Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, one of the world's great sages and my former teacher, passed away this week. In his honor, I am re-posting a thought I wrote inspired by his philosophy. I've also written a longer piece about him in The Forward.
The daily things are sacred
God says Let there be light
and makes light for day
and dark for night
and there is evening
and there is morning
and there are seven days of light
that are the days of creation.
shall arrange the Temple Menorah’s seven lights
the permanent flame
lit from evening to morning
a Law that stands forever:
that is how God introduces
the role of the priests,
the ones who make the Mishkan
the dwelling- place of God
into a functioning home.
First you must bathe time in light
first you must make a schedule of light
you must commit to a schedule of light
day in and day out
for weeks into eternity
over and over:
that is how God makes the world,
that is how we build a world of God.
Genesis Chapter 1; Exodus 26:20-21
for Parshat Shemini
When Aaron’s sons die, Moses tells Aaron: God is sanctified through His holy ones.
And Moses proclaims that the people should cry over this death.
These people grew up in brutal slavery. We have never seen them consider each others’ tears. For instance, we are never told that Moses’ mother hears her own son crying—it is Pharaoh’s daughter, seeing the baby Moses in the water that should have drowned him, who hears a crying boy.
Now the people will do something miraculous. They will cry for another family’s loss. Aaron’s sons have spurred them to this empathy.
Perhaps what Moses means is this: in empathy, we sanctify God.
Joseph is sent by his father to see his brothers as they tend the flocks.
But Joseph’s brothers hate him. When they see Joseph, they throw him into a pit. They leave him to the elements to die. They dip Joseph’s garment in goat’s blood. This rending of family begins the chain of events that comes to four hundred years of slavery.
When God saves Israel from Egypt, He tells the people to slaughter a lamb of the flocks.
They are to dip hyssop into the lamb’s blood.
They are to partake of the lamb by family.
That dipping of hyssop is reminiscent of another dipping ceremony: that of the leper. When the leper is cured, the priest dips hyssop in bird’s blood on the cured man’s behalf. And the cured man rejoins his people.
This first meal of Exodus is a meal of family, a meal of dipping hyssop—of bringing the outcast in.
It is a reversal of the break in the family that sent Joseph away.
It is a welcoming of all.
It is in this welcoming that freedom comes.
Note that the ceremony of the leper is introduced significantly after the Exodus; however, I am assuming a single set of symbols applied throughout the Torah.
for Parshat Tzav
The priest must put on his priestly linen garment when he serves in the Temple and must remove his garments when he leaves. Then, he shall put other garments on. In such a flux of garments, of inside and out, of coming and of going, such a man must know that life can change. Perhaps it is precisely such a man who is most able to serve before God.
The piece below is from 2008. I've written an expansion of it in this week's New York Jewish Week. - Abe
The Hidden Things are for God
God explains how the Children of Israel may bring sacrifices to Him in His dwelling-place. So He brings the Children of Israel in to His hidden realm.
Soon God describes atonement-sacrifices for sins of unlawful hiding. Like the case of the man who keeps his neighbor's lost object, denying that he holds it. And like the case of the man who, hiding what he knows, does not stand witness in court.
The hidden things are for God, a later verse says.
If we are to enter into God's house, into His realm, then we join Him in His burden over hidden things.
Cain killed his brother, Abel, and hid him in the ground.
God asked Cain: Where is Abel, your brother? and Cain answered Him: Am I my brother's keeper?
But now we share the hidden realm with God.
Cain's answer is not possible any more.
God’s presence is not a home for the righteous: it is a guide for how we move through the world.
for Parshat Ki Tisa
Moses takes too long
coming down from the mountain
up with God.
The people feel helpless
and they say to Aaron:
make a new god for us.
Aaron molds a calf from gold
and the people dance before it,
This is the god
who has taken us from Egypt.
When God forgives the people at last,
He tells Moses:
three times a year
the people must come to Me,
to My Temple.
If Moses was the way to God
and Moses is lost,
what can the people do?
So they make a new god
to be close to them.
But God says:
You have misunderstood.
Everyone can come to Me.
Everyone must come to Me.
My Temple doors
are open wide.
Originally shared in 2013
I rarely use this list to write about my personal life, but this week I thought I would.
The parsha says that if the high priest does not wear his robe with bells, or the other priests do not wear their uniform pants, they might die in the sanctuary before God. Amongst other things, these Laws say that, in the intimate holy space, we risk real loss.
I think this is true of our intimate space with friends, too.
Over the last few months, I've finished these pieces with a request that we pray for Yechiel ben Michal. Some of you have asked who he is and how he is doing.
Yechiel is my friend Alan, who passed away from cancer this past week. He was a wonderful person and a great friend and I miss him.
This Shabbat, in honor of Alan, a request: invite people to your meal, embrace people who are different from you, take your friends on an adventure, look up to the people around you and the people you love, strive to be your best, and learn Torah.
In other words, be a little like Alan.
for Parshat Terumah
God tells Noah
to build a great ship
out of gofer wood
three hundred cubits long
fifty cubits wide
thirty cubits high
to carry the creatures through the storm.
God tells Moses
to build a Holy Ark
from shittim wood
one and a half cubits long
one and a half cubits wide
one and a half cubits high
to carry God’s Testimony
across the Desert
to the Land.
Pharoah asks Jacob
How many are the days of the years of your life?
who has had a difficult life
who is old
I have lived one hundred thirty years,
few and bad were the days of the years of my life.
A number is a measure
of material for carrying things:
cubits of wood for voyagers
cubits of wood for holy cargo
years of life for bearing good
A number is a question:
With only so much material
so much wood
so many cubits
so many years
what can we carry
and how much
how will we carry good
and not bad
what is in our power
to justify the measure we have?
Title taken from the title of a poem by Marianne Moore
(Originally sent in 2012)
Please pray for Yechiel ben Michal