Thoughts on Tazria-Metzora 5769

Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

This is such a challenging and strange portion.  Most women recoil at the idea of being “impure” because they gave birth.  The entire passage deals with what is and isn’t “tamei” and how to deal with a variety of afflictions called “tzaraat.”  One of the first things I always think of when reading this passage is the two other memorable passages where someone is afflicted with tzaraat:  Exodus 4:6 (Moses) and Numbers 12:10 (Miriam).

When we studied the idea of “tamei” at one of the Kohenet training intensives, we explored the idea that maybe “impure” is a bad translation.  Maybe “tamei” means “liminal.”

Liminality (from the Latin word līmen, meaning “a threshold”) is a psychological, neurological, or metaphysical subjective, conscious state of being on the “threshold” of or between two different existential planes… (wikipedia)

This seems to make a LOT of sense to me.  Child birth is a moment between worlds.  A women who has just given birth might need time to return to this world fully — hence the 33 and 66 day time to return from a state of liminality.

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Thoughts on Yitro – 5769

In reading Yitro (Ex 18:1-20:23) this week several things struck me.  I did a bit of a double-take with Tzipporah’s reappearance.  What happened to here?  Where did she go?  We last saw her in Ex 4:25, which is the infamous “bridegroom of blood” passage where she circumcises her son.  As far as I can tell, she’s not mentioned again until Ex 18:2.  There is says, “after she had been sent home.”  So the arrival of Yitro also should be a joyful reunion between Moses and his family.  Where is that passage?  Moses embraces Yitro, but not his family (18:7)?   Nice.

In 18:18 Yitro tries to help Moses realize that the people must take up the work with him and thus we get a court, not just a prophet-king. This should free up Moses to spend a little time with the family, but it doesn’t appear that he takes advantage of that.

This whole section of the text seems to tell a sad backstory of a neglected family put last by the husband and father. I think this is a common challenge with all clergy.  How do you care for a flock and still put your own family first?  I think that is part of the lesson and challenge this section of the text is supposed to teach us.  I touch on this a bit in my midrash on Miriam.  But reading Yitro this time has made me see another big whole in the text that needs to be filled: Tzipporah’s story.   Talmud tells us that Tzipporah was never made it to Egypt.  Aaron says to send her back to Midian when he meets Moses in the desert (Sefer Ha-Aggadah 64:40). What happened to her between Ex 4:25 and Ex18:2?

Two other sections also got my attention this year: 19:1219:15 and 20:22.

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Shabbat Tzovot

High Priestess at DoorwayThere are four tradtional “special” Shabbats during the year:  Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat haChodesh.  All of these occur during or near the month of Adar.  There is another special Shabbat that the women of Kohenet have identified and are figuring out ways to honor: Shabbat Tzovot.

The traditional special Shabbats are when an extra Torah portion is read on a non-festival day.  In this case there is no extra Torah portion, but rather a special section of a Torah portion that we choose to honor in a unique way.  In this way it is more like Shabbat Shirah, when the “Song of the Sea” is read as part of the Torah portion, or one of several other notable named Shabbats.   I actually like that it would be the the sixth named Shabbats that do not have an extra Torah portion.  That means there is one for each point on the Magen David.  [note: this section of the post was added after the discussion in the comments from 2009]

The Tzovah (singular form of Tzovot)  is one of the Netivot, or paths, of Shekhinah that we study at Kohenet. She is the priestess at the doorway; the sacred serving woman, the “temple keeper.”  The Tzovot is mentioned by name in the Torah and it is the Shabbat where this portion is read that we are identifying as Shabbat Tzovot.  The Tzovot is mentioned during the reading of Vayakhel (Ex 38:8).  The Tzovot are the ones who give over their sacred mirrors to create the wash basins for the priests.

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Rosh Hashanah Drosh 5769

This is the drosh, more or less, that I’ll be giving at Rosh Hashanah on Tuesday night.  I’ve invited several people to speak on the topic of being Called to Sacred Service.  Usually I just speak from my heart, with only a little preparation, but then I never really know what I said.  I thought this year I would try writing it out in advance, so I can share it.

L’shana Tova.  May you find abundance in the new year.


Rosh Hashanah 5769

A lot of people talk to G!(d)dess, but very few actually hear the response.  People pray and pray, and only if what they asked for is given in the way they expected it do they say their prayers were answered.  But what happens if you are one of those who are in conversation with G!(d)dess?  What if you are someone who hears the response, even when it’s not the one you wanted?   That’s a major part of how I’ve experienced being “called.”  I think that anyone who is in conversation with G!(d)dess finds that they have no choice but to share what they learn, even if it is indirect ways.

The problem is that there isn’t usually a map provided when you are called; you act based on the best information you have.  There are so many stories of prophets and holy men who just seemed to be jerks.  Look at Abraham, twice he basically whores out his wife to Kings despite her objections.  Not really a nice thing to do.  Plus he kicks out his concubine and first son, and, of course is willing to sacrifice his second son. It seems like callings drive you nuts or drives everyone around you nuts.

So what I wonder is how do I answer the call I’ve received without alienating everyone around me?  Is that even possible?  Can I answer the call without sacrificing material comfort?  That’s a lot less to ask than sacrificing my son, but I’m still not okay with it.  How can I spread the message I’ve received in a way that people will be wiling to hear, but that is not so soft and fluffy they don’t feel compelled to act?  How many people do I feel the need to reach at once?  Is it okay if I just reach a few people in my lifetime, and maybe count on the ripple effect?  Is that enough?  Should I be out protesting and railing against things?

R’Abraham Joshua Heschel said, “A religious man is a person who holds God and man in one thought at one time, at all times, who suffers harm done to others, whose greatest passion is compassion, whose greatest strength is love and defiance of despair.

I think this is the new model of someone called to sacred service.  It’s a model that I can try to follow.  I can do my best to lead with compassion and love, not anger.   Too many of those called to service seem to act out of anger and frustration.  But if I deeply feel this calling, then I have no choice but to act from love, compassion, and joy.  I will lead with deep, heart-felt joy.

So with joy, let me share the kernel of my calling.  Quite simply – care about what you eat.  Respect yourself enough to reject food as a commodity.  Know that a meal is more than “fuel.”  Know that your body is a temple and that food is a Divine offering.  You are worth taking the time to cook and have a satisfying meal.

When you eat, and you are satisfied, you are to bless YHVH your G!(d)dess for the good land that s/he has given you. (Deuteronomy 8:10)

How can we bless if you don’t eat a satisfying meal?  How can we remember how good this land is, if we don’t eat the fruit grown in its soil?  What happens when we eat but are no longer are satisfied enough to bless?

You shalt eat, but not be satisfied; and your sickness shall be in your inward parts; and you will conceive, but not bring forth; and whomsoever you bring forth will I give up to the sword. (Michah 6:14)

Do not fight hunger.  Join me in striving for abundance.

And you shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and you shall praise the name of YHVH your G!(d)dess,  who has dealt wondrously with you; and My people shall never be ashamed. (Joel 2:26)

Let the lowly eat and be satisfied; let all who seek G!(d)dess praise him.  Always be of good cheer! (Psalm 22:27)

Eat.  Be Satisfied.  Bless.

[tags]eat, satisfied, rosh hashanah, drosh, sermon, 5759, food[/tags]

Vayeshev (Genesis 37:1 – 40:23)

I had to run and grab a notebook while reading this week’s portion. I didn’t think I’d be able to keep the train of thought if I just read all the way through. It’s one of the reasons I love Genesis — there’s just so much depth. Vayeshev is another jam-packed story. It’s the first part of the story of Yosef (Joseph) and squished in the middle is the story of Yehudah (Judah) and Tamar. This post is fairly long because I just kept finding more and more that I hadn’t considered before!

These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren, being still a lad even with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought evil report of them unto their father. (Gen 37:2)

The key thing to note here is that Joseph was serving with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah — not the sons of Leah. Think about it. If you were the sons of the concubines and your brother, the son of the favorite wife (Rachel), ratted you out — wouldn’t you be pissed and hate him?

It’s interesting that it’s Judah, who is one of Leah’s sons, that is the leader of the pack when it comes to trying to kill Joseph, but it’s Reuven, also a son of Leah who tries to save him.

This passage also made me wonder what the name “Dotan” means. I know there is a nice Israeli guy who reads my blog named Dotan, but it also appears here as the location where Joseph finds his brother (Gen 31:17). I know it’s an ancient city, but my curiosity goes to the deeper meaning. According to my dictionary, the word (דֹתָן) means: religion, faith, belief, gospel; law, rule; decree. That seems very appropriate for the place that Joseph’s fate will be decided.

And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery and balm and ladanum, going to carry it down to Egypt. (Gen 37:25)

What caught my attention here is the appearance of the Ishmaelites. Perhaps this was intended as a reminder to Joseph’s brothers about what can happen when you cast out a brother. (i.e. Issac & Ishmael).

And there passed by Midianites, merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they brought Joseph into Egypt. (Gen 37:28)

I also was surprised to realize that Joseph’s brothers never actually sell him off. I seemed to remember that always being the story. They never get to do it. The Midianites (the ancestors of Moses’ father-in-law) find Joseph first and sell him to the Ishmaelites. I don’t even know how to process that part; Jethro’s ancestors selling Joesph into Egypt – that’s a master’s thesis until itself!

I discovered several new things for myself in the section of the story around Potiphar’s house. Firstly, that Potiphar was the captain of the guard — his home becomes the first level of a descent and rebirth story. Joseph must pass through the guardian’s challenge before he can prove himself worthy. His time in Potiphar’s house transforms him from the silly selfish boy he was into a man of moral values and ethics.

And it came to pass, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he hearkened not unto her, to lie by her, or to be with her. (Gen 39:10)

A text note in my edition of the Torah commented that this phrasing was very unusual, and the specific wording “to be with” was usually in reference to God. That got my head spinning. I started reading the rest of the passage looking at Potiphar’s wife as a goddess figure and that led all over the place. There is one theory that the 10 plagues are actually a war between the Hebrew God and the Egyptian gods. Apparently there is a matching god to each plague. So consider if Potiphar’s wife was a goddess (or a priestess) and Joseph insulted her by NOT “being with her” and that’s why he was thrown into the dungeon.

This is where the story of Joseph clearly seems to become a death and rebirth story. I’m hardly the first to comment on that. It kept bringing to mind the Descent of Inanna. Especially, when Joseph is thrown into the dungeon and then becomes the care taker of that realm.

And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. (Gen 39:22)

Joseph isn’t just a prisoner — he is the one who is second in command to the “keeper of the prison.” Soon he will be second in command to Pharaoh, but first he must humble himself and work for the king of the underworld. I also found the symbolic appearance and removal of food and drink through the cup bearer and baker very interesting. The cup bearer (butler) who redeems Joseph in the end, also bears the tool that Joseph will use for divination and will play a large role in his testing of his brothers in Genesis 44.

And in process of time Shua’s daughter, the wife of Judah, died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timnah, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. Genesis 38:12).

There is so much to be found in the story of Judah and Tamar, but there was one thing that really got my attention this time, and that was sadness about yet another nameless woman. Judah’s wife, the ancestress of King David is only called “the daughter of Shuva.” The insult on it’s own is bad enough, but in the following lines Judah’s friend who goes sheep sheering with him, IS mentioned by name. How can this man be more worthy of being named that that of the mother of Judah’s children. I notice this more and more as I read and study. I especially take note of any woman who has gained the honor of being mentioned by name and adding those like “Bat Shuva” to the list of those who haven’t.

[tags]torah, vayeshev, genesis, parshat, commentary, kohenet, וישב[/tags]