On Love, Pain, and the Torah's Narrative and Spiritual Genius
I read a midrash somewhere that said Aaron approached his duties every day with the wonder that he had on his first day on the job. That would be a miracle in itself. But when I put it together (as you did) with the knowledge that when he goes in to the office, he is also revisiting the place where two of his sons lost their lives, I have no words.
Ooh. I know that all translation is in essence an act of interpretation, but never realized that we all adopted a Lutheran interpretation KPR. Looked at the 1980s JPS translation and saw they translated this as “expiate” and looking up what this rare word means, google’s Oxford dictionary says “to atone”. Sigh. So I looked up the etymology of this Latin, and basically it’s “completely” “appease”. That’s not really what is happening there though.
I really like the interpretation of KPR as a “cover” on things. And the text’s love of sprinkling and pouring blood to “cover” makes a lot more sense with this, because blood certainly does that. ;). And the cloud of incense covers as well. So what happens on the Day of Covering Over (the 10th day of the 7th month) is that God covers over the bad things for the previous year. Makes for a nice consistent interpretation. Thanks Rabbi Danya!
Absolutely beautiful. I keep enjoying this distinction of Yom Kippur being more about purification and purgation than "atonement," and the way you tie that into Aaron's loss and love is nicely done. There's a Zen Buddhist element in me that responds to this idea of letting go of certain burdens and thoughts in favor of embracing the whole, being my authentic self stepping into the divine presence, even in the midst of grief and pain. Definitely something I needed to hear this week!
Thank you for this! Any beckoning to bring our full perfectly imperfect selves to all that we do, and especially the spiritual stuff, is a great gift and reminder.
It's interesting that this phrase came up this week - I was explaining a few days ago why I was surprised to feel relief when we left our prior synagogue. It wasn't until I had some time to sit and think that I realized that while it was a perfectly nice suburban synagogue, I was gently boxing up and putting away my queerness and my transness for their comfort. Whether it was the senior rabbi scoffing, "well, we're not going to *march* or anything," when I suggested our synagogue participate in Pride, or a fellow congregant gesturing between me and the partner they perceived as opposite gender and saying, "well, then, you need to explain *this* to me" when I casually referred to myself as queer during a conversation at the seder table, it was very clear that I only belonged as much as they didn't have to really acknowledge the parts of me they found uncomfortable.
I don't currently belong to a synagogue -- paying to belong to a place no one masks and I can't go to as a result? Nu, as if -- but I explained that whenever I belong anywhere again, it will only be a place where I can bring my whole self, without apology or reservation. It has to be somewhere my whole self is seen and belongs, or I'm not spending my precious hours and days on it anymore.
Loving God has always been a notion I've struggled with, even as a child. The sheer incomprehensibleness of אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה inspires awe in me, but it's hard to *love* pure being. Does anyone else struggle with that?
Rabbi, your insight into Aaron's compassion (a form of love) here took off the top of my head in a way that brought to mind to another teaching I read years ago. I'm sorry to be unable to quote the teacher's text directly, but if memory serves it was an interpretation about Judah in Rabbi Jonathan Sacks' book, "Covenant and Conversation." It concerned Judah's motivation to change, to do teshuvah, in the moment when Judah offers himself in the place of Benjamin, in response to the Viceroy of Egypt's demand to leave Benjamin behind as prisoner. At that point Judah and the rest of Joseph's brothers still don't recognize that the Viceroy is actually Joseph, the lost brother they hated, attacked, and pretended was killed by a wild beast. It tells how Judah's motivation to change, to act differently when the same opportunity to do wrong arises -- this time threatening Benjamin -- stems from Judah's intimate experience with grief over the loss of his own two sons, Er and Onan, related in the story about Tamar in the midst of the Joseph narrative. Judah's own loss gives him the compassion to understand his father Jacob's grief and anguish over his two sons, Joseph and Benjamin. And so in that moment Judah tells the Viceroy (Joseph) that he cannot place his father Jacob in that position, that it would kill Jacob, so he must stay as prisoner instead of Benjamin. When that happens Joseph knows that Judah has changed, and reveals himself to his brothers.
Judah first learned to do teshuvah from Tamar, when she acted in defiance of his move to dishonor her promised marriage rights. Judah concedes that Tamar is more in the right, because he knows it was not fair for him to prevent her from marrying his last remaining son.
It's especially moving to review these stories and teachings today, shortly before attending to the live broadcast of this event:
The Path of Hope: 2023 Joint Memorial Day Ceremony / April 24 / 1:30PM EST
[About the event:] "Yom Hazikaron, or Israeli Memorial Day, is sacred in Israel. Yet, the official State ceremonies that are held to honor this day often serve to reinforce cultural narratives of blame and hopelessness. The Joint Memorial Day Ceremony, co-hosted by Combatants for Peace and Parents Circle-Families Forum, transforms this narrative by bringing Palestinians to the Ceremony alongside Israelis, transforming despair into acknowledgment, unity, and hope."