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Rabbi Arthur Segal’s love of people, humanity, and Judaism has him sharing with others “The Wisdom of the Ages” that has been passed on to him. His writings for modern Jews offer Spiritual, Ethical, and eco-Judaic lessons in plain English and with relevance to contemporary lifestyles. He is the author of countless articles, editorials, letters, and blog posts, and he has recently published two books:

The Handbook to Jewish Spiritual Renewal: A Path of Transformation for the Modern Jew


A Spiritual and Ethical Compendium to the Torah and Talmud

You can learn more about these books at:

Sunday, March 16, 2014


 gemilut chasidim: LOVE



Parasha Shemini: Leviticus 9:01 To 11:47

Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spirituality
Hilton Head Island, SC; Bluffton, SC; Savannah, GA

"I see the bad moon arising! I see trouble on the way!"


This Torah portion deals with the rules of the priestly service and then the commandments concerning Kashrut, the kosher dietary laws. I will not dwell on either of these two groups of laws in detail but will refer to them metaphorically, with one exception. This slight deviation comes on the heals of Purim, with its mitzvah to drink wine until one cannot distinguish between Haman and Mordechai, is that Aaron and his sons cannot be drunk while doing the Temple service (Lev. 10:09).


This Shabbat follows the series of special Sabbaths.One is called Ha Chodesh , the Shabbat of The Month. With Pesach coming , we were to be holy and pure to partake in the Pascal lamb offerings. If we could not get pure in time, we actually had another chance, a month later, with Pesach Sheni (2nd). Pesach Sheni  is a month after Passover; so don't put away your good china in case some of your presently impure relatives, who become pure, drop by next month.


The Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh Nissan is the time designated for this special Sabbath. The rationale, if we remember from the d'var on Parasha Bo (Ex. 12:02), is that we were given the mitzvoth of setting up our lunar calendar and putting time into our own control. This was our first commandment as a newly freed people. This commandment was given even before the mitzvah of celebrating and remembering our liberation from Egypt in what we now call a Seder. The first twenty verses of chapter 12 of Exodus are this special Shabbat's Maftir (extra Torah reading).


During the weeks between Purim and Pesach we are traditionally to become pure, to make ourselves worthy of the redemption that our ancestors received. In biblical times, this was done with sacrificial offerings and with sprinklings from the ashes of a red heifer (please refer to the previous d'var).


Talmudically, since the rules of Kashrut are included in detail in this parasha, the juxtaposition has been posited to mean that kashrut is the way a Jew in the Diaspora can show he is holy, pure, and pious and be as priestly as the Cohanim were during their Temple service. (NB: a close reading of the TaNaK shows that our priests historically were not so pious.)


I have written in the past how the rabbis saw the waxing and waning of the moon to be symbolic of the Jewish people. By declaring a new month, we have the responsibility to make holy the cycles of life and time. All of our lives are like the cycles of the moon. All of us will have periods of greatness, and all of us will have moments of depression. None of us will escape sorrow. The apex of waning is death. Hopefully all of us will experience success and joy in our lives. In the metaphorical cycle of the lunar month we will encounter, as Rabbi Simmons wrote, "the entire spectrum of human character and behavior."


In finding ways to make ourselves holy, without clinging to rituals we cannot do, or rituals we do not wish to do, we need to focus on every seemingly mundane opportunity to make the ordinary sanctified. We need to incorporate the lessons we learn when our moon is full or small, to grow to a new level through each of life's cycles. But is this enough? Since we all will go through bumps, highs and lows in our lives, do we not all have an obligation to give of ourselves when we are "riding high in April" to someone "shot down in May." (My apologies to Frank Sinatra, of blessed memory).


We must all find ways to increase our own holiness and to feel truly worthy of the Pesach redemption, which we in the free world experience every day. I invite you to consider doing a bit of litpayach tikvah, to nourish hope, to those of our friends, neighbors and congregants that are not doing as well presently as we are. It does not take much effort to bring a little simcha (happiness) and oneg (joy) into someone's life when they are down. A call, a card, or a visit can all bring some healing by the ministry of presence. When we study the rules of kashrut in this parasha we learn what we must dietarily do without. By following these rules, were we meant to learn to deal better in the austere times of withoutness?


Perhaps our modern kosher rules could be of giving some of ourselves, some of our time, to others who would benefit greatly from it. This could be an example of Spiritual Renewal Jews doing without.


With Pesach coming soon as of this writing, fill your tables with those who have less, not just financially, but spiritually. This is indeed one of the ultimate good deeds. "Ha lachma anya," our Hagaddah says. "Let those who are hungry come and eat." We are all hungry spiritually, some more than others. Let us this Nissan vow to redeem ourselves and our neighbors, friends and congregants, from the pangs in our and their spiritual bellies. All of our holidays call out to us for Jewish Spiritual Renewal.


When we swear off chametz (leavened bread) at Passover, what detrimental spiritual baggage like jealousy, cliquishness, animosity, lashon ha ra, or pettiness can we also rid from our spiritual homes? What spiritual traif (non kosher) thoughts and behaviors can we not bring into our souls' kitchens to boil over and fester in our bodies?


We are taught that God said that He is holy therefore we too should be holy (Lev. 11:45). This means we should try to behave in the Divine Image.


When we do acts of loving kindness (gemilut chasidim), actually love kindness (ahavath chesed), we are raising our level of holiness, our spirituality, as well as our own emotional health.


All of humanity must learn finally, as the parasha teaches, "to distinguish between the sacred and the profane, and between the contaminated and the pure." (Lev. 10:10).


If we as modern Jews choose to not keep the laws of kashrut, then what laws of personal behavior will we declare to be profane, contaminated and forbidden to us?


If the laws of kashrut were chukot, laws with no rational explanation (see the previous d'var), then my explanation is that it was to teach us that we can give up some gastronomic delicacies on a permanent basis and still survive and be happy.


If we could give up spare ribs and still fill our bellies with brisket, then we could make the subconscious intellectual jump to give up thoughts of an adulterous lover and be satisfied with our own spouse. After all, don't we call our spouse our kadishet, our holy one, one who is set aside and sanctified? It also teaches us that we can give up some of ourselves to help others by being extra kind. We will still retain our wholeness, and actually feel fuller, when we give. Giving of ourselves is the ultimate win-win situation!


By acting selfishly, jealously, unkindly, with pettiness and lashon ha ra, we "become contaminated through them" (Lev. 11:43). The quote refers to eating traif. But if we continue with the homiletic interpretation, any modern psychologist or psychiatrist will agree that these non-Jewish behaviors and thoughts that we may do toward someone else will only cause our own destruction. The word contaminated is written without its aleph in the Torah scroll. Rashi says that the word could mean dulled. When we act poorly toward others either with commission or omission, we dull our spirit.


The road to holiness and spirituality does not begin with lofty ideas and detailed study. Few who left the ashrams and wats in the sixties or who did psychedelic trips came out more spiritual. We gain our spirituality by starting with doing simple, lowly things like controlling our behaviors, appetites and morality. We are commanded to love our neighbor. It's hard enough to love someone we are supposed to love all the time (like our spouses, parents, siblings), but when we say to ourselves: "that guy just rubs me the wrong way," that is the one person we must force ourselves to truly love. We only love this person with God's aid.


With this Shabbat, let us resolve to become more holy. When we say the words in prayer of "Kadosh, Kadosh, Kadosh" (repeating the word "holy" three times) and stand on our tiptoes reaching toward heaven, I invite you to grab some of that Divine Presence. After the service, go into the world walking humbly, doing justice and good deeds, with the Shekinah always by your side.

Shabbat Shalom:
Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spirituality
Hilton Head Island, SC; Bluffton, SC; Savannah, GA
If visiting SC's Low Country, contact us for a Shabbat meal, in our home by the sea, our beth yam. 
 Maker of Shalom (Oseh Shalom) help make us deserving of Shalom beyond all human comprehension!

Jewish Spiritual Renewal
Jewish Renewal
Jewish Spirituality
Hilton Head Island, SC; Bluffton, SC; Savannah, GA