Monday, June 21, 2010

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Acharei

16:2-3 - "...and the LORD said unto Moses: 'Speak unto Aaron thy brother, that he come not at all times into the holy place within the veil, before the ark-cover which is upon the ark; that he die not; for I appear in the cloud upon the ark-cover. Herewith [בְּזֹאת] shall Aaron come into the holy place [הַקֹּדֶשׁ]: with a young bullock for a sin-offering, and a ram for a burnt-offering."  So when, exactly, can Aaron come into the "holy place"?  The translation here of b'zot ("herewith") isn't very good; I prefer Kehot's "with this," suggesting that when he comes with the sin- and burnt-offerings, then he can come into the Holy of Holies.  But it isn't clear.  I know that Yom Kippur is the only day Aaron can enter, but it certainly isn't made clear here.  Why not?

16:7-8 - "And [Aaron] shall take the two goats, and set them before the LORD at the door of the tent of meeting.  And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats: one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for Azazel [לַעֲזָאזֵל]."  Interesting!  Who -- or what -- is "Azazel"?  The modern Hebrew phrase, lech l'azazel, means, basically "go to hell!"  So it's interesting to see this word here in the Torah.  Rashi explains that Azaael
is a strong and hard mountain, [with] a high cliff, as the Scripture says [in describing Azaael] (verse 22 below), "a precipitous land (אֶרֶץ גְּזֵרָה)," meaning a cut-off land [i.e., a sheer drop]. - [Torath Kohanim 16:28; Yoma 67b]
Fascinating!  So "hell" is a place cut off from everything, some place hard to reach.  Neat!
16:16 - "And [Aaron] shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleannesses of the children of Israel, and because of their transgressions, even all their sins; and so shall he do for the tent of meeting, that dwelleth with them in the midst of their uncleannesses [הַשֹּׁכֵן אִתָּם בְּתוֹךְ טֻמְאֹתָם]."  Interesting...  So Aaron had to "make atonement" not only for the people and their sins, but for the very tent of meeting -- the ohel mo'eid itself.  First of all, this echoes what we read in metzora, about a house itself having leprosy, that uncleanliness can adhere to things as well as people, and that things need to be atoned for as well..  Second, there's something to my mind poetic about saying:  'because of our since, the very place in which we meet you, God, is itself in need of atonement.'

16:21 - "And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions, even all their sins [וְהִתְוַדָּה עָלָיו אֶת-כָּל-עֲו‍ֹנֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאֶת-כָּל-פִּשְׁעֵיהֶם לְכָל-חַטֹּאתָם]; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of an appointed man into the wilderness."  Question:  How in the world is Aaron supposed to know what all of the sins of all of the people actually are?  (Unless what is intended here is a more general statement.)

16:22 - "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land which is cut off [אֶל-אֶרֶץ גְּזֵרָה]; and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness."  Is this "land which is cut off," this eretz g'zeirah, the same as Azazel?  (The New JPS calls this "an inaccessible region.")  Although I'm sure it's not meant this way, I like the symbolism of putting the collective sins of the people into a goat, who is sent off to a place far from human habitation, a place not reachable by normal means. 

16:29 - About Yom Kippur:  "And it shall be a statute for ever unto you: in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls [תְּעַנּוּ אֶת-נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם], and shall do no manner of work, the home-born, or the stranger that sojourneth among you."  Is something objective and specific intended here by t'anu (e.g., fasting), or is this meant in a more general sense, that on this day, we should, literally, afflict ourselves in the course of atoning?  I like the idea, though, that on YK, the point is to afflict one's self through the contemplation of sins.

16:31 - "It is a sabbath of solemn rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; it is a statute for ever [חֻקַּת עוֹלָם]."  Something I'm noticing:  There are places, like here, where the Torah says something is to be "for ever," while in other places, no mention is made of time.  Is this to imply that, where for ever is not explicitly mentioned, that a law/ordnance is not meant to be forever?  Are things "for ever" weightier than others?

17:7 - "And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs [לַשְּׂעִירִם], after whom they go astray. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations."  The "satyrs"?!?  Who are these?!?  Rashi explains that "to the satyrs" means "to the demons [לשדים], like, 'and satyrs (וּשְּׂעִירִים) will dance there' (Isa. 13:21). - [Torath Kohanim 17:100]."  Demons!  Weird...

17:10-11 - "And whatsoever man there be of the house of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among them, that eateth any manner of blood, I will set My face against that soul that eateth blood, and will cut him off from among his people.  For the life of the flesh is in the blood [כִּי נֶפֶשׁ הַבָּשָׂר בַּדָּם הִוא]; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life."  Two thoughts.  First, it is a bit jarring to me that God would want this kashrut-related law applied to non-Jews.  Is eating blood something so generally moral that anyone who does it violates God's laws?  Strange.  Second, we find here an actual reason for not eating blood, that, basically, it contains the life of the living thing and is meant for sacrifice, not eating.  But once a reason is given, that reason is open to analysis, and this reason -- that "the life of the flesh" is in it -- is pretty weak.  Living things can't live without water either, but that's not considered to be something super holy.  Same for bile.    I guess my point is premodern societies viewed blood as something more magical and mysterious than it what's the point of the prohibition against eating it?

17:15 - "And every soul that eateth that which dieth of itself, or that which is torn of beasts, whether he be home-born or a stranger, he shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even; then shall he be clean."  This verse seems to imply that it is at some level "okay" to eat such non-kosher animals, if the only thing you have to do afterwards is wash in order to become clean.  But I thought you simply aren't supposed to do this?

18:2 - "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: I am the LORD your God."  You know when a chapter starts out with this, some heavy laws are going to follow.  Rashi adds
I am the Lord, your God: I am the One Who said at Sinai, “I am the Lord, your God” (Exod. 20:2), and you accepted My sovereignty upon yourselves [at that time]; consequently, accept My decrees. Rabbi [Yehudah Hanassi] says: “It is openly known before Him, that they would eventually be scourged by [transgressing the laws of] immoral relations, in the days of Ezra. Therefore, [concerning these laws,] God came to them with the decree: I am the Lord, your God! You should know Who is placing these decrees upon you-the Judge Who exacts retribution (אלֹקִים), but Who is faithful also to pay a reward (ה ) ! ”- [Torath Kohanim 18:138]"
18:3 - "After the doings of the land of Egypt [כְּמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-מִצְרַיִם], wherein ye dwelt, shall ye not do; and after the doings of the land of Canaan [וּכְמַעֲשֵׂה אֶרֶץ-כְּנַעַן], whither I bring you, shall ye not do; neither shall ye walk in their statutes [וּבְחֻקֹּתֵיהֶם לֹא תֵלֵכוּ]."  First, what are the "doings" (ma'aseh) of Egypt and Canaan as opposed to their "statutes" (chukot)?  The Torah doesn't make this clear, nor whether these are meant to be comprehensive statements (i.e., should the Israelites do nothing that the Egyptians?  nothing of what the Canaanites did?  or only those things that violate other Torah laws?).  Rashi tries to explain that their "statutes" in this context as follows:
and you shall not follow their statutes: What did Scripture omit [until now] that it did not state [and includes in this clause]? However, these are their social practices, things that assumed the status of law (חָקוּק) for them, for example, [certain days set aside for attendance at] theaters and stadiums. Rabbi Meir says: These [practices referred to here,] are the “ways of the Amorites,” [the superstitious practices] enumerated by our Sages. — [see Shab. 67ab; Torath Kohanim 18: 139]
Uh, so the things the Egyptians and Canaanites did that the Israelites aren't supposed to do involve attending "theaters and stadiums"!?!  Is the point that in every possible way they were supposed to be different, even down to things that are not proscribed by Torah?  Rashi quotes another Rabbi Meir implying that the social practices in question are "superstitious practices," presumably involving soothsaying, etc.  But then why cite the examples of attendance at theaters and stadiums?  There's a lot in Judaism about not doing things that other peoples do, almost for the sole reason of differentiation...  Not sure what I make of this.  I suppose there was a time and a place where from a social psychological perspective, differentiation made sense from a social cohesion perspective, but I'm not sure that the take home message is that savory for today's world...
18:4-5 - "Mine ordinances shall ye do, and My statutes shall ye keep, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God. Ye shall therefore keep My statutes [חֻקֹּתַי], and Mine ordinances [מִשְׁפָּטַי], which if a man do, he shall live by them [אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֹתָם הָאָדָם וָחַי בָּהֶם]: I am the LORD."  So...if he doesn't keep them, then he dies?  Or is it that one's life is through them, so if you keep them, then you live "by" them?  Rashi has two interesting things to say here.  First, he distinguished betrween "statutes" and "ordinances."  The former
are the “King’s decrees” [without apparent rationale to man], against which the evil inclination protests, “Why should we keep them?” Likewise, the nations of the world object to them. Examples are: [The prohibition of] eating pig and wearing shaatnez [a mixture of wool and linen] (see Lev. 19:19), and the purification procedure effected by purification water [the mixture including the ashes of the red cow] (see Num., Chapter 19). Therefore it says, “I am the Lord.” I have decreed [these] upon you; you are not permitted to exempt yourselves [from fulfilling them]. — Torath Kohanim 18:140]
Ordinances, on the other hand,
are the laws stated in the Torah in justice, [i.e., which human intellect deems proper,] which, had they not been stated [in the Torah], would have been deemed worthy to be stated [e.g., not to steal, not to murder, etc.]. — [Torath Kohanim 18:140]
Fascinating!  So the Torah makes an explicit distinction between statutes (chukim) which lack any apparent rationale, and ordinances (mishpatim), which do have underlying reasons.  So on the one hand, it suggests mishpatim are open to some kind of interpretation, while chukim are not:  they are as they are because God says so.  But does not the prohibition against doing things as others do them (e.g., the Egyptians, Canaanites) suggest a logic behind chukimThey mix their fabrics, so we don't; they eat milk and meat, so we don't.  It's hard to view some of these things as anythingng other than a system of social control vis-a-vis the other peoples of the time, whose codes of laws were far less onerous.  I need to think about this some more...

18:7-16 - "The nakedness of thy father, and the nakedness of thy mother, shalt thou not uncover: she is thy mother; thou shalt not uncover her nakedness."  And so forth and so on.  Here we find a series of laws concerning illicit sexual relationships.  I'm curious to know whether these practices were common among the peoples from whom the Israelites were trying to be different.  Did the Egyptians take siblings as wives?  Did the Canaanites sleep with their children?  Someone must have been doing these things or it wouldn't have been necessary to expliciutly prohibit the behavior.

18:9 - "The nakedness of thy sister, the daughter of thy father, or the daughter of thy mother, whether born at home, or born abroad [מוֹלֶדֶת בַּיִת, אוֹ מוֹלֶדֶת חוּץ], even their nakedness thou shalt not uncover."  Why is it necessary to stress that it doesn't matter where the sister is born?  And why not say the same about sons?

18:17 - "Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of a woman and her daughter; thou shalt not take her son's daughter, or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness: they are near kinswomen; it is lewdness [זִמָּה הִוא]."  So...this is lewd, but not all the other things?  Why only say this here?

18:21 - "And thou shalt not give any of thy seed to set them apart to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD."  Who is Molech, and what's the big deal?  Rashi explains that Molech was
[a] form of idolatry...and this was the manner of its worship, that one would hand over one’s child to the pagan priests, who would make two huge fires. The child was then passed through on foot between these two fires. — [Sanh. 64b.]
Hmmm.  This is one of those passages that gives pause.  On the one hand, reference is made to the specific practices of a specific religious group/cult that existed thousands of years ago and is now no more.  On the other hand, we're supposed to view the Torah as being above and beyond time, something perfect and permanent forever.  That's a bit hard to do...
18:22-23 - Oy:  "Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind; it is abomination [תּוֹעֵבָה]. And thou shalt not lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith; neither shall any woman stand before a beast, to lie down thereto; it is perversion [תֶּבֶל]."  So there we have it, right?  No homosexual behavior (or bestiality).  In this context -- of the many different illicit sexual relationships -- I see this as a differentiator in some way:  others do it, so therefore we will not.  It's a mixing of things that others allow, but Judaism will not. 

I suppose if one believes that God said so, that this is simply one of God's chukim, and therefore no explanation is needed or given, then there's not much to discuss.  But is homosexuality really an "abomination"?  Are my friends who are gay doing something at odds with the natural order of the universe?  I just can't accept this.  It makes no sense.  Having relations with siblings or children isn't the same as homosexuality.  It just isn't.  I can understand why God would create a world in which people had y'zirei hara (evil inclinations) to do things prohibited by moral law, but to create a world in which people are hard-wired to want to do things that are prohibited by chok (statute) rather than mishpat (ordinance)...what could possibly be the point of this?  Right, I know, who am I to ask why God does as God does.  But in this world, where gay friends would suffer terribly if the sexual aspect of their identities were suppressed -- heck, where most gays in the world do suffer in this way -- where there are so many terrible things am I supposed to buy that this is so important to God?

By the way, what's the difference between a toevah (abomination)and a tevel (perversion)?

18:24-28 - "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things; for in all these the nations are defiled [כִּי בְכָל-אֵלֶּה נִטְמְאוּ הַגּוֹיִם], which I cast out from before you. And the land was defiled, therefore I did visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land vomited [וַתָּקִא הָאָרֶץ] out her inhabitants. Ye therefore shall keep My statutes and Mine ordinances, and shall not do any of these abominations; neither the home-born, nor the stranger that sojourneth among you--for all these abominations have the men of the land done, that were before you, and the land is defiled--that the land vomit not you out also, when ye defile it, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. "


Some thoughts:  There is a tension here.  On the one hand, there are statutes from God that have no rationale, that God has explicated in Torah.  On the other hand, we are to understand that even before the Torah was given, non-Israelites were "defiled" by not observing certain prohibitions, which caused God to make the land "vomit" (!) them out.  But how could these peoples have known what God wanted and, more to the point, why should it have mattered?  A counterargument would be that these sexual prohibitions are mishpatim -- and therefore logic-based and applicable to non-Israelites.  But then what is the logic according to which homosexuality is an abomination?  What is the underlying morality, other than the fact that God "said so"?  What troubles me even more about this passage, though, is that it seems to say that even chukim apply to non-Jews:  "Ye therefore shall keep My statutes and Mine ordinances, and shall not do any of these abominations; neither the home-born, nor the stranger that sojourneth among you."  But why should chukim apply to non-Jews, no matter where they live?

Am I missing something here?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Metzora

14:2 - "This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing..."  Rashi's comment again speaks to the socially constructed nature of un/cleanliness:  "This teaches [us] that [one afflicted with tzara’ath] is not [pronounced] clean at night. — [Torath Kohanim 14:3, Meg. 21a]."  In other words, it is the pronouncement of cleanliness -- not the objective lack of the leprosy -- that makes one clean.

14:4 - "...then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two living clean birds, and cedar-wood, and scarlet, and hyssop."  So why birds?  Why the scarlet and hyssop?  Here, Rashi again draws the (unfortunate) connection between one's behavior and having leprosy:
[Why are birds required for this cleansing rite?] Because lesions of tzara’ath come as a result of derogatory speech, which is done by chattering. Therefore, for his cleansing, this person is required to bring birds, which twitter constantly with chirping sounds. — [Arachin 16b]
What is the remedy that he may be healed [of his tzara’ath]? He must humble himself from his haughtiness, just as [symbolized by] the תּוֹלַעַת [lit., “a worm,” which infested the berries from which the crimson dye was extracted to color wool], and the [lowly] hyssop. — [Tanchuma 3]
I suppose one could draw a lesson that derogatory speech makes one unclean (X causes Y) rather than inductively assume that the presence of leprosy is a sign of having engaged in loshon hara (the presence of Y is evidence of the prior occurrence of X).  But that's not really what the parsha says, does it?

14:5 - "And the priest shall command to kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water."  Am I the only who things this is strange, to take two birds, kill one but not the other?

14:7 - Some confusion in this verse.  Back in 14:3, we read "And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper," implying that we're talking about someone cured of leprosy.  But here, in 14:7, we read "And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times..." Is this to say that once one is cured of leprosy, one still needs to be cleansed?

14:10 - "And on the eighth day he shall take...three tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour for a meal-offering, mingled with oil, and one log of oil [וְלֹג אֶחָד שָׁמֶן]."  The Hebrew for "log" is log [לֹג]?  Is log a Hebrew word?!?

14:18-20 - "And the rest of the oil that is in the priest's hand he shall put upon the head of him that is to be cleansed; and the priest shall make atonement for him [וְכִפֶּר עָלָיו הַכֹּהֵן] before the LORD.  And the priest shall offer the sin-offering, and make atonement for him that is to be cleansed [וְכִפֶּר עַל הַמִּטַּהֵר] because of his uncleanness; and afterward he shall kill the burnt-offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt-offering and the meal-offering upon the altar; and the priest shall make atonement for him [וְכִפֶּר עָלָיו הַכֹּהֵן], and he shall be clean."  For what, exactly, is the priest making atonement?  For the (supposedly) underlying loshon hara that caused the leprosy?  For the fact of having been unclean?  It seems wrong that someone afflicted should have to make atonement at all.  The reason for needing to atone is obviously assumed in the text, but I don't get what it is.

14:28 - More social construction:  "And the priest shall put of the oil that is in his hand upon the tip of the right ear of him that is to be cleansed, and upon the thumb of his right hand, and upon the great toe of his right foot, upon the place of the blood of the guilt-offering [עַל מְקוֹם דַּם הָאָשָׁם]."  Rashi has an interesting comment here.  Why does the Torah say upon the place of the blood rather than just on the blood itself?  Because the priest is to put the oil on the place where the blood was "[e]ven if the blood had been wiped off. This teaches us that the blood is not the determining factor, but the place is the determining factor. — [Torath Kohanim 14:54; Men. 10a]." 

14:34-57 - This series of passages -- of what to do with a house that has leprosy -- is remarkable.  First you empty the house before the priest goes in.  Then you see if it's on the walls (?).  If so, you wait a week and come back.  If it's still there, you remove the stones from the wall, then scrape around the mortar holding the stones together; then you replace the stones.  If leprosy remains, you break down the house entirely.  To me, these passages are a powerful metaphor for the diligence with which one needs to root out uncleanliness, though I realize that it is not intended to be metaphorical.  This makes me a little uneasy:  drawing my own lessons from the text while remaining aware that it was surely not intended that I, as an individual, should do so...

14:34 - A remarkable verse:  "When ye are come into the land of Canaan, which I give to you [אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם ] for a possession, and I put the plague of leprosy [וְנָתַתִּי נֶגַע צָרַעַת] in a house of the land of your possession..."  It's as if God is saying, on the one hand, I give you this land, while on the other hand saying, I put -- actually, the Hebrew word is the same, natati or "I give" -- a plague in the house I'm giving you.  What is the meaning of this?  Rashi offers a strange explanation:
and I place a lesion of tzara’ath [leprosy]: Heb. וְנָתַתִּי, lit. and I will give. This is [good] news for them that lesions of tzara’ath will come upon them, (Torath Kohanim 14:75), because the Amorites had hidden away treasures of gold inside the walls of their houses during the entire forty years that the Israelites were in the desert, and through the lesion, he will demolish the house (see verses 43-45) and find them. — [Vayikra Rabbah 17:6]
Sooooo...all this talk of leprosy literally being in the house isn't because of the loshon hara we read about earlier, but rather a kind gesture from God so that the Israelites will find the gold hidden in the former inhabitants' houses?!?  Aside from this being -- I'm sorry -- thoroughly ridiculous, it's also a bit creepy:  So the Israelites wipe out the Amorites, move into their houses...and then God points out to them the riches in the walls?!?  Ugh.  In any case I don't buy it.  But it leaves open the question:  Why give with one hand while taking with the other?  Surely it speaks to the fact that leprosy can't be because of loshon hara, right, if God is putting it in the house simultaneously with its being given to the Israelites.  Hmmm...
14:37 - "And [the priest] shall look on the plague, and, behold, if the plague be in the walls of the house [וְהִנֵּה הַנֶּגַע בְּקִירֹת הַבַּיִת] with hollow streaks, greenish or reddish, and the appearance thereof be lower than the wall..."  How is this even possible, to have leprosy in the walls of the house?!?

14:43-44 - "And if the plague come again, and break out in the house, after that the stones have been taken out, and after the house hath been scraped, and after it is plastered; then the priest shall come in and look; and, behold, if the plague be spread in the house, it is a malignant leprosy in the house: it is unclean."  Rashi has a lot to say about this, and what he has to say is strange.  I'll quote at length, but bold the relevant portions:
[From here,] one might think that a recurrent lesion [in a house] can be deemed unclean only if it spreads. However, the term צָרַעַת מַמְאֶרֶת, “malignant tzara’ath,” is mentioned in reference to houses, and צָרַעַת מַמְאֶרֶת is mentioned in reference to garments (see verse 13:52). [Through the exposition of a גְזֵרָה שָׁוָה we derive that] just as over there [in the case of garments,] a recurrent lesion is deemed unclean even if it had not spread, here too, [in the case of houses,] a recurrent lesion is deemed unclean even if it has not spread. If so, what does Scripture teach us here when it says, “Now, [if] the lesion… has spread…”? [in answer to this question, Rashi explains that the verses here should not be understood in the order in which they are written. Rather, they should be read in a different order, because] this is not the place for this verse. [I.e., the first section of this verse, namely, “Then the kohen shall come and look [at it]. Now [if] the lesion in the house has spread,” is to be understood by inserting it elsewhere within these verses, as follows]: “He shall demolish the house…” (verse 45), should be [understood as if] written after “And if… the lesion returns…” (verse 43), [skipping over the first section of verse 44], and then [reinserting this first section of our verse] “Then the kohen shall come and look… the lesion in the house has spread.” Thus, [when our verse says that the kohen looks at the lesion, the phrase, “[if] the lesion…has spread”] comes to teach [us] only about a lesion which remains the same during the first week [of quarantine], but when he came at the end of the second week [of quarantine], he found that it had spread. For in the earlier verses, Scripture does not explicitly tell us about a case where the lesion had remained with the same appearance after the first week [of quarantine]. Here, though, Scripture teaches you with this mention of spreading, that it is referring only to a lesion that has remained the same for the first week but spread during the second [week]. So what shall he do to it? I may think that he should demolish it, as is written immediately following it, “He shall demolish the house….” (verse 45). Scripture, therefore, says (verse 39), “the kohen shall return,” and [here], “the kohen shall come.” Just as in the case of “returning” [i.e., when the kohen returned after one week and the lesion had spread], he must remove [the unclean stones], scrape, and plaster, and give it another week [of quarantine], likewise, in the case of “coming” [i.e., where the lesion has remained the same for the first week, but spread during the second week], he must remove [the unclean stones], scrape, and plaster and then give it a week [of quarantine]. And, if it recurs again, he must demolish [the house]. If it does not recur, [however,] it is clean. Now, how do we know that if it remained the same during this and this, [i.e., during the first and second weeks], he must [also] remove [the unclean stones], scrape, plaster, and give it a [third] week [of quarantine]? Therefore, Scripture [here] says, “the kohen shall come (וּבָא),” and [in verse 48, it says], “if the kohen comes and comes [again] (בֹּא יָבֹא) ” What is Scripture referring to? If [you suggest that it means a lesion] that spread during the first week [of quarantine], this has already been mentioned [in verse 43]; if [you suggest that verse 48 is referring to a lesion] that spread during the second [week], this has already been mentioned [in our verse]; so [one must conclude that verse 48], “if the kohen comes and comes [again],” [is referring to the case that] he comes (בֹּא) at the end of the first week [of quarantine] and comes [again] (יָבֹא) at the end of the second week [of quarantine], and looks, and [as is continued in verse 48], “behold, the lesion did not spread” [i.e., it has remained the same throughout]. What shall he do to it? One might think that he should dismiss [the case] and depart, as it is written here (48) “the kohen shall pronounce the house clean.” Scripture, however, continues there, “because the lesion has healed.” [God says:] I deemed clean only what was healed. What shall be done with it [if the lesion has remained the same during the first and second weeks, and has not yet healed]? “Coming” is stated above [in verse 44, “the kohen shall come”], and “coming” is stated here [in verse 48, “if the kohen comes…and comes [again]”]; just as in the case above (verse 44), he must remove [the unclean stones], scrape, plaster, and give it a week [of quarantine], a law which we learned through the link made between the terms “returning” and “coming,” likewise, in the case below, [in the question of a lesion that has remained the same through the two weeks, the owner shall remove the unclean stones, scrape, plaster, and observe a week of quarantine]. The above is taught in Torath Kohanim (14:105). The conclusion of this matter is: Demolition [of an afflicted house] is required only when the lesion recurs after the removal [of the unclean stones], scraping, and plastering. The recurring lesion does not require spreading [to necessitate demolition]. Hence, the sequence of the verses is as follows: (Verse 43), “And if [after he had removed the stones, and after the house had been scraped around and after it had been plastered, the lesion] returns” ; then (verse 44, second section),“it is malignant tzara’ath …it is unclean”]; then (verse 45), “He shall demolish the house…,” and (verse 46), “Anyone entering the house […shall become unclean],” and (verse 47), “[And one who lies down…] and one who eats in the house [shall immerse…]” ; [at this juncture, just before verse 48, the second section of our verse (44) is now inserted in the sequence, namely,] “Then the kohen shall come and look…the lesion in the house has spread”- [and, as above, now we know that] Scripture here is referring to a case where the lesion remained the same during the first week [of quarantine], so a second week of quarantine is applied, and at the end of this second week of its quarantine, he comes and sees that it has spread. What should he do with it? The owner must remove [the unclean stones], scrape, plaster, and give it another [i.e., a third] week [of quarantine]. Now, if the lesion recurs, he must demolish, but if it does not recur, [the house is deemed clean, and] birds are required [along with the whole cleansing procedure, because lesions are never quarantined for more than three weeks.
Remarkable!  Rashi is saying that the order of verses in the Torah is wrong!  So no reason is given for the order in which re read them, only a complicated argument is to why it "should" be different.  What are we to make of this?  That God dictated the Torah incorrectly to Moses?  That Moses wrote it down wrong?  Or -- gasp! -- that the Torah is an imperfect, incomplete, problematic document?
14:53 - "But [the priest] shall let go the living bird out of the city into the open field; so shall he make atonement for the house [וְכִפֶּר עַל-הַבַּיִת]; and it shall be clean."  How can one make atonement for something that can't sin?  Weird...

Now we get into the gross stuff...

15:2 - "Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When any man hath an issue out of his flesh [זָב מִבְּשָׂרוֹ], his issue is unclean."  This verse -- indeed, the entire chapter -- is in certain respects very strange.  Why would something over which one has no control -- something entirely natural and part of being human --- be a source of uncleanliness?  A possibility is that uncontrollable bodily emissions are powerful things precisely because they cannot be controlled; if purity is in part a function of performing certain rituals and taking incredibly great care to perform them correctly, then anything that might through a monkey wrench into that precision might by its very nature be viewed as a "threat" to the maintenance of purity.  The problem, of course, is that it's hard to make the case in modern terms that there's anything actually "wrong" with bodily emissions other than the taboos concerning them (which probably come from pre-modern superstitions).  Maybe one way of approaching the issue (no pun intended) is to think of involuntary emissions as signs or reminders that our bodies are not entirely under our control, which is to say, they belong to God.  Hmmm...

15:24 - "And if any man lie with [a woman who as had an issue], and her impurity be upon him [וּתְהִי נִדָּתָהּ עָלָיו], he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed whereon he lieth shall be unclean."  Let's put aside for the moment the issue (!) of whether a woman's menstrual blood should be an impure thing.  By framing this verse in the conditional "if" -- if a man lies with an impure woman and her impurity is upon him -- it implies that a man might lie with a woman who has had an issue but the issue wouldn't touch him.  But I thought men were supposed to be extremely diligent about not getting into this situation in the first place?  Why not just say, don't do it, or X, Y and Z will happen?  Is it possible that a man could sleep with a menstruating woman and not get her blood on him?  Is this what the verse is contemplating?!?

15:30 - "...and the priest shall make atonement for her [וְכִפֶּר עָלֶיהָ הַכֹּהֵן ] before the LORD for the issue of her uncleanness."  Again, why make atonement for something beyond her control?!?

15:31 - "Thus shall ye separate the children of Israel from their uncleanness; that they die not in their uncleanness [וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ בְּטֻמְאָתָם], when they defile My tabernacle that is in the midst of them."  Aha!  Here's part of the explanation for all this...  To the extent that a thing makes one ritually impure to enter the mishkan -- which would cause one to die -- it is uncleanliness and therefore something to be dealt with. 

Maybe a way of approaching these clean/unclean and pure/impure issues has to do as much with being aware of one's appearance and state of being -- one's holiness, perhaps? -- before coming into the presence of God.  There's something very archaic about it, but at the same time -- when the premodern aspects can be overlooked -- something poetic about it, that being aware and mindful of our physical state should be related to our readiness to approach God.  The problem is how to separate this idea from the distasteful aspects.  How does orthodox men not touching women in public not, in practice, constitute discrimination or misogyny?  How does basing any kind of distinctions on whether or not a woman is menstruating entail anything less than superstition?  The problem, for me at least, is that I don't see these things is inherently dirty, embarrassing, impure or "unholy," so using them as some kind of touchstone for determining ritual cleanliness seems wrong.  Not to mention the fact that in the absence of a priesthood/the Temple, who are the arbiters supposed to be of what is un/clean or im/pure?  The Rabbis of the Talmudic period?  This seems insane.  It seems to me that if the priest's pronouncement of un/cleanliness or im/purity is a critical step -- indeed the sine qua non -- of something actually being un/clean or im/pure, then the absence of a priesthood means there's no central authority to make these calls and, therefore, no basis for making them.  Indeed, once the Temple itself is gone, the very point of maintaining cleanliness and purity -- to avoid defiling the mishkan -- is gone.  So if we want to still maintain cleanliness and purity, then we need a different justification, and that justification surely cannot be rooted in a set of premodern ideas that existed thousands of years ago.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Tazria

For me, this is a trying parsha on several levels.  With the subjects of post-natal uncleanliness and leprosy, we're getting our first glimpse here at some of the most pre-modern aspects of the Torah.  I can search these verses for more contemporary meanings, but it's tough.  I'm just glad Tazria wasn't my Bar Mitzvah parsha...

12:2-5 - "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: If a woman be delivered, and bear a man-child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of the impurity of her sickness [כִּימֵי נִדַּת דְּו‍ֹתָה]...But if she bear a maid-child, then she shall be unclean [וְטָמְאָה] two weeks, as in her impurity [כְּנִדָּתָהּ]; and she shall continue in the blood of purification [תֵּשֵׁב עַל-דְּמֵי טָהֳרָה] threescore and six days."  Oy.  In the first place, why could there possibly be a difference between delivering a male versus a female baby in terms of the length of post-birth "uncleanliness"?  By my reading, the Torah is saying that having a girl makes the mother six times as impure as having a boy.  Aside from this being abhorrent (do the Orthodox observe this difference?), I just don't get why there should be any difference at all.

The second thing is an interesting difference in translation, not exactly what I would expect.  Machon-Mamre translates kiyimei nidat dotah [כִּימֵי נִדַּת דְּו‍ֹתָהּ] as "the impurity of her sickness" while Kehot translates this [12:2] instead, more sensibly, as "the days of her menstrual flow."  Sickness isn't exactly the same as menstrual flow, is it?  Rashi has a rather unfortunate explanation for the connection between "menstrual flow" and "sickness" in terms of this word dotah:
flow: Heb. דְּוֹתָהּ This expression denotes a substance that flows from her body. Another explanation: It denotes illness (מַדְוֶה) and sickness, for there is not a woman who sees [menstrual] blood without feeling ill, [since] her head and limbs become heavy upon her.
Nice, right?  A woman's period is a "sickness" because it makes women ill to see their menstruation.  Ugh.

12:6-7 - "And when the days of her purification are fulfilled, for a son, or for a daughter, she shall bring a lamb of the first year for a burnt-offering, and a young pigeon, or a turtle-dove, for a sin-offering, unto the door of the tent of meeting, unto the priest.  And he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her [וְכִפֶּר עָלֶיהָ]; and she shall be cleansed from the fountain of her blood [מִמְּקֹר דָּמֶיהָ] ..."

In the first place, why does any atonement have to be made at all?  Surely having a child doesn't in itself constitute some kind of sin, but then why must a sin-offering be made?  (I get the idea of a burnt-offering, though, as a way of giving thanks to God.)  Second, look again at this strange translation here:  mim'kor dameha [מִמְּקֹר דָּמֶיהָ] is translated as "from the fountain of her blood," while Kehot translates this as "from the source of her blood" (emphases mine).  Both translations are technically right, though fountain hardly makes sense here.  But the difference, actually, is important:  If we accept the first translation - fountain - it implies that the woman is cleansed from the blood itself; the second translation - source - on the other hand suggests that she needs to be purified from something deeper:  not the blood itself but rather its source.  But what is that source?  The text doesn't say.

13:2 - From menstruation to leprosy:  "When a man [אָדָם] shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, or a scab, or a bright spot, and it become in the skin of his flesh the plague of leprosy, then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests."  What's interesting is that no mention is made of a woman who exhibits such scabs or spots.  We know the word used here - adam - refers to a man and not a woman because later on, in 13:29, we read "And when a man or woman [וְאִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה] hath a plague upon the head or upon the beard..." implying that in this case, it could be either.  Why is this?

But note Rashi's completely fascinating comment here.  The question for Rashi is why does a person with skin lesions have to be brought before the priests?  Isn't it obvious what his problem is?  Rashi's answer, I think, not only drives at the heart of why the Priesthood is so important, but it says something incredibly important about the social construction of meaning in Judaism in general.  Why does the person have to be brought before the priest and his sons?  Because
[i]t is a Scriptural decree that the uncleanness of lesions and their cleanness do not come about except by the pronouncement of a kohen. — [Torath Kohanim 13:43]
In other words, the a lesion isn't inherently clean or unclean; it only becomes so when someone in authority says it is.  Incredible!  By my read, it is the Priest's interpretation that matters -- in the context of his authority and in light of the textual direction, of course -- not some underlying reality.  So, unlike pork -- which is inherently unclean even in the absence of a specific interpretation that a particular piece of meat is indeed pork -- leprous lesions are not unclean unless and until the relevant authority says so.  I need to give more thought to the implications of this difference...

13:2-8 - These verses, indeed the entire 13th Chapter, deal with leprosy and how the priests should deal with it as an uncleanliness.  On the one hand, I can understand how this affliction might have been seen as frightening back in the day.  Indeed until very recently it was viewed in extremely pejorative, highly charged terms.  On the other hand, we know better today, and therefore it's hard to read these verses as anything other than ancient superstition.  What to make of the fact that the disease for all intents and purposes has a cure and has been virtually wiped out in the developed world?  That "impurity" and "uncleanliness" only exists in the southern hemisphere?  It's chapters like this that make me look at much of the Torah differently.  If some parts are clearly pre-modern, then what about others?  How can we tell the difference, and what are the implications?

Also worth noting is that, as with the mishkan, we see an incredible amount of detail concerning different kinds of skin problems and their meanings, much more so than we see concerning the more "moral" aspects of the Torah.  What is this trying to tell us?

13:14 - "But whensoever [וּבְיוֹם] raw flesh appeareth in him, he shall be unclean."  Mechon-Mamre unhelpfully translates u'vayom as "but whensoever"; the more correct translation, I believe, is Kehot's: "but on the day."

Why say "on the day"?  Note Rashi's comment, which echoes his comment on 13:2 above:
But on the day [that live flesh] appears: [The verse could have simply said, “But when live flesh appears.”] What does Scripture teach us [by saying,] “on the day”]? It [comes] to teach that there is a day on which you [the kohen] look [i.e., examine the suspected lesion], and there is a day on which you do not look [i.e., when he may not examine it]. From here [our Rabbis] say that a bridegroom is exempt [from having a lesion examined] throughout all the seven days of the wedding feast, for himself, his garments, and his house. Similarly, during a Festival [people] are exempt [from having a lesion examined] throughout all the days of the Festival. - [Torath Kohanim 13:87]
Incredible!  So basically when it comes to this kind of impurity, sometimes it's best to operate on a "hear no evil, see no evil" basis.  If the priest doesn't check, then there can't be any impurity, right?  And if there isn't impurity, then there can't be any basis to postpone a wedding, celebrate the Festival, etc. 

Could this entire approach to leprosy be saying something about its relatively lower importance in terms of causing one to be impure?  But then it seems to go against the grain of so much of Judaism, where being exact, and checking a million times, is the order of the day.  Fascinating!

13:46 - "All the days wherein the plague is in him he shall be unclean; he is unclean; he shall dwell alone [בָּדָד יֵשֵׁב]; without the camp shall his dwelling be."  Rashi brings up a good point:  Why should someone afflicted with leprosy be kept apart, isolated even from others who have it as well?  He quotes chazal:
Our Sages said: “Why is he different from other unclean people, that he must remain isolated? Since, with his slander, he caused a separation [i.e., a rift] between man and wife or between man and his fellow, he too, shall be separated [from society].”- [Arachin 16b] [This rationale is based on the premise that a person is stricken with tzara’ath as a result of his talking [loshon hara] לְשׁוֹן הָרַע, i.e., speaking derogatorily of others, although he may be telling the truth.]
Ouch.  So the assumption is made that loshon hara, and specifically slanderous talk that causes problems between other people, is the cause of leprosy, which is, of course, insane.  But what I don't get is if  loshon hara indeed caused leprosy, then why would its diagnosis be dependent on what the priest says?  Is this to suggest that if the priest doesn't diagnose the affliction, then the loshon hara didn't take place?  Makes no sense, but it's the logical conclusion to this line of reasoning...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Shemini

9:3-4 - "And unto the children of Israel thou shalt speak, saying: Take ye a he-goat for a sin-offering; and a calf and a lamb, both of the first year, without blemish, for a burnt-offering; and an ox and a ram for peace-offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD; and a meal-offering mingled with oil; for to-day the LORD appeareth unto you [כִּי הַיּוֹם יְהוָה נִרְאָה אֲלֵיכֶם].'"  Obviously this can't be taken literally, right?  If the people actually looked at God they would die, if I recall correctly.  So then what does this mean?

9:23-24 - Okay, here's what it "means":  "And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the LORD appeared [וַיֵּרָא כְבוֹד-יְהוָה] unto all the people. And there came forth fire from before the LORD [וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה], and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat; and when all the people saw it, they shouted, and fell on their faces."  So God doesn't actually appear but rather fire from God comes...from where?  The heavens?  I can't picture this...

10:1-11 - Aaron's sons, Nadav and Abihu, "offered strange fire [אֵשׁ זָרָה] before the LORD, which He had not commanded them," and as a result "there came forth fire from before the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD."  More astonishing is Moses's reaction:  "'This is it that the LORD spoke, saying: Through them that are nigh unto Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.'"  Not very comforting.  Aaron's response is even more astonishing:  "And Aaron held his peace [וַיִּדֹּם]."  His sons are killed, and to Moses's unsympathetic response, he remains silent.  After telling some of Aaron's relatives to come take the bodies of Nadav and Abihu, God -- for the first time -- speaks directly to Aaron:  "'Drink no wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tent of meeting, that ye die not; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations [חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם]. And that ye may put difference between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean;  and that ye may teach the children of Israel all the statutes which the LORD hath spoken unto them by the hand of Moses.'"

What is the meaning of all this?  In the first place, what is the aish zarah or "strange fire" that led God to kill Nadav and Abihu? We don't know. Presumably it was some kind of ritually impure fire, but in any case it was bad enough to get them killed.  And what about the remarkable prohibition against drinking alcohol before going into the ohel moed, the Tent of Meeting?  Why is this what God says to Aaron at this moment?  Rashi's commentary on why Nadav and Abihu died is illuminating:
Rabbi Eliezer says: Aaron’s sons died only because they rendered halachic decisions in the presence of Moses, their teacher. Rabbi Ishmael says: [They died because] they had entered the sanctuary after having drunk wine. The proof is that after their death, [Scripture] admonished the survivors that they may not enter the sanctuary after having drunk wine. This is analogous to a king who had a faithful attendant. [When he found him standing at tavern entrances, he severed his head in silence and appointed another attendant in his place. We would not know why he put the first to death, but for his enjoining the second thus, “You must not enter the doorway of taverns,” from which we know that for such a reason he had put the first one to death. Thus [it is said], “And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.” But we would not know why they [Nadab and Abihu] died, but for His commanding Aaron, “Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication.” We know from this that they died precisely on account of the wine. For this reason Scripture showed love to Aaron by directing the divine utterance to him alone, thus, “Do not drink wine that will lead to intoxication,”] as recounted in Vayikra Rabbah (12:1).
For me, even assuming it is accurate, this explanation is lacking.  If they weren't supposed to drink wine before entering the sanctuary, why didn't God say something about this ahead of time, allowing them to make a decision about it?  It seems to me they were killed for doing something abou which they had no idea was forbidden.  This assumes, of course, that there is a connection between the aish zara and their (alleged) intoxication.

10:16-20 - What a strange story, offered with no introduction: 
And Moses diligently inquired for the goat of the sin-offering, and, behold, it was burnt; and he was angry with Eleazar and with Ithamar, the sons of Aaron that were left, saying: 'Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin-offering in the place of the sanctuary, seeing it is most holy, and He hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD?  Behold, the blood of it was not brought into the sanctuary within; ye should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, as I commanded.' And Aaron spoke unto Moses: 'Behold, this day have they offered their sin-offering and their burnt-offering before the LORD, and there have befallen me such things as these; and if I had eaten the sin-offering to-day, would it have been well-pleasing in the sight of the LORD?  And when Moses heard that, it was well-pleasing in his sight.
Why was Moses angry with Elezar and Itamar for not eating the sin-offering?  What is the meaning of Aaron's retort, that had he (Aaron) eaten the sin-offering, it wouldn't have pleased God?  And why does this answer satisfy Moses?  Rashi doesn't help much here...

11:2 - The laws of kashrut!  "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: These are the living things which ye may eat among all the beasts that are on the earth."  Rashi makes an interesting analogy here: 

Since the Israelites cleave to the Omnipresent and are therefore worthy of being alive, accordingly, God separated them from uncleanness and decreed commandments upon them [so that through these commandments Israel would live]. For the other nations, however, He prohibited nothing. This is comparable to a physician who went to visit a patient [who was incurable, and allowed him to eat anything he wished, whereas when he went to his patient who was to recover, the physician imposed restrictions on his diet that would ensure that the recoverable patient would live. So too, the nations and Israel…], etc. as is found in the Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma (6).
So non-Jews are like terminal patients, who have no hope so what does it matter what they eat?  But more to the point:  Rashi is making an explicit connection here between dietary laws, cleanness, and holiness.  That is, it's not just 'don't eat A, B and C because non-Jews do,' but rather 'don't eat A, B and C because these things are unclean.'  If there is, in fact, a connection between cleanness and holiness, then kashrut is more than an arbitrary set of dietary rules:  it's a set of judgments about what is clean and what is not.  Hmmm.  I need to think about this more...

11:3-7 - These verses do an interesting thing.  First, we read "Whatsoever parteth the hoof, and is wholly cloven-footed, and cheweth the cud, among the beasts, that may ye eat."  This seems like a clear statement:  cloven hooves, chewing cud.  But the following verse adds what I think is an unnecessary clarification:  "Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that only chew the cud, or of them that only part the hoof..."  The list of these animals that either have cloven hooves or chew cud -- but not both -- include camels, "rock-badgers" (i.e., hyraxes), hares, or swine.  It seems to me listing these things creates more confusion than it solves.  The original statement in 11:3 is clear, but the effect of listing four different animals one can't eat raises the question of what about all the other animals that either have cloven hooves or chew cud (but not both)?  Logic would say of course they're not kosher, but then why list these specific animals?  Confusing if you ask me.

11:8 - "Of their flesh [מִבְּשָׂרָם] ye shall not eat, and their carcasses ye shall not touch; they are unclean unto you [טְמֵאִים הֵם לָכֶם]."  First, I didn't realize you couldn't even touch the dead bodies of non-kosher animals.  Is that still true?  Second, here again we have the notion of uncleanness.  Is God saying that the flesh of certain animals (a) is inherently unclean and, therefore, not for Jewish consumption; or (b) is to be considered as unclean for Jews though, by implication, it is not unclean for non-Jews?  I always assumed it was the latter, but reading these verses it's not entirely clear.  Third, the way the prohibition is stated suggests something very different I would have thought.  Saying you can't eat their flesh or touch their carcasses begs the questions:  can we touch these animals while alive, and can we eat parts of them other than their flesh?  Amazingly, Rashi seems to answer the second question in the affirmative:  "The [Scriptural] prohibition applies [only] to the “flesh” [of an unclean animal], but not its bones, sinews, horns, or hooves. — [Torath Kohanim 11:74]"   So that means gelatin is all right to eat!?! 

11:9-12 - Here we move on to sea creatures:
These may ye eat of all that are in the waters: whatsoever hath fins and scales in the waters, in the seas, and in the rivers, them may ye eat.  And all that have not fins and scales in the seas, and in the rivers, of all that swarm in the waters, and of all the living creatures that are in the waters, they are a detestable thing [שֶׁקֶץ הֵם] unto you, and they shall be a detestable thing unto you; ye shall not eat of their flesh, and their carcasses ye shall have in detestation. Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that is a detestable thing unto you.
A couple of points here.  First, what is the meaning of this word, sheketz [שֶׁקֶץ]?  Mechon Mamre per above translates it as "a detestable thing"; Kehot translates this as "an abomination."  Either way, I wonder whether the Hebrew is as strong as either of these translations and, if so, what its implications are.  What are other sheketzim in the Torah, and are they to be treated better/worse than unkosher animals?  Second, and related, why are sea creatures without fins and scales so detestable -- it's repeated four times in three verses -- while non-kosher beasts of the land -- including pigs even -- are not.  The prior verses simply say they shouldn't be eaten because they are unclean.  Is a sheketz worse than a tamei?  Third, note the difference between the treatment of dead sea creatures and dead land animals.  The dead bodies of the former are to be detested; the dead bodies of the latter are unclean and not to be touched.  But can the dead bodies of sea creatures be touched?  The Torah doesn't say.

Rashi has two interesting points here.  First, he reiterates his previous point about land animals, that "[You shall not eat] of their flesh" means "[Only their flesh is prohibited,] but one is not prohibited [to eat] the fins or the bones. — [Torath Kohanim 11:82]"  (!)  Nice.  Second, concerning the Torah's exhortation that "Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that is a detestable thing unto you," he points out that the qualifying statement "in the waters" means that a sea creature that has fins and scales in the water but "shed[s] them in its emergence [onto dry land], it is permitted" to be eaten.  My question is, What kind of creature would fall into this category?  I certainly can't think of one...

11:13-19 - Now the flying things:  "And these ye shall have in detestation [וְאֶת-אֵלֶּה תְּשַׁקְּצוּ] among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are a detestable thing..."  But unlike the laws concerning land and sea creatures, which are given in abstract forms (i.e., cloven hooves, fins and scales, etc.), here, with flying things, we first get a list of prohibited birds without explaining (a) why these particular birds are prohibited nor (b) why exactly they are prohibited (e.g., because they are unclean, detestable, etc.).  So no eating of eagles, kites, ospreys, kestrels, vultures, ravens, ostriches, jays, sparrow hawks, goshawks, little owls, gulls, big owls, horned owls, starlings, magpies, storks, herons, hoopoes or bats.  (Phew!)  I have gathered the commonality is that these birds are birds of prey or scavengers that eat other living things, but it is striking that no explanation is given in the Torah.

11:20-25 - And, finally, the insects, which are described even differently than the preceeding three groups of creatures: 
All winged swarming things that go upon all fours are a detestable thing [שֶׁקֶץ] unto you. Yet these may ye eat of all winged swarming things that go upon all fours [הַהֹלֵךְ עַל-אַרְבַּע], which have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth; even these of them ye may eat: the locust after its kinds, and the bald locust after its kinds, and the cricket after its kinds, and the grasshopper after its kinds.  But all winged swarming things, which have four feet, are a detestable thing unto you.
Again, some observations:  First, this formulation seems to imply that flying bugs that don't have four legs are all right to eat (e.g., flies).  In fact, I can't think of flying insects that do have four legs, unless "upon all fours" really means "walks around."  (Rashi, though, suggests this is not the case:  "But any [other] flying insect [that has four legs is an abomination for you]: [In verse 20, it already says, “Any flying insect that walks on four is an abomination for you.” Why is this repeated here?] It comes to teach us that if it has five [legs], it is clean.")  Second, what's interesting to me is the distinction between jumping insects -- locusts, grasshoppers and crickets -- and non-jumping insects; the former are all right to eat but not the latter.  Not sure why jumping makes an insect undetestable, but apparently it does.  Blech.

11:29-31 - Another list of prohibitions:  "And these are they which are unclean unto you among the swarming things that swarm upon the earth: the weasel, and the mouse, and the great lizard after its kinds, and the gecko, and the land-crocodile, and the lizard, and the sand-lizard, and the chameleon."  Again, why list these things?  Why not simply say, of the animals on land, if it doesnt (a) have cloven hooves and (b) chew its cud, then you can't eat it.  Period.  Why list these things? 

11:44-45 - So why, in the end, should we observe these dietary laws?  "For I am the LORD your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am holy; neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moveth upon the earth.  For I am the LORD that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."  This is a remarkable statement.  On the one hand, there is an equation -- or at least a relationship -- between what one eats and his/her "holiness."  The question, as I intimated above, is whether the holiness comes simply from doing as God asks, or whether there is something inherent to the laws themselves that helps bring about this holiness.  These verses seem to suggest the latter.  The statement "neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moveth upon the earth" certainly seems to suggest that there's something inherently, well, dirty about swarming things. 

Lots of food for thought in this parsha... : )

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Tzav

Back to catch up... : (

6:6 - "Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually [תָּמִיד]; it shall not go out."  Not go out at allEver?  What about when the mishkan was moved from place to place?  Seems like a pretty important detail not better explained here...

6:7-10 - Concerning "the law of the meal-offering":   In 6:7, we read "the sons of Aaron shall offer it before the LORD, in front of the altar"; verse 8, however, begins with "And he shall take up therefrom his handful..."  Who is the "he"?  An individual son?   I do like, however, the sentiment that the portion of the meal-offering not burned on the altar goes to Aaron and his sons, to "be eaten without leaven in a holy place" [מַצּוֹת תֵּאָכֵל בְּמָקוֹם קָדֹשׁ], as if the lack of leavening is what makes it holy.  (Interesting also to see matza mentioned outside of the Passover context!)

6:16-19 - Here we first read that "every meal-offering of the priest shall be wholly made to smoke; it shall not be eaten."  But we just read above (6:9) "And that which is left thereof shall Aaron and his sons eat" in unleavened form.  Which is it?  Is part of the meal-offering set aside or not?  We then read that of the sin offering, "The priest that offereth it for sin shall eat it; in a holy place shall it be eaten, in the court of the tent of meeting."  Why would it be all right for the priest to eat the sin offering but not the meal offering?!?

7:7-10 - Interesting discussion about different kinds of offerings and under which circumstances parts (or all) of what is left over belong to the priest who effected the offering.  Is this some kind of tribute system?  Seems to me that there's a built in conflict-of-interest situation if priests can personally benefit from the guilt- and sin-offerings of the people...but that's just me I guess.

7:20-21 - "But the soul that eateth of the flesh of the sacrifice of peace-offerings, that pertain unto the LORD, having his uncleanness upon him, that soul shall be cut off from his people [וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מֵעַמֶּיהָ]."  I have already commented on this formulation here.  But I still wonder what it means.  Banishment?  Death?  Ostracism?

7:23 - "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: Ye shall eat no fat, of ox, or sheep, or goat."  Huh.  If I recall correctly, there's nothing in the laws of kashrut about not earing fat of animals otherwise fit to eat.  So what's the deal with this?  Is this verse specifically speaking about animals used for sacrifice?  If so it's not clear...

7:26 - "And ye shall eat no manner of blood, whether it be of fowl or of beast, in any of your dwellings [בְּכֹל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם]."  Two observations:  First, the prohibition against eating blood which is part of kashrut comes right after a similar kind of prohibition against eating "fat, of ox, or sheep, or goat" that isn't part of kashrut.  That's a bit strange.  Second, and more importantly, what is the meaning of the boundary condition "in any of your dwellings"?  This clearly seems to imply that there are places that do not fall under the category of "any of your dwellings" in which one might eat blood.  But surely this can't the case!  Why are "dwellings" mentioned?!?

7:29 - This has to be one of the most circular verses in the Torah:  "Speak unto the children of Israel, saying: He that offereth his sacrifice of peace-offerings unto the LORD shall bring his offering unto the LORD out of his sacrifice of peace-offerings."  From where else would one's peace-offerings come if not from one's peace-offerings?!?  What am I missing here?!?

7:34 - "For the breast of waving [חֲזֵה הַתְּנוּפָה] and the thigh of heaving [שׁוֹק הַתְּרוּמָה] have I taken of the children of Israel out of their sacrifices of peace-offerings..."  Strange locutions!

8:1-36 - This entire chapter is devoted to a blow-by-blow repetition of everything we've already read about the investiture of Aaron and his sons as priests in Tetzaveh.  I know some things are repeated for emphasis, but even this is a little strange:  an entire chapter of 30+ verses that could have been summarized by saying 'And Moses invested Aaron and his sons as priests as the LORD had commanded him.'  I suppose the point of this is to make absolutely clear that Moses did, in fact, do exactly as God had asked.  But it still seems redundant.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Vayikra

1:1 - "And the LORD called [וַיִּקְרָא] unto Moses, and spoke unto him out of the tent of meeting, saying..."  This word "called" -- vayikra -- is a curious one.  Usually it's God speaking to Moses.  Why the difference?  Rashi suggests this is a term of affection:
Every [time God communicated with Moses, whether it was represented by the expression] וַיְדַבֵּר, “And He spoke,” or וַיֹּאמֶר; “and He said,” or וַיְצַו, “and He commanded,” it was always preceded by [God] calling [to Moses by name] (Torath Kohanim 1:2-3). [קְרִיאָה] is an expression of affection, the [same] expression employed by the ministering angels [when addressing each other], as it says, “And one called (וְקָרָא) to the other…” (Isa. 6:3).
Who knows.  It certainly makes the book sound better than vayidaber!  (By the way, Rashi has a lot to say about pretty much every word in this verse!  It's always interesting to me why he says something here but not there, a lot here, very little there...)

1:4 - "And he [one coming to offer a sacrifice before God] shall lay his hand upon the head of the burnt-offering; and it shall be accepted for him [וְנִרְצָה לוֹ] to make atonement for him [לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו]."  To make atonement for what?  Rashi asks the same question:  "For which [sins] will [the sacrifice] be accepted for him [thereby atoning for them]?"  The answer?  After apparently saying that a burnt offering cannot (?) atone for capital offenses, Rashi concludes "we determine that it is accepted only for [failure to perform] a positive commandment [for which the punishment is not expressly stated in the Torah, or [violation of] a negative commandment that is attached to a positive commandment."  Oooookay.  Where Rashi gets this from is beyond me, and what's particularly strange here is that this isn't a minor point:  At issue here is what exactly can a person atone for through sacrifice.  If Rashi is right, then eating something non-kosher cannot be atoned for through sacrifice, but not honoring one's parents can?

1:10 - "And if his offering be of the flock..."  Lots of talk in this parsha about different kinds of sacrifices without, it seems to me, any explanation of the differences.  Variously mentioned are bulls, sheep, birds, and "meal offerings."  Is there any difference between them?  Do they atone for different things, or are they merely more/less "expensive"?

1:15 - "And the priest shall bring [the fowl] unto the altar, and pinch off its head..."  Why is the priest charged with slaughtering bird sacrifices but not bulls or sheep? 

2:3 - "But that which is left of the meal-offering [הַמִּנְחָה] shall be Aaron's and his sons'; it is a thing most holy [קֹדֶשׁ קָדָשִׁים] of the offerings of the LORD made by fire."  First, why do Aaron & Sons get some of the meal offering but not of the other offerings?  Why no meat for the priests?  Second, why is the meal offering in fact "a thing most holy"?  What's the difference?

2:11 - " shall make no leaven, nor any honey [וְכָל-דְּבַשׁ], smoke as an offering made by fire unto the LORD."  Honey?!?  First, why not offer honey?  Second, and more importantly, how in the heck could there have been honey bees in the desert?!?

2:13 - "And every meal-offering of thine shalt thou season with salt; neither shalt thou suffer the salt of the covenant of thy God [מֶלַח בְּרִית אֱלֹהֶיךָ] to be lacking from thy meal-offering; with all thy offerings thou shalt offer salt."  Salt of the covenant of God!?!  To what does this refer?  Rashi reports, intrestingly, that "there was a covenant made with salt since the six days of Creation, in that the lower waters were promised that they would be offered on the altar. [And how were they offered? In the form of] salt [which comes from water,] and in the water libations on the Festival [of Succoth]."  No reference is given.  Did Rashi just make up a midrash?  I mean, is this really what melach brit elohecha means?!?

3:1 - "And if his offering be a sacrifice of peace-offerings [שְׁלָמִים]..."  What is a "peace offering"?  What is it supposed to do that "burnt-offerings," "meal-offerings" and "sin-offerings" don't do?  Rashi says they are "[So named] because they instill peace (שָׁלוֹם) in the world. Another explanation: [They are called שְׁלָמִים because they bring about harmony (שָׁלוֹם) , [since some portions of the sacrifice go] to the altar, to the Kohanim, and to the owner [of the sacrifice]. — [Torath Kohanim 3:156]."  Not sure how this explains anything, though...

3:17 - "It shall be a perpetual statute [חֻקַּת עוֹלָם] throughout your generations in all your dwellings, that ye shall eat neither fat [כָּל-חֵלֶב] nor blood."  The not eating blood I get, but not to eat fat?!?  Rashi says it's "explained very clearly" in Torath Kohanim 3:189.  Huh.  Don't have a copy of that lying around...

4:2 - On this verse, Rashi offers a comment concering what a "sin-offering" is: 
Our Rabbis explained: A sin-offering is brought only for such a transgression whose prohibition is expressed [in the Torah] as a negative commandment, and whose willful violation incurs the penalty of excision (premature death by the hands of Heaven). The unintentional violation of such prohibitions incurs a sin-offering [upon the individual]. — [Torath Kohanim 4:196; Shab. 69a)]
Well, at least this explains what it is...

4:13 - "And if the whole congregation of Israel shall err, the thing being hid from the eyes of the assembly [וְנֶעְלַם דָּבָר, מֵעֵינֵי הַקָּהָל], and do any of the things which the LORD hath commanded not to be done, and are guilty..."  What, exactly, is this thing that is hid from the kahal?  Rashi says "the thing" in question "[means that the Sanhedrin] issued an erroneous decision regarding any matter in the Torah that incurs the penalty of excision, by declaring that matter permissible. — [Hor. 7b]"  Huh.  But how exactly would the Sanhedrin know that it did so?

4:20 - "...and the priest shall make atonement for them [וְכִפֶּר עֲלֵהֶם הַכֹּהֵן], and they shall be forgiven."  It's very interesting to me, this concept at the center of vayikra, that the priest -- through sacrifice -- can "make atonement" for one who has sinned.  I know it's not the same thing, but there's something very Catholic/confessional about this.  As a Reform Jew, I'm so used to thinking about there being nothing between me and God -- nothing able to come between me and God -- that to read about the priest being able to effectuate atonement is strange to my eyes.  The question in my mind is, doesn't the change represent progress?  Do we need a priest -- or a temple, or sacrifices, or...? -- in order to atone?  Hmmm....

5:2-3 - "or if any one touch any unclean thing [דָּבָר טָמֵא], whether it be the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean cattle, or the carcass of unclean swarming things, and be guilty, it being hidden from him that he is unclean; or if he touch the uncleanness of man [בְּטֻמְאַת אָדָם], whatsoever his uncleanness be wherewith he is unclean, and it be hid from him; and, when he knoweth of it, be guilty..."  Rashi explains that the uncleanness in question comes from corpses or "a man or woman who has experienced a discharge."  Issues of ritual impurity are not new to me, but to read about to confront a decidedly outdated, pre-modern view of the world that holds no meaning for me.  It's one of the most foreign parts of Judaism to me.  I can appreciate the symbolism of the mishkan, I can acknowledge the role of community in expiating individual sins against God, and I can even appreciate the need to respect holy things.  What I have a hard time doing is seeing how coming into contact with the dead or having one's period changes any of this.

5:7 - "And if his means suffice not for a lamb, then he shall bring his forfeit for that wherein he hath sinned, two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, unto the LORD: one for a sin-offering [אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת], and the other for a burnt-offering [וְאֶחָד לְעֹלָה]."  Again, what's the difference?  You'd think this parsha would tell us a little something about it...

5:16 - Yet another kind of offering:  the "the guilt-offering" [הָאָשָׁם].  Again, what's this as opposed to the other kinds of offerings?  And why not explain this better in the Torah itself?!?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Torah Tidbits: Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Parshat Vayakhel

35:2 - "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death [כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת]."  Put to death for violating Shabbat?  Another instance where the death penalty is no longer applied.  And is not appropriate.

35:3 - Do not light fires on Shabbat.  Actually, the verse says do not kindle fires "throughout your habitations" [בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם].  Why is this added?  It surely isn't to imply that it is okay to light fires on Shabbat in all places other than one's place of living.  But then why add this qualification?  Strange.

35:10 - "And let every wise-hearted man [וְכָל-חֲכַם-לֵב] among you come, and make all that the LORD hath commanded..."  Another use of this strange locution, attributing wisdom to the heart.  What does it mean?

35:22 - "And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought nose-rings, and ear-rings, and signet-rings, and girdles [וְכוּמָז]."  Kehot translates this word v'chumaz as "buckles,"  but the real fun is in Rashi's commentary.  What are these girdles/buckles?  "This is a golden ornament placed over a woman’s private parts. Our Rabbis explain the name כּוּמָז as [an acrostic]: כַּאן מְקוֹם זִמָּה, [meaning] here is the place of lewdness. -[from Shab. 64a]"  Ah well.  Not so nice, but not that surprising either, right?  Question:  Does the fact that the Talmud considers a woman's privates to be inherently lewd mean that for all time that's the way it has to be?  Can there be any acknowledgement that such views are outdated?

35:29 - "The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto the LORD; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses to be made."  I'm just curious:  whose heart didn't make them "willing" to contribute?

36:8-38 - Verse 8 says "And every wise-hearted man [כָל-חֲכַם-לֵב] among them that wrought the work made the tabernacle with ten curtains...."  In verse 10, "And he coupled five curtains..."  In verse 11, "And he made loops of blue..."  In verse 13, "And he made fifty clasps of gold..."  And so on.  So who is the "he"?  In verse 6, Moses tells the people to stop bringing offerings because they had already brought enough for the mishkan and then some.  The next person mentioned is "every wise-hearted man" in verse 8.  But the next 30 verses all refer to this "he" who, in effect, builds the physical structure of the miskhan.  The singular forms of the Hebrew are used here, not the plural.  Am I just misunderstanding the grammar here?

An aside:  While I'm sure there's a "reason" for it, to my eyes it seems very strange that the details of the mishkan's constitution and construction are described in detail, multiple times; first when God tells Moses what to do, then Moses tells the people what to do, then what it is the people did.  Frankly there's something weird in my view about the Torah providing so much detail about these physical things while glosssing over important details when it comes to so many other laws.  It makes sense if the Torah is a blueprint for establishing a set of new religious practices in a certain place and time...but not if the Torah is supposed to be a timeless document.

38:8 - "And he [Bezalel] made the laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women [בְּמַרְאֹת הַצֹּבְאֹת] that did service at the door of the tent of meeting."  What are these mirrors, exactly, and what is the point of using them to fashion the laver, particularly because this detail was not commanded by God?  (Kehot translates this as "the mirrors of the women who had set up the legions.")  Rashi's commentary, at once fascinating, beautiful, and terrible, is worth citing at length:
Israelite women owned mirrors, which they would look into when they adorned themselves. Even these [mirrors] they did not hold back from bringing as a contribution toward the Mishkan, but Moses rejected them because they were made for temptation [i.e., to inspire lustful thoughts]. The Holy One, blessed is He, said to him, “Accept [them], for these are more precious to Me than anything [אלו חביבין עלי מן הכל] because through them the women set up many legions [i.e., through the children they gave birth to] in Egypt.” When their husbands were weary from back-breaking labor, they [the women] would go and bring them food and drink and give them to eat. Then they [the women] would take the mirrors and each one would see herself with her husband in the mirror, and she would seduce him with words, saying, “I am more beautiful than you.” And in this way they aroused their husbands desire and would copulate with them, conceiving and giving birth there, as it is said: “Under the apple tree I aroused you” (Song 8:5).
Beautiful, right?  But then it takes a turn to a darker side:
This is [the meaning of] what is בְּמַרְאֹתהַצֹבְאֹת [lit., the mirrors of those who set up legions]. From these [the mirrors], the washstand was made, because its purpose was to make peace between a man and his wife. [How so?] By giving a drink from the water that was in it [the washstand] to [a woman] whose husband had warned her [not to stay in private with a certain man] and she secluded herself [with him anyway. The water would test her and either destroy her or prove her innocence. See Num. 5:11-31].
So if I understand Rashi's commentary correctly, women are precious because they helped perpetuate the Jewish people even though the men were tired from labor...but they are also fundamentally untrustworthy and should be judged by magic rather than their word.  Not nice.

Parshat Pekudei

38:21 - "These are the accounts of the tabernacle [פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן], even the tabernacle of the testimony..."  The first section of this parsha enumerates in detail the exact amounts of precious metals collected for purposes of building the mishkan.  It made me wonder why these exact numbers are important enough for inclusion in the Torah.  Is it to provide "proof" that it was indeed built?  Does it suggest some measurement of the "wise-heartedness" of the people who "donated"?  Would the mishkan have been less grand/impressive/important had the numbers been less?

38:22 - "And Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD commanded Moses."  This is an interesting statement, one that Rashi discusses at length.  To wit, why does it say Bezalel make what God commanded Moses when he (Bezalel) wasn't present when the instructions were given?  Why doesn't it say Bezalel made what Moses commanded him?  Rashi explains that while Moses commanded that the mishkan be constructed after its contents, but Bezalel understood -- "correctly" -- that the contents should be made first.  Moses, incredibly, agrees: 
Moses said to him [Bezalel], “You were in the shadow of God [בְּצֵל אֵל, which is the meaning of Bezalel’s name. I.e., you are right], for surely that is what the Holy One, blessed be He, commanded me.” And so he did: [Bezalel] first [made] the Mishkan, and afterwards he made the furnishings. -[from Ber. 55a]
This statement is remarkable for a couple of reasons.  First, it's a particulary tortuous way of resolving an apparent problem in the text.  Rashi could easily have let this verse alone, implying equivalence between what God told Moses and what Moses told Bezalel.  Second, it raises the possibility -- both troubling and encouraging -- that Moses, for whatever reason, didn't get God's words right, and God doesn't step in to correct things.  And if he doesn't get this right, what else might Moses not be getting right?  Since everything but the Ten Commandments was b'yad Moshe, doesn't it imply other things could be wrong?  As troubling as that might seem, it also reminds me at least of the liberal implications of b'yad Moshe and lo bashamayim he:  that ultimately it is up to us to understand, interpret and apply the Torah to our lives.
38:27 - "And the hundred talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary, and the sockets of the veil: a hundred sockets for the hundred talents, a talent for a socket."  For some reason this verse spoke to me:  According to the Torah narrative, the wealth of the people, given by God/taken from Egypt, donated by the people, is physically used to bind together the structure of the mishkan.  Not converted into money to buy things, but physically used to construct it.  I know that one of the big turn-offs of "organized Judaism" for many people is this focus on money, but there is a point to it beyond the "needs" fo the money to keep the organization functioning, namely people's personal investment in the community.  I need to think about this more...

39:28 - "and the mitre of fine linen, and the goodly head-tires of fine linen [וְאֶת-פַּאֲרֵי הַמִּגְבָּעֹת שֵׁשׁ], and the linen breeches of fine twined linen..."  Kehot translates this more interestingly as "glorious high hats of linen."  This makes me smile, I must confess...

39:31 - "And they tied unto [the plate of the holy crown] a thread of blue, to fasten it upon the mitre above; as the LORD commanded Moses."  Pretty short and sweet...but Rashi has a lot to say about the meaning of "to fasten it upon the mitre above."  It's interesting to me that he comments on some things but not others...

39:33 - "And they brought the tabernacle unto Moses, the Tent, and all its furniture, its clasps, its boards, its bars, and its pillars, and its sockets..."  And yet another recounting of all the bells and whistles of the mishkan, for the third (?) time.  Again, why the repetition of these details, while other, seemingly more crucial things, only get said once?

40:1-16 - "And the LORD spoke unto Moses, saying: 'On the first day of the first month shalt thou rear up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. And thou shalt..."  The next 14 verses explicate all the things God tells Moses todo concerning the construction of the mishkan, all its furnishings, and the installation of Aaron and his sons as priests.  Are we to understand that Moses -- himself, without help -- did all of this?!?  (You'd think this would be something for Rashi to comment upon...)

40:17 - "And it came to pass in the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was reared up."  Hmmm.  In 40:2, as we just saw above, God says "'On the first day of the first month shalt thou rear up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting."  So are we to understand that an entire year elapsed between God telling Moses what to do and the mishkan actually being raised?!?

40:33-38 - A strange sight, worth quoting at length:
And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud [הֶעָנָן] covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.  But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.
I'm trying to understand this.  So the mishkan is completed, but then immediately (?) it is covered by a "cloud" -- presumably the presence of God? -- which prevents Moses from entering.  So then did Aaron & Sons enter?  Am I missing something?