like the Pharaoh Who Knew Not Joseph, he fears Israel. 22:5 shows Balak worrying over these people who have swarmed up from Mizraim and now are sitting in his face. Notice a few interesting points: first, Balak uses the same word first used by Pharaoh - 'AM. It was Pharaoh who first called us 'am Israel. Now Balak repeats the formula. Also notice that, thirty-eight years after the Exodus, we are still known as "the People Who Came Out of Egypt." Another way of looking at this is: we came out of Egypt, yes; but somehow Egypt surrounds us still. Egypt, her desire to remove Torah from the world, to revert to the easy world of appetites. Egypt, whose whole ethical philosophy can be summed up in a phrase made famous in the 1970's: If it feels good, do it! Egypt, whose mode of life is wholly appetite driven.

Indeed, when we whine for Egypt during our years in the Midbar, we don't say: "I wish I were still in Egypt where we had flush toilets and air conditioning!" We don't say: "I wish we were back in Egypt where we had multiplex cinemas and baseball (by the way, does anyone know how the Memphis No-Sox are doing?)" No, it is always tied to food. How much more blatant would your like your metaphors to be?

Egypt, then, stands for the world without Torah. What is especially insidious about Bila'am is that, unlike Egypt, which tries to deny the existence, or at least the power of G-d, Bila'am acknowledges G-d, but separates G-d and Torah.

Bila'am appears to be quite used to miracles. When his donkey complains, his response is, "If I had a sword in my hand, I would kill you!" He doesn't appear phazed in the slightest by the fact that his donkey is having a conversation with him. And we know, by the way, that this is not a common occurrence, because the text goes out of its way to state that G-d opens the donkey's mouth. This may be the key to Bila'am: nothing seems particularly important to him. G-d speaks to him - OK, so it's a special talent he has, no big deal. His donkey speaks to him - OK, if G-d speaks to me, then why not my donkey? And when the Angel of G-d finally materializes before his eyes, the text does not tell us that he is afraid, but merely that he gets off the donkey and prostrates himself (22:31). The King of Moab sends for him and bids him use his powers to curse Israel. When the project fails miserably, Bila'am's sole response to Balak is (24:12-13) "I told you so." And the end of the episode is that Bila'am merely goes his way.

Or perhaps it is not that Bila'am is so at home with the miraculous. Maybe he is notthe man we take him to be.

He does nothing more than go through the motions. His direct channel to G-d is a fluke. Bila'am is a prophetic Rain Man, an idiot prophete who has no affect, no connection to anyone, and no clue of what is going on around him. Yet, the outcome for us is far more dire than we may recognize.

For Balak does attain his objective, and despite Bila'am, the People are cursed. Or are we so simplistic that we believe the mere content of the words, the words placed in Bila'am's mouth are themselves sufficient to protect us against national tragedy?

It's like saying: you have a problem? Did you check your mezuzah? Yes, it is important to check your mezuzas. But it is not enough.

Are we so dull that we believe that G-d's words, placed in the mouth of an unwitting idiot, are proof against the world that surrounds us? Bila'am's effect was to separate G-d from Torah. The mighty coda of Bila'am's prophecy - the successive recitations of the future victories of Israel over its enemies that brings chapter 24 crashing to a symphonic close - this is sufficient to blind us to the fact that, for all our thirty-eight years of preparation, we are still not ready. What Balak could not achieve by force and stealth, we brought upon ourselves by nothing more than giving free rein to our own appetites.

Chapter 25 opens with three brief verses: We fornicated with the Moabites; we ate the sacrifices of the Moabites and bowed down to their gods; we joined ourselves to the god Ba'al Pe'or - a deity whose worship consists, so says the Gemara in Sanhedrin, in defecating before its altar.

Thus did Balak win after all. And he did not even know it. The lesson Balak never learned - and which Bila'am told him explicitly - is that all victories are temporary. All nations rise, only to fall. Our own history seems to bear out the notion that we are unlike these others: that we continue to exist. That through the cycles of history, when we fall, it is to lie low perhaps, but ultimately to rise again.

Textually, it is striking that the entire Balak / Bila'am episode unfolds without a word from or about Moshe or Israel. From our perspective, we do not even know this is going on. Our own narrative skips from 22:1 - the last verse of Parashat Chukat - to 25:1, where we find ourselves living in the Plains of Moab after having defeated Og and Sichon. We literally moved right in - right into their homeland, right into their tents. Right into their daughters and their temples.

Does this Parasha read like a twisted version of Torah? Has so much changed since we left Mizraim?

Jews who argue that Halacha is "not really Torah" are deluding themselves. Because Halacha is not an arbitrary set of strictures imposed, Taliban-like, to make our lives miserable. It is the ongoing legacy of tens of thousands of the most dedicated, intelligent, spiritual, humble people in human history who collectively have spent over three thousand years struggling to come to terms with the immensity of Torah. And Torah as a text is internally contradictory, it is vague, it is misleading. How are we to live by this Book and pretend that the entire body of Rabbinic scholarship does not matter? Halacha is a process, not a monolith. To put it more precisely: Halacha is an ongoing system for trying to come to terms with the fact that humans are... well... human. Halacha is not a god. But G-d without Torah is also not G-d.

Isn't it amazing how the whole world stands in awe of a person like Bila'am? Pharaoh considered him his closest adviser. Balak calls upon him to protect his nation. And what is Bila'am, but an empty shell. At least an Egyptian has appetites. Bila'am seems to have nothing at all.

Let us not fall into the trap of Taking The Easy Way Out. What did Moab have that was so enticing to us? Sex and food. And then, to cap it off, defecating on the altar. It sounds like a bad joke about guys during Super Bowl week. Is this what we really want out of life?

Don't walk like a Moabite. Don't walk like an Egyptian.

Walk like a Jew.


Yours for a better world.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Parashat Chukat - Share Water, Sister


Parashat Chukat marks the beginning of the end of the story of the Chumash. It is the prologue to our entry into the Land, the denouement of the wanderings in the Midbar and thus, in a very tangible sense, the winding-up of the story of Abraham.

Recall the very first Rashi on the first Pasuk of Parashat Bereshit: The Torah as a book is a work of propaganda, as well as a book of laws. The Lashon - the use of language - in Rashi's statement is curious. Rabbi Yitzhak, whom Rashi quotes, states that "it is not necessary to begin the Torah here" ("Lo haya tzrich lehatchil et ha-Torah...") He does not state "The Torah did not need to start..." but by placing the word Torah in the objective / accusative, this statement is more an editorial comment to the Author. Why did You write it this way?

"Propaganda"? All right. Let us just say that the Torah is a literary work. But Rashi states plainly that the whole purpose of all of Sefer Bereshit, as well as of the opening chapters of Shemot, right up to the Pesach, is to make it clear that we have an absolute right to inhabit the Land of Canaan / Eretz Israel. This is strong stuff, and we overlook it or minimize it at our peril.

And now the lesson of those opening Psukim is being brought home, for we are on the verge of entering the Land. And the text of our Parasha magnifies and drives this lesson home with a vast, and yet subtle poetic metaphor. For these closing days of our wanderings in the Midbar truly are the culmination of the story of Abraham. If the book of Genesis was written for the purpose of clarifying that the world runs according to G-d's will, and not our own, then the Karmic working-out of the promise to Abraham, the Covenant between G-d and Abraham, and the full destiny of Abraham's chosen descendents, all this emerges in the literary structure of this Parasha.

As so frequently happens in the Torah's text, the clue to our analysis rests with a single word. In chapter 20, verse 12, G-d tells Moshe and Aharon that they shall not enter the Land, "because you did not have faith in me, to sanctify me in the eyes of Bnei Israel..." The word introducing this clause is "YA'AN" - an intensified way of stating "because". Again: when words crop up in our text, it is always instructive to search out the first occurrence of that word, for the context of the first occurrence colors successive appearances of the word.

The word YA'AN first appears in Bereshit 22:16 in the immediate aftermath of the Akeida. There, the Angel of G-d tells Abraham: "because [YA'AN] that you did this thing, and did not withhold your son, your only one." The promised blessings that flow from Abraham's obedience include multiplication of Abraham's descendents, but also the curious blessings that his descendents shall inherit the "gate of their enemies", and that all nations of the Land shall bless themselves in Abraham's name. By the way, if we read the word "eretz" in the last phrase "ve-hitbarechu be-zaracha kol goyei ha-aretz" to mean "Land" (i.e. the Land of Canaan - Eretz Israel) rather than "World", the prophecy emerges in stunning clarity. For the peoples of the Land - and emanating from the Land to cover the Western World - do all trace their spiritual roots directly to Abraham.

To what does this use of the word YA'AN in our Parasha point? Notice, by the way, that in its first appearance, it refers to what we traditionally interpret as Abraham's ultimate act of faith. Today, it specifically relates to the moment of non-faith on the part of both Moshe and Aharon. And the cantillation on the word is identical in both passages.

Let us step back for a moment. The title of this week's Parasha - Chukat - applies to the Red Heifer, which is given in Halacha as the classic example of a Chok - a law for which there is no apparent logical reason. The laws of Torah generally are divided into Chukim and Mishpatim, the latter being laws which appear logical, such as: Don't murder, don't commit perjury. And the word Chok appears to derive from words such as CHOKEK, meaning To draw a circle / To establish a boundary, and CHUK, meaning, A circle / an engraving.

But is the Red Heifer truly the one law given in Torah that defies human logic? For there is one command given much earlier in the text that so troubles us to this day that people refuse to embrace Judaism because of it, and this is the instruction by G-d to Abraham to slaughter Yitzhak.

People are so troubled by the Akeidah that serious thinkers continue to come up with reasons why Abraham really knew that Yitzhak would survive, G-d didn't really mean that but Abraham misinterpreted, Abraham took three days to get there because he was hoping G-d would reconsider and countermand the order... all of which points to the crux of Halacha: We do not have to be comfortable with it, but we do have to struggle with it.

The time-line of our Parasha, too, is jarring. The first section, the Parah Adumah (Red Heifer) up through the end of chapter 19, constitute the final words of G-d to Moshe after the incident of the Meraglim, the erection and dedication of the Mishkan. From the end of chapter 19 to the opening Pasuk of chapter 20, thirty-eight years elapse. Thirty-eight years during which G-d remains silent, and Moshe must lead the Nation with only his own wisdom and the wisdom of the Seventy Elders to guide him.

The other thing that occurs during this period relates to the commandment of the Red Heifer. For the entire 38 years, the ritual of the Red Heifer was not performed. This means that Aharon maintained his condition of Tahorah - Ritual Purity - throughout the entire time we wandered in the Midbar. A hidden, silent tribute to this amazing man.

In Sefer Bereshit, Abraham enters the Land of Canaan. Once in the Land, he engages in the war in which he defeats the kings, and gains the blessing of Malkizedek. G-d's final communication to Abraham is the command to sacrifice Yitzhak. Abraham ascends the mountain where, through his action characterized by the word YA'AN, he saves his son's life and guarantees the future of Am Israel. The messages are conveyed to him by Angels, so it is not clear exactly at which moment G-d stops speaking to Abraham - it may be before the Akeidah itself, it may be that the final communication comes through the mouths of the Angels. (In textual interpretation the phrase "Angel of G-d" is often construed to mean a manifestation of G-d in actuality, rather than a messenger. Compare the Pesach Seder, for example, with its repeated "Ani ve-lo mal'ach... ani ve-lo seraph... ani ve-lo shaliach... ani HaShem." "I, and not an angel... I, and not a seraph... I, and not a deputy... I, HaShem.")

Finally, Abraham returns from the mountain to find that his Wife / sister, Sarah, has died. He lives out his life in comfort, as G-d had promised, even taking a wife in his old age and fathering more generations before being gathered to his ancestors.

Our Parasha sets a literary parallel, ultimately bringing up the entire Am as the inheritors of Abraham's blessing.

G-d has been silent for 38 years. Now, suddenly, on the verge of our entry into the Land, Miriam dies. This triggers a general quarreling over water, which has been one of the repeated themes of our wanderings. This is perfectly sensible, by the way. According to many counts, we were between 2.5 and 3.5 million people, all wandering large stretches of waterless desert. Imagine three million people lining up for a water fountain! You bet there would be some pushing and shoving! And water has been a major theme throughout Chumash. Remember, for example, Abraham's slave who, when sent to find a bride for Yitzhak, sets up a test to see whether the young lady is from a water-sharing clan, or a water-hoarding clan. This is the same as the dichotomy that plays out in the Odyssey, for example, which is all about the critical importance of hospitality to strangers as the foundation for civil society. And our Parasha has much to say on the topic of water as indicative of morality, of social stability, and of national identity.

In desperation, Moshe and Aharon go to the Tent. What is so poignant and wrenching is that we do not know how many times they have repeated this scene fruitlessly during the 38 years of G-d's silence. Yet, today, G-d speaks to than. G-d commands Moshe to take up his staff - a return to the symbolism of staff / hand that is so dominant in Sefer Shemot: the metaphor of leadership, of power and authority being conveyed from G-d to Moshe, from Moshe to Aharon, and to the Elders and the subsequent leadership of Klal Israel.

Moshe is now told that he will not be permitted to enter the Land, because of his actions introduced by the word YA'AN. Shortly afterwards, he is instructed to take his brother up to the top of Mt. Hor, where Aharon dies.

Immediately thereafter, Moshe leads the people in a war against several kings. The war is instigated by the King of Arad - 21:1 - who takes an Israelite captive. This echoes Abraham's involvement in the War of the Four Kings and the Five, because Abraham only entered the conflict after being told that his nephew, Lot, had been taken captive. Moshe, as leader, goes on to defeat the kings, and the Parasha ends with it looking very much as though we are hours away from entrance into the Promised Land - a journey that Moshe will not take.

To summarize:

Abraham: Gains the Land; Learns of a captive kinsman and defeats the Kings; Goes up the mountain where he saves his son because of YA'AN; G-d ceases communicating with Abraham; Abraham loses Sarah, his wife / sister.

Moshe: Loses his sister; G-d resumes communicating with Moshe, and will continue to the end of Moshe's life; Goes up the mountain where he loses his brother, all introduced by YA'AN; learns of a captive kinsman and defeats the kings; does not gain the Land personally.

This is one of the key literary parallel structures in Chumash. Other examples include Ya'akov's leaving Eretz Canaan and fleeing to Haran - the entire Parasha is a single long night, bracketed by sunset and sunrise. Also Yosef's being cast into the pit (Bor, in Hebrew) and being brought up to be sent into slavery in Mizraim where he rises high, only to be cast down into the dungeon (also called Bor, in the text - coincidence? I think not!) from whence he is brought up to rise still higher in Mizraim. In this case also, the story of Moshe is almost the exact reverse of the sequence of events in the Abraham narrative. Thus, the story of Abraham and that of Moshe may be said to bracket a narrative-within-the-narrative of Torah, a self-contained section in which the destiny of Klal Israel is enunciated, then brought to the cusp of fruition.

As though to tie this all together, the Midrash tells us that Og, King of Bashan, the last of the Kings to die in the series of engagements in this Parasha, was actually Abraham's slave Eliezer; that it was he whom Abraham sent to find a bride for Yitzhak (the text does not name the slave, yet our tradition assumes it was Eliezer, a problem we address in its own place). The Midrash goes on to state that Eliezer was the one who escaped from the war of the kings and brought to Abraham the report that Lot had been taken captive. Now, a mighty ruler in his own right, he is more than 500 years old. Because of his great age, and because of his status as a member of Abraham's household - indeed, an intimate of his Master - Moshe stands in reverent awe of Og. No, G-d instructs Moshe, go against him and defeat him.

How hard-won is spiritual stature! How delicate is it, and how easily lost! A mere striking of a staff against a rock. Was it petulance? And was the petulance on Moshe's part, or G-d's?

And now we are left wholly unprotected. With the death of Miriam, we have lost our water. With the death of Aharon, we lose the 'Ananei HaKavod - the Clouds of Glory. And now we know, too, that we shall lose Moshe. Bit by bit, we are being left to our own devices. For those who go forward - from the opening of chapter 20 onward - are the new generation. With the exception of Yehoshua and Caleb, these are those born in the Midbar, those who were not killed by the Sin of the Spies. Those who know of nothing but the Midbar - we have never seen a settled city, never seen multiple societies dwelling in villages across a valley, having to bargain with one another over farmlands, over grazing rights. Over water.

And to underscore just how precarious each moment is, each accomplishment, when we look like having won the day, we falter. Chapter 21, verse 4, says: "And they traveled from MT. Hor by way of Yam Suf, to go around the land of Edom; and the spirit of the people grew short on the way." The last part of the Pasuk in Hebrew "Va-tiktzar nefesh ha'am ba-derech..." recalls the moment of despair in Mizraim, at Shemot 6:9, where we did not listen to Moshe's exhortations, "mi-kotzer ruach". This pregnant phrase means, Because of shortness of breath. But it can also mean, Because of a cut-off spirit. Because of limited spiritual vision.

Now, just on the verge of our longed-for victory, we return by way of Yam Suf. We literally almost return to Mizraim - and this is supposed to be the generation that has no memory of Mizraim! Now, our "shortness" is not of breath and of spirit, but of NEFESH - we are now suffering from cut-off souls. Why do we waver? Reflect, then, on the powerful insight of the Ramban, who says that the Exodus remains the first experience of Exile, setting the stage for all our history to come. Indeed, it appears that it has done so, even to the extent of wishing to return to our "home"! Remember, too, our observation last week, that both Mizraim and Eretz Canaan are characterized as Lands Flowing with Milk and Honey. They are still, in our eyes, interchangeable.

Gevalt! We have so much to learn!


Moshe, as he has named his son, is to remain forever a Stranger In A Strange Land. His naming of Gershom also reflects his own exile from Mizraim: even as it prepares the way for the entry into Eretz Israel. Moshe, too, must perish in the Midbar, rather than lead the Nation with the sweet yearning for Mizraim clinging to his robes.

Meanwhile, the Midrash tells us that both Miriam and Aharon died, not through natural causes, but by the Divine Kiss.

Let us linger for a moment and say a sad farewell to Miriam, the silent sharer of water. Let us reflect on the incredible sweetness and the holiness of the death of Aharon, a death which was so sweet that, witnessing it, Moshe asked G-d that he might be granted the same death. A wish, the Midrash tells us, that G-d granted.

From the Midrash...

The day of a person's death is not known. Yet, G-d sometimes reveals it to the Righteous.

Early one morning, Moshe called Aharon to him. "I couldn't sleep all night," Moshe says. "I have passed the night trying to understand Sefer Bereshit. Please, come and help me." And so Aharon sits alongside his brother and together they begin reading Bereshit. (Sort of like the moment towards the end of Virginia Woolf's amazing "To The Lighthouse", where she describes the father as almost having finished reading the book... This is another of the powerful meta-literary images that resound throughout our texts and throughout our commentaries, all so intimately intertwined with one another. Torah as literature is nothing if not ultra-hyper-postmodern!)

At the end of each day of Creation, Moshe says, "How gevaltig! What amazing things G-d created on this day!" But after the sixth day, Moshe says, "How can I praise the creation of this day? For, on this day humans were created, and through humans, Death came into the world!"

Aharon responds, "Far be it from us to argue with the will of the Creator!"

Moshe: "Then, Aharon, I must tell you the will of the Creator." And Moshe leads Aharon and his son, Elazar, up the mountain.

Once on the mountaintop, Moshe undresses Aharon and places the garments on Elazar, transferring to him the Kahuna. Moshe then tells Aharon to enter the cave there before them. In the cave, a bed is prepared, a single candle burning next to it. Moshe instructs Aharon to lie down on the bed, and he does.

Moshe tells Aharon to spread his arms, and he does. Moshe tells Aharon to close his eyes and his mouth. And he does.

At the last Moment, Moshe asks Aharon to describe what he is experiencing.

Aharon - who, Hamlet-like ("the readiness is all") has lived his entire life in a state of Kedusha, or Tahora, of readiness to appear before G-d on behalf of all Israel - Aharon - the Man of Halacha, whose entire life was devoted to following the enunciated will of G-d, often to the exclusion of his own human needs - Aharon, as the Divine Kiss enfolds him, tells his brother, "I can not describe it. I only wish I could have come to this place long ago..."

Yours for a better world.