Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Big Boss Man Can't You Hear Me When I Call ( Smith & Dixon "Big Boss Man")

Two news stories have captured our children’s attention. One has to do with the current election in Israel and one has to do with a potential Democratic female candidate in the United States. Both Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu and Former First Lady, Former Senator, Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton have a core constituency who deeply believe that their candidate can do no wrong. Yet the Israeli Prime Minister finds himself fighting for his political life in elections that many Israelis believe to be a referendum on Bibi Fatigue. As for Mrs. Clinton, a recent news story and ensuing apology about her use of her private email address when conducting affairs of state, have many rolling their eyes thinking about Clinton Fatigue.  Much of this fatigue is a result of both trying to achieve power and say or do whatever they need to in order to energize their constituency and remain in power. Every so often, this leads to questionable ethical behavior. Interestingly enough, the electorate understands that great leadership and perhaps statesmanship has as much to do with ethical behavior as well as the actual ritual of governing. A superficial reading of a Talmudic Midrash supports his idea. A potential convert asks the great sage Shammai to teach him the entire Torah while standing upon one leg. Shammai abruptly dismisses him. The potential convert then seeks the great sage Hillel and makes the same request. Rather than dismissing him, Hillel responds, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow man. This is the entire Torah, all of it; the rest is commentary. Go and study it.” (Shabbat 31a). Certainly we could understand this Midrash as a preference of the ethical rather than the ritual. However, the brevity of Hillel’s statement implies that ethical and ritual are linked.
This week’s Parsha is VaYikra, the first Parsha of the Book of Leviticus, -Sefer VaYikra. Unlike the first book of the Torah, Breishit (Genesis) and the first part of Shmot (Exodus) which was written in a narrative form, and the second Part of Shmot which listed laws as well as the instructions for building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle); the Book of Leviticus focuses upon the Priestly class and their responsibility within Jewish biblical society. Therefore, VaYikra does not focus upon a story, nor laws that are geared towards B’nai Yisroel. Rather the laws are aimed at the Leviim, their responsibilities, the precise manner in which sacrificial offering are made, the requirements for offerings, the requirements for the Leviim as well as the requirements for B’nai Yisroel in order to bring offerings. From Parsha VaYikra and for that matter the entire book, we derive numerous ethical teachings all of which is necessary for a people and a society to achieve a sense of holiness. Perhaps just as important is that we derive the importance that Judaism cannot be just about the “letter of the law” but there must be some ethical value behind the letters. After God “calls” out to Moshe, we read the list and the details concerning Korbonot-sacrifices. Which animals should be sacrificed, how many, for which reason, who is obligated, and how to do it.

Again God reminds of the purpose of “sacrifice”. The word Korbon (sacrifice) connotes “approach”. This is based upon the three-lettered Hebrew root KaReiV, which means approach. So we are making sacrifices as a means of approaching God. However, after reading this litany of detailed minutia, we might lose sight of the purpose of sacrifice. Korbon (sacrifice) is not only a means of approaching God; it is a means to approach our fellow man.  The end of the Parshah reminds us of this. Nefesh Ki Techeteh U’Ma’Alah M’Al B’Adonai V’Chichesh Ba’AmitoGod spoke to Moses saying: If a person will sin and commit treachery against God by lying to his comrade….”(Lev.5:21-25). We draw closer to God via our fellow man. Unethical behavior towards our fellow man effects our relationship to God. Unethical behavior renders us impure and causes blemish to our character and to our spirit. We know that God only accepts blemish free offerings. If we are spiritually impure, because of unethical behavior, how can we hope to approach God? Like the great sage Hillel implied, the Parshah demonstrates that the Ethical and the Ritual are linked. Both aspects form a symbiotic relationship with each other. Together they form Torah. Separation of the Ethical and the Ritual leaves the individual and Torah incomplete. However, struggling and, hopefully, integrating both allows the individual to approach God as well as others through dignity and respect.

Whether or not Netanyahu wins or loses, forms a coalition or not; he has been weakened as a leader and a statesman. Whether Mrs. Clinton runs for the Democratic Nomination or not, she is more vulnerable than she once was. Ironically, it didn’t have to be this way for either leader. If they could have thought more about how their actions and words would be perceived by their respective electorate, they might have realized that ritual expediency: doing what is “simpler” or speaking in the most provocative and incendiary manner does not necessarily help achieve the ultimate goal. Rather the ritual and the ethical are always linked. 

Rav Yitz

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