Friday, March 13, 2015

Vayakhel-Pekudei: With Mirrors

This week’s parsha[s] detail how the mishkan was built through bnei yisrael basically collecting and throwing in everything but the kitchen sink in a national giving drive, to the point that Moshe had to tell them to stop.

But there was one gift the G-d wouldn’t allow him to give back.

As Rashi details on 38:8: “…they would take the mirrors…each one would view herself with her husband in the mirror, and entice him…”

Then the women brought these mirrors to Moshe for use in the Mishkan.  Moshe was reluctant to use anything with such an obvious “ta’aroves hayetzer”, but G-d ordered him to accept the gift: “"Accept them!  For they are more dear to Me than anything else!"

So what made G-d take this, when everything else He was getting was leading Him to say, as it were [cf. Ex.36:6]: “Space, please”?

One idea is that the general giving had become unrestrained and unfocused.  It has been pointed out by numerous commentaries that the giving to the mishkan was supposed to be an atonement for the giving of the god and jewelry that ended up making the Egel; the giving was still impulsive and needed to be restrained.

In the case of the mirrors, this was not so.  It was very specific [and, ironically enough, it became the kiyor—for the lack of a better term, the “kitchen sink”.]  It also conjured up a very poignant moment for G-d: the women insuring the perpetuity of klal yisrael in the face of the Pharaonic genocidal policy.

But there’s also a common thread in their reaction to that policy and their employment of the mirrors in the first place: both were grassroots initiatives that ran counter to the more established way of thinking by the pre-eminent religious authorities of their time to the point that the initiatives changed the minds of said authorities with G-d blessing.

The employment of the mirrors ran counter to the initial thinking of the “gadol” of the time—Amram, who[as detailed in TB Sotah 12b] in reaction to the Pharaonic decree divorced Yocheved with the consequence that ALL the men divorced their wives…until his own daughter Miriam convinced him that what he was doing was worse, whereupon he remarries Yocheved, and ALL bnei yisrael follow.   The mirrors were an iconic representation of the original “kol korei” being overturned.  They then became the iconic representation of another kol korei being overruled, this time by G-d himself.

In recent years, one grassroots initiative that started really as a Jewish communal initiative and garnered rabbinic support only later was the system of services to combat domestic violence.   As recently as twenty years ago the catchphrases thrown at suffering spouses was “go back for the children/shalom bayis”; “stay for the children”.  That would be currently unthinkable, thankfully; the culture HAS changed.  But now a new initiative is needed, even if [or maybe even because] the halachic groundwork [like the foundations of the mishkan] has been laid.

That’s the pre-nup.

I’ve written elsewhere about why the pre-nup is both actually romantic AND more like the kesuva than some people want to admit publicly.  It may be telling that the opposition to the pre-nup such as it is seems to be way more passive than active; you don’t hear anyone screaming “This is assur!!” [because for once they know better]; you get platitudes like one being "entitle to embrace the presuptual approach if one chooses...but [] recognize that there are others who, for entirely defensible reasons, choose otherwise." As the lack of a salient reason for opposition has now been betrayed by the pre-nups’ detractors,  there really is no longer anything defensible about not making it part  and parcel of everyone wedding, even to the point that it becomes almost if not as de rigeur as the kesuva and tanaim.  

The way to do that is first for the community to stop employing mesadrei kiddushin at wedding who won't officiate with one.  At some point when the officiators get the hint, they'll stop performing chuppah without one, and eventually it will come around to the point where they will insist that the families and parties get one.   

The culture needs to change.  It's happened before and it can [and should] happen again.

And it won't have to be done with mirrors.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Purim: Jumping In

This can be compared to a boiling hot bath into which no person could descend, one scoundrel came, and he jumped and went down into it.  Although he was scalded, he cooled it off for others [Rashi Devarim 25:18]

Rabbi Judah says: "When the Israelites stood at the sea one said 'I don't want to go down to the sea first', another said 'I don't want to go down first either'; while they were standing there and while Moses was praying to G-d to save them, Nachson ben Aminadav jumped up went down and fell into the waves. [TB Sotah 36a, Mechilta Beshalach]

An analog has been making the rounds of social media recently comparing Iran to Haman, Obama to Achashverosh, and Bibi to Esther/Mordechai, finding the Ta’anis Esther timing of today’s speech to Congress particularly propitious.  Personally, I find Prof. Manfred Lehmann’s 1972 Tradition essay “A Reconstruction of the Purim Story” more compelling: he makes Haman out to have been Cannanite, and therefore more a character analogous to an Arafat or other Palestinian actor [which, to carry the analogy one step further, would make Bill Clinton Achashverosh]. 

In any case, I came up with a different meme.

The juxtaposition of the two mekoros up top is not accidental.  The two pieces are there to illustrate mirror-image paradigms of “firsts” and water.  Each actor was the first one to “take a plunge”, as it were, and each respective “plunge” was influential in getting others to follow: Nachshon kickstarted the march through the Yam Suf; Amalek kickstarted genocidal Jew-hatred.

Today Bibi represented the Nachshon meme: the sole world leader with the gumption to call Iran out for its theofascist genocidal tendencies and declared nuclear ambitions.  [Umm…you want 190,000 centrifuges…to fight cancer?]  He took a plunge no one else seems to be willing to, and we only hope that some influential people follow.

While Iran fits the Amalek meme for all sorts of obvious reasons, if one would hesitate to begin to apply it to elements of this current administration, particularly the Executive branch and the State Department, it might not be that far a stretch to say that the disingenuous manner in which they’ve conducted the negotiations and their ostensible attempt to give themselves political cover for what they see as the “inevitability” of a nuclearized Iran might give one reason to believe that they, too, are “jumping in the water”. 

Heavy water. 

To cool it off for everyone else when the inevitable nuclearization of the rest of the Middle East follows.

In any case, even if the Amalek designation can’t really be applied to this admin, the Achashverosh one—like with Clinton—might not be that far off.  As TB Megillah 13b-14a delineates, Achashverosh would have loved to get rid of the Jews himself [having proven with his “no more redemption” party what he really thought of them] but needed someone else to do the dirty work.

The Biblical narratives point to two possible parallels which might indicate as to what we can anticipate from this administration.

The incident at Refidim which we read on Purim which occurred subsequent to krias yam suf parallels the possibility that this administration will now double down and cave further to “Teheran’s talking points”, because, like the Amalekites who attacked at Refidim, they were enraged by the Nachshonian actions and wanted to show the rest of the latent anti-Semites in the world there was nothing to be afraid of in attacking the Jews.  Bibi’s warning may have the opposite effect in the short term owing to Obamanian hissyfits.

The other possibility is that, like a chastened and humiliated while not attitudinally transformed Achashverosh, this administration is forced to see the genocidal ambitions of its erstwhile new BFF’s and at the very least give the Jews carte blanche to defend itself by any means necessary with no clamoring for ceasefires like this summer, even to the point of codifying the response de jure as well as de facto in international law, as we see happened throughout Esther 8 and 9.  Even if through clenched teeth.  But as Bibi said, there ARE some things Israel CAN live with.

ONLY THEN will this admin have jumped in like Nachshon, and not like Amalek.