“…if you reject My laws and spurn My rules, so that you do not observe all My commandments and you break My covenant, I in turn will do this to you…”–Leviticus/Vayikra 26:15-16

“…You shall not prolong Your anger with Your sorrowing people to all generations…,” an anonymous author — dated somewhere between the 9th and 11th centuries CE — replies, presenting God with 22 commandments, from aleph to tav:

Anonymous 9th-11th Century CE poem

You shall not withhold [t’acher (aleph)] Your answer from him who cries to You with all his heart. You shall not despise [t’vzeh (bet)] the afflicted wretch when he implores You for mercy. You shall not berate [tig’ar (gimmel)] the poor and downtrodden, when he appears before You. You shall not turn Your creature away from Your door empty-handed. You shall not grieve him or shame him for his sin and guilt. You shal not rebuke him in Your anger once he forsakes his ways. You shall not remember against him his early sins, buried in his bosom. You shall not take his pledge in pawn for having defiled himself with crime. You shall not banish him who strays afar, but shall draw him near when he returns…You shall not prolong Your anger with Your sorrowing people to all generations….You shall not hide Yourself [titaleim (tav)] when I beseech You: let my sighs come before You!
–translated by T. Carmi. The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse*

* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.

————————————————————–
Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers and has continued week-by-week through the book of Leviticus.) You can zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
Continue reading

One great bunch of reflections on the omer…

And you shall count from the morrow of the sabbath, from the day you bring the elevation sheaf [omer], seven whole weeks shall they be. Until the morrow of the seventh sabbath you shall count fifty days, and you shall bring forward a new grain offering to the LORD. — Leviticus/Vayikra 23:15-16…

is “Fablog: The Omer,” which serves as gateway to thoughts from many sources: statistical, kabbalistical, logistical; contemporary, ancient and in-between. Daily posts have so far included a number of local voices, plus words of Sonia Sanchez, Joseph Soloveitchik, Toni Morrison, Hoyt Axton, Simon Jacobson, Yehuda Amichai, the Velveteen Rabbi, Hillel and others.
Continue reading

“Be holy, etc.!” Vayikra Rabbah 24,9, considering the words: [ki kadosh ani], “For I am holy,” asks whether it is possible that the Torah demands that we, the Jewish people, are to be as holy as He is? the Midrash’s answer is that, on the contrary the words [ki kadosh ani], indicate that true sanctity is something reserved for the Creator alone….

Recognition of the greatness of G’d inevitably leads to an awareness of the puniness of man when compared to Him. It is the awareness of our own limitations that gradually brings us closer to understanding and emulating the virtue of the [ein sof], ultimate form of humility. The school of Hillel, disciples of Hillel who was world renowned for his personal modesty and humility, followed their mentor when they formulated the concept that a spark of holiness feeds upon itself and makes ripples like a pebble thrown on the surface of the water.

This idea is also reflected in the opening words of our portion [kedoshim tihyu ], “commence the process to become holy, as it is continuous and feeds on itself.” An additional factor helping you to progress along this route is [ki kadosh ani], “for I am holy,” i.e., when you contemplate My holiness this will inspire you to emulate My holiness to the extent that it is humanly possible. In fact, G’d says that His own holiness will increase proportionate to the amount of holiness to be found amongst His people on earth.
–R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev Kedushat Levi,* pp.578-579

Ripple in still water
when there is no pebble tossed
nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand
if your cup be empty
If your cup is full
may it be again
Let it be known
there is a fountain
that was not made
by the hands of men
–from “Ripple,” by Robert Hunter
(music by Jerry Garcia)

* Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.

————————————————————–
Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
Continue reading

We can also consider a connection between menstruation and covenant. The prophet Zechariah speaks to “daughter Jerusalem” and “daughter Zion” about “your covenant of blood” as that which releases prisoners from the dry pit (9:9-11).* It does not say “the covenant of blood,” as most translations render it, but rather emphasizes that blood is the focus of the covenant. The address to the feminine persona suggests that all “daughters of Zion” have that covenant of blood. It is through menstruation — from puberty when we accept our responsibilities as Jews, through the elder years when bleeding stops and deep wisdom starts — that the entire world is saved from the dry pit of death, in which there is no water, no womb, no regeneration, no rebirth.

See menstrual blood, then, as women’s covenantal blood — just as blood of b’rit milah (ritual circumcision) is men’s….
–Elyse Goldstein in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary** (p.675)

* gam-at [also you (fem. sing.) b’dam [in blood] b’riteich [of your (fem. sing. possessive) covenant]

** Please see Source Materials for full citation and additional information.

————————————————————–
Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
Continue reading

Leviticus 15 is a tightly constructed essay on genital pollution, arranged chiastically but not along gender lines. In what may be an added verse to the otherwise tightly constructed chapter (v.31) all Israelites, men and women, are warned to be on guard against uncleanness. In case we have any doubt above the overall structure of the essay, we find the apt conclusion in vv. 32-33:

Such is the ritual concerning one who has a discharge, and him who has an emission of semen and becomes unclean thereby, and concerning her who is in her menstrual infirmity: anyone, that is, male or female, who has a discharge, and also the man who lies with an unclean woman.

“Anyone…male or female” — that is the key to Leviticus, which establishes impurity rules, but does not discrimiate between men and women. Both are agents of impurity insofar as either emits an bodily substance through the sexual organs. The remarkable thing is how the Rabbis interpret the same rules with an entirely different criterion in mind…

…the key to body-fluid pollution should be sought in the issue of control….At issue is a deeper perception that the Rabbis have of men on the one hand and women on the other….this underlying perception takes us back once again to blood as the Rabbis’ primary means of symbolizing gender issues. The binary opposition obtains between men who are in control of their blood, so of themselves, and therefore of society; and women, who lacking control of blood and therefore of self, are thus denied control of society as well. Continue reading

This may not seem immediately related to the portion, Shemini, in anyone else’s head. But Louis Armstrong — both voice and trumpet — has always sounded to me like a man who has experienced strange crossings with their share of harrowing times and losses…not unlike what the families of Aaron/Elisheva and Moses/Zipporah — and the Israelites, more generally — have been experiencing. For me, this is most evident on Moon River:

————————————————————–
Click on the “WeeklyTorah” tag for more resources on the weekly portion throughout the year, or on a portion name for parashah-specific notes. (The series began with Numbers; posts for Genesis, Exodus and Leviticus are being drafted, week-by-week.) You can also zero-in on particular types of “Opening the Book” posts by clicking Language and Translation, Something to Notice, a Path to Follow, or Great Source in the tag cloud.
Continue reading

from “A Father’s Silence,” by R. Daniel G. Zemel
Continue reading