Acharei Mot / Kedoshim – Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27

Facebook_CoverDesign_AchareiMot-KedoshimIn conversation with a Jewish artist, I once quipped that all artists must see their art as an offering to the Other Side. "What?!," the artist exclaimed. In order to quell the energy of the negative forces in the universe, I explained, the mystical interpretation of many rituals, especially sacrifice, is understood as a way of assuaging and keeping at bay the Other Side.

So what were the two Young Turk priests, Nadav and Avihu, up to with their offering as ritual artists? The enigmatic scene first described in Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47), returns in Parashat Acharei Mot with a sobering lesson about the episode.

Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered a "strange fire" at an unscheduled time and were punished for transgressing the law of the sancta? Or perhaps their spiritual merits exceed even those of Moses and Aaron? This latter possibility is embraced by later Hasidic commentators, who find in Nadav and Avihu echoes of their own intense pursuits of ecstasy within religious practice. Sometimes, though, that ecstasy comes at a price – the Other Side can overtake even the most spiritual of ritual artists.

The fatal flaw of these two remarkable spiritual seekers, Nadav and Avihu, is their choice to withdraw rather than engage in the real world with the fruits of their peak spiritual experiences. For Jewish art to be effective, it cannot withdraw from the world, but must engage directly with it by transforming it.

Reading Parashat Kedoshim, we're reminded that part of the reason Leviticus can be a challenging read is that it often seems as though there are competing voices of religious authority. Recall there are two distinct and independent schools of Torah in the Book of Leviticus — the Priestly Torah and the Holiness Code. There is a fine line distinguishing the Priestly Torah, which is preoccupied with the priestly views of ritual that are distinct from the masses, from the Holiness School, which interweaves the priestly elements of ritual with popular customs.

Interestingly, we see in Kedoshim that the Holiness Code is ecological in orientation, at least insofar as it emphasizes the web of relationships that unite various members of the land community – namely: earth, animal, and humans. Just as it is forbidden to cut "the edge" [pe’ah] of either "field" (19:9) or "human head and beard" (19:27), so we are invited to reorient our lives with greater ecological awareness of the place we play within the web of all sentient beings. Such a planetary awareness is what holiness demands of us.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract, painterly response to the many instances of "you shall not" in Acharei Mot / Kedoshim. Some contemporary readers are turned off by all these "negative commandments" (mitzvot lo taaseh), but such laws became essential as humans settled in large, agrarian centers. Codified behavior provided increased predictability in social interaction, and these codes of conduct were enforced to direct society toward cohesion and stability; the many prohibitions serve as a bulwark against barbarism and the breakdown of social bonds. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Acharei Mot / Kedoshim – Leviticus 16:1 – 20:27

Facebook_CoverDesign_AchareiMot-KedoshimIn conversation with a Jewish artist, I recently quipped that all artists must see their art as an offering to the Other Side. "What?!," the artist exclaimed. In order to quell the energy of the negative forces in the universe, I explained, the mystical interpretation of many rituals, especially sacrifice, is understood as a way of assuaging and keeping at bay the Other Side.

So what were the two Young Turk priests, Nadav and Avihu, up to with their offering as ritual artists? The enigmatic scene first described in Parashat Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47), returns in Parashat Acharei Mot with a sobering lesson about the episode.

Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered a "strange fire" at an unscheduled time and were punished for transgressing the law of the sancta? Or perhaps their spiritual merits exceed even those of Moses and Aaron? This latter possibility is embraced by later Hasidic commentators, who find in Nadav and Avihu echoes of their own intense pursuits of ecstasy within religious practice. Sometimes, though, that ecstasy comes at a price – the Other Side can overtake even the most spiritual of ritual artists.

The fatal flaw of these two remarkable spiritual seekers, Nadav and Avihu, is their choice to withdraw rather than engage in the real world with the fruits of their peak spiritual experiences. For Jewish art to be effective, it cannot withdraw from the world, but must engage directly with it by transforming it.

Reading Parashat Kedoshim, we're reminded that part of the reason Leviticus can be a challenging read is that it often seems as though there are competing voices of religious authority. Recall there are two distinct and independent schools of Torah in the Book of Leviticus — the Priestly Torah and the Holiness Code. There is a fine line distinguishing the Priestly Torah, which is preoccupied with the priestly views of ritual that are distinct from the masses, from the Holiness School, which interweaves the priestly elements of ritual with popular customs.

Interestingly, we see in Kedoshim that the Holiness Code is ecological in orientation, at least insofar as it emphasizes the web of relationships that unite various members of the land community – namely: earth, animal, and humans. Just as it is forbidden to cut "the edge" [pe’ah] of either "field" (19:9) or "human head and beard" (19:27), so we are invited to reorient our lives with greater ecological awareness of the place we play within the web of all sentient beings. Such a planetary awareness is what holiness demands of us.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract, painterly response to the many instances of "you shall not" in Acharei Mot / Kedoshim. Some contemporary readers are turned off by all these "negative commandments" (mitzvot lo taaseh), but such laws became essential as humans settled in large, agrarian centers. Codified behavior provided increased predictability in social interaction, and these codes of conduct were enforced to direct society toward cohesion and stability; the many prohibitions serve as a bulwark against barbarism and the breakdown of social bonds. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

A Visit From Rabbi Yonatan Neril

facebook_achshavyisrael6_december2016This past Sunday afternoon, December 18, the Achshav Yisrael committee of CBS presented its seventh program, "Israel's Environmental Challenges and the Relevance of Jewish Teachings." Just below, Achshav Yisrael committee member Eileen Auerbach provides a full report and some photographs snapped during the gathering.

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Rabbi Yonatan Neril, founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development in Jerusalem, spoke to a group of over 30 attendees.

Rabbi Neril sees the global ecological crisis as more than a scientific or political problem. He says it is also a religious and spiritual challenge. He and his organization in Israel are mustering forces from international interfaith leadership to address environmental crises. He described a situation both in Israel and in the United States where clergy leaders only rarely address climate change to their congregations.

Rabbi Neril itemized the positive efforts being made in Israel to address use of gas and petroleum fuels, issues around water conservation, agriculture, food consumption, and the impact of pollution on the Israeli environment.

The attendees repeatedly expressed concern about the future of environmentalism in this country in light of the incoming Presidential Administration, and Rabbi Neril described how his organization does not work within the political establishment in Israel, saying, "the government is how we got where we are," and he doesn't expect political entities to create positive environmental change. Instead, his organization is establishing goals through faith communities, reaching people through educating them about spirituality, values, and the environment, and encouraging religious leaders to address their congregations directly.

During the active post-presentation discussion, one of the attendees, Louise Lipsey, from Congregation Kol Shofar's Green Team, encouraged attendees to look into a local group, Interfaith Power & Light, which responds to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation and efficiency and renewable energy.

Rabbi Neril is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post. His columns can be accessed by clicking here.

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Check out some photos from the program below, and visit the CBS Facebook page for more.

ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.
Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: Eileen Auerbach, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, Ovid Jacob, Eva-Lynne Leibman, Ira Levy, Ephraim Margolin, Lucia Sommers


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Israel’s Environmental Challenges and theRelevance of Jewish Teachings

Buy your tickets our upcoming Achshav Yisrael program!

interfaithcenter "Israel’s Environmental Challenges and the Relevance of Jewish Teachings" will take place on Sunday, December 18, 3 - 5 p.m., in Koret Hall.

Join Achshav Yisrael and Rabbi Yonatan Neril to learn about ecology in Israel and what Jewish wisdom has to teach us about environmentalism. Rabbi Neril will also describe his ongoing work to catalyze a transition to a sustainable, thriving, and spiritually-aware society through the leadership of faith communities in Israel.

Rabbi Neril is the founder and Executive Director of the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development (Jerusalem). He was also the the editor and lead author on two books exploring Jewish environmental ethics. A Bay Area native, Rabbi Neril received his BA and MA from Stanford University with an environmental focus, and he was ordained in Israel.

Rabbi Neril’s presentation will be followed by facilitated “break-out” group conversations. An Israeli appetizer buffet and refreshments are included.

Parents, please note that childcare for kids one year and older will be available on-site for the cost of $5 per child. This fee can be paid on the ticket sales page.

Tickets are $10 per person and are available for purchase at: www.universe.com/israelienvironment

AchshavYisraelLogo ABOUT ACHSHAV YISRAEL: Achshav Yisrael’s mission is to provide quality programming about Israel to Congregation Beth Sholom and the broader community. Achshav Yisrael programs are open to all age groups and will occur on a regular basis. We intend to create a safe space at CBS for community exploration of Israel.
Achshav Yisrael Steering Committee Members: Eileen Auerbach, Becky Buckwald, Sandra Cohen, Betsy Eckstein, David Herrera, Ovid Jacob, Eva-Lynne Leibman, Ira Levy, Ephraim Margolin, and Lucia Sommers

Rabbi Glazer Reviews Kabbalah and Ecology

Kabbalah&EcologyIt's Earth Day! What better time to highlight Rabbi Glazer's review of Rabbi David Seidenberg‘s book Kabbalah and Ecology: God’s Image In The More-Than-Human World (Cambridge University Press, 2015)? The book review was published in the March 2016 of the journal Theological Studies, but can read it in full by clicking here.

In the write-up, Rabbi Glazer suggests that Pope Francis’s 2015 Papal encyclical Laudato si’ (“On the Care for Our Common Home”), while a laudable "watershed," includes one "potential shortcoming." Pope Francis focuses on reassessing the relationship and differences between "dominion" and "stewardship," but Rabbi Glazer and Rabbi Seidenberg worry that casting humanity as Earth's stewards is too limiting an understanding of the human place in things. From the review's conclusion:

"Rabbi Seidenberg brings a bold eco-theology of the more-than-human world of nature that seeks to 'be directed toward the future,' one that must 'not only push us to evolve theology, but also to illuminate for us, in critical ways, the meaning of ancient texts and ideas, and the history of those ideas and texts.' While Laudato si’ should be captivating our theological attention, Rabbi Seidenberg’s theology contributes to the emergence of eco-theologies that reach beyond stewardship into a robust, devotional engagement with a more Gaian spiritual activism emerging from Jewish mystical sources."