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Tue, Jan. 2nd, 2007, 07:53 pm
Not allow meat of 14 Nissan Festival Offering remain till day 3

Pesach is my favorite holiday so to return to these mitzvot about Pesach makes me happy. Today, someone called me a obvious “drinker” which made me chuckle. I am an obvious drinker. The drinking also makes me think of Pesach, which my beloved calls a holiday “drinking game.” I know that this isn’t appropriately serious or deferential enough to religion, but this blog is not about deference or seriousness. It is about discipline and exploration. This mitzvah, stated from my source as not allowing meet of 14 Nissan Festival Offering (a long-winded way of saying Pesach) to remain until day three. Ok. That makes sense. I always wake up the next morning and clean up. It is always a moment in which I say I need to not only take off the day before Pesach begins, but also the morning after. To clean. To lie in bed and moan from my aching head. The textual basis for this mitzvah is from Deuteronomy 16:4 which says, “No leavening shall be seen with you in all your borders for seven days. Do not let the flesh that you sacrificed in the evening of the first day remain overnight until morning.” We don’t sacrifice flesh as a part of our celebrations. We do make a brisket. We make the ceremonial foods and lots of vegetables. We celebrate spring and liberation from oppression. We do not let the meat of the sacrifice remain. How many days until spring? How many days until Pesach begins?

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Jewish, mitzvah, Pesach

Fri, Dec. 29th, 2006, 09:38 am
Valuation of fields

I am returning after an eleven month hiatus. I remind myself that the importance is not the length of time away. The importance is the return. Here it is. Leviticus 27:16 tells us, “If a man consecrates a field from his hereditary property to G-d, its endowment value shall be calculated according to the amount of seed [required to sow it], 50 silver shekels for each chomer of barley seed.” I wonder, is there anything so clear and tangible that we use today to calculate value? I don’t feel that the dollars or quarters in my pocket are as clear as a chomer of barley seed. Granted I don’t know what a chomer* is. Still it seems particularly concrete to translate a chomer of barley seed to 50 shekels. Part of the concreteness as well is the notion that it translates to land. If I were to translate 50 dollars, the meaning would be more relational. Fifty dollars to me might mean two hard-bound books. To my beloved, a large bottle of Grey Goose Vodka. To my dog, twenty-five stuffed squeaky toys. All approximately fifty dollars; all with different meaning, even I would suggest different value. Yet, what this is about is giving property to G-d and calculating an endowment value. The endowment value so interests me because I was a fundraiser for many years. What is the value of an endowment? What is the value of a legacy. Leviticus instructs of very directly. This is the part of the project that I like: there is certainty here. There are known quantities and known values. I may not believe. I may not practice the valuation of the fields - I have no field to value, no barley seeds, no shekels - but I like the certainty and the clarity for this moment. Though I feel quite certain that it will not last.

*Chomer: A measure equal to 10 ephah or 30 sa'ah (Yad, Arakhin 4:4), that is, 220 liter, 58 gallons, or 7.96 cubic feet. It is the same as the Talmudic kur (Arakhin 25a). According to tradition, the area that can be sown with one sa'ah is 2500 square cubits, half the area of the tabernacle enclosure (Eruvin 23b; Yad, Shabbath 16:3). Therefore, the area that can be sown with a chomer of grain is a square measuring 274 cubits to a side, which is 75,000 square cubits, 168,750 square feet, or 3.87 acres. (Yad, Arakhin 4:4). It is for each such measure that the evaluation is 50 shekels. This is the same as the evaluation for an adult male (27:3). Reference is here.

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Tue, Feb. 21st, 2006, 08:19 pm
Valuation of houses

Leviticus 27:14 tells us, "If a person consecrates his house as something sacred to God, the priest shall set its endowment value according to its good and bad points. The endowment value shall then remain that which is determined by the priest." Is this only for homes that have been consecrated as something sacred to G-d? Is my home consecrated and sacred to G-d? Certainly, it is sacred to me. It is more than the walls and roof. It is more than the rooms strung together. It is, to me a sacred space. Still I wonder if it is sacred to G-d.
There are so many homes, really, I can't imagine that all are sacred. Not even all that are homes of Jews. That might just be too much for G-d to cope with. I think that this is one of the problems of the common era: unabated growth. How does G-d know what houses are sacred? How does G-d know what has been consecrated? Is G-d monitoring the endowment values set by the priests? Does she have time for all of that? Especially with the housing prices here in the states moving up and down incrementally? Why is the valuation of houses important to G-d? Last night I said it was important to me because it represented part of my wealth. I suppose that is important. I suppose that way G-d could ensure that what was due to G-d was given to G-d, but I just can't imagine the valuation of the houses and the beasts and the fields as important to G-d now. Aren't we beyond our value being determined by what we have, by what we own? Isn't our value in what we do for others? How we contribute? How we are of service?
I think that the value of my house is not thing structure itself. Not the things inside. My house is who I bring into it. What I do here that brings value to our faith, to our life, to our community. That is what should be valued. But we have no shekels, no gerah to measure that. We have no mitzvah of the priest giving value to our actions, to our service, to our spirit. That is the value that I want to know. That is the value I want to measure.

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Mon, Feb. 20th, 2006, 07:19 pm
Valuation of beasts

Perhaps this is project is my exercise in humility. When I have these breaks in writing these mitzvotim, I want to abandon the project. Forget I ever started. Then a day comes like today when I say to myself, write again. Go back. Pick up. Don't despair, just pick up the threads where you last were. This is the mitzvah that outlines the valuation of animals. We are told in Leviticus 27:11-12 that, "If it involves any unfil animal that cannot be offered as a sacrifice to G-d, the owner shall present the animal to the priest. The priest shall set the endowment value according to the animal's good and bad qualities, and its endowment valuation shall be that which is determined by the priest." The value of an animal is set by the priest, which gives an indication of how important the priest is, not only in administering the trappings of the religion, but in setting the value of the animals. I confess I watch the value of our house, which was until recently the most valuable asset that we had, nearly obsessively and am interested always in its value. I can only imagine if I had animals that reflected my wealth how they would be valued and how important that would be to me. Still I find it difficult to imagine the priest leading our spiritual life and also assessing the value of my animals. Then of course I slip into sentimentality and cannot imagine how my animals would be valued as they age. Consider my cat, now sixteen years old and recently with a penchant for peeing on our bed. Her value with her declining kidney functioning and her chronic thyroid problems compounded by the new pee problem would probably be quite low, but I cannot imagine being swayed by that. I love her. I don't want to lose her. Even though the costs are high.

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Mon, Jan. 2nd, 2006, 09:52 am
Valuation of a person

I would like to say that I have been stalled in writing my mitzvotim because this mitzvah is so patently sexist. I would like to say that I have stopped because of my objections to sexism, that I have been reevaluating my time and energy commitment to this project because of this mitzvah which exposes how G-d, or at least the scribes of G-d in Leviticus, think about women. I would be lying, and I cannot do that.
I last wrote a mitzvah before I traveled to London then Kuala Lumpur then Detroit and then a nearly full week to recover from such travels. I have been tired, physically and emotionally. That is why I have not written this mitzvah, because of the human failings of my body not because of intellectual objections.
Still the objections are here. In Leviticus chapter 27, we learn of Endowment Valuations. At first, I was excited about this. As a fundraiser I know about endowments; as a person trying to be financially literate, I know about valuations of my retirement. These are neither. "G-d spoke to Moses, telling him to speak to the Israelites and say to them: [This is the law] when a person expresses a vow to donate to G-d the endowment valuation of a person. The endowment valuation of a 20 to 60 year old male shall be 50 shekels according to the sanctuary standard. For a woman, this endowment valuation shall be 30 shekels."
I object to this so deeply, I almost shake in rage and anger. Then the cynicism kicks in and I think, well at least it is more than half. A woman is worth more than half a man. I think, well, at least the Israelites knew that value of a woman at 30 shekels and they knew that it was less than a man. Today we pretend that the value is equal or comparable depending on our philosophic orientation and we ignore that great disparities in value continue to exist. Still there is something disturbing about seeing the financial disparity so baldly here.
Thirty shekels. That is my value. At least it will not decrease for nearly twenty-five years. I wonder how much I will be worth at sixty-one?

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feminism, mitzvah, value

Sun, Dec. 11th, 2005, 12:08 am
Ashes of the Red Heifer

Much snow has fallen since I wrote my last mitzvah. More than the snow, though, yesterday was the tenth Yartzeit of my sister, Lara. Her memory is a blessing. It was a day with a great confluence of events that lead to many tears. So as I sit down to write a new mitzvah, my heart is still heavy from that milestone.
In Number 19.1-9, "G-d spoke to Moses and Aaron, telling them that the following is declared to be the Torah's decree as commanded by G-d: Speak to the Israelites and have them bring you a completely red cow, which has no blemish, and which has never had a yoke on it. Give it to Eleazar the priest, and he shall have it brought outside the camp. It shall then be slaughtered in his presence." This is the cruelty that my father sought to protect us from with our Unitarian Universalist upbringing and education. I understand. How can you explain to a child with all of her wonderment in the world about creation, that G-d commands us to slaughter animals? This evening, panda obsessed, I watched the Animal Planet documentary of our panda cub at the National Zoo. I cried. It has been an emotional week, yes, but there is also something wonderful about new life, about cubhood, about the wonder of creation. I cannot understand a G-d that would want that to be slaughtered, to be sacrificed.
Still G-d commands that. He says, "Eleazar the priest shall take the blood with his finger and sprinkle it toward the Communion Tent seven times. The cow shall then be burned in Eleazar's presence. Its skin, flesh, blood and entrails must be burned."
Seven times. Why seven? One for each day of the week? For the prime number perfection that is seven? More than the number though, why must we burn this cow we have slayed? Its skin and flesh and blood and entrails. I weep for them all. I imagine what it must have smelled like to be Moses or Aaron or Ester or Leah. To have the stench of burning flesh constantly wafting beneath your nose.
"The priest shall take a piece of cedar wood, some hyssop, and some crimson wool, and throw it into the burning cow. The priest must then immerse his vestments and his body in a mikvah, and remain unclean until evening, after which he may come into the camp. The one who burns the cow must also immerse his clothing and body in a mikvah, and then remain unclean until evening. A ritually clean person shall gather up the cow's ashes, and place them outside the camp in a clean place. They shall be a keepsake for the Israelite community to be used for the sprinkling water, as a means of purification."
Oh! We are sacrificing the cow so that we have a means of purification. Perhaps this is just one of the difficulties of modernity. It is hard for me to even consider this seriously: as though we could ever be purified after what we have done, after what we have seen.
Still at my house we are burning fires every night and it is lovely. I can understand how the Israelites though that to be magical. I can understand the gathering of the cedar and hyssop and wool. Pieces to sacrifice to G-d. I can understand how it might have evolved. I can understand how the ritual came to be meaningful.
Last night, for the tenth year in a row, I sat and recited Kaddish for my sister.

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Wed, Nov. 23rd, 2005, 06:11 pm
Not allow meat of Korban Pesach to remain till morning

It is hard to think about Pesach when I am in Detroit for Thanksgiving and it is cold. Very cold. It is snowing right now. Last night, we left Maryland. It was cold, but not bitter cold. I didn't wear my coat, just chucked it in the back seat. By the time we were in the mountains of Pennsylvania, it was snowing and nearly, at one point, a white out. Here in Detroit, our neighbors in the Residence Inn are cooking greens. It is cold and snowy. My toes feel wet and cold, though they are dry. Tomorrow we'll feast and visit and visit and feast. Same for Friday. Saturday, we'll return to milder weather. I will have finished all of the embroidery in my craft bag. I will have finished a book or two. We will be three days closer to Pesach.
G-d tells us, "Eat the sacrificial meat during the night, roasted over fire. Eat it with matzah and bitter herbs." I do that. I love doing that. "Do not eat it raw or cooked in water, but only roasted over fire, including its head, its legs, and its internal organs." I don't do that. Usually, since I invite friends who are vegetarian, we include a fish dish. Often we don't even eat lamb. So many violations. Good intentions, but violations, nonetheless.
The good thing about leaving any of the festival food overnight on Korban Pesach is that according to Exodus 12:10, "Anything that is left over until morning must be burned in fire." I usually just put it in the garbage bag--it is bad after sitting out all night anyway. I scrape plates and platters into white plastic garbage bags. I throw them out. I should be burning them in fire. Fire sounds good right now, to warm my fingers and my toes. In the spring, at Pesach, it seems still appealing, but not as necessary. Perhaps this year, I will clean before bed. I am doubtful, though. I am doubtful.

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Tue, Nov. 15th, 2005, 10:28 pm
Not leave any sacrificial portions of Korban Pesach overnight

I fear that this is the condemnation of my final act of every Pesach. The abandonment of the dishes, dirty in the sink and on all of the counters. Frankly, but the time we are done with the meal, I've had a little too much to drink. Usually, I've done two or three loads of dishes already. I just don't want to wash any more. One years that I have people over for two seders, it is especially difficult because I know that I have to get the kitchen and enter house cleaned and turned for the second seder. Still, sometimes, I abandon the cleaning. Is that leaving a sacrificial portion of the Korban Pesach overnight? I fear it may be. I have no excuse, other than I am tired. I am a little inebriated. I don't want to clean my kitchen. Apparently, I am violating a mitzvah.
Exodus 23:18 tells me, "Do not allow the fat of my offering to remain overnight until morning." Do not allow the fat of my offering, perhaps since I do not have a sacrificial offering and I am just leaving the fat of the dinner on dirty plates, it doesn't count that I don't clean my kitchen after the Pesach meal. Perhaps I am not violating a mitzvah. Does it matter to me if I am? I suppose it doesn't but still I think of myself as being observant about Pesach and so learning that I am violating one of the mitzvotim about Pesach is disheartening. Still, I know the truth: I am not going to clean my kitchen after the meal. I know that I'll leave the dirty dishes in the sink. I know that I'll go to sleep before I clean on Pesach.

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Mon, Nov. 14th, 2005, 09:57 pm
Not slaughter the Korban Pesach while chometz in our possession

There is a frenzy for me always prior to sundown on Pesach. Even though the cleaning has been done and by and large the food has all been prepared and I try to take a fifteen minute break prior to guests' arrival, it is still a frenzy. Making sure that all of the ceremonial dishes are ready. Ensuring that all of the serving tools are out and prepared for orchestrating the meal later. Lining up the bottles of wine so that it flows seamlessly. Thinking about the tunes and opening my heart for the prayers of the evening. It should be calm and reflective, but it is a frenzy.
All of this to say, what if one of my tasks in the preparation for Pesach was to slaughter a sacrifice to G-d? Exodus 23:18 tells me, "Do not sacrifice the blood of my [Pesach] offering in the presence of leavened bread." Of course, my task would not be to slaughter the sacrifice. My task, as a woman would be the prepare the meal and then sit back, silently, not participating in my of the ritual of the evening.
There are many advantages to not having to be responsible for the ritual activities to which we are commanded. This is one of them, I suppose. The other day at the grocery, I saw the matzah. I thought it would be nice to make a matzah brei and almost grabbed a box, but Pesach will be here soon enough. We will clean out the entire house of chametz and prepare the ritual dinner. It will be delicious. I love Pesach. Despite its frenzy, despite the work of preparing the meal, it is lovely.

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Sun, Nov. 13th, 2005, 08:59 pm
The leper must be made distinguishable

I've been sick for the past three days. Still on Friday I went to work; talked to people in my building, signed for a package from the UPS carrier. Today, I ventured out to the pet food store and the grocery store. I may now be past my infectious period of this cold, but maybe not. I could have passed my germs on to my building tenants, the unsuspecting UPS fellow, and countless shoppers at the grocery store (including the woman whose young son screamed non-stop for at least twenty minutes, but I hope for her sake, he does not get sick.) The point of these confessions? I have been infected with a disease agent that no one could see or detect. Certainly on Friday, when my nose was dripping the most, people might have suspected it, but still I put them at risk for infection and there is little that they could do about it. This is the consequence of communal living.

It isn't horrific as I've just had a cold. Potentially serious for someone with a compromised immune system, but in general an uncomfortable annoyance that we all get two or three times a year. Still, what if my disease were worse? How would people know that I was infected with a serious disease? What if I had leprosy? The source of this mitzvah is exactly that concern. We are told, "The leper must be distinguishable." It was interpreted to be that the hair of a person with leprosy must be shorn. The irony of this is that in the ancient times, the leper was distinguishable primarily by the disease. The skin lesions could be seen. Now we have diseases that cannot be seen and are still infectious.

What does all of this mean? I don't know. I don't understand why G-d commanded us that the leper must be made distinguishable. I don't know why the leper must shave his head. I don't know why the purification ritual is so thorough and why in a related issue there is an alternative for a poor person. (See the fourteenth chapter of Leviticus.)

Sometimes I think that writing these mitzvot raise only more questions and too few answers.

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