Vayikra 5755


This week’s Sidra is Vayikra, the first portion from the third book of the Torah, which is Leviticus. In Hebrew it is also called Torat Cohanim, the teaching of the priests, for it deals almost exclusively with the rites of the Temple -- and the Tabernacle that came before it in the desert. Now, the word, va’yikra, means ‘and he called.’ It is the first word of the verse, "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying..."
We ask, why does the Torah use two verbs, and he called va'yikra, and spoke va'ydaber -- would it not have been sufficient and more economical to say ‘The Lord spoke unto Moses out of the tent of meeting...’ Our sages gave a number of explanations for the text with its two verbs:
They spoke of Moses, משה רבנו, the great leader and teacher, and his exemplary behavior: Here was this great man, the architect and contractor of the Tabernacle -- and yet, he waited outside this tent, waiting for God to invite him in.
They spoke of the teachings of God. They pointed out that God, in all His omnipotence, does not impose Himself suddenly upon mankind. In his very first encounter with man, in the Garden of Eden, after man had eaten of the Forbidden Fruit, we read, "Vayikra adonay elohim el haadam vayomer ayeka... -- and the Lord God called unto the man and said unto him, `where are you?’" [Gen. 3:9] When God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, he told them to prepare for three days, and when it was time, we read, "Va'yered adonay al har Sinai el rosh hahar vayikra adonay el Moshe -- and the Lord came down upon mount Sinai to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses..." [Ex. 19:20] Only after that do we read,"And the Lord spoke all these words, saying..." Before we can hear, we must be open to the message.
We have often asked, how does God speak to us? Have you heard God lately? Indeed, have you heard God at all, ever. Many people doubt that anyone can hear Him. ‘Oh, oh,’ they say, ‘here’s another nut who claims that God spoke to him. Get the men in white to grab him...’ Others ask why it is that God, who spoke to mankind in ancient times, does not speak to us today. I would like to suggest to you that what they miss is not the word of God but the readiness to hear it.
Show a book to an illiterate and he will benefit little from its message. Present a grand vista to a blind person and you will not hear an exclamation of surprise or admiration. Place a deaf person in the midst of the Boston Pops orchestra or the Mormon Tabernacle choir -- and don’t be surprised if he will not tap his foot to the beat of the music.
Likewise with God. Yes, God is all around us -- but we still need, as the prophet Isaiah admonishes us, "Dirshu et Hashem Behimatz'o -- Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while he is near." [Isaiah 55:6] Is there a time that God hides so that He may not be found? Is there a time when God, who fills the whole universe, is not near enough to hear us? No, indeed! But the prophet wants us to understand that We may be so lost that we can’t find Him, we may be so confounded that we no longer know that He is near. Thus Isaiah invites us to open ourselves to Him, if we are to hear his message and receive His blessing.
God can get along very nicely, thank you, without any human contact, without our hymns, prayers or sacrifices. We, in 1995, frown on the very concept of sacrifices, thinking immediately about the slaughtering of animals, cows and sheep, bringing in their wake rivers of blood and columns of thick black smoke, acrid and bitter with the smell of burning flesh. Not a pleasant image, rather a primitive and unpleasant one. We forget the basic reason for the sacrifices, which is the idea of "sharing with God" -- and we have forgotten the feeling of being close God -- so that we can hear Him.
In our tradition, sacrifice was replaced by prayer. However, the purpose of prayer is not to give us a chance to ask God for things, be they success in business or in love, recovery from a dreaded disease, a good grade on an exam or something as unimportant as a new car, luck or what we call happiness. We need to pray, as our ancestors offered sacrifices, to be close to Him. To share with him not only our anxiety but our wellbeing. In olden days they would make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, changing their daily routine thereby. They would offer a gift to God -- a cow, a heifer or a sheep. They would make a meal with the priests and the Levites, before God. They dedicated the meal, and they dedicated themselves thereby -- which means that they opened themselves to the experience. We dedicate nothing. We pray in a hurry, eat in a hurry, love our families in a hurry.
The Torah, in the third book, teaches us to take time out to be with God, to be with our people, yes, even to be with ourselves. It teaches us that unless we hear the call -- we will never hear the speech. Unless we open our eyes, we shall never see the glory of God’s presence, and unless we tune in to God’s frequency we shall miss the sound of His splendid symphony of love and harmony of His marvelous creation. Without the glory of His presence among us, we are lost. We are no longer unique. This Shabbat is also called Shabbat Zakhor, in which we are commanded to remember what Amalek did to Israel in the desert. Amalek was an enemy tribe of the Israelites that attacked us when we were most vulnerable. Maybe we are commanded to remember the Amalek because there is a little Amalek in all of us! We all attack ourselves when we are vulnerable. We cut ourselves off from family, friends, and from God... When the Amalek within us attacks, we must remember the experience of Sinai. We must recall that to hear God we must first harken to His voice. Hear the call, and respond with our own Hineni -- Here I am, Lord! Clear, loud, sure and resonant -- affirming the past, building the future. Amen


5756

Sefer Vayikra, Leviticus, is also called Torat Kohanim -- the teaching of the Priests. It is the most complex of the Five Books of Moses, containing mostly "halakhah" -- which is usually translated to mean Jewish law, though it is actually the instructions on the way to live and walk in His will -- in Hebrew "the path," or "the way to walk." One thing is sure, it has less narrative, less history, than the rest of Torah.
Yosef Albo, a Sepharadic Rabbi, philosopher and sage of the fifteenth century who lived in Saragosa and Castilia, in his great book, Sefer Ha'ikarim (the Book of principles), discusses the deficiencies of civil law, which is legislated by human governments -- and confirms the superiority of the law that comes "min Ora'yta" -- from God -- which we find in the Torah. He theorizes that there are three different types of laws in the world. The first type is "natural laws" that everyone agrees are vital for society. These are laws against theft mayham and murder which do harm to people. The purpose of such laws is to preserve the rights of individuals, and to insure a mode of civility that insures the continuity of society. The second type of laws is designed to improve people's condition of living. These laws change with the times. They are instituted by politicians, by lawyers or by social philosophers. Modern example of this type of laws is parking laws and environmental protection laws. Rabbi Albo concludes that while we must manifest free will and personal responsibility, none-the-less we must recognize the higher authority of God and His sovereignty. This brings him to the last type of law.
This final type of laws is the laws given by G-d. These laws bring about both individual and societal perfection. It is easy to be fooled into thinking that constitutional laws and philosophies can improve the condition of individuals in Society, and are therefore the equivalent of Divide law. This comparison of the ideals of philosophy and law with Divine inspiration is most common to the followers of what is called "humanism." Great thinkers may have an insight which we appreciate and applaud in a piece of literature that they have penned. However, we must recognize the difference between a truth and a bit of wisdom in such inspired work -- and the constant inspiration and wisdom of the inspired word of God, the Torah.
The first seven chapters in Sefer Va'yikra, Leviticus, describe the establishment of the sacrificial system. As in many (if not all) other instances, translation of the text is totally inadequate because there are no English words to give the exact, proper meaning of the concept articulated in a single Hebrew word. The term "sacrifice" comes from the Hebrew word "korban." The English word implies that the person bringing the sacrific is somehow depriving himself, in some way, to satisfy God's need. However, we are taught that God finds no satisfaction in inflicting pain or agony upon us, His children -- therefore, His need for this "sacrificing" comes into question. So, sometimes the word is translated as "offering," suggesting a more free give-and-take -- although it is still short of the true meaning of the Hebrew word. An offering implies that the recipient of the gift must be pleased, for some reason. God supposedly requires a tribute that will somehow alleviate His wrath and make Him receptive to the petitioner, or He has a need that can only be satisfied by someone other than Himself. We are taught that this is just not so. God does not need nor require our gifts. Listen to Jeremiah, [6:20] " To what purpose comes to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor are your sacrifices sweet to me." In the next chapter, Jeremiah tells the people, [7:21,22]"For I did not speak to your fathers, nor commanded them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices; But this thing I commanded them, saying, Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you."
So, let's go back to the Hebrew: the root for word "korban" is quf-reish-bet, or "karav," which means to come near -- or to draw close. This word, "karav," reveals the true meaning of korban. It is supposed to teach us that a person brings an offering to draw near to God, to elevate the level of his own spiritual experience and understanding. This is the true meaning, or purpose, of the sacrificial system. It is the re-establishment of a close relationship with God where the believer finds peace, comfort, and safety as he draws nearer to God.
Nearly all the laws of sacrifice, along with rules of ritual defilement and purification, ceased to apply when the offering stopped, at the time the Temple was destroyed, in 70 C.E.. The essence of the sacrificial system is summed up in the opening verses of Vayikra, "Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord..." [1:2] Many commentators understand this passage to mean, literally, that the truest offering is when the owner brings himself as the offering, as it says in the Hebrew "adam ki yakriv" -- if a man offers, and it is implied that he offers himself. Aperson negates himself before God, and makes his desires subservient to the teachings and guidelines of Torah. The symbolism of the sacrificial system is based on this concept. The use of an animal sacrifices becomes secondary. Man, by his nature, wants to satisfy his own urges, to be foot-loose and fancy free. In relating to God one becomes responsible and productive, sacrificing one's "natural right" to a life of anarchy and chaos.
As one draws close to God ("mit'karev" meaning "to draw near") and puts his life, his desires, his hopes and dreams on the altar of God, ("mak'riv" meaning "to sacrifice" and "korban" is the "sacrifice") he will finally know, prove and walk in the perfect path that is the will of God. Anywhere else is hollow, empty and lonely. One cannot expect to walk in unity with God when one refuses to recognize that the body and its vitality is a gift from God. It is necessary to recognize that God is the rightful owner of all life. This surrender of one's self brings forth genuine life. We read in Psalm 51:15-17, "O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall show forth Your praise. For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it to you. You do not delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart...These, O God, You will not despise." The sacrificial system was established to bring man to the place of recognizing his depravity and to allow him a method of dealing with it "one on one with God" in order to re-establish a relationship.
Man's history is marked with failures and new beginnings. Mankind was created in God's perfection, but failed his heavenly ideal because of our human frailty. This failure, according to the Talmud, then became the reason for the first offering unto God. The first offering to God, that of Cain and Abel, was a disaster in which a quarter of humanity perished! Exactly ten generations after creation man brought upon himself the Flood because of a culmination of evil by mankind living a godless life. After the flood, Noah brought an offering in Bereshit 8:20. After more failure by ten generations between Noah and Terakh, Abraham was chosen, and he brought another offering in Bereshit 12:8, "And he moved from there to a mountain in the east of Beth-El, and pitched his tent, having Beth-El on the west, and Aai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord, and called upon the name of the Lord." These three offerings suggest that all generations are marked by failure, just as our lives are marred by failures, still, man never loses all hope. Man's successive shortcomings always result in new starting points in our spiritual pursuit. Sometimes a person can see how far he needs to advance only when he realizes how far he has fallen back.
Our sages asked, why was the Torah given in the desert? The Midrash answers that it is to demonstrate that just as the desert is not sown or worked so a person who is without Torah is like barren land that will give no harvest -- a desert. When the Torah was given, Israel was sustained in the desert for forty years, showing us the yield of Torah. The study of Torah, and prayer , are today's equivalent of the korbenot, the sactifices. The prophet Hosea, told us, "Take words with you and return to the LORD; say to him, "Take away all guilt; accept that which is good, and we will offer the fruit of our lips."" [14:2] Joshua was commanded to study Torah constantly. "Lo Yamush Sefer Hatorah Hazeh Mipicha" -- Do not stop having the words of Torah on your lips! The Midrash tells us that if Joshua, who studied Torah with Moshe Rabbienu, was commanded to study all the time, how much more so any one of us should always study.
God wishes the nearness of man, "kir'va," more that an offering, "korban" -- just as he hates wickedness even while holding his hand in friendship to the sinner. Return to Him, and he is there for you. Abraham did not have to offer naught but his love and his obedience. We need do no more -- and no less.


 
5757


This week we begin reading the third book of the Torah, the one called "Vayikra" in Hebrew, which means 'and He called' -- and in English it is called Leviticus. The opening verses read, "And the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying, 'Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord.'" [Lev. 1:1-4]
The whole book of Vayikra deals with the work of the cohanim, the priests -- the first part introduces us to the ritual requirements of sacrifice, and the second deals with the concept of holiness, and how we achieve the sanctification of life itself. In fact, this book was called "Torat Cohanim," in our tradition. This leads one to ask, why bother to read this book? Maybe this book should be reserved strictly to priests who serve in the Temple. The answer our sages gave was that the Torah teaches us that we must be ''mamlekhet kohanim ve'am kadosh' -- a kingdom of priests and a holy people' -- and therefore we must all learn the nature of the labor of the cohanim. So we read on, and the first type of sacrifice mentioned in the book, which I read to you above, is a burnt offering, and the text continues and tells us, "And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." [Ibid. 1:5]
"He shall offer it of his own voluntary" and "it shall be accepted for him to make atonement" demands that we probe the nature of our relation to God, and the whole concept of sin. Liberal and liberated intellectuals and academicians (the "L" word, as former president Bush used to call it), consider sin the "s" word, a relic of a puritanical society which obsessively sought to inflict guilt upon its citizenry -- and therefore they reject religion and dispute the very existence of God. They blame heredity and environment - parents and society - for whatever wrongdoing is perpetuated by individual "sinner/victims." The orthodox and fundamentalist believers, on the other hand, consider sin to be the inevitable master of the human personality, and teach that sin can be overcome only by Divine grace. They perceive human nature as a powerful and relentless black pit, an enemy from within. Both agree, strangely, coming from opposing points of view, that human beings are more object than subject, virtually defenseless in the face of evil forces.
The Torah, on the other hand, teaches us the concept of individual responsibility, and therefore the ability to control one's actions, wedded to a sovereign God who is so full of grace that he allows us free will and is willing to forgive our trespasses. The Torah teaches that a sacrificial offering is not sufficient penitence for a willful transgression; restitution must be made, and often an additional rehabilitative penalty must be paid. The ritual itself - the individual who brings an animal to the Holy Temple must confess his sin over it before it is slaughtered, "And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering" -- may serve to emphasize the fact that even in such an instance, humans are held responsible for a transgression, even one of a lesser magnitude than one of willful greed or passion. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse for breaking the law; every person must be aware of his environment and of the possible ramifications of his every deed. Descartes, the French philosopher, said, "I think, therefore I am." Judaism would amend Descartes to read: "I think -- therefore I am, and furthermore, I am responsible -- therefore I am worthy of being." Taking responsibility is not a matter of choice, but a necessity. When one accepts responsibility, one makes possible the process of re-creating oneself, which is intimated by the fire on the altar, whose flames not only destroy, but also transform and purify.
In what seems like a paradox, Judaism agrees with both the liberals and the fundamentalist. Like the scientists and academicians, we teach that man was made of the 'dust of the earth' -- the building blocks of all existence. Thus we are the end product of all evolution, with a strong emphasis on each individual's particular parents, with a strong influence from one's environment during the formative years -- and let's face it, we never stop forming until we end our existence... And like the creationists and deists we teach that man was created in the image of God, that our existence is augmented by a spark of the divine, making possible leaps of faith from sin to serenity and from lust to love. Man has the brute characteristics of animals, and may be prone to live his life by instinct and raw passion -- but if he is to rise above the morass, he needs to discover the spark of the divine that is within him. That is why Torah tells us, "of his own voluntary" shall he bring his offering -- and "it shall be accepted for him to make atonement," and he will elevate himself -- for human beings alone are moral beings, who must make the 'right' choices. We can amend Descartes, saying, "I make choices, therefore I am a human." We relate to God, and know how to relate to man, and we rise above the animals and find harmony and happiness.
 

5758


This week’s Torah portion is Vayikra, the first portion from the third book of the Torah, which is Leviticus. In Hebrew, the book is also called Torat Cohanim, the teaching of the priests, for it deals almost exclusively with the rites of the Temple -- and the Tabernacle that came before it in the desert. Of course, the Cohanim were from the family of Aaron, brother of Moshe, and they, in turn, were sons of Amram, from the larger family of Levi. Thus we can see the connection of this latter name with the English-Greek Leviticus. Now, the word 'va’yikra' means ‘and he called.’ It is the first word of the verse, "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying..." [Lev. 1:1]
Beyond the normal Torah reading, this is a special Shabbat because it is Rosh Khodesh, the beginning of a month, which is a "small" beginning, like -- but not quite like -- Rosh Hashana, the time of the beginning of the year in the Jewish tradition, a time of renewal and rededication. To top off the special character to this particular shabbat, it is the beginning of a very particular month, the month during which we celebrate the time of the exodus. In the days when the Jews lived in their own land before the Temple was destroyed, this was, indeed, the first month of the year, even as we read in the scriptural text from the second scroll: "Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, "This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you."" [Ex.12:1,2]
The sages ask, why does the Torah use two verbs, 'and he called' and 'and spoke' -- would it not have been sufficient and more economical to say ‘The Lord spoke unto Moses out of the tent of meeting...’ Our sages always answer their own question, and in this case, one of their answers (and they had more than one lesson) was: When God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, he told them to prepare for three days, and when it was time, we read, "Vayered adonay al har Sinai el rosh hahar vayikra adonay el Moshe -- and the Lord came down upon mount Sinai to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses..." [Ex. 19:20] Only after that do we read," And the Lord spoke all these words, saying..." [Ex. 20:1] Before we can hear, we must be open to the message.
I have often been asked, how does God speak to us? Have you heard God lately? Indeed, have you heard God at all, ever. Many people doubt that anyone can hear Him. ‘Oh, oh,’ they say, ‘here’s another nut who claims that God spoke to him. Call the insane asylum and get the men in white to grab him...’ Others ask why it is that God, who spoke to mankind in ancient times, does not speak to us today. I would like to suggest to you that what they miss is not the word of God but the readiness to hear it. I tell people that I have heard Him speak, that I continue to hear His voice all the tie, in His manifestation in nature and in the best within man. I tell people, if you show a book to an illiterate person he will benefit little from its message. Present a grand vista to a blind person and you will not hear an exclamation of surprise or admiration. Place a deaf person in the midst of the New York Phiharmonic orchestra or the Metropolitan Opera chorus -- and don’t be surprised if he will not tap his foot to the beat of the music. Likewise with God. Yes, God is all around us -- but we still need to, as the prophet Isaiah admonishes us, "seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while he is near." [Isaiah 55:6]
Is there a time that God hides so that He may not be found? Is there a time when God, who fills the whole universe, is not near enough to hear us? No, indeed! But the prophet wants us to understand that We may be so lost that we can’t find Him, we may be so confounded that we no longer know that He is near. Thus Isaiah invites us to open ourselves to Him, if we are to hear his message and receive His blessing.
God can get along very nicely, thank you, without any human contact, without our hymns, prayers or sacrifices. But we, His children, are different. We need Him, his presence, to make us aware of our humanity. This Shabbat, as we begin to prepare for the celebration of God's deliverance, we recall that it was His doing, and not our own, that made possible His deliverance, and our freedom. So the words of our text make sense, as we begin to realize that God, in His Selfhood and His Presence, is everywhere -- but our sensitivity to it is not! We need to start out by opening our eyes and tuning our heart to His Presence. Once we achieve that, we can only first hear His speech, become aware of His miracles, see His hand in all that takes place.
We have to open ourselves to the experience of God. We don't hear His voice and see His miracles because we dedicate nothing. Dedicate is another word for Holiness -- at least in Hebrew! We don't have a Temple and Cohanim to offer sacrifices. We don't make pilgrimages. We clam we don't have the time... We pray in a hurry, eat in a hurry, love our families in a hurry. We must stop beig ina hurry. Slow down and live! Unless we open our eyes, we shall never see the glory of God’s presence, and unless we tune in to God’s 'frequency' we shall miss the sound of His splendid symphony of love and harmony with His marvelous creation. Without the glory of His presence among us, we are lost. We are no longer unique. The Torah, in the third book which we start reading this Shabbat, teaches us to take time out to be with God, to be with our people, yes, even to be with ourselves. It teaches us that unless we hear the call -- we will never hear the speech. We must recall that to hear God we must first harken to His voice. Hear the call, and respond with our own 'Hineni,' here I am, Lord! Clear, loud, sure and resonant -- affirming the past, building the future. Amen


5759



This week’s Sidra is Vayikra, the first portion from the third book of the Torah, which is Leviticus.  The English name comes from the Greek, and refers to the Levites, the family of Aaron, the priest.  All Cohanim, priests, were, in fact, Levites.  In Hebrew the book is also
called 'Torat Cohanim,' the teaching of the priests, for it deals almost exclusively with the rites of the Tabernacle -- and the Temple that came after it, when the Israelites settled in their own land.  Now, the word, 'va’yikra,' actually means ‘and he called.’  It is the first word of the verse, “Vayikra el Moshe va'ydaber adona'y elav me'ohel mo'ed le'mor -- And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying...” [Lev 1:1]
Many of us have a real problem with the third book of the Torah.  We ask, 'who needs to read the rules and instructions Moshe gave the priests?  After all, we no longer have a temple, and we don't offer sacrifices -- and if we were going to, God would probably give us a new set of instructions...
To me, the first challenge comes with the very first word -- 'and He called...'  It is such an awesome idea!  God, almighty creator and master of all there is, calls on someone, on anyone...  Oh yes, on every one!   That is so incredible, so radical!
Examining the text, we feel a need to  ask, 'why does the Torah use two verbs, 'and He called,' "vayikra," 'and  He spoke,' "va'ydaber" -- would it not have been sufficient and more economical to say ‘The Lord spoke unto Moses out of the tent of meeting...’  Our sages gave a number of explanations for the text with its two verbs:  They spoke of Moses, Moshe Rabenu, the great leader and teacher, and his exemplary behavior:  Here was this great man, the architect and contractor of the Tabernacle -- and yet, he waited outside this tent,
waiting for God to invite him in.  They also recalled that there were times when Moshe did not listen to the word of God and acted in a manner that displease the Master of the universe.
They spoke of the teachings of God.  They pointed out that God, in all His omnipotence, does not impose Himself suddenly upon mankind.  In his very first encounter with man, in the Garden of Eden, after man had eaten of the Forbidden Fruit, we read,  “Vayikra adonay elohim el haadam vayomer ayeka... -- And the Lord God called unto the man and said unto
him, `where are you?’” [Gen. 3:9]  When God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, he told them to prepare for three days, and when it was time, we read, “Vayered adonay al har Sinai el rosh hahar vayikra adonay el Moshe -- and the Lord came down upon mount Sinai to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses...” [Ex. 19:20]   Only after that do
we read, “Va'ydaber Adona'y et kol had'varim ha'ele le'mor -- And the Lord spoke all these words, saying...” [Ex. 20:1]  Before we can hear, we must be open to the message.
There is a story about a sculptor who was looking for a model for a statue which he wanted to call "Beauty and Goodness." He was searching for a harmony of spirit and body which would make the soul's purity visible through the external form. He found the proper individual at a spirited prayer convocation, and he was sure that he had not erred when
this young man requested that any remuneration be given to the poor.  A number of years later, the sculptor chanced upon a drunk lying in his own filth.  The man looked so hideous that the sculptor was prompted to do a companion piece to his "Beauty and Goodness."  Fascinated by the decadence and pathos, the despair and sadness of the face and body of
the wretch, the sculptor resolved to call the piece,  "Ugliness and Evil." He worked feverishly all night to produce the basis for what he was certain would be another masterpiece.  The next morning, when the drunk awoke and the sculptor had him cleaned and dressed as partial payment, imagine his shock on recognizing the same man he had used before!
What happened to the man to turn him from "Beauty and Goodness" to "Ugliness and Evil?"  The prophet Isaiah admonishes us, “Dirshu et adona'y behimatz'o kra'uhu b'hiyoto karov -- seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon Him while he is near.” [Isaiah 55:6]  Is there a time that God hides so that He may not be found?  Is there a time when God, who fills the whole universe, is not near enough to hear us?  No, indeed!  But the prophet wants us to understand that We may be so lost that we can’t find Him, we may be so confounded that we no longer know that He is near.  Thus Isaiah invites us to open ourselves to Him, if we
are to hear his message and receive His blessing.  The model for "Beauty and Goodness" was so blessed that he forgot where all his blessings came from.   Trusting in himself, he lost the path to God.  God can get along very nicely, thank you, without any human contact,
without our hymns, prayers or sacrifices.  We, in 1999, frown on the very concept of sacrifices  -- and we have forgotten the feeling of being close God -- so that we can hear Him.  Given enough time to lose ourselves, and enough rope -- we hang ourselves.   Enter "Ugliness and
Evil."  Same face, same body -- minus God!
Sacrifices were replaced by prayer.  However, the purpose of prayer is not to give us a chance to ask God for things, be they success in business or in love, recovery from a dreaded disease, a good grade on an exam or something as unimportant as a new car, luck or what we call happiness.  We need to pray, as our ancestors offered sacrifices, to be close to Him.  To share with him not only our anxiety but our well-being.  In days gone by, Jews would make a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, changing their daily routine by doing so.  They would offer a gift to God -- a cow, a heifer or a sheep.  They would make a
meal with the priests and the Levites, before God.  They would dedicate the meal, and they would rediscover themselves thereby -- which means that they opened themselves to the experience.  We dedicate nothing.  We pray in a hurry, eat in a hurry, love our families in a hurry.
We squeeze the lemon and toss it in the can.   The Torah, in the third book, teaches us to take time out to be with God, to be with our people, yes, even to be with ourselves.  It teaches us that unless we hear the call -- we will never hear the speech.  Unless we open our eyes, we shall never see the glory of God’s presence, and unless we tune in to
God’s frequency we shall miss the sound of His splendid symphony of love and harmony.   We shall not be a part of His marvelous creation.  Without the glory of His presence among us, we are lost.  We are no longer unique.  "Beauty and Goodness" becomes "Ugliness and Evil!"  We are taught the same lesson in the first words of the first prayer of our people:  Shema Yisrael -- Hear Oh Yisrael...  We must never forget that to hear God we must first hear his call -- for he is calling -- and we must harken to His voice.  Hear the call, and respond with our own Hineni  --  here I am, Lord!  Clear, loud, sure and resonant -- affirming the past, enriching the present, and building for the future.

5760


This is a special Shabbat for a number of reasons. I will start from the "end," and tell you that it is the Shabbat before Purim, and therefore we read from two sifrey Torah - two scrolls, so no one would think that the two separate readings actually occur in the same place and sequence in the Scriptures. In the second scroll we read Moshe’s exhortation to the Israelites, "Zakhor et asher asa lekha Amalek baderekh betzetkhem mimitzra’yim – Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; How he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it." [Deu. 25:17-19] The reason for reading this passage is that the events of Purim speak of an intractable enemy, Haman the Agagite, who is believed to be a descendant of the king of Amalek that was spared by King Saul against God’s command, which cost him his kingdom.
Let’s forget about all the above for a time, and go to the main reason that this shabbat is different and special. It is because we begin reading a "new" book of the Five books of Moshe – Va’yikra, Leviticus. The Torah text begins with the following words, "And the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." [Lev. 1:1-4] This is the beginning of a whole "book" that deals with the work of the priests in the Tabernacle in the desert, which was then transferred to the work in the Temple in Jerusalem.
I think that there are a number of issues that we need to focus on in the few verses I read to you. Note that whole practice of sacrifice offering is not really "necessary," and the text says in the very beginning, "If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord," and goes on to say "he shall offer it of his own voluntary" – clearly leaving the choice of whether or not a sacrifice is offered, and what kind of a sacrifice it is up to the individual. However, we also have certain parameters for these offerings: "You shall bring your offering of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock." Quite clearly one cannot bring a pig, or a child, or a piece of jewelry. These twin conditions are most important in understanding Judaism and our relation to God.
God created man with a spirit that is a spark of the divine. This spirit thirsts to come in contact with its creator – hence our attempt to relate to God. However, we must realize our nature and His qualities before we can form that relationship. God is unique and singular, just and loving and constant. We, His children, are not any of the above – at least not by nature. We are prone to conform to those around us, finding the lowest common denominator to live in a fellowship with others. Only the lowest denominator makes us lowly rather than lofty. We take shortcuts with our duties, our obligations, and our options for growth and maturing.
We go round and round complicating our lives, trying to do the impossible, to live lives of perfection, of innocence and self denial. We become fanatics and fundamentalists – all the while not paying any heed to God’s teaching in the Holy Torah and his message at the hand of His prophets. God tells us in this week’s portion that all we do with Him in mind is by personal choice – and yet, we have waged wars of annihilation in the name of "obligations" to Him that we claim to zealously find missing in our enemies... We blame the "others" of not knowing Him, of not offering Him homage, of not following His teaching, all the while forgetting that His lesson has been summed in one simple statement of His prophet: "He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love loving mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?" [Micah 6:8]
So this is "Shabbat Zakhor" – the Sabbath set aside to remember. Remember what the Amalek has done to Israel. Remember what the intractable enemy has done to us throughout the ages. And, while you are at it, remember that we are our worst enemy. We sell ourselves short. Saul kept Agag, king of Amalek alive because he had sympathy for "a colleague;" "Here but for the grace of God goes I," he probably told himself. It’s hard to be a king... But, apart from that, it is even more difficult to be an obedient servant of God the most high. When we fail to live by His law, we end up with the consequences of our transgression. It is not because He is mean, it is because that is the nature of the World which He created. Let us train ourselves, through loving Him and living by His mitzvot, to do His will with complete adherence. Let us make His way our nature – and we shall live in peace and security in a world that is blessed with peace and prosperity. Ken Yehi ratzon! So may it be His will.

 

Amen

5761

This shabbat we begin reading a "new" book of the Five books of Moshe – Va’yikra, Leviticus. The Torah text begins with the following words, "And the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." [Lev. 1:1-4] This is the beginning of a whole "book" that deals with the work of the priests in the Tabernacle in the desert, which was then transferred to the work in the Temple in Jerusalem. This Shabbat we read five chapters, finishing with the text that says, "If a soul sins, and commits a trespass against the Lord, and lies to his neighbor in that which was delivered him to keep, or in fellowship, or in a thing taken away by violence, or has deceived his neighbor; Or have found that which was lost, and lies concerning it, and swears falsely; in any of all these that a man does, sinning in it; Then it shall be, because he has sinned, and is guilty, that he shall restore that which he took violently away, or the thing which he has deceitfully gotten, or that which was delivered him to keep, or the lost thing which he found, Or all that about which he has sworn falsely; he shall restore it in full, and shall add a fifth part more to it, and give it to him to whom it belongs, in the day of his trespass offering. And he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord, a ram without blemish out of the flock, with your estimation, for a guilt offering, to the priest; And the priest shall make an atonement for him before the Lord; and it shall be forgiven him for any thing of all that he has done in trespassing in it." [Lev 5:21-26]

This text speaks of offering sacrifices, which we no longer do - but it also speaks of wanting to please God, which we certainly do want to do at all times, and of transgressing against our fellow citizens in a number of ways because of our human failings.

All of this aside, I want to deal with the first words of the portion, and the name of the book. "Va’yikra el Moshe, va’ydaber adona’y elav me’oher mo’ed - And the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting..." God Almighty, Sovereign of all the world, wishes to speak to Moshe - and he calls out to him. There is something very ordinary and wonderful in God calling to Moshe. I am reminded of the words of a song that was very popular a few short years ago, "Call me." It emphasized the concept that if you have a relationship, you can reach out and find a caring heart and an open ear. Some of the words of the song said, "You just call out my name, and you know that wherever I am - I’ll come running... Call me, don’t be afraid, you can call me. Call me and I’ll be around..."

Well, it is not only the "pal" or the "buddy"that is going to be there. In fact, the friend got the idea from the first Friend in creation, the master of creation. God in His personhood made a covenant with Abraham, Yitzhak and Ya’akov. "After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram; I am your shield, and your reward will be great." [Gen. 15:1 "And, behold, I am with you, and will keep you in all places where you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you, until I have done that about which I have spoken to you." [Gen 28:15] So God has been there for our fathers in the time of the formation of the House of Yisrael, and we have been taught that all we have to do is reach out and call to Him, and he will be there for us.

FDR, upon his inauguration, spoke words inspired by the above idea when he said, "to some generations much is given; of others much is demanded; this generation of Americans has a render vous with destiny." This is just another way of saying that some generations are spoken to, and others are called to serve. It is up to us to hone our sensitivities, to sharpen our wit and to be ready when the call comes. We have a purpose, and we have an obligation because of our very existence. We owe our allegiance to God. He is our father, our master, our sovereign. He blesses us with life, with intelligence and with the wisdom to hear, to discern and to respond to His directive. When he calls, can we do anything less than to head the call. In the words of the prophet, "The lion has roared, who will not fear? The Lord God has spoken, who can but prophesy?" [Amos 3:8] Let us head the call, let us do His will, and let God’s kingdom be proclaimed speedily.

Amen

5762

This Shabbat is the first in the month of Nisan, the month of spring, the first month of the calendar of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. On this Shabbat, coincidentally, we begin reading a "new" book of the Five books of Moshe – Va'yikra, Leviticus. The Torah text begins with the following words, "And the Lord called to Moses, and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, If any man of you brings an offering to the Lord, you shall bring your offering of the cattle, of the herd, and of the flock. If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the Tent of Meeting before the Lord. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him." [Lev. 1:1-4] This is the beginning of a whole "book" that deals with a description of the task of the priests in the Tabernacle in the desert, which was then transferred to the labor called "Avodah" in the Temple in Jerusalem, and described for us so vividly in the Yom Kippur liturgy.

Yet I wish to deal with the first word, the name of this book - "Va'yikra" - "and He called." There is something awesome and wonderful in our tradition that is manifest in this word. Our God, who is the most glorious powerful diety, the Holy One Blessed Be He, the "omni " everything - all seeing, all knowing, all powerful, always present - He calls us! How very wonderful, how very challenging, how very kind and loving for Him to do.
And how curious.
Think about it, ponder the issue: What "use" does He have for us? None. Why does he "need" us? For nothing. We are so fleeting, transient - and He is so permanent; we are so small - and He so grand and all-encompassing; we are so weak - and He so powerful. Why does He bother with us? If the rolls were reversed, and given our nature, our character - would we call Him? Frankly, I doubt it. Why does He bother?
Our tradition tells us: He does it out of love.
Before reciting the morning Shma, we say a prayer whose first words are, "Ata bekhartanu mikol ha'amim, ahavta otanu veratzita banu" - You have chosen us of all the nation, You loved us and You wanted us. That is why You called. To be sure, we are taught that You love all your children. Your prophet said to us, "Are you not like the Kushites to me, O people of Israel? says the Lord. Did I not bring Israel out of the land of Egypt? And the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Arameans from Kir?" [Amos 9:4] - Yet, somehow, You have chosen to have a special relationship with Israel. Maybe it is only that we were the first to ascribe sovereignty to you. Or maybe or it was because of Abraham. Who know? Who cares? The important thing is that it is a fact. We do have a special and rather long lasting relationship.
You called us so that we may live, to become an eternal people by embracing Your Torah, Your Mitzvot, Your ways, and Your love. You gave us a choice between leaving Egypt or staying behind, between life and death, and you advised us, "Uvakharta bakha'yim" - "therefore, choose life."
We have often disappointed You - after all, we are not You. Oy yoy yoy, are we ever not You! We went astray from the very start, when we left Egypt; we failed to understand, we did not learn quickly - sometimes it seems that we never learn, never master Your teaching. We do not keep your Shabbat or Your mitzvot as You would wish them to be kept. We are not perfect. We are Your children, and children being children, and human - fall short of the mark. And yet, there is one thing that You cannot say we failed at. We do love You. In our love for You we have become a marked people, the Shabbat people, the despised people, the ones to shun, or turn out, or persecute, or annihilate. In our Love for You we return Your favor - we cal out to You. Morning and evening we call - in rain and in shine, in summer and in winter we call. When things are bad, we call (and when are they not bad?) - and when things are good, we find something bad about those times, too - and we call. Oh, how we call!
We shouted in Egypt; we cried out to You and You heard our cry. You told Moshe that you did - so we know it is so. We almost revolted at the sea; we grumbled at the bitter water fountains, we protested when there was no meat, we badgered when there was no fish - and that was just during our honeymoon! We have gone on to suffer and to call, to die at every enemy's mode of execution shouting "Shma Yisrael" - not "Hear Oh Israel," but rather, listen to Israel your people. Hurry and answer us, hasten and redeem.
And today is no different. We are in dire straights - we are under attack in our precious Israel, our numbers are diminishing in the United States of America; we are being threatened and aggrieved in France and we are starving in Argentina... Shma, hear, oh Lord, hear our plea, and see our travail. You call us, and we are here for you. Anenu - answer us and save us, and we shall praise You and proclaim to all mankind, "Elohey Yisra'el melekh olam va'ed" - the God of Israel is sovereign over the whole universe.

Amen

 

5763

This week's portion of the Torah, read in synagogues throughout the world, is Vayikra – the first portion from the third book of the Torah, which is Leviticus in English, coming from the Greek and the "Christian" scriptures, making reference to the fact that the content is the instruction for the Levites and the priests, who were, of course, also Levites - but from the family of Aharon, brother of Moshe. In Hebrew it is also called Torat Cohanim, the teaching of the priests, for it deals almost exclusively with the rites of the Temple -- and the Tabernacle that came before it in the desert. Now, the word, va'yikra, means ‘and he called.' It is the first word of the verse, "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying..."
This Shabbat is "special" for a number of reasons. First, it is the Shabbat before Purim, and therefore we read from two sifrey Torah - two scrolls, so no one would think that the two separate readings actually occur in the same place and sequence in our Scriptures. In the second scroll we read Moshe's exhortation to the Israelites, "Zakhor et asher asa lekha Amalek baderekh betzetkhem mimitzra'yim – Remember what Amalek did to you by the way, when you came forth out of Egypt; How he met you by the way, and struck at your rear, all who were feeble behind you, when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around, in the land which the Lord your God gives you for an inheritance to possess, that you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget it." [Deu. 25:17-19] Because of the first word of the reading (in the Hebrew) it is called "Shabbat Zakhor." The reason for reading this passage is that the events of Purim speak of an intractable enemy, Haman the Agagite, who is believed to be a descendant of the king of Amalek that was spared by King Saul in contravention of God's command, which cost him his kingdom.
The Torah, in the third book, teaches us to take time out to be with God, to be with our fellow Jews in the place where God is worshiped and revered –and yes, even to be with ourselves. It teaches us that unless we hear the call, God's call -- we will never hear the message. Unless we open our eyes, we shall never see the glory of God's presence, and unless we tune in to God's "frequency," we shall miss the sound of His splendid symphony of love and harmony for all of His marvelous creation. Without the Glory and the Presence and the message -- we stop being His messengers. Surely, we cannot allow this to happen. Vayikra – He called -- can we do less than respond with a clear and swift "Hineni – here I am."
Well, then – how do we respond? The Mishnah teaches us: "He used to say, ‘an uncultured person is not sin-fearing; neither is an ignorant person pious; the bashful does not learn, and the impatient person cannot teach - nor does the busy merchant become wise [in Torah]. In a place where there are no outstanding people - you try to be outstanding." [Avot 2:5] I believe that this passage is the answer! Too many people today find no meaning in the service - because they are uncultured. This is not an insult, and I do not mean it as a criticism - but rather as an observation of fact. This lack of culture is caused by lack of exposure, practice and conviction of things Jewish.
The less we know, the less Judaism means to us. This is only natural. If we saw a shard of glass on our path, we would pay it no mind, or at best we would pick it up to dispose of it in a manner that would avoid people getting hurt by that shard. However, if we were looking for precious stones in a place where gems are found, and we saw the self-same shard, we might bend down, pick it up, and examine it closely: is it glass, or could it possibly be a sapphire, or maybe even a diamond? Those of us that have not had a chance to receive a well grounded Jewish education can have an emotional attachment to our heritage, but we cannot be true practitioners - for one needs to know our ways, our laws, our traditions - before one can claim to be a convinced and faithful follower of the Faith of Abraham and teachingsof Moshe. We must realize that each of us teaches by example – we teach our children, their peers, our neighbors, and our friends. People, young and old, observe and learn from what we do much more than from what we propound and claim verbally. You know the saying, "actions speak louder than words." Well, it is very true – and we all stand or fall by what we do, not by what we claim as our ideals, our "philosophy of life" or our "Credo."
This Shabbat we celebrate the good, the bad, the new and the old, the ordinary and the unique and different. It is the day on which God rested, and which was hallowed by Him. It is "Shabbat Zakhor," when we are urged to remember the intractable enemy – and learn the lesson that some wars cannot end when the enemy retires from battle - it has to go on until the enemy is vanquished and eliminated. We begin a new book of the five volumes of the Torah, and yet the text is ancient and always renewable. Shabbat recurs every seven days, and yet each Shabbat is different, for we, who celebrate it, are different. We grow and mature in our knowledge and understanding of our heritage and our ways, we have a different outlook of God's creation, and therefore a different understanding of Him and His ways.
Finally we must look at the last part of the Mishnah verse – "In a place where there are no outstanding people - you try to be outstanding." This is a call to maintain our humanity and our uniqueness at the same time. We are all familiar with social pressures to "go with the flow." We are urged on all sides by every kind of media to conform: "Just do it." "Our country, love it or leave it." "Buy [whatever it is] – it is new and improved." In other words, be like everyone else, accept the sensibility of the crowd, adapt, conform, don't stick-out. Don't waste your time on that which is not "in."
This is not the lesson of the week, or the year - Not in Judaism. We say, be different, be what the Almighty has given you the natural ability to be. Do not sell yourself short, not for fame nor for profit. Allow your spirit to soar, your soul to take flight. Reach for the stars and never be satisfied with mediocrity. Seek God by expanding your horizons – and do not neglect your heritage for the sake of transient worldly rewards. God and success are not opposites – don't compromise the former to achieve the latter. All the rewards on earth are mere obstructions to one who does not have God in his heart. Love God, and your heart will be filled with love, and joy, and peace.

Amen

Shabbat Shalom

5764


This week's Sidra is Vayikra, the first portion from the third book of the Torah, which, we all know, is Leviticus, and in Hebrew the same as the name of the sidra - va'yikra. In Hebrew it is also called Torat Cohanim, the teaching of the priests, for it deals almost exclusively with the rites of the Temple -- and the Tabernacle that came before it in the desert. Now, the word, va'yikra, means ‘and he called.' It is the first word of the verse, "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying..." [Lev. 1:1]
If we examine the text, we may well ask, "why does the Torah use two verbs, and he called va'yikra, and spoke va'ydaber -- would it not have been sufficient and more "economical" to say ‘The Lord spoke unto Moses out of the tent of meeting...' Our sages gave a number of explanations for the text, and in the past I mentioned some of them: Moshe Rabenu, the great leader and teacher, this great man, the architect and contractor of the Tabernacle -- and yet, he waits outside this tent, waiting for God to call and invite him in. Another explanation: God, in all His omnipotence, does not impose Himself suddenly upon mankind. In his very first encounter with man, in the Garden of Eden, after man had eaten of the Forbidden Fruit, we read, "Vayikra adonay elohim el haadam vayomer ayeka... -- and the Lord God called unto the man and said unto him, `where are you?'" [Gen. 3:9] When God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai, he told them to prepare for three days, and when it was time, we read, "Va'yered adonay al har Sinai el rosh hahar vayikra adonay el Moshe -- and the Lord came down upon mount Sinai to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses..." [Ex. 19:20] Only after that do we read, "And the Lord spoke all these words, saying..."
Now I wish to make you aware of another interpretation, one that is very important to note in our own desire to live a more spiritual Jewish life. Our great sage, Rashi, connected the verse from our portion to the verse from the prophet, "Above it stood the seraphim; each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he did fly. V' kara zeh el ze ve'amar – And one called to another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." [Isaiah 6:2,3] The seraphim, Rashi tells us, are the angels that serve God as His personal honor guard. They are a "cadre," a company that shares eternity together. Hence it would stand to reason that they are great friends, comrades and brothers in God's service. "V' kara zeh el ze – and one called to another" informs us of their close relation, their mutual respect and love. Rashi goes on to say that when God calls, he repeats the name twice, as when he called to our first patriarch, Avraham (Gen. 22:11) to tell him to spare his son, Yitzkhak; on first encountering Moshe, (Ex. 3:4) He repeated his name twice. This double use of the name denotes a relation of love. When we love someone, we rejoice in the sound of their name.
Hense, Rashi tells us, there is a special relation between Moshe and of God.. We are not surprised to note that Moshe, as stated above, would wait for God to "call to him" to approach and enter His domain. However, to hear that God reciprocates the respect, and the love, and calls out to prepare Moshe to hear His words – there is a lesson well worth the learning.
In his parting words to Israel, Moshe informs them, "For this commandment which I command you this day, is not hidden from you, nor is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it? Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, Who shall go over the sea for us, and bring it to us, that we may hear it, and do it? But the word is very near to you, in your mouth, and in your heart, that you may do it." [Deu. 30:11-14]
So out of His great love for us, His people Israel, God calls to us. Yet, most people proclaim that God does not speak – either to them or to anyone else. How does God speak to us? Have you heard God lately? Indeed, have you heard God at all, ever. Many people doubt that anyone can hear Him. ‘Oh, oh,' they will deride the faithful, ‘here's another nut who claims that God spoke to him. Call the psych ward to come and get him...' Others ask, ‘where are the prophets in modern times? Why it is that God, who spoke to mankind in ancient times, does not speak to us today?'
This reminds me of two things. There is a saying, "you can't blame the soap is your hands are dirty." Soap does not make the hands clean – it takes water, rubbing the hands while the soap is between them, and more rubbing after one lets go of the soap to clean the hands – and even then, it only works if the grime is the kind the soap can help remove. The second thing is the complaint of the person who purchased a fine high fidelity system that did not produce any sound. Queried as to the possible reasons for the lack of sound, when the technician asked, "Did you set the dial on ‘radio?'" the man said he could not see a ‘radio' sign. Queried if the set was "plugged in," he replied that it could not be plugged in since there was no electricity in his home...
Friends, before you hear the call, you must make sure that you are plugged in. The prophet made it quite clear, "Dirshu adona'y behimatz'o kra'uhu bihyoto karov – Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near;" [Isaiah 55:6] Is there a time when God can be found, and another when He cannot? Is He near at times, and far at others? The prophets speaks tous of our condition, not about God's. God is always near, and He can always be found. However, we are sometimes lost, and to confused to see Him and find His presence. Hense, the prophets speaks the above verse. Prepare, each and every one of you, humanity, to find God. Make a habit of opening yourself to God. Commune with Him in private and in public, in your more intimate time and in the synagogue and the market-place. Share with Him your sorrows – and your joys. Seek His help in your trial, and thank Him when you are successful and happy.

 

5765

This week’s reading in the Torah is called “Vayikra,” which is the first portion from the third book of the Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses – which is called Leviticus, from the name of the third son of Ya’akov our father. Levi is the son whose family did not become a tribe in Israel. Instead, the family became the priests and their helpers-assistants, the Levites. In Hebrew this book has another name – it is also called Torat Cohanim, the teaching of the priests, for it deals almost exclusively with the rites of the Temple – and the Tabernacle that came before it in the desert. Now, the word, “va’yikra,” means “and he called.” It is the first word of the verse, "Va’yikra el moshe va’ydaber elav me’ohel mo’ed le’mor – And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying..." [Lev. 1:1]
We often ask why Judaism has kept up with the study of this book – since the Temple is no longer functioning and the priests are no longer officiating in the offering of sacrifices. The traditional response is that the Torah as also taught us, “Va’atem tih’yu li mamlekhet kohanim v’goy kadosh – and you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation...” [Ex. 19:6] So, all of us, not only the priests who are Levites, are involved in the priesthood. Because of this verse and the concept it teaches, which the Jewish people accepted as their “calling,” we have kept up the study of the “Torat Cohanim” – the teaching of the priests.
I propose that while we are reading these portions, I shall discuss issues of Jewish law that touch our everyday life and issues.
Today I would like to grab the headlines: “DeLay Says Schiavo Feeding Tube Removal Blocked” and “Florida Judge Lifts Stay Blocking Feeding Tube Removal” Both of these headlines are from the March 18, 2005 New York Times. If a visitor landed from Mars and looked at the paper with his “intergalactic Universal language interpreter,” he would still not understand these headlines, and would ask two questions: what are feeding tubes, and who is Schiavo?
Terri Schiavo, a young woman aged 26, collapsed at home when her heart stopped beating temporarily, on 25 February 1990. Oxygen was cut off to her brain by the heart stoppage, and she has been brain damaged since that time. Terri Schiavo was diagnosed by a team of doctors to be in a persistent vegetative state and is unlikely to recover. Her husband insists that he and his wife had talked about catastrophic illness and its debilitating effects before she had the heart stoppage, and he knows that his wife did not want to be kept alive in this way.
Michael Schiavo, Terri Schiavo’s husband and legal guardian wished to remove the feeding tube that kept her alive and let her die because of the doctors’ diagnosis and what he claims would have been his wife’s wishes. However, her parents - the Schindlers - have been locked in a legal battle with him since 1998. They oppose his plans. The Schindlers said their daughter has shown signs of independent mental and physical capacities and could improve with treatment. No doctor has seen any of those signs, and based on the doctors’ diagnosis she was placed in a hospice, which normally only accepts dying patients. The court battle over her future has lasted seven years.
After hearing testimony from doctors and neurologists, the Florida courts ruled that the cardiac arrest robbed her brain of ``all but the most instinctive of neurological functions'' and that there was no hope of her regaining consciousness. It ruled that she would not have wanted continued life support based on relatives' testimony that when her husband's grandmother was being kept alive by a respirator, Terri Schiavo had said, ``If I ever go like that, just let me go ... I don't want to be kept alive on a machine.'' When the court could no longer intervene, the Florida legislature passed a special law to delay the removal of the feeding tube. This law lapsed recently, and hence the new court and legislative activity.
Some cynics claim that Michael Schiavo wished to disconnect his wife from her feeding tube so that he could “go on with his life” – which is not an unreasonable thing to do. But, in fact, that cannot be his motivation, since he has established a relationship with another woman in all but name. Some say that he may want Terri’s life to be over because of financial considerations, but that, too, cannot be the reason, since he was offered a million dollars by Robert Herring, who founded an electronics firm and later a satellite channel, and who said he was moved to act after following the legal battle and realizing that time was running out for Mrs Schiavo. Mr. Herring, a supporter of stem cell research, said he would pay the money if the husband gave up his right to decide his wife's medical treatment. Michael Schiavo refused the money and the chance to “get off the hook.”
Why is this battle going on? Since Terri Schiavo lost conciseness, hundreds of thousands people have died all over the world – why this effort for the life of this one person?
The case has become a touchstone for disabled rights campaigners, anti-abortion ideologues who call themselves “pro-life” activists, and right-to-die campaigners. Each side speaks eloquently to their cause. Where does Judaism stand?
Judaism teaches us that life is a gift of God that may not be “refused.” Suicide is definitely not allowed or condoned in our faith. However, Judaism makes a distinction between living and being on the verge of death – a condition that is called “gossess.” When a person is living, by whatever interpretation we give to that word, it is incumbent upon us to use any and every means to extend and perpetuate life. When a person no longer fits the ‘living’ category, we need only insure that they are allowed to pass on in dignity and relative comfort. The medical profession, with all its twenty-first century advances, has made its findings known. It is time to release the remains of Terri Schiavo from their earth-bound connection and allow her spirit to return to the God who gave her life.

May she find rest, and may she rest in peace. Amen

 

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