Friday, May 20, 2016

Parashat Emor: On Wholeness

In this week’s parsha, the same word is used to describe the physical requirements for an animal to be sacrificed, tamim, and the nature of the 7 weeks we count between Pesach and Shavuot at this time of year – temimot. In relation to the animal, the word means something like “unblemished” or “perfect,” and in relation to the weeks it means “complete” -- count the full 7 weeks and no less.

What is the connection between these two uses of the same word in the same parsha? Perhaps the point is to emphasize wholeness. What one needs to be presentable to God – as a sacrifice, as a priest (also discussed in this week’s parsha) and as a person about to receive the Torah on Shavuot – what one needs is primarily wholeness. Just as the sacrifice and the priest may not be missing any limbs, so any person, in preparation for Shavuot, should try to be whole-hearted, not to leave any piece of oneself behind, not to be distracted and half-hearted or divided in one’s commitments, but to bring one's total self into service.

That is the nature of the sacrifice – it is a total gift to God, which, because it comes at some cost, requires some “sacrifice” on the part of the giver and therefore shows his total commitment and devotion.

Are we as whole-hearted and committed, as tamim, as we could be? We live in a world where distraction and multi-tasking are the norm so that we often feel pulled in many directions at once. I think it would be a relief to feel that all of this whirling active life is somehow tied together in one single pursuit, that we are, under it all, tamim – pure and simple and whole-hearted – in our most fundamental commitment to God.

Amidst all this play on the word tamim, there is another similar word which appears – tamid -- eternal or always, referring to the ner tamid, the light that burned continuously (or at least from night to night) in the Tabernacle. Perhaps there is a connection here, too – what it means to be tamim, “whole-hearted,” is also to be tamid – constant and reliable, never wavering, steady and committed, "whole," in one's devotion.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

On Love: Divine and Human (for Parashat Kedoshim)

What does it mean to love God?

We talked about this question this week in my Tefillah Workshops in relation to the second line of the Shma, ve’ahavta et Hashem elokekha, the command to love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.

One theme that emerged from these conversations is that true, lasting love involves dedication and steadfastness through thick and thin. Rabbi Akiva says: bekhol middah umiddah shehu moded lekha, with every measure that He metes out to you, whether a measure of good fortune or a measure of suffering – whatever you receive, you will remain loyal, or, as some of us thought, whatever you receive you will use as an opportunity for loving God. Bekhol -- with everything. It is all part of the relationship – the good, the bad and the ugly. To love God means to stick with Him through it all, through hard times and good times, through periods of clarity and faith as well through periods of anxiety and doubt.

And also with every piece of our selves will we love God –bekhol levavekha, with both the good and the evil inclinations, goes one interpretation. We bring it all into service of God because to love God with steadfastness also, on some level, means to love ourselves with steadfastness – to hold all pieces of ourselves in kindness, not to reject any piece but to bring it all into service, to stick with ourselves through all of our changing states of mind with compassion and constancy.

And coming to this week’s parsha, there is the corollary in relation to other people. Here is the other big ve’ahvta in Judaism -- ve’aahavta lere’akha kamokha, Love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. Learn to be steadfast in relation to yourself and you will learn to love others in the same full embrace, to forgive them their failures and inadequacies and annoyances and live with them through their troubled times. Be a good friend to yourself and be a good friend to others – be like Ruth who stuck by her mother-in-law. To love is to be steadfast.

As if to complete the circle, the love your neighbor pasuk ends with Ani Hashem , “I am the Lord.” It is the steadfast love of God – both our sense of the constancy of His love for us as well as our own attempt to be loyal in return – it is this bedrock love that stands behind our divine –like ability to love ourselves and each other with the same steadfastness. To love is to be like God, loyal and steadfast and forever giving, to tap into the flow of hesed that continually keeps the world alive.