How Do You Jew An educational, informational, conversational blog and (someday) podcast about Judaism, Jewish practices, customs, and rituals, Israel, and whatever else we decide to talk about.

June 17, 2006

Synchronicity (not the Police song).

Filed under: Commentary,Shabbat,Torah Commentary — howdoyoujew @ 22:57

I delivered this D’var Torah this morning at Ohr Shalom:


I really love it when circumstances come together to create a harmonious, pleasant situation. Some refer to this as synchronicity; in my worldview, this is evidence of the existence of God. I don’t see God as an old man with a flowing beard sitting in a throne up above, conducting human affairs. For me, God is, among other things, those little clues and hints that things are going the way they should, that I should keep heading down the path I’m on.

So it was with great delight that I informed Rabbi Meltzer that I would deliver the drash this morning on Parashat Be’Ha’alotcha. Besides the practical concern that I couldn’t commit to being in shul next Shabbat and could therefore not speak about Shlach, I had found in this week’s parasha much to relate to and speak about. At the beginning of chapter 10, God instructs Moshe as to the crafting of two silver trumpets, to be used to “summon the community and set the divisions in motion.” As a former trumpet player, this appealed to me greatly. But I’m not talking about that.

At the end of chapter 10, we find the familiar verses we recite when the Torah is removed from and returned to the Ark, “ויהי בנסע הארון…” etc. But I’m not talking about that either. The parasha goes on for a couple more chapters which I also won’t be speaking about, today anyway.

Much of the portion, which begins with chapter 8 of the Book of Numbers, deals with technical and ritual details of the Tabernacle, the portable Ark that the Israelites traveled through the desert with so many generations ago. Beginning with verse 5, we find instructions for the preparation of the Levites – the workforce that will handle the Ark and the sacred objects associated with it.

As a Levy, I was naturally struck by the coincidence of the opportunity to drash on this subject, but the Torah didn’t let me off so easily. Verse nine reads, “You shall bring the Levites forward before the Tent of Meeting…”, then verse 10 repeats the construction, “and bring the Levites forward before the Lord…” In Hebrew, the verses are

והקרבת את הלוים לפני אהל מועד… והקרבת את הלוים לפני יהוה…

The Hebrew word used here for “bring forward” – והקרבת – is from the same root as the word קרבן – sacrifice. The parallels continue in verses 11 and 13 when Moses is instructed to have Aaron “designate the Levites before the Lord as an elevation offering from the Israelites, that they may perform the service of the Lord.” Again, the verbs in the Hebrew,

והניף אהרן את הלוים תנופה לפני יהוה… והנפת אתם תנופה ליהוה

are the same used to describe actions taken during ritual animal sacrifices.

Regardless of your opinion of the Torah’s authorship, I hope you’ll agree that it’s well written enough that such parallels aren’t, in fact, just flukes.I certainly hope, as the Etz Hayim commentary notes about verse 11, “that this ritual was executed only in symbolic form.” What, then, does this wordplay tell us?

Well, at the time of the Exodus, and then later in the Temple periods, the Levites served God on behalf of the Israelite people. It can be said then, and the Torah explicitly does say, that they were “closer to God.” In order to achieve and maintain this exalted position, the Levites had to make some sacrifices of their own – including full body shaves and only wearing ritually pure clothing. They were thus “set apart” from the Israelites, God says in verse 14, and belonged to God.

Today, we have no Holy Temple, and we do not engage in ritual sacrifice; that is to say, we have no official priestly class to do the “dirty work” for us. We all have the opportunity to get closer to God, but, just like the Levites, we have to make some sacrifices. So we give up some of our Friday evenings or Saturday mornings to come to shul; we keep separate sets of dishes and think about what we eat; at times, we display some obvious outward symbols of our faith. They may not be as drastic as a full body shave, but we do all these things in our efforts to elevate ourselves, to make our lives, and the world, a bit better, more Godly. I hope you see these sacrifices as I imagine the ancient Levites saw theirs, not as burdens, but as gifts from a loving God and a wise tradition.

June 16, 2006

I know a few lawyers, and they’re not at all this ignorant.

Filed under: Commentary,News — howdoyoujew @ 09:54

This morning’s Daily Highlights linked to an AP story about an ugly legal battle in Chicago involving the circumcision of a young boy. In the middle of the piece, I found this gem:

David Llewellyn, an Atlanta attorney who specializes in circumcision cases, is helping the father’s attorneys without fee. He called the surgery “a bizarre American custom.”

Ignorance of such mindboggling proportion is rare, I think, even in an AP story, and even from the mouth of a lawyer. I wouldn’t even know where to start refuting the statement, but pointing out the fallacy of referring to it as “American” would be one place to start. The esteemed Mr. Llewellyn MIGHT be reached at 770-918-1911 (I say might because the page that number came from is a bit dated), or 2 Putnam Drive, N.W. Atlanta, GA 30342. If someone can track down an email for him, let me know.

Jews in Shanghai. Wait, WHERE?!

Filed under: Good News,life cycle,News — howdoyoujew @ 09:21

No, really. NPR did a great story about the Jewish community in Shanghai this morning.

June 5, 2006

Run with it

Filed under: Blogging,Good News,Podcasting — howdoyoujew @ 18:30

I recorded my first attempt at a podcast over the weekend, and wisely shared it only with my family, so I could get feedback and comments before making a complete fool of myself in front of countless other people. Well, OK, I also sent the link to a couple of other people, including Adam Curry, who I keep blaming for inspiring me to get into podcasting in the first place, and guess what?

He read my email and said my name and mentioned this site on today’s show! So I really have to get on the ball, hunker down, record a couple more shows, and join the podosphere as a full-fledged citizen. But right now I have a mean headache, so all that’ll have to wait.

June 1, 2006

Fantastic find in Ramla

Filed under: Good News,Israel,News — howdoyoujew @ 12:07

Spotted on Yahoo! News: Prehistoric ecosystem found in Israeli cave via Daily Highlights (, incidentally, was founded by Israelis).

Powered by WordPress