Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Steal Your Face Right Off Your Head (Robert Hunter & Jerry Garcia- "He's Gone"

          My wife and I are very different. She gets very emotional about every milestone our children reach. Normally with the arrival at a milestone, my wife will think that our child in question has grown older which of course means that she has grown older. I don’t necessarily see our children’s’ milestones as a reflection of my aging. I’m older and I feel that way. No, I can’t believe that we at the milestone, I can’t believe that the child in question is really old enough to achieve this milestone, and I wonder if reaching the milestone will give them a sense of maturity and becoming a person. Three of our four children reached milestones this week. Our 12th grader had to make a decision about college/university. So she will spend a year in Israel and with the intention of going university in the U.S. Our 10th grader just turned 16 and she will be taking her G1 test (permit test in America) before the end of the May. Since we had already sent a daughter to college and we have had two daughters turn 16; I wasn’t too emotional about either milestone. However, I was happy for both daughters who reached their respective milestone. However, it was the milestone of our son, our youngest child, which I found most meaningful. Since the second night of Pesach, as is the custom associated with Sefirat Ha’Omer (The Counting of the Omer); I haven’t shaved until this week which was the 33 day of the Omer (L’AG B’Omer). So I prepared to shave. However for 13 years 8 months and 23 days, our son has never shaved. So on L’AG B’Omer, he and I bonded in a way that he could never bond with his mother. I gave him his first shaving lesson. He shaved his upper lip. I shaved my face.
This Shabbat we read from Parsha Emor. In the four chapters that comprise Emor, the first deals with the Kohanim and their very different way of striving for holiness as compared to the rest of the nation. For example, because of the Kohen’s function within society, he must remain in a perpetual state of purity. He is restricted in terms of who he can marry. He is restricted in terms of for whom he mourns. He cannot go to a cemetery. He cannot make sacrificial offerings if he has physical abnormalities. The second chapter reminds B’nai Yisroel that all animal offerings must be blemish free. These offerings must come directly from the individual making them and not from “the hand of a stranger” (Lev.22:25). Both chapters deal with the holiness of certain people, the Kohen and his family, and certain animals, those designated for sacrificial offering. The third chapter of the Parsha deals with the designation of holiness in regards to seasons and the calendar including Shabbat, Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The fourth chapter offers a narrative in which the son of an Israelite woman and Egyptian man, and another Israelite man get into a fight. The son pronounced the forbidden name of God and was charged with blasphemy. The Torah tells us the punishment for blasphemy is death. This is the same punishment for an individual who commits murder. 
As the Torah upon Holiness and perhaps even Perfection, we learn that striving for Holiness and striving for Perfection requires creating a distinct separation from the mundane, the ordinary, and the less than perfect. The Torah reminds the Kohen, “Lo Yikrechu Korcha B’Rosham U’Fa’at Z’Kanam Lo Y’Galeichu UVivsaram Lo Yisr’tu Saratet- They shall not make a bald spot on their heads, and they shall not shave an edge of their beard; and in their flesh, they shall not cut a gash (Lev21:5). Rashi, the great 11th-century French commentator, explains that certain tribes that lived in Biblical Canaan, as well as Ancient Egyptians, would engage in these types of behaviors while mourning the death of a loved one. Literally, the Torah reminds the Priestly class to be sure and NOT behave like other people, don’t mourn like other people, don’t worship like other people, don’t behave like these ancient tribes of idolaters. The Chatam Sofer, one of the great 19th century Central European Rabbis, explained that the verse has a homiletical meaning as well. The Torah reminds us not to create a bald spot upon our head, we don’t create an emptiness on our head. The Chatam Sofer understands the emptiness as ignorance, a lack of learning. The head should be filled with Torah, with mitzvoth, with doing good things in the world, and making sound, thoughtful, and intelligent choices. Sometimes that requires the person to be just a bit separate, distinct and apart from those who create an emptiness in their own respective heads. We strive to fill our heads knowledge, with Torah. We avoid creating “empty spaces”, bald spot, in our heads, knowing that what our heads are filled with or not, will be expressed in our behavior, our attitudes our relationship with our loved ones and with God.
So there we stood in front of the mirror. As I looked into the mirror, for a brief moment through the steam of the hot water, and as the mirror began to fog over I saw my father standing with me all those years ago showing me to shave. I saw my grandfather telling me to grow a mustache like he has in order to avoid shaving. My son wiped the mirror clear in order to see and the images of my father much younger than I am now and the images of my grandfather healthy, vibrant, smiling at me was wiped away. As my son and I stood there, I thought about what I had learned from these two men and wondered I would transmit all that I learned from them to my son. One thing is for sure, I won’t wait until our son has to shave his upper lip for the next time to offer them the wisdom of his grandfather and great-grandfather.


              Rav Yitz

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