Friday, February 20, 2009

Challah, Honey and Slaves.

Shabbat shalom! Almost, that is. We're close enough that our friends in Israel are practically on it, and I'm already in preparation mode (though, in reality I should have probably made the challah last night when I had the chance). I was up early this morning, dropped Tuvia off at work so I could have his car to go to class, run errands, get some shopping in, and get to shul tonight (*grumbles*).

It's weird being at the grocery store at 8 a.m. The elderly crowd hadn't even breached the entrance when I was in there, buying honey (for the challah), peanut butter, treats and most importantly -- some flowers. It was eerily quiet and the outside of the building smelled potently of donuts. I avoided the pastry section, though, despite my love of fresh-baked pastries. I picked up some beautiful yellow flowers for the Shabbos table, as I recall there being something special about having flowers at the Shabbos table though I'm not sure what. I'll have to look into that. But the grocery store in the morning? What an experience. Everything is stocked, fresh produce is coming out, the aisles are brimming with food.

Now I'm on campus, waiting for Hebrew to start. I brought my siddur with me (Ohel Sarah in the HOUSE!) and for the first time in my life, I davened a bit on my own. (Before the 4th halakic hour, even! Okay, I'm only half serious, but this halakic hour business is going to take some figuring out/getting used to.) Yes, I'm in the Judaic studies office, alone, but it felt like I was starting the day right. Honey for Challah. Flowers for the table. Davening out of my sparkly new siddur. It feels good to start the day right, to do things right.

But tonight? Meh. Tuvia's job is keeping him under wraps this weekend, and his boss has demanded that he be on call all weekend and that tonight? Tonight he must be around super late, beyond late, ridiculously late. A 12+ hour day for him. This means I am driving the car to the shul, and picking him up from work after shul. And tomorrow? I might not even be able to go to shul. Too many geographical and logistical challenges. So I'm trying to do what I can --  make a nice dinner, make challah, set the table, prepare the house in all its knobs and whistles Shabbat style (I love my Kosher lamp), in the hopes that maybe, maybe that guilt I have felt every weekend since moving to Connecticut from Chicago where I could easily keep Shabbos will not be as potent.

So for now, I'll smell the flowers and imagine myself in a cute little house a half mile or so from the shul, schlepping back and forth on Shabbos, not having to worry about cars or distance or logistics. It'll just be easy. Or is this wishful thinking? Only time can tell, I suppose.

In 2007, I wrote a bit on this week's portion, Mishpatim, that I'm quite proud of. The discussion of slavery and the rules therein seem pretty outdated, but Maimonides makes some pretty good points regarding the old "eye for an eye philosophy," so there's also a discussion of the Laws of Hammurabi over on the archived post. So I don't think I could write a new post better, really, so I'm just going to offer up the LINK to that post. And here's just a teaser ...

February 2007: I read somewhere that many of Torah's laws are like an onion -- there are many layers to the meaning. As time moves on, a layer peels away and we must return to the law to seek out it's spiritual meaning so that we do not simply discard it as outdated and irrelevant. Here's an article over at that discusses the different ways we interpret Torah, especially in relation to this parshah.

I'm a firm believer that every rule and law in Torah is completely applicable today, if not from a literal standpoint then from a metaphorical and spiritual standpoint. I highly doubt G-d would reach down and throw out a bunch of essential rules for life, only to have them become outdated in a couple thousand years. Adaptation is, perhaps, a test of faith, intelligence, understanding and acceptance.

Another great article, "Is Religion Still Relevant?" by Yossy Goldman is pretty quality. It runs with the idea that "everything has changed, but it's stayed the same."
The very same issues dealt with in the Bible -- sibling rivalry, jealous partners, and even murder -- are still the stuff of newspaper headlines today. So what else is new? Has anything changed? Yes, today we have astronauts and space stations and laser beams and laptops, but the basic issues and choices human beings must face remain identical. Once upon a time the question was do I hit him with my club or slice him up with my sword. Today the question is do I call up the nuclear submarines or send in the guided missiles? ...

... Torah is truth and truth is eternal. Scenarios come and go. Lifestyles change with the geography. The storylines are different but the gut level issues are all too familiar. If we ever needed religion -- or in our language, Torah -- we need it equally today and maybe more so. May we continue to find moral guidance and clarity in the eternal truths of our holy and eternal Torah. Amen.
So whenever you think back to the mitzvot or Torah and think "psshaw, oxen and slaves are so old school" take another look. Read the commentaries, explore the Torah, examine the Sages, talk to Rashi and Maimonides, because there is definitely more to "an eye for an eye" than meets the eye.
Shabbat shalom, everyone!