Pesach is calling – Vayikra/Hachodesh

In preparation for Pesach we read the Parsha where we are commanded to go and buy a lamb for the Korban Pesach and the rest of its Halachos. This Parsha begins Hachodesh Haze Lochem Rosh Chadashim. We might wonder what is the connection between the opening line and the rest of the story here. Yes this is the date this was said, but how is the preface declaring this the beginning of the months relevant to the entire Korban Pesach.

Vayikara El Moshe, (as Rashi elaborates), more than a technical call for Moshe to come to hear the voice of God in the Ohel Moed, this represents the deeper connection Moshe had with God. Had the point of the commands been just to let us know the technical details, how many ounces of blood to sprinkle, how many Kzaysim of meat to eat, etc. there would be no need for a call. God would just chance upon Moshe and let him know whatever there is to know. The call sows us is a two sided relationship which leads to these laws. First I am calling you, you pick up the call, this puts us two on the same line.

Furthermore, the call says God needs Moshe to answer, and had he not answered, there would be no law. This makes Moshe an equal partner in the law. This isn’t God chancing upon humans, dropping one sided commands unto them from above. There is dialogue, and it is only within this dialogue that the law has a meaning. If not for Vayikra, the korbanos would signify nothing.

When we go to the shop and buy a lamb for the Korban Pesach, make sure it conforms to all the laws and regulations spelled out in this parsha. Or in our way today, going through all the required preparations for Pesach, we need to first establish the relationship in which this occurs. Who is doing what for whom. Only by knowing this can Pesach have any meaning.

The call that establishes this contact is Hachodesh Haze Lochem. As a community, as a people, we need a yearly renewal to create meaning into the yearly cycle. Establishing this month as the beginning creates the context into which the celebration of Pesach can be placed. This isn’t an individual project, the first thing Moshe says about the Korban Pesach is if you don’t have enough in your household for a lamb, pair up with your neighbor, with those close to us. It is this bond between the people, and between them and God, that gets renewed every spring.

Nowadays, when no sacrifices exist, neither Pesach nor all year, and the myriad details of Hilchos Korbanos are foreign to us, the call still echoes with us. The voice, which only we can hear, still calls us to the sanctuary for a private audience with God. It still calls us to our friends and neighbors to establish the yearly renewal, to rekindle friendships, to establish a new and better world.

Vayakhel Pekudei – Don't execute the execution

The two Parshiot Vayakhel Pekudei read this week consist of an almost play by play recap of the two parshiot Terumah and Tetzaveh. In Terumah we have the plans for collectiong donations and building the Mishkan, and in Vayakhel we have the actual collection of and the mishkan being built. In Tetzaveh we have the plans for the priestly garments and the artisans to make them, and in Pekudei we have the actual appointment of artisans and creation of the garments. (As Rashi remarks (35,5) there is no need for him to rehash the explanation of these as he had already explained them previously)

Anyone who has ever worked on any project knows the gulf that exists between planning and execution. Planning is always grandiose, inspiring, exciting. You get to grapple with the great questions your project is trying to build upon, and to bask in the greatness of your vision. Compared with this, the execution phase is so utterly banal and boring. The moment you start to execute your plans, to bring even the greatest thought to fruition in the realness of this world, you are bogged down in endless details, mindless paperwork, missed deadlines and endless arguments over minute details.

Even when you get to cut the ribbon on your great building, the final product is almost always a disappointment to the visionary. Rarely does a completed work convey the breadth of vision its planner envisioned. Even more rarely does the project continue to provide the kind of inspiration that inspired its creator in the first place.

Perhaps once in a lifetime, we chance upon a project whose execution doesn’t obscure the greatness of its vision, and whose continuity doesn’t hide the radicalism of the idea that germinated it.

In recounting every detail of the planning at the execution stage, and stressing each time separately, “as god has commanded Moses”, connecting the command or plan to the execution thereof, This Parsha is aiming at matching the enthusiasm of the plan in the minutia of execution. Infusing every detail of stringing the hooks for the curtains, or hemming the end of the garment, with the same greatness as the original word of god that started this ball rolling. And infusing the final continual product with the same divine presence Moshe found himself under at the moment of his prophecy.

This week we read Parshat Parah, the command to purify ourselves from the contamination of death in preparation for the spring renewal which culminates in Pesach. Parah is the spiritual pesach cleaning which is to cleanse our souls from the death of vision in detail. As the impure person must be sprinkled with water from a live well, with the ashes of a heifer which has never carried a yoke, signifying the freshness youth and liveliness we are to celebrate Pesach with. Let’s not let the minutia of this itself cause us to forget the point. Let us purify ourselves from death and become alive again.


Fallow Lab – Digital Shmittah

Thanks Amichai and team for putting this together. It’s always nice to have a meeting whose objective is how to get us to do less not more.

Jotting down some thought on the conversation.

First, we need to get past the humiliation of starting this conversation at all. So you’re suggesting I’m on Facebook too much? Don’t you think I’m an adult and can manage my life for myself? I think this is the first hurdle we need to get past if we are to make any progress, and goes to the source of the problems we have. This touches Amichai’s question, a question I have been thinking a lot about too. How do we get ourselves to realize that our actions have consequences when there is no daddy or hell to scare us? To me this is a familiar part of the modern predicament and the reason we’re so easily manipulated by anyone who wants to make money off us by playing to our autonomy while taking it away.

The mere suggestion that  we need direction in life, that we can’t really just figure this out on our own, that we aren’t all rational adults acting in our own self-interest, is an affront to the modern man. The assumption all our social institutions are built on is that we are perfectly capable of caring for ourselves, economically, socially, spiritually. If you are seeking guidance you must have a pathology, something listed in the DSM, so you get a permission slip to see a doctor to bring you back to ‘normal’. What’s missing in this equation is that normal doesn’t exist, that man is in a state of becoming not of being, and that his entire journey is predicated on the idea of him missing something and striving to achieve himself.

To me, finding better ways to live, and using ancient and modern texts and teachers to guide us to do better for ourselves, isn’t a question of what the consequences are, it is a question of finding answers to our questions and guidance where we are lost. How to live life isn’t something we innately know or are capable of doing ourselves. And so we turn to teachers, to texts ancient and modern, and to friends to help us find a way. Torah, says the Baal Shem Tov, means guidance. (Alain de Botton has articulated this problem beautifully in his Religion for Atheists).


When do you take conscious daily, weekly time for no-doing and just being? What time would work best for you? And for how long?

As we saw in conversation, being might signify different verbs for different people, for one playing music is being, for another drawing, writing, walking, running, basically any action can be done as being-not-doing. I think the idea that draws these together and might clarify what we mean by setting aside a time for being is intention.

Intent isn’t a verb, yet can be consciously done. In the language of Chazal prayer, and Mitzvot, need Kavannah, which translates as intent. What defines all means of being is that they are begun with the intent to break from the do-do-do of daily life and just be. What your body or mind does with that intent doesn’t matter, you could write sing pray walk or just meditate quietly. But it is this intention that transforms your state of mind into being not doing. Getting into this intention might not be so easy, it requires a real change in your state of mind. But it is all that is needed for a Shmittah to happen.

The Torah warns that if Shmittah is not observed the land will take it for itself, by exiling the inhabitants from it, and thus it will lie deserted.

Taking this to the emotional realm. This is a law of nature I have observed.  IF you don’t learn to give your body and soul its times of rest and contemplation in a deliberate and structured way, it will take it itself. There is no time to be gained by skipping that daily or weekly hour of being. It will only lead to your body/soul to force that break on you, in a more destructive way. Here’s me putting this more positively (Hebrew)  be it by addiction, by unhealthy cycles of binging and fasting, or (more likely in my case) just by total breakdown. The cyclicality of Shmittah is about taking control of these non-doing forces within us, of giving structure to the breaking of structure. Forces that, left without direction, are strong enough to break all doing forces in existence. The boom-bust cycle might be good for capitalism, it isn’t good for anyone else. Creating your own planned bust harnesses the great creativity of non-doing, which than translates into a great deal of doing.

That’s it for now.

Unmask Yourself (Ki Tisa – Purim)

The end of Parshas Tisa tells the story of Moshe Rabbeinu’s Masve – his mask, or veil. After Moshe came down from being on Mount Sinai with God for forty days, his face glowed, although he didn’t know it. Ahron and the elders were afraid of approaching him, so Moshe would veil his face when he spoke to them, and Take off the mask when he spoke to Hashem.

Speaking of veils and masks ties in perfectly with Purim, when we all dress up and put on masks. And so the story of Moshe isn’t just something that happened to him but is applicable to every person, As the Mekubalim teach us, Moshe is symbol for the mind. The knowledge that creates Torah for every person is called Moshe. And it is this Moshe which we are talking about when reading the Torah Introspectively.

Every person’s mind and soul has its Mount Sinai, and it’s being in God’s Presence for forty days and forty nights. Not eating, not sleeping, and not drinking. The intellect does not need food or water, it subsists on contemplation alone. Whether it is in study, meditation, or prayer. Coming back from such a trip, one usually does not know themselves how they have changed, and how they Glow.

Moshe, the mind and consciousness, is in a state of Ad Delo Yada, he has no way of knowing his own glow. It is the nature of enlightenment not to recognize its own greatness. You need support from others to let you know your own light. Just as Ahron and Chur held up Moshe’s hands in the war with Amalek. We need support from friends to recognize our on worth and Shine.

Now, after being told it is set apart from the world, it needs to learn a way of dealing with the word, not burning the entire world in with its glare. We put on many masks in order to deal with the myriad of situations we find ourselves in. One mask is a teacher, as Moshe was. Another is a student, a child, a parent, a boss, a worker, and all the other roles we take on. These are all different costumes and masks we use so we can do our business in the world.

Only when going to speak with God, does Moshe removes his mask. The one place we can appear with no mask, with no predefined role, is in the presence of God. Poskim Disagree on whether it is appropriate to pray in a costume on Purim. In the inner sense, there is no doubt we are to appear before God Unmasked, wearing our most inner essence alone. It is there we can know ourselves unmediated by any language or role. Unmasked.