Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Human Rights Is An Halachic Imperative!

As a Halachically Observant (I do hope that you will excuse my not using titles that have become far too politicized and distant from the original intentions of their ideologues who created them) Jew, I am convinced that we are COMMANDED to be concerned about each other on the widest scale. Yet probably the biggest and most frustrating topic that is constantly discussed within our family and amongst closest friends is that somehow the most observant sectors of our Jewish world seem to have bypassed this important core element of our being.

I have often learned and taught the following idea from the text of Sotah 14a (and probably have quoted it more than once during the lifetime of this blog, so please do excuse me for any further repetition). The question is posed how does one walk with G-d for we learn that no one can see and actually physically WALK with G-d so to speak. The Gemara teaches that we walk with G-d through doing the deeds of G-d. As G-d clothed Adam and Eve in Gan Eden, so we provide clothes for those in need. As G-d visited Avraham when he was ill and recovering after circumcising himself, so we perform the Mitzvah of visiting the sick. As G-d comforted Yitzchak after the death of his mother and father, we too comfort those who mourn loss. As G-d buried Moshe Rabbeinu after his death, we too perform the deed of burying our dead.

Here, in this text, as in so many others, G-d is RACHMANA, the Compassionate One. I have always found it interesting that there is nothing here about the commanded actions one generally associates with being G-d fearing and obedient to the Creator of the World, but rather those deeds that make the path that others follow in our world easier and more reasonable.

This notion is all over our Jewish teachings and yet, I continue to be astonished and so very pained as to why it is all but absent TOO OFTEN when we think about what it means to be a truly devout and observing Jew. In the very beginning of Masechet Berachot (the Tractate of Gemara I am now learning) we read how the times for when one says the Shema use various markers depending on an individual person’s reality. Remembering that this is all occurring BDT (Before Digital Time), people marked time by light and dark or the transition between them. In the absence of clocks and such, how did people know when they could say the Shema of the evening or of the morning.? The Priest’s time was the preparation of his eating of Terumah, the poor person’s time marker was when he would come in after a too long day of work to eat his meager meal. The regular person would use the time of Kiddush on Shabbat as his marker and the rich king’s son would be able to say his Shema even upon rising late. There are lengthy discussions about HOW late one can say the Shema and still fulfill the Mitzvah.

Sound familiar? Again, EVERYONE GETS TO FULFILL THE MITZVAH according to his or her ability and situation. What a concept! So, this is clearly embedded in all we do as Jews, how we pray, how we celebrate as indicated in the last posts, and in HOW WE ACT AND RELATE TO EACH OTHER. It is imperative for all to remember that those Mitzvot that dictate our relationships with each other COME FROM G-D and are clearly our Halachic imperative!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Please join my Mini-Cyber Siyyum for Masechet Chagiga!

Please join my Mini-Cyber Siyyum for Masechet Chagiga!

So, as you know by now I have been learning Masechet Chagiga (a tractate/text of the Talmud). I completed learning this text earlier today and, as is traditional when one completes a unit of text, I want to share some thoughts about the ending of this important and supremely RELEVANT text. It is seminal in helping us to think about our lives as Jews, our celebrations and who is part of them, as well as our collective and individual obligation to include all members of our community as much as possible in every aspect of our Jewish lives with inclusion and a total sense of respect.

Masechet Chagiga begins with the imperative that all members of the community have to be part of the celebration and observance involved with the offering of the Chagiga offering, a special observance of what we know as the three pilgrimage festivals – Sukkot, Pesah and Shavuot. It then devotes great discussion to people who may not be able to participate in this important communal event and how we should respond. I have already shared some aspects of this discussion in the two preceding posts, which you might want to review. What confirms everything I hold dear about Judaism and the Jewish way of life as our Torah and Rabbis have taught us is the critical BALANCE that is maintained throughout this discussion between the requirements for purity of what is offered and used AND the concern for all those involved in these ceremonies.

Throughout the text we learn about the requirements attached to these important offerings and the maintenance of the purity of all aspects of their offering. This is the collective responsibility of the entire community. The last portion of this text explores the participation of the knowledgeable and respected member of the community, called a HAVER and that of the unknowledgeable and perhaps not such serious observing Jew called the AM HA’ARETZ.

When thinking about the sad situation in which we often find ourselves in our contemporary world in which such acceptance and inclusion is often NOT the case, the first thing that struck me in this discussion was that AT NO POINT is the Am Ha’Aretz to be excluded! Quite to the contrary – there is a great deal of discussion about how to facilitate the full participation of all members of the community in much the same spirit as the beginning of this Tractate. While there is to be no compromising on the serious nature of the offerings and the need for their purity and correct nature, there is ALSO TO BE NO COMPROMISING on including all members of the community. This is the Judaism that I have practiced my whole life and have educated my children and students to do so as well. I wish that this were more the case, especially in the more religiously observant circles of our extended Jewish family!

Now I will share a few final words about the last discussion of Masechet Chagiga. The Am Ha’Aretz is to be trusted in the purity of all aspects of the highest form of offerings, those that are labeled KADOSH (holy and sanctified). The position that is expounded is that the Am Ha”Aretz and the Chaver both have the same vested interest in the proper observance of the Chagiga offering and experience. It is stated within the discussion that one is not to embarrass the Am Ha’Aretz at any point in the process of participation in the aspects of community worship and offerings. In fact there is great discussion of various leniencies that should be practiced to avoid such embarrassment. Different Rabbis posit various opinions regarding how much the trust can be extended between the Chaver and the Am Ha’Aretz and then THIS IS HOW THIS DISCUSSION LEAVES US.

Clearly, we have to be exacting and detail oriented regarding the purity and the sanctity of the vessels and all of the aspects of the offering celebration as a community. Further, when we engage in this as a community, THE CHAVER AND THE AM HA’ARETZ are seen as one unified being, and ALL ARE CALLED CHAVERIM! On 26a of Hagiga, we read as follows, based on Judges 20:11: “Every ISH (person) of Israel gathered together to the city like one man, all as CHAVERIM. The point being made is that when community comes together with the correct intent and right spirit, we are ALL ELEVATED, by making community and by being part of that collective. WE ALL BECOME CHAVERIM BY ACCEPTING ALL MEMBERS OF OUR COMMUNITY! In the name of this value and this practice, we are taught that the Rabbis SUSPENDED the differentiation between CHAVER and AM HA’ARETZ (read as Jews of various levels of observance and knowledge) when community comes together! What a concept! So why can we do this? Among the final words of this Masechet, we find our answer, which is that all of us (even the sinners amongst us) – aren’t we doing as many Mitzvot as found in a pomegranate – that is to say, we are all so filled with the good things we do, that we should acknowledge each other for being so.

When we finish studying a Tractate of text, we say a special formula. In this case it begins with the following words: ”We shall return to you Tractate Chagiga and you shall return to us. Our thoughts are on you, Tractate Chagiga, and your thoughts are on us.” May we ALL REMEMBER these important words and lessons and that our Torah and our Talmud enjoin all of us to accept, include and value each other. Amen Selah!