This is another challenging portion. We find ourselves in the sea of commands regarding the priesthood. We also will find in this portion another repetition of the sacred calendar (23) and the reference to a variety of issues from “eye for eye” etc (24:17) and communal responsibility for the poor and stranger (23:22).
But as I was looking at the portion, I was drawn to some of the verses in the beginning chapter (21).
The Hebrew word moom (mem, vov, mem) appears in 21:17 with the meaning of defect. It is a reference to the prohibition of anyone, especially the priests, entering the sacred space who has a defect, and those defects are spelled out in the verses following 17. This may spark some interesting conversation at the Shabbat Torah study, especially given the growing awareness and sensitivity in our community to the disability’s movement. I leave that up to your discussions. What I wanted to place before you is how we can look at that Hebrew word and ask ourselves how it may relate to each of us.
There is a wonderful Midrash on the broken tablets that Moses caused when he emerged from the initial revelation, only to observe the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf. The Midrash (Berachot 8b) teaches us that those broken tablets were placed within the Ark, along with that second set, reminding us that, in a sense, we each carry a sense of brokenness with us. This is not necessarily a bad thing. By that I mean that each of us, at this stage of our lives, has been, in a sense, forced to deal with a sense of brokenness. No one is perfect. Each of us has been tested by some aspect of life; each of us has felt a sense of being broken, depressed, lonely, “cut off” at some moment in life. For some, this condition became chronic. For others it became fatal.
There is this value in our tradition called shleimut. Yes, it comes from the root for shalom, and has within it the sense of being whole or complete. When we feel alienated or cut off, or in a sense, broken, what the tradition, (and maybe this portion) is saying is that the way out of this is to search for our own sense of what makes us whole. What excites us or drives our own passion and, once we discover this, not to be afraid to act on that. This search may, for some, be a life-long enterprise. But what Judaism teaches is that this is part of living. Each of us will have these moments when we feel less than whole. We are in no way “less than” anyone else, for everyone gets a turn at this. The challenge is to seek our own resilience in the face of these challenges so we can seek that sense of wholeness and completeness. And this may be a lifelong process!
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.
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