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I'm sending out a repeat musing from 5760, not for any reasons of time, or lack thereof, or a dry spell in writing. I just happened to be reading through some of my previous thoughts on this parasha, and as I reread this particular one, I was struck by my own words, and wondering if I might still say the same things today. Of that I'm not sure. I'm in a little less of a "just do it because Gd said so" mood these days (although I am in a "don't worry about getting it right, just get it" mood.) Still, you know me, Mr. Gadfly. Hope it provokes some thoughts of your own.
Another truly random musing today, that takes off tangentially from the parasha. Hope you find it thought-provoking.
Parashat Pinchas has a veritable laundry list of instructions regarding sacrifices and offerings for special days. While many modern, liberal Jews question the relevancy of this instructions, it is often assumed that, to our ancestors in those days, these instructions made perfect sense. After all, ritual sacrifices, animal sacrifices and offerings were commonplace. (Some suggest that other cultures practiced human sacrifice, and the Israelites distinguished themselves by not doing so - the lesson of the Akeidat Yitzchak, perhaps - although some suggest the story really ended differently and was later changed to fit changed sensibilities among the Israelite people. Gd alone knows the truth. But I digress, as usual.) Gd specifies the times, quantities and types of sacrifices. To our ancestors, perhaps, no big deal?
Well, I am not so sure. Gd tells Moshe: "Say to the Israelites..." and then proceeds to launch into a diatribe on instructions lasting close to a thousand words. And Moshe is supposed to remember it all verbatim and relay it to the people. Which he does-an impressive feat indeed! (Another diversion - having just told Moshe to appoint Joshua his successor, one might wonder why neither Gd nor Moshe thought to entrust Joshua with this difficult task of remembering and relating.)
Moshe doesn't question these instructions. He even accepts his fate due to his failure at the waters of Meribah. (This event, plus what happened to Nadav and Avihu-boy I somehow always manage to work those two into my musings, don't I-seems sufficient incentive to follow Gd's instructions exactly and punctiliously. Hey-the JPS translation of Pinchas uses that word, so why not me?)
However, just because these instructions were relayed and eventually recorded and practiced regularly (though, given Israel's obstinate history-were they?) doesn't necessarily mean that these instructions made sense to the ancient Israelites.
In our time, we don't think much of blind devotion to anything. We seem to always insist on reasonable rationales. Almost any rationale will do - except one that seems to be way out of favor. Most of us today sadly reject the one rationale that most often appears in the Torah for following the instructions therein - that is the rationale that often follows instructions: "Ani Adnai." Do them because "I am Gd." It just is. Do it. That's not enough of a reason, many say. Even our own ancestors may have had that attitude. They lived in a time when Gd actively demonstrated miracles on their behalf, and yet they remained stubborn and obstinate and became ever more so, even unto today.
No, our ancestors probably weren't all that enamored of Gd's specific and exacting instructions in parashat Pinchas and elsewhere throughout the Torah. So it should come as no surprise that most of us today feel the same way.
Now, let's put aside the issue that these specific sacrificial instructions are no longer carried out because the Beit Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, no longer stands in Jerusalem on Har Habayit, the Temple Mount. (One could step outside the Davidic and rabbinic traditions, and argue that we are still obligated to carry out these sacrifices because the Temple was a later "add-on." But these Karaite like views deny Judaism the long and rich heritage and textual tradition, and would ask us to believe that the Temple Mount was never really officially designated as the appointed place for sacrifices to Gd. That's a pretty far leap to take.)
If, B"H, the Temple were rebuilt in our time, even then many Jews would argue that the sacrificial commandments in Pinchas and elsewhere are still without relevance or rationale. If our ancestors could be prone to ignore Gd's commandments even having lived though miracles and wonders, it should not surprise us at all that many of us, even faced with the miracle of a restored Temple would still be obstinate, stiff-necked forsakers of the covenant.
A life of doing things Gd's way simply because of the Gd is Gd rationale, that is, because "Ani Adnai," offends modern scientific sensibilities. Knowing the e equals (m times c)-squared is not enough. We insist on understanding WHY e equals (m times c)-squared), or why c is the speed that it is, etc. "It just is" is never good enough an answer for us.
Some say that if we accept "it just isn't growing in our knowledge and understanding. Well, it seems we learned little from what happened to the migdal bavel, the tower of Babel. But when science has taken all the mystery out of the universe, what will be left for us?
"It just is" is another way of stating the rationale of "Ani Adnai." It helps keep some the mystery in life, in the universe.
Try it. You might like it. Follow a commandment simply because the One who gave it said, do it because "Ani Adnai." The you might be able to go where even some of our ancestors couldn't go. Be wary...it could infect you with the passion of Pinchas, or of Elijah, as told in this weeks reading from the Prophets. And you know where their passion got them-for Pinchas, it was reward and honor-although he had to kill two other humans to get it. For Elijah it was persecution and frustration (and again the death of many false prophets.) Yet, for both of them, the results were acceptable because they understood the rationale of "Ani Adnai."
Just do it! Because Gd said so! That CAN be a good reason. Pinchas' action saved the Israelites from Gd's wrath. Maybe your passion will be equally efficacious. Ken y'hi ratson. Ken y'hi ratsoneinu.
©2000, 2004 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on this parasha
Pinchas 5762 -- I Still Get Zealous
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