Do justice, love goodness and walk humbly…

I watched Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale over the last couple of weeks. Visually, it is beautiful. Emotionally, it is searing, sobering and thought-provoking. The book was written in 1985, and the Hulu series began in 2017. I hadn’t read the book or watched the series because of my impression of what it was about. It’s not for everyone, but I’m really glad I watched it. 

It fascinates me how some individuals pick up on cultural trends years before they are particularly visible. And it fascinates me that when a cultural trend was fully unveiled in 2016, film makers returned to a book written more than thirty years before. In fact, both the author and the series returned to a story at least three millennia old, perhaps even as old as humanity’s ability to express itself in enduring forms.

I’ve always thought that regardless of the source of the Bible, it is about people, their relationship to transcendence, to each other and to the world — our human failures, striving, cruelty, compassion, courage, hope. It is about faith but also about fear, its sources, expressions and consequences.

It is fear that drives a question like, why did this (national destruction) happen to us, and how can we make certain it doesn’t happen again? Fear makes people imagine that if they are just more careful to do things in a certain way, they will avoid horrific consequences. Fear drives people to accept things they would never otherwise accept. Fear says there is only one way, fear drives the wish to acquire power and fear creates the willingness, even desire, to submit to it. Fear invites totalitarianism and a willingness to accept brutality. Fear drives the wish to control the behaviors of others no matter what it requires. Fear drives our failure to connect compassionately to the brutality that is our responsibility. Fear generates many ways to avoid confronting the realities of our human existence, which is not only beautiful — but frightening. Fear is an expression of a failure of the faith that comes from our connection to all being.

As many have pointed out, dictators historically come into power with 40% or less support. The Handmaid’s Tale reminded me of the perilousness of our status and our lives, “even” here in America, where we are as susceptible to fear as any other population on the planet — and perhaps less likely to confront it because our great privilege keeps it far away and out of sight. Consequently we allow brutality at our border, the brutality of mass incarceration, the brutality of poverty, brutality toward other life on the planet, brutality toward those who don’t fit an imagined idea of who is ok and who isn’t. The primal fear that others experience is remote from the experience of most of us in America.

Those who base their support for actions and policies that spring from hidden fear on some idea that it’s what the Bible requires aren’t reading the whole book, just lines out of context. Fear, how it is expressed and its consequences, is a human reality the Bible explores. The prophet Jeremiah and others speak of total environmental and national destruction, calling it a punishment. It is punishing, and people should fear it, but it is a punishment people bring on themselves through their own failure: the failure to respect our planet, the failure of compassion and empathy,  the failure to create a just society, a society making conscious choices based on a vision of connection:

“You turned and profaned my name and caused every man his servant and every man his handmaid, whom you had let go free at their pleasure, to return; and you brought them into subjection, to be to you for servants and for handmaids…you have not hearkened to Me to proclaim every man to his neighbor, behold, I proclaim for you a liberty… <so> I will make you a horror unto all the kingdoms of the earth… bodies shall be for food unto the fowls of the heaven, and to the beasts of the earth… I will make the cities of Judah a desolation, without inhabitant” (Jer 34:16-22).

The Handmaid’s Tale repeated this biblical theme. The Gileadites emerge in response to what they see as a thoughtless, selfish society that brought about great destruction and danger to the country. Their society emerges from fear and maintains control through fear.

The consequences of selfish, thoughtless choices, choices made without any sense of being part of a whole, are real — but these are not issues we can address from a place of fear. Ultimately expressions of fear drive in the same direction as a mindlessly selfish pursuit of one’s own goals: toward isolation, a failure of meaning, a deadening of our capacity for compassion, a willingness to accept brutality to maintain our precarious position in the world. 

The Hebrew Bible puts forward the requirement for balance: to follow a set of codes that in that place and that time cultivated awareness of the profound paradox in our human existence, of the fragility and arbitrariness of our place in the world and a sense of humility in the face of that (ritual commandments) — at the same time constantly reminding us of our connectedness, our responsibility for others (ethical commandments). Jewish tradition insists on the intimate connection between ritual and ethical commandments, of their inseparability in a unified and balanced whole.

The Gileadites disparage what is from their perspective a contemporary world wholly given over to a selfish pursuit of personal satisfaction with no consciousness of a greater good. Conversely, they see themselves engaged in building a better world, a process that requires moral renewal, as one group defines morality, the Gileadites.

What the Gileadites forget in their pursuit is the humility that comes from confronting moment by moment their own fragile position in the world. They fail to cultivate an awareness that their current position in life in relation to “the other” is purely a matter of grace, whatever the source of that grace, and that the only appropriate position for a human being based on that grace is gratitude, compassion for all other life that shares their fragile position, and the courage that comes from a sense of connection that strengthens them as they live another day.

As a Hebrew song says, “All of life is a narrow bridge, and the main thing is not to be afraid at all . . . ” We cannot take steps toward improving our world from a place of fear.

As I read the biblical text, I can’t help but think that the Israelites are an emblem of the struggle of all humanity to find that balance between confronting the terrors of the precariousness of our own existence, the compassion for others in the same existential predicament and the humility to discover our connection to all that is, the connection that sustains us.

I think the Israelites represent our human tendency to create false supports for ourselves in the face of existential fear, which leads to disconnection and a failure of faith and courage. They represent us all, our capacity for good action — and our capacity for evil action, our faith and courage — and our fear.

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life—if you and your offspring would live…”

Life is precarious and dangerous. There are no guarantees, and not one of us passes through it alive. And yet every healthy creature chooses to live. My hope and wish is that we humans do it with deeper awareness and greater humility, gratitude and compassion toward other life on the planet, even to the planet itself.

Torah Ecology: Balak 2018 (Numbers 22:2 – 25:9)

This year I read one of those books that you keep returning to, a book that gave coherence to my own half-formed thoughts and startled me into a journey of self-recognition and definition. The book was Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. In a post at the time, I quoted him:

“In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari talks about the evolution of religions from animism to polytheism to monotheism. Of animism, he says, ‘When animism was the dominant belief system, human norms and values had to take into consideration the outlook and interests of a multitude of other beings, such as animals, plants, fairies and ghosts…Hunter-gatherers picked and pursued wild plants and animals, which could be seen as equal in status to Homo sapiens. The fact that man hunted sheep did not make sheep inferior to man, just as the fact that tigers hunted man did not make man inferior to tigers. Beings communicated with one another directly and negotiated the rules governing their shared habitat.’

Conversely, ‘farmers owned and manipulated plants and animals, and could hardly degrade themselves by negotiating with their possessions. Hence the first religious effect of the Agricultural Revolution was to turn plants and animals from equal members of a spiritual round table into property.’”

“Plants and animals…equal members of a spiritual round table…” Those words and the spiritual space they created for me helped me sharpen my focus in the Torah study project I had undertaken and gain a slightly different perspective. The idea that life other than human  has an equal place at the spiritual round table resonates deeply with me. I like to imagine that the world in the first three chapters of Genesis was both memory and vision even though in general, the Torah asserts the sanctity and superiority of human life. The world of the Garden is a world in which humans negotiated with other animals  the rules governing their shared habitat.

That world receded for me as I progressed through the Torah story this time, although as I worked my way through it, I was alert to the animals’ story and surprised at how it paralleled the human story. Finally, I got stuck in the pages of Leviticus, a book I have always appreciated for its literary artistry and applied theology, a theology expressed through the body. This time, though, I was put off by the clinical descriptions of dissecting animal bodies, animals killed in substitution for human lives that in the Torah world should have been forfeit.

I appreciate that Leviticus represents a deep consciousness of the preciousness of all life and of human moral responsibility in relation to it, something we often lack in today’s world where life and death and brutality happen far away from us in hidden spaces. Yet as hard as I tried to understand what animal sacrifice meant to those who practiced it, what deep wellsprings of meaning it tapped, how it felt to those who experienced it, I couldn’t get there.  And I had to take a break for a while.

But now comes Balak, a portion in which G-d uncovers human eyes, and animals and humans once again, if only for a moment, have equal seats at the spiritual round table as in the Garden. That idea of uncovering human eyes while the eyes of a she-ass need no uncovering is key to understanding the significance of the famous talking donkey story in Balak.

Jacob Milgrom, in the JPS Torah Commentary to Numbers, points out that the story of Balaam’s ass is an interpolated folk tale (Num. 22:22-35). This explains why it presents inconsistencies and contradictions in relation to the story into which it is inserted, including a very different image of Balaam, a negative image which gains dominance in both Jewish and Christian traditions. The surrounding story, and older tradition, presents Balaam as a faithful servant of G-d, which led to some favorable rabbinic comparisons with both Moses and Abraham.

But what interests me is the way in which this story of the talking she-ass comments on the relationship between human beings, other animals and the environment, and G-d. Once again, as in the Garden, other animals are as capable of vision and understanding as human beings, perhaps even more so. Yes, as Rabbi Sacks points out, there is humor, even sarcasm, in the story. Even Balaam’s she-ass can see and understand what he, a so-called “seer” cannot. But I like to understand the story as something more.

Here is the story of Balaam and the she-ass (from Sefaria.org):

וַיָּ֤קָם בִּלְעָם֙ בַּבֹּ֔קֶר וַֽיַּחֲבֹ֖שׁ אֶת־אֲתֹנ֑וֹ וַיֵּ֖לֶךְ עִם־שָׂרֵ֥י מוֹאָֽב׃

When he arose in the morning, Balaam saddled his ass and departed with the Moabite dignitaries.

וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֣ף אֱלֹהִים֮ כִּֽי־הוֹלֵ֣ךְ הוּא֒ וַיִּתְיַצֵּ֞ב מַלְאַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה בַּדֶּ֖רֶךְ לְשָׂטָ֣ן ל֑וֹ וְהוּא֙ רֹכֵ֣ב עַל־אֲתֹנ֔וֹ וּשְׁנֵ֥י נְעָרָ֖יו עִמּֽוֹ׃
But God was incensed at his going; so an angel of the LORD placed himself in his way as an adversary. He was riding on his she-ass, with his two servants alongside,

וַתֵּ֣רֶא הָאָתוֹן֩ אֶת־מַלְאַ֨ךְ יְהוָ֜ה נִצָּ֣ב בַּדֶּ֗רֶךְ וְחַרְבּ֤וֹ שְׁלוּפָה֙ בְּיָד֔וֹ וַתֵּ֤ט הָֽאָתוֹן֙ מִן־הַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וַתֵּ֖לֶךְ בַּשָּׂדֶ֑ה וַיַּ֤ךְ בִּלְעָם֙ אֶת־הָ֣אָת֔וֹן לְהַטֹּתָ֖הּ הַדָּֽרֶךְ׃

when the ass caught sight of the angel of the LORD standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. The ass swerved from the road and went into the fields; and Balaam beat the ass to turn her back onto the road.

וַֽיַּעֲמֹד֙ מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהוָ֔ה בְּמִשְׁע֖וֹל הַכְּרָמִ֑ים גָּדֵ֥ר מִזֶּ֖ה וְגָדֵ֥ר מִזֶּֽה׃

The angel of the LORD then stationed himself in a lane between the vineyards, with a fence on either side.

וַתֵּ֨רֶא הָאָת֜וֹן אֶת־מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהוָ֗ה וַתִּלָּחֵץ֙ אֶל־הַקִּ֔יר וַתִּלְחַ֛ץ אֶת־רֶ֥גֶל בִּלְעָ֖ם אֶל־הַקִּ֑יר וַיֹּ֖סֶף לְהַכֹּתָֽהּ׃

The ass, seeing the angel of the LORD, pressed herself against the wall and squeezed Balaam’s foot against the wall; so he beat her again.

וַיּ֥וֹסֶף מַלְאַךְ־יְהוָ֖ה עֲב֑וֹר וַֽיַּעֲמֹד֙ בְּמָק֣וֹם צָ֔ר אֲשֶׁ֛ר אֵֽין־דֶּ֥רֶךְ לִנְט֖וֹת יָמִ֥ין וּשְׂמֹֽאול׃

Once more the angel of the LORD moved forward and stationed himself on a spot so narrow that there was no room to swerve right or left.

וַתֵּ֤רֶא הָֽאָתוֹן֙ אֶת־מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהוָ֔ה וַתִּרְבַּ֖ץ תַּ֣חַת בִּלְעָ֑ם וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֣ף בִּלְעָ֔ם וַיַּ֥ךְ אֶת־הָאָת֖וֹן בַּמַּקֵּֽל׃

When the ass now saw the angel of the LORD, she lay down under Balaam; and Balaam was furious and beat the ass with his stick.

וַיִּפְתַּ֥ח יְהוָ֖ה אֶת־פִּ֣י הָאָת֑וֹן וַתֹּ֤אמֶר לְבִלְעָם֙ מֶה־עָשִׂ֣יתִֽי לְךָ֔ כִּ֣י הִכִּיתַ֔נִי זֶ֖ה שָׁלֹ֥שׁ רְגָלִֽים׃

Then the LORD opened the ass’s mouth, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?”

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר בִּלְעָם֙ לָֽאָת֔וֹן כִּ֥י הִתְעַלַּ֖לְתְּ בִּ֑י ל֤וּ יֶשׁ־חֶ֙רֶב֙ בְּיָדִ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֖ה הֲרַגְתִּֽיךְ׃

Balaam said to the ass, “You have made a mockery of me! If I had a sword with me, I’d kill you.”

וַתֹּ֨אמֶר הָאָת֜וֹן אֶל־בִּלְעָ֗ם הֲלוֹא֩ אָנֹכִ֨י אֲתֹֽנְךָ֜ אֲשֶׁר־רָכַ֣בְתָּ עָלַ֗י מֵעֽוֹדְךָ֙ עַד־הַיּ֣וֹם הַזֶּ֔ה הַֽהַסְכֵּ֣ן הִסְכַּ֔נְתִּי לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת לְךָ֖ כֹּ֑ה וַיֹּ֖אמֶר לֹֽא׃

The ass said to Balaam, “Look, I am the ass that you have been riding all along until this day! Have I been in the habit of doing thus to you?” And he answered, “No.”

וַיְגַ֣ל יְהוָה֮ אֶת־עֵינֵ֣י בִלְעָם֒ וַיַּ֞רְא אֶת־מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהוָה֙ נִצָּ֣ב בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וְחַרְבּ֥וֹ שְׁלֻפָ֖ה בְּיָד֑וֹ וַיִּקֹּ֥ד וַיִּשְׁתַּ֖חוּ לְאַפָּֽיו׃

Then the LORD uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD standing in the way, his drawn sword in his hand; thereupon he bowed right down to the ground.

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֵלָיו֙ מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהוָ֔ה עַל־מָ֗ה הִכִּ֙יתָ֙ אֶת־אֲתֹ֣נְךָ֔ זֶ֖ה שָׁל֣וֹשׁ רְגָלִ֑ים הִנֵּ֤ה אָנֹכִי֙ יָצָ֣אתִי לְשָׂטָ֔ן כִּֽי־יָרַ֥ט הַדֶּ֖רֶךְ לְנֶגְדִּֽי׃

The angel of the LORD said to him, “Why have you beaten your ass these three times? It is I who came out as an adversary, for the errand is obnoxious to me.

וַתִּרְאַ֙נִי֙ הָֽאָת֔וֹן וַתֵּ֣ט לְפָנַ֔י זֶ֖ה שָׁלֹ֣שׁ רְגָלִ֑ים אוּלַי֙ נָטְתָ֣ה מִפָּנַ֔י כִּ֥י עַתָּ֛ה גַּם־אֹתְכָ֥ה הָרַ֖גְתִּי וְאוֹתָ֥הּ הֶחֱיֵֽיתִי׃

And when the ass saw me, she shied away because of me those three times. If she had not shied away from me, you are the one I should have killed, while sparing her.”

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר בִּלְעָ֜ם אֶל־מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהוָה֙ חָטָ֔אתִי כִּ֚י לֹ֣א יָדַ֔עְתִּי כִּ֥י אַתָּ֛ה נִצָּ֥ב לִקְרָאתִ֖י בַּדָּ֑רֶךְ וְעַתָּ֛ה אִם־רַ֥ע בְּעֵינֶ֖יךָ אָשׁ֥וּבָה לִּֽי׃

Balaam said to the angel of the LORD, “I erred because I did not know that you were standing in my way. If you still disapprove, I will turn back.”

וַיֹּאמֶר֩ מַלְאַ֨ךְ יְהוָ֜ה אֶל־בִּלְעָ֗ם לֵ֚ךְ עִם־הָ֣אֲנָשִׁ֔ים וְאֶ֗פֶס אֶת־הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־אֲדַבֵּ֥ר אֵלֶ֖יךָ אֹת֣וֹ תְדַבֵּ֑ר וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ בִּלְעָ֖ם עִם־שָׂרֵ֥י בָלָֽק׃

But the angel of the LORD said to Balaam, “Go with the men. But you must say nothing except what I tell you.” So Balaam went on with Balak’s dignitaries.

So three times, the she-ass sees the angel of the Lord, and Balaam does not. Then G-d opens the mouth of the she-ass, who questions why Balaam beats her — has she ever done anything like this before? And G-d “uncovers the eyes” of Balaam, who then realizes his error.

Sarcastic humor, yes indeed. But in addition, Balaam has no reaction to an ass that not only speaks but is a “seer” just as he is and has not only consciousness but a sense of fairness. There is an implicit assumption in the story that animals have an equal place at the spiritual round table, and it is only an act of G-d that places them at the mercy of human beings. That should generate humility in Balaam, but the story tells us something different.

This leads me to another feature to the story that intrigues me, a characteristic of the she-ass that distinguishes her from her human master, Balaam: her humility. The nameless she-ass challenges Balaam’s sense of justice with these words: “Look, I am the ass that you have been riding all along until this day! Have I been in the habit of doing thus to you?” She has borne her burden and her place in creation faithfully while an arrogant, unseeing, unaware Balaam cites his own exalted sense of self-worth as a reason to cruelly beat her: “You have made a mockery of me! If I had a sword with me, I’d kill you.”

This makes the wordplay in the story even more significant. When Balaam finally sees the angel, it is described in this phrase:

וַיְגַ֣ל יְהוָה֮ אֶת־עֵינֵ֣י בִלְעָם֒ וַיַּ֞רְא אֶת־מַלְאַ֤ךְ יְהוָה֙

Then the LORD uncovered Balaam’s eyes, and he saw the angel of the LORD…

It’s a big deal for Balaam when he sees the angel of the Lord. It is a revelation. Conversely, it’s just in the course of things for the she-ass, no braggadocio required:

וַתֵּ֨רֶא הָאָת֜וֹן אֶת־מַלְאַ֣ךְ יְהוָ֗ה

…when the ass caught sight of the angel of the LORD…

The she-ass in the natural course of things catches sight of the obvious, a dangerous angel of the Lord in the path wielding a fiery sword, and does the obvious, refuses to go further, saving her own life and the life of her master. G-d doesn’t “uncover” her eyes; she doesn’t claim special status as a “seer;” and she receives no praise as a heroine. She just “sees” the angel of the Lord.

This fact enhances the irony of Balaam’s self-promoting words in his third blessing, the first that he composes himself since G-d placed words in his mouth in the other two:

וַיִּשָּׂ֥א מְשָׁל֖וֹ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר נְאֻ֤ם בִּלְעָם֙ בְּנ֣וֹ בְעֹ֔ר וּנְאֻ֥ם הַגֶּ֖בֶר שְׁתֻ֥ם הָעָֽיִן׃

Taking up his theme, he said: Word of Balaam son of Beor, Word of the man whose eye is true,

נְאֻ֕ם שֹׁמֵ֖עַ אִמְרֵי־אֵ֑ל אֲשֶׁ֨ר מַחֲזֵ֤ה שַׁדַּי֙ יֶֽחֱזֶ֔ה נֹפֵ֖ל וּגְל֥וּי עֵינָֽיִם׃

Word of him who hears God’s speech, Who beholds visions from the Almighty, Prostrate, but with eyes uncovered…

In the earlier part of the story with the she-ass, Balaam only sees the obvious, a dangerous angel of the Lord in the path, when G-d “uncovers” his eyes. In the meantime, He beat his faithful she-ass twice and would have killed her. How quickly his arrogance reasserts itself as he proclaims himself one who beholds visions, one with his eyes “uncovered.”

Finally, there is a reminder once again of a prominent theme in the Torah, that human beings are in a position of privilege over other creatures only by the “grace of G-d,” not through their merit. Only by the grace of G-d are human beings permitted to eat animals and use them as a substitute sacrifice in place of themselves, as the angel of the Lord says: “And when the ass saw me, she shied away because of me those three times. If she had not shied away from me, you are the one I should have killed, while sparing her.”

I wonder if the world might be different if human beings cultivate humility instead of dominance? If we remind ourselves moment-to-moment that we share the spiritual round table with other beings who are our equal?

Instant Pot: Veggie Soup Middle Eastern Style

In my tiny cafe, we served up sixteen fresh salads, three soups and a daily special every day as well as homemade condiments. We made everything fresh from whole foods, so as you can imagine, we had to move pretty quickly. Mornings in the cafe were not the time to meditate on seasonings — so I developed templates for myself.

I had two soup templates — puréed soups, for which I relied on my pot and my VitaMix, and chunky soups, which needed only a pot and now my Instant Pot. This recipe is one of the latter, although I never made it in the Cafe. I just created it now from what I happened to have in my refrigerator.

My chunky soups almost all began the same way: I prepared my beans to barely al denté (oh my gosh, the IP changed my world of beans) and set them aside. The exception to this process was lentils, which I added after the initial veggie saute. I filled the bottom of a very large soup pot with extra virgin olive oil and sautéed lots of chopped onion and garlic in it. Sometimes I added petite diced carrots and celery to that. Then I added water sufficient for the soup (along with lentils if I was using those). Sometimes the cooking liquid included petite diced tomatoes, either fresh or canned, sometimes a little tomato paste, sometimes tomatoes and tomato paste, sometimes none of those, just broth. The water with the sautéed onions, garlic, carrot and celery made was a lovely broth base for anything else I might add — and now, if I want to get really fancy with extra layers of flavor, I can add an IP broth from veggie “waste” if I happen to have some on hand. I added beans back into the pot close to the end of cooking time.

My basic Middle Eastern seasoning set was 3:3:1 — Salt:Cumin:Hot Paprika, that is, the same amount of salt as cumin and one-third as much hot paprika. For a three gallon pot, that would be three tablespoons of salt, three tablespoons of cumin and 1 tablespoon of hot paprika. Of course, I always used a little less than the template so I could adjust for variations in how the soup mingled with the seasonings — and I often added a variety of other typical Middle Eastern seasonings for more textured flavors. These included fresh ginger root, crushed coriander, harif (Arabic: harissa), fresh mint and more. And of course lemon, which brightens everything.

So that was how this veggie soup came about. I wanted lunch from my Instant Pot today so took an inventory of my ‘fridge and found that in addition to the standard veggies I always have in the house, onions, carrots, and a little red bell pepper, I had some grape tomatoes, a head of cauliflower and redskin potatoes. Here’s what happened with that:

INSTANT POT VEGGIE SOUP MIDDLE EASTERN STYLE
Ingredients

  • Onion, one large, finely chopped
  • Garlic, two large cloves, minced
  • Carrots, 1-2, petite diced
  • Celery, 1-2 stalks, petite diced
  • Water, 6 cups
  • Tomato paste, 1/4 cup
  • Red lentils, one scant cup
  • Grape tomatoes, 1/2 pint, cut in half
  • Red bell pepper, 1/2 large pepper, petite diced
  • Redskin potatoes with skin, 2 large, scrubbed,  chunked
  • Cauliflower, about 1/2 head, cut into flowerets
  • Salt, 2 tsp.
  • Cumin, 2 tsp.
  • Powdered harissa, 2/3 tsp.*
  • Cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish

* A word about the harissa: I prefer my own freshly made harif/harissa but didn’t happen to have any made. I had this powdered version in my cabinet and thought I might try it. It added a subtle Middle Eastern flavor but barely any heat I could detect — that was great for my husband, not so much for me. In the absence of the fresh harif another time, I would probably opt for something a little stronger like hot paprika or crushed red pepper.

Instructions

  1. Add olive oil to Instant Pot and turn IP to Saute.
  2. Add garlic, onion, celery and carrots and saute for 5-7 minutes.
  3. Stir in the tomato paste, then add 6 cups (1-1/2 quarts) water, the red lentils, and mix all well. Let continue on Saute for a moment or two to start heating the water.
  4. Cancel Saute. Place the lid on the pot, seal, close the vent and set to High Pressure for 30 minutes.
  5. Do a Quick Release, and remove the lid.
  6. Add all seasonings (hold the cilantro or parsley) and the tomatoes, red bell pepper, potatoes and cauliflower.
  7. Place the lid back on the pot, seal, close the vent and set to High Pressure for 30 minutes.
  8. Do a Quick Release, and remove the lid. Check the texture to determine if it needs more pressure. This time was about right for me.
  9. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Add chopped cilantro or parsley.

I love red lentils. They have great flavor and texture, adding body and creaminess to soups — and they cook quickly.  Have fun with this recipe, adding to the basics (garlic/onion/carrots/celery/red lentils) whatever veggies you happen to have on hand.

Shabbat: Stop. Drop the Map and Look Around.

I’m reading a wonderful book recommended by a friend for soul restoration in these times, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible by Charles Eisenstein. After I picked up the book, I realized he is also the author of Sacred Economics, which another friend mentioned to me some time back and which I hope to read soon as well.

In a chapter called “Sacred Activism,” Eisenstein writes, “At some point, we are just going to have to stop. Just stop, without any idea of what to do. As I described with the examples of disarmament and permaculture, we are lost in a hellscape carrying a map that leads us in circles, with never a way out. To exit it, we are going to have to drop the map and look around.”

The comment immediately brought to mind Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath, which I used to enjoy weekly in a very traditional way when I lived in West Rogers Park. Every week, for 24-26 extraordinary and beautiful hours, I stopped, dropped the map and looked around.

Once when I had some non-Jewish friends to dinner, one of them said to me, this is so amazing! I wish I could do this myself — I just can’t imagine how I would carve out the time. To which I responded, you don’t need to carve out the time. Just do it. Just stop. And you will quickly discover that the space in time becomes so precious to you that everything else will fall into place around it. Your whole world will look and feel different.

The verses in the Torah that establish the concept of Shabbat are these, Genesis 2:1-3:

וַיְכֻלּ֛וּ הַשָּׁמַ֥יִם וְהָאָ֖רֶץ וְכָל־צְבָאָֽם׃

The heaven and the earth were finished, and all their array.

וַיְכַ֤ל אֱלֹהִים֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֑ה וַיִּשְׁבֹּת֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֖וֹ אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה׃

On the seventh day G-d finished the work that He had been doing, and He ceased on the seventh day from all the work that He had done.

וַיְבָ֤רֶךְ אֱלֹהִים֙ אֶת־י֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔י וַיְקַדֵּ֖שׁ אֹת֑וֹ כִּ֣י ב֤וֹ שָׁבַת֙ מִכָּל־מְלַאכְתּ֔וֹ אֲשֶׁר־בָּרָ֥א אֱלֹהִ֖ים לַעֲשֽׂוֹת׃

And G-d blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because on it God ceased from all the work of creation that He had done.

G-d’s action is mirrored in the fourth “commandment,” Exodus 20:8-11, establishing the observance:

זָכ֛וֹר֩ אֶת־י֥֨וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖֜ת לְקַדְּשֽׁ֗וֹ

Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy.

שֵׁ֤֣שֶׁת יָמִ֣ים֙ תַּֽעֲבֹ֔ד֮ וְעָשִׂ֖֣יתָ כָּל־מְלַאכְתֶּֽךָ֒

Six days you shall labor and do all your work,

וְי֙וֹם֙ הַשְּׁבִיעִ֔֜י שַׁבָּ֖֣ת ׀ לַיהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑֗יךָ לֹֽ֣א־תַעֲשֶׂ֣֨ה כָל־מְלָאכָ֡֜ה אַתָּ֣ה ׀ וּבִנְךָֽ֣־וּ֠בִתֶּ֗ךָ עַבְדְּךָ֤֨ וַאֲמָֽתְךָ֜֙ וּבְהֶמְתֶּ֔֗ךָ וְגֵרְךָ֖֙ אֲשֶׁ֥֣ר בִּשְׁעָרֶֽ֔יךָ

but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements.

כִּ֣י שֵֽׁשֶׁת־יָמִים֩ עָשָׂ֨ה יְהוָ֜ה אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֣יִם וְאֶת־הָאָ֗רֶץ אֶת־הַיָּם֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־בָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖נַח בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִ֑י עַל־כֵּ֗ן בֵּרַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־י֥וֹם הַשַּׁבָּ֖ת וַֽיְקַדְּשֵֽׁהוּ

For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.

The word “Sabbath,” Shabbat in Hebrew, is the same as the word “ceased,” shavat, italicized (bold in Hebrew) above. Shabbat, the Sabbath, is the only ritual action instituted in the 10 “Commandments.” The primary ritual activity is enshrined in the name of the day: Shabbat/shavat. Cease. Stop. Drop the map and look around.

This essential and eternal wisdom reminds me of another biblical verse from Ecclesiastes 1:9:

וְאֵ֥ין כָּל־חָדָ֖שׁ תַּ֥חַת הַשָּֽׁמֶשׁ׃

There is nothing new beneath the sun!

And that brings me again, back to Eisenstein and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible: “A Chinese saying describes it well: ‘As far away as the horizon, and right in front of your face.’ You can run toward it forever, run faster and faster, and never get any closer. Only when you stop do you realize you are already there.’ That is exactly our collective situation right now. All of the solutions to the global crisis are sitting right in front of us, but they are invisible to our collective seeing, existing, as it were, in a different universe.”

We have known the solution to our human predicament for thousands of years. It is before us and in us, expressed in different ways in every religion and philosophy the world has known. Stop. Allow ourselves a space to fill up with beauty and a sense of gratitude. Do our part to be certain all human beings and other living creatures in our vicinity can do the same.

The rabbis teach that if every Jew observed the Sabbath in all its details three times in a row, the Messiah would come. This means, the world would be radically transformed. I believe that with all my heart. It seems to me that Eisenstein does as well.

Split Pea Barley Soup Redux – For The Instant Pot

I’m going to work my way through some of my old recipes with my Instant Pot — which, by the way, I’m loving! Here’s one I made the other day: Split Pea Soup with Barley. Hearty and delicious.

SPLIT PEA SOUP WITH BARLEY
Ingredients

I am using a 6 quart Instant Pot. This recipe makes about three quarts.

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic, 2 cloves minced (1 TB)
  • Spanish onion, 1/2 large, petite diced
  • Carrots, 2 large, petite diced
  • Celery stalks, 2 large, petite diced
  • Salt, 2 tsp.
  • Cumin, 2 tsp.
  • Turmeric, 2 tsp.
  • Hot paprika, 1/2 tsp.
  • Water, 7 cups (for the lentils) + 2 more cups (for the barley)
  • Vinegar, 3 TB
  • Green split peas, 1 lb.
  • Barley, 1/2 cup
  • Cilantro, 1 bunch, chopped (sometimes I also use, or use instead, chopped kale or spinach or chard)

Instructions

  1. Wash and prepare all the veggies and the garlic.
  2. Set the Instant Pot on Saute, and add the olive oil.
  3. Add the garlic and onion and saute briefly. Add the carrots and celery and continue to saute for a few moments.
  4. “Cancel” the Saute.
  5. Add the split peas to the Instant Pot, 7 cups of water, salt, cumin, turmeric, hot paprika and vinegar. Stir to mix all well.
  6. Close the lid of the Instant Pot and the vent. Set it to Pressure, High, for 20 minutes. I like to still see peas a bit, not have them totally disintegrated.
  7. Measure two cups of water. Rinse the barley, and add it to the 2 cups of water and set aside.
  8. Hit “Cancel” on the Instant Pot when finished. I usually do a QPR (Quick Pressure Release) so I can check on the state of the pot contents, not overcook. I can always Pressure more as needed. In this case, the split peas will not be finished because they’re going to cook more with the barley.
  9. Add the barley and water mixture to the soup, stirring it in. Set the Instant Pot to High Pressure for 10 minutes.
  10. This time when finished, don’t hit “Cancel.” You can do a regular pressure release (until you’re in a hurry to taste), letting the pot contents cook a little more as the pressure subsides. The pot will go to holding Warm.
  11. Stir, and check the liquid content and seasoning. Add more water if you need it and adjust seasonings as needed.
  12. I like my split peas and barley to retain some texture, but if you like everything softer and have a glass lid, you can put on the lid and let the Instant Pot continue to keep the soup warm, or you can Cancel and set the Pot to Saute with the lid on while you watch. With the latter, you need to stir fairly frequently to avoid browning on the bottom.  You can also set the Pot to Pressure on High for another 2-5 minutes (remember, there is cooking time before and after the Pressure time as pressure builds, then subsides).
  13. When the soup is finished, stir in the chopped cilantro.

I gave detailed instructions here, but this is soooooo easy. Basically it’s a matter of five minutes veggie prep time, five minutes Saute time, adding the split peas and their water along with the vinegar and seasonings and Pressuring for 20 minutes, then adding the barley and its water and Pressuring for another 10 minutes, checking it out and adjusting and adding the cilantro.

“Give peas a chance.”

For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Vayakhel-Pekudei 2018 (Ex. 35:1-40:38)

Last year when I worked with this portion, I was struck with the ongoing “love story” these portions in Exodus tell, a love story between G-d and the Israelites. In Ki Tissa, I felt the deep wound in the relationship that resulted from the Israelite betrayal in the Golden Calf episode. In this week’s portion, I felt the deep love and devotion, sincere contrition and poignant vulnerability of the people as they brought their gifts for building the Tabernacle in such abundance that the leadership had to call a halt to their giving.

In this portion, I noticed Aaron’s fall from grace. This year, I see that the fall from grace was accompanied by a relationship — for a brief time — without sacrifice. In Ex. 33:7-11, Moses takes the Tent of Meeting outside Tabernacle, even outside the camp, and meets with G-d in that space without a sacrifice as the people watch from a distance. In Ex. 34:28, Moses “was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights,” and parallel to offering no sacrifice, no “food” for G-d, “ate no bread and drank no water.” This brief time without sacrifice and without killing for food reflects the vision of Gen. 1-3, a world without bloodshed, without sacrifice and without killing for food — a world of continuity between the divine realm, the human realm and the rest of creation.

In terms of allusion to that vision of Gen. 1-3, there is one more point of interest in this week’s portion, and that is, the Sabbath requirement in Ex. 35:2-3: “On six days work may be done, but on the seventh day you shall have a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the sabbath day.”

The words repeat salient points from Ex. 31:12-17: “You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin. Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death. The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.”

The version “later” in the narrative adds the fire prohibition; the “earlier” version adds the specific creation reference. Both decree death for those who work on the Sabbath. Neither references the vision of Gen. 1-3, a world without bloodshed, sacrifice or killing for food. For that, we have to return to a still “earlier” segment of the narrative, Ex. 20:8-11: “Remember the sabbath day and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work — you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is in them, and he rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.”

This last set of verses not only alludes to the vision of Gen. 1-3 but certifies the significance of it as it recreates a space in time when there is a seamless continuity between the worlds of divine and human and the rest of creation, when all live harmoniously in freedom. Not coincidentally, I believe, these verses don’t mention death for a failure to observe the work prohibition.

THE ANIMALS’ STORY

These animal verses in Vayakhel-Pekudei continue to develop the overall narrative theme that moves toward the priestly preoccupation of Vayikra/Leviticus. Instead of recreating the vision of Gen. 1-3 as Ex. 20 does, Ex. 31 and 33 allude to and reinterpret that vision through an exchange expressed in the sacrifice, a blood exchange that connects human sin, death, sacrifice and human sustenance, including killing other creatures for food, in an intricate weave:

Ex. 35:6 – [gifts for the Lord] …blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, and goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood…

Ex. 35:23 – And everyone who had in his possession blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, and dolphin skins, brought them…

Ex. 35:26 – And all the women who excelled in that skill spun the goats’ hair.

Ex. 36:14 – They made cloths of goats’ hair for a tent over the Tabernacle; they made the cloths eleven in number.

Ex. 36:19 – And they made a covering of tanned ram skins for the Tent, and a covering of dolphin skins above.

Ex. 38:3 – He made all the utensils of the altar — the pails, The scrapers, the basins, the flesh hooks, and the fire pans…

Ex. 39:34 – [Then they brought the Tabernacle to Moses…] …the covering of tanned ram skins, the covering of dolphin skins, and the curtain for the screen…

Ex. 40:29 – At the entrance of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting he placed the altar of burnt offering. On it he offered up the burnt offering and the meal offering — as the Lord had commanded Moses.

Viewing the same story through different lenses deepens my appreciation for the text. I once looked through the lens of meals in Genesis. Now I’m looking through the lens of animals in the Torah. It’s a different project from “seeing what the Torah says about animals.” It’s more about establishing an idea of the overall story, its themes and the strategies it uses to express them, then viewing the same overall story from a different angle. In this project, I have seen how the animals’ story is a subtext of the Israelites’ story, reflecting and echoing the Israelite experience while at the same time traveling its own path, as the animals lose status in relation to the vision of Gen. 1-3.

By now as we cross into the priestly narrative, it occurs to me that the story is fully anthropocentric: all of creation is here to serve human needs even as the Israelites, indeed all humans, are required to demonstrate compassion to animals. Still, animals are not only food but substitute for Israelite lives in the sacrifice. They are the centerpoint between divine and human worlds, feeding both at the sacrificial table, transforming the Israelites as they themselves are transformed into smoke.

The love story in which the Israelites bring all their finest items so generously and lavishly to donate for G-d’s home among them, the desert Tabernacle, looks different viewed through the lens of the animals whose lives and blood were the anonymous medium of exchange in that holy space.

I wonder if the Israelites in the meta-narrative experienced and felt the enormity of this sacrifice on their behalf? The seven Noahide laws require of all people that they not subject animals to unnecessary suffering, and there are other passages in the Torah that demonstrate and require compassion for animals, recognizing that they have a soul. Finally, though, the animals’ story is secondary to the Israelites’ story, and their sacrifice, their skins and hair and blood and bodies, though so much greater than the human sacrifice, doesn’t generate specific recognition like the Israelite’s gifts of jewels and gold. Their silent suffering is unremarked.

The subtext, though, repeats the allusion to the creation story as Moses reflects the original vision, a world without bloodshed, as he meets with G-d on the mountain and in the Tent of Meeting. The vision of the sabbath that recreates Gen. 1-3 also reflects that vision, a space and time in which all creatures are free and there is no sacrifice and no killing for food (Ex. 20:8-11). I like to think this glance back to a primordial status for all creatures, indeed all of creation, is also a look forward, a hope for future fulfillment.

Torah Ecology: Ki Tissa 2018 (Ex 30:11-34:35)

Ki Tissa is one of the most extraordinary portions in the biblical year, and there’s a lot one could say about it. Last year I reflected on the beautiful love story this portion relates and the moments in which Moses acts as the seamless bridge between the finite and the infinite:

“In this extraordinary story of the Golden Calf, we understand not only the depth of a betrayal but the depth of a love relationship. We learn once again the danger that is at the boundary of life and death, creation and transcendence and the choices people make that threaten everything.”

This year I want to emphasize and develop a couple of elements from last year’s analysis then take a look at how The Animals’ Story fits with the narrative.

As I read the portion last year, in addition to the love story theme, two things stood out to me: 1) meals as the center point of exchange between G-d and the Israelites (the sacrifice as G-d’s “meal” and food of the herds, flocks and harvest as the Israelites’ meal) and 2) the absence of that exchange mechanism in the seamless relationship between G-d and Moses in the Tent of Meeting and on the mountain. The significance of the sacrifice deepens for me as cumulative evidence suggests repeatedly that it is the life of human beings that is forfeit, but in Israelite sacrifice, the animal substitutes for human beings.

Isaiah captures the exchange perfectly — and suggests the significance of the exchange in referring to death as a “reproach” in Isaiah 25:6-8:

וְעָשָׂה֩ יְהוָ֨ה צְבָא֜וֹת לְכָל־הָֽעַמִּים֙ בָּהָ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה מִשְׁתֵּ֥ה שְׁמָנִ֖ים מִשְׁתֵּ֣ה שְׁמָרִ֑ים שְׁמָנִים֙ מְמֻ֣חָיִ֔ם שְׁמָרִ֖ים מְזֻקָּקִֽים׃

The LORD of Hosts will make on this mount For all the peoples A banquet of rich viands, A banquet of choice wines— Of rich viands seasoned with marrow, Of choice wines well refined.

וּבִלַּע֙ בָּהָ֣ר הַזֶּ֔ה פְּנֵֽי־הַלּ֥וֹט ׀ הַלּ֖וֹט עַל־כָּל־הָֽעַמִּ֑ים וְהַמַּסֵּכָ֥ה הַנְּסוּכָ֖ה עַל־כָּל־הַגּוֹיִֽם׃

And He will destroy on this mount the shroud That is drawn over the faces of all the peoples And the covering that is spread Over all the nations:

בִּלַּ֤ע הַמָּ֙וֶת֙ לָנֶ֔צַח וּמָחָ֨ה אֲדֹנָ֧י יְהוִ֛ה דִּמְעָ֖ה מֵעַ֣ל כָּל־פָּנִ֑ים וְחֶרְפַּ֣ת עַמּ֗וֹ יָסִיר֙ מֵעַ֣ל כָּל־הָאָ֔רֶץ כִּ֥י יְהוָ֖ה דִּבֵּֽר׃ (פ)

He will destroy death forever. My Lord GOD will wipe the tears away From all faces And will put an end to the reproach of His people Over all the earth— For it is the LORD who has spoken.

My impression grows stronger that the requirement of sacrifice relates to guilt associated with being human, that humanity is somehow responsible for a world which includes death as an inescapable part of the life of every creature, a world of predator and prey. Israelites remain alive, are saved from becoming prey, only by their covenant agreement. In the economy of this sacred scheme, life is still due, and it is through the exchange mechanism of sacrifice that the sacrificial animal substitutes for Israelite life.

This idea, and the idea in Tetzaveh of transformation of the priest and the sacrificial animal in the course of a detailed ritual, begin to sound increasingly like ways some Christians have understood and applied the text following the destruction of the Temple, and my project in a following year will be to examine in some detail how and why the rabbis took these ideas in a different direction.

The Animals’ Story

The Animals’ Story unfolds in two of four chapters of this portion.

  • In chapter 32, a fraudulent animal represents a fraudulent relationship with Transcendence. G-d’s anger is directed most specifically at the fact that the Israelites offer the sacrificial “meal” to this phony god, enjoying their own meal before it. They proclaim this god to be the one who brought them out of Egypt.
  • Chapter 34 reestablishes correct relationships. Both animals and people must remain at a distance from the mountain where Moses and G-d meet. As a relationship between the people and G-d is painfully restored, the first fruits of flocks, herds and the land are G-d’s, and the Israelites enjoy their bounty, exclusively that from which G-d’s portion is sacrificed.

Ex 32:4
וַיִּקַּ֣ח מִיָּדָ֗ם וַיָּ֤צַר אֹתוֹ֙ בַּחֶ֔רֶט וַֽיַּעֲשֵׂ֖הוּ עֵ֣גֶל מַסֵּכָ֑ה וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ אֵ֤לֶּה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֶעֱל֖וּךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
This he took from them and cast in a mold, and made it into a molten calf. And they exclaimed, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”

Ex 32:6
וַיַּשְׁכִּ֙ימוּ֙ מִֽמָּחֳרָ֔ת וַיַּעֲל֣וּ עֹלֹ֔ת וַיַּגִּ֖שׁוּ שְׁלָמִ֑ים וַיֵּ֤שֶׁב הָעָם֙ לֶֽאֱכֹ֣ל וְשָׁת֔וֹ וַיָּקֻ֖מוּ לְצַחֵֽק׃ (פ)
Early next day, the people offered up burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; they sat down to eat and drink, and then rose to dance.

Ex 32:8
סָ֣רוּ מַהֵ֗ר מִן־הַדֶּ֙רֶךְ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר צִוִּיתִ֔ם עָשׂ֣וּ לָהֶ֔ם עֵ֖גֶל מַסֵּכָ֑ה וַיִּשְׁתַּֽחֲווּ־לוֹ֙ וַיִּזְבְּחוּ־ל֔וֹ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ אֵ֤לֶּה אֱלֹהֶ֙יךָ֙ יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר הֶֽעֱל֖וּךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I enjoined upon them. They have made themselves a molten calf and bowed low to it and sacrificed to it, saying: ‘This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt!’”

Ex 32:19
וַֽיְהִ֗י כַּאֲשֶׁ֤ר קָרַב֙ אֶל־הַֽמַּחֲנֶ֔ה וַיַּ֥רְא אֶת־הָעֵ֖גֶל וּמְחֹלֹ֑ת וַיִּֽחַר־אַ֣ף מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיַּשְׁלֵ֤ךְ מידו [מִיָּדָיו֙] אֶת־הַלֻּחֹ֔ת וַיְשַׁבֵּ֥ר אֹתָ֖ם תַּ֥חַת הָהָֽר׃
As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his hands and shattered them at the foot of the mountain.

Ex. 32:20
וַיִּקַּ֞ח אֶת־הָעֵ֨גֶל אֲשֶׁ֤ר עָשׂוּ֙ וַיִּשְׂרֹ֣ף בָּאֵ֔שׁ וַיִּטְחַ֖ן עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁר־דָּ֑ק וַיִּ֙זֶר֙ עַל־פְּנֵ֣י הַמַּ֔יִם וַיַּ֖שְׁקְ אֶת־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃
He took the calf that they had made and burned it; he ground it to powder and strewed it upon the water and so made the Israelites drink it.

Ex. 32:24
וָאֹמַ֤ר לָהֶם֙ לְמִ֣י זָהָ֔ב הִתְפָּרָ֖קוּ וַיִּתְּנוּ־לִ֑י וָאַשְׁלִכֵ֣הוּ בָאֵ֔שׁ וַיֵּצֵ֖א הָעֵ֥גֶל הַזֶּֽה׃
So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off!’ They gave it to me and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!”

Ex. 32:35
וַיִּגֹּ֥ף יְהוָ֖ה אֶת־הָעָ֑ם עַ֚ל אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשׂ֣וּ אֶת־הָעֵ֔גֶל אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָׂ֖ה אַהֲרֹֽן׃ (ס)
Then the LORD sent a plague upon the people, for what they did with the calf that Aaron made.

Ex 34:3
וְאִישׁ֙ לֹֽא־יַעֲלֶ֣ה עִמָּ֔ךְ וְגַם־אִ֥ישׁ אַל־יֵרָ֖א בְּכָל־הָהָ֑ר גַּם־הַצֹּ֤אן וְהַבָּקָר֙ אַל־יִרְע֔וּ אֶל־מ֖וּל הָהָ֥ר הַהֽוּא׃
No one else shall come up with you, and no one else shall be seen anywhere on the mountain; neither shall the flocks and the herds graze at the foot of this mountain.”

Ex 34:15
פֶּן־תִּכְרֹ֥ת בְּרִ֖ית לְיוֹשֵׁ֣ב הָאָ֑רֶץ וְזָנ֣וּ ׀ אַחֲרֵ֣י אֱלֹֽהֵיהֶ֗ם וְזָבְחוּ֙ לֵאלֹ֣הֵיהֶ֔ם וְקָרָ֣א לְךָ֔ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ מִזִּבְחֽוֹ׃
You must not make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, for they will lust after their gods and sacrifice to their gods and invite you, and you will eat of their sacrifices.

Ex 34:19
כָּל־פֶּ֥טֶר רֶ֖חֶם לִ֑י וְכָֽל־מִקְנְךָ֙ תִּזָּכָ֔ר פֶּ֖טֶר שׁ֥וֹר וָשֶֽׂה׃
Every first issue of the womb is Mine, from all your livestock that drop a male as firstling, whether cattle or sheep.

Ex 34:25
לֹֽא־תִשְׁחַ֥ט עַל־חָמֵ֖ץ דַּם־זִבְחִ֑י וְלֹא־יָלִ֣ין לַבֹּ֔קֶר זֶ֖בַח חַ֥ג הַפָּֽסַח׃
You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with anything leavened; and the sacrifice of the Feast of Passover shall not be left lying until morning.

Ex. 34:26
רֵאשִׁ֗ית בִּכּוּרֵי֙ אַדְמָ֣תְךָ֔ תָּבִ֕יא בֵּ֖ית יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ לֹא־תְבַשֵּׁ֥ל גְּדִ֖י בַּחֲלֵ֥ב אִמּֽוֹ׃
The choice first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the LORD your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.

The last verse, Ex 34:26, “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,” is perhaps a reminder that animals redeem human beings, saving them from the death they earned, and are due all respect and compassion. For me, this chapter points to the possibility that the Israelites, and by extension humans, are not considered superior to animals but rather enjoy their privileged place in the scheme of things by the grace of G-d, through the sacrifice of their fellow creatures, and by their own sincere adherence to a covenant agreement that values compassion toward all life.

Torah Ecology: Tetzaveh 2018 (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10)

Where Terumah suggested ways to understand the meaning of sacrifice through spatial arrangements, Tetzaveh offers additional insights by looking at the priests’ activity, their garments, the spaces they use and the role of blood. What we learn is that sacrifice is a boundary event, operating between finity and infinity, life and death, creation and uncreation:

“Blood, like food, signifies the boundary between transcendence and the world of creation. Blood represents life and death; it makes impure and it purifies. It serves an intermediary function, and the ears, thumbs and toes represent the boundaries of a body, echoing themes prominent in sacrifice…Death and brutality, love and compassion intermingle at the boundary in a transaction mediated by the priest.”

THE ANIMALS’ STORY

Following are the passages with animal references in Tetzaveh:

Ex. 29:1
וְזֶ֨ה הַדָּבָ֜ר אֲשֶֽׁר־תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה לָהֶ֛ם לְקַדֵּ֥שׁ אֹתָ֖ם לְכַהֵ֣ן לִ֑י לְ֠קַח פַּ֣ר אֶחָ֧ד בֶּן־בָּקָ֛ר וְאֵילִ֥ם שְׁנַ֖יִם תְּמִימִֽם׃
This is what you shall do to them in consecrating them to serve Me as priests: Take a young bull of the herd and two rams without blemish;

Ex. 29:10
וְהִקְרַבְתָּ֙ אֶת־הַפָּ֔ר לִפְנֵ֖י אֹ֣הֶל מוֹעֵ֑ד וְסָמַ֨ךְ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ הַפָּֽר׃
Lead the bull up to the front of the Tent of Meeting, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the head of the bull.

Ex. 29:11
וְשָׁחַטְתָּ֥ אֶת־הַפָּ֖ר לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃
Slaughter the bull before the LORD, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting,

Ex. 29:12
וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֙ מִדַּ֣ם הַפָּ֔ר וְנָתַתָּ֛ה עַל־קַרְנֹ֥ת הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ בְּאֶצְבָּעֶ֑ךָ וְאֶת־כָּל־הַדָּ֣ם תִּשְׁפֹּ֔ךְ אֶל־יְס֖וֹד הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃
and take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger; then pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar.

Ex. 29:13
וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֗ אֶֽת־כָּל־הַחֵלֶב֮ הַֽמְכַסֶּ֣ה אֶת־הַקֶּרֶב֒ וְאֵ֗ת הַיֹּתֶ֙רֶת֙ עַל־הַכָּבֵ֔ד וְאֵת֙ שְׁתֵּ֣י הַכְּלָיֹ֔ת וְאֶת־הַחֵ֖לֶב אֲשֶׁ֣ר עֲלֵיהֶ֑ן וְהִקְטַרְתָּ֖ הַמִּזְבֵּֽחָה׃
Take all the fat that covers the entrails, the protuberance on the liver, and the two kidneys with the fat on them, and turn them into smoke upon the altar.

Ex. 29:14
וְאֶת־בְּשַׂ֤ר הַפָּר֙ וְאֶת־עֹר֣וֹ וְאֶת־פִּרְשׁ֔וֹ תִּשְׂרֹ֣ף בָּאֵ֔שׁ מִח֖וּץ לַֽמַּחֲנֶ֑ה חַטָּ֖את הֽוּא׃
The rest of the flesh of the bull, its hide, and its dung shall be put to the fire outside the camp; it is a sin offering.

Ex. 29:15
וְאֶת־הָאַ֥יִל הָאֶחָ֖ד תִּקָּ֑ח וְסָ֨מְכ֜וּ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָאָֽיִל׃
Next take the one ram, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head.

Ex. 29:16
וְשָׁחַטְתָּ֖ אֶת־הָאָ֑יִל וְלָֽקַחְתָּ֙ אֶת־דָּמ֔וֹ וְזָרַקְתָּ֥ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ סָבִֽיב׃
Slaughter the ram, and take its blood and dash it against all sides of the altar.

Ex. 29:17
וְאֶ֨ת־הָאַ֔יִל תְּנַתֵּ֖חַ לִנְתָחָ֑יו וְרָחַצְתָּ֤ קִרְבּוֹ֙ וּכְרָעָ֔יו וְנָתַתָּ֥ עַל־נְתָחָ֖יו וְעַל־רֹאשֽׁוֹ׃
Cut up the ram into sections, wash its entrails and legs, and put them with its quarters and its head.

Ex. 29:18
וְהִקְטַרְתָּ֤ אֶת־כָּל־הָאַ֙יִל֙ הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חָה עֹלָ֥ה ה֖וּא לַֽיהוָ֑ה רֵ֣יחַ נִיח֔וֹחַ אִשֶּׁ֥ה לַיהוָ֖ה הֽוּא׃
Turn all of the ram into smoke upon the altar. It is a burnt offering to the LORD, a pleasing odor, an offering by fire to the LORD.

Ex. 29:19
וְלָ֣קַחְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת הָאַ֣יִל הַשֵּׁנִ֑י וְסָמַ֨ךְ אַהֲרֹ֧ן וּבָנָ֛יו אֶת־יְדֵיהֶ֖ם עַל־רֹ֥אשׁ הָאָֽיִל׃
Then take the other ram, and let Aaron and his sons lay their hands upon the ram’s head.

Ex. 29:20
וְשָׁחַטְתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאַ֗יִל וְלָקַחְתָּ֤ מִדָּמוֹ֙ וְנָֽתַתָּ֡ה עַל־תְּנוּךְ֩ אֹ֨זֶן אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְעַל־תְּנ֨וּךְ אֹ֤זֶן בָּנָיו֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֤הֶן יָדָם֙ הַיְמָנִ֔ית וְעַל־בֹּ֥הֶן רַגְלָ֖ם הַיְמָנִ֑ית וְזָרַקְתָּ֧ אֶת־הַדָּ֛ם עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֖חַ סָבִֽיב׃
Slaughter the ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his sons’ right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet; and dash the rest of the blood against every side of the altar round about.

Ex. 29:21
וְלָקַחְתָּ֞ מִן־הַדָּ֨ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עַֽל־הַמִּזְבֵּחַ֮ וּמִשֶּׁ֣מֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה֒ וְהִזֵּיתָ֤ עַֽל־אַהֲרֹן֙ וְעַל־בְּגָדָ֔יו וְעַל־בָּנָ֛יו וְעַל־בִּגְדֵ֥י בָנָ֖יו אִתּ֑וֹ וְקָדַ֥שׁ הוּא֙ וּבְגָדָ֔יו וּבָנָ֛יו וּבִגְדֵ֥י בָנָ֖יו אִתּֽוֹ׃
Take some of the blood that is on the altar and some of the anointing oil and sprinkle upon Aaron and his vestments, and also upon his sons and his sons’ vestments. Thus shall he and his vestments be holy, as well as his sons and his sons’ vestments.

Ex. 29:22
וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ מִן־הָ֠אַיִל הַחֵ֨לֶב וְהָֽאַלְיָ֜ה וְאֶת־הַחֵ֣לֶב ׀ הַֽמְכַסֶּ֣ה אֶת־הַקֶּ֗רֶב וְאֵ֨ת יֹתֶ֤רֶת הַכָּבֵד֙ וְאֵ֣ת ׀ שְׁתֵּ֣י הַכְּלָיֹ֗ת וְאֶת־הַחֵ֙לֶב֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עֲלֵהֶ֔ן וְאֵ֖ת שׁ֣וֹק הַיָּמִ֑ין כִּ֛י אֵ֥יל מִלֻּאִ֖ים הֽוּא׃
You shall take from the ram the fat parts—the broad tail, the fat that covers the entrails, the protuberance on the liver, the two kidneys with the fat on them—and the right thigh; for this is a ram of ordination.

Ex. 29:26
וְלָקַחְתָּ֣ אֶת־הֶֽחָזֶ֗ה מֵאֵ֤יל הַמִּלֻּאִים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְאַהֲרֹ֔ן וְהֵנַפְתָּ֥ אֹת֛וֹ תְּנוּפָ֖ה לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה וְהָיָ֥ה לְךָ֖ לְמָנָֽה׃
Then take the breast of Aaron’s ram of ordination and offer it as an elevation offering before the LORD; it shall be your portion.

Ex. 29:27
וְקִדַּשְׁתָּ֞ אֵ֣ת ׀ חֲזֵ֣ה הַתְּנוּפָ֗ה וְאֵת֙ שׁ֣וֹק הַתְּרוּמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר הוּנַ֖ף וַאֲשֶׁ֣ר הוּרָ֑ם מֵאֵיל֙ הַמִּלֻּאִ֔ים מֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר לְאַהֲרֹ֖ן וּמֵאֲשֶׁ֥ר לְבָנָֽיו׃
You shall consecrate the breast that was offered as an elevation offering and the thigh that was offered as a gift offering from the ram of ordination—from that which was Aaron’s and from that which was his sons’—

Ex. 29:28
וְהָיָה֩ לְאַהֲרֹ֨ן וּלְבָנָ֜יו לְחָק־עוֹלָ֗ם מֵאֵת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל כִּ֥י תְרוּמָ֖ה ה֑וּא וּתְרוּמָ֞ה יִהְיֶ֨ה מֵאֵ֤ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ מִזִּבְחֵ֣י שַׁלְמֵיהֶ֔ם תְּרוּמָתָ֖ם לַיהוָֽה׃
and those parts shall be a due for all time from the Israelites to Aaron and his descendants. For they are a gift; and so shall they be a gift from the Israelites, their gift to the LORD out of their sacrifices of well-being.

Ex. 29:31
וְאֵ֛ת אֵ֥יל הַמִּלֻּאִ֖ים תִּקָּ֑ח וּבִשַּׁלְתָּ֥ אֶת־בְּשָׂר֖וֹ בְּמָקֹ֥ם קָדֹֽשׁ׃
You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in the sacred precinct;

Ex. 29:32
וְאָכַ֨ל אַהֲרֹ֤ן וּבָנָיו֙ אֶת־בְּשַׂ֣ר הָאַ֔יִל וְאֶת־הַלֶּ֖חֶם אֲשֶׁ֣ר בַּסָּ֑ל פֶּ֖תַח אֹ֥הֶל מוֹעֵֽד׃
and Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram, and the bread that is in the basket, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.

Ex. 29:33
וְאָכְל֤וּ אֹתָם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר כֻּפַּ֣ר בָּהֶ֔ם לְמַלֵּ֥א אֶת־יָדָ֖ם לְקַדֵּ֣שׁ אֹתָ֑ם וְזָ֥ר לֹא־יֹאכַ֖ל כִּי־קֹ֥דֶשׁ הֵֽם׃
These things shall be eaten only by those for whom expiation was made with them when they were ordained and consecrated; they may not be eaten by a layman, for they are holy.

Ex. 29:34
וְֽאִם־יִוָּתֵ֞ר מִבְּשַׂ֧ר הַמִּלֻּאִ֛ים וּמִן־הַלֶּ֖חֶם עַד־הַבֹּ֑קֶר וְשָׂרַפְתָּ֤ אֶת־הַנּוֹתָר֙ בָּאֵ֔שׁ לֹ֥א יֵאָכֵ֖ל כִּי־קֹ֥דֶשׁ הֽוּא׃
And if any of the flesh of ordination, or any of the bread, is left until morning, you shall put what is left to the fire; it shall not be eaten, for it is holy.

Ex. 29:36
וּפַ֨ר חַטָּ֜את תַּעֲשֶׂ֤ה לַיּוֹם֙ עַל־הַכִּפֻּרִ֔ים וְחִטֵּאתָ֙ עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֔חַ בְּכַפֶּרְךָ֖ עָלָ֑יו וּמָֽשַׁחְתָּ֥ אֹת֖וֹ לְקַדְּשֽׁוֹ׃
and each day you shall prepare a bull as a sin offering for expiation; you shall purge the altar by performing purification upon it, and you shall anoint it to consecrate it.

Ex. 29:38
וְזֶ֕ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּ֑חַ כְּבָשִׂ֧ים בְּנֵֽי־שָׁנָ֛ה שְׁנַ֥יִם לַיּ֖וֹם תָּמִֽיד׃
Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two yearling lambs each day, regularly.

Ex. 29:39
אֶת־הַכֶּ֥בֶשׂ הָאֶחָ֖ד תַּעֲשֶׂ֣ה בַבֹּ֑קֶר וְאֵת֙ הַכֶּ֣בֶשׂ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֥ין הָעַרְבָּֽיִם׃
You shall offer the one lamb in the morning, and you shall offer the other lamb at twilight.

Ex. 29:40
וְעִשָּׂרֹ֨ן סֹ֜לֶת בָּל֨וּל בְּשֶׁ֤מֶן כָּתִית֙ רֶ֣בַע הַהִ֔ין וְנֵ֕סֶךְ רְבִעִ֥ית הַהִ֖ין יָ֑יִן לַכֶּ֖בֶשׂ הָאֶחָֽד׃
There shall be a tenth of a measure of choice flour with a quarter of a hin of beaten oil mixed in, and a libation of a quarter hin of wine for one lamb;

Ex. 29:41
וְאֵת֙ הַכֶּ֣בֶשׂ הַשֵּׁנִ֔י תַּעֲשֶׂ֖ה בֵּ֣ין הָעַרְבָּ֑יִם כְּמִנְחַ֨ת הַבֹּ֤קֶר וּכְנִסְכָּהּ֙ תַּֽעֲשֶׂה־לָּ֔הּ לְרֵ֣יחַ נִיחֹ֔חַ אִשֶּׁ֖ה לַיהוָֽה׃
and you shall offer the other lamb at twilight, repeating with it the meal offering of the morning with its libation—an offering by fire for a pleasing odor to the LORD,

Ex. 29:42
עֹלַ֤ת תָּמִיד֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם פֶּ֥תַח אֹֽהֶל־מוֹעֵ֖ד לִפְנֵ֣י יְהוָ֑ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אִוָּעֵ֤ד לָכֶם֙ שָׁ֔מָּה לְדַבֵּ֥ר אֵלֶ֖יךָ שָֽׁם׃
a regular burnt offering throughout the generations, at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting before the LORD. For there I will meet with you, and there I will speak with you,

Ex. 30:9
לֹא־תַעֲל֥וּ עָלָ֛יו קְטֹ֥רֶת זָרָ֖ה וְעֹלָ֣ה וּמִנְחָ֑ה וְנֵ֕סֶךְ לֹ֥א תִסְּכ֖וּ עָלָֽיו׃
You shall not offer alien incense on it, or a burnt offering or a meal offering; neither shall you pour a libation on it.

Ex. 30:10
וְכִפֶּ֤ר אַהֲרֹן֙ עַל־קַרְנֹתָ֔יו אַחַ֖ת בַּשָּׁנָ֑ה מִדַּ֞ם חַטַּ֣את הַכִּפֻּרִ֗ים אַחַ֤ת בַּשָּׁנָה֙ יְכַפֵּ֤ר עָלָיו֙ לְדֹרֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם קֹֽדֶשׁ־קָֽדָשִׁ֥ים ה֖וּא לַיהוָֽה׃
Once a year Aaron shall perform purification upon its horns with blood of the sin offering of purification; purification shall be performed upon it once a year throughout the ages. It is most holy to the LORD.

As I commented last year, the blood sacrifice occurs in the wider area of the Tabernacle, beyond the sacred precinct inside that houses the ark. The priests operate at the boundary in their role.  The blood of consecration is applied to the boundaries of their bodies, the ridges of their right ears, the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet. Sacrifices are offered at the boundaries of time, at dawn and at twilight. The meat the priests eat is prepared in the sacred precinct, boiled so it is bloodless for consumption. It is then eaten at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. None can remain for recirculation in less holy realms. If there is remaining food from that meal, it must be burned.

In this way, blood, part of the world of creation, enters the transcendent realm as what remains in the meat after the animal is sacrificed on the altar is boiled off in the sacred precinct. It is not in the meat the priests eat. Priests operating at the boundary negotiate the transformation of a living creature into a message and the transmission of that message from the world of creation to the transcendent realm. As at Mt. Sinai, the priests eat their transformed meal before G-d:

וַיִּקַּ֞ח יִתְר֨וֹ חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֛ה עֹלָ֥ה וּזְבָחִ֖ים לֵֽאלֹהִ֑ים וַיָּבֹ֨א אַהֲרֹ֜ן וְכֹ֣ל ׀ זִקְנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל לֶאֱכָל־לֶ֛חֶם עִם־חֹתֵ֥ן מֹשֶׁ֖ה לִפְנֵ֥י הָאֱלֹהִֽים׃

And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices for God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to partake of the meal before God with Moses’ father-in-law (Ex. 18:13).

And again:

וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֑ן נָדָב֙ וַאֲבִיה֔וּא וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים מִזִּקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended;

וַיִּרְא֕וּ אֵ֖ת אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְתַ֣חַת רַגְלָ֗יו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה֙ לִבְנַ֣ת הַסַּפִּ֔יר וּכְעֶ֥צֶם הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָטֹֽהַר׃

and they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity.

וְאֶל־אֲצִילֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לֹ֥א שָׁלַ֖ח יָד֑וֹ וַֽיֶּחֱזוּ֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וַיֹּאכְל֖וּ וַיִּשְׁתּֽוּ׃

Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank (Ex. 24:9-11).

Once the blood of a sacrifice enters the transcendent realm, the meat of a creature thus transformed cannot reenter the created world. It must be fully consumed with any remains burned outside the camp.  It must be pure to enter the transcendent realm and any parts that return to the created world generate impurity.

It is the disciplined intention of the priest, offering a sacrifice on behalf of Israelites expressed through a carefully followed set of ritual actions, that transforms an animal into a message of gratitude or atonement, due from the Israelite.  The animal life substitutes for a human life. Efficacy of the sacrifice requires purity of the sacrificial animal and correct practice from the priest. Priestly meals are absent the blood of the sacrifice.

And the animal itself, central to the activity inside the Tent of Meeting/Tabernacle and the work of the priests on behalf of the Israelites inside that realm? That “pure” animal, an animal with no imperfections, is transformed through the sacrifice at the boundary between this world and a transcendent world, the altar in the Tabernacle. It becomes a message of either gratitude or atonement, substituting for the life due from an Israelite. Only post-transformation and devoid of its blood can the carcass be consumed.

The nature of a paradox is that it resists resolution and reduction to a one-to-one correspondence. Even as I feel like I edge closer to the meaning of the sacrifice as presented in the biblical text, I feel that something is out of reach. It may remain that way. I continue to think it has something to do with sparing the life of human beings for a sin related to the state of affairs in their current existence, an existence that is one of predator and prey. The Israelites without a covenant agreement are as subject to becoming prey as any other creature. This profound awareness hovers around the sacrifice and at meals that include meat. Both the sacrificial animal and the priest on behalf of Israelites are transformed through the meal attendant on sacrifice.

One thing is clear from the text: a hastily eaten meal, a meat meal eaten without conscious intention, transforms no creature, not the human and not the sacrificial animal. It is, in effect, lawless bloodshed.

Torah Ecology: Terumah 2018 (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19)

In last year’s initial exploration of Terumah, I looked at the structure of the narrative about building the Tabernacle and how its construction alludes to and parallels the creation story, setting out the environment from the outside in, then furnishing it from the inside out, as G-d set out the world then filled it with creatures.

In the creation story, there is no death, and no creature kills another for food. In this cosmos, though, in the Tabernacle, there is not only meat-eating but animal sacrifice, the transactional meeting point between the Israelites and transcendence. I touched on a possible way to understand the meaning of that regular event, suggesting the sacrificial animal substitutes for some human sin, but this meaning has come into sharper focus over the last year.

But what “sin,” specifically? One possibility is, it has something to do with human beings bringing death to all of creation and generating a situation in which all are predators and/or preyed upon including humans themselves. In a transaction the dimensions of which are not yet clear to me, the sacrifice of an animal takes the human being out of that cycle of prey and predator as long as human beings are “in the image of G-d,” although I’m not yet 100% certain what that means.

Although many commentaries relate “in the image” to moral capacity, I don’t think that’s a one-to-one correlation. Animals are not “in the image” but rather “after its kind” — yet they are morally accountable for taking human life.

And there are three parts to human ontology, not two, as I once thought was such a neat equation in the text: body — represented in ritual commandments, and soul — represented in ethical commandments. Instead we have body (בָּשָׂ֕ר basar, lifeless flesh), body animated by the breath of G-d,  (נֶ֥פֶשׁ nefesh, often translated “soul”), and “in the image,” which hints at both and more.

Since “in the image” would suggest something about a conception of G-d, perhaps the allusive, elusive quality of the text in this regard is purposeful. Perhaps it will never be possible to fully decipher the meaning of “in the image.”

THE ANIMALS’ STORY IN TERUMAH

Following are  two short passages, the only two in Terumah, that refer to animals. The first is about animals’ contribution to the Tabernacle, the skins of a domesticated animal and the skins of a wild animal.

The second is the passage that startled me last year: “….here is this beautiful structure, created from the finest the Israelites had to offer, a portable home for G-d, a place where these wanderers met with transcendence, and within this structure, the tools of animal sacrifice, flesh-hooks and shovels and pots to take up and carry away the ashes that remained from a living creature. I found myself somewhat against my will dwelling on that phrase, imagining the creature brought, surely unwillingly, to that place, bound, crying with fear, killed, hung and finally burned.”

Ex. 26:14
וְעָשִׂ֤יתָ מִכְסֶה֙ לָאֹ֔הֶל עֹרֹ֥ת אֵילִ֖ם מְאָדָּמִ֑ים וּמִכְסֵ֛ה עֹרֹ֥ת תְּחָשִׁ֖ים מִלְמָֽעְלָה׃
And make for the tent a covering of tanned ram skins, and a covering of dolphin skins above.

Ex. 27:3
וְעָשִׂ֤יתָ סִּֽירֹתָיו֙ לְדַשְּׁנ֔וֹ וְיָעָיו֙ וּמִזְרְקֹתָ֔יו וּמִזְלְגֹתָ֖יו וּמַחְתֹּתָ֑יו לְכָל־כֵּלָ֖יו תַּעֲשֶׂ֥ה נְחֹֽשֶׁת׃
Make the pails for removing its ashes, as well as its scrapers, basins, flesh hooks, and fire pans—make all its utensils of copper.

With these two passages, we enter the world of animal sacrifice, which is the main topic in the Animals’ Story for the rest of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, a subtext to the human story, the developing relationship between G-d and G-d’s people en route to the Land of Israel.

Torah Ecology: Mishpatim 2018 (Ex. 21:1 – 24:18)

Increasingly I focus my attention on a paradox: the beautiful vision of Genesis 1-3 against a world filled with bloodshed and violence in the rest of the Torah, a world in which bloodshed is deliberately increased through animal sacrifice.

It is very difficult for me to imagine how the same “mind” that put forward the vision of Gen. 1-3 also put forward a project that included the terrified cries of a sacrificial animal and the stench of blood on the altar as a form of worship. How can this kind of worship express both joy and gratitude and act as atonement? Or as another writer put it, what was at stake that made this act that seems so horrific meaningful?

The first three chapters of Genesis offer an extraordinary and powerful vision of the spiritual unity of all being in a harmony of differences. Chapter 4 jolts us out of that vision as we begin the path into a world where violence and corruption overwhelm the intention of creation.

Human agency has a role in shaping that world of violence and bloodshed, and that agency brings with it blood guilt. I’m not sure that I can detail yet exactly how that happens in the text or what it means, but it does seem to produce an economy in which animal blood, representing life, pays what is due for human blood guilt.

Human beings are privileged over other animals because they are “in the image” of G-d. Taking a human life brings heavy consequences. In the economy of creation, taking a life requires payment with a life — a life for a life:

וְאַ֨ךְ אֶת־דִּמְכֶ֤ם לְנַפְשֹֽׁתֵיכֶם֙ אֶדְרֹ֔שׁ מִיַּ֥ד כָּל־חַיָּ֖ה אֶדְרְשֶׁ֑נּוּ וּמִיַּ֣ד הָֽאָדָ֗ם מִיַּד֙ אִ֣ישׁ אָחִ֔יו אֶדְרֹ֖שׁ אֶת־נֶ֥פֶשׁ הָֽאָדָֽם׃

But for your own life-blood I will require a reckoning: I will require it of every beast; of man, too, will I require a reckoning for human life, of every man for that of his fellow man! (Gen. 9:5)

This verse points not only to the idea that human life is sacred, that it is privileged above all other life because human beings are in the image of G-d, but that animals, like humans, are morally accountable for taking the life of a human being.  This week’s portion fills in the legislative specifics of those concepts.

Last year I explored the parallel themes of moral freedom and restrictions on freedom for the sake of relationship in Mishpatim.  This year I narrow my focus to the relationship between humans, specifically Israelites, and animals. These relationships are based on a balance between freedom and restrictions on freedom and, in that framework, moral accountability.

In Yitro, last week, I explored the idea of valuing lives. Following are the animal references in Mishpatim, a particularly rich portion for discovering how lives are valued, what are “correct” relationships, and the dimensions of moral accountability:

* * * * *

The first five passages below deal with domestic animals, primarily an ox. In all cases but the first, the ox is dealt with as property. In the first passage, the ox is morally accountable, subject to capital punishment if the ox takes a human life — whether that act was accidental (the ox was not in the habit of goring) or premeditated (that ox has been in the habit of goring).

The moral accountability of the ox is demonstrated in the consequence of its being stoned, a punishment meted out to human beings for offenses like blasphemy, idolatry, desecration of the Sabbath, witchcraft, rebelling against one’s parents, prostitution of a betrothed virgin, or deception of a husband at marriage with regard to one’s chastity. We might say these are offenses against the order of creation, as would be the offense of a homicidal ox.

Ex. 21:28-32 – “When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox is not to be punished. If, however, that ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner, although warned, has failed to guard it, and it kills a man or a woman — the ox shall be stoned and its owner, too, shall be put to death. If ransom is laid upon him, he must pay whatever is laid upon him to redeem his life. So, too, if it gores a minor, male or female, [the owner] shall be dealt with according to the same rule. But if the ox gores a slave, male or female, he shall pay thirty shekels of silver to the master, and the ox shall be stoned.”

Ex. 21:33- 37 – “When a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must make restitution; he shall pay the price to the owner, but shall keep the dead animal. When a man’s ox injures his neighbor’s ox and it dies, they shall sell the live ox and divide its price; they shall also divide the dead animal. If, however, it is known that the ox was in the habit of goring, and its owner has failed to guard it, he must restore ox for ox, but shall keep the dead animal. When a man steals an ox or a sheep, and slaughters it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for the ox, and four sheep for the sheep.”

Ex. 22:1-4 – “…the thief is seized while tunneling, and he is beaten to death, there is no blood guilt in his case. If the sun has risen on him, there is blood guilt in that case. –He must make restitution; if he lacks the means, he shall be sold for his theft. But if what he stole — whether ox or ass or sheep — is found alive in his possession, he shall pay double. When a man lets his livestock loose to graze in another’s land, and so allows a field or a vineyard to be grazed bare, he must make restitution for the impairment of that field or vineyard.”

Ex. 22:8 – “In all charges of misappropriation–pertaining to an ox, an ass, a sheep, a garment, or any other loss, whereof one party alleges, ‘This is it’ — the case of both parties shall come before G-d: he whom G-d declares guilty shall pay double to the other.”

Ex. 22:9-14 – “When a man gives to another an ass, an ox, a sheep or any other animal to guard, and it dies or is injured or is carried off, with no witness about, an oath before the Lord shall decide between the two of them that the one has not laid hands on the property of the other; the owner must acquiesce, and no restitution shall be made. But if [the animal] was stolen from him, he shall make restitution to its owner. If it was torn by beasts, he shall bring it as evidence; he need not replace what has been torn by beasts. When a man borrows [an animal] from another and it dies or is injured, its owner not being with it, no restitution need be made; but if it was hired, he is entitled to the hire.”

* * * * *

Ex. 22:18 – “Whoever lies with a beast shall be put to death.”

In Leviticus 20:15, this legislation adds that the animal should also be put to death:

וְאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יִתֵּ֧ן שְׁכָבְתּ֛וֹ בִּבְהֵמָ֖ה מ֣וֹת יוּמָ֑ת וְאֶת־הַבְּהֵמָ֖ה תַּהֲרֹֽגוּ׃

If a man has carnal relations with a beast, he shall be put to death; and you shall kill the beast. Both the human and the animal offend against creation, and both pay for this transgression with their lives.

* * * * *

These next three passages refer back to the vision of Genesis 1-3 in which animals and humans share the spiritual roundtable, a world that offers us an “extraordinary and powerful vision of the spiritual unity of all being in a harmony of differences.” We are not confronted with the image of human superiority to animals based on the idea that they are “in the image” of G-d — but with the requirement for justice and compassion in relation to all life:

Ex. 22:29-30 – “You shall do the same with your cattle and your flocks: seven days it shall remain with its mother; on the eighth day you shall give it to Me. You shall be holy people to Me: you must not eat flesh torn by beasts in the field; you shall cast it to the dogs.”

Ex. 23:4-5 – “When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him. When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him.”

Ex. 23:11-12 – “…in the seventh [year] you shall let it rest and lie fallow. Let the needy among your people eat of it, and what they leave let the wild beasts eat. You shall do the same with your vineyards and your olive groves.”

* * * * *

Finally we return to the idea of animal sacrifice, leveling the field between human beings and other animals in another way, by reminding human beings that in this post-Genesis 1-3 world, they are also part of the cycle of prey and predator. They have a path toward a different life through no merit of their own but through the saving grace of G-d that offers the mechanism of animal sacrifice. Even as human beings, Israelites in particular, are distinguished — they are reminded of their obligation to show compassion to other animals and their obligation to G-d:

Ex. 23:18 – “You shall not offer the blood of My sacrifice with anything leavened; and the fat of my festal offering shall not be left lying until morning.

Ex. 23:19b – “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.”

Ex. 23:29 – “I will not drive them out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply to your hurt. I will drive them out before you little by little…”

Ex. 24:5-6 – “He designated some young men among the Israelites, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed bulls as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took one part of the blood and put it in basins, and the other part of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do!’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people and said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord now makes with you concerning all these commands.”

What is at stake in this system of animal sacrifice? The life of human beings. Animal sacrifice is payment for a human debt of both moral culpability for transgressions against life and joyful gratitude that their own lives are spared, that by fulfilling a covenant relationship which restricts their predatory urges, they can save themselves from becoming prey.

I am not yet fully satisfied with this understanding of the meaning of animal sacrifice, but I inch closer to a center of meaning as I work through these portions each year. Perhaps it is my own inability to derive meaning from this practice that prevents me from seeing what had to have been a powerful experience for those who participated in it, at least until it became routinized.