March 23, 2012
March 23, 2012
This week begins the books of Vaykira or Leviticus. This particular book of the Torah is dedicated to a variety of laws – it is the do’s and don’ts of life for pretty much everything. It opens with the description of the how, when, what and who of sacrifices. As this is something we as Jews no longer do, this parsha can be particularly challenging to make relevant. But in reading it through this time I was really struck by how different Judaism is then and now. I don’t just mean sacrifice vs prayer, which is a major difference in of itself; but rather how regimented everything about sacrifices was – from the place, the time and the substance.
It seems even more regimented compared with how we pray today. There is no mandated place, time or substance required. Yes, there are guidelines, the things we associate with prayer – the siddur, the Torah, the synagogue etc. But really, we are free to take it in to our own hands. I must confess, in some ways I envy the Jews of the past, with their sacrifices (not the blood and guts part) but with how simple showing your devotion to God was. Now, as it is more individualized; it is also more challenging. How do you make it meaningful, for you? Do you worry about what people think? Do you go through the motions because it looks like it, or do you do your own thing? This is something that I struggle with – sometimes tefilah or prayer comes easy and other times it is a struggle. And even when I am frustrated and looking for even a moment of connection, I remind myself that this is a journey with many winding paths and that no matter I do, its probably alright.
As our tradition teaches in the Talmud that “R. Eleizer ben Jacob said: “Hence, the Holy One, blessed be He, declared to Israel: When you pray, pray in the synagogue in your city; if you cannot pray in the synagogue in your city, pray in your open field; if you cannot pray in your open field, pray in your house; if you cannot pray in your house, pray on your bed; if you cannot pray aloud on your bed, commune with your heart. Hence it is written, “commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah.”
And while this doesn’t exactly answer my why is this so hard question, it gives me hope that no matter what I do, it is right. Now, when I say that, what I mean is right for me. Unfortunately, we live in a world where there is a loud and outspoken contingent that says, what is right for me is also unequivocally right for you. And this often leads to unpleasant if not outright violence.
Unfortunately, this behavior is found in Israel whether it is the insults hurled at secular women by Haredi men when they won’t move to the back of the bus. Or when the Haredi leaders decide to gender segregate streets, or riot because parking lots are open on Shabbat, or when they deny Sephardic girls entrance into their seminaries. Or when they don’t allow women to give eulogies and the list goes on and on.
And sometimes these beliefs end up in radical acts with tragic endings. Once again this week the worldwide Jewish community suffered a loss when three Jewish children and one of their teachers were murdered at their school. The suspect also killed three French soldiers. The suspect was a self-proclaimed jidhadist from the Al-Qaeda. Here is a case where the mere idea of others believing differently was so intolerable to an individual innocent people were killed.
My hope is that each and every one of us is able to find some way to establish a connection that is meaningful, intentional and fulfilling – even for a moment. Here is a prayer that one day we can enjoy a world where what I do is what I do and what you do is what you do and that is just fine.