Saturday, April 28, 2012


Tazria-Metzora Lev. 14:2, 5-7 "This shall be the law of the person afflicted with tzara'ath, on the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the kohen.... The kohen shall order, and one shall slaughter the one bird into an earthenware vessel, over spring water. [As for] the live bird, he shall take it, and then the cedar stick, the strip of crimson [wool], and the hyssop, and, along with the live bird, he shall dip them into the blood of the slaughtered bird, over the spring water. He shall then sprinkle seven times upon the person being cleansed from tzara'ath, and he shall cleanse him. He shall then send away the live bird into the [open] field.”

While the Torah speaks of a leprosy of the body, there also can be a leprosy of the heart, mind, and soul. Regardless of whether an illness is primarily physical, emotional, or spiritual, healing may require the afflicted individual to remain in isolation until he or she has recovered. Although sickness can be painful and debilitating, the isolation often required can be used for rest, reflection, and rejuvenation.

May we be blessed, like the living bird let go in an open field, to be cleansed from our illnesses and suffering and reconnect with ourselves and the community with a new sense of freedom and appreciation for life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pesach: Opening the hand and softening the heart

Deut. XV, 7-8: “If there be among you a needy man, one of your brethren, within any of your gates, in the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your needy brother; but you shall surely open your hand to him, and shall surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wants.”

This admonition and others like it to tithe, remit debt, and free slaves that we read this shabbos (the Eighth Day of Pesach) all have their roots in tzedakah (righteousness) and rachamim (compassion).  The instructions to soften our hearts and open our hands here are strikingly different from the repeated hardening of Pharaoh’s heart throughout the exodus story.

May we be blessed with soft hearts and open hands so that we can give and receive blessings of protection, favor and peace during this Pesach season.  

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Shabbat Pesach: Greeting the unkown

 Shabbat Pesach
Joshua 5:13-15
One day, when Y'hoshua was there by Yericho, he raised his eyes and looked; and in front of him stood a man with his drawn sword in his hand. Y'hoshua went over to him and asked him, "Are you on our side or on the side of our enemies?"  "No," he replied, "but I am the commander of ADONAI's army; I have come just now." Y'hoshua fell down with his face to the ground and worshipped him, then asked, "What does my lord have to say to his servant?" The commander of ADONAI's army answered Y'hoshua, "Take your sandals off your feet, because the place where you are standing is holy." And Y'hoshua did so..”

Joshua sees an unfamiliar man with a drawn sword and goes right up to him. Was that brave? Was that crazy? It led to Joshua recognizing that the man was an angel and that he, Joshua, stood on holy ground. What can we learn from Joshua about how to encounter the powerful unknowns in our own lives? Focusing just on the verbs, this is what Joshua does to move from a potentially terrifying encounter with an enemy to a profound encounter with holiness:

    • he raises his eyes,
    • he looks,
    • he goes closer,
    • he asks,
    • he falls on the ground,
    • he worships,
    • he asks again,
    • he takes off his sandals.
In our own lives, the unknowns we must confront show up in many forms – perhaps deep disappointment, or a terrible and frightening diagnosis, or unexpected rejection. Instead of running from these experiences or fighting to get rid of them, we might try to follow Joshua’s example, looking closely at the experience, asking the experience whether it is our friend or enemy, and listening as it reveals something unexpected.

As we prepare to experience again the flight from slavery to freedom, may we have the courage to face directly and to inquire deeply into whatever life puts before us.

Thank you to Rabbi Alan Lew z'l for teaching us this technique of looking to the verbs in the passage for insight into what the Torah is instructing. Here's a talk by Rabbi Lew where he used this technique to find a powerful instruction in the passage about crossing the Red Sea: