Vayikra, The Rona/COVID-19, and Mutual Aid

We can learn several important things about this time of coronavirus pandemic, and related upheaval, from the start of this week’s Torah portion (Vayikra, Leviticus 1:1-5:6).

Honoring Prior Collective Work

The Book of Exodus closes with completion of the mobile worship center, the “Tabernacle,” constructed by the People in the wilderness. This construction takes place over the course of many chapters in Exodus and involves all whose hearts move them” contributing their talents, their time, and their resources (See, e.g., Exodus 25:1ff). It is from within that collectively created Tabernacle that God calls to Moses at the start of the Book Leviticus.**

Similarly, the Torah is calling to us this week (5780/2010) to notice and make use of collectively created structures within our communities, including our Mutual Aid Networks.

Throughout the United States, communities have their own structures and local leaders. Many efforts at dealing with crises do not work within these community structures, however, instead making use of top-down, charity-driven models. Mutual aid, on the other hand, is volunteer-run, transparent, and driven by needs expressed by community members. (See e.g., “What is Mutual Aid.”) Joining up with your area’s Mutual Aid Network, if one exists, is a crucial way to help your area get through this serious upheaval in a way that respects all concerned.

Traditional Jewish teaching suggests that God calls to Moses out of the Tabernacle to emphasize that the structure had been built to benefit the People, not to exclude them (Artscroll Chumash, citing “Ramban, etal” — Ramban is a teacher from 13th Century Spain). In this spirit, we must endeavor to ensure that actions we take around this crisis benefit, rather than exclude, and do not undermine collectively created community structures.

Calling, Learning, and Being Small

Over the centuries, many have noted the oddly tiny final letter (alef) in the first word of the Torah portion —
Vayikra

Teachings around this oddity emphasize the connection between humility – making oneself “small” — and learning.*** In addition, some suggest, we can look at the relative size of the letters, imagining that God’s voice is loud and powerful enough to be heard everywhere but Moses played an important role in conveying it to the People.

In this spirit, the Torah is reminding us to be small enough to listen carefully when called.

That means paying attention to experienced organizers who have direct contact with the communities most affected by this crisis and working with those already in the struggle. This might mean joining a Mutual Aid Network or lending one your support. Or it might mean listening and responding in another way. But it will require listening

A More Specific Call

Many of us have favorite charities and crisis-relief organizations we regularly support. Some would like to offer direct support but know they cannot give to everyone who asks, fear that donations may not be used in an efficient and accountable way, and feel at sea about giving in time of such overwhelming need. This is another area in which using and honoring our existing community structures is crucial.

As a long-time resident of southeast DC, I know the captains of the ward units for Wards 6 and 7/8 within DC’s Mutual Aid Network; I also know the captain for Ward 2 in Northwest and have met the others. I can personally recommend giving these people your time, money, and trust. Probably someone somewhere in your personal contacts knows the people running other units in DC or near where you live. And, if not, I believe Vayikra is telling us, in this specific time, to trust the organizers most closely tied to those most vulnerable in this crisis.

Moreover, in DC government and other institutions are sending those who request help to the Mutual Aid Networks. So, these home-grown efforts need our support right now.

This blog is not set up to provide information on Mutual Aid Networks everywhere. But it is set up to suggest that Jews, and others interested in a text- and action-based view of Bible study, look at what Vayikra is telling us about seeking out and supporting existing community structures.

Just one Example

Mutual Aid Networks are growing in many areas, and, as noted, this blog is not set up to keep on top of them all. Please seek out your local area MAN. As an example for readers anywhere, and for readers local to DC, here are some direct requests from local organizers.

Needs identified include the usual: fruit and vegetables, bread, toilet paper, sandwich meat, snacks, bottled water, frozen meats, potatoes, rice, hot dogs, buns, diapers, pull-ups, wipes, bleach, rubbing alcohol, gloves — basically, every item that you purchased for yourself and your household.

In addition, community members in the District express needs for

  • computers
  • materials needed by children and teens for their educations.

These resources are taken for granted in some areas but sorely lacking in others. Accessible and free access to the internet is also needed — and financial contributions toward that goal are welcome.

In or near DC’s Ward 6, drop items off at Capitol Hill Arts Workshop, 545 7th St. SE, 9am-9pm. Additional sites are in the works.

Financial donations can be made earmarked for “Mutual Aid Network” to Serve Your City DC.

Contact ward6mutualaid@gmail.com or 202-683-9962 with questions or for updates on sites in other areas of Ward 6.

NOTES
**

And he called to Moses, and YHVH spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting…
וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר
— Lev 1:1

It is clear that the “he” (in “(and) he called”) is God calling from inside the Tent of Meeting, which was just completed at the end of the Book of Exodus. The verse is usually rendered something like “And the LORD called to Moses.” The portion, the first in Leviticus, is comprised of Leviticus 1:1-5:6.

TOP

***
The Hebrew word “ileif” —
אִלֵּף

has the same root letters as “alef

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Gathering Sources: Bechukotai

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Bechukotai — occasionally spelled “Bechukosai,” or “B’hukkothai” — Levitucus 26:3-27:34. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book”:

A Path to Follow: Clearing Out the Old
Something to Notice: Women, Vayikra, and Progress
Great Source(s): Anonymous Commandments to God (9-11th Century CE)

See also on the Haftarah: “Notes on Jeremiah: Max Ticktin’s Scribbles”

Next read in most of the Diaspora on May 25, 2019;
Bechukotai is read in double-portion with Behar in non-leap years.

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By Yonidebest


Photo credit: By Yonidebest – Self-photographed, Public Domain

Gathering Sources: Behar

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Behar, Leviticus 25:1-26:2, sometimes spelled “B’har or “Be-Har.” This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

A Path to Follow

Also from Behar: Jubilee and “Free at Last”?

Toward Harvest, part 1

Fewer resources for Behar, which is often read in double-portion with Bechukotai; few more next week.

Gathering Sources: Emor

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, Emor (Leviticus 21:1-24:23; no common alternative spellings). This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Something to Notice: damage to God and God’s name
Language and Translation: Complete Rest (Lev 23:32)
Great Source(s): on the Omer
A Path to Follow: Four times Moses asked God to decide

Due to differences in holiday observances, Torah reading schedules begin to diverge in some congregations with the holiday of Passover. Emor is next read on May 11, beginning with minchah on May 4, in Israel and Reform calendars; it is next read in orthodox, Conservative, and many other congregations on May 18, beginning with minchah on May 11.

Gathering Sources: Kedoshim

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, Kedoshim (Leviticus 19:1-20:27; occasionally spelled “K’doshim” or starting with “Q”). This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Due to differences in holiday observances, Torah reading schedules begin to diverge in some congregations with the holiday of Passover. Kedoshim is next read on May 4, beginning with minchah on April 27, in Israel and Reform calendars; it is next read in orthodox, Conservative, and many other congregations on May 11, beginning with minchah on May 4.

Something to Notice: “female” attention to minutia
Language and Translation: Lev 19:4 (don’t turn/no gods)
Great Source(s): Holiness Ripple
A Path to Follow: An Old Question
based on the still relevant, if somewhat dated, “Study Mehitza

See also: Stumbling Blocks Before Us All

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Gathering Sources: Acharei Mot

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, Acharei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30; also sometimes: Aharei Mot or Aharei Mos). This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Due to differences in holiday observances, Torah reading schedules begin to diverge between Movements with the holiday of Passover. Acharei Mot is next read on April 27, beginning with minchah on April 20, in Israel and Reform calendars; it is next read in orthodox, Conservative, and many other congregations on May 4, beginning with minchah on April 27.

Something to Notice: “Go Tell Your Brother”
A Path to Follow: Charles Reznikoff and four pens in five fingers
Language and Translation: Nefesh and ish sound patterns
Great Source(s): No Creature Unfit

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gathering Sources: Metzora

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion, “Metzora,” Leviticus 14:1-15:33. Also spelled: M’tzora or M’tsora, sometimes Metsora or Mezora. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Metzora is next read beginning at minchah on Shabbat 4/6/19 (Shabbat Tazria). NOTE: Although most there are usually four posts for a portion, this series was written in a year when Tazria and Metzora were read together as a double portion, so there are only two posts on Metzor (and two on Tazria).

Something to Notice — How “natural” or ordinary was menstruation in the ancient world?

Great Source — L. Hoffman on original, gender neutral purity rules

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Pool of a medieval mikveh in Speyer, dating back to 1128 (Chris 73, Wikicommons)