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Archive for Abril de 2012

Yom Ha-Zikaron

This week, in Israel, we observe a significant event for honor and remembrance. In Israel, the 25th of April coincides with the 3rd of Iyar, which this year is acknowledged as Yom Ha-Zikaron, (Israeli Fallen Soldiers and Victims of Terrorism Remembrance Day). Usually observed on the 4th of Iyar, remembrance occurs one day earlier this year, so that the celebrations of Yom Ha-Atzmaut (Independence Day) do not fall on a Friday, in advance of Shabbat. Yom Ha-Zikaron is a time for mourning and introspection. Sirens are heard throughout the country at 8:00 pm and again at 11:00 am the following morning; during which Israelis stop everything and stand in silence, showing respect for those who have died. Memorial services and gatherings for remembrance are held throughout the country, with official ceremonies taking place at the Western Wall.

Our Torah readings this week; however, make no mention of memorial. We read two selections Parashat Tazria and Parashat Metzora which offer us perspectives on the ancient laws of ritual purity and impurity. We learn of the process through which the priests would identify skin diseases, afflictions and plagues that strike houses, and learn about particular bodily discharges that would render a person “impure” and require them to undergo a process of ritual cleansing in order to reenter the community.

What might be the connection between our parashiot and our days of remembrance? Though the Torah is quite detailed in its presentation of afflictions and discharges, tears are never mentioned. Tears do not render a person ritually impure.

 Sometimes the greatest secrets are revealed when we uncover a concept that is absent from our text. Not holding the same scientific knowledge we possess today, our ancestors wanted to distance themselves from bodily discharges or diseases of any kind. But tears – salty, wet, cathartic tears – are not considered among this list of discharges.

Might the words of Torah be encouraging us to cry, allowing us the space with which to acknowledge our emotions? We pause and we reflect on Yom Ha-Zikaron because we need to. Emotion is human, and emotion cannot be real when it is expressed in a perfunctory way, forced, or contained.

We need opportunities to mourn, to feel sadness, to grieve, to memorialize. Jewish tradition is brilliant in teaching that amidst our loss, we do not move towards closure; we do not “get over it.” Rather, every year, we memorialize. At the end of every festival, we say Yizkor, to demonstrate that we integrate our losses, a very real part of our existence, into the larger fabric of our lives.

Sometimes we do best homage to our dead, by honoring their memory with true emotion, with integrity, and with dignity. Torah reminds us that crying is an opportunity for purifying, clarifying, and even strengthening ourselves and our communities.

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Shemini

According to the Babylonian Talmud our parasha this week is the exact middle of the Torah, in fact, it suggests that the letter vav in the word gachon, belly, is the precise centre of the Torah. (Kiddushin 30a)It appears in the verse describing the laws of kashrut: “You shall not eat among all things that swarm upon the earth, anything that crawls on its belly, or anything that walks on all fours, or anything that has many legs for they are an abomination.” It is interesting that the middle letter of the Torah falls in the word belly which is the middle of a person’s body! This seems to suggest that one of the teachings we can glean from this parasha is about middles. We spend much of our lives focusing on the beginnings and endings, the big events and moments, and we too often ignore the middles, but it is in the middles, in the mundane moments of everyday life that some of the most important things happen.

I believe that the middles are where so many of the good and meaningful moments are to be had. And perhaps that is why in this parasha, where God commands us to be holy as God is holy, we find the minutae of the dietary laws, something seemingly mundane and everyday. God implores us to make the everyday holy, to find preciousness in the in between, not only in the great moments in our lives, the beginnings, endings and achievements, but also in the everyday. Each of us has the opportunity to make every minute of our day count for something beyond ourselves, to elevate the acts we perform routinely out of the ordinariness and actualize their potential for holiness. Eating is something we all have to do to survive, every day, usually more than once. The Torah, with the laws of kashrut, the system of blessings, says “don’t just eat, don’t just have food to survive, make that very act a holy one, make that in-between something special.”

There is a Buddhist teaching which has become a movement of its own in practicing mindfulness. It encourages us to be mindful of the acts we may do without really thinking, like eating, and indeed there is a whole sub branch specifically for teaching mindful eating. It says that we should take time to notice and be grateful for our food, to really stop and think every time we eat about what we are eating and how it came to us. The laws of kashrut and so much of the Torah is encouraging the same, it is about being mindful of our everyday acts and then going one step further, through that mindfulness, of elevating that act to be something holy Eating is one of those “middle” activities, one of those things that could become routine and habitual and the Torah says to us; make it precious, count those moments, make them holy. So as we come to the middle of the Torah, let us notice the vav, notice the middles of our lives and turn those moments into holy, sacred times of mindfulness and gratitude. 

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