Tag Archives: TieBlog

#TieBlog #Mishpatim

13 Feb

The scales of justice

 

I’m getting good use out of my justice ties this week (I actually have three) as we read Parashat Mishpatim. This section is known as the Covenant Code. While the Ten Commandments read in the previous week’s portion lay out general principles for society, this portion provides a foundation of civil law for society.

#TieBlog #Va’era

16 Jan
"Frogs here, Frogs there. Frogs were jumping everywhere."

“Frogs here, Frogs there. Frogs were jumping everywhere.”

Many of us learned the song in pre-school as we were preparing for our Passover Seders:

One morning when Pharaoh awoke in his bed
There were frogs on his pillow and frogs on his head.
Frogs on his nose and frogs on his toes,
Frog here, frogs there, frogs were jumping everywhere.

This week in Parashat Va’era, we read about the first seven of ten plagues that God sent to Egypt to pressure Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free. With the children’s song about the frogs, it’s easy to make light of the plagues and even laugh about them. However, at the Seder we remind ourselves not to rejoice by removing a drop of wine from our wine glasses as we recite each plague. We rejoice that the plagues led to freedom for an enslaved people; we do not rejoice that human beings suffered as a result, so we temper our joy. #TieBlog deems it’s not out of bounds to wear a frog-themed tie when reading about the plagues, so here’s my tie of the week.

#TieBlog #Toledot 2014

21 Nov
Often Parashat Toldot corresponds with Thanksgiving. The turkeys on this week's tie represent the prominent role of food in the drama of Jacob and Esau.

Often Parashat Toldot corresponds with Thanksgiving. The turkeys on this week’s tie represent the prominent role of food in the drama of Jacob and Esau.

 

Food and sustenance play a prominent role in Parashat Toledot. Jacob tricks Esau out of his birthright for a bowl of stew. He later deceives his blind father by wearing hairy skins to appear like his brother as if he had just returned from a hunt. His mother Rebecca prepares the purported game for Jacob to present to Isaac and receive in return his innermost blessing intended for the first born. In between these two narratives centered around food, we learn that Isaac reclaims the wells that his father had dug in Canaan. The family legacy cannot continue without sustenance from water, nor can it continue without nourishment from food. Often Parashat Toldot corresponds with Thanksgiving. This year, we read Toledot a few days before Thanksgiving. The turkeys on this week’s tie represent the prominent role of food in the drama of Jacob and Esau.

#TieBlog #YomKippur 5775

2 Oct
Goats sacrificed on Yom Kippur

Goats sacrificed on Yom Kippur

The goats on my tie are of course in honor of the goats of the ancient Yom Kippur ritual in the Temple. This ritual is mentioned in the Torah:

Leviticus, Chapter 16: “7 Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; 8 and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. 9 Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering; 10 while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.”

We no longer have the Temple nor this arcane ritual. We instead offer our sincere prayers, fasting and genuine teshuvah (return to the ways of God). May we be inscribed for life and good health.

#TieBlog #Nitzavim-Vayelekh

18 Sep
"It is not in heaven"  (Deuteronomy 30:12)

“It is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12)

While human beings have acquired the ability to launch rockets and people into space and explore the heavens, Deuteronomy in Parashat Nitzavim tells us that Torah–the totality of our received tradition from God–is “lo bashamayim hi,” “it is not in heaven” (Deuteronomy 30:12). This phrase has been understood that the Torah is not an esoteric document. It is meant for human beings in this world to explore, interpret and reinterpret. This verse plays a central role in one of the most famous passages in the Talmud, Bava Metzia 59b, in which Rabbi Eliezer is in a dispute with Rabbi Joshua and the majority of sages. Rabbi Eliezer performs miracles and even has a divine voice from the heavens call out that the law is in accordance with him. Rabbi Joshua, however, says “Lo bashamayim hi,” “[The Torah] is not in heaven.” God laughs in response and says, “My children have defeated me.” The Torah is meant to be studied and reinterpreted in each generation.

#TieBlog #Ki-Tetze

4 Sep
"When you go out to war..." (Deut. 21:10)

“When you go out to war…” (Deut. 21:10)

This week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tetze, begins and ends with accounts of war. The midrash interprets the various laws of the opening section (Deuteronomy 21: 10-21) as a narrative thread underscoring the ravages of war. A soldier in the heat of battle covets a female prisoner and, under the power of lust, marries her (vv. 10-14); in the end, he will lose feelings of affection for her and for the children he fathers with her (15-17), and those children will grow up disrespectful (vv. 18-21) of their parents.

The very end of the portion (25: 17-19) recounts the Amelekites’ surprise attack on the Israelites in which they preyed upon the most vulnerable. We have the paradoxical instructions both to “Remember!” and to “blot out the memory of Amalek.” Rashi notes that immediately prior to this section we have the commandment to keep fair weights and measures. He says that the juxtaposition of these texts shows that when we are lax in business ethics, we open ourselves up to communal disaster in which the weakest members of the community will pay the steepest price. Indeed, all of the laws in Ki-Tetze underscore what Rabbi Harold Kushner calls “the irreducible dignity and worth of a human being.” Without this societal norm, we are vulnerable to the scourge of war.

#TieBlog #Mas’ei

24 Jul
"Pray for the peace of Jerusalem."

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

Parashat Mas’ei concludes the Book of Numbers. The account of the people’s journey through the wilderness is complete. They have completed forty years in the desert and stand on the banks of the Jordan River ready to enter the Promised Land. The book ends on a hopeful note. Ironically, the Jewish calendar is now in the midst of the three weeks leading up to the Ninth of Av, our national catharsis in recalling the calamities of Jewish history. The hopefulness of the Torah reading is tempered by the pain that we recall at this time of year. It happens that as we close Bemidbar this year, the State of Israel is in the midst of a bitter struggle against the violence of Hamas and their firing thousands of rockets into Israel. It is easy to despair. At the same time, the Torah reading reminds us that the pain of our past should not paralyze us. We have reason to be hopeful for a brighter future. My tie bears the message from Psalms 122 “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.” So may it come to be.

#TieBlog #Matot

18 Jul
On a Mission from God

On a Mission from God

This tie could work for many Torah portions, but seems particularly apt for Parashat Matot. Throughout the reading we are reminded in different ways that the Israelites are on a mission from God. There are positive and negative applications of this notion. The portion begins with laws about vows. Invoking God’s name in a promise to do something is a big deal and should not be taken lightly, according to the Torah. The particulars of vows as described here are anachronistic; namely, we cannot imagine in a Western society women’s vows being annulled by their fathers and husbands. Nevertheless, the concept of vows should prompt us to think about the power of our words and give us pause, particularly when we swear in the name of God. The contemporary practice of swearing before testifying in court is a vestige of this ancient practice. Whenever we speak, it is worthy to think of ourselves on a mission from God.

The portion’s discussion of the war against Midian exemplifies taking “on a mission from God” too far. Moses is incensed that the soldiers “only” killed the Midianite men and not the women as well. As great as Moses was, this is his low moment. A similar situation is found in http://learn.jtsa.edu/content/translations/shabbat-zakhortzav/haftarah-portion/shabbat-zakhor when Saul does not follow through to the letter on the destruction of Amalek. Samuel, like Moses, condemns Saul’s excessive mercy. Rabbi Louis Jacobs once said in reference to that text, “I believe that Samuel heard it (i.e., the command to destroy Amalek), but I don’t believe God said it.”* I believe a similar interpretation applies to Moses. In this case, he misunderstood God who usually commands kindness towards the stranger. Moses is led astray by his understanding of “a mission from God.”

Moses redeems himself to some extent by insisting that the tribes of Reuven, Gad and half of Menashe join in the efforts to conquer the Promised Land, before they settle in the pasture land east of the Jordan River. Moses insists that the entire people must be all in to fulfill their mission from God.

As we study Parashat Matot this week, let us reflect on what it means to be on a mission from God and how that concept applies to us today.

*Cited in Rabbi Harold S. Kushner, Living a Life That Matters, New York: Anchor Books, 2001, p. 96.

#TieBlog #Pinchas

10 Jul
Batman, a vigilante, is a modern version of Pinchas.

Batman, a vigilante, is a modern version of Pinchas.

Pinchas is the Torah’s “Dark Knight.” He is a vigilante who takes the law into his own hands. When the Israelites were seduced into a mass orgy by the Moabites, God and Moses are incensed. Pinchas is too and pushes the envelope by stabbing to death a prominent Israelite man and Moabite woman who are copulating in public. Parashat Pinchas begins with God rewarding Pinchas, grandson of Aaron the High Priest, with a Brit Shalom, a Covenant of Peace. The rabbis struggle to justify this reward when Pinchas acted outside of any legal jurisdiction to take such action. In the Jerusalem Talmud the rabbis go so far as to say that Pinchas should have been excommunicated were it not for God’s own intervention. Batman is a similarly complex figure who stands for justice but operates outside the established legal system. Hence, the Batman tie.

One additional note: as I post this there is conflict in Israel with Hamas firing rockets from Gaza towards civilian pupulations in Israel and Israel striking back at Gaza. This latest escalation follows the murders of three Israeli teenagers and the retaliatory murder of a Palestinian teenager. In the Masoretic text, the letter vav of the word Shalom (peace) is broken (Numbers 25:12). Perhaps the Masoretes offer their own subliminal interpretation that expresses doubt over the fitness of Pinchas in receiving a covenant of peace. Peace is fragile and broken easily, especially in the face of zealotry. Let us pray for a true and lasting peace for our brothers and sister in Israel and their neighbors.

#TieBlog #Balak #BalaamandTalkingDonkey

4 Jul
Shrek and his talking donkey friend are reminiscent of Balaam and the talking donkey.

Shrek and his talking donkey friend are reminiscent of Balaam and the talking donkey.

Balak, King of Moab, seeks a cost-efficient means to destroy the Israelites and hires Balaam, wizard extraordinaire, to curse Israel. It’s puzzling that rather than bless his own people, Balak sought to curse another. In today’s world, too often people’s hatred of others is greater than their love of themselves.

In the meantime, every time Balaam the Wizard-For-Hire goes to curse the Israelites, out of his mouth come warm blessings. Balaam is not pleased by his performance that God has caused, and he takes his frustrations out on his donkey–who talks back to him! You can read the dramatic exchange below. As you do, take a look at my tie of the week. You may want to picture in your mind Shrek (voiced by Mike Meyers) as Balaam and the donkey (as voiced by Eddie Murphy)–as the donkey!

Numbers 22

21 And Balaam rose up in the morning, and saddled his ass, and went with the princes of Moab.
22 And God’s anger was kindled because he went; and the angel of the Lord stood in the way as an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him.
23 And the ass saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand; and the ass turned aside out of the way, and went into the field; and Balaam struck the ass, to turn it to the way.
24 But the angel of the Lord stood in a path of the vineyards, a wall being on this side, and a wall on that side.
25 And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, it pushed itself to the wall, and crushed Balaam’s foot against the wall; and he struck her again.
26 And the angel of the Lord went further, and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.
27 And when the ass saw the angel of the Lord, it fell down under Balaam; and Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the ass with a staff.
28 And the Lord opened the mouth of the ass, and it said to Balaam, What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?
29 And Balaam said to the ass, Because you have mocked me; I wished there was a sword in my hand, for now would I kill you.
30 And the ass said to Balaam, Am not I your ass, upon which you have ridden ever since I was yours to this day? Was I ever wont to do so to you? And he said, No.
31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, and his sword drawn in his hand; and he bowed down his head, and fell on his face.
32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, Why did you strike your ass these three times? Behold, I went out to withstand you, because your way is perverse before me;
33 And the ass saw me, and turned from me these three times; if it had not turned aside from me, surely now also I would had slain you, and let her live.
34 And Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, I have sinned; for I knew not that you stood in the way against me; now therefore, if it displeases you, I will go back again.