This week's portion: nazir
On divisions in the J-blogosphere, and President Obama's Cairo speech

A slow Shabbat

This week I got the kind of quiet, restorative Shabbat that doesn't come along too often. We had an unexpected crowd for services on Shabbat morning -- a local gentleman wanted to say kaddish for his wife, and came with a large handful of friends -- but by the time we finished the schmoozing which follows the kiddush, we were down to the usual minyan or so, and that's who sat down to learn in our weekly study session.

We read short texts from Talmud about the vows of the nazir (which I posted about in last week's Torah poem) and talked about how to balance the tension between two Talmudic opinions. One holds that the nazir should be understood as a sinner (the Torah notes that at the conclusion of the nazirite period, the nazir brings a "sin offering" -- why would that be necessary if there weren't some sin inherent in the stringencies of this choice?) and argues that one who denies himself the pleasures of wine or food or companionship "sins" (the Hebrew word literally means "misses the mark") in not taking advantage of the bounty of creation.

The other opinion holds that the nazir should be understood as holy (the Torah specifically refers to the nazir in this way) and argues that the sin-offering described in Torah is meant to be brought only when the nazir has inadvertently broken the nazirite vow by coming into contact with death. The Talmud, of course, does not offer a tiebreaking view; that's not its way. The point is that there's merit in each opinion, and that we each need to navigate our own balance through the opposing texts. This, said my rabbi, is where Judaism is found: not in the Torah, but in the rabbinic wrestling with and reframing of what Torah gives us. Anyway: interesting stuff, especially in light of recent conversations here.

Shortly after I got home Ethan returned from his travels, and we lounged on the couch and caught up on the last few days of each others' lives. And there was some napping, and some reading in bed (I'm working my way through a recent edition of Best American Travel Writing, edited by Tony Bourdain), and a midafternoon snack of Greek yogurt with a sliced peach and handful of sweet blackberries. Mostly the day was characterized by slowness: davening, schmoozing, learning, hanging out, connecting, resting. What Shabbat is supposed to be.

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