CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 5

Acharei Mot / K'doshim

translation of tzaar baalei chayim is not to
cause an animal undue pain. Is this genuine
compassion?

(Charles Middleburgh)
I was a six years old and in Venice with my parents on June 3, 1963, when Angelo Giuseppe
Roncalli, Pope John XXIII, died. I remember walking up to a stand covered in black-edged
newspaper front pages announcing his death. My father stopped, looked, and cried. When I
asked why, my dad replied, "He was a truly holy man."
Years later I learned a great deal more about Papa Roncalli and agree wholeheartedly with my
father that he was indeed a "holy" man. But what does "holiness" actually mean?
Leviticus 19 explicitly defines holiness by listing the key mitzvot: honor your parents; keep
Shabbat; leave the gleanings of your field for the poor; don't steal, lie, or cheat; don't misuse
God's name; be honest; respect others including those who are disabled; treat everyone fairly;
don't profit through another's misfortune; don't bear grudges; love and respect others as you do
yourself.
Holiness can be found not just in sanctuaries where one expects to find it, but in the places
where one doesn't. Holiness is not only in the extraordinary acts of exceptional people, but in
the extraordinary acts of ordinary people and even the ordinary acts of ordinary people. We live
most of our lives unaware of the potential for touching-and achieving-holiness. We neglect
the holiness inherent in ourselves and ignore it in others, and we forget that performing specific
actions in prescribed ways can raise seemingly mundane deeds into vehicles for communion
with God.

What is more, why did the Sages seek to
cultivate compassion toward animals? The
Zohar expresses it clearly: "We have learned that
actions below arouse corresponding actions from
above. Thus if one acts with kindness on earth,
one awakens lovingkindness above.... It is like
this also for the opposite. If one acts with cruelty
in the world, cruelty is aroused on that same day
and strikes him. In the same way that one deals
with the world, so too is he dealt with" (Vayikra
92b). Midah k'neged midah. Compassion is not
an end in itself; it is instrumental in securing our
own well-being.
While few of us subscribe to the Rabbinic or
Zohar's theological instrumentality of tzaar
baalei chayim, we need a new theology of
the relationship between people and animals,
not merely as part of our relationship to the
environment, but as the living creatures they are.

B'har/B'chukotai

Lag BaOmer

(David Novak)

(Amy Scheinerman)
There is an irony to the joy of Lag BaOmer: Amidst an extended period of mourning
commemorating a plague that ravaged the students of R. Akiva, we joyously celebrate the
thirty-third day of the Omer, the yahrzeit of R. Shimon bar Yochai. The legend that the plague
was lifted on the thirty-third day of the Omer would seem to account for the brief cessation
of mourning, but the story of R. Shimon's yahrzeit seems also to hold sway as the reason for
bonfires, symbolizing the light of his mystical revelations. Yet whenever is a yahrzeit a day for
festive celebration?
Ovadia Bartenura (1445-1515) wrote: "On the eighteenth of Iyar, the yahrzeit of R. Shimon
bar Yochai, people from areas surrounding [Meron, north of Tzfat, the site of R. Shimon's tomb]
gather and light huge bonfires in addition to candles. Many barren women have been helped
and the sick have been healed when they made a promise and donation for this holy site." To
this day, huge crowds gather in Meron in anticipation of Lag BaOmer and joyously celebrate his
yahrzeit in accord with the assertion by Chaim Vital (1542-1620) that R. Shimon referred to the
day of his death as "yom simchato" (Shaar HaKavanot) because on his last day he revealed all
the mystical secrets he had learned, many during his years in a cave (BT Shabbat 33b-34a).
Among kabbalists, the yahrzeit of a tzaddik is a yom hilula, a day of festive rejoicing. Beyond
mentioning their accomplishments and reciting Kaddish, might we consider celebrating the
yahrzeit of those we consider to be tzaddikim?

Emor
(Amy Scheinerman)
No animal from the herd or from the flock shall be slaughtered on the same day with its young.
(Leviticus 22:28)
God instructed Adam to "tend and till" the Garden, but not to care for the animals. Torah fully
acknowledges that animals may be rightfully used by people for work and food.
Yet our Sages associated this verse with prohibitions against yoking an ox with a donkey
(Deuteronomy 22:10) and muzzling an ox while ploughing (25:4) as well as shiluach hakin
(22:6-7) to formulate the mitzvah of tzaar baalei chayim. But the most honest contextual
5

Our movement's consternation over biblical
reward and punishment is most evident in
Mishkan T'filah's omission of the second
paragraph of the Sh'ma. The omitted paragraph
begins v'hayah im shamo-a "If you heed/
obey." So, too, im is repeated time and again
throughout the tochachah in B'chukotai.
Blessings and curses are enumerated as the
consequences of behavioral choices: "if you
obey ... if you violate."
Most Reform Jews give little thought to these
blessings and curses; few expect that God will
alter reality in response to their personal choices.
How might we recontextualize them for our day
and for human behavior to make them relevant?
Heidi M. Ravven in The Self Beyond Itself argues
that the concept of human free will is a myth
initiated by Augustine. Ravven argues that
we humans make ethical decisions less freely
than we would like to think. She draws on the
discoveries of neuroscience, including how
neuroplasticity enables our brains to form and
reform, allowing us to function in an infinitely
more complex way than how free will posits is
our complete individual control over ethical
functioning.
B'chukotai calls on us to wrestle with its
fundamental underlying claim: human behavior
(Continued on page 6)



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018

CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 1
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 2
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 3
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 4
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 5
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 6
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 7
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 8
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 9
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 10
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 11
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 12
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 13
CCAR Newsletter March/April 2018 - 14
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