Tag Archives: Rabbi Rick Brody

Creation, Animals, and Diet: A View from Torah and Soloveitchik

Between Heaven and Earth from Eden to the Flood and Beyond:

a Torah study by Rabbi Rick Brody

Genesis, theology, and the role of humanity in relation to other animalsin conversation with the wisdom of Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik and classical commentaries

[Some material adapted from Rabbi Yonatan Neril and Evonne Marzouk of Canfei Nesharim]

[Translations of Biblical Hebrew adapted by Rabbi Rick Brody]

Soloveitchik citations from: The Emergence of Ethical Man, Rabbi Joseph Dov Soloveitchik, KTAV Publishing House, Inc., 2005, pp. 31-38

I. The basis for the relationship between human and non-human creatures

בראשית א:כד–ל

כד וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה לְמִינָהּ בְּהֵמָה וָרֶמֶשׂ וְחַיְתוֹ־אֶרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וַיְהִי־כֵן: כה וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹקים אֶת־חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וְאֶת־הַבְּהֵמָה לְמִינָהּ וְאֵת כָּל־רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי־טוֹב: כו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל־הָאָרֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל־הָאָרֶץ: כז וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹקים ׀ אֶת־הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹקים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם: כח וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹקים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹקים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל־הָאָרֶץ: כט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקים הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת־כָּל־עֵשֶׂב ׀ זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל־פְּנֵי כָל־הָאָרֶץ וְאֶת־כָּל־הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ פְרִי־עֵץ זֹרֵעַ זָרַע לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה: ל וּלְכָל־חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל־עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל ׀ רוֹמֵשׂ עַל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה אֶת־כָּל־יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב לְאָכְלָה וַיְהִי־כֵן:

Genesis 1:24-30

And God said, Let the earth bring forth animated life, [each] according to its species, beast and creeper, and earth-life, [each] according to its species; and it was so. 25 And God made the earth-life, [each] according to its species, and the beast(s) according to its species, and every ground-creeper according to its species; and God saw that it was good. 26 And God said, Let us make a grounds-keeper (humanity) with our imprint, like our character; and let them have dominion with the fish of the sea, and with the fowl of the sky, and with the beast(s), and with all the earth, and with the entire [range of] creeper that creeps upon the earth. 27 So God created the grounds-keeper with God’s imprint, with the Divine imprint God created it; male and female God created them. 28 And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion with the fish of the sea, and with the fowl of the sky, and with all life that creeps upon the earth.” 29 And God said, “Look, I have given you every seed-bearing herb, which is upon the face of all the earth, and the entire [range of] tree that has a seed-bearing tree-fruit on it: to you it shall be for food. 30 And to all earth-life, and to all fowl of the sky, and to every creeper upon the earth that has animated life in it, [I have given] every green herb for food;” and it was so.

Soloveitchik

Let us be clear that this rule [regarding diet] was not given to man as an ethical norm but as a natural tendency; it is absurd to speak of a law imposed upon ʻevery beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps upon the earth.ʼ …. [T]his injunction was a physiological pattern that dominated manʼs sensory drive. Primordial man neither desired nor was tempted by any food other than of the vegetative realm. The verse concludes ʻand it was soʼ: the ethical norm became a behavior pattern, an expression of the ontic order. Man and animal were not driven toward killing or devouring other living creatures.”

Questions

  1. Soloveitchik points to a similarity between human beings and other animals, a shared place in the cosmic order and a shared reception of a natural tendency. Is the word “species”) / min used in reference to the creation of humanity? Is humanity / adam a “species” in the same way the other creatures are categorized? What might our answer teach us?

    1. God says “Let the earth bring forth…” in regard to animal life, but then the text says “God made.” Then, God says, “Let us make…” in regard to the grounds-keeper, but then the text says, “God created.” What is going on here?

    2. Was God talking to the animals when God said “Let us make adam…”? Do (or did) the animals possess the Divine imprint and character (since God says “our”)? Did the appointing of a grounds-keeper take some of that quality away from the other creatures? If so, is that Divine quality ever available to them again? Can any creature be adam? (See question 3.)

    3. What is the difference between the dietary rules for adam and for the other creatures? Why might this distinction exist and what might it teach us about our relationship to food today?

  1. We know that this (mythic) natural order did not persist, either for human beings or for many other animal species. How might the Torah want us to understand that divergence in real life (i.e. not simply through the flood narrative)? Should we understand that divergence to have occurred similarly for humanity and the other species?

  1. What, then, distinguishes humanity? Is this distinction guaranteed or might it be conditional? Is it fully realized from the start or is it a potential state within an evolving humanity? Is it a distinction that is necessarily limited to the biological species homo sapiens?

בראשית רבה ח:יב

:יב וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם: אמר רבי חנינא: אם זכה, רדו ואם לאו ירדו. אמר רבי יעקב דכפר חנין

את שהוא בצלמנו כדמותנו ורדו, את שאינו בצלמנו כדמותנו ירדו

רבי יעקב דמן כפר חנן אמר: יבא צלמנו ודמותנו, וירדה לשאינו דומה לצלמנו כדמותנו

Bereishit Rabbah 8:12

AND HAVE DOMINION (REDU) OVER THE FISH OF THE SEA (Gen. 1:28).

Rabbi Chanina said: If [humanity] has merit, [God says,] ‘ur-du’ (and have dominion); while if they do not have merit, [God says,] ‘yerdu’ (let them descend) [or ‘yeradu’(they shall be dominated) / they will be taken down / let other [creatures] rule over them)].

רשי בראשית א:כו

זכה רודה בחיות ובבהמות. לא זכה נעשה ירוד לפניהם והחיה מושלת בו

Rashi: If he merits, he rules over the living things and over the beasts. If he does not merit, he becomes subservient to them, and the living things rule over him.

Rabbi Ya’akov of Kefar Hanin said: Of one who is with our imprint and like our character [I say] ‘ur-du’ (and have dominion); but of one who is not with our imprint and like our character, [I say] ‘yerdu’ [or ‘yeradu’].

Rabbi Ya’akov of Kefar Hanan said: Let [the one who possesses] ‘our [Divine] imprint and character’ come and have dominion over the one who is not characteristic of ‘our [Divine] imprint and character.’

Questions

  1. What does dominion here suggest?

  2. What does merit refer to?

  3. What might it mean for other creatures to have dominion over humanity? Is this the same dominion that humanity would have over them?

II. The shift in the relationship

בראשית ט:א–ד

א וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקים אֶת־נֹחַ וְאֶת־בָּנָיו וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ: ב וּמוֹרַאֲכֶם וְחִתְּכֶם יִהְיֶה עַל כָּל־חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וְעַל כָּל־עוֹף הַשָּׁמָיִם בְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר תִּרְמֹשׂ הָאֲדָמָה וּבְכָל־דְּגֵי הַיָּם בְּיֶדְכֶם נִתָּנוּ: ג כָּל־רֶמֶשׂ אֲשֶׁר הוּא־חַי לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה כְּיֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת־כֹּל: ד אַךְ־בָּשָׂר בְּנַפְשׁוֹ דָמוֹ לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ:

Genesis 9:1-4

And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth. 2 And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon all earth-life, and upon all fowl of the sky, with all that shall creep on the ground, and with all the fishes of the sea; in your hand are they delivered. 3 Every creeper thing that lives shall be food for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things. 4 But flesh with its animation—its blood—you shall not eat.’

Soloveitchik

“Man-animal became a life-killer, an animal-eater. He became blood-thirsty and flesh-hungry.
“Is the Torah very happy about this change? Somehow we intuitively feel the silent, tragic note that pervades the whole chapter. The Torah was compelled to concede defeat to human nature that was corrupted by man himself and willy-nilly approved the radical change in him. ….
“Animal-hunters and flesh-eaters are people that lust. Of course it is legalized, approved. Yet it is classified as taavah [Num. 11:4, 34], lust, repulsive and brutish.
“The real motif that prompts such unquestionable antagonism toward slaying of animals is the aboriginal Jewish thought [that]….man and animal are almost identical in their organic dynamics that is equated with life, and there is no justifiable reason why one life should fall prey to another. Why should a cunning intelligence that granted man dominion over his fellow animals also give him license to kill?”

Questions

  1. According to Soloveitchik, what fundamental distinction exists between human beings and their “fellow animals”?

  2. How far does he believe that distinction should extend?

  3. What other fundamental value does that distinction come up against?

Ramban, Commentary on Torah, Bereishit 1:29 Flesh was not permitted for human consumption until the children of Noach, as our Sages have explained. And this goes according to the plain meaning of the Torah’s text. The reason for it is that mobile creatures have a certain spiritual attribute which in this respect makes them similar to those who possess intellect (i.e. people); they are capable of looking after their welfare and their food and they flee from pain and death. And the verse says, “Who knows that the human’s spirit is that which ascends on high and the beast’s spirit is that which descends below to the earth?” (Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 3:21) …

רמב׳ן, בראשית א:כט

הבשר לא הורשו בו עד בני נח כדעת רבותינו. והוא פשוטו של מקרא: והיה זה, מפני שבעלי נפש התנועה יש להם קצת מעלה בנפשם, נדמו בה לבעלי הנפש המשכלת, ויש להם בחירה בטובתם ומזוניהם, ויברחו מן הצער והמיתה. והכתוב אומר ׳מי יודע רוח בני האדם העולה היא למעלה ורוח הבהמה היורדת היא

… (למטה לארץ׳ )קהלת ג כא

Nevertheless, humanity was not given reign over the [animals’] life-force, for it was still forbidden to eat a limb off of a live animal. At this point it also became forbidden to consume blood, for it is blood that maintains life, as the verse states, “the blood of every living creature is associated with its life-force; tell the Israelites not to eat any blood, since the life-force of all flesh is in its blood.” (Vayikra/Leviticus 17:14). All that was permitted was the body of the non-speaking (i.e. non-human) animal after it has died, but not the life-force itself. This is the reason for shechitah (ritual slaughter); even though it is otherwise prohibited by the Torah to cause pain to animals (Talmud Bavli, Bava Metziah 32b), we nevertheless make a blessing “who has sanctified us with Divine commandments and commanded us regarding the shechitah.

ועם כל זה לא נתן להם הרשות בנפש ואסר להם אבר מן החי. והוסיף לנו במצות לאסור כל דם, מפני שהוא מעמד לנפש, כדכתיב )ויקרא יז יד( ‘כי נפש כל בשר דמו בנפשו הוא ואמר לבני ישראל דם כל בשר לא תאכלו כי נפש כל בשר דמו הוא,’ כי התיר הגוף בחי שאינו מדבר אחר המיתה, לא הנפש עצמה. וזה טעם השחיטה, ומה שאמרו )ב“מ לב ב( ‘צער בעלי חיים דאורייתאוזו ברכתנו שמברך אשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו על השחיטה

Question: Why would God forbid the consuming of a creature’s life-force? What would such an act do or represent?

  1. After Noah: Continued limitations in the relationship to non-human animals

ויקרא יז:ג–ד

ג אִישׁ אִישׁ מִבֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁחַט שׁוֹר אוֹ־כֶשֶׂב אוֹ־עֵז בַּמַּחֲנֶה אוֹ אֲשֶׁר יִשְׁחָט מִחוּץ לַמַּחֲנֶה: ד וְאֶל־פֶּתַח אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֹא הֱבִיאוֹ לְהַקְרִיב קָרְבָּן לַהלִפְנֵי מִשְׁכַּן הדָּם יֵחָשֵׁב לָאִישׁ הַהוּא דָּם

שָׁפָךְ וְנִכְרַת הָאִישׁ הַהוּא מִקֶּרֶב עַמּוֹ:

Leviticus 17:3-4

3 Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or who slaughters it out of the camp, 4 and does not bring it to the door of the Tent of Meeting, to offer an offering to the Eternal before the tabernacle of the Eternal: blood shall be imputed to that man; he has shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people;

Soloveitchik

The implication is clear. Whoever kills an animal for non-sacramental purposes is guilty of bloodshed, of murder; the term shefikhut damim applies equally to the slaughter of man and animal. Under a certain aspect, the life of the animal has been placed on equal plane with that of man.”

The Torah has not yet explicitly allowed for the non-ritual consumption of animal flesh (let alone a completely gratuitous taking of animal life).

דברים יב:כ–כא

כ כִּי־יַרְחִיב האֱלֹקיךָ אֶת־גְּבֻלְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר־לָךְ וְאָמַרְתָּ אֹכְלָה בָשָׂר כִּי־תְאַוֶּה נַפְשְׁךָ לֶאֱכֹל בָּשָׂר בְּכָל־אַוַּת נַפְשְׁךָ תֹּאכַל בָּשָׂר: כא כִּי־יִרְחַק מִמְּךָ הַמָּקוֹם אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר האֱלֹקיךָ לָשׂוּם שְׁמוֹ שָׁם וְזָבַחְתָּ מִבְּקָרְךָ וּמִצֹּאנְךָ אֲשֶׁר נָתַן הלְךָ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוִּיתִךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ בִּשְׁעָרֶיךָ בְּכֹל אַוַּת נַפְשֶׁךָ:

Deuteronomy 12:20-21

20 When the Eternal your God shall enlarge your border, as God has promised you, and you shall say, I will eat flesh, because your life-force lusts to eat flesh; you may eat flesh, with all the lust of your life-force. 21 If the place which the Eternal your God has chosen to put the Divine name there is too far from you, then you shall slay from your herd and from your flock, which the Eternal has given you, as I have commanded you, and you shall eat in your gates, with all the lust of your life-force.

Soloveitchik

Nevertheless, the Torah again calls a desire for meat ta’avah, lust; while the Torah tolerates it, it is far from fully approving it.”

Questions:

  1. What have we learned about life-force / nefesh?

  2. Could we interpret the permission to consume flesh as contingent upon the continued existence of the Divine name in the place God has chosen (the Temple)?

  3. What might be the relationship between the expanding of borders and the lust of the life-force?

  4. How could we read “expand your borders” metaphorically and creatively—and potentially in a way that differs from or can prevent the lustful results that Deuteronomy anticipates?

 

A VOTE FOR HOMES: AUSTIN IS NOT S’DOM

A Vote for Homes: Austin is not S’dom

by Rabbi Rick Brody

The Sodomites rejected the poor and vulnerable within their midst.
In Austin, we voted to keep and help strengthen our “weaker links” for the sake of justice and righteousness.

Last Tuesday, Election Day, Austin voters passed–by a wide margin (over 60% of the vote)– the city’s “2013 Affordable Housing Bond” proposal,  designating $65 million in general obligation bonds for affordable housing. I am proud to have played a small role in supporting the “Keep Austin Affordable” campaign and want to believe that the Jewish community played its part in responding as concerned citizens to the needs of the poorest in our midst who are in constant danger of being priced out of town. Last month, in the run-up to the election, my congregation, Kol Halev, hosted my friend, local activist and Jewish community-member, Isabelle Headrick, executive director of Accessible Housing Austin!, who spoke to us about the proposition and the importance of vigorously addressing Austin’s housing crisis.

I introduced Isabelle to the congregation by way of that week’s Torah portion, Vayera, in which we witness three relevant events. First, we see Abraham’s immense hospitality to three visitors, the proverbial opening by Abraham and Sarah of their tent, a reminder about the moral goodness inherent in providing shelter–without our knowing their full story–to those who, even temporarily, are homeless. We then jump to the scene in S’dom (usually rendered in English as “Sodom”), where selfishness and intolerance reign and the arrogant hoarding of resources and subjugation of the vulnerable translates, symbolically, into the literal attempted rape of these same travelers. Contrary to the common Christian emphasis on the story, the Jewish view was never about anything sexual but about the violent rejection of the stranger.

This excellent article, “The New Sodomites,” by Aryeh Cohen and David Waskow, from way back in a 1997 issue of Tikkun, spells out the critical moral lessons of the story as they appear throughout the history of Jewish exegesis. While the authors cover several different social issues and are directly responding to President Clinton’s “disastrous” efforts at welfare reform, their overall analysis of the way American society has lost its direction in terms of addressing the widening gap between “haves” and “have-nots” remains terribly relevant, and much of their discontent with the legislation they discuss appears to have been horrifically prescient:

[W]e will continue to suffer from the substantial gap between givers and receivers, who will each remain suspicious of a welfare system that deprives them of human connection. And that gap will be precisely the political opening needed by those who benefit economically from an eviscerated welfare system and the subsequent expanding disparity in income between the rich and poor. They will use the need for reshaped welfare paradigms as an excuse for what has become the central political practice of today – the demand that we keep what is ours and force others to get what is theirs.

Yet, right before this gloomy prophecy, the authors offer some thoughts about how what was clearly already a broken welfare system could be reconstructed in ways that would address the core problems:

[W]e may need to develop new models for welfare that reflect the truly civic nature of tzedakah as it was understood by the rabbis – for whom a sense of connection among a city’s dwellers was more palpable than it is for us. Perhaps in our era – when writing checks is so easy and giving to the homeless on the street often so difficult – we need a model of mutual responsibility that demands direct encounters between giver and recipient.

As Cohen and Waskow make clear throughout their article, the model we need to destroy is the one embodied by the citizens of S’dom. It is clear that those who seek to simply increase the divide between rich and poor through neglect and a proverbial “closing of doors” are actually doing much worse: they are figuratively breaking down the fragile and unsustainable walls of shelter in which the homeless seek refuge–and the result is a metaphoric raping of the destitute. It is these selfish members of our society who are the “new Sodomites.”

In our story, the unsustainable refuge of the homeless visitors to S’dom is inside the house of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. They and their host only make it out alive because of their own supernatural intervention (they are described both as men and angels and are not ordinary human beings). In our case, we know that we cannot rely on miracles and need to take action to overturn the Sodomy that is so rampant in our society. We need to take our own action, like that which Cohen and Waskow recommend above, to create new forms of connection and repair in our cities–so that rich and poor alike can live safely within our municipal borders. The fictitious Rabbi Jake Schram (Ben Stiller’s character in Keeping the Faith), offered his own dismissal of the misunderstood sexual emphasis on the S’dom story in favor of one celebrating human kindness and communal care:

JAKE: But seriously, what is the story of Sodom and 
Gomorrah really about? - Anybody. Steve Posner.

STEVE: Sexual perversion.

JAKE: Sexual perversion. Steve Posner's watching a little 
too much Spice Channel, okay. ...
And Lot takes them in and he protects them. What happens 
next? Anybody. Greta Nussbaum, before she pulls her rotator 
cuff.

GRETA: God spares Lot and his family.

JAKE: Bingo! Two-week cruise for Greta! You're goin' to the 
Bahamas! You know, when you think about it...God is a lot
like Blanche Du Bois. He's always relied on the kindness of
strangers. And that's really what the story is about--it's 
about us taking care of each other. God relies on us to 
take care of each other.

When Isabelle finished speaking to our congregation, I took us back to the critical interlude that occurs between the hospitality offerings of Abraham and Lot. After the angelic visitors move on from Abraham and make their way towards S’dom, God invites Abraham into a conversation about the plans to destroy the two cities as punishment for their wickedness. What we then learn–even though, ultimately, the cities are not found deserving of being spared because of a lack of a minimal amount of righteous people besides Lot and his family–is that the Torah celebrates the human challenge to Divine policy. We human beings, represented by Abraham, enter into the “legal” system (God, of course, is law-maker, judge, and executive ruler) to challenge its processes and premises. God recognizes that Abraham and his descendants, in keeping the Way of the Divine (derech hashem), are to manifest “righteousness and justice” (tzedakah u’mishpat). Abraham responds to this expectation by calling God out for falling short of those very ideals: “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? … Should the Judge of all the earth not manifest justice? (Gen. 18: 23, 25)” God allows Abraham to influence the approach to the impending situation. The message is clear: We are supposed to challenge injustice wherever we see it, even if it is coming from the Divine. All the more so, when we interact with our fellow human beings, should we be advocating for righteousness and justice in our social policies. And the Torah’s strategic placement of this message makes even clearer that we ought to be especially vigilant about justice when it comes to welcoming the stranger and housing the vulnerable.

My message to my congregation, then, was that this non-partisan bond measure that lay before us–a robust commitment by our city to help build homes, sustainable shelters of safety that secure the wellbeing of the poorer members of our city and allow them to remain our fellow Austinites–was a perfect opportunity for an appropriate political stand by a faith community. I made no endorsement of a candidate or party and acted completely within my prerogative as a rabbi to implore my congregants to vote for the bond. It was a matter of religious commitment to not be like the Sodomites but rather to be like Abraham, a caring and hospitable doer of righteousness and an unflinching advocate for justice.

I am delighted that people of faith from throughout Austin responded similarly to this sacred opportunity to be guardians of the wellbeing of our city, to enable us all to walk the Divine path and uphold universal values of openness, compassion, and opportunity. If you voted for this bond, thank you.

Face to Face on Purim

“Face to Face on Purim”
Rabbi Rick Brody

The apparent silence of the Divine, such a prevalent undercurrent
in the Purim story of Megillat Esther, is written into our very faces. Our hiding behind masks at this holiday alerts us to the holiness beneath the surface.

There is a very beautiful Chasidic teaching from Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Horowitz (1760-1827), the Ropshitzer Rebbe—in his collection the Zera Kodesh (Holy Seed), vol. II, p. 40a—that I find very compelling as we prepare for the holiday of Purim. Reb Naftali shares two insights that I find relevant. (You can click here for the entire text.)

  1. AlephThe letter Aleph consists visually of a letter vav (the main line that runs diagonally from the top left to the bottom right) and two letter yuds (the small extensions that branch off to the upper right and lower left).

    YudVavYud
    In gematria, the ancient Jewish system of assigning number values to each letter (Aleph = 1, Bet = 2, etc.), the vav (= 6) and the two yuds (10 x 2 = 20) total 26, which is the same value we achieve when we add up the 4 letters of the traditional name of the Holy One,
    Yud Heh – Vav – Heh (10 + 5 + 6 + 5).

    The “hidden” message that emerges from this connection is that the letter Aleph is not even just an abbreviation for God’s name, but is identical in value to expressing God’s name. (But, of course, the Aleph is silent! More on that below.)

  2. The letter Aleph offers another stunning image when we identify its various parts and use a little more creativity. The part that looks like a vav can be compared to a nose, and the two yuds can be compared to two eyes. It’s somewhat of a cubist rendering, but if you tilt your own head to the left and use a little imagination, you can see the contours of a face—two eyes and a nose! In other words, not only is God’s name expressed in the letter Aleph, but it also appears imprinted onto every human face


The amazing thing about both
the Aleph and the human face
(when it’s not depicted with a mouth, as is the case in the description above) is that neither makes any sound. Each one is silent. But a face still has so much power—to gaze, to emanate humanity and divinity, to be in relationship with another, to indicate the presence of soul. How much more significant is that power when we see it as the letter Aleph, the silent letter that mystically expresses God’s name and therefore the Divine essence.

See if you can spot the face in this Picasso and in the other cubist faces that appear below. (Here, it helps to turn your own head to the right while viewing.)

See if you can spot the Aleph in this Picasso and in the other cubist faces that appear below. (Here, it helps to turn your own head to the right while viewing.)

For me, this teaching is an inspiration and a challenge to see God’s presence through active engagement with a face, be it our own or that of another. That engagement can be “pre-verbal,” freed from the complications of language and all the noise we create with our mouths. At our core, we are Aleph, a pristine essence that surely needs sounds added to it in order to participate fully in this chatty world, but that when standing alone—silently—might bring us closer to God. In recent days, I have looked into the mirror to behold the Aleph on my face, God’s imprint of Self that reminds me of being part of something greater than my own individual life. And then I try to see that same holy manifestation in every other human being I encounter.

On Purim, we cover up our faces and we make a lot of noise. We act as though we are fleeing from the holiness of our silent faces, afraid to rest content with the divinity that surrounds us. Like Esther, we hide. So too, in the Book of Esther, God is hidden, never being named or appearing as a character. Indeed, the Rabbis point out (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chullin 139b) that in the Torah, God says, Anochi hasteir astir panai—“I will surely conceal my face” (Deut. 31:18)—and suggest that this verse is an allusion to God’s absence from the Book of Esther (note the word play with hasteir astir).

But Purim is all about the world being upside down, about things turning out in precisely the opposite way from which they were planned. Through the irony of God’s silence and absence, the Book challenges us to apprehend God’s presence in a complicated world. In reading a story that is so focused on outer beauty, we remember to look deeper into the hidden Godliness that is imprinted on all of our faces.

Perhaps the mouth below the Aleph is the vowel (a kamatz [ah] or a segol [eh]?) that can give sound to the otherwise silent letter. But alas--maybe in sacred paradox--the mouth is closed!

Perhaps, in these two paintings by Fedro, the mouth below the Aleph is the vowel (a kamatz [ah] or a segol [eh]?) that can give sound to the otherwise silent letter. But alas–maybe in sacred paradox–the mouth is closed!  (“High Time“)

When we pretend on Purim to be running from ourselves and from God, we are actually challenging ourselves to run towards God. We can think of it as running in a circle—eventually we catch up to our starting point! By devoting so much joyful energy one day of the year to run and hide, we empower ourselves to move that much closer all the other days of the year towards the holiness of our silent faces. We get closer to the holiness of the Aleph that is God’s name, silently present—just as God’s name is never uttered in the recitation of the Megillah but is still so palpably close; if only we truly look at one another.

This artist, Jerry Schwehm, brilliantly reveals the Aleph most recognizably among the images here–by relying on the face-to-face encounter of two individuals to give the sacred letter its discernible shape. (“The Kiss”)

Chag Purim Sameach—Have a Joyous Purim!

AND DRINK UP!

————
Thanks to Rabbi Or N. Rose, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, and Rabbi Adam Stein–for text, graphics, and inspiration–and to the cubist artists whose work is featured here, courtesy of Google’s image search and the linked websites.

Masechet Chopsticks (Extended Version)

Masechet Chopsticks

(Extended Version)

by Rabbi Rick Brody & Rabbi Rachel Kobrin

(with inspiration from: Rabbi Jeremy Winaker, Rob Kutner, Carolyn Austin, Bill Seligman, Sam Rosenstein, and Rabbi Ben Newman)

A lost Talmudic tractate has been discovered that answers age-old rabbinic questions about the appropriate way for Jews to fully accomplish the obligations associated with eating Chinese food on December 24th/25th.

[Warning: May require actual Talmudic experience!]

(For a simpler, more “user-friendly” version of this tractate, click here. Additions in this extended version appear in bold.)

MISHNAH 1: Our Rabbis ask: When does one begin the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Beit Shammai omrim [The School of Shammai say]: “On the 24th day of the month of December, because one should ‘larutz la’asot mitzvah’ [run to perform a holy act].” Beit Hillel omrim [The School of Hillel say]: “Through the entirety of the night of the 24th and the day of the 25th is mutar [permitted]. But the mehadrin [those who wish to embellish their observance] wait until the final hours of the 25th, because we ‘ma’alin ba’kodesh v’lo moridin [ascend in holiness and do not descend].” V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: “To extend the simchah [joyous occasion].”

GEMARA: Tanu Rabbanan [Our Sages taught in an earlier saying]: Amar Rebbe Szechuan [Rabbi Szechuan said], “I was a man of 70 and had always consumed the Feast of Chopsticks before the end of the first watch on the 24th. Once I fell asleep while watching The Sound of Music and slept through the entirety of the following day. When I awoke on the night of the 25th, my food was still warm! From that day on, I have followed the teaching of Beit Hillel.”

And until when does the Festive Meal satiate us? Amar Rav [Rav said]: 1 hour. Amar Sh’muel [Sh’muel said]: 1/2 hour.

What do we do with leftovers? Ta Shma [Come learn from this teaching]: Amar Rav Shimon hachacham [Rav Simon the wise said] in the name of Rav Yaakov the Tzadik [righteous one], “We keep them, she’ne’emar [as it is written], Shamor [Keep] (Deut. 5:11). Keitzad [How]? It is preferable that one should use small square cardboard containers with wire handles to contain the notar [remainder] of the feast, so as to prolong the mitzvah [sacred act] of the Feast of Chopsticks.” V’tov lehachmir [And it is good to be strict about this].

V’ika d’amri [And there are those who say]: “Al tikra Shamor, ella S’more [Don’t read the verse as ‘Shamor,’ but rather as ‘S’more‘].” Mai nafka minah [What is the practical result of this (reading of the verse)]? Are we really expected to eat s’mores on the Feast of Chopsticks? No, rather, it [the creative reading of the verse] comes to teach us that we shall eat dessert she’lo oto ta’am [that is not of the same flavor (as the meal), i.e. not of the same cuisine]. Ka mashma lan [That is what it is teaching us]. Mai [Why]? D’ein mazal l’yisrael [Because fortune-telling doesn’t pertain to the Jewish people]. Tanya [An earlier teaching]: “Is it assur [forbidden] to eat ugot mazal [cakes of fortune]? No, mutar [it is permitted]. But one has not sufficiently embellished the mitzvah [sacred act].” V’ika d’amri [And there are those who say] that one has not fulfilled the obligation [unless one eats a dessert from another cuisine].

V’tanya [Another earlier teaching]: “Is it assur [forbidden] to eat ugot mazal [cakes of fortune-telling]? No, mutar [it is permitted]. Divrei chachamim [These are the words of the Sages.] V’amar Rebbe Mordechai [But Rabbi Mordechai says], ‘Asur. K‘var lanu chag le’echol pat haba’ah b’kisnin [It’s forbidden. We already have a holiday for eating cake-like items with filling].’ Amru lo [They said to him], ‘No one eats the filling of ugot mazal.’ Chazar lahem [He replied to them], ‘Kakatuv [It is written]: “U’mei’echa t’malei et ha’megillah hazot [‘Then he said to me, “O Human, eat this megillah/scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth’ (Ezek. 3:3)]. V’af al pi she’ein lanu n’vuah [And even though we don’t have prophesy, i.e. only a prophet such as Ezekiel may eat a scroll and only when commanded directly by God], someone might be tempted to eat the words of the cakes of fortune-telling, v’zeh assur [and this is forbidden (since there is no prophecy)]. V’od [And further], ein megillah ella Megillat Esther [there is no “megillah” other than the Megillah for Purim; i.e. if we ever were to eat words, it would have to be at Purim; or, this is the prooftext for why we eat hamantaschen].'”

Pligi bah [there was a difference of opinion about it (the original question)]: D’tanya [For, as we learn in this earlier teaching]: “Amar [said] Rabbi Ben: ‘Eat on the 24th so there will be notar [leftovers] which you must consume before the end of the next day’ (Lev. 19:6).” Ee hachi [If this is so], are we then not keeping the leftovers [beyond the day of the festival]? Lo sh’na [There is no contradiction]: Hacha [Here, in the case of finishing the leftovers by the end of the festival] k’mi she’omer ha’halachah l’fi Beit Shammai [is in agreement with one who says the law is according to the House of Shammai, i.e. that we eat on the 24th]; hatam [there, in the case of having leftovers beyond the festival], k’mi she’omer ha’halachah l’fi Beit Hillel [is in agreement with one who says the law is according to the House of Hillel, i.e. that we eat on the 25th]. And for Beit Shammai [not to have any leftovers beyond the festival], this is in keeping with a k’lal [general rule] of Shammai, who said, “Tafasta meruba lo tafasta [If you have seized a lot, you have not seized (anything at all)].”

Meytivey [A response was proposed] diklal Shammai [regarding the general rule of Shammai, i.e. “If you have seized a lot…”]: Does it apply here? If he wishes that  one will not seize meruba [a lot], does this not accord more closely with the one who eats less and does have notar [leftovers]? Is he not decrying the glutton who overindulges at the feast, leaving nothing behind? No, it does apply here: He is decrying the one who ordered too much.

Kashya [There is a problem]: Amar [Said] Rav Panda, “Once I saw Rav Tso begin his feast on the 25th and even still he had leftovers. Min hu [He is a ‘min,’ a sectarian, one who has broken ranks with the community].”

Then a bat kol [a heavenly voice] announced,“Eilu v’eilu v’eilu divrei elohim chayyim hen. V’lo min hu [Both these and these and these (the ways of Beit Shammai, Beit Hillel, and Rav Tso) are the words of the living God. And he (Rav Tso) is not a sectarian].”

Tiyuvta d’Rav Panda, tiyuvta [This was a complete answer to Rav Panda, ending his argument].

Lo min [he is not a sectarian]. B’ma’arva [in the West], amri [they say]: “Lo mein.” V’kacha amrinan [And thus do we say]: “Lo mein.” V’zeh k’lal gadol batorah [And this is a great general rule from the Torah].

MISHNAH 2: Until what time may one fulfill her obligation of eating the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Ma’aseh [A story] of Rebbe Hunan: His daughters were at a Matzo Ball that ran into the early hours of the 26th. When they came home, he was awake waiting for them with organic, non-GMO bean curd and brown rice. They consumed it because they still couldn’t tell the difference between blue and green.

GEMARA: Why bean curd? L’zecher [ as a reminder of] how the Kadosh Baruch Hu [Holy Blessed One, i.e. God] conquered “tofu va’vohu” [primordial chaos, formlessness and emptiness (Gen. 1:2)]. V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: Bean curd should only be eaten b’choshech [in darkness (see Gen. 1:2)].

MISHNAH 3: B’Shabbat, lo ochlin b’chopsticks [On the Sabbath, we don’t eat with chopsticks].

GEMARA: Een [Can this be so]? Hava amina [I would have thought] that there is no Festival of Chopsticks on Shabbat [i.e. it would be postponed to the next day] mishum ‘Shamor’ [on account of the rules of Shabbat that forbid certain activities on the Sabbath such as cooking or dining out]. Talmud lomar [For this reason, Scripture comes to teach us], ‘V’karata la’shabbat oneg [(If) you call the Sabbath a delight (Isa. 58:13)].’ V’lait oneg ella Gan Aiden [And there is no “delight” other than the Garden of Eden], like Eden WokV’ika d’amri [And there are those who say] “China Delight,” or “Peking Delight,” or “Imperial Delight” or “Canton Delight.”

Mai Tayma [What is the reason for this rule about not using chopsticks on the Sabbath]? L’zecher [As a reminder of] “the man who gathered sticks” (Num. 15:32). V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: “So that one will not be tempted to build a raft.” But then someone–some say it was B’ruriyah, some say it was Bill, another well-regarded spouse of an esteemed sage who was able to keep up with the chachamim [Sages]–came and taught: “We don’t eat with chopsticks on Shabbat because the friction of 2 chopsticks rubbing together might start a fire, which is assur d’oraita [forbidden by the Torah] (Ex. 35:3).”

MISHNAH 4: Who shall prepare the festive meal? Anyone who is bak’i [expert] in the preparation, no matter her country of origin. But the tavern may not have the word “dragon” in its name.

GEMARA: “Dragon” is a zecher [reminder] of livyatan [leviathan], which is not to be consumed except on Sukkot biy’mot hamashiach [on the Festival of Booths in the time of the Messiah].

Mai “Festival of Chopsticks” [Why do we have this festival in the first place]? There are answers from the ba’alei chochmah l’vasar v’dam [those who explain things using tools of secular knowledge], v’lait lan mi’kra [but we don’t have (an answer) from Scripture]. Lahen (Therefore)– Teiku! [Let it stand unresolved; or Tishbi Yitareitz Kushiot U‘va’ayot, Tishbi (Elijah the Prophet) will answer (unresolved) difficulties and problems.] And this is why the taverns always provide one extra container of rice [beyond the number of people dining]. This is kufsat Eliyahu [the container for Elijah].

And at what time does one attend the cinema? The Sages discuss this she’eilah

 at length in Masechet [Tractate] Cinema, which has yet to be recovered from an obscure cave in Austin, Texas.

Masechet Chopsticks

Masechet Chopsticks

by Rabbi Rick Brody & Rabbi Rachel Kobrin

(with inspiration from: Rabbi Jeremy Winaker, Rob Kutner, Carolyn Austin, Bill Seligman, Sam Rosenstein, and Rabbi Ben Newman)

A lost Talmudic tractate has been discovered that answers age-old rabbinic questions about the appropriate way for Jews to fully accomplish the obligations associated with eating Chinese food on December 24th/25th.

[For a more advanced, Talmud-intensive version of this tractate, please see the Extended Version.]

MISHNAH 1: Our Rabbis ask: When does one begin the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Beit Shammai omrim [The School of Shammai say]: “On the 24th day of the month of December, because one should ‘larutz la’asot mitzvah’ [run to perform a holy act].” Beit Hillel omrim [The School of Hillel say]: “Through the entirety of the night of the 24th and the day of the 25th is mutar [permitted]. But the mehadrin [those who wish to embellish their observance] wait until the final hours of the 25th, because we ‘ma’alin ba’kodesh v’lo moridin [ascend in holiness and do not descend].” V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: “To extend the simchah [joyous occasion].”

GEMARA: Tanu Rabbanan [Our Sages taught in an earlier saying]: Amar Rebbe Szechuan [Rabbi Szechuan said], “I was a man of 70 and had always consumed the Feast of Chopsticks before the end of the first watch on the 24th. Once I fell asleep while watching The Sound of Music and slept through the entirety of the following day. When I awoke on the night of the 25th, my food was still warm! From that day on, I have followed the teaching of Beit Hillel.”

And until when does the Festive Meal satiate us? Amar Rav [Rav said]: 1 hour. Amar Sh’muel [Sh’muel said]: 1/2 hour.

What do we do with leftovers? Ta Shma [Come learn from this teaching]: Amar Rav Shimon hachacham [Rav Simon the wise said] in the name of Rav Yaakov the Tzadik [righteous one], “We keep them, she’ne’emar [as it is written], Shamor [Keep] (Deut. 5:11). Keitzad [How]? It is preferable that one should use small square cardboard containers with wire handles to contain the notar [remainder] of the feast, so as to prolong the mitzvah [sacred act] of the Feast of Chopsticks.” V’tov lehachmir [And it is good to be strict about this].

V’ika d’amri [And there are those who say]: “Al tikra Shamor, ella S’more [Don’t read the verse as ‘Shamor,’ but rather as ‘S’more‘].” Mai nafka minah [What is the practical result of this (reading of the verse)]? Are we really expected to eat s’mores on the Feast of Chopsticks? No, rather, it [the creative reading of the verse] comes to teach us that we shall eat dessert that is not of the same flavor (as the meal), [i.e. not of the same cuisine]. Ka mashma lan [That is what it is teaching us]. Why? D’ein mazal l’yisrael [Because fortune-telling doesn’t pertain to the Jewish people]. Tanya [An earlier teaching]: “Is it assur [forbidden] to eat ugot mazal [cakes of fortune-telling]? No, mutar [it is permitted]. But one has not sufficiently embellished the mitzvah [sacred act].” V’ika d’amri [And there are those who say] that one has not fulfilled the obligation [unless one eats a dessert from another cuisine].

[Click here for the Extended Version of the Tractate.]

Pligi bah [there was a difference of opinion about it (the original question)]: D’tanya [For, as we learn in this earlier teaching]: “Amar [said] Rabbi Ben: ‘Eat on the 24th so there will be notar [leftovers] which you must consume before the end of the next day’ (Lev. 19:6).” Ee hachi [If this is so], are we then not keeping the leftovers [beyond the day of the festival]? Lo sh’na [There is no contradiction]: Hacha [Here, in the case of finishing the leftovers by the end of the festival] is in agreement with Beit Shammai [i.e. that we eat on the 24th]; hatam [there, in the case of having leftovers beyond the festival] is in agreement with Beit Hillel [i.e. that we eat on the 25th].

Kashya [There is a problem]: Amar [Said] Rav Panda, “Once I saw Rav Tso begin his feast on the 25th and even still he had leftovers. Min hu [He is a ‘min,’ a sectarian, one who has broken ranks with the community].”

Then a bat kol [a heavenly voice] announced,“Eilu v’eilu v’eilu divrei elohim chayyim hen. V’lo min hu [Both these and these and these (the ways of Beit Shammai, Beit Hillel, and Rav Tso) are the words of the living God. And he (Rav Tso) is not a sectarian].”

Lo min [he is not a sectarian]. B’ma’arva [in the West], they say: “Lo mein.” And thus do we say: “Lo mein.”

MISHNAH 2: Until what time may one fulfill her obligation of eating the Festive Meal of Chopsticks? Ma’aseh [A story] of Rebbe Hunan: His daughters were at a Matzo Ball that ran into the early hours of the 26th. When they came home, he was awake waiting for them with organic, non-GMO bean curd and brown rice. They consumed it because they still couldn’t tell the difference between blue and green.

GEMARA: Why bean curd? L’zecher [ as a reminder of] how the Kadosh Baruch Hu [Holy Blessed One, i.e. God] conquered “tofu va’vohu” [primordial chaos, formlessness and emptiness (Gen. 1:2)]. V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: Bean curd should only be eaten b’choshech [in darkness (see Gen. 1:2)].

MISHNAH 3: B’Shabbat, lo ochlin b’chopsticks [On the Sabbath, we don’t eat with chopsticks].

GEMARA: Een [Can this be so]? Do we eat [the Feast] on the Sabbath? Talmud lomar [For this reason, Scripture comes to teach us], ‘V’karata la’shabbat oneg [(If) you call the Sabbath a delight (Isa. 58:13)].’ And there is no “delight” other than the Garden of Eden, like EdenWok. And there are those who say, “China Delight,” or “Peking Delight,” or “Imperial Delight” or “Canton Delight.”

Mai Tayma [What is the reason for this rule about not using chopsticks on the Sabbath]? L’zecher [As a reminder of] “the man who gathered sticks” (Num. 15:32). V’yesh omrim [And there are those who say]: “So that one will not be tempted to build a raft.” But then someone–some say it was B’ruriyah, some say it was Bill, another well-regarded spouse of an esteemed sage who was able to keep up with the chachamim [Sages]–came and taught: “We don’t eat with chopsticks on Shabbat because the friction of 2 chopsticks rubbing together might start a fire, which is assur d’oraita [forbidden by the Torah] (Ex. 35:3).”

[Click here for the Extended Version of the Tractate.]

MISHNAH 4: Who shall prepare the festive meal? Anyone who is bak’i [expert] in the preparation, no matter her country of origin. But the tavern may not have the word “dragon” in its name.

GEMARA: “Dragon” is a zecher [reminder] of livyatan [leviathan], which is not to be consumed except on Sukkot biy’mot hamashiach [on the Festival of Booths in the time of the Messiah].

Mai “Festival of Chopsticks” [Why do we have this festival in the first place]? There are answers from those who explain things using tools of secular knowledge, but we don’t have (an answer) from Scripture. Therefore, Teiku! [Let it stand unresolved; or Tishbi Yitareitz Kushiot U‘va’ayot, Tishbi (Elijah the Prophet) will answer (unresolved) difficulties and problems.] And this is why the taverns always provide one extra container of rice [beyond the number of people dining]. This is kufsat Eliyahu [the container for Elijah].

And at what time does one attend the cinema? The Sages discuss this she’eilah

at length in Masechet [Tractate] Cinema, which has yet to be recovered from an obscure cave in Austin, Texas.

—————————————————————————————————-

A different perspective: from the folk tradition

(not part of the legal, rabbinic discussion and not halachically approved.)

Or this one:

[Click here for the Extended Version of the Tractate.]

Elijah the Prophet is Not the Tooth Fairy

Elijah the Prophet
is Not the Tooth Fairy

by Rabbi Rick Brody

Elijah the Prophet is not the Tooth Fairy or the Groundhog.
We don’t “check” to see if he came when we weren’t paying attention.
The question of his arrival is not a game.
When he comes, we will know — and he will not disappear, leaving only faint traces of his presence.

Rather, Elijah’s arrival will shatter our worlds, carry us to a new plane of reality.
It will resound like a reverberating shofar, flow like a gushing stream.
We will know. He will be no invisible interloper. He will sit with us and drink with us, sharing in our joy and answering our questions.

His cup sits here not as an opportunity to check for missing wine, stolen surreptitiously like pesadik cookies from the cookie jar.
No, it sits here as a reminder of our yearning for his arrival, as a reminder of our responsibility to pave the way for his heralding of the Messianic Time.

The question is not “Will he come this year?” and it will not be “Did he come while we were dining and schmoozing?” It is — and will be, until he comes to answer it — “what are we doing and what can we do to make our celebration of freedom a permanent one?” His absence is the continual reminder that we have not yet established the fertile ground in which our Messianic dreams can grow and flourish to their complete reality. Conquering that absence is the riddle we need to solve — and we will know when it is ready to be solved.

Don’t keep checking the cup to look for missing wine as a herald. Keep checking yourself and your community for the wine we still need to pour so that the cup is filled to overflowing — ready without question for the guest whose arrival will be no mystery, whose presence will be so known that our attention will not be on determining it but rather on celebrating its absolute reality.