Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Belts & Badges / Parshat Tzav 2015/5775

Parshat Tzav paints a vivid picture: Before the entire community of Israel, Moses brings forward Aaron and his sons, washes them with water and dresses them in the raiment of their station. For Aaron, the High Priest, that means a tunic, sash, robe, ephod, breast piece with Urim and Tummim, headdress, and diadem. At the right is a depiction of what the High Priests garb it thought to have looked like. Next Moses took specially prepared olive oil and anointed the Tabernacle, the alter and the utensils that would be used to make sacrifices, the laver in which the priests would wash their hands and feet before making sacrifices, and finally Aaron, himself. In this way Aaron and the Tabernacle were consecrated: they were declared sacred to God and dedicated to the service of God.

Reading this description brought back a memory from long ago that may strike you as utterly dissonant in the context of the momentous moment and solemn ceremony Torah describes.  In elementary school, one of my most cherished dreams was to secure a spot on the school safety patrol. Do you recall safeties? In K6 school I attended, safeties were sixth graders who directed students in the hallways and at street corners near the school at dismissal time. Safeties got to wear white web belts with silver badges affixed. To me, these were the equivalent of the garb of a high priest. My initial application to be a safety was turned down because I was too short. When I appealed my rejection, the teacher in charge agreed to give me a chance. He handed me a brand-new, shiny, plastic orange belta new version of the old, white standard. I felt my heart sink. I had imagined wearing the traditional white web belt; thats what real safeties wear.  Are there any more white belts? I asked. The teacher looked at me quizzically and gently responded, Please give some thought to why you want to be a safety. Given how much I respected this teacher, I did. And it didnt take me long to realize that my ambition to be a safety was all about wearing the belt and the status I imagined it afforded, not the importance of the job. For years I had listened to safeties yell and order other kids around and, while I had no interest in yelling at anyone, the idea of having a post, along with the concomitant authority, was mighty appealing.

One can easily imagine Aaron becoming lost in the pomp and circumstance, ceremony and status, of his position. Does it go to his head? Does he lose sight of the fact that he is there to serve God and Israel and become enthralled by his power and authority? Aaron has lived much of his life in the shadow of his younger brother, Moses. It is Moses whom God appoints to confront Pharaoh. Aaron goes along as his assistant. Moses gets the white belt; Aaron gets the orange belt. Hes not even mentioned in the account of the Reed Sea (Exodus 14-15). When the Israelites fight the Amalekites, Aaron plays a supporting roleliterally: he and Hur hold up Moses outstretch arms to ensure that the Israelites will be victorious in battle (Exodus 17:8-13). When Moses ascends Mount Sinai,  Aaron finds himself, at long last, in charge. But what happens? He immediately succumbs to the demands of the people to build them a golden calf to worship. He is wildly popular with the people, but the outcome is what tradition has always branded as the worst case of idolatry in Israels history. Now, Aaron stands posed to take on the highest religious role in the nation, one that will be passed from generation to generation in perpetuity. He, and he alone, will enter the Holy of Holies each Yom Kippur. How could this not go to his head?

The consecration of Aaron and his sons lasted seven days. Many sacrifices were offered on the altar. I want to note two curious and telling things: The first is that as soon as Moses finishes winding turbans around the heads of Aarons sonsthe last act in dressing them in their priestly accountrementsMoses brings forward the very first sacrifice Aaron will ever make: it is a chatat, a sin offering.

וַיַּגֵּשׁ, אֵת פַּר הַחַטָּאת; וַיִּסְמֹךְ אַהֲרֹן וּבָנָיו אֶת-יְדֵיהֶם, עַל-רֹאשׁ פַּר הַחַטָּאת.  טו וַיִּשְׁחָט, וַיִּקַּח מֹשֶׁה אֶת-הַדָּם וַיִּתֵּן עַל-קַרְנוֹת הַמִּזְבֵּחַ סָבִיב בְּאֶצְבָּעוֹ, וַיְחַטֵּא, אֶת-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ; וְאֶת-הַדָּם, יָצַק אֶל-יְסוֹד הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, וַיְקַדְּשֵׁהוּ, לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו.
[Moses] led forward the bull of sin offering. Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon the head of the bull of sin offering, and it was slaughtered. Moses took the blood and with his finger put some on each of the horns of the altar, cleansing the altar; then he poured out the blood at the base of the altar. Thus he consecrated it in order to make expiation upon it. (Leviticus 8:14-15)

Why is the first sacrifice, the one that is intended to purify the altar, specifically a sin offering?And further, as we will see in next weeks parashah, Shemini, the very first sacrificial offering made on the eighth day, after the week of consecration is complete and the regular course of sacrifices commences, is also a chatat (sin offering). Could it be that the message of the sin offering, first during the week of consecration and first after the consecration is complete, is a reminder to Aaron that he is not only as imperfect as all people are, and vulnerable to doing the wrong thing, but perhaps even especially so because of his exalted and honored status: if he lets it go to this head, he will succumb to the temptations of ego-aggrandizement.

It seems that Aaron heard the message. The Rabbis tell us that Aaron was particularly respected for being a peace maker. Hillel taught that Aaron was the paradigm of a peace maker. He perhaps suggests, as well, that this arose out of Aarons love for others and resulted in bringing people close to Torah:

הוי כתלמידיו של אהרון--אוהב שלום ורודף שלום, אוהב את הברייות ומקרבן לתורה.
Be of the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing peace; love your fellow creatures and bring them close to the Torah. (Pirke Avot 1:12)

In fact, there is a suggestion in the Babylonian Talmud that because Aaron not only loved peace, but actively pursued it in the community, he was sometimes more beloved of the people than his exalted and deeply humble brother Moses.

וכן משה היה אומר יקוב הדין את ההר אבל אהרן אוהב שלום ורודף שלום ומשים שלום בין אדם לחבירו שנאמר (מלאכי ב) תורת אמת היתה בפיהו ועולה לא נמצא בשפתיו בשלום ובמישור הלך אתי ורבים השיב מעון.
Moses's motto was: Let the law cut through the mountain. Aaron, however, loved peace and pursued peace and made peace between man and man, as it is written, The law of truth was in his mouth, unrighteousness was not found in his lips, he walked with Me in peace and uprightness and did turn many away from iniquity (Malachi 2:6). (BT Sanhedrin 6b)

Just how did Aaron pursue peace? Avon de-Rabbi Natan, the midrash on Pirke Avot, Avot provides two examples. Here is the first:

R. Meir asked, What does, He prevented many from doing wrong (Malachi 2:6) mean? We could illustrate it as follows: Whenever Aaron encountered even someone of questionable reputation, he would stop and greet him. On the morrow, that same person might want to do something wrong, but would stop and think to himself: Woe unto me! How would I lift my eyes afterward and look Aaron in the face? I would be ashamed before him when he greeted me. Consequently, that man would restrain himself from doing wrong.

This is an extraordinary use of authority and status. We dont find that Aaron issuing warnings, making threaten, berating, criticizing, or leveling condemnations. He greets everyone in the street, even knowing that they are of questionable reputation. He lives the teachings of Shammai, Greet everyone with a cheerful face (Pirke Avot 1:15) and of R. Matya b. Charash, Be the first to extend greetings to every human being (Pirke Avot 4:20). To be acknowledged by the High Priest, and in a warm and friendly way, inspires those who are inclined to do wrong think twice, think better of themselves, and consequently behave better. What a wise and powerful use of authority.

Here is the second example Avot de-Rabbi Natan offers:

If two people were feuding, Aaron would walk up to one, sit down next to him and say, My child, dont you see how much your friend is tearing her heart out and rending her clothes. The person would then say to himself: How can I lift up my head and look my friend in the face? I would be ashamed to see her because it is I who treated her foully. Aaron would remain at his side until he had removed all rancor from his heart.  Afterwards, Aaron would walk over to the other person, sit down next to her and say: Dont you see how much your friend is eating his heart out and tearing his clothes. And so this person, too, would think to herself: Woe unto me! How can I lift up my head and look my friend in the face? I would be ashamed to see him because it is I who treated him foully. Aaron would sit with this person until she, too, had overcome the rancor in her heart. And finally when these two friends met, they would embrace and kiss each other. That is why it is said [that when Aaron died], And they wept for Aaron thirty days, the entire House of Israel (Numbers 20:20). (Avot d Rabbi Natan, chapter 12)

The second example is a model we might, ourselves, have the opportunity to follow. (I once did, and it worked splendidly.) Here Aaron does far more than greet people in the street. He stops when he recognizes their pain. He sits and listens to their story. He understands that their quarrel is not black-and-white and that each carries a share of the responsibility for the breach in the relationship. But Aaron does not pull rank, judge, and assign blame. Rather, he gives voice to the best in the other party.[1] In the safe space Aaron creates, each person can pull back from anger that obscures their ability to see the situation from the perspective of the other, assume proper responsibility for the feud, and extend forgiveness to the other.

The two examples of Aarons peace-making skills demonstrate how Aaron uses his authority and status. Its not about him. Its about what he can do for others.

As a school safety, I was initially assigned to the K-3 wing of the school; my job was to insure that the students exited school at 3:20 pm in an orderly manner. It wasnt easy and I did a lousy job. Many of the third graders and a few of the second graders towered over me. No one listened to me. I didnt last two days. I was serendipitously reassigned to the big corner a block from school where almost everyone crossed to walk home. It was easy because everyone knew the drill. No yelling required. Best of all, this was a high-prestige post which I had snagged not because I was good at the job, but because I was too short to command authority anywhere else. Several weeks into the job, for some inexplicable reason, a kindergartner walked out into the road just as a car approached the corner, even though the crowd of children stood patiently on the sidewalk. As I had been trained, I grabbed the child and hauled her back onto the curb. In the scheme of things, it was a minor incident. There were some gasps and a few sighs of relief, but in 15 seconds it was all over and life continued. For me, however, something had changed. I finally got it. The belt was not a mark of greatness. It was the uniform of someone beholden to others. It wasnt about me. It also wast about being a safety; it was about the safety of the other kids. I was there to serve them. Its a lesson most of us have to keep relearning throughout life.

Would that so many in positions of authority felt that they were there to serve not their egos, but the needs of others.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

[1] Perhaps its needless to say, but the original text couches everything on the masculine: both parties to the feud are men. It was my choice to make one a man and one a woman, rather than say s/he and his/hers throughout, in order to make the text comport with modern sensibilities.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Alephs: Large and Small

Newsflash. Dateline: March 12, 2015:

Calling it a major breakthrough that will significantly expedite and streamline its daily operations, Wall Street financial firm Goldman Sachs revealed Thursday it has developed a new high-speed algorithm that is capable of performing more than 10,000 ethical violations per second. With this new automated program, well be able to systematically deceive investors, engage in conflicts of interest, and execute thousands of other blatantly unethical dealings in the time it takes to press a button, said John Waldron, co-head of Goldman Sachs investment banking division, who added that the high-frequency impropriety system will be able to break more rules in a minute than an entire floor of morally suspect securities traders, financial analysts, and portfolio managers could over the course of a week. In the past, if one of our brokers wanted to exploit a questionably legal regulatory loophole or breach the covenant of good faith with an investment client, that would require hours of manually contravening the basic principles of professional integrity. But this innovative system will allow millions of such transgressions to go through every single day. Going forward, I expect this revolutionary program to be the cornerstone of our business. Upon learning of the advanced new unethical algorithm, investors initiated a buying frenzy on Goldman Sachs stock, sending share prices surging more than 30 percent to $245.46.

This newsflash is from The Onion. It rings uncomfortably true, doesnt it? The idea of using technology to purposefully circumvent the law and engage in unethical business dealings doesnt surprise any of us. Just two Goldman traders, Josh Birnbaum and Michael Swenson, made a nearly unimaginable $4 billion in what was essentially a scheme to bet against high-risk second-mortgages. Ultimately thousands upon thousands of people lost their homes and retirement funds. The Washington Post reported that Goldman Sachs received  $10 billion in TARP funds from the U.S. Treasury in October 2008. The Wall Street Journal reported the following July that these funds were used to pay 953 employees bonuses of at least $1 million each. Since 2008, when the subprime mortgage crisis that led to a worldwide financial meltdownin which Goldman Sachs played a leading an appalling roleonly one employee has seen the inside of a prison: a computer programmer.

The Onions parody hits home precisely because we envision that those on Wall Street responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis, not to mention many other unethical and illegal dealings over the years, are devoid of ethics and that they would consider a computer program that facilitates cheating efficiently and at the speed of light to be a marvel, not an evil.

From high tech and unethical practices, we turn to a much earlier (and some would claim, primitive) technology for promoting personal and communal moral responsibility, and making mid-course corrections when an individual or community errs.

This week we begin the Book of Leviticus with the first parashah, Vayikra. Leviticus is famously about sacrifices. It reads much like a pocket manual on sacrifices for the kohanim (priests), specifying the types of sacrifices and offerings brought to the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and precisely when and how they were to be offered. For this reason Leviticus is also known, aptly enough, as Torat Kohanim (instruction for the priests). Parshat Vayikra delineates five major categories of sacrifices offered in the Wilderness Mishkan, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem:
1.    The Olah (burnt offering) is a gift to God brought either out of sense of love for God, or a sense of guilt. Its name means go up or rise because the smoke of the offering burned wholly on the altar rises to heaven, and because giving this gift to God elevates ones spirit.
2.    The Minchah (grain offering) was made of semolina, olive oil, and frankincense mixed together and cooked in a pan or oven. A fistful of the dough was burned on the altar; the remainder was eaten by the priests.
3.    The Zevach Shelamim (peace offering) is made by an individual to express gratitude and a sense of wholeness.
4.    The Chatat (sin offering) was brought, as Torah expresses it: when a person unwittingly incurs guilt in regard to any of the Lords commandments about things not to be done, and does one of them (Leviticus 4:2).
5.    The Asham (guilt offering) is a reparation offering for sins of omission (when one fails to do what one should) or when one realizes after the fact that s/he did something in violation of a commandment.

Israels ancient sacrificial cult is not everyones favorite biblical subject. Many people, not only vegetarians, express discomfort with the whole notion of animal sacrifice. This is nothing new. The Rambam (Moses Maimonides, 11351204) considered animal sacrifice to be merely a step in Israels spiritual development, Gods way of weaning our ancestors off idolatry and onto worshipping God. Isaac Abravanel (14371508) claimed that God did not initially intend for Israel to offer animal sacrifices, but after the incident of the Golden Calf, God recognized the Israelites need for concrete ritual through which to interact with God; an abstract notion of divinity would not work for them. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (18651935), himself a vegetarian, believed that when the Third Temple is built, only the Minchah (grain offering) will be brought to the altar, in fulfillment of Isaiah 11:9, לֹא-יָרֵעוּ וְלֹא-יַשְׁחִיתוּ, בְּכָל-הַר קָדְשִׁי None shall hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain.

And while I am not one who longs for a restoration of the sacrificial cult, I can appreciate the value of a concrete and tangible ritualone which involves all the physical senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and sometimes tastingto daily express the importance of following a path of honesty and integrity, and to provide a means of course-correction when ones life does not follow that path. If the financial wizards and gurus of Wall Street, the thousands of traders, computer programmers, and executives, lived in a world in which people individually and communally admitted wrongdoing and took public, visible steps to ameliorate the effects of their behavior and atone for it, perhaps the atmosphere on Wall Street would be different. Perhaps the sense that as long as youre not caught what you do is acceptable, would turn to ashes like the offerings on the altar, and perhaps at least some souls would turn away from their greed and sense of immunity from the law, which sadly our society reinforces by the failing to prosecute the guilty.

Parshat Vayikra is named for its first word: ויקרא (vayikrahe called). While vayikra appears hundreds of times in the Torah, in this particular instance it is written with a small aleph:

Why is the aleph diminished? Before we address the diminutive aleph, let us note that Divrei ha-Yamim (Book of Chronicles) begins, Adam, Seth, Enosh…” and here the letter aleph, the first in the name Adam, is larger than the other letters:
אָדָם שֵׁת אֱנוֹשׁ

There is a hasidic explanation of both the diminutive aleph and the large aleph: Adam was created directly by God and considered himself the apex of Creation. His conceit led to his expulsion from Eden. In contrast, Moses did not internalize his greatness; he remained humble. Torah tells us וְהָאִישׁ מֹשֶׁה, עָנָו מְאֹד--מִכֹּל, הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר, עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה Now Moses was a very humble man, more so than any other man on earth (Numbers 12:3). R. Jacob b. Asher (~1269~1343), the Baal ha-Turim, explains the diminutive aleph another way. He tells us that God ordered Moses to write ויקרא (called), but Moses was so exceedingly humble that he wanted to use the word ויקר that Torah uses in connection with Bilaam, implying that Bilaam was not specifically called, but rather chanced upon by God. God insisted that Moses write out ויקרא with the aleph, which is also the first letter of אני (ani, me). Moses then wrote the aleph smaller than the other letters, in fulfillment of Gods will, yet reflecting his humility.

The sacrificial altar is long gone, and with it that particular, tangible means to promote personal responsibility, repentance, and atonement. We need to redouble our efforts to promote humility.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Enough Work / Parshat Vayakhel-Pikudei 2015/5775

Blue Laws are a thing of the past in places, but there are some holdouts. Austria, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland forbid most stores from opening on Sunday. They were instituted in the United States, beginning in Connecticut in 1755, to restrict activities considered by Christian civic leaders and ministers to violate the appropriate spirit of Sunday, the Christian day of rest.[1] Blue Laws have been abolished in most locales, but Bergen County, New Jersey, is a curious exception to the general pattern. Passed there in 1854, The New York Times reported on April 22, 1879:

The Sunday laws of New-Jersey provide that no traveling, worldly employment or business, ordinary or servile work on lawn or water, (works of charity or necessity alone excepted) shall be done or performed on the Christian Sabbath. It is also provided that no goods or chattels shall be exposed for sale or vended, as meat, fruit, fish, herbs, milk or vegetables; nor shall anyone travel on that day, except when going to or from church, or going for a physician, surgeon, or mid-wife, or in the service of the United States mail carriage.

Today, one cannot purchase clothing, furniture, or appliances on Sunday in Bergen County; Paramus, boasting even more severe blue laws, bans most retail and white-collar businesses from operating on Sundays. The roots of Blue Laws lie in this weeks Torah portion, Vayakhel, which we read this week together with Pikudei.

Moses has returned from the peak of Mount Sinai, his face radiant with the splendor of his encounter with the Divine, a radiance that Torah tells us emanated from him each time he speak with God in the Holy of Holies henceforth. As parshat Vayakhel begins, the first thing Moses does when he descends the mountain is to gather the entire people and tell them:

שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן, לַיהוָה; כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת.  לֹא-תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּיוֹם, הַשַּׁבָּת.

For six days you shall do your melachah, and on the seventh day it shall be for you a sabbath of complete rest, holy to Adonai. Anyone who does melachah on [the seventh day] shall die. Do not kindle fire in any of your dwellings on the sabbath. (Exodus 35:2-3)

For Christians who penned and passed the Blue Laws, these verses suffice. But early Christians also knew that Jews were busily engaged in asking: Just what constitutes מְלָאכָה (melachah)? In other words, what is actually prohibited on shabbat? I have avoided translating melachah as it is customary translated work because that presumes a meaning that may not be fully accurate.

The Rabbis enumerated 39 activities that are מְלָאכָה. Whence these 39?

אמר רבי שמעון ברבי יוסי בן לקוניא כנגד מלאכה מלאכתו ומלאכת שבתורה ארבעים חסר אחת

R. Shimon b. R. Yose b. Lakunya says: The number [39] corresponds to the appearances of melachah, his melachah, and the melachah of, which are written forty minus one times in the Torah

which would be fine were it not for the fact that these terms appears 63 times. Nonetheless Talmud insists:

אמר רבה בר בר חנה א"ר יוחנן לא זזו משם עד שהביאו ספר תורה ומנאום

Rabbah b. Bar Chana said in the name of R. Yochanan: They didnt move from their places until someone brought a Torah scroll and they counted the instances [of the word מְלָאכָה]. (BT Shabbat 49b)

The Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) explains the number 39 on the basis of a complicated gematria on Exodus 35:1 אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים (these are the things) that wreaks of a desperate attempt to arrive at the pre-ordained and accepted total of 39.[2] That pre-ordained number is explained in the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) by R. Chanina b. Chama as a reflection of the activities required to construct the Tabernacle, an exegetical meaning (based on interpretation of Torah text) rather than an inherent definition.

The Rabbis give melechah an exegetical meaning in this way: In parshat Vayakhel, Moses tells the people to keep shabbat by refraining from engaging in מְלָאכָה. In the next breath, he instructs them to bring gifts to be used to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and Torah launches into a lengthy explanation of the Mishkan designed by Betzalel and his assistant, Oholiab, whom Torah tells us were endowed with divine skill and ability to complete their sacred task. Torah does not explicitly define מְלָאכָה (melachah) here, or in Exodus 31:14  or Deuteronomy 5:11-14, where the mitzvah is also mentioned. The only explicit prohibition Torah lays out is lighting a fire (see Exodus 35:3 above).

The juxtaposition of the prohibition against melachah on shabbat and the lengthy description of the activities entailed in constructing the Tabernacle permitted the Rabbis to define מְלָאכָה which I emphasize that Torah does not do as anything related to the building of the Mishkan[3]. On this basis, they enumerated 39 prohibited activities that constitute מְלָאכָה, among them plowing, planting, winnowing, reaping, grinding, sifting, shearing, spinning, weaving, tying, sewing, tearing, trapping, slaughtering, writing, erasing, building, and demolishing. What is more, the Rabbis (M Shabbat 7:2) understood these 39 activities as categories that could be expanded to include more activities. For example, dash (threshing): The Rabbis interpreted it in a general sense to mean the removal of some item we want from its natural container.; hence, squeezing juice from an orange or peeling garlic is prohibited by Orthodox interpretation of dash. A second example: boreir (sorting or selecting) is interpreted by the Rabbis to include removing anything inedible from food matter, such as spoiled grapes from a bowl of fruit salad or bones from a fish. Presto! Gefilte fish is invented: no bones. What is more, intention matters. Soteir (demolition) is on the list of 39; if my purpose in destroying something is to enable me to build something new (constructive destruction?), it is prohibited; however, if I demolish something purely for the purpose of destroying it, it is not מְלָאכָה.
The end result is that, in Orthodox tradition, much is prohibited beyond the 39 categories and their offspring on shabbat, and lengthy and strenuous preparations are essential before the sun sets on Friday in order to assure that shabbat is, indeed, a day of rest and joy. For most liberal Jews, the minutiae of shabbat prohibitions is unwieldy and very much the product of a group that set itself up as the arbiters of what is permitted and what is forbidden, rather than the original intent of Torah. If we are to be altogether honest, most of Judaism falls into the former category (the invention[4] of the Rabbis), but shabbat categories of work seem particularly onerous and restrictive to many.

It helps to consider, in addition to the Rabbis exegetical interpretation of melachah, Torahs perspective. Deuteronomy 5:11-14 gives us the clear sense that מְלָאכָה is what one does as ones profession or means of earning a living. We learn from Genesis 2:1-3 that Gods מְלָאכָה is apparently creation. We are supposed to work: the verses with which I opened, from the beginning of parshat Vayakhel, obligate us to work; surely without work, we could not live and support our families. But Torah and the Rabbis understood that God endowed us with much more than a capacity to work: we have the capacity for spirituality, art, and deep relationship, all of which are nurtured through rest, and time off from the (often grinding) work that occupies so much of our time, attention, and energy. What is more, we have a deep need for, and much to contribute to, community; changing ones pattern of living for a day provides an opening for people to come together under the umbrella of shared practice. Honoring our need for rest and renewal serves us all well, and hopefully recharges our batteries when we return to work; it also reminds us to respect others need for rest and renewal.
In an ideal world, work, play, and relaxation all derive from the same activity: To have a job that is so enjoyable that you would choose to do it in your leisure time because it makes you physically relaxed and spiritually fulfilled is a precious gift. Alas, few people can claim such a job, though I can say that writing these drashot for you as close as possible. Torah does not presume that we all have or can find such a job. Instead, we have shabbat.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

[1] To be absolutely precise, Sunday is not the Christian sabbath. Early Christian leaders did not change the sabbath to Sunday, but rather declared that Sunday, which they called The Lords Day, supersedes the sabbath. Sunday thus became the primary day of communal worship and rest for the Christian community and functions today as the Christian sabbath. Acts 20:7 of the Christian New Testament seems to refer to this practice, although the only mention of The Lords Day in the Christian New Testament is found in Revelation 1:10; Justin Martyr (2nd century C.E.) described it as a widespread practice in First Apology (chapter 67).
[2] Just in case youre curious, the source is JT Shabbat 7:2 and the explanation goes like this: דְּבָרִים (things) is plural and hence has a value of 2; the definite article preceding it adds 1, for a subtotal of 3. The word אֵלֶּה (these) holds the numerical value 36 (aleph=1; lamed=30; hay=5) which, when added to 3 equals a grand total of 39. I know youre thinking that was too obvious to require an explanation, but it was fun to provide it.
[3] These are the activities necessary to produce the meal offerings and showbread, the priestly garments, and the Mishhan itself.
[4] Some will object to the word invention and take offense in it, but I use it as a compliment. In the aftermath of the Destruction of the Second Temple, biblical religion virtually came to a grinding halt because it was depended upon, and revolved around, the sacrificial cult in Jerusalem. What is more, the laws of the Torah that do not pertain to the sacrificial cult are most pertinent to ancient agricultural and herding cultures. By 70 C.E., there was a thriving and growing urban culture in the Jewish world, and legislation was needed to assure that people could live and work together in a civil, cooperative, and righteous manner. The early Rabbis, working on the foundation laid by the Pharisees, developed a new tradition that offered criminal, civil, and ritual laws for an increasingly urbanized society, and new forms of religious and ritual practice in the absence of the Temple cult in Jerusalem. They called their courageous enterprise of saving Judaism Oral Torah.