04/27/2018 12:18 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Acharei Mot - K’doshim
After the Death [of the Two Sons of Aaron] / [You Shall Be] Holy
Leviticus 16:1-20:27

The Eternal One spoke to Moses … when they drew too close to the presence of the Eternal.

The Eternal One spoke to Moses saying: "Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the Eternal your God, am holy."

The Special Nature of the People and all that is Holy:

Marking Sacred Space, Sacred Time, Sacred Events, and Sacred People
In different parts of the Jewish world this week, we read either from the double portion of Acharei Mot – K’doshim or Emor.

In all of these narratives, we are told – or re-told – about certain Holy observances and are commanded in the ways of Shabbat – and a number of very important holidays, like the High Holy days, Sukkot, and Passover.

Even in the somewhat gory and questionable portion where G-d punishes the sons of Aaron for coming too close to the Holy flame – we are presented with the special nature of, well, things that are EXTREMELY special – the sacred and the Holy.

There is no more sacred physical place on earth for the Jewish people than the Holy of Holy’s.  Not the Kotel.  But the place behind the Kotel where it is believed the Israelites housed the tabernacle of Adonai.  And the most Holy place Jews can pray – again is not the Kotel – but a dark window like part of the wall in the Kotel tunnels that we believe is the closest physical place to the Holy of Holy’s that is not on the Temple Mount – where Jews are not allowed to pray.   

The reason I bring up this example of physical holiness is because the Holy and Sacred for the Jewish community - which is about space, time, and events – is wrapped up in political, religious and cultural conceptions of what is and is not important (or Holy).  For some, the space I just described is literally meaningless.  For some, it is everything.  And in that difference lies many disagreements over the State of Israel, Jerusalem, pluralistic and egalitarian prayer space in Jerusalem – and really – conceptions of what Judaism itself is all about.

For our students, we need to present these differences – but gradually.  For Shlenker, we want our students to understand Holiness – that a person, place, and time can be Holy.  We are Holy because we are made in the image of G-d (B’Tselem Elohim). 

A place can be Holy because of what happened there, who lived there, and whether it is a place we believe the Holy spirit resides.  And of course, time can be Holy - the moments we set aside for celebration and commemoration.  Shabbat is neither a place nor a physical thing.  It is a time we mark as important, special, and different from other moments of the week.  Passover is an event with physical happenings – but it is marked in the Jewish calendar as a time of Holiness and special designation – as are the times for Sukkot, Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashannah and all of our festivals and days or remembrance.  

The Jewish calendar and Jewish ritual provides a subtle lesson in space and time for our students that we should be thankful for.  By seeing that all these different elements of our world can be Holy, we hope that we have students who see things from many different perspectives and appreciate the varying beliefs of others.

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

Categorized under:  Torah

04/20/2018 12:31 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar

Tazria - M’tzora (Bearing Seed / A Leper)

The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to the Israelite people thus: When a woman at childbirth bears a male, she shall be impure seven days;" - Leviticus 12:1-2
The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: "This shall be the ritual for a leper at the time of being purified ..." - Leviticus 14:1-2

Sacredness, Purity, and Separation

Separation is a big theme for schools.  As much as togetherness and community are goals, we deal every day with those who need to be separate – and those who are separated from the group against their desire.  Sometimes being separated happens as a result of a group and their peer pressure.  Sometimes it is because of a bully or a group of bullies.  But sometimes it is a subtle separation that can happen through insensitivity in the form of careless words, physical distancing, and sometimes physical or psychological harassment.

Much of our dual Parashah this week is about medical conditions.  But much more of it is connected to conceptions of purity, holiness, and communal separation.  While there is some credence to the risks associated with menstruation – for those living at the time of the Biblical narrative - we know that today, we do not have that same practice of separation for most cultures and for most in the Jewish community.  That is not to say that cleanliness is not important.  It is simply that we have found ways to address cleanliness without ritual separation or fear of menstruation.

As for leprosy, the term that has been imprecisely translated for centuries, studies have shown that what we know of today as leprosy may not have existed until the middle of the first century CE.  The origins in the text come from Miriam’s punishment for spreading rumors – or committing lashon harrah.   Did Miriam really come down with an immediate illness that required her to be separated or is "leprosy” about being ostracized for perceived violations of community norms.  And if that is the case, as many scholars have claimed, this Parashah is incredibly relevant beyond the illness we read about on the surface.

In speaking with students this week about this Parashah, the focus was on this idea of communal or group norms, and the way groups sometime separate from those who do not conform.  In the spring, sometimes thoughts of summer break down a student’s focus both on school work and our communal values.  Sometimes their judgment lapses and their choices are not their best.  Sometimes their patience for those who are "different” is not as it could or should be and this is what we discussed - on a global level.

The history of communal separation – for many reasons – can be seen in many tragic episodes.  I asked our students questions about how a community begins to target people who are different, unwanted, or thought of as evil and asked them to think back to just last week when we had our incredibly powerful Yom Hashoah program for 3rd through 5th graders.  The idea that ostracizing an entire people could begin with small acts of bullying, discrimination, or jokes, was an incredibly relevant connection for them and one we hope they took to heart as they reflect on the Chesed week that also just passed. 

The tools to combat communal targeting of scapegoats are core values like B’tselem Elohim and Chesed.  If we are commanded to be kind.  If we are told that every person should be treated as a holy vessel since we all have that spark of the divine inside of us.  Then to treat people as jokes or as less than human is going against what we teach here at Shlenker and what our values tell us is the right and good thing to do.  These are lessons we said, that can have our students be the guardians of their own communities and the only protection we have to prevent things like the Holocaust from ever happening again.   
Categorized under:  Torah

04/13/2018 11:49 AM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar
Sh'mini II - The Eighth [Day]
Moses spoke to Aaron and to his remaining sons, Eleazar and Ithamar


As our "Chesed” or Kindness week comes to a close – it is fitting to ask the question; What is Holy?
In our Parashah we are not only presented with many of our dietary laws which are meant to set our minds to what is sacred – and what is not.

In modern times we do still use the tool of food to help us actualize holiness for our thoughts.  Passover is a perfect example of that.  We are to think of Freedom – and physically deprive ourselves of bread to connect the idea to something tangible.

But our lives face this dilemma in a larger sense. What are the values and actions that create holiness?  What is it that can bring us closer to the Holy One?  Some would say the rituals we do on a daily basis.  Others would say the actions the bring good and caring into the world.

Kindness Week at Shlenker follows through on that idea that our actions can create a better world and bring us close to a state of holiness.  When those around you are spreading kindness in small and large ways we should feel that the Holy has entered the world at that moment.  When we elevate ourselves to do good, we do become closer to the Holy in that moment.

Our Chesed Essay award winners all exemplify how seemingly small actions can not only show this act of holiness – but that these actions reflect the Jewish values and connections we teach about on a regular basis.

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study / Leading a Family Torah Discussion

Categorized under:  Torah

04/06/2018 02:06 PM Posted by: David Cohen Poster Avatar

Sh'mini I - The Eighth [Day] - Leviticus 9:1–10:11

On the eighth day Moses called Aaron and his sons.




It is fitting that as Passover ends and we read the story of the song of the sea, we also contemplate sacrifice with Sh’mini I. 

All week we have been speaking with students about the significance of giving up bread as a symbol of our appreciation for the freedom of our ancestors and our own modern freedom.  

And as we return to our cycle of Torah readings, we recount more of how we are to sacrifice to honor the gifts we have received in this life.  

To add an additional layer, we are also counting the Omer - another traditional sacrifice we give to acknowledge the wonders of creation.  

For each of these examples of sacrifice, we are reminded that there is so much more to sacrifice than we see on the surface.  

If we did not give up something, would we truly stop to contemplate the meaning behind our gratitude.  The physical and the intellectual are so often bound in our tradition - it is no wonder we wrestle with which is more important. 

The sephirot, or mystical attributes we reflect upon during the Omer are the gift we have only because we stop to physically count the days and take time to consider our progress as evolving and maturing individuals.  

The time we take to pray or meditate on the wonders are god is a modern sacrifice.  But it is also a gift.  We take the time and are then are rewarded with new insights, new thoughts, new appreciation for the good things in our lives. 

And as Passover concludes, we realize we can only be as grateful and appreciative of Freedom because we have given up just a little of it to better connect with our family, our community, and our inner soul.  

Additional Torah Study Resources: Torah Study / Leading a Family Torah Discussion



Categorized under:  Torah

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