The longer I follow the weekly Torah portion, the more likely I’m to read something between the lines and instinctually interpret a piece of text. This isn’t necessarily always a good thing. Sometimes bullshit is just bullshit, no matter how you dress it. Pulling meaning out of nothing can be a tiresome, pompous task. I did it in art class years ago when my teacher liked my work and asked me for the story behind it.
Back-to-back double readings, folks. And that means another dumping of Leviticus laws, rules, and expectations that seem a bit strange to our contemporary sensibilities. In short, more animal sacrifice at the Temple for the Lord for a variety of reasons. They’ve even become avatars for our sins.
This double reading jumps right into it with more rules. This time, the rules concern what a woman needs to do after child––because childbirth renders the woman unclean. I don’t have a kid, but I imagine that’s not something you’d want to say to your wife after the birth of your child.
“I’ll take the child for now, honey. You’re unclean.”
We then get the rules for the bris––Jewish ritual circumcision. That is, slicing off the foreskin. There’s actually not much on the procedure, considering how synonymous it’s become with being a male Jew. Then again, how much more do you need to hear about it? We saw Abraham kick things off with ritual circumcision (or rather, read about it) and this is just a friendly reminder in the rule book.
The following is the first chapter from an upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany. Read more here.
I was on the U-Bahn when the call came, somewhere between work at a refurbished factory space on the Spree and a gym in Mitte near Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin. I knew this call would be coming any day now over the past couple of weeks––any hour, really––and the stress was building up. A colleague of mine was teaching a spinning class and it sounded like a healthier remedy for blasting some of the stress out of my body than slurping down a few drams of whiskey. I could hide in the dark corner with my bike, put a pause on the outside world, and sweat out a healthy supply of anxiety for a brief reprieve before those inevitable reserves replenished with a fresh batch.
In a confusing twist, the first two sons of Aaron (Moses’s brother), Nadab and Abihu, are killed by God after offering a sacrifice with a “foreign fire” at the altar. That seems harsh. Sure, they disobeyed God’s instructions, but it just feels like Torah God killing off some folks who meant well for the sake of maintaining His reputation as the God of fire and brimstone.
Besides that, a good chunk of Parsha Shemini gives us some of the food restrictions of a kosher diet. You know, no pig or camel meat. Something I didn’t expect to find was this text on eating some insects:
We’re on week two of Leviticus and it’s more instructions on ritual slaughter for praising the Lord at the temple. It can feel as removed from 21st-century life as last week’s Parsha Vayikra and I suspect this will be a theme throughout the book.
The practices sound pagan or like God was trying to wean His followers off of paganism by allowing them to dabble with their former religion. It’s the religious equivalent of a little hair of the dog to kill a hangover. In ancient Judaism, you could still sacrifice an animal but only for one God.
Part of what convinced me to follow the Torah cycle for 5780 (2019 – 2020) was an interest in following the narrative of this ancient text. I long (and ignorantly so) dismissed Abrahamic religious texts, assuming they all led to zealotry and creepy televangelists.
But in college, I had no problem diving into Buddhist and Hindu mythology or creation texts. Even if I wasn’t doing this out of a grander mission to connect with my Jewish heritage, I can already easily concede that understanding the Hebrew Bible is important basic education in understanding a large chunk of the world.
Everything, not just the Torah, can read like a commentary on the coronavirus these days. This week, it’s about how a community responds to the moment before them.
Exodus ends on this Torah cycle with Parshas Vayakhel and Pekudei read back-to-back. Both follow a similar narrative. God reiterates some rules, like the importance of keeping the Sabbath (do work and die) and He asks for some gifts. Well, sort of.