“Clearing Out the Old”

You shall eat old grain long stored, and you shall have to clear out the old to make room for the new. — Leviticus/Vayikra 26:10

Meant to suggest plenty lasting from one harvest to the next, perhaps to connect with the promise of a sufficiency for the sabbatical year. But also, as noted in Torah in Motion,* to suggest that the old must be cleared out before the new is used. You don’t have to have a dance troupe, or even feel like actually moving, to consider Tucker’s and Freeman’s perspective on this verse:

[Consider] garage sales (the decision to have one; preparing for one; the end result of having had one, i.e., old things gone, new things in their place, more space in the house, etc.). How does it feel to get rid of something and replace it with a new item?

Take the garage sale and make it personal. What old habits would participants “clear out”? What new habits and attitudes would replace the old ones?

Challenge: Each dancer imagines that he or she is a house. In each room of the house is an old habit or attitude which the dancer wishes to get rid of. The dancers improvise solos in which they go through each “room,” confronting the imagined old habit or attitude, and gradually “replacing” it with a new, improved one. After they complete the change in one “room,” they go on to the next (up to six or so rooms).

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“Proclaiming Liberty throughout the Land,” an essay on the portion Behar by then rabbinical students Sharon Brous and Jill Hammer,* includes a section entitled “The meaning of Ge’ulah for feminists.” (See p. 242ff in The Women’s Torah Commentary.*) They ask Jews to consider their responsibility to help free agunot, women chained to marriage by husbands who refuse them divorce; women bound by addiction; women “enslaved by society’s views of their roles and bodies”; and women forced into prostitution or sold into slavery.

“This parashah reminds us how much our kinfolk need us to further their redemption,” Brous and Hammer write.

To learn more about agunot and related advocacy, visit the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance advocacy pages.

To learn more about modern slavery and what can be done about it, visit Not for Sale and Kvod Habriot — the Jewish Human Rights network.
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The story [of the blasphemer, Leviticus/Vayikra 24:10-23] is noteworthy in that it is one of only four incidents in the Torah in which Moses is shown asking God how to decide an issue (the others are Numbers 9:6ff, 15:32ff, and 27:1ff). Moses sought God’s judgment because the punishment for blasphemy had not yet been detailed. More significant, however, is the placement of this story. It is, in effect, a cautionary tale, coming as it does on the heels of the sections demanding holiness and morality from the Israelites. Continue reading

A college friend and sailing fan once told me a story about a sailor who was about to win a ’round-the-world-solo race when he tacked away from harbor and, returning to open ocean, headed around again.

On May 20, 2009, I had a kind of fit and decided to launch “Torah: Opening the Book” on this blog. I began the four-posts/portion series with “Bamidbar,” the first portion in the book of Numbers/Bamidbar. At a number of points in the last year, I have looked forward to completing the task I so impetuously established for myself. However, I recently looked at a calendar and realized that there are only three more portions — two more weeks in this non-leap-year reading cycle — before we complete the book of Leviticus/Vayikra. So…

…Pull into harbor? Continue around? Sail a different sea?
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How is writing “with four pens between five fingers” related to the Day of Atonement?

There are many paths to follow from Chapter 16, which describes the ancient Yom Kippur service and has become the Torah reading for Yom Kippur morning and the basis for the Avodah Service. To start, it can be very interesting to explore a High Holiday Machzor outside the Days of Awe (and on a non-fast day, to boot). And this exploration can add meaning to this week’s Torah reading. For anyone who chooses to follow, though, the tangential “four pen” path might be interesting.

One of only three entries for Leviticus in the collection Chapters into Verse** is a poem by Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) called “The Day of Atonement.” That poem is one segment of a four-part work, “Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays.” Selections are included below; here’s the whole four-part poem.

I. New Year’s
…This is the autumn and our harvest–
such as it is, such as it is–
the beginnings of the end, bare trees and barren ground;
but for us only the beginning:
let the wild goat’s horn and the silver trumpet sound!

…The work of our hearts is dust
to be blown about in the winds
by the God of our dead in the dust
but our Lord delighting in life…

II. Day of Atonement
…If only I could write with four pens between five fingers*
and with each pen a different sentence at the same time —
but the rabbis say it is a lost art, a lost art.
I well believe it. And at that of the first twenty sins that we confess,
five are by speech alone;
little wonder that I must ask the Lord to bless
the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart….

III. Feast of Booths
…I remember how frail my present dwelling is
even if of stones and steel

I know this is the season of our joy:
we have completed the readings of the Law
and we begin again;
but I remember how slowly I have learnt, how little,
how fast the year went by, the years–how few.

IV. Hanukkah
…That was a comforting word the prophet spoke:
Not by might nor by power but by My spirit, said the Lord;
comforting, indeed, for those who have neither might nor power–
for a blade of grass, for a reed.

…The miracle, of course, was not that the oil for the sacred light–
in a little cruse–lasted as long as they say;
but that the courage of the Maccabees lasted to this day:
let that nourish my flickering spirit.

Go swiftly in your chariot, my fellow Jew,
you who are blessed with horses;
and I will follow as best I can afoot,
bringing with me perhaps a word or two.
Speak your learned and witty discourses
and I will utter my word or two–
not by might not by power
but by Your Spirit, Lord.
— from The Poems of Charles Reznikoff: 1918-1975 (Black Sparrow Books)

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“…and on the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin is to be circumcised.” Continue reading

“And Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not bare your heads [rasheichem al-tifra’u] and do not rend your clothes, lest you die and anger strike the whole community. But your kin, all the house of Israel, shall bewail the burning that [YHVH] has wrought.” Continue reading