Tag Archives: respect

Naso- Sanctity, Equality, and Justice

Samson by Laya Crust

My thoughts this week have been circling around all the painful news coming out of Minneapolis and Hong Kong. And of course the overwhelming health issues faced by the entire world. I tried to see what we might learn from this week’s Torah and haftarah portions.

This week’s haftarah is the story of an angel telling a woman and her husband that they will become parents. The wife is to raise her child as a Nazir- a holy individual who cannot cut his hair or partake of food or drink from grapes. The two farmers listen to the messenger’s instructions. The woman herself follows the rules of a Nazir, and they raise their son as directed. The fact that the baby will be a Nazir is the connection to this week’s parashah.

The parashah discusses the certain rules surrounding the purity of the Israelite camp while traveling through the desert:

  • Men and women are to be housed outside of the camp if they are suffering from tza’arat.
  • Men and women are allowed to take the oath of the Nazir, elevating them to a higher level of purity.
  • If a jealous husband accuses his wife of adultery without any evidence of impropriety, she is not to be punished by him. Instead, a specific ritual trial is held. [The trial may have been put in place to protect the women from jealous husbands.]
Gamaliel , leader of the Menashites by Laya Crust

As well as protecting the sanctity of the camp we see a measure of equality established. The leader of each of the twelve tribes brought forth a specified series of offerings to the Tabernacle. All leaders brought the same offerings, and each was assigned a different day to perform the ceremony. In that way, each tribe was given the same honour and recognition as the other tribes.

Aaron’s priestly blessing is introduced in this parashah. “May the Lord bless you and keep you: May the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you: May the Lord lift up His countenance to you and give you peace…” (Numbers 6:24-26)

Aaron gave this blessing to all the Israelites. It was a prayer to give children of Israel a sense of love and security. The nation was given rules in the form of the Ten Commandments to create a society of equality, fairness, integrity, and respect. Cohanim bless their congregations with this prayer to this day. Parents say this blessing over their children on Friday nights.

I have been thinking about the terrible murder of George Floyd. Some people have reacted violently by destroying property, looting stores, and injuring others.

What can we learn from this week’s readings? We must treat others with respect and equality, no matter what their station in life. We can only surmount the difficulties through cooperation, wisdom, and respect. If we carry Aaron’s prayer in our hearts we may feel less alone. If we act with integrity, respect, and love we will be able to pass it on to those around us and help to heal this fractured world.

With hopes for love and respect, have a Shabbat Shalom. Laya

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A Week of Tears

photo by Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018 

This week Is Holocaust Education Week in Toronto,. It is a week devoted to learning about and remembering the Holocaust. We listen to Holocaust survivors who share their experiences, watch films, and attend lectures and musical performances relating to the Holocaust. In addition there are presentations about atrocities and genocides against other peoples.

This week is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, and in a few days we will observe Remembrance Day. It is a day devoted to honouring those who fell fighting in World War I.

IMG_9443photo by Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018

Last week was a difficult week, a week of tears. The murder of eleven Jews in Pittsburgh who were in synagogue praying on Shabbat shocked the world. Tears were shed around the globe and vigils were attended by all races and religions in hundreds if not thousands of cities. Antisemitism was condemned internationally by leaders from countries in every corner of the planet. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter how many words were spoken by leaders of the nations, eleven Jews were shot to death because they were Jewish.

The parsha on that fateful Shabbat was “VaYeira”, the story of Abraham and Sarah and their long awaited son Isaac.

Abraham and Sarah had been chosen by God to lead a new nation that would be righteous and exemplify a moral compass created by God. The new nation would be small compared to the peoples around them. And, as the the story played out both in the Torah and throughout history, the new nation created by God would survive longer than other nations would survive, but at a price. The new Jewish nation would be be envied, feared and hated.

photo by Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018 

Unfortunately amid the tears there was also a lot of hateful speech. Following the Pittsburgh massacre fingers were pointed and leaders were blamed. Why did this happen and who is to blame is a big question. “Who is to blame?” One answer is that the gunman, fueled by anti-Jewish propaganda and armed with legal guns and rifles is to blame. Another answer is that unbridled hate speech feeds the loathing. An individual who hates, an individual who uses the free choice God gave humanity, but uses it selfishly and with malice, commits a crime like this.

Human beings are given free choice but Jews are given many, many, many strictures and guidelines about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable behaviour. We aren’t expected to love everybody. We don’t even have to like everybody, but we have to respect our parents and teachers, we can’t kill or maim, we can’t steal from another, we aren’t even allowed to “covet ” another’s property. We aren’t allowed to slander. We aren’t allowed to take another’s life, even in error. If all people read the rules God gave us (many of them are outlined in parshat Kedoshim, Leviticus chapters 19 and 20 ) there would be respect for those unlike ourselves and the world would be a peaceful place.

Lis Shapiro,  October 28, 2018 

We live in a world where “freedom of choice” and “freedom of expression” are seen as the highest levels of “freedom”. But according to Judaism that’s not true. As we walk through life and make decisions we need to remember that each decision we make impacts others. The rules and guidelines in Torah help to keep a respectful and safe environment.

When someone dies their death leaves a hole in the lives of their family and the community. May there be fewer holes in the world and let’s all try to mend the holes that exist.

The photographs in this blog were taken by my friend Lis Shapiro. The day after the shooting she was walking in the rain. As she looked around her she saw that even nature was shedding tears.

With prayers for peace, B’Vracha,

Laya

es around them, and they would be

 

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Balak, Bilaam and a Donkey

Balakart by Laya Crust

Balak:    Numbers 22:2–25:9

Haftarah:   Micah 5:6 – 6:8

This week’s Torah reading is about a Moabite king, Balak, who calls Bilaam the seer to curse the children of Israel. The parsha focuses on a very odd story, and there are a number of elements that are worth noting:

1) First of all no Israelites, no Jews, appear in the narrative. It is told from the perspective of a Moabite leader and his most respected prophet.

2) Gd, Who generally does not talk directly to individuals, carries on a conversation with Bilaam, the non-Israelite prophet.

3) There is a talking donkey (actually, a female ass) who figures pretty prominently in the narrative.

4) We are presented with the Israelite’s and Gd’s reputation among the other nations.

The parsha begins with Balak, the Moabite king, being frightened by the Israelite victory against the Amorites. He sends a message to Bilaam, a respected and successful prophet saying, “Behold , there is a people come out from Egypt; behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me.” (Numbers 22: v. 5)  As far as we know Balak had never previously confronted the Israelites. However their progress and strength  had become legendary and their numbers were exaggerated.- “they cover the face of the earth.”

Through the course of this unusual story Bilaam was commanded a number of times to curse the Israelites but he refused. Once Bilaam even said ,”If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my Gd…” (ch 22: 18). Bilaam finally did get up and accompany the king’s men against the previous directions from Gd.

engraving by Gustave Dore

You may be familiar with the next part of the story . An angel stood in Bilaam’s path holding a sword. The she-ass saw the angel but Bilaam didn’t. When the she-ass repeatedly stopped Bilaam lifted his whip and beat her, to force her to continue. At that point the animal turned around and said, “Am I not your ass, upon whom you  have ridden all your life to this day?…” The angel  revealed himself and added,”…the ass saw me, and turned aside before me these three times; unless she had turned aside from me, surely now I would have slain thee and saved her alive.” (ch 22: 33)

This is an odd story on many levels and there are different lessons to be learned depending on which perspective you choose.

Bilaam was successful and highly regarded due to his communication with the Gd of the Israelites, the one Gd. This reminds us that Gd created all people and all people must be regarded fairly and respected for who they are, not where they were born or who their parents are. By the same token we are reminded that animals are also to be treated with respect. Animals are also within Gd’s purview and creation. They too are to be treated with decency and not abused. So- this is a parsha about respect.

We see from the beginning of the parsha that the actions of a nation and an individual make an impression. Although bnei Yisrael was a tiny, tiny nation it had overcome impossible difficulties and travelled a relatively large area of land after escaping from Egypt. Their tenacity and success had become legendary , to the point that the King of Moab thought the Israelites were a HUGE nation covering the earth. The same phenomenon  can be seen today. Although Jews number about 0.2% of the world’s population we are recognized, noticed, and thought to be a much much higher percent of the world’s population. Although Israel is one of the world’s smallest countries it is seen as a gigantic world power- and of course vilified for its negatively perceived influence rather than lauded for its democracy and progress.

The lesson for this week can be summed up by a quotation from the haftarah. “…and what does the Lord require of you; Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your Gd.”  Micah ch 6: v8

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Behar and an Exemplary Doctor

Baharart by Laya Crust

Leviticus: Chapter 25

Parshat Behar begins, “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe the Sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord.” (v 2-4)

It’s a fascinating way to talk about the land. It is not to be taken for granted. The land is to be respected. We are commanded to respect the earth that brings forth food. We are not to take even the dust for granted. Being told to give the soil beneath our feet a rest helps us to recognize that every element around us has been created by a higher being. We are reminded  “…the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with me.” (v.23)

The discussion of the land is followed by rules relating to the treatment of slaves. Slavery is a forbidden concept in today’s western world. Although it does still exist throughout the world it is illegal in the west and many people pretend it doesn’t exist at all. However it WAS legal and accepted in the ancient world and in the ancient Jewish world. So, God gave rules about how to treat slaves and how to treat Jewish slaves. Respect for all human beings was elucidated in Judaism.

Individuals losing their livelihood, going into debt, and becoming impoverished were also realities as they are now. People sold themselves into slavery. The Torah presents laws which address that as well.

The laws of taking care of the aged,  poor, the widow and the orphan appear throughout the Torah, and here we read about treatment of those who have fallen on hard times, and have lost everything.  “If your kinsman, being in straits, comes under your authority…let him live by your side; do not exact from him advance or accrued interest, or give him your food at accrued interest…” (v. 35, 36, 37)

Daddy with Jeep - croppedJoseph Crust   z”l

This Shabbat, the 20th day of Iyar, happens to be my late father’s yahrzeit. My father, יוסף חיים בן יהודה לייב ז״ל (Yosef Chaim ben Yehuda Leib) was a man who exemplified the lesson of helping others in financial need and supporting those who needed support. He was an outstanding doctor who had many farm families as patients. My Dad accepted cucumbers, potatoes, and honey as payment for his medical services. Medical fees were often waived. He treated his family with love, and his employees with respect. His first secretary was a young widow who needed a job. She was inexperienced  at being a medical receptionist but my Dad offered her the job because she needed the livelihood.  She learned on the job and worked with him for his 35 year career in Fort Garry, Manitoba. He was dedicated to his patients and they were dedicated to him.

The life my father led was modeled on the “middot” or attributes in the Torah.

We remember him fondly and with love.

Have a Shabbat Shalom,

Laya

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Mishpatim

Mishpatim sigJeremiah 34: 8-22, 33: 25-26

Jeremiah (prophet) c. 655 BCE -.586 BCE.

Parshat Mishpatim follows the parsha in which G-d gives the Ten Commandments to b’nei Yisrael on Mount Sinai. The first commandment is commonly translated as “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” It is fascinating that G-d could have introduced and described Himself in many ways. What did he choose? He chose “Who took you out of the land of slavery”

This parsha begins to describe various of G-d’s laws and the first laws discussed are about slavery.

Judaism gave the world its moral code. The Ten Commandments deal with many things from recognizing one G-d to keeping the Sabbath, to the prohibition of murder, theft, and adultery. Why then would the first laws that are discussed in the Torah concern slavery?

If you remember, the Israelites had just been released from Egypt where they had been enslaved. Those many years of servitude had been imprinted on their psyche. When G-d introduces Himself to the Israelites He uses slavery as part of the introduction. “I am the Lord your G-d who took you out of the land of slavery.” Bondage was obviously in the forefront of the Israelites’ minds. G-d knew that laws concerning slavery would resonate strongly with the Children of Israel. Consequently it was a wise strategy to introduce a moral code starting with issues of slavery.

The haftarah for Mishpatim is from the Book of Jeremiah. It is set during the final siege of Jerusalem. In 588 BCE Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded Jerusalem. King Zedekiah ordered the release of all Jewish slaves, thinking this might reverse the conquest of Judaea. Two years later, when things had calmed down slightly, the slave owners re-intered their slaves. G-d  told Jeremiah that since the people had put men and women back into servitude they would be punished.

– oneworldeducation.org

 When thinking about an illustration for this week’s haftarah I thought about the laws of servitude and what freedom would mean to an individual. Then I thought about modern slavery- the notorious sweatshops in China. The chained children in India who weave carpets, the slave trade in prostitution,  the collapsed garment factory in Bangladesh last year. How could I remind people that even in modern times Jews, too, have been the victims of slavery and have been involved in it. I remembered the tragic situation of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire.

The slave conditions of sweatshop workers in the “shmatteh” business are well documented.  Young immigrants from Europe were put to work there. The hours were long, the pay was miserly, and the workers would be locked in so they couldn’t take breaks for lunch or supper, or meet with union leaders to organize. Although the workers were not “owned “by their employers as they were in biblical times- they were owned by their employers in terms of their lives.

2811 × 1919 – en.wikipedia.org

My illustration at the top of the page shows the infamous fire in 1911 at New York City’s Triangle Shirtwaist Company. It killed 146 young sweatshop workers; most of whom were Jewish immigrant girls aged 16 – 23. The image of the workers is based on a photograph of the young women and men striking, trying to get better working conditions.

P1110081I took these two photographs of the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Building, now called the Brown Building. It has two plaques on its  exterior memorializing the fire and its victims.

P1110080

It is fitting that many of the union organizers throughout time and throughout the world have been Jews, and just as G-d commanded us not to enslave and torture others, Jews have fought throughout history for human and employee rights. Human dignity, respecting other people, and treating all humans as equals are concepts central to Judaism. Jewish laws are concerned with those ideas and have communicated them to cultures around the world. We are a people who believe in justice and freedom and will continue to work for it and fight for it. Our stubbornness in this particular arena is a stubbornness we can all be proud of.

“Five Thousand Years of Slavery” by Marjorie Gann and Janet Willen gives a thorough history of world slavery with fascinating photographs and reprinted documents. It is a great educational tool for home or school.

2700 × 2700 – openbookontario.com
 

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