Friday, March 23, 2007


It's almost Shabbat, and this is the first of many Shabbats that I get to observe and cherish. Amen!

This week begins Leviticus and many of what were deemed laws for the Kohanim (priests). Nearly half of the 613 mitzvot are found in this book! The parshah discusses sacrifices and rituals, including offerings for sins, peace, meal and etc. Again, I'm more or less transcribing notes I took while scanning the Torah at my new coffee digs. (The computer died, else I would have typed it up yesterday.)

+ The comments at the beginning of Leviticus stresses the difference between sacrifice in most Near Eastern myths compared to that of the Jews. Sacrifices were common, of course, but the difference is that in most traditions, sacrifices were made to give strength and power to the beings worshiped by others. For the Israelites, though, sacrifices were meant as devotion. There was no conception that G-d was made more powerful by the sacrifices of the Israelites.

+ People often ask me why I don't eat pork or shellfish. Or why I keep other certain mitzvot that might seem archaic or outdated. Etz Chayim sums it up pretty accurately regarding the rituals we find throughout Leviticus, and why we should consider and keep them even today when the meanings might escape us immediately:
"Rituals, including prescribed prayers, tell us what to do and say at times when we cannot rely on our own powers of inspiration to know what to do or say."
+ A question: Where/When/How/Why did animal sacrifice come to be? I'm curious why animal sacrifice became a logical need or practice for people. How it developed as such a wide-spread ritual. I mean, it seems absolutely obscene to modernity ... so how did it develop in the mind? I'm going to have to research animal sacrifice ... for I am curious!

+ Furthermore on ritual and sacrifice and why it should apply even today, Etz Chayim says: "Each generation must find new ways to make G-d present in new situations that the Torah could not have foreseen." It goes this way with just about anything ... we adapt, we grow.

+ Lev. 1:9 -- There's a curious comment on this line about the odor of the sacrifices being pleasant in G-d's sight. Midrash states that "G-d smells the odor ... of the burning flesh of Jewish martyrs ..." (Gen. R 34:9). The comments point out that this is sadly ironic, considering the events of the Holocaust. Again, something I want to look further into ... to see exactly when the Midrash was written.

+ Among the sacrificial rules ... "kol helev l'adonai" or, "all fat is the lord's." This goes along with the command that we are to not consume blood or fat. I find it curious that blood libel myths were so popular considering this very simple biblical command.

+ Lev. 4:1 -- within the purification offering (hattat):
"The purpose of the hattat ... was to acquaint the donor with one's own more generous side, so that instead of seeing oneself as weak and rebellious, a person could say 'sometimes I am weak and rebellious, but that is not the real me. Often I can be generous and obedient.' It was an opportunity to clear one's conscience, not a penalty for having done wrong."
It's related to Yom Kippur, when we atone for our sins. There's also mention of a brief period of confession, though confession has never been a part of Judaism and rather is the hallmark of Catholicism.

+ In reference to Lev. 4:2, Rambam says "It is in the soul that the impulse to do wrong begins." When I read this I was curious if it was an endorsement of inherent evil by the Rambam. There's the great debate of nature versus nurture and of course it includes the discussion of whether we learn to be evil or if it is within us upon conception. Again ... research!

+ One of the instances for sacrifice was in the instance of committing a mitzvot, but doing it in such a way that it is done wrong. In response, Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev thus said that "sometimes it is possible to perform a mitzvah in such an improper manner that it would have been better not to do it at all." I thought this was amusing ... but of course it's true. If you don't know what you're doing, you best step back and figure it out, lest you miscommit the mitzvah!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Close down the mikvah, the converts are coming.

I had to share this. I'm curious what Tikkunger thinks, of course, being from the Great White North, that is. I'm a little disgusted and firmly believe that there's probably no other incentive to closing a mikvah to converts except to promote an agenda.

A strict agenda, that is.

One that does not include the Reform and possibly even Conservative movements. Why? Why not. It's an ages-old problem. A rabbi can say "we're trying to protect the sanctity of the mikvah!" But how does a person who is converting to Judaism dirty up the mikvah? That's what I want to know. It isn't like there's people signing up for the mikvah fancyfree and going in and sploshing around for kicks and giggles.

Get a grip, damnit.

A quick recap of last week's parshah (there were really two of them!):

I didn't get a chance last week to blog on the parshah(s), which was pretty crumby, but things came up and with the GREAT MOVE to Chicago, there was a lot going on. The move ended up going pretty well, despite some initial catastrophes with picking up the car and having to drive through a decent snowstorm. But we made it. On my way to the airport to pick up Ian, I got through last week's parshah pretty quickly. So I'm simply going to transcribe some of my notes that I took, if not for the inquiry of the reader, then for me, myself and I in future adventures in Torah study.

+ Ex. 35:3 -- "you shall kindle no fire." The comments suggest that some sages saw "fire" in both a literal and metaphorical sense, as in one shouldn't harbor anger on the Sabbath. What if that is ALL that phrase meant? And our whole concept of not starting fires and popping on lights is a misinterpretation of a phrase that could be interpreted at face value, but wrong?

+ Ex. 35:31 -- Rashi has an interesting take on skill, ability and knowledge (this, of course, in reference to Bezalel who is tasked with doing this and that and everything else). The comments read:
"Rashi defines 'skill' (hokhmah) as what a person learns from others, 'ability' (t'vunah) as the result of one's own insight and experience and 'knowledge' (da'at) as divine inspiration, ideas that suddenly come to a person from an unknown source."
I suppose I'm fascinatd by this because I'd never thought about the difference in the words, or, rather, the significance of each.

+ "Wisdom of the mind alone, without wisdom of the heart, is worthless." -- Aaaron of Karlin (a Hasidic master, on Ex. 36:1)

+ Ex. 34:2-7: Why is it significant to emphasize the people bringing TOO MUCH? There's several lines ... but why?

+ In the construction of the tabernacle, the word adanim is used multiple times (its meaning is translated as "sockets"). The word derives from a similar source as Adonai. The adanim hold together the upper and lower portions of the ark, just as Adonai holds together the upper (spiritual) and lower (material) worlds together. -- Menahem Naham of Chernobyl

+ What is the significance of blue, purple and crimson? The colors are used in the yarn, but it appears in stained glass and facades of synagogues the world over, not to mention on holy garments and utensils and dishes. I can't seem to find a source who really delves into the meaning of such colors, though. The search continues!

+ Why is there SO MUCH gold that goes into the tabernacle? Why is it that G-d's place need be so extravagant? I'm not one to believe that G-d must be crowned king in the way that human kings are adorned in gold ... it just seems wrong and not representative of the Israelite G-d. Am I nuts to be so irritated at the EXTENSIVE use of gold?

+ What is the significance of the cloud? Why does G-d descend in a cloud?

+ The comments at the end of parshah P'kudei are incredibly profound. I must share the thoughts of the Etz Chayim:
"There are moments (a wedding, the birth of a child, an escape from danger) when G-d erupts into our lives with a special intesnity that transforms us but that is too intense to be lived constantly. Then there are times when G-d is a constant presence in our livies (marriage, parenthood, years of good health) in an equally real but less intense manner. The challenge is to recognize G-d's constant presence in our lives without its becoming so ordinary that we take it for granted."
True it is. How is it that we keep G-d as a constant? How, through the day in and day out, the mundane and ever-changing/never-changing that we maintain a constant hum within ourselves of the divine presence? It is a challenge I'm willing to take on, of course.


Guaranteed, there will be comments on this week's parshah, as we begin ... the book of Leviticus!

Shalom. Be well!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It'll stop, soon.

My maternal grandfather, John Baskette, a Pearl Harbor survivor, is in the hospital. He can't breathe on his own and evidently has acid in his blood. He had signs of pneumonia and things are not looking particularly good. He lives in Branson, Mo., and is 83 years old, nearly 84. His birthday is April 6. I forgot how old he was until I tracked down his bio he wrote for the Pearl Harbor association. My grandfather was something of a hero, in my mind at least.

Growing up, when we lived in Joplin, Mo., in the late 80s and early 90s, we visited Branson to go to Silver Dollar City and see my grandparents several times a year. I participated in my aunt Renee's wedding in the late 80s, but after that, I didn't see any of my aunts or uncles up until now. There were never birthday cards or greetings from Barry or Doug, let alone Renee or the other two aunts whose names escape me right now. They weren't family. My grandparents were something strange to me, and after I turned 10 or so, they sort of lost interest in us, my family. In recent years, I would send holiday cards and once I sent a father's day card to Grandpa Baskette, which recieved a warm, lengthy letter back from him. Typed on an old-school typewriter on his letterhead. Filling me in on his and grandma's ailments. He always signed, though, in his scribbly, rigid handwriting, "Grandpa Baskette."

My connection to Grandpa Baskette is much larger than that to Grandma Baskette, who seemed to make my mom's life a living hell when she was growing up. Grandpa let me interview him when I was in the 6th grade for a project on veterans for a USO-themed gigantic project for my differentiated program. I dressed in my dad's old navy getup and portrayed my grandfather, telling his story of running across the green as the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I had photographs of his dozens of honors, including the Purple Heart. His story inspired me, making me fascinated with history.

I wish I knew them better. I wish they'd cared a little more about us. I resent them for the supposed things they put mom through -- it's a domino effect, you know.

But I know that with grandpa passes, I'll lose a little something. And for the first time, I will say kaddish for someone close to me. It won't be the last, of course. There are people who flip and flop about saying kaddish for a nonJewish relative, but in my world, I can't NOT say kaddish. It's strength and hope in a prayer.

All I ask from the Web community, of course, is to keep my family in your prayers. This situation is part of something much, much bigger going on in the sphere of Chaviva. Bigger than any of you likely will know. We'll say it's like standing comfortably inside an eggshell, while the eggshell cracks and breaks around you. You see it, but you can't do anything about it. It's merely cracking and crumbling, and you know that you've done all you can. You have to just stop, watch, and hope it crumbles gracefully to the ground.

Luckily, I'm no longer standing alone.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Web site redesigns!

Okay, so I got giddy when I heard Lexis-Nexis was doing a Web site redesign, but I sort of hate it. I'm a firm believer that when you redesign your Web site, it should look similar in layout as before, but alter in form. At first, even. You have to EASE the viewer into your new design, not completely flip the page upside down and expect people to be all hot and bothered over it.

On that note, did a marvelous redesign. The site is clean, crisp -- and does not stray so far from the old design that it makes your eyes bleed while searching for the parshah of the week.

Anyhow, check it out. It has me all giddy and excited. And if anything, you can brush up on your Passover rules and regulations. In an online group of which I am a member, there was a query of who was already cleaning out the chametz. I, of course, can't do so yet, as I'm moving in a few days. I do, however, have to read up on how to handle chametz in a roommate situation. Last year I just got rid of all of mine, but was actually traveling for a few days and didn't have to worry about it.

Sheyih'yeh yom tov!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

A poetry break.

I hope that a move and change of pace and place will allow me to once again pen brilliant things.

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

—from “Eating Poetry” by Mark Strand

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Internet is GROWING!

Okay, so I ran across a YouTube knockoff yesterday called GodTube, and was sort of like "WTF, mate?" But then today I ran across Yideoz, and am thoroughly amused.

And here's is a spiel on the site:
Yideoz is the online Jewish community for uploading and sharing videos.

Our vision is to bring together the online world-wide Jewish community and provide Jews everywhere with the opportunity to watch, share and schmooze about all kinds of Jewish content videos. Share some scenes from your wild Purim party! Wanna show off your latest stand-up? Has bubbe seen how big the kids have gotten? Do you want to relive that simcha with all of your friends? Would you like to promote your school's/organization's latest video? Send someone a Vcard to wish them Mazal Tov! Tap into this great network to advertise your event, broadcast your shiurim, even create you own video resume.

With Yideoz you can do all that - plus create groups, start discussions, make friends, and more - all in a moderated, safe environment.

Tee hee!

Because I truly love Achewood. And I spent two months reading it from start to present. Click for the full size!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Ki Tissa, just a few brief comments.

Sometimes when reading Torah and collecting the accompanying midrashim and commentary, I wonder how the great thinkers came up with some of the stuff they've derived from the parshah. An example from this week's portion is from Ex. 31:18, when G-d presents Moses with "two tablets of the Pact, stone tablets inscribed with the finger of G-d." The word for stone tablets, even, or aleph-bet-nun, is translated by one sage as av-ben, meaning "father to son." The translation caters to the idea that the commandments are to be passed from father to son and so on.

Now, call me crazy but I would never have gathered that. Then again, I'm not a life-dedicated Torah scholar (yet). The way the sage goes about coming to this conclusion is that bet can either be a b or a v, depending on whether a dagesh is present. The dagesh, of course, being a little dot that appears in letters like tet or pe or kaph. It alters the meaning of the letter, according to the letters around it, as well as the vowel sounds. The dagesh is a mighty little marker. Thus you can have aleph-bet (dagesh) and bet (no dagesh)-nun, if you were only so creative to notice such intricacies of the word.

Man. I hope I can rock that hard in my pursuits someday.

Likewise, backtracking a bit, this parshah begins with a donation of a half-shekel by every individual older than 20 (a common belief is that religion is not suited for children, only adults can understand the depth and magnitude of religion and Torah). The donation is cited as "each shall pay," which in the Hebrew is v'nat'nu, or vav-nun-taph-nun-vav. Holy Moses! A palindrome! And a mighty important one (yet something else I probably wouldn't have gathered all on my own, amazing sages). Some have said that this suggests that charity is a two-way street. The Vilna Gaon says that this reminds us "that one who gives today may have to receive tomorrow." How true!


I have to admit that right now, my level of distraction is incredibly high. There's too much and too little going on at once, and I'm trying to find some balance. I will work the next seven days straight, the only brief excitement being visiting with and getting a drink with a friend visiting from Nebraska and another who recently moved here.

But between now and then and then and when Ian arrives and when I move to Chicago (March 16), is 9 days of tumult. I find it hard to focus at work, hard to focus at home, hard to focus at my coffee shop. I watch people. Gazing, skimming the thought of staring. It's a cascade, or at least it feels that way.

It always gets worse before it gets better, they say. And today was supposedly when the University of Chicago was sending out acceptance/denial letters for entrance into their graduate program. So here's to hoping.

Otherwise, well, hopefully I can re-center myself.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Tee hee.

Hamantaschen reviews!

"I'm no expert, but these are *the* best hamentashen I've ever had. Thanks!"

"DELICIOUS hamentashen! Thanks, Amanda."

"They're so soft! How DID you do that?"

Unfortunately, I'm not revealing the recipe. Why? Because I like the idea of making something DELICIOUS and keeping it mysterious.

In other news, thanks to Wandering Jew (formerly of the blog by the same name), I had to share this Web site: The Comic Torah

Saturday, March 3, 2007

It's PURIM you say?

So it's Purim and I'm really distraught about not being back home to see the spiel at my shul. Seeing the rabbi dressed up as Esther is quite the sight to be seen! So I'm making the holiday the best I can with what I have, which means ... baking hamantaschen! It was a mess in the kitchen, but I got the job done. Here are some photos from the extravaganza ... and seriously ... if you ever get the chance, I want you to eat one of my delicious baked goods. So amazing ... (not to toot my own horn or anything, heh). For those who don't know what Purim's all about ... well, it's sometimes called the "Jewish Mardi Gras" ... but in reality, it's one of (many) holidays where we celebrate the following: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat!

The kitchen was a mess because of THESE babies. Talk about excellent!

And then there was hamantaschen baked!

I couldn't help it. I ate one. Okay, I ate two. The second batch was the best. This one I'm eating? It's from the second batch!

I'm in love!

I think I'm going to buy one of everything off this site: Shabbat to Go

But really, the Shabbat to go kit and the Seder in a Sac are two purchases I'll be making. Man. And the Havdalah kit. Eeee. Wonderful.

This Seder in a Sac comes with two copies of the megillah, too!

The plagues bag is pretty sweet, too ...
Here's the Shabbat travel kit:
And of course, the Havdalah kit. I intend to fully participate in Havdalah, because it has yet to ever be a part of my personal regiment, darn't!I'd like to think I could wait till I get hitched to ask for such glorious items, but I can't. On the upside, I can wait to get the "Wedding Bag" until the big day ends up coming. I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Don't worry, I'm not running off to Vegas. That is, unless they have a hefty supply of Elvis rabbis and Star Trek-themed chuppahs!