Parshat Pinchas: Both a Bang and a Whisper

There was once a Jewish bubbie who was standing with her little grandson by a beautiful seashore.  As they stood admiring the water, a huge wave came out of nowhere and carried her grandson into the ocean.  The woman turned her face to heaven and called out to God.  She screamed of the injustice of the moment and the cruelty of Divine Decree.  She cried, she begged, she bargained and she demanded that her grandson be returned to her.  Within minutes the wave returned, but this time it deposited her little grandson on the beach to stand beside her again.  The Jewish bubbie looked at her grandson speechless for a full moment, then turned her face to heaven again and called out to God: “He was wearing a hat.”

It is the embodiment of chutzpah and we love it!

The blessings God gives us are never enough.  We are grateful for what we have and then we always return to ask for more.  It is not us being selfish, it is us being biblical.

In the Torah portion this week, parshat Pinchas, we meet the 5 daughters of Zelaphchad who come to Moses with a petition for fairness.  It is not another Israelite who has treated them unfairly, it is God.  The daughters present a case that their father has died leaving no sons and now there is to be no land inheritance in Israel since the laws of the Torah only grant inheritance rights to a male.  It is an astounding moment of courage since they are challenging within a legal system that has not yet proved itself open to a challenge of any kind.

The courage they find sits on the relationship described to us between Jacob and God.  When Jacob flees his brother Esau to go live with his uncle, he dreams of God who reiterates covenant to Jacob.  According to God, Jacob is to make God his God and in return God will give him the land of Israel, many children to fill the land and God will not leave Jacob while he is on his journey.  It’s beautiful, it’s spiritual…but it’s not enough.

Jacob responds in the morning with a vow.  He states that if God will watch over him on the journey and give him food and clothes and then return him safely to his father’s home, then God has a deal!

It is biblical chutzpah.  It pushes on covenant so we (the party of the first part) advocate for what we know we need from God (the party of the second part) who is in a position to grant it.  Partnerships mean both parties give and both parties receive.  It won’t work if I’m not clear on what I expect or what I am able to give.  Jacob taught us to push on God and the daughters of Zelaphchad model to us that anyone has the right to demand what is right.  They are women, not recognized by inheritance law, standing with no power and no rights but it doesn’t matter since we are focused on these women – their show of power.

So, isn’t it interesting that within the same portion is a woman named Serah that no one pays any attention to?  She is the daughter of Asher, the granddaughter of Jacob and she is listed in the census recorded in this parshah.  She is the only woman in the list and she is counted because she’s still alive.  Shockingly, she is also listed among those who entered Egypt with Jacob as well as those who came out of Egypt with Moses.  She will now be around to enter Israel with Joshua…who is this woman?

The Torah gives us no details, but the midrash fills us with images.  She is the one who gently broke the news to Jacob that Joseph was still alive so Jacob would not succumb to emotional shock.  She is the one who confirmed Moses was the leader when the elders weren’t sure and it is she who found Joseph’s bones so Israel could leave Egypt.  Later, she settles an argument in the rabbinic academies about how the Red Sea split since she alone witnessed it.

She is the embodiment of Jewish history from the time we became a nation until… forever, since according to the Sages, she is one of the few people to never die.  She is subtle and nuanced within any text that alludes to her but she is the constant, the foundation and the endless future.

The daughters of Zelaphchad are the power of the moment but not all Jewish expressions must contain such power.

A student of mine, a Jewish bubbie, told me that she was at the Kotel in Jerusalem with her grandson who was around 4 at the time.  They stood together and her grandson asked for a book to hold.  Of course, he couldn’t read yet but everyone was holding a book so she happily handed him her Siddur.  He held it, and then started mumbling something.  This Jewish bubbie leaned down slowly to hear her grandson’s prayer and here’s what she heard him singing:

“Spiderman, spiderman, does whatever a spider can.”

Not all powerful Jewish moments are modelled on the daughters of Zelaphchad, some of them are the humble whisperings of Serah, who shows us the power of our history, our spirituality and our continuity.

Parshat Chukat/Balak: My Brother from Another Mother

This week’s Torah reading is a double parshah: Chukat and Balak.  Balak is the outstanding narrative of a foreign prophet, a talking donkey and the opening prayer of our Siddur.  Chukat is about paradox and irrational realities…and the deaths of Miriam and Aaron.  As fantastic as is that talking donkey, I can’t get my mind off losing Miriam and Aaron.

Maybe it’s all the Covid numbers that get reported everyday or maybe it’s summer and the sun is shining but things feel different. I’m not exactly sure why but I keep thinking about Miriam and Aaron.  Not the strong figures of leadership the Torah presents, rather the nuanced moments and the midrashic portraits.

Miriam, Aaron and Moses are the powerhouse of leadership in Judaism.  They’re three siblings with totally different realities.  In today’s world, siblings are most often defined as sharing the same parents.  But in the ancient (and up until very recent) world, siblings were children sharing a household.  I was once going through some old family photos with my mother.  I saw a picture of a group of children standing together posing with snowballs.  I asked my mother what the picture was about, she said that her father posed her and her siblings with the snow because it was rare to have snow in Safed.  But I realized she said ‘siblings’ and there were most definitely too many kids in that photo.  

I recognized one little girl as a cousin.  I asked my mom about her.  

Here’s her answer: ‘Yes, she’s a cousin, but I think of her as a sister because she spent so many years with us growing up. Her parents were caught behind borders in the war so she ended up staying with us for years.’

So what was to be a family visit with a cousin turned into years of siblinghood.  I asked her who the other little girl was, and my mother said, ‘That’s my Yemenite sister.’  My response was to stare and blink. My mother asked if I wanted to see her wedding picture and flipped to a picture of a young woman in traditional Yeminite clothing.  I finally managed to ask how she acquired a Yeminite sister.  She told me they’re not actually blood sisters, but this young woman came to live with them, stayed for most of her childhood until she married.  They always called themselves sisters.

Lest we think this is a Sephardic family dynamic, I remember the same thing happening with some of the stories my father told me about the shtetl he came from.  We were visiting distant cousins and my father was explaining how we were all related.  I lost track of it after the third time I heard him say ‘They’re not really brothers, they just grew up together because there were too many kids in their house.’  I asked him if it was common for people to give their kids to relatives and he said yes, a shtetl was like a large family.

So whether Ashkenaz, Sephardic, or blends of different communities, Jewish families are always defined by the unities we create and the households we open to each other.  But even when raised in the same household, the word ‘sibling’ is descriptive of the relationship, not the personhood.  The same household will always produce unique individuals, each with their individual strengths and chosen connections.

None of this is new, it’s how we were meant to see Miriam, Aaron and Moses.  Miriam – the oldest, the guardian – is always described to us as uniquely different from Aaron – the middle child, the peacemaker – and both distinctly different from Moses – the baby, the prince.  

Miriam is the oldest of her siblings and right from the start she protects her younger brothers.  She is the one who guards Moses while he is floating in a basket on the Nile and she is the one who is responsible for uniting Moses with his birth family so he could bond with them.  These moments describe a little girl stepping forward to speak to a princess of Egypt to save her baby brother.  We never recognize her courage — we should.

Speaking of the babies in Egypt, there is an unusual midrash that describes how the Israelite women secretly delivered their babies in the fields and hid them so the Egyptians wouldn’t kill the babies. According to this midrash, when these infants cried from hunger, wanting to nurse, the rocks around them would bring forth milk so the babies could eat, calm themselves, stop crying and stay safe.  Rocks in a field can appear like breasts, and the midrash describes this beautiful collaboration between the females and the earth to secure life in an empire that glorified death.  Why are we so concerned with this midrash?  Because the image of the rock as giving the waters of life continues with Miriam.

The Sages tell us that there is a giant rock that is rolled alongside the holy objects in the desert.  When Israel would make camp, each tribal leader would use their staff to draw a line in the sand from the rock to where their tribe was camped.  Once 12 lines were drawn, the rock would fill the lines with water and all of Israel drank fresh water in the desert.  The rock was referred to as ‘Miriam’s Well’.  As soon as Miriam dies, we are told Israel complains to Moses that they will die for lack of water — the well has dried up.

God tells Moses to gather the people at the rock and speak to it so it will bring water (again).  The image is that Moses should console the rock, comfort it, since its waters have dried up, perhaps it has cried itself dry over losing Miriam.  Instead, Moses gathers everyone at the rock and succumbs to the pressures of the people and does the unthinkable, he hits it!  

God’s reaction is extreme since God’s view is universal.  God tells Moses he will never enter the land of Israel because of hitting the rock.  It is not any rock, it is Miriam’s Well, it is the embodiment of the rocks of Egypt that saved all those babies and partnered with all those desperate mothers – it is the symbol of life when only death defined each moment.  Hitting the rock is an affirmation of Egypt and an assault on Miriam’s legacy.  As a result of Moses’ hitting the rock, it brings water, so the problem has been solved, but unfortunately, the moment was lost and the wrong message was delivered.  God tells Moses that his leadership now has an expiry date attached. 

Not long after all this, God tells Moses to go with Aaron and Aaron’s son onto a mountain where Aaron will die.  After placing all of the priestly garments on Aaron’s son, Aaron quietly passes away and the nation cries for him.  You can’t help but notice no one cried when Miriam died, they just complained that now they don’t have water.  Why no tears for Miriam?

It seems that the progression of their deaths and the peoples’ reaction contains the lessons of their leadership.  Miriam provided the safety and the water.  It was brought to the people and they did not have to find their own solutions.  All the images are of babies and nursing and guardianship.  No one can cry for her because they haven’t learned that they can provide water for themselves.  In other words, if all the water came because of Miriam, then how can they manufacture tears?  By the time Aaron dies, they have somehow learned that the answers lie within themselves and they should not expect them to come from anyone else — now they can make tears, supply water, sustain themselves and be ready to enter the land.

What caused the shift?  Aaron’s son is the only difference.

Of the three siblings responsible for getting us out of Egypt, only Aaron will pass his role to his child.  He is the symbol of continuity and growth.  The Torah tells us that Moses is told to put Aaron’s clothes on Aaron’s son and we watch continuity establish itself.  When we see continuity, we see empowerment and with empowerment comes independence – with independence comes Israel’s ability to make tears.

The midrash explains this beautifully when it comments on God telling Moses to take Aaron and his son up the mountain.  The Sages say “take him with words of comfort and consolation” (the words that should have been spoken to the rock).  The Sages continue by saying that Moses comforts Aaron by saying; ‘how complete you must feel, seeing your crown removed from your head and placed on the head of your son – something I will not be privileged to see.’  

Miriam teaches us guardianship, Moses teaches us law and Aaron teaches us continuity.  They will die in the order they were born – Miriam first, Aaron second, Moses last.  It completes the picture of these three and I can’t help but think of the people my parents viewed as siblings because they lived together and enriched their lives.  I’m reminded of how many times people have said to me that they view a close friend as a sister or a brother, unaware that they are describing ancient realities.  Miriam, Aaron and Moses, three siblings who each deserve their moment and recognition of how they each enrich us every time we read of them.

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Parshat Korach: A Priest, a Rabbi & an Imam walk into a classroom…

Years ago, I was on faculty at a major Canadian university, mostly in the Faculty of Education.  As my specialty is in Religious Studies, my degrees in the field of education made for a good fit with the Faculty of Education as Religious Studies Coordinator.  Essentially, I was advising and teaching student candidates on the verge of graduating and starting careers in teaching all aspects of religious studies.  I had the privilege of running seminars that always included students preparing to teach in various religious venues.  Some candidates were Jewish, many were Catholic, several were clergy, Muslim men and women enrolled, as well as a Zoroastrian principal–always a beautiful mix of age and faith expressions.

Except when I missed unique, opportune moments.  

There were times when some of the candidates presented a challenge for me in ways they could not possibly have known.  Since there were often clergy in the class, I could be sitting with students who were much older than I.  I found it difficult to demand work and penalize for lateness on assignments with someone who was clearly my elder.  I admit, at times eye contact was difficult when I was visually locked onto the priest’s collar or the nun’s wimple and veil.  In fact, there was a myriad of covered hair, covered heads, beards, modest outfits and all styles in between–a truly inspiring snapshot of multicultural faith communities.

Except when I missed unique, opportune moments.

We struggled with how anyone could teach religion at all, let alone in a structured school setting.  Teaching prayer is one thing, but how do you assign a grade?  Does the student get an ‘A’ in prayer if God answers (and God must answer so the teacher can hear, otherwise the student might have made up God’s answer…)–you can see how this could get complex quite quickly.  But there were brilliant moments of collaboration as well.  In group assignments, candidates would form groups of their own religions (I noticed they chose their groups that way), only to realize they didn’t have the resources they needed for the assignment.  I remember one wonderful moment when the room was buzzing with group activity at a low hum only to have one nun call out: ‘Could we get some Jewish help over here, we’re not sure how a yarmulke works!’

And then there was the missed moment.

One year, an older student approached me before class and asked if she could make an announcement to the class before we start.  I agreed and asked if she wanted to let me know what it was about and she said she’d rather surprise me.  This woman was a mature, somewhat shy, studious person and always respectful of everyone in the room.  I wasn’t the least nervous about taking this risk.  As everyone found their seats, she stood in front of the class and started crying as she shared with the class that she’s gay.  She said it was the first time in her life she’d ever said that out loud to anyone.  Oh, right…did I mention this woman was part of the Amish community?

Several students went to hug her and celebrate her moment.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  My confusion wasn’t about her sexual orientation, it was more about her choice of this class and this moment to come out.   I understood my role at the university as leading these student candidates to their graduation and leading them to their new career opportunities.  Nowhere in my job description as a professor did it include leading a student in the most intimate moments of her life.  I am a very private person and I try to strictly respect other people’s privacy which at times causes problems–this was one of those times.

She said she chose this moment because of the sharing everyone did about their faith and how she felt no one judged anyone.  She looked at me and smiled.  I approached her and hugged her, I wiped her tears but I did not celebrate with her.  I couldn’t push past my boundaries.  This was a seminar on teaching religion, a place to learn how to lead people into thoughtful and life-changing concepts, but I couldn’t lead her in this moment.  It was too private a revelation and I hit my wall of respecting privacy.  My wall was too big.

It’s all I can think about as I read this week’s Torah portion, parshat Korach.  Moses is confronted with a challenge to his leadership.  His cousin, Korach, is gaining a following by saying that God is in the midst of the people and Korach is from the same family as Moses, so who does Moses think he is? The one attribute the Torah has told us time and again about Moses is that he is humble.  He can’t answer Korach, he ends up falling on his face in submission.

Korach is gaining popularity because at that moment it’s easy to believe Moses failed in his mission.  He led the people to the land of Israel but will not bring them in.  They are all destined to die in the desert, so maybe Moses just didn’t get the job done and it’s time to try different leadership.  What is forgotten is that getting everyone into Israel was never part of Moses’ job description–it was an expectation with no foundation.

At the burning bush, God commanded Moses to help get Israel out of Egypt and to Sinai.  He did that.  He was also told that all of Egypt should understand that God is a universal and unique Being.  The midrash says Moses did that as well.  Bringing the nation into the land was not on the list.

While at first glance it’s easy to be upset with Korach (after all he was trying to lead a rebellion against Moses), we should also consider that people have just been told they are going to die in the desert. Frankly, it would make sense that they believe Korach and that Moses has failed them as a leader. We shouldn’t be surprised that Korach acted the way he did, we should be surprised with Moses’ inability to face him. Moses, the man who stood up for a beaten slave, befriended God, survived Sinai and brought laws most of the world still lives by–this man couldn’t face a pushy cousin?

Moses’ humility kept him from saying anything and so God, Moses’ best friend, stepped in and took control.  Judaism is uncomfortable with extremes and extreme humility is no exception.  It becomes a limitation to Moses’ leadership.  This entire incident with Korach is a one time learning opportunity for Moses. It is a warning that should only happen once. Hopefully Moses can push past his limitations–push past his extreme humility–for future moments.

What do we takeaway? Not that we align with either Moses or Korach–we are not choosing sides since it’s obvious that Moses is the trusted leader. Korach’s mistake was that he remedied his dissatisfaction by pulling others toward destruction and doom–he is not the leader we seek. We continue to look towards Moses. We see that even leaders can be blind to their own boundaries and get in the way of connecting with those in their group. Moses’ limitation results in our growth. In this story, Moses is actually teaching us important lessons about leadership. Just as he was forced by God to learn from his experience, we are lucky to likewise learn from it. As a professor, I was blind to my own limitations, and this parsha helps me realize that I was missing unique, opportune moments with my students. 

My student kept in touch with me for a few years after.  She returned to her town but chose to live and teach in a school outside of her community.  She thanked me for the safe space and the good memory she holds of sharing her personal truth.  I feel good that she remembers it that way but I can’t ever think of it without remembering that I allowed my moment of confusion to overshadow her moment of authenticity.

We only see Moses’ limitation–his extreme humility–because it is mirrored by Korach’s extreme arrogance. LIkewise, I recognize being held back by my own boundaries because of my student’s bravery to break hers.  

I wonder how many other Moses/Korach moments pass us by.

Parshat Sh’lach: Could I Trouble You to Pass the Privilege, Please?

I found myself sitting between two worlds many times the last few weeks.  I’ve been watching the news, mostly the developments of racial conflict and tension in the U.S.  I’ve read blog posts from pastoral leaders in the Black community and many of them appeal to the Jewish community for support.  That’s when I started encountering the phrase ‘passing’ in what I now understand is a ‘new world’ usage.

When I was growing up, there was a clear definition to that phrase when it was termed ‘white-passing’ – it specifically accused a light skinned Black person of trying to pass themselves off as white.  To me, it was so offensive a phrase, I couldn’t stand hearing it and I would absolutely never use it!  Then I read a blog post accusing any Jewish person who did not speak out against Black racial discrimination as ‘white- passing’ (I even cringe as I keep writing that phrase).  My problem was I didn’t understand what the blogger was talking about.  I was offended because I could only understand that phrase as accusing me of intending to hide my true identity and pass as Christian.  I mentioned this to my kids and what followed was an eye opening, generationally shocking moment of trying to understand what the phrase means today.

It talks about the privilege a person has in society based on how they look, rather than the intention of the minority person entering that society.  Someone is ‘passing’ when they look the part, and based only on that, they now have privilege.  The example that finally lit the light bulb over my head was when my daughter told me that she has a friend who is bisexual and this young woman happens to be in a relationship with a man.  The friend terms her relationship as ‘straight-passing’ (…nope, still not comfortable with it…) – in other words, people seeing her and her partner together would not know that the woman involved is bisexual because her partner is a man.  It looks mainstream and therefore she has privilege in society that, had her true orientation been known, she would not have and would, in fact, face discrimination.  I asked if other people would refer to her as ‘passing’ and my kids were shocked and said ‘Of course not!! That would be offensive!’

And so I was caught between two worlds.

These complex ideas of who I am and where I belong are found in something as complex as race and as mundane as the difference between a fiance and a husband.  Years ago, I went out for dinner with a close friend and her husband.  We were in our early twenties and they were just married the week before.  Her husband went to the washroom just as we were to be seated at our table.  After a lengthy, awkward pause, my friend told the server that her friend would be joining us in a minute.  I asked her which friend is joining us and she named her husband.  I took a minute to process, looked at her intensely and asked when she put him in the ‘friend zone’, they’d only been married a week!  She said she can’t say the word ‘husband’ yet.  Caught between two worlds.

We’ve all had these moments.  When did we decide what our children should call us?  Mother, mama, mum, mummy, or dad, papa, father, pops…each one speaks of its own world and we need to choose.  It never stops, now the choice of Bubbie, grandma, grandmom, Savta, or Zaydie, (and on and on).  For the longest time I couldn’t make the decision what my kids should call my father and neither could he.  I went with ‘Grampa Sava Zaydie’, a mouthful of meaning.  We tried to have it all and it worked until the kids were almost teens.  Then they chose to call him Zaydie.  We can’t live uncommitted to a clear identity – they chose their name for him. 

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Sh’lach, shows us an entire people caught between two worlds.  The Jewish people have crossed the wilderness and are standing at the border of the land of Israel.  Moses sends spies to reconnoiter the land and they bring back scary images of giants and fortresses.  The people turn to Moses and plead with him to let them go back to Egypt.  They speak of Egypt with memories of things that never happened and privilege that never included them.  Fear of the world to come has created a utopia of the world they had.  Neither of those worlds are real.  They are caught.

God responds and tells them they will never leave the wilderness – no Israel, no Egypt – neither is real for them.  With no clarity of their past, and no realistic view of their future, they cannot move from where they are.  God is not punishing them with death since they will all live out their natural lives…in the only reality they chose, the one with no grounding and no promise of opportunity.

And all of this brings me back to my moments watching what is unfolding in the world around racial discrimination.  To some degree I hear a Jewish response that is caught between two worlds.  Should we ignore the past moments of our own discrimination that went unanswered by the world?  Should we weigh the politics of Israel and the political stands of some of the organized groups we would otherwise stand strongly with?  How much are we hurt that many of the rallying cries for justice are direct quotes from Jewish texts but that goes unnoticed as we are criticized?  Is this a moment of peoplehood, a moment of personal engagement, a moment of institutional leadership, a moment of political voices?

It is a Jewish moment.  Everything else will cloud the picture.  As we struggle with the confusion of these larger questions, we place ourselves in the wilderness, looking back at an Egypt we thought we knew and afraid of a future we can’t see.  Racial discrimination, in all its barbarism, has always been there, we didn’t see it on video and so we created the false Egypt of thinking maybe it wasn’t that bad.  As we stand in the comfort of our wilderness, we run the risk of saying nothing, waiting for someone else to lead.  Now we are doing exactly what the Sages warned us of when the Talmud said ‘silence is agreement’.

For the individual Jewish person, this is not politics, this is not a moment to reflect on Jewish suffering that went ignored.  This is the clarity of a Jewish moment where we understand that if we choose to stay between two worlds, we will choose a future of stagnation and waste, with nothing but a missed opportunity.

It is a Jewish moment where we are commanded to respond.  Over the last few weeks, we watched people shot, strangled and murdered.  The Torah has always told us that we must respond when we see these things.  Now is a time for our Jewish response.  We need not wait for the whole people to agree, we need to choose our own personal response and then find each other as each person chooses theirs.

In one of our ancient texts, the Sages give a beautiful list of how God can find each individual person.  At the end of the list it says that God can find us when we utter a ‘yes’ that means ‘yes’ and a ‘no’ that means ‘no’.  We are not easily found when we choose a world with no definition or when we choose to stand between two worlds.  We are found in a clear thought, that results in a clear communication, that we then commit ourselves to.

Parshat Beha’alotcha: Have You Heard About…?

I’ve had quite a bit of time these last few months to reflect on so many things.  Isolation will do that for us – lots of time, lots of reflections.  

I remember so many conversations, some make me smile, some make me cringe, some I realize were left open ended and need to be revisited.  But, one conversation always makes me laugh and I’d like to share it.  

I was sitting in my car with one of my sons and I was thinking of whether or not criminals who committed crimes in their youth should be paroled in their old age.  It’s a tough topic for me, since I am definitely someone who believes in accountability, but at the same time, I believe that people can grow and change.  Can our entire future lives be set in stone based on a single act from our past?

It’s easy when we think of mundane youthful transgressions – certainly we don’t want people locked in by a minor mistake, but what about the major things?  Should someone like Charles Manson ever have seriously been considered for parole?  And now we have arrived at the conversation I had with my son.

    Rachael: Do you think Manson deserved parole or to die in prison?

    Son:  Why was he in prison?

    Rachael: Because he killed a lot of people.

    Son:  I don’t think he actually killed anyone.

    Rachael: Ok, he didn’t actually kill anyone.  But that’s a loophole.

    Son: What are you talking about?   

Rachael: He didn’t actually kill anyone himself.  He ordered other people to kill them.  So, I still think he’s responsible.

    Son: He didn’t order anyone to kill anyone.

    Rachael: Of course he did!  Sharon Tate, and that  poor LaBianca couple – he had a whole cult thing going on there in the desert!

    Son: They’re fans mum…I wouldn’t call that a cult.

    Rachael: What are you talking about?  Of course it’s a cult!

    Son: His music was a little strange, I’ll admit, but I don’t know that I’d call his fans a cult.

    Rachael: I don’t know that I’d call him a musician!  I think HE thought he was, but I don’t think anyone else thought he was.  That whole thing with The Beatles is maybe the music connection, but I really wouldn’t go so far as calling him a musician.

    Son: What connection to the Beatles?

    Rachael: Helter Skelter – his whole defense during his murder trial.


    Son: Who are you talking about?

    Rachael: Charlie Manson.  Who are you talking about?

    Son: Marilyn.

    Rachael:  Marilyn Monroe?  

    Son: Of course not!  Marilyn Manson!!

I think about the layers of misunderstandings that fed this exchange.  My generation, his generation, the differences in our gender, the differences in our cultural contexts – and yet I raised him in my home and we should have been on the same page.  And with all that embedded into the conversation, I also wondered afterwards if we were not actually talking about it but rather gossiping about the respective Mansons involved.  If I tell someone how I feel about a named person and what they did, is that always gossip, and if so, how serious is it?

I agree with all Jewish scholars and sages who have told us that keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat or any of the holidays, is not the hard part of the commandments.  Keeping guard of how we speak is the hard part.  In fact, the Talmud tells us that the tongue is situated behind two unforgiving guards: the lips and the teeth (even a momentary recall of accidentally biting our tongues and the pain and tears in our eyes confirms their image).   Judaism says our thoughts may be unfettered but our speech must not.

In this week’s parshah,  Beha’alotcha, Miriam is punished for gossiping about her brother, Moses.  She initiates a conversation with Aaron about their little brother, Moses.  God hears it and gives her leprosy.  It’s a death sentence, since leprosy had no cure.  Moses prays for her (the heartfelt plea: “Please, God, please, heal her”) and she is cured after one week.  In other words, Miriam, who stood guard over Moses while he was floating in a basket on the Nile, the little girl who united Moses with his mother so she could nurse him, the woman who created a community of women within Israel and taught them to sing and dance their prayers – this woman is cut no slack for a casual sibling conversation!  It’s not Shabbat that’s hard, it’s choosing how we speak of each other.

The example of Miriam, Aaron and Moses at that moment always strikes me.  They are siblings.  We always talk to our brothers and sisters about our brothers and sisters.  We talk to them about our parents.  They are our sounding boards, our first partners for venting, they teach us about life differently than our parents will – they stand next to us from cradle to grave.  Yet, we think they are so much a part of us that we can speak of them without a second thought.  Miriam did something we all do without thinking twice.  

So, why the harsh reaction?

I think it comes down to leadership.  Judaism believes that all people are equal and no one is a saint.  We will all make mistakes and we will all fail, but any leader is first and foremost an example.  We do not expect that leaders never make mistakes, we expect that they never whitewash them.  Leaders are accountable for their choices at all times and while Miriam shows us a leader who is held accountable for her words, Moses shows us a leader who advocates for mercy and forgiveness, even though she hurt him.  It is not Miriam alone who is the focus of this moment, it is her brother, whom she critiqued, that stands next to her before God.  

MIriam guarded Moses from Pharaoh’s death decree and Moses now guards Miriam from God’s.

We all gossip, we all try not to and then we all do it again.  We speak of those closest to us to those who are…closest to us.  We are both Miriam and Moses, two siblings who needed each other, had human moments together and then showed us how to forgive and continue the journey together.  It’s not the adage about picking ourselves up again after we make a mistake, this is more about remembering that relationships are always about ourselves involved with others and not just how we get back up.  It’s about hurting someone and then finding  a way to re-enter the relationship.  The momentary offense sits within a greater commitment and so Moses and Miriam will emerge standing together.

It’s not just about recognizing the moment we gossiped without also asking ourselves about facing the person afterward

Parshat Nasso: “Is That a Gun In Your Pocket or Are You Just Glad to See Me?”

This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Nasso and it got me thinking about jealous misunderstandings.  When I was studying in Israel (many years ago), I used to go out with my friends and we developed a game called ‘Flirtatious or European?’  We were usually a small group of young women sitting in a coffee shop or a bar and men would approach our table to talk to us.  Most of the men were not from North America and we quickly saw there were cultural misunderstandings running rampant.  Where we would hear certain questions as flirtatious, we would find out they were not intended that way, the man was simply from France.  Or, perhaps, a gesture of the hand, or an eyebrow raised in our direction, a crooked smile or an invitation to take a walk…flirtatious or European?  It only got more complicated if the men were Israeli, because then we had absolutely no idea how to reference what they were saying.  Casual dates would end with a man saying ‘I love you’ and only after several times were we told that there is no casual phrase in Hebrew for ‘I like you’ and so the context should inform what he means.  In my circle of friends, if a man said ‘I love you’ too soon he was never spoken to again because no one should use the ‘L’ word after two dates – clearly the mischosen translation of the word from Hebrew to English led to suspicion and mistrust of the man.

Suspicions, mistrust, misunderstandings or deliberate hunting down of ‘others’ is part of our world reality from the ancient to the modern.  I studied in Boston for many years and my proximity to Salem, Massachusetts, resulted in many trips to that beautiful city with much witch hunt history.  From Monty Python’s depiction of the witch hunts (“she’s a witch, burn her!” yelled at a woman with a carrot tied to her nose) to many Hollywood versions of this moment in history, witch hunts were official ‘trials by ordeal’.  In other words, they were there to resolve suspicions, not to punish the person.  When a court could convene with evidence (or, at least, things they accepted as evidence), it would result in a verdict and usually an execution.  But, what do you do when someone is only suspected of being a witch and it can’t be proved?  That’s when you resort to a ‘trial by ordeal’.  Let’s try drowning her – if she survives, then she’s a witch because only a witch could survive a drowning – now let’s burn her.  If she’s not a witch, she drowns (since humans actually die when they don’t have air to breath) and…well…at least we saved her immortal soul, so, too bad for her but the greater picture takes precedence.

‘Trials by ordeal’ are ancient and speak of how to get closure when you have no way to prove anything.  ‘Trials by ordeal’ were supposed to end when the rule of law took precedence.  If I can’t prove something then I can’t punish for it.  But, what happens when I can’t prove it, but I still need to live with the person?  In other words, when the suspicion of a crime committed now clouds everything about the future relationship.  How do we resolve suspicions?

This week’s parshah discusses the law of the Sotah, the suspected adulteress.  A husband is jealous of his wife’s behaviour with other men and suspects she has betrayed him (‘jealous’ is the word the Torah uses and it uses it an unusually large amount of times in this section).  The husband brings his wife to the High Priest who enacts a Jewish ‘trial by ordeal’.  She brings an offering, the High Priest dishevels her hair, mixes various things into water (creating ‘bitter waters’), makes the statement of accepting the ‘trial by ordeal’ and all its consequences to which she answers ‘amen’.  She then drinks the water.  If she is guilty, her body will bloat (actually, a bit confusing about exactly in what way but it sounds terrible whichever way we read it) and if she is innocent, she will be fertile.

Here’s what’s so unusual about this ‘trial by ordeal’:  the issue is not her guilt or innocence, it is her husband’s jealousy.  We already know we cannot prove her guilt or disprove it and therefore there is no way for this couple to move forward in their marriage.  If he wants to divorce her, he has the power to do so without any proof of any wrongdoing, so clearly there is a desire to continue the marriage, but not when one person is overcome with unresolved jealousy.  How do we close matters that need closure but can’t get there?

The Torah has repeated the word ‘jealousy’ several times but not the word ‘adultery’.  The offering she brings is said to be an offering for both her and her husband and it is called the ‘Jealousy Offering’, the challenge the husband is having.  The issue between the couple is not her actions, so much as it is the unresolved jealousy that is blocking them.  Was she flirtatious or European?

But the ‘trial by ordeal’ of the Salem witch hunts were not the same thing.  The witch hunts were there to target people and kill them in the name of some powerful authority and its desire to maintain power and status quo.  They were attempts to legitimate murder, not bring closure for moving forward.  The Sotah ceremony was a way to move past a hurtful and difficult moment toward some kind of closure and future.  But, let’s not forget, the Sotah ceremony is still a ‘trial by ordeal’ and it is the woman who is bearing the public shame of the accusation and drinking the bitter waters (not to forget everyone looking at her to see if she bloats!).  But the ceremony will resolve what could not be resolved in other ways.  Even the worst case scenario is addressed, since if she were indeed an adulterous and pregnant by another man, and she survives the bitter waters, the pregnancy would be accepted as the fertility she was promised by enduring this ordeal and now the child has a family and a future. 

Sometimes the difficulty of the ordeal is the way to move forward and secure a better future.  As a Canadian, I have watched with a broken heart what George Floyd was made to endure in the last moments of his life.  As a mother, I heard him call for his mother and everything in me wanted to answer him.  I’ve watched the anger, the violence, the protesting and the looting, but I’ve also watched the powerful moments of people in uniforms kneeling with protesters and other images where protesters and police were crying and praying together.  

Ordeals can be moments of growth or they can lead to moments of injury and chaos.  I pray that the heartbreak of what we all witnessed brings us to a place of resolution and a lasting change.  May this ordeal strengthen the world to take a necessary step forward.

Shavuot 2020: Late For Our Own Wedding…Actually!

It’s been an interesting week for me filled with Shavuot thoughts.  Everything we do is so new these days and now it’s the first Shavuot in the pandemic.  I’ve noticed many invitations online to join groups staying up all night to study.  The tradition is called ‘Tikkun Leil Shavuot’ – the Repair of the Night of Shavuot and it’s quite literally pulling an all-nighter with Torah study and then going to shul to hear the Ten Commandments.  It’s also traditional to eat deliciously sweet dairy foods (cheesecake) which now means eating all night as well (blintzes).

I remember my first all-nighter.  I was in high school and a few of my friends and I decided to stay up all night and study for the English exam we needed to write the next morning.  At first it was fun, at first it was productive, at first we felt so grown up.  Around midnight, anything anyone said was the most hilarious thing we’d ever heard (things became less productive).  By 3 a.m., it was agony.  Nothing made any sense and we didn’t notice we’d been reading the same line of Shakespeare over and over out loud for about fifteen minutes.  The friend reading out loud was from England and we loved the accent, so it lulled us into thinking we made progress, when, in fact, we were going round and round, staring blankly at nothing.   By 5 a.m., panic set in as we realized the whole night had gone by and there was so much left to do.  The exam was scheduled for 8:30 a.m.  We made it there on time (don’t remember how we got there, though I pray none of us drove) and I remember sitting in the chair and reading the exam questions.  I was overjoyed that I knew the answers.  I was literally wiping tears from my eyes with the joy of realizing that the all-nighter was the best decision I had ever made.  But when I picked up my pen to write all those essays to answer all those questions, I suddenly realized I was too tired to write anything worthwhile.  Things made sense in my head but I could not formulate proper sentences.  The insights from the night were useless.  

Needless to say, I did not do well on the exam and I learned that the brilliant inspirations that occur at 4 a.m. almost never result in the useful gestures needed for the next day.  All-nighters are spiritual quests.

So, why would we have a tradition to stay up all night and study Torah?  What is the ‘repair’ we are hoping to accomplish?

The tradition of staying up all night is rooted in a midrash that talks about the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.  We view the Revelation at Sinai as the metaphoric wedding of God and Israel.  The Torah is the gift we are given under the chuppah, it is the marriage contract, the Ketubah.  Israel is the bride and according to this midrash…we left God waiting at the altar (not exactly an altar since we get married under chuppahs, so, we left God alone at the chuppah/mountain).  We, the bride, were late for our own wedding – apparently we slept in.  The midrash says God sent Moses to wake us up.  Apparently, God and Moses blew trumpets at us because we were sleeping so soundly it was hard to wake us.  I actually think that one of the greatest expressions of love God could show the Jewish people was to give us the Torah at all, considering we got there so late, and one of our greatest expressions of love was to celebrate Sinai after having trumpets blasted at us and rushed out the door that way.  And so, the ‘marriage’ begins and the nature of its communication has begun.

But, in the end, we were late after all and now a repair is needed.  A forever ‘I’m sorry’ that we offer at every wedding anniversary – every Shavuot.  We will spend all night awake, studying the gift we were given at the mountain to show that we are sorry and that we have corrected our insensitive moment toward our Partner.  If it were my husband, there is no question that every anniversary would involve a gesture of repair, more than just flowers or a precious stone but something that spoke to that moment and reached out to me with love…and lots of I’m sorries…and cheesecake…and a few blintzes thrown in.

But, because we are who we are, there is, of course, another interpretation.  It’s not that we slept in, it’s that we were so excited before the wedding, we couldn’t sleep at all!  And yet a third opinion says we spend all night preparing each other to be the bride and that’s why we study all night in pairs or in groups – we are excited for each other and want the other person to get the most out of the wedding, as they are doing the same for us.

In these days of isolation, as we figure out how to have celebrations without gatherings, we require a new lens for viewing Shavuot.  It is the holiday that celebrates the chuppah where only the bride and groom can stand together.  It is the night of excitement when we are counting the moments until we can stand under our chuppah.  It is the holiday to remember that our spiritual strengths have gotten us through the last few months and our eyes have opened wider to everything we used to take for granted.  

It is a celebration in every sense of the word and it is worth having, especially now.

But, let’s not forget the cheesecake and the blintzes (the dessert table at the wedding).  The Sages tell us it connects to a verse in Song of Songs.  The book in the Tanach that describes the intimate relationship of God and Israel is the Song of Songs (Shir haShirim), which describes the intimate relationship of a man and a woman.  In chapter 4, the man beckons his lover and says: “Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride, milk and honey are under your tongue.”  And so, dairy and sweetness are part of the symbols of love and intimacy.  

I hope we all enjoy some beautifully sweet moments this Shavuot.  Maybe put a bit of something sweet under your tongue and enjoy the thought of a union that started at Sinai and continues to see us through everything.

Parshat Bamidbar: Alfred Hitchcock and Walt Disney Are Sitting in My Yard

As I’m sitting writing this blog for the Torah portion, Parshat Bamidbar, I happen to glance out my window into my backyard.  There’s a beautiful red cardinal pecking at my grass and behind it a black crow, also pecking.  I can’t help but notice how close they are to each other when another bird appears nearby and then a blue jay…a squirrel walks in front of them.  The squirrel is literally walking, not scurrying, not running, just walking.  The birds don’t fly away. In fact, the cardinal is now hopping toward my kitchen window.  A few weeks ago, I saw a rabbit on my porch next to my sliding door, looking in.  It’s Spring and my family has taken pictures of a young coyote exploring our yard at a leisurely pace and every morning there are little rabbits playing and hopping.  I am not exaggerating.  I honestly expect some birds to fly over with Cinderella’s dress so the mice can complete the alterations…

I believe the animals think we’ve all disappeared.  I don’t think they’re doing anything new, I think they hid all this from us.  They don’t know I’m in here watching (by the way, they’re all still there, I just looked).  I’ve been noticing the birds throughout this pandemic.  Last week I asked my husband how birds view the land.  Not physically how they see it, rather, what does it mean to them?  Their natural domain is in the air and they nest in trees so they can be close to the sky but they look for food on the ground.  Is the ground their unending buffet and do they view it that way?  If so, then it is a dangerous buffet for them because we were always outside threatening them and they are exposed to predators from above when they eat (another squirrel just frolicked past).   If that’s true, then eating has always been dangerous to birds, never the relaxed trip to the buffet we have always enjoyed.  But now, the ground is their safe and leisurely place and we’re not allowed to go to buffets anymore.

All our reference points have changed.

I like to notice these things because reference points are the rudimentary pieces of problem solving.  We tell our tiny kids that if they are ever lost, they should look for the person in the ‘helper’ uniform – the police, the firefighters, etc.  We give them reference points to solve the dilemma.  When my kids were little and still learning to get to a bathroom in time, I told them that if the house they’re in has mezuzahs, when they need a bathroom, look for the room without the mezuzah.  We use reference points all the time.  Every previous experience becomes a reference point from which to judge every future experience.  It’s how we grow.

So, what happens when the reference points are gone?  I most definitely have been noticing the birds the last few weeks.  I think it’s because I have always loved Hitchcock films, so birds behaving strangely will definitely cause me to glance over my shoulder (just making sure they’re not collecting on a jungle gym behind me as I stare strikingly off camera).

And so, the movie The Birds, becomes my reference point and I love watching them as I remain indoors, incognito. 

The reason reference points speak to us so strongly in Judaism is because in order to receive the Torah, we had to remove all the reference points we knew – we had to leave Egypt. We are taken from Egypt into the wilderness, the desert, Bamidbar, which literally means ‘in the desert’. The fourth book of the Torah, Numbers, is called ‘Wilderness’ in Hebrew. That’s not an insignificant difference because those two names are opposite points of view. The book is called Numbers because it starts with Moses taking a census of Israel, he is counting the nation. In fact, numbers are our greatest reference points. It starts with counting ten fingers and ten toes and lasts a whole lifetime as we fill the numbers of years we are each allotted. But Judaism teaches us that our lives and our worth must never be reduced to numbers and so the Hebrew does not reflect that reference point in the title. The Hebrew title presents the opposite point of view: the Wilderness. The name ‘Wilderness’ speaks of no reference points. The only defining feature of a desert is that it has no stable defining features. Israel must remove all familiar points of view to be open to the newness of Torah. Building the vision of a new world must happen without the constraints of the old. 

Once we remove the familiar we cease to be shackled by it, allowing us to entertain new ideas. For this reason, the wilderness in Judaism is not a place where we are lost, it is a place where we can entertain everything as new and make new choices without the hindrance of the old familiarities. Bamidbar guides us away from what threatens us–Egypt– toward what can redeem us–Torah. It is hard to navigate without reference points since we crave them and feel scared without them. Covid 19 is still a threat to so many in the world but we know our doors must start opening. We watch new reference points start to appear as we struggle with personal space defining as not less than 2 meters. How can we build community? How do we celebrate together and how can we support those who must not venture out still and for the foreseeable future.

This week’s parshah, which starts the book of Bamidbar, settles us into thinking of the stability we can now create in the midst of shifting sands. 

Parshat Behar-Bechukotai: Ah, To Be Fifty!

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Behar-Bechukotai, has a lot of information about sacrifices, vows, slaves and agricultural things.  But it briefly mentions the number 50, which is the number designated for the Jubilee Year.  I can’t stop thinking about 50.

I’m one of those people who doesn’t put too much stock in how old I am.  I’ll admit, I sometimes have to stop and do the math when I’m asked.  To be fair, I do the math when I’m asked how old my kids are as well.  I remember birth years, because they don’t change, but ages change annually so I have to do the math.  I remember occasions when I was asked how old I am and I hesitated because I was embarrassed that I had to figure it out (I always know within a year or two but they seem to be asking for accuracy).  The other person says, ‘that’s ok, you don’t have to tell me’, thinking I am embarrassed by my age when I’m actually embarrassed by my memory.  I remember things that are important to me but age has never been that important to me. Except, now I can’t stop thinking about 50.

When I turned 50, a friend of mine joked and said ‘you’re not 50, you’re 39 American’ (to anyone in the U.S. reading this, we Canadians have inside jokes about the value of our dollar as compared to the U.S. dollar …you know, the expression “another day, another 85 cents American”).  The truth is, I never take offence if someone forgets my age (my father (z”l) was never quite sure how old I was and was sometimes off by decades – neither of us cared, I guess that’s where I get it).  But, Judaism seems obsessed with numbers so shouldn’t we also be?

But, it’s not all of the numbers Judaism seems to care about, it’s only certain ones, the “Jewish” ones.  The number 1 represents God, 7 is Shabbat, 8 is days for a bris, 10 commandments, 12 tribes of Israel (sounds like the song at the Seder), 18 is life, 40 is transformation, 49 is Omer, and then… I got nothing.  What happened to 50?

A full life is represented with the number 120, but we take that as a symbolic number, since some lives are full and fulfilling earlier while others can reach 120 in an unhealthy way.  It is not the number, it is the symbol.  But everything up to 49 is not the symbol, it really is the number.  So, what happened after 49?

The Torah seems to stay away from the number 50.  We are counting the Omer now, we are told to count 7 weeks of days which will result in 49 days.  The day after that (day 50) is called Shavuot. There are 50 letters in total when we add up all the names of the Tribes of Israel.  So 50 could represent the unity of Jewish perspective, which we never actually want, so we don’t ascribe any importance to the number of letters in the tribal name count.  The ‘redemption from Egypt’ phrase is mentioned in the Torah 50 times, yet that detail isn’t in the Seder at all.  It took us 50 days to journey from Egypt to Sinai which we don’t pay much attention to either.  

It’s not that there is no importance to 50, it clearly marks important moments.  So it’s not that it doesn’t matter, it’s more that we don’t want to focus on it.  Shavuot is the holiday that will always fall on the 50th day but it is also the only Jewish holiday without a set date in our calendar.  We know it’s Shavuot because it’s the 50th day from the second day of Pesach – we counted.  Next year, we’ll count it again and the date for Shavuot will be determined by the date for Pesach.  The count produces the holiday, not the calendar.

What could be the reason for such hesitation around 50?

Actually, Judaism does show us glimpses of 50, which we peek at from 49.  A soul has 49 chambers, beyond that is the Divine Essence.  The world was created with 50 Gates of Reason but Moses, God’s closest human companion, could only cross 49 of those thresholds.  It is the number that exists in the world and yet we can never get there.  We seem teased by this week’s parshah when it tells us to mark the Jubilee year, the 50th year, with celebration and liberation for everyone and everything.

But today, these glimpses are all we get.  Today, when we get to the Jubilee Year, instead of hitting 50, we start at year 1 again – we never hit 50.

For example, in biblical time, in the Jubilee year, all land transfers nullify, all slaves are freed, all meadows must rest – everything hits ‘reset’.  The value of anything is measured by what year we’re in and how close we are to the Year of Liberation.  If I buy land in year 49 and one year later ownership goes back to the original owner, that land will cost me pennies.  Time becomes a variable in my economy.

One of the reasons stated for this is because God states that we only lease land, since we did not create it, we cannot own it.  The Torah says that we are residents with God on the land.  God is the landlord, we are the tenants and we all live together.  To remind us of this fact, land ownership transfers back and we become ‘residents by grace’ on the land.  It definitely frames the Jewish view of the world and the environment.

But, in reality, the Talmud tells us we could only celebrate the Jubilee for a very small period of time in the Biblical era.  Once we are in the era between the two Temples, we only counted the years to 50 but had no celebration or change of anything.  After the destruction of the 2nd Temple in the 1st century C.E., we don’t even count.  And so, today, there is no practice of a Jubilee year – we stopped noticing 50.

Jewishly, 50 represents everything around us that is always one step ahead of us.  The things we are yet to explore, the growth we are yet to achieve, the person we are yet to become.  Fifty is the step beyond where we are and will always remain the step beyond where we are, no matter how many steps forward we take.

And as I have shared my thoughts on the parshah and the number 50, I have come to a new conclusion.  The next time someone asks me how old I am, I will accurately answer, ‘I’m the same age you are, a Jewish 49.’

Parshat Emor: Where’s My ‘Do Over’?

With everything that’s happening in the world today, global shutdowns and pandemics, as well as slow reopenings, my mind turns to what used to be.  Ah, remember the days we would take a walk as a diversion from a hectic day?  Remember when we’d watch the news on tv, instead of talking back to it?  Remember when…

Which leads me to childhood thoughts of ‘do-overs’.  For me, it happened mostly at recess in school.  A game of skipping (that’s ‘jump rope’ for all who weren’t in the ‘in’ crowd, skipping-wise) when you ‘get out’ and you shout ‘do over’ to get a free turn.  I’m from the generation when boys and girls didn’t share recess sports together.  Basically, a shared gender recess would be a boy chasing a girl while holding a bug, a close second to a boy hitting a girl in the arm because he liked her.  But even though we didn’t share games at recess, I’m not sure the boys had ‘do overs’ in their soccer or football games.  I don’t mean a disputed foul play that needs to be replayed because it can’t be decided, I mean you clearly lost your turn because you failed but the ‘do over’ gets you a free turn to…well…do it over.  Essentially, it’s an act of grace granted by your peers.  But fair is fair, you only got one ‘do over’ per game, or per recess, or per whatever the owner of the skipping rope determined.  Amazing how much theology occurs at recess.

So, sitting at home, thinking of what was ordinary just a few months ago, I ask myself if I could think of ‘do overs’ in my life.  Here are some of the first things that come to mind:  my sister and I tried sneaking into the house once after being out with friends long after we should have been home.  We didn’t call to say we’d be late because we missed that window when you can call and inform versus your parents have already gone to sleep and now your call will disturb them, or worse, alert them how late you are.  Sweet spot window closes and now all you can do is pray you can sneak in quietly enough.  We took our shoes off on the porch, turned the key in the front door at record slow speed, didn’t turn on any lights…except the light that was turned on by our mother at the top of the stairs because she waited up for us.  We were too young to know that as far as parents are concerned, you stop sleeping when you conceive your child and you never get pre-child sleep patterns back.  We paid the price with days of maternal silence and learned the lesson of respecting the love others have for us.  Would I do that moment over?

Or the time I liked a guy in high school in a community where young girls never initiated contact with boys.  I had two tickets to a formal dinner at our shul and thought it was a great opportunity to ask the young man to be my escort. I had checked with family first, no one wanted to go so this seemed the perfect opportunity.  I covered my eyes while placing the call, navigated through asking his parents if he could come to the phone, heard him say ‘hello’ just as I heard my brother yell from upstairs ‘ok, I’ll go with you’ and now had nothing to say to the guy on the phone.  I stammered, hemmed, coughed, cleared my throat and then asked him how he’s doing.  Not only did we never speak again, even eye contact in school was awkward (I’m blushing as I write this).  Would I do that moment over?

Personally, I would do nothing over.  Each moment of where I came from contributed to where I am.  If I remove little moments of growth I remove little steps forward resulting in a shorter, less enriched journey.  

But while I don’t want the ‘do over’, I do want the ‘do again’.  I want to be in the moment under my chuppah with my chosen partner… again.  I want the moment I met each of my babies…again.  I want the bear hugs of my father and the perfume of my mother…again.  And the truth is, I can have them anytime I want because they wove their way into me and I can spend moments with them at will.

It all seems so obvious, and very this worldly, but this week’s Parshah, Emor, touches on much of this by discussing something called Pesach Sheni – The Second Pesach.  For anyone who missed the first Pesach (various biblical exclusion reasons), here’s the chance to do it again.  Not the ‘do over’, more the ‘sorry I missed it, could I do it again, please?’  It’s so wonderful that the Torah thinks we enjoyed it so much the first time!  Not sure how many of us would do ritual ‘do agains’ because we loved them so much the first time.

And that’s the detail that opens everything about our Jewish lives.  We are supposed to enjoy them!  Judaism should be a good thing in our lives, a positive and solid foundation from which we encounter the world.  Ritual is to open our minds and souls to various forms of expression into the world.  The moment we question why there would be a Pesach Sheni for those poor souls who (were lucky enough) not to worry about it a month ago, that’s an indicator we may have positioned our Judaism in an unhealthy way for ourselves.  We don’t want the Jewish ‘do over’, we want the Jewish ‘do again’.

The world around us will open its doors in the next few months.  Do we sit in our homes wishing for the ‘do over’ of last summer, because we know we won’t get one.  The truth is, I really don’t think we want one.  We want the open door to select which ‘do again’ moments do we want to build into the new moments ahead.

Personally, included in my ‘do agains’, is the moment I held my first baby in front of the window on her first Shabbat and told her God made it snow for her so she could see how the world can blanket in beauty.  A moment I would want to recreate for myself and others.