Masks & Music: Pesach Sheni, Parshat Emor, Taste of Daf

Erev Pesach Sheni. Near Tzefat, people are celebrating at the gravesite of Rav Yehuda bar Ila’ee, a sage of the Mishna era, around the second century. Chairs are 2 meters (6’) apart, masks on face, and yet, they manage inspiring Torah words, lively Chassidic music.

Pesach Sheni (“Second Passover”), mentioned in Numbers 9:1-10, is the only holiday in the Torah created by people, when they demand a day, another chance at Pesach, for the one they missed, as opposed to all the other holy-days G-d commands us and tells us what to do. It’s also the only Torah holiday in this Hebrew month of Iyar, giving us a taste of what this month is about; a time when we don’t wait passively for “freedom” to rain of us from “above”, but set out, with a little bit of chutzpa (how else would anyone imply Moses doesn’t know everything and that we need an extra day here??) to create our own redemption from “below”.

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Once upon a time, long ago and far away, a town’s rich man was dozing off during Shabbat Torah service (clearly before shul was on plastic chairs in the streets…). When he wakes up, one verse from this week’s Torah portion remains with him:

וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ סֹ֔לֶת וְאָפִיתָ֣ אֹתָ֔הּ שְׁתֵּ֥ים עֶשְׂרֵ֖ה חַלּ֑וֹת שְׁנֵי֙ עֶשְׂרֹנִ֔ים יִהְיֶ֖ה הַֽחַלָּ֥ה הָאֶחָֽת׃

You shall take choice flour and bake of it twelve loaves, two-tenths of a measure for each loaf.

וְשַׂמְתָּ֥ אוֹתָ֛ם שְׁתַּ֥יִם מַֽעֲרָכ֖וֹת שֵׁ֣שׁ הַֽמַּעֲרָ֑כֶת עַ֛ל הַשֻּׁלְחָ֥ן הַטָּהֹ֖ר לִפְנֵ֥י יְהוָֽה׃

Place them on the pure table before the LORD in two rows, six to a row.

He is sure G-d almighty spoke to him, and this is what he needs to do: bring twelve loafs of bread to the Temple. That Sunday, he places the freshly baked halla in the ark,, praying, hoping G-d will, please, accept his gift.

Soon after he goes out, the janitor walks in. Teary, humbly, he stands humbly before the ark: ‘please dear G-d, I desperately need your help. You know my job has been cut and I can’t make ends meet… please send me something I can bring home to my wife and hungry kids’…

He finishes cleaning the shul, dusting and shining the bimmah, then opens the ark, shocked at the sight: a bag with, not one or two, but 12 freshly baked, fantastically smelling loafs of hallah…

Later that evening the rich man comes back to see what happened with his offering. Imagine how surprised it is when he sees the ark empty. Excited he rushes home to tell his wife their gift was accepted and can they please make another batch… again they place it in the ark, the poor janitor comes, hopeful, takes the gift and so it goes.

But one day, their schedules collide, and they run into each other. Amazed, dismayed, and angry they realize what’s been going on. “It wasn’t G-d who took the loafs but a good for nothing poor janitor”! “It wasn’t G-d who gave the gift, but a rich man hearing voices while napping in shul”!! ,

The rabbi hears the commotion and steps out to hear both yelling… waiting for them to take a breath, then calmly turns to both, “Of course it was G-d. Your hands are the hands of G-d giving and receiving your gifts”.

I’ve heard this story many years ago from Rav Zalman Schachter Shalomi. I think of it often and especially when this Torah portion comes around. Our hands are the hands of G-d giving and receiving our gifts. What shall we do today?

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A taste of daf yomi: what a beautiful chapter about women’s jewelry! The halacha here is mixed with psychological, social and economical insights. And the description of what women – and men – wore centuries ago. Among them, the famous, exquisite “Jerusalem of Gold” Rabbi Akiva gave his wife Rachel as he promised many years before, when they didn’t even have a bed to sleep on; so heavy some rabbis considered it like freight and not like jewelry… like this, maybe?

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Still Pesach Sheni. A bright sunny day after some rain during the week. Feels like almost summer; most spring flowers are gone with the weeds at the curb starting to yellow. I walk past the entry sign to the old cemetery in Haifa, with its warning for the kohanim not to enter. I’ve been told, time will heal, but those who say it, must not know “time” (who does), or loss or real healing. It’s more like a tree that sprouts leaves to cover up its broken branch, or learning to live without a limb: doable at best; itchy and aggravating in certain weathers; noticeable even in long sleeves, and still always painful, always there. And it’s Pesach Sheni: the day some people call a model for ‘always having second chances’; the day I learned how some things never have it, barely once. Rest in peace, dear abba, and may all mourners find comfort.Shabbat Shalom.

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