Posts Tagged ‘joy’

Divine joy…

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

Shemini - Divine joy...
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
Visit her gallery
Contact her at shoshbm@gmail.com – originals from this series are available.

Shemini: Leviticus 9:1-11:47

"Drink no wine nor strong drink." (Leviticus 10:9)

In this week’s portion, we have the rather disturbing event of the death of Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, as they perform a sacrifice using "unfitting fire" which had not been commanded by God. No detail is given about what made the fire "unfitting," or whatever else may have been awry with their actions, but the penalty is swift and severe: "And fire came out from in front of the Lord and consumed them! And they died in front of the Lord." (Lev. 10:2)

What was their transgression? The Sages probed a number of possibilities: perhaps it was the nature of the fire: was it prepared improperly, according to another people’s rituals, thereby making it "unfitting?" Or perhaps the key is in the fact that it had not been "commanded:" an offering that would have been acceptable at a different time, but in this case at the wrong juncture. Others have suggested that it was not according to a prescribed formula (hearkening back to the "unfitting" issue), and thereby forbidden.

These interpretations have one thing in common: sacrifices must be offered in a precisely correct way, at the precisely correct time, in order to be acceptable. They do not allow for the spontaneity of offerings, something we as Jews have managed to embrace over time. So the Sages searched elsewhere for an explanation.

It happens that the next time in Torah that God speaks, it is to forbid the drinking of wine or beer by Aaron and his sons at the Tent of Meeting "so you won’t die" (Lev. 10:8). It is therefore not unreasonable to conclude that Nadab and Abihu’s crime was that they attempted to perform the sacred rituals while drunk. From this reasoning spring many midrashim, most of them railing against the abuses of alcohol. But consider this very different midrash from R. Aha; listen:

R. Aha said: There is a story of a man who kept on selling his household goods and drinking wine with the proceeds. Said his sons: ‘Our father will leave nothing for us.’ So they plied him with drink, and made him drunk, and took him out and placed him in a cemetery. Wine merchants passed the gate of the cemetery, and hearing that a seizure for public service was to take place in the province, they left their loads within the cemetery and went to witness the uproar in the province. The man, waking up from his sleep and seeing a skin bottle above his head, untied it and put it in his mouth. Three days later his sons said: ‘Should we not go to see what father is doing?’ They went and found him with the wine-skin in his mouth. They said: ‘Even here has your Creator not forsaken you. Seeing that He has given you wine, we do not know what we should do to you.’ They made an arrangement amongst themselves that the sons should in turn provide him with drink, one son one day.

Midrash Rabbah – Leviticus XII:1

What are we to learn from this curious midrash? Surely the Sages don’t want us to conclude that rampant, unconstrained drunkenness is a good thing?

The solution, I believe, lies in us looking to wine as the standard metaphor for joy, especially spiritual joy. With this "lens," the lesson shifts somewhat: a joyful encounter with God is more important than possessions, and if we are dedicated to this quest, this invigorated life of the spirit, then even those who place well-intended obstacles in our way can be overcome.

However, we cannot ignore the literal meaning of this midrash: unfettered imbibing in the pleasures of the flesh can lead us to a life where that joy is illusory, surrounded by death and the demise of those who care for us. Which interpretation is correct?

As is the hallmark of our heritage, we must find a way to make them both true: not one or the other, but some creative amalgam of the two. This comes, I believe, from the lesson of balance, and the challenges we face as we try to navigate in the worlds of spirit and substance. We must find the path that leads us to unbounded joy while leaving the wisdom of saying "no" to excesses intact; the path in which the energy of the Spirit moves us through the trials of the material world at just the right pace, neither so quickly that we float above matters of consequence nor so slowly that we sink into the mire.

May we each be blessed with the vision – and the community! – to help us maintain that balance, and the strength to lend a hand to others who occasionally lose theirs.

On what merit?

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Tetzaveh - On what merit?
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
Visit her gallery
Contact her at shoshbm@gmail.com – originals from this series are available.

Parashah Tetzaveh: Exodus 27:20-30:10

"And this is the word/thing…" (Exodus 29:1)

The sages use this midrash to take the dilemma of Aaron’s participation in the creation of the egel hazahav (“golden calf”) to explore the question of worthiness in being chosen by G!d. In so doing they teach a sweet lesson about the power G!d’s promises.

This is a longer midrash (which I have abridged somewhat), with deep teachings. It is "launched" from the fact that the Hebrew "d’var" means both "word" and "thing." Also, I have placed M’ Shoshannah’s reflections on her illustration in the at the end of this post… Enjoy!

It is written, Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven (Ps. 119:89). Does then the word of God stand fast only in heaven, but not on earth? R. Hezekiah b. Hiyya said: This is because God made a promise in heaven, which was fulfilled on earth for that righteous man Abraham after two hundred and ten years. How so? When the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Abraham: ‘Get you out of your country… and I will make of you a great nation’ (Gen. 12:1f), the latter replied: ‘Lord of the Universe! What benefit do I derive from all these blessings, since I am about to depart from this world childless?’

Said God to him: ‘Are you sure that you will no longer give birth to a child?’ The reply was: ‘Lord of the Universe! My horoscope tells me that I will be childless.’

‘So you are afraid of your horoscope?’ God retorted. ‘As you live, it will be as impossible to number your offspring as it is to number the stars of heaven.’

R. Judah b. R. Simon said in the name of R. Hanin: It was then that God raised Abraham above the vault of the heavens and said to him: Look now toward heaven, and count the stars, if thou be able to count them; and He said unto him: So shall thy seed be (ib. 15:5); that is: Just as you see all these stars and cannot count them, so numerous will your children be, for none will be able to number them… a proof that ‘Forever, O Lord, Your word stands fast in heaven.’

This also you now find in the case of Aaron: God made a promise to Moses, saying: And bring you near to you Aaron your brother… that he may minister to Me in the priests’ office (Ex. 28:1), an assurance which He kept when He said: and this is the thing that you shall do to them, etc.

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus XXXVIII:6

In the simplest terms, Aaron "merits" the honor of being the first High Priest for a basic reason: G!d promised it, and the Holy One’s promises are always kept. Is this, however, a sufficient answer? If it were, why would we need the story?

Read the story again: it is about Abraham’s doubt, his downright mistrust of the promise of "a great nation," expressed explicitly to the Eternal One. And upon what does he base that doubt? On the predictions of astrologers, who have measured his "planet" (as the original states).

What happens when Abraham expresses such bold skepticism? He is elevated to the heavens, to look upon all of Creation, and see the love that G!d has for him – and us. Then he is told, "Trust Me. Be patient. It will be."

Was Aaron any less worthy than Abraham? Other midrash (as M’ Shoshannah relates) suggest that he was an unwilling participant, but was just trying to keep the peace. Like Abraham, he is in the company of pagan practices, and perhaps even listens to them. But HaKodesh Baruch Hu remembers the promise, remembers the Love for us, and elevates him.

If Abraham, who speaks directly with G!d, can doubt G!d and still be elevated; if Aaron, who has heard G!d and seen the miracles in Egypt can help build an idol and still be elevated… cannot we, in our troubles and doubt, be granted the same?

And notice, finally, that no severe repentance was necessary: "all" that had to be done was to stay in conversation with G!d.

Listen for that still, small voice. It calls to us in Love.



Maggidah Shoshannah writes:

Aaron decides to be the one to lead the people in making the egel hazahav (golden calf), since he is a kohen (priest), but he looks very pained.

How does it feel? They just committed themselves to HaShem (G!d), Moshe (Moses) is still on the mountain, and now those spoiled people want to go back to man made statue ‘gods’ like in Mitzrayim (Egypt)! Feh, feh, feh! He must have cried, he must have been angry, and then he decided to do the best he could in bad circumstances.

Behind him Moshe looks suspiciously around with his luchot (tablets). I did not paint Moshe descending the mountain: instead, he is there in Aaron’s thoughts. Aaron knows what they do is wrong, hence his distorted face and his whole posture which ‘screams’ repulsion.

The egel stands in the middle like a ‘real calf,’ is is an idol without power: I show it blue and not golden.

The people are feasting in the bottom left corner, but like Aharon they do not show bliss and real pleasure, or intense hitlahavut (spiritual ecstasy, like dancing Chassidim). No, they show contorted faces: it’s an orgy, they are in frenzy, but derive no real pleasure of this.

In the arch of the sky I show Avrom Avinu (Abraham our father), who feared because the astrologer (planet) predicted that he would have no children. But now he is surrounded by the stars, as numerous as the b’nai Yisrael – the children of Israel.

New Year’s Laughter!

Sunday, September 13th, 2009
The year’s weekly cycle of Torah portions gets a bit confuzzled during the Days of Awe. We skip over, slide back, and do all sorts of things to make the readings coincide with the season.  With Rosh Hashanah falling on Shabbat this year, our weekly reading coincides with the holiday’s reading: Genesis 21:1-34 and Numbers 29:1-6.
Let’s have a look at what Divine inspired laughter can induce!
“Laughter has G!d made me;  whoever hears will laugh with me.” (Gen. 21:6)
Here is the context: Sarah has almost impossibly (inconceivably?!) given birth to Yitzhak, whose name means laughter. The text reads in typical Biblical ambiguity that “whoever hears will laugh with / at me.” If you heard that someone of Sarah’s age had just given birth, which would you do? Would you be joyful for them? Or would you laugh at the challenge of raising a newborn? Here’s what the sages suggest:
R. Berekiah, R. Judah b. R. Simon, and R. Hanan in the name of R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: If Reuben has cause to rejoice, what does it matter to Simeon? Similarly, if Sarah was remembered, what did it matter to others? But when the matriarch Sarah was remembered [gave birth], many other barren women were remembered with her; many deaf gained their hearing; many blind had their eyes opened, many insane became sane. For ‘making’ [HATH MADE] is mentioned here, and also elsewhere, viz. And he made a release to the provinces (Est. II, 18). As the making mentioned there means that a gift was granted to the world, so the making mentioned here means that a gift was granted to the world.  R. Levi said: She increased the light of the luminaries: ‘making’ is mentioned here, viz. GOD HATH MADE FOR ME, while elsewhere it says, And God made the two lights (Gen. I, 16).
Midrash Rabbah – Genesis LIII:8
What does all this mean, in literal terms? What is the p’shat?  Simply, that the event of Yitzhak’s birth – or more precisely, Sarah’s joy around it! – made other barren women fertile, allowed the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and the insane to become sane. Moreover, even the sun, moon, and stars shone more brightly!
Do you believe in such miracles? Can joy really change the fate of others, especially fate that is described as unchangeable? Here is at least one way in which I believe such miracles take place:
Have you, or someone you loved or were close to, ever been pregnant? Remember how, during those days, there seemed to be pregnant women everywhere? Surely your pregnancy didn’t cause the pregnancy of others, but equally certainly it altered your perception of the world in dramatic fashion. Laugh, and the world laughs with you.
Of course, the opposite is true. We may not be able to conceive on demand, or shed the burdens that life places on us with a simple smile. But we can change how we approach them, and I can tell you – from direct personal experience – that that makes all the difference in the world.
Literally.
May you each be blessed with a sweet and prosperous New Year, and inscribed in the Book of Life for good!

The year’s weekly cycle of Torah portions gets a bit confuzzled during the Days of Awe. We skip over, slide back, and do all sorts of things to make the readings coincide with the season.  With Rosh Hashanah falling on Shabbat this year, our weekly reading coincides with the holiday’s reading: Genesis 21:1-34 and Numbers 29:1-6

Let’s have a look at what Divine inspired laughter can induce!

“Laughter has G!d made me;  whoever hears will laugh with me.” (Gen. 21:6)

Here is the context: Sarah has almost impossibly (inconceivably?!) given birth to Yitzhak, whose name means laughter. The text reads in typical Biblical ambiguity that “whoever hears will laugh with / at me.” If you heard that someone of Sarah’s age had just given birth, which would you do? Would you be joyful for them? Or would you laugh at the challenge of raising a newborn? Here’s what the sages suggest:

R. Berekiah, R. Judah b. R. Simon, and R. Hanan in the name of R. Samuel b. R. Isaac said: If Reuben has cause to rejoice, what does it matter to Simeon? Similarly, if Sarah was remembered, what did it matter to others? But when the matriarch Sarah was remembered [gave birth], many other barren women were remembered with her; many deaf gained their hearing; many blind had their eyes opened, many insane became sane. For ‘making’ [HATH MADE] is mentioned here, and also elsewhere, viz. And he made a release to the provinces (Est. II, 18). As the making mentioned there means that a gift was granted to the world, so the making mentioned here means that a gift was granted to the world.  R. Levi said: She increased the light of the luminaries: ‘making’ is mentioned here, viz. GOD HATH MADE FOR ME, while elsewhere it says, And God made the two lights (Gen. I, 16).

Midrash Rabbah – Genesis LIII:8

What does all this mean, in literal terms? What is the p’shat? Simply, that the event of Yitzhak’s birth – or more precisely, Sarah’s joy around it! – made other barren women fertile, allowed the deaf to hear, the blind to see, and the insane to become sane. Moreover, even the sun, moon, and stars shone more brightly!

Do you believe in such miracles? Can joy really change the fate of others, especially fate that is described as unchangeable? Here is at least one way in which I believe such miracles take place:

Have you, or someone you loved or were close to, ever been pregnant? Remember how, during those days, there seemed to be pregnant women everywhere? Surely your pregnancy didn’t cause the pregnancy of others, but equally certainly it altered your perception of the world in dramatic fashion. Laugh, and the world laughs with you.

Of course, the opposite is true. We may not be able to conceive on demand, or shed the burdens that life places on us with a simple smile. But we can change how we approach them, and I can tell you – from direct personal experience – that that makes all the difference in the world.

Literally.

May you each be blessed with a sweet and prosperous New Year, and inscribed in the Book of Life for good!

Birthday of the Sun!

Wednesday, April 8th, 2009

Well, the sun came out for its birthday in Syracuse – who says there are no miracles!

Birthday of the Sun

Birthday of the Sun

We are taught that the Light of the first three days of creation, the Light that preceded the creation of the sun, is too awesome to be directly perceived, and that the sun serves as a filter for us. And we are further taught that on Birkat HaChamma, the Birthday of the Sun, this special event which only occurs once every 28 years, a bit of that eternal Light shines through.

I can tell you – it did. And it does.

Praise to G!d!