Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tetzaveh: A New, 21st-Century Set of Vestments for the High Priest


The Testament of Elijah the Prophet
On Behalf of the Almighty God of Israel
Maker of Heaven & Earth
Delivered to HaRav Chaim Dovid ben Yisrael Zelig v’Etel
(Rabbi David Hartley Mark)
At Midnight, 2/22/15
Which May or May Not Supersede
Previous Instructions Regarding the Priestly Vestments
As Listed in
Exodus 28:31-42
You Alone, Reader, Must Decide

“And the Word of God came to me, saying, ‘I, the Lord your God, in light of Modern Conditions on the Earth which I, in My infinite wisdom, have created, have changed My mind regarding the Priestly Vestments which I commanded My Servant Moses and the High Priest, Aaron his Brother;
“For those Previous Instructions were Pertinent for Another Time and Place; an Age of Faith in an Invisible G-d, but the Situation has altered somewhat, this being an Age in which Man has turned against Man, and Force Reigns Paramount, to My Great Sorrow;
“And the Following is more appropriate for the Changing Times in which Humanity lives today.
“And so, Son of Man, take this down, whether by Hammer & Chisel, Papyrus & Stylus, Parchment & Quill, Keyboard and Mouse; for I, the Lord, am not a Repetitive God, and I am only going to Say this Once, very Slowly and Clearly, with Long Pauses, so there be no Possibility of Error.
“And so, we begin: the Garments of the Kohanim, the Priests: all wore tunics, breeches, turbans of linen. Linen is a wonderful cloth; it is vegetable in origin, strong, durable, elegant; it absorbs sweat. But it has become too expensive.
My Priests should be no Grander than the People whom they represent. Henceforth, they shall wear Cotton. It is humbler, as should they all be, when they serve Me in the Sanctuary.
“Now, to the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. He also wears, in addition to the above, a Cloak of Blue Wool, with Golden Bells and Pomegranate-shaped decorations on its hem.
“Where did the Wool come from? I wish for the Sheep whence it came to be Free-Range, not Factory-Farmed. Let those Innocent, Gentle Beasts who donate their Skin-coverings to serve Me gambol, play, and live out their short, animal lives in as much freedom as we can afford them. I caution against the usage of synthetic chemicals, including pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, hormones and antibiotics. In animal production, I recommend, where feasible, that the herdspeople provide a natural environment for animals and foster natural behaviors. There, now: I believe that that should cover the Cotton (no more Linen, mind), and the Wool. Must I repeat Myself? No? Good.
“And now, to the Gold. I had commanded that the High Priest wear also a Golden Headplate, the Tzitz, on his forehead, bearing the words, ‘Holy to God.’
“But where is the Gold coming from? In Mali, a Major African Gold-Producing Nation, the children working in the mines, some as young as six years old, help dig shafts with pickaxes, lift and carry heavy bags of ore, and pan the gold with an amalgamation process involving mercuryThis poisons both their young lives, and the environment in which it is used. And Behold, Son of Man: Mali and other nations in Africa and elsewhere also use child soldiers to kill one another; Children should be in School. I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God; I will not have the High Priest lift his hands to Me in prayer, wearing a diadem which drips with the Blood of the Innocent.
“I wish for him to wear a plain, cloth cap when he prays, similar to that which the Common Jewish Folk wear—let its color vary with the Seasons of the Year, and carry the Formula, Act Thou Holy to One Another.
“Get thou hence, All of You, and Make these Changes forthwith. There: I do believe that you’re beginning to Understand Me and My Ways better. It’s a Learning Curve, but I have all Infinity to Wait….”
Here Endeth the Testament, 2 am
No One Said
Being Human
Was Going
To Be Easy

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Terumah: "Customer Help Needed in Aisle 4: Building Materials for the Desert Sanctuary"

Terumah: The Building Contractor’s Tale

And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,  See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah: And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship, To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,  And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship. And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee; The tabernacle of the congregation, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is thereupon, and all the furniture of the tabernacle. (Exodus 31:1-7)

            “Call me Manny. I work at Moe’s Depot Building Supplies. Been there, oh, must be about nine years, by now. It’s not a bad job, considering how hard it is to find steady work, these days: I assist contractors, builders, and handymen who are building small construction projects for home or light industrial use. I meet all kinds of people—it’s amazing how we’ve become a Nation of Builders. Nothing surprises me—the housewife who is putting an addition on the house in her spare time; the retired bookkeeper who decides to take his college son’s bedroom and make it into a man-cave; the young couple who are flipping a house all by themselves, all during the weekend. My own background is fairly modest—my Dad was a frustrated construction engineer who had to go out and support his family when his own Dad died young—so I’m fairly self-taught, and there’s a lot of information online. I’ve picked up a lot over the years, by myself, from the job, and working with all kinds of people.
            “Still, you could have knocked me over with a ball-peen hammer when I opened up my Contractors’ Supplies Department this past week and looked up, to see two fellas who looked as if they had escaped from Central Casting for “Lawrence of Arabia”—they were standing patiently in front of my desk, wearing full desert-sheik garb head to toe, sandals on their feet, beards down to their waists, holding rolled-up parchments under their arms, and squinting in the fluorescent lights—we’re changing over to CFL bulbs in the store, but it’s still fairly primitive. I was a bit surprised at their appearance, but I smiled, took a last sip of breakfast coffee from my cardboard cup and said,
            “’Good morning! Someone helping you gentlemen?’
            “The taller of the two—he was a hawk-nosed fella, with a dark-tanned face full of wrinkles, the kind you get from squinting into a hot Sinai sun—answers me, with one of those—what? Israeli-type? Arab? accents (Was he a terrorist, sent by one of those enemy mobs to inspect our Western building methodologies? You can’t be too careful.) Says to me, ‘We’re here to buy building materials for our Holy Sanctuary in the wild and untamed Wilderness. We want to open a Contractor’s Account.’
            “No problem, there. I’ve opened all sorts of accounts, for all sorts of people. My colleague here in the South Florida store, Florens Auberjonois—he’s Haitian, and he’s always kidding me when I try to speak to him in Quebecois; my people were originally from French Canada—once worked with a trade rep for the Sultan of Brunei, and they were able to jabber away in French, ‘cause the Brunei fella had studied engineering at the Ecole Mechanique in Marseilles—so I started filling out the forms on the computer, and all was going well, until I asked the Tall One—he seemed to be the Spokesman—for Proof of Currency, figuring he would give me a MasterCard, VISA, or American Express; that’s what most of them do, and I was about ready to to explain to him that we’re sorry, but we no longer accept Diner’s Club—
            “To my surprise, he pulls out a small leather bag, and pours out a little mountain of gold coins on my desk—I lift one up, and it has the picture of an Egyptian Pharaoh on it—well, that was surprising, you can bet, but not something we could accept as legal currency, here in the Good Old U.S. of A. I mean, it’s the 21st Century.
            “’I’m sorry,’ I said to Tall Guy, ‘but I can’t take this. Would you like to take home this E-Z Contractor’s Credit Application, and fill it out when you have time? You can bring it in, tomorrow?’
            “He looks all confused, and does a quick conference with Short Fella, and they both smile, and nod, and say to me, though I suspect they’re just thinking out loud, ‘We will consult with Tuvya the Translator-Scribe, and he will make it all Correct and Proper. We will bring it back to you, Mr. Manny, tomorrow.’
            “So they can’t fill out the form, but I do get their names: Tall Guy is Bezalel ben Uri, and Short Fellow is Oholiav ben Achisamach. Which is hard enough for me to remember and pronounce, but they appreciate my making the effort—plus, I meet so many different sorts of people, here in South Florida, that another foreign-sounding name is all in a day’s work for me.
            “And so, we go on. I pull out another standard form, ‘List of Necessary Building Materials.’ ‘What goods will you Gentlemen require?’ I ask.
            “They brighten up—at last, this seems to be something they can comprehend.
            “’We will need the following,’ says Oholiav, and, with much ceremony, he unrolls a large scroll—did I smell papyrus? It had a sort of plantlike smell, like those bamboo shoots in the Chow Mein when Sophie brings home take-out Chinese Food—
            “’Acacia wood—we don’t suppose you carry that?’ asks Bezalel.
            “’Actually, we do—it’s become very popular for flooring,’ I tell them, ‘We get it from Australia, of all places.’
            “‘Is that near Moab?’ asks Oholiav, ‘Rabbi Moshe says we may get there by next month—perhaps we should wait, and cut it down ourselves.’
            “‘I don’t think so,’ answers Bezalel, ‘Moshe told me that the Sanctuary was a rush job, and asked me specifically, “How long will this take?” “Two weeks,” I told him.’
“They both nodded, energetically.
“‘What else are we talking about, Gentlemen?’” I asked. They consulted their parchments, and read from them alternatively.
“’Gold, silver, and copper—‘ said Bezalel.
“’Special order,’ I said, writing it down.
“’Flax, dugong  and ram skins, purple- and red-dyed wool—‘ said Oholiav.
“’Probably three weeks—and I’ll pull out the special forms you’ll need to get approval from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) folks,’ I said, ‘How would your Rabbi Moses Boss-man feel about Synthetic Alternatives? We can probably find you some made from a petroleum derivative. That way, you’re only harming the Environment, not a species.’
“’And these Cherubim for the Mercy Seat—‘ said Bezalel.
“’What are those?’ I asked.
“So he told me.

“Like I said, you meet all kinds of people in this business….”

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Parshat Mishpatim--One May Teach Torah Laws to Anyone, But There May Be Limits....


            Sitting in my study one night, racking my brain to find something new about the Parsha, the Torah Reading—it wasn’t easy. After the drama of the Theophany, the Appearance of God on Mt. Sinai, complete amid a Coming of Angels, Heavenly Light, smoke-and-thunder, one turns the page, to find—a fairly detailed and abstruse listing of Civil Law, circa 15th Century BCE, ranging from Hebrew Slavery, through murder, kidnapping, assault, theft, property damage (ravaging oxen, brushfires, etc.), mistreatment of foreigners (Egyptians are singled out for gentle treatment), the prohibition against cooking meat with milk—
            A harsh rap at the door interrupted my musings. I rose, stepped over a dozing Kirby, my Shih Tzu, and opened it, to find a tall, thin man, dressed in grave but decent attire; a dark suit, like a country parson’s; pointed shoes, long arms, hands, and fingers. He smiled, revealing a set of snow-white, polished teeth, as broad as a shark’s.
            “If you please, Rabbi,” he said, “I am a Student of Religion. I have been studying the Holy Scriptures for years now, and have several questions. It happens that I have been recently  studying Exodus; specifically, chapters 21-24….”
            “The very ones I have been reading, just now,” I said, surprised.
            “A coincidence,” he smiled, and I thought, no, surely imagined, that he clashed his teeth, “would it be any trouble, any difficulty, if I were to come in, and share a few Questions?”
            I nodded, and fetched him a chair. He settled back, and took a well-worn Scriptures from his bag, and offered it to me. I opened it to the Frontispiece, which read

The Holy Bible
Containing the Old and New Testaments
Translated out of the Original Tongues
And with the Former Translations Diligently
Compared and Revised
Authorized or
King James Version

Opposite this impressive page was a watercolor, 1920s style, showing a calm, but determined-looking David in shepherd garb, standing in ankle-deep water, about to sling a smooth stone against a dangerously-advancing Goliath, who wore a gold-toned, brazen breastplate and matching shin-greaves, along with a soul patch on his chin—sort of an Arrow Collar man decked out for war. Four Philistine warriors stood casually in the background, waiting for their boy to make short work of the upstart Hebrew teen. The painting was signed “W.H. MARGETSON” at the bottom. I gingerly closed the volume, and handed it back to my guest, who snatched at it eagerly, and hugged it to his bosom like an old friend. Then, he plunked it into his lap, and began riffling through its pages.
            “Let’s start!” cried my Visitor. His Bible opened immediately to the intended page; he had many bookmarks, “Exodus 21:23—the laws following the men fighting—‘…Thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.’ Well, Rabbi? How do you explain away this law? Why can’t we punish our wrongdoers as they have hurt others?”
            “That, Mr.--?”
            “Uppance. My name is Colm Uppance.”
            “Mr. Uppance. The Rabbis in the Talmud were horrified by this statement, and so, early on, legislated that it meant, not the actual limb itself, but the value of the lost limb. Otherwise, as Tevye says in ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ ‘The entire world will end up blind and toothless.’ The two parties, the striker and the victim, go to court, which determines the value of the lost limb. A jeweler, for example, would have a higher value placed on his eye, than a ditchdigger. There would also be compensation for time lost from work, pain and suffering, having to wear, say, an eyepatch or glass eye for the remainder of one’s life, medications, and so on.”
            “Hmph,” said Mr. Uppance. He clearly wasn’t buying it, but that was the mitigating influence of the Talmud, which surrounds and softens the harsh-appearing dicta of the Torah She’bich’tav, the Written Law, or the Five Books of Moses. He turned to his Bible, once again.
            “Well, what about this?” he asked.
            “We have time for, perhaps, one more,” I said, as gently as I could.
            “Well then: I’ll make it a good, big one. Exodus 22:17: ‘Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,’” he said, smacking his lips over each word, and grinning at me with that shark’s mouth of teeth when he was done. His eyes were gleaming, and I could not help but remember all my readings in history, all the thousands of innocent women, in America and Europe, who had gone to their deaths on the trumped-up charge of witchcraft. And who was to speak for their unfortunate sisters of today, still suffering in silence, being excluded, punished, tortured, or executed, in societies where men had the major advantage, simply by dint of their being men?
            “The Rabbis in the Talmud—most of whom, I admit, were no champions of what we would, today, call Women’s Rights—nonetheless, were astonished and disgusted by this verse,” I said, hoping to drive that Death’s-Head grin from his bony skull. “They took the literal meaning of the verse, and interpreted it to mean, “’Do not let a woman make her living by means of sorcery or witchcraft’—in other words, teach or train her in another profession, so that she will be able to support herself and her family in a respectable and socially-acceptable way.”
            “No witchcraft?” asked my Visitor. He seemed even more disappointed about this reply than by the one concerning the lex talionis, the “eye for an eye.”
            “Right. No witchcraft.”
            “Well, then, I must go,” he said, huffing and puffing in a most disappointed manner, “Thank you, Rabbi. You have been—very helpful,” he gulped, as if having a difficult time getting the words out. He pulled an enormous, nickle-plated watch, out of a pocket in his rusty-black vest, and squinted at it. “And I must be getting on. It’s late, and I have to—to—relieve my boys at their work. Yes. That is what I must do….” We both rose, and walked downstairs together. I was beginning to feel relieved at his imminent departure. Kirby wagged his tail.
“Can this guy leave now, Dave? I mean, fast. He gives me the willies,” he seemed to be asking me.
            “What sort of work do you do, Mr. Uppance?” I asked, holding the door of my house open, as he took a step out, distracted, into the clear, cool Florida night air.
            “I? I work—in minerals; yes, minerals—Underground,” he said, and vanished, in a cloud of smoke, leaving nothing but the pungent smell of sulfur behind him.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Parshat Yitro: Voices Off. Estranged Sons of Moses, Disciple Joshua, Datan & Aviram--All at Mt. Sinai.

Yitro: Voices Off

Moses prepares to climb Mt. Sinai, leaving Aaron in charge of an exceedingly nervous People. The Prophet ascends, penetrating the Very Thick Darkness, where he will remain for forty days and nights. The Israelites hear the Lightning and see the Thunder; the Mountain shakes, the People fear, and stand afar off. The Torah-Text itself passes from Human Drama to Words of Teaching, through the Ten Statements/Aseret Ha-Dibrote, known popularly as the Ten Commandments.

Gershom & Elazar, the Estranged Sons of Moses: We are the Sons of Moses, but we scarcely appear in the Text of the Torah. It is hard to be the sons of a Great Man. And truth to tell, Papa was rarely home: he was always off, somewhere—speaking with He-Who-Is, teaching Torah to the People, judging their legal matters: is this chicken kosher? Who moved the boundary-line of whose property? Or arguing with the Mixed Multitude about why such-and-such was forbidden, or might cause God to become Angry. He was a fine Go-Between, a Diplomat of years’ experience, always smoothing the negotiations between a backsliding Nation and an ever-more-demanding God.
But he was never really there for us: when we were young, he had no time to play; when we were teenagers, he was not there to answer our questions—that became the job of Grandfather Jethro, who knew very little of this New Faith which Papa was creating, along with his God and his People, though Grandpa did his best. And when we became men, setting out on our own lives’ paths, we did not think to tell Papa Good-by—who was there to say it to? Mama had died, of a broken heart, and Papa had checked out, long ago.
It is sad when a man is married to a community, and not to his family….You say, it happens often? That is cold comfort, indeed.

Joshua, Moses’s hand-picked Disciple & Successor: I cannot say the same as they. I don’t know why, but Rabbi Moshe was always there, for me. From the start, he groomed me for leadership, and I strove to fulfill his expectations. It is true that I was more a Man of Action, and he a Man of Thought, but what of that? We complemented one another. That time, I took the field against Amalek, I knew that Moshe would be seated there, between Uncles Aaron and Chur, lifting up his hands, which were heavier than usual, that day. How we hacked and cut at the hands of Amalek, that fearsome battle! It was just like those Amalekite dogs, to attack us so cowardly-like, in the rear, when we were weary and weak, struggling along in the wilderness, after the Reed Sea’s Splitting, and having aroused the women and babes at Midnight, shocked and scared, for the Exodus from our Egyptian Captivity….
But it surprised me no end, when the Battle was over, and I and my Boys were struggling back to Camp, to report to Rabbi Moshe, and there, before I could open my mouth to report on the dead, the wounded, and the booty, he gave me one of his famous looks—the kind that stares down deep into a man’s soul and freezes the blood—and said, softly but clearly, “Amalek is not those people you have killed this day, Joshua Boy: Amalek is the Evil within yourselves; have you cut that evil out of your heart? Well, have you?” And he spun around on his heel, and walked off.
My comrades were upset, but I caught his meaning…. and never forgot.

Datan & Aviram, the Rebels: Do not expect us to say anything good about Moshe, even to the extent of honoring him with the title, “Rabbi.” He is no rabbi of ours: he’s a Levite; we are from the Tribe of Reuben, which ought to lead—our grandfather was the Eldest Son of Jacob, known as Israel. Why did he, or this Mysterious God who both kills and preserves, not slay us in Egypt? Because we are rebels, and disagree, and we, too, are necessary to this People. This New Nation, conceived out of slavery, called Israel, will never be rested or complacent. They, we, must always question, and argue, and wrangle, with one another. It is our doom, our fate, but our salvation, as well. Only by questioning shall we discover the Truth; only by arguing will we settle Matters of Torah. Woe unto you, O Moses, when all shall agree with you! Neither for you nor any rabbi, judge, prophet, or king to follow you will there ever be peace. How can there ever be peace for such a troublous people? For truly, the future belongs to such as us: we will sow the seeds of doubt before Moses’s leadership, forever….