Friday, March 30, 2012

Good hearts reconciled - March 30, 2012

Comments on Leviticus Chapter 6:1-6
[1] The Eternal One spoke to  Moses – [2] Command Aaron and his sons thus - This is the ritual of the burnt offering: The burnt offering itself shall remain where it is burned upon the altar all night until morning, while the fire on the altar is kept going on it.
The path to peace is one that entails vigilance - the type of devotion that would entail being watchful every moment. all day and all night. Another understanding of “the fire on the altar is kept going on it” is “v’esh hamizbay-ach tukad bo” - the fire on the altar is kept going IN HIM - in the priest.  There must be some sense of the holy purpose on the outside that enters into the soul of the priest.  The same goes with peacemaking - forging a true agreement cannot be done on the surface - it must reach the depths of the soul.      
[3] The priest shall dress in linen raiment, with linen breeches next to his body; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar.
The vestments worn by the priest signify the holy purpose related to each burnt offering and the disposal of the ashes, as if each task is done with an approach based in awe.  We should also consider peacemaking with that same sense of reverence, knowing that an end to conflict and the beginning of cooperation bring us closer to God and godliness.      
[4]He shall then take off his vestments and put on other vestments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place.
Perhaps the ashes can represent the disposal of old idea - and even old resentments - in the middle of peacemaking - such feelings should not be taken lightly - but given their place in history and then - let go to give way to fresh ideas and new attitudes.
[5] The fire on the altar shall be kept burning, not to go out: every morning the priest shall feed wood to it, lay out the burnt offering on it, and turn into smoke the fat parts of the offerings of well-being.
Every morning, people who find themselves in the midst of conflict should take note of how their lives would be without that strife ruling their lives - they should focus their energies and channel their deep-seeded feelings of pain toward the alleviation of past hurts not through revenge but through reconciliation.  
[6] A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out. 
 The constancy of the fire sustained by human hands should help us realize that our hands can build a world of peace if we set them to peaceful tasks. 
From the Haftarah/Prophets reading - Malachi 3:23-24 
Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the ETERNAL ONE to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and their hearts of children to their parents.
The thoughts that I shared about the Torah reading focused on ending conflict by engendering peace and reconciliation within ourselves and within a community.  The desire for peace can and should be like a fire burning within us, leading us to foster unity and understanding that can bring peace.
   Last night, I participated in the New Mexico State University Interfaith Council annual Interfaith dialogue program.   The event began with participants rotating through tables which each had a representative of one religious group.   The two-minute speech about Judaism that I was supposed to give became five minutes, but I enjoyed this opportunity to try to crystallize Judaism down to its essence.  Taking from Jewish theologian Franz Rosensweig’s “Star of Redemption,” I spoke about the interrelationships of the Jewish themes and concepts of God, Creation, Humanity, Revelation (Torah and wisdom), the world where we apply the values we learn from study and ritual, and finally redemption, the ultimate goal of a time of peace and freedom for all people.  Peace, reconciliation and accepting all human beings as created in the divine image formed the essence of my presentation on Judaism.
    During the dialogue portion of the program, we discussed what we look for in another religion that gives it value.  One person suggested that she seeks to know if a particular faith leads a person to develop a good heart.   I didn’t get to share the quote, but one of my favorite sayings in the Wisdom of our Sages – PIRKEI AVOT – echoes her sentiment.  We read in Pirkei Avot Chapter 2 Mishnah 9:   The great Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his students, “What is a right path for one to take?”  Rabbi Eliezer said, “A good eye.” Rabbi Joshua said, “A good friend.”  Rabbi Yosay said, “A good neighbor.”  Rabbi Simeon said, “Foresight.”  Rabbi Elazar said, “A good heart.”   Yochanan ben Zakkai said to his students, “I prefer the words of Elazar, ‘a good heart,’ because his words include all of yours.”  
     So at the end of the Haftarah reading for this Great Sabbath/Shabbat Hagadol that precedes Passover, what did the prophet Malachi mean about the hearts of parents and children that would turn one to the other, uniting the generations?   I believe it meant that each generation would follow the path suggested by Rabbi Elazar – to seek to create a good heart within.   Having a good heart means showing consideration and respect and being attentive to and accepting of both similarities and differences.  So what would the prophet Malachi and Rabbi Elazar have told members of each generation, older and younger?  I think they would have said that “hearts of the parents turned to the children” means that the parents need to let go of the past enough for their children and grandchildren to grow and to create their own style of leadership and making an impact on society.   “The hearts of children turned towards their parents” means that children should try to be aware and respectful of the difficulty involved in the parental process of “letting go.”  The new generation can also come to value the wisdom of the past and use it as a foundation for the future, retaining the best of what came before and reshaping it in a way that can fit changing times.   That process of respect and reconciliation, of tribute and honor between the generations, can happen in the best way possible when people follow the words of Rabbi Elazar – act toward each other with a “good heart.”    
       The prophet Malachi was speaking about our ultimate redemption when he envisioned reconciliation between the generations,  between past, present and future.  The traditional Jewish view of the Messiah’s coming suggests that Elijah the prophet will return first before that day of the Messiah’s arrival which many Jews have hoped would come in their lifetime.  I explained at the interfaith program last night that I, as a Reform Jew, speak about a time of redemption or Messianic age brought about by humanity.  In that spirit, I believe that we could interpret the words of Malachi and Rabbi Elazar to mean that we gain a foretaste of redemption whenever we allow our hearts and our spirits to guide all that we do, when we bring peace and reconciliation into our lives and our community.  So from old to new, from past to future, from one generation to the next, may we follow the path of the “good heart” that can bring all people together in unity and in peace.   

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