Shabbat Greetings

I happened to read an article about a traditional rabbi in Maryland who started out his words in a way that had me shaking my head. He started by saying that we live in a world so filled with hate that it is destroying us….but then, he went on saying that that hate was coming from the liberal progressive Jews, that it is they who are the hate mongers. Of course, if I were to take his words a step farther, I would surmise that he doesn’t hate progressive liberals, he just blames them for all the hate….sounds rather hateful to me.

But I don’t think this rabbi, no matter how wise he may be has checked his own hate. Oh, I know that we hear from this group or that group that they love every Jew or every soul….but there is always the unspoken or, loudly spoken proviso, if only I could bring them closer to God, when what they are really saying is, since my way is the right way, if only I could get them to do more things my way. Of course, I am sure I will get a lot of flack from those words from many sides, c’est la viec’est la guerre……except that is what has led to so much fighting in the world, those who want to have the only true God, the best God, the biggest God; and that everyone else is following some golden calf.

I also look for examples to learn from. Because, as we learn from commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, Tazria (Leviticus 12:1-13:59), if we dislike the behavior of this group or that group, if we grow to hate them or to hate this or that individual for that matter, we had better take the time to search our own behavior because we might just, be guilty of the very thing that we hate in them.

Which brings me to this week’s portion where we read that one who has a certain condition is to be taken before the High Priest – Kohein…..why would someone who might have such a condition not go to the Kohein themselves? Were they trying to hide their condition from others, or, were they trying to hide their condition from themselves?

According to the Commentators, this particular condition affected the skin…and the clothes…and the home….and, while many focus on the physical rash, the Sages focused on the idea that it came about from hating and spreading bad things about others. It came from Lashon Ha-ra – literally “evil tongue” but often translated as “gossip”.

So how wise it is that we read that the one who is so afflicted, someone who opened their mouth to say bad things about others and caused people to stay distant from the one that they spoke ill of, had to do something? What did they have to do? They had to isolate themselves, actually it went further than that, they had to make it so that no one would want to come near them, they had to make it so that others would avoid them like they had leprosy….leprosy is contagious, and make no mistake about it, Lashon Ha-ra, the things we spread about others and the things we blame them for, are also contagious, especially in this age of Technology that we live in and it looks like it is only going to get worse with Artificial Intelligence.

According to our portion, an afflicted person had to walk around shouting, “Unclean, Unclean”….which is a great way of getting people to keep their distance from you. But all that yelling and all that isolation wasn’t to get others talking  bad about that person….it was to get the afflicted person to take a good hard look at themselves and to feel what it’s like to be shunned. Only, in this case rather than the words coming out of their mouths leading to people shunning someone else, or some other group being shunned , these words were to make one realize that they themselves will be shunned because of the words that come out of their mouths.

The Sages use the example of a mirror for this week’s reading. The idea is that we need to take a good hard look in the mirror, not to see other people’s reflections, but to see our own.  When we look at the mirror we suddenly see all those blemishes that we want to get rid of. We pop a pimple, we put on cream to take away some of the wrinkles. we put on powder or rouge, we dye our hair, we might go so far as to put on a girdle or spanks….and, if things get really bad, we might make an appointment with the dermatologist or the plastic surgeon. After all, who among us wants others to see how old or wrinkles we are…no, we try to cover up our flaws.

But the Sages can only hope that when you or I look in the mirror, we don’t just look for and see our physical flaws….we can mold those like we mold a golden calf….The question is, can we see our inner flaws…the flaws in our behavior, the hate that spews from our mouths and from our hearts? And when we do, perhaps we might realize that it is time to go to High Priest, or to the Doctor, not the dermatologist but the Psychologist. In the very least to take the time to admit where we ourselves have done wrong rather than always pointing the finger at some one else. It is so easy to see the errors in someone else’s behavior, but so hard to see it in ourselves. 

This Shabbat, we will celebrate with the Alan J Malinger Rock Shabbat and our guest artist, Nefesh Mountain. Their music has been successful in blurring the lines between Americana, Bluegrass, Folk, Jazz and Blues with a masterful hand as songwriters, instrumentalists and composers alike. The band, declared “A Powerhouse Unit” by Rolling Stone and “Introspective lyrics and world class musicianship” by American Songwriter, takes the listener on a deeply personal journey that embodies their own wild nature and unbridled free spirits,  bridging compositional prowess and prolific songwriting with deft instrumentals and jams.

Since their formation nearly a decade ago, Nefesh Mountain has been proudly open and vocal about their background and heritage as Jewish Americans, and are among the first preeminent Americana / Bluegrass bands to infuse Jewish tradition and soul into the beautifully diverse tapestry of American roots music. For them the music is wholly American, freely expressing their own identities while at the same time addressing the hate, discrimination, antisemitism and racism that still remains at large in America and the World today. Their music forces us to look inside our internal mirror and find a way to make our lives a blessing.