Wednesday, March 14, 2018

There Are Times When You Can Beckon, There Are Times When You Must Call (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia - "Built To Last"))

Well, our 17 year old daughter passed her driver’s test. Certainly, I am proud of her accomplishment, but I feel compelled to inform everyone that they should just be wary when they take to the roads. Besides driving lessons, I thought it was important for her to learn a few things that the driving instructor would not teach her. Living in Toronto, I thought it was important for her to learn how to handle a car going into a skid on ice and snow. So during the winter, I took her to a parking lot where she did “doughnuts” and handled a skid on snow and ice.  I thought it is important that she can change a tire, so when the weather warms up a bit, I will teach her how to change a flat tire. However the most important thing to teach her about general car maintenance is to putting gas in in the car. When I asked her if she knew how put gas in the car she casually replied, “Yes, I tell you to fill it up the car with gas like mommy tells you”. Needless to say, that wasn’t the answer I was looking for. Like a car, Judaism also has a gas tank, actually Judaism has two gas “tanks”. For Judaism to function, both tanks need to be filled.  For most Jews in the non-orthodox world, the “ethical tank” is the primary tank; but the “ritual” tanks is what needs filling. For most Jews in the Orthodox world, the “ritual tank” is the primary tank; but sometimes it’s the “ethical tank” that needs filling. For many of us, this is an either/or proposition, as if Judaism separated these two tanks. The "ethical" and the "ritual" is not like milk and meat needing separation. To the contrary, for Judaism to work, the "ethical" and the "ritual" need to be integrated. This concept of Judaism is by no means unheard of. In fact, a superficial reading of a Talmudic Midrash from the Tractate Shabbat 31a supports this multi-tank theory. 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 to the ritual. However, the brevity of Hillel’s statement implies that ethical and ritual are linked.
This week’s Parsha is VaYikrah, the first Parsha of the Book of Leviticus, -Sefer VaYikrah. Unlike the first book of the Torah, Bereishit (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. VaYikrah 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 offerings 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 VaYikrah 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. 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. We make sacrifices as a means of approaching God.
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 of approaching 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 affects our relationship to God. Unethical behavior renders us impure and adds a 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.
For those only concerned with ritual, at the expense of the ethical, they are only driving around on a half a tank of gas. For those only concerned with the ethical at the expense of ritual, they are also driving around on a half a tank of gas. A half a tank of gas is equivalent to observing only half the Torah and behaving only partly Jewish. The object is to be Shalem, complete or whole. God called out to Moshe, and instructed him to teach B’nai Yisroel that Ethical and Ritual behavior must be integrated in order to form a Holy community. Thousands of years later, Parshah Vayikrah teaches the same lesson. We continue in our struggle to integrate the Ethical and the Ritual. Both are required in order to live life with a full tank, for a warm and meaningful relationship to oneself, to our fellow man, and to God. As our daughter takes to the road, hopefully she is prepared enough and aware enough to make sure that when she drives my car, she won’t wait until the gas tank light calls out to her in order to begin looking for a gas station and then wonder how to fill it up. Hopefully she will be a complete safe driver for the sake of my insurance and all those with whom she shares the road.  
Rav Yitz

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