I first wrote these thoughts a few years back. They seem as relevant and topical as ever, so I write them again with a few more thoughts.
These days, it seems like bull is sprouting from just about everyone's mouth. It's hard to separate the truth from the garbage. Gubernatorial recalls. More Hollywood actors in politics. White House staffers leaking names of CIA operatives. Politicians tout drilling in the Alaskan wilderness as an answer to the recent east coast blackout. Other politicians tout bad legislation like the Patriot Act and Patriot Act II as if abrogating the basic rights of our Constitution is the way to combat terrorism.
Could it be our sound-byte society? Sometimes, the fewer the words we use, the harder it becomes to express the range of what we really want to say. Some say it's the language itself. It has grown so dense, so complicated, so full of slang, buzzwords, etc. that one can't help but use them.
Yet, as our own scriptures teach us, sometimes the fewest words express things the best.
Words, words, words. As Eliza Doolittle sings, "Show Me!" It's not the words that are the problem. We need the words to communicate. It's how we use them, and what we use them for. Imagine for a moment a good person, one who embraces their religion and faith, has respect for themselves and respect for others. Who strives to treat others as another "you" or "thou" rather than an "it", as Martin Buber would put it. Are not all their efforts in vain if they do not use the language of communication properly? No, their mutual language of communication must reflect their mutual respect. Once any bull starts emanating from their lips, the process is hopelessly poisoned.
As it is one human being to another, then so it must be human with Gd. As the prophet Hosea says in one of the special haftarot for Shabbat Shuvah:
"K'chu imachem d'varim "Take words with you v'shuvu el-Ad-nai, and return to the Lrd, imru eylai, Say to Him: kol-tisa avon, 'Forgive all guilt v'kach tov, and accept what is good;
So it would appear that we do need words when we go and speak to Gd. But which words? The words of prayer? Of praise? Of repentance? Of our hearts? Of our minds?
No, it's not the words themselves. As I said before, it's how we use them, and what we use them for. Bull should not be coming from our lips. Rather..
un'shalma parim s'fateinu" instead of bulls we will pay [the offering of] our lips.'" (JPS)
...what comes from our lips shall be like the offering of bulls to Gd. Hosea wasn't just telling us that Temple sacrifices can be replaced by words. These words are our sacrifice to Gd. Thus we must treat what we say in our communications with Gd carefully, keep them as unblemished as the bulls we would offer up.
Not that we cannot be earthy. One good look at the Psalms will tell us that our tradition teaches us to truly speak our feelings to Gd-even if those feelings are anger, disappointment, lack of faith. Gd hears those kinds of expressions, and they are just as much a sacrifice to Gd as are words of praise, thanks and submission. And Gd certainly expresses these things to us. And Moshe rabbeinu certainly never shies away from it--as he does with his last oration which we read in parashat Ha'azinu.
We will know, and Gd will know, if the words we utter, no matter how beautiful, glorious, and seemingly pious, are words in the place of bulls, or the stuff that bulls leave behind.
We are truly fortunate, in our Jewish tradition, that we have been given so many words to use and ways to use them, in our communications with Gd. We have the prose and poetry of the siddur, the psalms, songs and liturgies. These words are so well crafted that they can be truly natural coming from our own lips and hearts and minds as if they were our own. It is no crime nor shame to use them when we cannot find words of our own (and because the power of using these words communally is so great, there is good reason to try and use them whenever you can.)
We even have the luxury of using these words set to many different forms of music. Some of us prefer a more classical style, others revel in a more folksy or pop style. Many of us like some of everything. Whatever your preference, it's all l'shem shamayim.
But sometimes that doesn't work. I know there are times I try to pray or sing the words of the siddur and know that my lips are offering not sacrificial bulls, but the other kind of bull. Those are the times when I must find other words with which to speak with Gd. And speak I must. Pray I must. For each day and each moment reveal to me Gd's creation, and also Gd's frustrating mystery.
Pray. Pray to Gd. If all you can pray is "Gd, I don't want to pray" or "Gd, I don't believe in prayer" that's ok. That kind of truth is like a sacrifice to Gd. Let what you pray be an offering of your lips.
I wish you and yours a Shabbat Shalom and G'mar Chatima Tova!!
©2000 and 2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha
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