Archive for Abril de 2014

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

This Shabbat HaGadol, the great Shabbat announcing the festival of Pesach next week, requires us to think of the main themes of Pesach and act upon them. We will begin our Seder night, reciting these words from the Haggadah, “This is the bread of affliction — all who are hungry let them enter and eat; all who are in need let them come and celebrate Pesach.” Will we truly be responding at that moment to the hungry, homeless and desperate in our community? We do not have to walk far to the world of Mechanisburg, we support through our social justice programs. This is the time to offer them further support, which can also be done by making a donation to Mazon, a Jewish response to hunger.

The entire theme of the Pesach Seder, as our rabbis tell us in the Mishna on Pesach, is to take a journey from degradation to exaltation: we begin with two versions of degradation, one physical (we were slaves in the land of Egypt) and one spiritual (our earliest ancestors, before Avraham, were idolators). We conclude in songs of gratitude and praise — Dayenu, followed by Hallel. We are required to consider that each of us went out of Egypt, and the best way to do that is to encourage discussion of contemporary forms of degradation, as well as sharing around our tables expressions of gratitude which should be easily forthcoming as we live in this bounteous land.

However, while we have much to be grateful for as American Jews, we must recognise that not all in our care are so lucky. There may be different solutions to those coming to our shores for asylum, none of which takes into consideration the poem on the statue of Liberty, written my Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus”:

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

However, once people have come into our care we have to take responsibility for their physical and spiritual wellbeing. We must not become oppressors ourselves, which is a risk in a democracy such as ours whether the government acts in our name and on our behalf. Many Americans are deeply worried about the direction of our immigration policies and the impact this is having on people in desperate need of refugee protection, for instance. People are also increasingly frustrated that the Government remains committed to its policies, despite the incredible damage it is inflicting on innocent men, women and children, separating families and mixing illegal immigrants with criminals in our prisons. 

May we live to make real for all in our country the words we say at our Seder tables: “Now we are here…next year we will be free”.  

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In a few days we will celebrate Passover. On that night we will reenact the Exodus from Egypt, but this celebration makes no sense if we do not translate the ancient narrative of our liberation into our own contemporary terms. What does it mean for us today? We must take an active role in the liberation of our fellow human beings, but this also includes ourselves, because we too must be able to look inside and free ourselves from the very same dependencies that we have created. The performance of mitzvot is the way in which we can sanctify ourselves and sanctify our lives, bringing a bit of the divine into our world.

 The Torah portion for this week, Metsorah (Leviticus 14-15) may seem far removed from that goal. Metsorah is the continuation of Tazria; last week’s parashah that lists the different types of “impurities” that we may incur, and how to get rid of them.

 The Commentators have always struggled to explain the meaning of these «impurities.» We have gotten used to translating « tsara’ah, צרעה» by «leprosy», but it is actually a range of dermatological conditions like eczema or psoriasis. If these conditions are much less serious than leprosy, they are no less impressive, as Moses found in the episode of the burning bush (Exodus 4:6-7). The fact remains that the link between certain diseases and the condition of purity is difficult to understand. Many commentators have noted that Miriam was punished by such tsara’ah for having slandered the wife of Moses (Numbers 12) and they try to establish a link between the « impurity » and our state of moral impurity.  However, this is a far cry from being able to explain the many other impurities mentioned in Metsorah.

 In some cases of « impurity » we can find natural acts and even acts linked to the fulfillment of mitzvot, to which it is not possible to associate the negative charge of the word ‘impurity’ or even ‘dirty’, that we find in some translations. If over time, tradition has made menstruation a particular type of impurity, the Torah tells us that it is the “impurity” associated with birth or married relationships. In the Torah, this “impurity” applies equally to both men and women, only the intensity varies from case to case.

 In the Torah, « impure » does not mean « bad » or «filthy », « impurity » only speaks about the inability to approach the shrine. The Torah does not judge the state of impurity morally, it only requires us to be aware of our own state, when we are « pure » or « impure » and, therefore, when we can approach the shrine.

 The parashiot Metsora and Tazria try to codify the effect of the natural functions around procreation, the boundaries between life and death, and what is translated by «purity.» Our ancestors sought to understand what brought us close to God and what separated us from the Divinity. Their understanding and logic appear to us to be difficult, even foreign, but their quest is the same as ours is today when we go to the synagogue or when we do a mitzvah. As our ancestors did yesterday, we seek within our own means to get closer to the ideal towards which the Torah guides us.

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