Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tzav: An Ancient Canaanite Seder Meal

Tzav: Many Neighbors, Many Seder Meals

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of the months….[Each] of the Israelites shall take a lamb to a family….Your lamb shall be without blemish…from the sheep [or] the goats….They shall take…the blood and put it on the doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they…eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted over the fire, with matzot and bitter herbs. …This day shall you remember, and celebrate it as a Festival to the Lord…for all time. Seven days you shall eat matzote; on the very first day you shall remove chametz from your houses….
--Exodus 12:1-20 (translation mine)

This I beheld, or dreamed it in a dream: I came upon a bonfire off to the side of a plowed field. A group of men sat around; my first question was,

Where are the women? Our Seder always has lots of women, friends and relatives….

--but then, a husky-looking man with enormous hands—he was probably a farmer—called  out to me, “Welcome, Stranger! Call me Eliah. What, are you too proud to join our humble Seder-Meal? Come and join us!”
            I took my seat, off to the side, and looked around. What a motley crew there was—Israelites in their customary white robes with black stripes; here an Ammonite wearing a bright red, green, and black tunic; there, obviously a Canaanite, looking suspicious, but well attired in the striped, knee-length robe which they wore on festive occasions. And there, at the end—was that an Egyptian? I could easily distinguish him by his shaven, bald head, but mainly because of the golf-ball-sized orb of scented wax which was, already, partially melting, running down his ears, eyes, and nose.
            “Well,” bellowed the Farmer, reaching out to the roasted lamb which adorned the table and tearing off a chunk, “Let us talk—I mean, converse. We never talk at all during meals on my farm; everyone just shoves in the food, burps, and returns to work. But tonight is different….”
            “All very well for you, Eliah,” said a thin-looking cove sitting next to him, daintily gnawing a small lamb-bone, “but I have business to discuss. Your fields are cutting directly through my ancestral pasture-land. As a shepherd, I am losing out on fresh grass to feed my flocks.”
            “Shush—not tonight, Father!” said an equally thin young man, who strongly resembled the Shepherd, “tonight we discuss only freedom, and the Exodus from Egypt. For our God passed over the houses of us Israelites, and smote the firstborn of the Egyptians….”
            “Where are you getting your information about this festival, Youngster?” interrupted the Canaanite, “for I am here to tell you, you’re wrong.”
            The young Israelite man bristled. “Who are you to discuss our sacred festivals, Canaanite? It is clear that God worked great miracles on our behalf. And how did your family survive the Great Conquest, when our great leader Joshua ben Nun led us over the Jordan River and conquered and burned your walled cities?”
            “Excuse me,” said the Ammonite, “but no one ever conquered and burned my ancestral city of Ai. You Israelite folks—and I mean no offense, Friends—crept over the Jordan gradually, and established settlements in our land. I do not begrudge you your holdings; the land is big enough for all. Now, Yaray-Baal, my Canaanite neighbor, what have you to say about this boy’s declarations of his God taking the lives of the Egyptians, and the festival we are sharing?”
            The Canaanite huffed. “I scorn this Israelite innovation, with invisible Gods and Egyptian plagues. During this early spring season, my people have always observed the death of god-king Baal, wielder of lightning and sender of thunder, who is killed by Mot, our god of death. When Baal passes on to the Underworld, the rain stops—it had better; a strong rain would kill my crops, standing in ear and ripening for the harvest!—but Baal revives and returns in the fall, with the end of the harvest. That is why our maidens dress in black, and sing the Song of Mot’s Killing of Baal:

I it was who confronted mighty Baal,
I who made him a lamb like a kid in the breach of my windpipe.

--and that, if you please, is the reason we have slaughtered, roasted, and will eat a lamb. We are symbolically re-creating Mot’s eating of Baal. It will stop the rains from pounding down on our produce. That is also why we are not allowed to break any of the bones of the animal—to do so could, Baal forbid, cause Baal to come forth in the fall with a broken leg or arm!”
            Eliah the Israelite farmer boomed from the head of the table, “Peace, Friends, peace, I implore you! Please do not quarrel over the meaning of the lamb. The important thing is that we all get along, in this blessed land….”
            “Will you let me speak?” asked the Egyptian, smoothing his white cotton kilt, “Since you Israelites lay claim to having defeated my people—despite there being no proof whatsoever in our Egyptian History—and I studied that subject well in the Royal Academy in Heliopolis, I will tell you!---I challenge you to prove that your invisible God ever freed you from our land. Oh, I daresay that you did escape; it has happened before, these minor slave-revolts. Our Army and Cavalry put them down with little trouble; misguided slaves are no more than human trash. I remain a proud Egyptian! I—”
            “Calm yourself, Friend Amhotep,” soothed Eliah, “for we are, regardless of how or why, all together in this land. Let us eat the lamb-meat—”
            “With bitter herbs,” said the Young Israelite, “and cakes of matzo.”
            “Let all do as they wish,” said the farmer, spreading his arms wide, “ for peace is the most important value among us. Peace, peace, from far and near; let us agree to seek peace, and pursue it. Else we shall be battling all the time, until all lie dead, and the land becomes a prey to vultures and carrion crows.”
            “You are right, as usual, Friend Eliah,” said Yaray-Baal the Canaanite, “So may I wish you and yours a most happy Passover?”
“I am uncertain as to whether I am ready to forgive—” said Amhotep the Egyptian.
            “Drink some wine, then, and forget your plaguey history,” advised the Ammonite.
“And to you, good friends,” smiled the farmer, “Happy Mot-Baal Season! Happy Passover! Pass the matzo, young man….”

Monday, March 12, 2018

Vayikra: The Old Priest and the Doubting Teenager

Vayikra: The Old Priest and the Doubting Teenager

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

            It had been a busy morning. Passover was coming, and folks throughout the village were worried and concerned about their ritual purity, what we call tahara. None but the pure could participate in the Passover Feast, a ritual we had borrowed from the Canaanites, but which we Kohanim-Priests had extended to include the Escape from Egypt, so many decades ago.
            Who am I, Stranger? Call me Nodev-Korban, or Noddy for short; it doesn’t matter to me. I have been serving God and Israel in the Shiloh Shrine for—well, I can no longer remember. I do recall my mother, who first presented me to the High Priest, Kaspi, when I was about five years old. Yes, yes, you may well smile, Youngster, to imagine that this nearly-toothless old tent-peg of a Kohen was once a small boy!
            My memories of my mother, Idena, are hazy—Papa told me she was very beautiful; but then, he was quick to acquire not one, but two concubines when Mama passed away of the plague brought by the Philistines—God avenge her death, and wreak havoc on our enemies! Ah, but memories, memories—when she hugged me to her bosom—she could not have been more than seventeen; folks marry young hereabouts—I remember that wonderful scent she used: cinnamon and sandalwood. Yes. Ah, well….
            What do I do in the Shrine? Well, the same thing that I’ve been doing for most of my life—scraping out and collecting the ashes of the korbanote, the offerings. For some reason, our current High Priest can’t find any younger priests, or even Levites, to perform this task. Lazy louts that they all are—still, I can’t complain. It’s messy, I will admit, but necessary. Can’t have the Holy Offerings of the LORD GOD burning on a brass altar that is less than shining spic-and-span. It matters little to me if I have no one to help me; I have been doing it for so long, that it’s more a game than a task. And I am, mostly, alone with my thoughts, and my prayers to God. Yes.
            Still, Stranger, you know these youthful types, always questioning. I spend more time atop this outdoor altar, sweeping, scraping and polishing, out here in the sun and open air, perhaps more than any other Kohen. It is always a relief when I am done, and can retreat to Mistress Naamah’s tent for a cool mug of barley beer, which she mixes with apple juice. “Cider,” she calls it, which is fine with me. It is a most refreshing drink, and Mistress Naamah is a refreshing sight, as well, although, like me, she is getting on in years—we never married; I’m not certain why, but she told me, years ago, that she “wanted to keep her prospects open.” What prospects those were I am unsure of—no man but I has ever paid her any attention—but she is a good old soul, and we get along well with one another. If I finish my chores after the sun has set, we sit outside her tent, sipping our brews, and gaze up at the stars. Yes, she is a sweet old soul, and very good to me….
            As I said, being the priest who is in most constant touch with the Israelite public, I don’t mind when young folk come up and ask me questions. I’m up there at the altar for most of the day, and it makes the time go by. Who knows? One of these children may be doing my job one day, long after I am laid beneath the sod. It is a good education for them, and a chance for me to share what little priestly education I have. All I ask is that they remain faithful to their God and our Tradition—“for my yoke is easy, and my burden light,” as it says in the Holy Scrolls.
            Which is why I was so surprised just the other day, when I was up there atop the altar, a-scraping and sweeping and tidying up—the work never ends, you know—to see young Mored ben Reev, gazing up at me with appeared to be strong interest.. I was surprised, indeed, to note that he had grown into a man, or nearly; this outdoor life seems to agree with our young folks. Still, an elder like myself has no trouble remembering the day on which that fine young man had his brit milah, his Covenant of Circumcision. How we danced and sang that day! Dancing, dancing—Naamah and me—and afterwards—well, never mind.
            “Good day, Young Master,” I call down, pretending not to recognize him. Not too many youngsters like to be reminded that you were at their brit, or (for girls) their Naming.
            The boy was staring at all the—how d’ye call ‘em?—accoutrements of the Mishkan, and I agree: we have been carrying God’s sacred dwelling-place for generations, now, ‘til they arrived in Shiloh.. Even though some of the ark-cloths are torn and the metalwork is missing a jewel here or a bolt there—I must get those Maintenance Levite boys to hop to it, and shine up the lot—the essence of the Place shines through.
            Yes: the Place—HaMakom, as we call it. It is the spiritual center, the Holy Heart of our godly existence. I like to imagine the Holy One sending down His blessings upon all of us, and why shouldn’t He? After all, we offer Him the finest of our cattle, the choicest of our fruits and vegetables. When High Priest Kaspi and our corps des kohanim are hard at work, slicing and dicing (and taking a morsel of the flesh for themselves, as is only right and proper), and I behold the flames rising, the smoke billowing to heaven, I realize how lucky I am, how fortunate my people are, and—
            “Excuse me,” comes a voice from below. I grab a handrail to steady myself; I am not as young as once I was—and squint my old eyes to find the speaker. It is that same Mored. Yes, it is! True, he has grown taller, but, even at this distance, I can see the blend of his father Shalom and his mother Nitza in his face. I call down:
            “Yes, Master Mored?”
            He frowns. “How do you know my name?” he asks.
            “I have known your family for many years,” I reply, smiling, “and, if memory serves, I recall the night you were born, and they sent me to your home to burn protective incense, to lessen your mother’s travails. I was at your brit—"
            “Are we related, or something?” asks the young man.
            Kol Yisrael chaverim!—All of Israel are brothers and sisters!” I proclaim, in a tone that would have sounded more stately had I not been dangling from an altar-horn, “Why, I—”
            “If I may interrupt, Segan-Kohen (Assistant Kohen) Nodev,” interrupts this tyro, “I have some questions, about—about—the sacrifices, the Shrine, and all. Why you do—those things you do, and all.”
            Things? I ask myself, Things? These are mitzvote, holy activities.
            “Ask away,” I reply, cheerily. After all, if the youngsters don’t ask, they will never know—and where will become of our sacred traditions, then?
            He kicks idly at a pebble beneath the linen fence, sending it through the linen fence, which flaps listlessly in the desert breeze.
            “Well,” says he, speaking directly, as we Israelites do, “Why make sacrifices at all? All that hoopla about butchered animals, incense, and the like. What possible good can it serve?”
            I must admit, that “possible good” remark rankled me. But I was determined to answer him quickly and strongly.
            “They are offerings to the Lord God, Who is pleased with our efforts to share our bounty with Him—or to grant further produce and cattle if the years be lean.”
            “And you really think that God eat—consumes—these foodstuffs?” Mored continues.
            “Yes, I do,” I reply, getting heated, “Don’t you?”
            “No,” he says, “I do not.”
            The sun is setting, and the heat dissipating—thank God for the evening’s coolness, else I would have called off the discussion, then and there. I have met such doubters before, and they are not worth the argument; it’s a matter of faith, say I. Still, I could not let this wet-behind-the-ears boy continue his unbelief.
            “Well, Mored,” I say, any pretense of courtesy gone, “If God did not create the Universe, then who did?”
            “It just happened,” he replies, reaching down and plucking a grass-stalk to chew.
            “And that grass?” I ask.
            “The same,” he grins. Is he deliberately teasing me? Some of these nervy young types can be treacherous in their arguments.
            “And what of the Afterlife?” I ask, letting go my best salvo of argument.
            He gazes toward the setting sun. “A thick mire,” he replies, and strolls off.
            What can one do with such a one? Shall I report him to the Temple Police? No, he’s such a nice boy, and comes from good stock. But what shall we do about our Doubters?
            I will seek him out after work tomorrow, and we shall talk some more….

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

"Active Shooter": A Handy Online Pamphlet from the Friendly Folks at the Dept. of Homeland Security (FEMA)

"Active Shooter": Handy Hints from the Dept. Of Homeland Security 

Compiled & Edited by David Hartley Mark 

NOTE: Excerpts in quotation marks are taken from the "Active Shooter" web page of FEMA, your Dept. Of Homeland Security. 

  1. "Be informed: Sign up to receive local emergency alerts & register your work and personal contact information with any work sponsored (sic) alert system 
Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers." 

In particular, be aware of how your State and Federal Government are totally enslaved to the National Rifle Association (NRA). This is not a "possible danger," but an actual one. 

  1. "Make a Plan: Make a plan with your family, and ensure everyone knows what they would do, if confronted with an active shooter. 
Look for the two nearest exists anywhere you go, and have an escape plan in mind & identify places you could hide. 
Understand the plans for individuals with disabilities or other access and functional needs." 

What should your family do? Hide? Scream? Dial 911 (No; FEMA states that you should run and escape first, so put the dog down. Also, abandon Grandpa in the wheelchair, if saving him will expose you to danger. What plans apply to mentally or physically incapacitated people or family members? 

If you are entering a particular building or locality for the first time, be sure to walk around and find hiding places, emergency exits, possible weapons (see below), or places to just sit down and cry, praying that the Shooter does not find you, especially if they are carrying an automatic weapon, or even a semi.  

  1. "RUN and escape, if possible. Leave your belongings behind and get away. Help others escape, if possible, but evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow. Call 911 when you are safe, and describe shooter, location, and weapons." 

Should you be carrying a firearm yourself, be certain to take out the Shooter. If this is not possible, and he is a better shooter than you, please accept the thanks of a Grateful Country for your self-sacrifice.  

The president may possibly come to your funeral, if he is not golfing.  

  1. "HIDE, if escape is not possible. Get out of the shooter's view and stay very quiet. Silence all electronic devices and make sure they won't vibrate. Don't hide in groups—spread out along walls or hide separately to make it more difficult for the shooter. Try to communicate with police silently. Use text message or social media to tag your location, or put a sign in a window." 

Suggested text for Sign in Window: Why was this person allowed to acquire a weapon? Or, worse, why are there so many death-dealing weapons out there? And where, exactly, did you get the materials to make a sign, and a window facing the Police to put it in? 

  1. "FIGHT as an absolute last resort. Commit to your actions and act as aggressively as possible against the shooter. Recruit others to ambush the shooter with makeshift weapons like chairs, fire extinguishers, scissors, books, etc. Be prepared to cause severe or lethal injury to the shooter. Throw items and improvise weapons to distract and disarm the shooter." 

The president may possibly come to your funeral, if he is done golfing. 

"AFTER: Keep hands visible and empty. Take care of yourself first, and then you may be able to help the wounded before the first responders arrive.  

"Consider seeking professional help for you and your family to cope with the long-term effects of the trauma." 

Don't waste your time contacting your legislators; they all pimped themselves out to the NRA long ago.  
If the Shooting Incident was in a school, it will not be the last. Again, see above for why you should not bother contacting the Government. 

If you are a Person of Color, your chances of being shot by Law Enforcement are increased. Sorry.  

The president may not come to your funeral; it's a lovely day for golf. 


Active Shooter. (n.d.) Retrieved from