Monthly Archives: March 2011

Tazria’s NCAA tournament thought

Often coupled together, the parshiyot of Tazria and Metzora deal with the skin disease known as tza-ra-at.  The Rabbis regard tzara’at (leprosy) as divine punishment for slander or tale bearing (motzi shem ra).  To slander is to not be part of our community.  The Kohanim act as both spiritual guides and medical experts, diagnosing who is allowed to remain in the camp, and who must be quarantined.

The leprosy discussed in Tazria involves both the individual and their garments, while Metzora continues to deal with leprosy in the house itself (even going as far as to remove bricks from a home if they are found to have tzara’at).  Behind all of these sets of laws, is a separation, between pure and impure. There are consequences for speaking lashon hara (literally “evil tongue”).  However, Jewish law stipulates that once you are clean for a period of time, you can return to the fold.

This separation, of pure and impure, comes full circle in this week’s glance at the NCAA tournament. On one side, we have two coaches and programs on the rise. They are mid-major athletic programs with young leaders at the helm.  No one contends that their respective rides to the Final Four are in any way tarnished by misdeed.  They are teams built on pure shooting, pure grit, pure determination. Virginia Commonwealth University boasts more than 29k undergraduate students, but it isn’t support to be in the Final Four. Neither is its coach. Butler University, on the other hand, lost a 1st round draft pick from last year’s Cinderella run yet somehow made it back to the promised land.  While the two Cinderellas try to fit into one shoe, we have the other side of the bracket.  One coach begins his probation next year but can celebrate his two NCAA championships.  The other is making his 3rd appearance in the Final Four with his third different program, but his record so far is 0-0.  That’s because both programs came under scrutiny immediately after he departed.  The banners have been removed, the records do not exist.

One side pure, the other, maybe not so pure.  On one hand, Jewish law allows for the return of those who were deemed impure back into our midst.  While they may have been impure before, I hope and pray that this amazing tournament will have a pure champion.  I hope that the coaches and universities play by the rules, or else we might all go to quarantine.

Tzav and March Madness

In life, we all make sacrifices.  In ancient times, the Israelites, and more specifically the Priests, offered up sacrifices to the Lord.  I can only imagine what an awesome BBQ Jerusalem smelled like.  There were daily sacrifices, holiday sacrifices galore. Each had specific requirements- the animal used, how it was brought to the altar, how it was slaughtered, and of course, how it was eaten.

The offering of thanksgiving is referred to as “zevach todah”.  Accompanied by an offering of bread, the torah stipulates that this sacrifice in particular be eaten in one day.  No leftovers saved for day two, but one day.  Our rabbis interpret this to mean that the todah sacrifices signify an appreciation for a miraculous event.  When something amazing happens, the zevach todah is brought as an offering.  This is a special category of thanksgiving offering.  No benefit is derived, but rather it is pure appreciation for the miracles of everyday life.  Those who consumed the sacrifical offering did so in one day, rather than multiple days, because there is the potential for miracles each and every day.  Savor the tastes of the todah sacrifice because tomorrow a new miracle might take center stage.

As we approach March Madness, let us appreciate each and every moment that makes this tournament so special.  The miracle of the Cinderella team can be appreciated by player and fan alike, and we should give thanks every time out for the opportunities to witness such miracles.  For as the slipper begins to fit on one team’s foot, a new Cinderella appears and we are taken aboard their storyline.  Soak it all up, from the Aggies to the Zags.

Double trouble in Miami

Today marks the first of the month of Adar Sheini.  As with almost every Rosh Chodesh, we read four aliyot from the book of Numbers, Chapter 28.  These chapters specifically outline the public daily and festival offerings that took place in the sanctuary.

The Miami Heat, in the midst of another dry spell, need to take a look at this special reading.  It appears as if every month the team becomes complacent with their play.  While the team boasts three individuals who’ve achieved superstardom on their own, the young talents need a reminder to play within themselves and to put on a great performance each night.   Looking at this reading in particular, we find the only instance where we are instructed to repeat a verse in the Torah chanting itself.  THe first states, “And you shall say unto them: This is the offering made by fire which you shall bring unto the Lord: he lambs of the first year without blemish, two day by day, for a continual burnt offering.” Nothing crazily out of the ordinary, but given the context of our Miami Heat, it means so much more.  Our higher power is calling for a HEAT index.  If they want to get to the festive offerings, they must first acknowledge the importance of the daily offerings.   The Heat have to realize that these offerings might mean an overtime practice and workload.  These offerings, made by FIRE, are the center and core of our worship.

In Judaism, we are taught to reflect on the past to greater appreciate our future.  When we exclaim “chazak chazak v’nitchazeik”, be strong be strong and we will be strengthened, it is not an immediate turn-the-page moment to our next book of Moses.  In fact, its a calling to look where we’ve come from.  With the end of the regular season winding down, its important to recognize that seeding in the playoffs does matter, that strong team ball is important going into the playoff run.  If the Heat are to succeed, it will be because they realized the importance of making every game matter.  Then their dynasty might be crowned the Aish Tamid, the continual fire.  As our story states, “And the (Chris) Bosh was not consumed!”