Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parashat Naso

            In this week’s Torah portion, as we continue the process of taking the first census, it is determined who – or many – will do what. For example, Gershonites will carry the coverings for the tent of meeting, while the sons of Merari are in charge of the supporting beams and their sockets. The Parasha segues into the rules and consequences regarding sacred choices, and then, G-d says to Moses,
23. Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying: This is how you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them:

כג. דַּבֵּר אֶל אַהֲרֹן וְאֶל בָּנָיו לֵאמֹר כֹּה תְבָרֲכוּ אֶת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אָמוֹר לָהֶם:
24. "May G-d bless you and keep you.

כד. יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ־הֹוָ־ה וְיִשְׁמְרֶךָ:
25. May G-d cause G-d’s face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.

כה. יָאֵר יְ־הֹוָ־ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וִיחֻנֶּךָּ:
26. May G-d lift G-d’s face toward you and grant you peace."

כו. יִשָּׂא יְ־הֹוָ־ה פָּנָיו אֵלֶיךָ וְיָשֵׂם לְךָ שָׁלוֹם:
27. They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them.

כז. וְשָׂמוּ אֶת שְׁמִי עַל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַאֲנִי אֲבָרֲכֵם:
The Midrash Rabbah explains this blessing, which we hear every week at this house of worship, thusly: G-d will cause G-d’s face to shine upon us and be gracious to us, by giving us the wisdom to shine upon one another and to each be gracious to each other. G-d will lift G-d’s face toward us, to remind us it is proper for us all to greet one another while looking at each other in the eye, not with turned faces. And most importantly, G-d will grant us peace, because without peace, there is nothing.
            The Midrash Tanchuma says that the way the Hebrew is worded when Moses tells Aaron this is how to bless the children of Israel is meant to indicate that this is a blessing that must not be blurted out hastily or haphazardly, but recited with great intention and concentration. It is a truly beautiful blessing, and I see the effect is has on those that receive it. There is a great warmth in this sanctuary when we all pray together, but there’s a look I see on many of your faces when Rabbi Heidi tells us it is time to rise, and she extends her arms as though to embrace the whole congregation and recites this blessing. But like the eternal question of who watches the watchmen, who blesses the blessers? This section ends with the verse, “They shall bestow My Name upon the children of Israel, so that I will bless them,” telling us that G-d does.
            Of course we all have our own blessings and relationships with G-d, separate from that which is facilitated by our spiritual leaders. The Torah portion goes on to explain the offerings brought to the Tabernacle by each tribe accounted for in the census of the previous Parasha. The offerings are all exactly the same, but the Torah tells each one of them separately. The Midrash Rabbah again explains this to mean that, though each family brought the same stuff, the experience of the offerings was different with each person. Though there is extra comfort in hearing the Priestly Blessing from our rabbi each week, and the Torah tells us that G-d blesses the blessers, we know that G-d also blesses us each individually. Much the way each family was responsible for different parts of the Tabernacle, each of us has our own paths, our own responsibilities, and we each carry a piece of this Temple in our own way. However that is represented, we each have our own experiences with G-d as well, which is as beautiful as hearing the blessing each week.
            As you go on your way, take the time to stop and notice when G-d is shining G-d’s face upon you, how G-d is lifting G-d’s face toward, and may you always find peace. Amen, and Shabbat Shalom. 

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Emor - "You will have fun!"

When I was a kid, my brother and I would spend a week or two each summer with our uncles in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. We had four uncles that lived in Cape Cod, but one of my mother’s brothers in particular took the reins of our vacation, planning our weeks to be “jam-packed and fun-filled” as he would say. He had this way of telling us that the day he had planned would be fun in a way that felt like he was commanding us to be happy. “Today will be full of fun and you will enjoy it, dang it!” It sounds aggressive and strange, how can someone command you to have fun?! But of course, in the end, we did ALWAYS have fun. Those weeks on the Cape were the best parts of the summer, and in college, I even went back to live with that uncle for five full summers.
In this week’s Torah portion, G-d commands us to keep the Sabbath, explains how to properly observe the High Holy Days, how to celebrate Succot, Pesach, and Shavuot. After explaining Succot, the Torah says, “And you shall rejoice!” The 13th century “HaSefer Chinuch” – the Book of Education, which explains the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah – explains that “by nature people need joyous occasions in their lives. In Great kindness, G‑d established holidays on which we can experience joy in a holy context and express thanksgiving for the miracles G‑d has performed for us.” So, even though, by nature, people need joy, we also still need to be told when and how we are being joyful.
            It sounds a little silly. How can we be told when and how we must be happy? Emotions cannot be commanded; they come and go without our own control. However, just as I always enjoyed my summers on the Cape, I also always enjoy celebrating Jewish holidays. Without these sets of rules on how to properly observe, they would be rather meaningless. Despite the abrasiveness of being told how to rejoice, actually acting out the proper traditions of the holiday, does indeed lead to rejoicing!
            Even though we may not always appreciate being told what we will or will not enjoy, when it comes from someone who truly loves you, like a family member or G-d, chances are, they’re right. You will enjoy your vacation, your holiday, your Shabbat. May you all find a joyful heart when needed. Amen.