1. Deuteronomy: Nitsavim/Va-yelekh

Moses is presenting the covenant to the Israelites before he dies and leaves the task (of leading the Israelites into Israel) to Joshua.  There’s lots of talk of blessings if the Israelites act right and curses if they don’t.  And of forgiveness and welcoming back if they act wrong then repent.  And there’s one paragraph that stands out, separate from the rest:

30:11

Surely, this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach.  It is not in the heavens…..Neither is it beyond the sea…..No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.

There’s all kinds of discussion about much of the rest of the text, but I found less about this one paragraph.  “Instruction”, with the capital “I”, must be the commandments as a whole.  The covenant that God is making with the Israelites, right?  That’s my take based on the rest of the text.

So…” it is not too baffling”.  I guess because the same commandments have been spelled out time and time again, how could anyone remain unclear?  Except for the fact that, in my experience at least, the more discussion around an issue, the less clear it becomes. 

If you just say and believe that the sky is blue, then it is blue.  But if you bring 3 friends together with a color wheel, and you all gaze heavenward and compare the color of the sky to the colorwheel, through all of your various sets of eyes, the conversation will become more complex.  Maybe the sky is light blue, or it’s gray, or it’s blue if you squint and white if you don’t, and so on.  Like the Torah.  What seems obvious at the first maybe isn’t so obvious if it’s repeated over and over in different voices and with differing context. 

So, by the time Moses has come to the end of his days, and the Israelites have been wandering for 40 years and have died and now their children are entering Israel, perhaps all of the noise and movement have muddied the waters.  Maybe sitting in my comfy bed reading Torah over the span of one year gives a clearer picture of the commandments than walking through the desert for 40 years and being told that same Torah.  Maybe Moses looks at the faces of the Israelites and realizes that there is confusion there.

I think this is Moses referring to the “still small voice”.  If the Israelites can sit quietly alone and consider each decision and what is the right way to turn, then the commandments will not be baffling.  I think Moses is telling them that he has faith that they really do know what is right.  They are capable of understanding what God wants of them if they can separate themselves from the chaos around them.

“Nor is it beyond reach” is Moses telling them that they have the power to make the right decisions and do the right thing.  They are capable of acting right and they have the opportunity to make the choice to do so.  It goes back to the difference between having free will and not having free will.  We do have free will and we are capable of using it to do right.  Moses is telling the Israelites that they can use their free will to the betterment of themselves individually and as a group.

And finally, “the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart”.  Moses is being a cheer leader.  He’s telling the Israelites that they do, in fact, understand what’s being asked of them and they can live right.  The commandments are now ingrained in them.  Like learning a foreign language….once you can think in that language you are truly fluent.  So he’s jumping up and down with pom poms telling them that they should have faith in their knowledge.  That it’s in their hearts and is part of them and that when they speak it will come out right.

Of course, if you read ahead, this entire theory is shot full of holes, but let’s just not read ahead.  I think Moses is telling the Israelites that he trusts them and has faith in them and they should trust and have faith in themselves and walk with God (so to speak).

1. Deuteronomy: Ki Teitzei

When you go….that’s what ki teitzei means.  These are the commandments that Jews are to follow when they arrive.  I read somewhere that 74 of the 631 mitzvot are listed in this portion.  I haven’t personally counted.

I like rules, especially rules that sound crazy.  Like it’s illegal to spit on the sidewalk in California.  That rule was made once upon a time for some good reason.  You’d have to research the date and time of the rule to figure out how it made sense though.

Some of the mitzvot seem crazy too.  Like why can’t we wear cloth made of both wool and linen ?  And why does a captive bride have to shave her head and grow out her nails?  And we can’t even go to the place where it’s even ok to take a captive bride these days, now can we?  There’s just nothing okay there.

There’s a great article in this month’s Reform Judaism magazine.  It’s called “Lost in Mis-Translation”.  The english language bibles of today, both Jewish and Christian, were originally commissioned for translation in the 1600s by King James for the Christians of the day.  More recent bibles are based on that early translation.  And not only were there errors in the early translation, but often modern people forget that times were very different then and words that meant one thing during biblical times mean something entirely different today.  Not only that, but customs were entirely different.

So considering why we are not allowed to wear cloth made of wool and linen becomes a really interesting little mystery to solve.  This is one of the mitzvot that man is considered unable to understand.  Which for me makes the mystery even more interesting.  Linen was extensively used first by the Egyptians and is made from the flax plant.  I believe their priests wore linen and their dead were mummified in linen.  Wool came much later and is an animal product rather than a plant product.  It is much more elastic than linen (which is not elastic at all) and is much warmer.  So maybe the Jews didn’t want to wear what the Egyptians wore along with what they themselves might have developed.  Or maybe the idea is just that wool is a winter garment and linen a summer garment.  Or maybe it was about mixing animal and plant.  Apparently there is a very strong and useful fabric that is made of both wool and linen.  Maybe the Jews didn’t have the ability to make this cloth themselves and so didn’t want to use it. 

Or maybe, God just said don’t mix these fibers and stop asking why.  I say that very thing to my children, although I promised myself as a child that I’d never say it.  Sometimes the answer is just “because I said so”.

Now I really don’t get why the captive wife has to shave her head and grow her nails.  Any ideas on that one?

1. Deuteronomy: Shof’tim

Okay, so late doesn’t even begin to cover it.  It’s nearly the end of the year and I’ve suddenly fallen way behind.  Do you want to hear my excuses?  No, I didn’t think so.  Don’t judge me, ok?

Shof’tim means judges (hah!).  This portion lays out the basic Jewish constitution.  Who’s in charge of what and how each group is to carry out their own responsibilities.  Kings, Levites (priests), Prophets, witnesses, and so forth.  There’s one little bit that I find a bit out of place.  It’s about trees.

If the Jews lay siege to a town, they can eat from the trees and they must not cut down any trees that yield food.  They should also kill all of the men and take the women and children as booty.  And this is all in the same few breaths.  Such violence right next to such sweetness.  And by the way, I just heard on the news that the tree outside of Anne Frank’s hiding place finally died.  They had it propped up and have been trying to save it all these years, but it finally went.  And it made the news.  Alongside the number of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Maybe the lesson is that there is horror and sweetness together in every time and place.  But I still thinks it’s kind of out of place next to the constitutional issues.

This portion also brings me to a constant source of my own confusion.  There are kings and priests and prophets described by God.  And God clearly says that He is the only God and the only one we should believe in.  So I seriously don’t get the Jesus idea and the Holy Ghost and all of the Catholic saints.  When I asked a Catholic once who Jesus was, the answer I got was Jesus is God.  One of my friends explained that Jesus and the saints are like brokers.  They deal with the tedium and leave the big stuff to God.  Again, I’m still confused.  And I’m not trying to be nasty or anything, I’m just confused.  If we are to believe in only one God, then I don’t get the rest of it.  Who are all of these people that others are praying to?  Aren’t they supposed to be praying to God?  At least according to what’s written.

Although I am certainly guilty on occasion of praying to the sun god when it’s been raining for too long, or praying to the rain god when it’s been too hot.  And sometimes praying to the ice cream god that they’ll have my favorite flavor when I get to the ice cream store.  I don’t think that counts though, do you?

1. Deuteronomy: Re’eh

Re’eh means “see”. 

I am deeply conflicted about something I’m taking from this week’s portion.  There is lots in the news about a mosque and Islamic community center that may be built at the site of the World Trade Center.  The ADL has issued a statement against building a mosque here.  Many conservative politicians are against building a mosque here.  The talk is that a mosque would be a painful reminder for the survivors and families affected by 9/11. 

I suppose it depends on what you “see” when you look at a mosque.  Is it a symbol of terrorism?  Or is it a place to come together and worship?  Are we allowing terrorists to define Islam for us?  And if we are, isn’t that our own choice, and therefore our own problem?  I don’t know a lot of Muslims, and I don’t know any Muslims very well.  I don’t know the Koran or what it teaches.  I do know the Torah.

This week’s portion tells the Israelites to destroy all of the places of worship built by the inhabitants of the land promised to them by God (this after they have been told by God, through Moses, to kill all of the people in their way).  It’s pretty brutal.  Through Moses, God tells the Israelites to build a place of worship at a place of God’s choosing and that this is the only place where the Israelites are to worship God.

So, let’s pretend for a moment that the Muslim people who want to build a mosque at Ground Zero are really evil (which I do not for one moment believe).  Since America is a land ruled by money and power, then perhaps the World Trade Center could be seen as our central place of worship.  And perhaps it is being replaced now by a Mosque, a place for the people of Islam to worship.  Do you see the parallel at all?

We have a choice about the way we see things, people, the world around us.  I choose to see good wherever I can.  Some would think this naive, which is okay with me.  And perhaps true.  There are evil people and there are people doing evil things all the time.  And there are really good people doing really good things all the time.  So where do we put our focus?  My greatest focus for the last several years has been to raise good people, mensches.  And even the parenting books say that the best way to get children to behave well is to reward good behavior and, when possible, ignore bad behavior.  Don’t give it the attention and it will often go away in favor of good behavior.

I do believe that the people who want to build a mosque at Ground Zero have good intentions.  It is my choice to see them this way.  And until they prove me wrong, I will naively continue.  Where will peace and understanding begin if not with the choices that each of us make about how we choose to see the people around us?

Is it a place of worship or a home for terrorists?  You choose, I already have.

1. Deuteronomy: Eikev

This is the third parsha in Deuteronomy and the first I’ve written on (remember the vacation).  But it is not the first I’ve read.  And I feel disturbed.  Very disturbed.  There’s been a lot of re-hash and I’m hearing a new voice.  Reminders of where the Israelites have been and what has occurred so far on Moses’ and the Israelites’ journey.  This new voice is recalling how we got where we are and what it cost.

And on top of that, I just read a couple of articles in The Forward about Chelsea Clinton’s marriage yesterday (yes, on the sabbath) to a Jewish man.  Then came the comments after the article.  Then an article about Israel’s rejection of marriage performed between any two people not considered Jews in the eyes of the Israeli Rabbinate.

Disturbed and sad.  I love being a Jew, and I will process this and it will feel better once I do.  But for now, I read what the fundamentalists read.  There is one way, only one way, to be deserving.  And that is to be an Israelite and follow God’s commandments.  If not, if you belong to a group that stands within Israel, or between the Israelites and Israel, you will be killed so that the Israelites can secure the land of Israel for themselves.  And if you don’t follow the commandments, as interpreted by this group or that group, then you are not a good Jew, or a deserving human being, or, to read some of the comments in The Forward, not worthy of much of anything.

There is a bumper sticker that says that all war is fought over religion, so if you eliminate religion you will eliminate war.  The bumper sticker is much more pithy about it, but that is the gist.  And if you read the Torah, it does seem to be true, at least fundamentally.  Lots and lots of people died so that the Israelites could have the land they were promised.

So I’m left with a dilemma.  We all are.  What do we look at literally?  We can’t all have everything that we want no matter what.  The fundamentalists can’t have a world that is as it was hundreds or thousands of years ago.  We can’t live on land that someone else is living on and call it our own without sharing it.  No one has a right to walk into another person’s home, life, world and tell them that they are doing it wrong therefore they don’t deserve…..whatever.

So we have to look at Torah in some way other than literally.  It is not a blueprint for life today….it can’t be.  Maybe much of the havoc and devastation that mankind has wrought on our world and its people is as a result of reading Torah a bit too literally.  Maybe it’s time to be inclusive and not exclusive.  Maybe it’s time to love more and allow each and every one of us to follow his or her own path, so long as that path does not desecrate another.

Maybe it’s time to stop being so RIGHT all the time and spend more time wondering how we can each be better tomorrow than we were today.

Thanks God, for kicking my ass.

1. Numbers: Hukkat

oh dear….even when I get ahead I’m still behind.  Busy me, busy Torah.  This week we have red cows, dead siblings, weeping rocks, and a lot of fighting. 

The Israelites have moved on to Kadesh and now are apparently very close to Israel.  So it seems nearly 40 years have passed.  Where did the time go?  Again, the Israelites are staging another uprising.  It seems like this happens pretty much every week.  In the last parsha, God had Aaron stake his blossomed staff at the tent of meeting to remind “the rebels” of God’s power.  So here they are again, apparently they’ve forgotten once more who is in charge. 

This time they are pissed because they have no water.  Miriam has died, and the water she provided is gone with her.  God tells Moses to speak to a rock in front of the community and order it to yield its water. 

But Moses messes up.  He assembles the people and says to them:

“Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?”

Moses whacks the rock twice with his staff and water pours out.  But God is angry and tells Moses that he and Aaron will not enter the land of Israel.  According to the commentary that I’ve read, God might have been angry because Moses referred to the Israelites as rebels, essentially giving in to his own anger and lowering his stature to that of the commoner.  And God had already told the Israelites that their generation would not enter Israel, so now Moses is among the commoners who will not enter Israel.  Or perhaps God was angry because Moses whacked the rock rather than talking to it as God had directed.

But I think it might be something else that has angered God.  When Moses says that “we” can bring forth water from the rock, he is not clear about who “we” are.  It sounds to me like he’s referring to himself and Aaron.  And, personally, I’ve never met a man who can get water out of a rock.  Or a woman for that matter.  So God might have been pissed because rather than using this opportunity to prove yet again to the Israelites that God has their best interests at heart, Moses has taken the credit.  This might have been a test by God to prove Moses’ humility, or lack thereof.  And Moses proved himself a not so great parent this time.

Thanks heavens God is not so strict with me.  Parenting is not an easy job and I only have 2 kids!  There’s an awful lot of careful phrasing, re-shaping of difficult situations, and sweet talking that goes into this job.  And how many did Moses have?  600,000?  Well not that many any more since the snake and the plagues and the opening of the earth and such.  But still, a lot more than 2!

1. Numbers: Shelah-Lekah

God has a hissy fit.  The Israelites have lost faith, yet again, in themselves, in God, in Israel.  And God is pissed.  Moses convinces God not to kill all of the Israelites (and he creates a remarkably good argument…it’s worth reading).  At first, this seemed like the sum total of the parsha, so I went online to see what others think.  There’s always so much more to Torah than I can read on my own.  I need to spend more time at Torah study…this does truly need to be turned over and over.

There’s an awful lot to chew on.  “First do, then believe”.  There’s a saying I use with my kids:  “fake it till you make it”.  It’s an AA saying I think.  As much as we think we know everything, we don’t.  Whether you believe in God or don’t, sometimes faith is required just to get through the day.  Faith and preparation.

I’m dealing with this daily right now.  It was scary to quit my job, especially in this impossible economy.  But the job wasn’t working with my life, so here I am.  My faith in myself told me I could make this work.  But faith alone won’t get it done.  Doing the preparation: making phone calls, marketing myself like mad, sending emails daily, looking for excuses to connect with people in my business.  Faith is great, but if I just sat around having faith that a job would fall into my lap, most likely no job would ever fall into my lap.  I have to do the work, prepare.  Do and then believe.  The two together make up faith, but doing has to come first.

The Israelite spies looked at the big picture and freaked out.  They were paralyzed and couldn’t “do”, so they lost faith.  When I look around, I see this everywhere.  Sometimes the job is too big, but paralysis is never the answer.  Baby steps are the answer.  Do and then believe.  That is faith.

That’s why God wants us to wear tzitzit I think.  It’s a reminder to do.

1. Numbers: Be-Ha’alotekha

Be-Ha’alotekha means “when you step up”.  The Israelites are on the move, and God, as a cloud, is leading them.  This portion happens during the second passover, so apparently it occurs in early spring.  That’s a good time, if there is one, to be traveling in the desert looking for food.  And the Israelites subsist on grain (manna).  As a matter of fact, in this portion there is complaining about the lack of meat.  But I jump ahead here.

So the Israelites subsist on grain, which requires water to grow.  It makes sense to stay with the clouds as they will provide the rain to grow the grain.  And if you live in the desert, whether it’s Sinai or Paran, water is important.  According to what I’ve read, Paran is south of Mt. Sinai, which means they are walking away from Israel.  Kind of interesting, but that would account for the 40 years of wandering.  If  they had walked straight from Sinai to Israel, I think the trek would take less than 2 weeks.  But then, they didn’t have google earth.  They were following  clouds.  And there were more than 600,000 of them who were not always eager followers.  And that number reflects only the men I believe.  If so, you could probably triple it.  1.8 million hungry, grumpy people.  So God told Moses to gather 70 people to share the burden of the followers.

In one of the articles I read about this portion, there is talk about the Jews being God’s firstborn, the chosen ones.  The first born is held up as the most spiritual, the one who is to follow God.

The whole idea of “chosen one” has always bothered me.  I am a first born.  I am a Jew.  I am no better, nor am I more spiritually available, than anyone else.  But this article I read makes an interesting point.  God is only God because of the first born Jews, the Jews of Moses’ time.  I am only a mother because I gave birth to Emily, my first born.  God is only God because the first Jews believed this to be true.  If not for the first born Jews, there would be no God.  God’s existence relies on the Jews, and by extension God’s existence relies on the belief of each individual.  So, really, everyone is a first born.  Everyone is chosen, if they choose to believe.  Because God only exists as we choose to believe God exists.  And, in my opinion, there are no 2 beliefs in God that are the same.  So, while many of us believe in one God, we do not all have the same God.

When you look up at the clouds, what do you see?  And if you describe what you see to your sister, brother, mother, father or friend, how can you be sure that they are seeing, really, the same thing as you are describing?  Thank God for clouds.  Thank clouds for God.

1. Numbers: Naso

Naso means to lift up.  There’s a lot of counting, dealing with a woman who may or may not have been unfaithful (no discussion about men in the same position….oh wait, men couldn’t be unfaithful because they could have as many women as they wanted….damn), consecrating the tabernacle, who was carrying what, and the priestly blessing.

I love it when the rabbi blesses me.  It feels amazing.

“The Lord bless you and protect you! The Lord deal kindly and graciously with you! The Lord bestow His favor upon you and grant you peace!”

But I’m not good at giving blessings.  Not comfortable.  At Em’s bat mitzvah I gave her a blessing.  It took me a few weeks to write, then I could barely speak it.  Maybe that’s why I have trouble giving blessings.  The priestly blessing is pre-written.  The emotion is between the recipient and God, not the rabbi.  When I give a blessing it is my emotion alone.  At the synagogue on Friday nights I cry when I sing the prayers.  I’m okay until I try to emit sound, and then I cry.  Same with blessings I guess.  It doesn’t bother me to cry at tv commercials, it doesn’t bother me (too much) to cry in synagogue, but somehow saying a blessing to someone I love scares me.  I don’t know why.  I’m apparently not afraid to cry.  I wonder what I’m afraid to feel.

1. Hello Numbers: B’Midbar

B’midbar translates variously as” in the desert” or “in the wilderness”.  The desert metaphor works well if you see the Torah as water, a parallel that I’ve read several times.  The Israelites are tasked with taking a census, and the rules for encampment are spelled out very specifically.  This parshah comes the week before Shavuot, the holiday that celebrates the receiving of the Torah.

We all live in wilderness, but some don’t see that.  My daughter has a note up on her facebook that’s pretty revelatory.  I don’t recall the exact wording, but I think her meaning goes something like this:

people who think they need psychological help don’t need it as much as the people who don’t (think they need psychological help)

People who think they have it all figured out, socieities who think they have all of the answers, talk show hosts who believe that what they believe is truth (they’d give it a capital “T”), religious leaders who tell you who and what God is; these are the people who don’t realize that they are in the wilderness.

When I quit my job recently, I entered a new and different kind of wilderness.  There is no one telling me what to do every minute of my day.  There is no right answer.  There is no clear direction, except for the one that I choose to take.  It’s really thrilling and kind of scary.  What if I take the wrong path?  What if I miss a connection?  Who will correct me, help me, show me…

The essay I’m working on about interfaith relationships is showing me the same thing.  In my interfaith family, we are in a wilderness as well.  There is no one to tell us how to be our interfaith family.  There are people who can tell us how to be an interfaith family the way that they are, but they can’t tell us how to do it our way.  When I look around at other families, occasionally I’m a little envious.  They seem to have it all figured out.  We know another interfaith family that seems to do it differently than we do.  The dad, who is not Jewish, always wears a kippah in synagogue.  My husband does not.  I know that struggles that we face, but I don’t see theirs.  I just see the dad wear a kippah and presume that they have it figured out better.

They don’t.  As I’ve gotten to know them better, I realize that they struggle as well, much more than we do.  I like my wilderness better.  My friends who are married and are both Jewish struggle in ways that my husband and I do not.  Their wilderness is their own.

We all live in the wilderness, in the desert.  Each of us needs to find our own answers.  The Torah might provide some of those answers, if you choose to look there.  I enjoy looking to the Torah for answers.  The answers are all puzzles, they are not clear and concise, they are not specific.  Sometimes they don’t seem to make sense, and maybe sometimes the search itself is the answer.

1. Leviticus: Emor

a few details….emor means “speak”.  This portion explains the obligations of the priests (who they can marry, what dead people they can be in contact with, somehow these two items don’t seem to go together to me).  And we get a rundown of all of the holidays (passover, yom kippur, sukkot).  There is no mention of hanukkah or 8 days of presents.  Duh.  Then we hear about how a blasphemer should be killed.  Lovely.  A blasphemer is someone who speaks God’s name as a curse apparently.  And anyone who hears him has to put their hand on his head then the blasphemer must be stoned by the communitiy.  Kinda strict, dontcha think?  But then, I guess when you are trying to create a new community and set up some rules and guidelines, maybe it’s appropriate to go a little over the top.  Otherwise, just like children, the newly formed community will push the limits.  It seems to be human nature.

So I read a commentary on this parsha and it struck a chord:

In Leviticus 22:32 we read: “You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people—I Adonai who sanctify you.”

 Translation issues become important here. The text says v’nikdashti, “and I will be made holy” amidst the Children of Israel. Or, in other words, “You will make Me holy just as I, Adonai, have made you holy.” 

 This is what I wrote on the notcards I created for my 50th birthday:  “Each friend represents a world in us.  A world possibly not born until they arrive.  And it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”  by Anais Nin

So it is up to each of us to create this meeting and experience this relationship, this world.  We have a choice to have a relationship with God based on whether or not we make the leap to meet God, or whatever our version of God is.  Once the meeting is made, the world exists for us to then either inhabit or not.

This, to me, is much better than being told who or what God is.  Because honestly, you don’t know.  And neither did Moses know my God.  Nor do I know yours.  And I guess this is why Jews don’t really seem to define God….something that I think many people of other faiths do not understand.  God is not given, God is chosen.  By us.  Or not.

1. Leviticus: Va’Yikra

Off topic for a minute….

I spoke on the phone today with a man whose son and grandson from Israel need a place to spend Passover.  I offered our table to the son and grandson as well as the father/grandfather.  He said that he would probably not want to come as he is an atheist.  He was very sweet, but I did not get the connection between his belief in God and spending the evening with us.  He said maybe he’d decide to join us.  I hope he does.

Or two…

Bezalel Design would be a great company name for me.  Bezalel was the son of Uri son of Hur of the tribe of Judah.  He built the first tabernacle.  “see, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel….He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft and has inspired him to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood—to work in every kind of designers craft—and to give directions”.  Don’t you think?  But if I choose a company name then I need a business account to cash checks and I’m sure there will be some kind of financial penalty for not using my own name.  So it’s on the back burner right now.  But it’s a great name.

Now seriously, on to Va’Yikra.  It’s all about offerings.  There are a few types of offerings:  just plain old offerings (like maybe when you need something of God?), there’s a peace offering, an offering when you’ve done something wrong, an offering when you don’t speak up, when you touch an unclean thing or “human uncleanness” (I’m a bit afraid to imagine the meaning here….my 11 year old boy could undoubtedly come up with countless examples), when you utter an oath, when you commit a trespass, when you sin by breaking a commandment about things NOT to be done, when you act deceitfully or defraud another or lie.  There is lots of burning, spraying about of blood, and delivery of various types of animals and unleavened bread to priests, as well as restitution in the case of stealing or lying to another.  It’s all very specific instruction given through Moses to the people.  And I’m afraid I find some of it a little suspect.

When I was in college a friend and I started a ski club.  We made people pay dues and we organized cabins that they could use in Tahoe.  We spent their dues paying for the cabins and for caretakers.  And luckily we were quite honest.  We wrote our own club bylaws.  In the bylaws we wrote that because we were club founders, we had lifetime rights to membership and could use the cabins at member rates forever.  We could write whatever we wanted into our bylaws.  We could have said that the God of snow had told us that we should be able to ski for free forever.  Once the bylaws are written down, they become a sort of code to live by.  Like the Constitution.  I guess that’s why college students don’t write things like bibles and constitutions.  They cannot be trusted to see the greater good.

Moses brought God’s word to the people.  Many of the offerings include extras for the priests (Moses’ brother Aaron and his progeny).  And I suppose since the priests were the lawmakers of the day, they might have been too busy settling squabbles to go out and earn a living.  So maybe the extras (bread, grain, animals) were necessary sustenance for the priests.  Maybe it’s not so suspect after all.  Perhaps if Moses had come down and said that God said that people had to give over all of their wealth to him and his family, then that would have been suspect.

So I take back all of my suspicion.  Whether God said it, or Moses said it, it was certainly said by someone with the wisdom to make good choices, not by a college student looking out for herself above all.

1. Exodus: Va-Yakhel/Pekudei

Interesting how this portion begins with Moses explaining that God says that every Israelite must observe the sabbath by not working and not kindling a fire.  And further, if any Israelite does work on the sabbath they will be put to death.  Pretty serious offense.  Really serious consequence.

Then, in the next paragraph, Moses begins a list of all of the very specific items that God wants brought by the Israelites to contribute to the building of the tabernacle.  He calls these items gifts.  And they should only be brought by those whose hearts are moved to do so.  The Israelites are commanded to bring gifts, but only if they want to.  Kind of a contradiction of sorts.

So that gets me thinking.  There have been so many rules laid out in the last few chapters.  Very specific rules, many of which must be followed under penalty of death.  Then God wants a bunch of gifts, and there is no consequence to not fulfilling this request.

We make lots of rules as parents.  Lots of rules that our kids must follow.  My kids have to do homework before they do other things.  They have to eat at the table.  They aren’t allowed to lie.  Often I make them come with me to the synagogue, even when they don’t want to.  Maybe that’s wrong.  Maybe God was making a distinction between the kinds of rules that must be followed, so that society works, and recommendations that benefit us more as individuals.  I’m not sure.  There’s a definite distinction here, and it’s not yet clear to me.

Is God wanting the Israelites to dwell with him only if that is where there heart brings them?  I did not grow up in a religious home.  I came to religion by choice and it fulfills me.  Maybe if it had been forced on me, I would not embrace it the way I do.  Maybe it’s time to let my children make their own choice about participating.  Although I will make my youngest continue with religious school through his bar mitzvah.  At that point, he can make a choice about how he wants to continue.  But maybe, outside of school, it should be up to him.  Maybe that’s what God is saying.

1. Exodus: Ki Tissa

wow…big week.  And yes, I know I’m late again.  It’s been a big few weeks in a lot of ways.  I’ve made a major life decision.  I’m leaving my job and going to work for myself.  It’s a crazy time to be doing this, what with our insane economy and the extreme lack of work in architecture, but it’s the right time just the same.

It was an even bigger week in Moses world.  He got to meet God and chat.  He even got to talk God out of killing all of the Israelites because of the golden calf.  That’s huge…Moses, the little human guy, was heard by God, the big god guy.  Being heard by the big guy is huge in anyone’s world.

So I was reading one of the ever so many Jew-mails that I get.  I have to copy and paste a bit here.  I read it while I was waiting for my lunch at the cafe that I usually go to near my office (my nearly ex-office).  I was reading it on my phone and got so excited I was tempted to show it to someone, anyone, even though there was no one that I knew in the place.  Really crazy….stuff happens the way it’s supposed to happen if you live with intention.  So here’s a bit of what Rabbi Naftali Reich has to say on this week’s portion:

In our own lives, it is important to recognize the enormous power we hold in our own hands. We are capable of attaining any goals we pursue with true single-minded perseverance, but sometimes we would do well to stop and consider where we are going. Only if we channel our energies correctly and pursue goals of enduring value can we truly enrich our lives and find true happiness and fulfillment.

So, in the spirit of choosing the right path, I am choosing to : 

  1. leave my job but not my career
  2. spend more time doing the work that fulfills me but doesn’t drain me
  3. volunteer to help the organizations that I am well equipped to help without emptying myself
  4. be available to my children and my family without feeling someone else is being cheated
  5. be happy to be where I am

So go check your map and make sure you’re on the path you want to be on, mean to be on.

1. Exodus: Tetsavyeh

The faster I go, the behinder I get.  My dad used to say that.  It seems to fit my pattern right now, but it will change.  I know that I can tell you my little not-so-secret.  I am leaving my job.  I’m sad, nervous, relieved, sad.  I know I said sad twice.  But I do love my job and all of the people that I work with.  So I’ll be sad to leave them, but they need me and a half.  And all I have to give is me.  So it’s time to step away and find a way to do what I love to do in the amount of time that I have to do it.  I’m sad, yes, but also excited to set out on a new adventure.  And I’ll have to dress properly.

Not a very graceful segue, but it’s late and I’m behind (er).  Tetsavyeh is all about fashion.  Appropriate fashion.  Aaron and his progeny’s priestly fashion to be exact.  And God was extremely exact about how the priests should dress.  Colors, materials, how they were used and what they stood for are all covered here.

Fashion is a gift and a curse.  In our society so many are slaves to the fashion gods (you know, the beautiful people in all of those advertisements).  I once had a plan to take the label out of every piece of clothing I owned and put them all on a single shirt.  That would be my “label”.  When my kids were young I told them that I wouldn’t buy them clothes with the name of the manufacturer brazenly displayed (unless of course the company wanted to pay me to use my children as billboards).  That is the cursed aspect of fashion.

But there’s another side to fashion.  As a society we set up visual rules and customs that help us to organize.  Every society does this.  Remember when Nixon flashed his two finger peace sign (in China perhaps?) and deeply offended the locals?  They didn’t read his two finger gesture as a compliment….I think it had a similar meaning to our middle finger gesture.  Well our clothes carry messages as well.  When I walk into a business meeting, I don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt.  I wear clothing that tells the people in the room that I have style and taste.  I’m an interior designer for heaven’s sake!  My visual presence is part of my story.  It’s not ALL of my story, but it definitely carries a message.

How many times have you connected someone that you did not know well with what they looked like?  “Remember that guy who had the funny tie and that yellow shirt?”  We hired a sculptor once to work on a hotel project that we were involved in.  He showed up at the meeting in pants that exposed much too much of his nether region, a t-shirt that was a few sizes too small, and an odor that was memorable.  When discussing him later, he was always described as the slob.

We cast judgment before we have a chance to know people.  It’s not a terrible thing, so long as we remain open to our judgment being wrong.  But you save a whole step by dressing in synch with the message you wish to send.  So it seems right that God made a big deal about the fashion associated with the people who were representing him.  If someone were representing me, I’d have an opinion on the subject as well.