Thursday, April 26, 2007

Parshat Aharei Mot-Kedoshim 5767: Where’s the Golden Rule?

Leviticus 16:1-20:27

We read several times in this double reading an interesting phrase:

Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel, and say to them, You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy. [Leviticus 19:2]

And you shall be holy to me; for I the Lord am holy, and have separated you from other people, that you should be mine. [Leviticus 20:26]

Bracketed between 19:2 and 20:26 is a massive list of mitzvot. If I counted right, there are around 50 to 60 mitzvot in all, though in some cases there are repetitions. Very few have to do with sacrificial law. Most have to do with every day life and every day people. Many could be defined as ethical.

If I were to ask most people they would be hard pressed to tell me 10% of that list. Could you name just five? Try it right now –stop reading for fifteen seconds and see how many you can list.

How many did you get? To be honest, I got three, the rest I didn’t know were here, till I began working on this week Drash. But looking through the list, I found five I missed that should be obvious:

1. You shall love your neighbor as yourself; [19:18]

2. You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reason with your neighbor, and not allow sin on his account[19:17]

3. You shall not curse the deaf, nor put a stumbling block before the blind,[19:14]

4. You shall not go up and down as a slanderer among your people;[19:16]

5. You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie one to another.[19:11]

Much of the ethical principles are there sitting in these two chapters. To do these ethical things is to be as holy as God. I have to wonder why we are not familiar with where the golden rule shows up in Torah.

One of the problems with education is there is a limited time to study an immense amount of material. IN much of the medieval period, Talmudic study was far more emphasized than Tanach – many students, it is clear did not study anything in Tanach that wasn’t referenced in the Talmud. Classical Reform, 120 years ago believed that the Torah was obsolete and that it was the prophetic literature we should study and teach. But one teacher gave a much simpler answer:

On another occasion it happened that a certain heathen came before Shammai and said to him, ‘Make me a proselyte, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.’ Thereupon he repulsed him with the cubit-length ruler which was in his hand. When he went before Hillel, he said to him, ‘What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah, while the rest is the commentary thereof; go and learn it.’[Shabbat31a]

All of Judaism is a commentary to Leviticus 19:17-18 according to Hillel. Yet there is another teacher who mentioned the golden rule:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' (Deut 6) The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'(Lev 19) There is no commandment greater than these." "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." [Mark 12:28-33]

This story, also found in Matthew 22, cites Jesus as the source of the golden rule, and if you ask most people they will tell you the golden rule originates in the New Testament. The thing that disturbs me is how many times I’ve heard even Jews mention the golden rule as a Christian rule, totally unaware of Leviticus 19:17.

Hillel died around 10 CE, a few decades before Jesus was preaching. “The teacher of the law” may very well have been a direct disciple of Hillel, one of the members of the school known in the Talmud as Beit Hillel. Beit Hillel was the leading school of rabbinic Judaism and rather lenient in their rulings about halakah compared to their rival school Beit Shammai. Of Beit Hillel we know:

Hillel the Elder had eighty disciples. Thirty of them deserved that the Shechinah would rest upon them as [upon] Moses our teacher. Thirty of them deserved that the sun would stand [still] for them as [for] Joshua the son of Nun. Twenty were of an average character. The greatest of them was Jonathan b. Uzziel; the least of them was R. Johanan b. Zakkai. [Baba Batra 134a]

In an ironic understatement, Johanan b. Zakkai, the founder of the Academy of Yavneh, where Talmudic Judaism would be born, is the worst student. Eighty brilliant, dedicated teachers could easily spread the ideas over a good part of Israel. It is not extremely fanciful then to believe that even if a young Jesus never met Hillel he got a good education from Beit Hillel. To know this story and think that the golden rule was the second most important commandment behind the Shema and V’ahavta was part of his education. I’m sure he would be able to quote exactly where in Torah it was found.

While I am bothered by my not knowing where the golden rule is, I know where to blame. My early education was insufficient. My early Jewish education was almost exclusively Zionist. We leaned where Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was, learned about every victory of the IDF, and how wonderful a Kibbutz was, we learned that Israel made up for the Holocaust. We did do some ritual things, such as decorating Sukkahs and model Passover Seders. Yet, in about four years I learned only the first ten of twenty two letters in the Aleph-Bet. By the time of my bar mitzvah, I could barely read the Shema in Hebrew, nor had I ever looked into the text of Leviticus. Given our moving around, I prepared for my bar mitzvah at an Orthodox school and realized how woefully inadequate my education was. I was pretty much treated by faculty and students alike as treif for being ignorant, so counter to the verse from this week You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reason with your neighbor, and not allow sin on his account. [Leviticus 19:17] But I did learn at that Orthodox school a verse which fascinated me: You can not see my face; for no man shall see me and live. [Exodus 33:20]

At the same time I was introduced to Taoism in a high school comparative religion Class, with the first two verses of the Tao Te Ching

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao

The Name that can be named is not the Eternal Name

I saw a parallel between these passages of Torah and Tao. I asked my rabbi about it, who promptly and rather rudely rebuffed me. It was the last straw. I left Torah behind, and studied the Tao instead. I’m sad to say, I’m not the only one. All of the Jewish demographic studies point to an increasing abandoning of Judaism for either atheism or other religions. As this cannot be completely be accounted for by intermarriage, intermarriage itself may be a symptom of a bigger problem: a lack of a learned Jewish religious identity. If one erroneously thinks Mark and Matthew say the same thing as Torah, why stay Jewish? If anyone who has an ethical problem with the Israeli government is labeled a self-hating Jew, and is thus hated by other Jews, why stay Jewish? If Christians or Buddhists are more accepting of you for your ignorance of religion, why stay Jewish?

I did return to Judaism, but as a Baal T’shuvah of a sort, I do wonder how our educational system can make sure we do not make the mistakes made in generations past for the future generations. Jewish early learning has to be balanced between many things; Zionism, Ritual and Prayer are among them. But what is the most important is a love of the study of Torah. The next generation should know exactly where the golden rule is and where the Shema is in Torah. I don’t care if one is Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or another smaller stream, Torah is the foundation of a strong, vibrant Judaism. Each stream may teach those words with a different and divergent view but the words must bind all Jews together. It must be the core of our educational system. It is a lot of work to say the least, but R. Tarfon sums up my belief abut Torah education nicely:

He used to say: it is not [incumbent] upon you to finish the work, but neither are you a free man so as to [be entitled to] refrain from it; if you have studied much Torah, they give you much reward, and faithful is your employer to pay you the reward of your labor; and know that the grant of reward unto the righteous is for the future. [Avot 2:16]

While R. Tarfon may have meant by “future” was the afterlife, I believe in these times “future” means the future of the Jewish people. It is my hope we can all be righteous and holy enough for such a reward.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Tzaria-Metzora 5767: Warnings and sickness

This week’s portion has some very interesting, almost clinical mitzvot.

2. When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a swelling, a scab, or bright spot, and it is on the skin of his flesh like the disease of leprosy; then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest, or to one of his sons the priests; 3. And the priest shall look on the disease in the skin of the flesh; and if the hair in the plague has turned white, and the disease looks deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a disease of leprosy; and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean.

This week we learn about leprosy, and I had planned to talk about what medically leprosy really was. Yet two things changed my mind.

The first was that I cannot get past something that happened Saturday. While discussing last week’s Torah portion, I made a statement publicly that I had written on this list before. I have read a lot into the story of the death of Nadab and Abihu and tried to find something that makes sense here. While I can see how many can have interpretations they did something wrong, there is one I tend to like the best – they died heroes. We read in Leviticus 16:12-13 that the incense in the fire pan was used as a containment field, a smoke screen so that no one saw the Glory of the Lord. Remember when Moses asked to see God’s glory, he was told “no man shall see my face and live” [Exodus 33:20] Yet no incense was used in that sacrifices se we are told everyone could see the sacrifice consumed. I believe that Nadab and Abihu realized when the glory and the fire of the Lord came down in Leviticus 9:23-24, the people were not supposed to see it. The fire would continue to expand without the containment field, yet at the time there was no holy fire to light incense pans. So they do not use holy fire but alien fire. While saving everyone else, they sacrificed themselves. When I thought of that in 2004, many of those who died on 9/11 was still on my mind, that there were people who would run into a burning collapsing building in the hope of saving someone else. Today knowing people who put their lives in danger in public health settings around the world, I still use this midrash to comemorate their courage.

There was an objection to this. Someone found my making these two into heroes very disturbing. She specified only one thing in particular that disturbed her. God had not warned anyone. Yet we read after the death of Nadab and Abihu:

Then Moses said to Aaron, This is what the Lord spoke, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come near to me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace [Leviticus 10:3]

The key phrase is, This is what the Lord spoke - it is in the past tense.

While that thought was with me for much of the weekend, and into Monday, I was deeply involved in far too many things not to listen to the news until Tuesday. The events at Virginia Tech of course were the second thing that changed my mind about what I was going to write.

Tzarat, often called Leprosy, is some form of skin disease or possibly a variety of skin diseases. While some of the rather detailed symptoms do describe the effects of Mycobacterium leprae, the organism which causes the disease leprosy, it does not completely describe such a disease. Jewish thinking often does not look to a physical cause but rather a behavioral one. Given the cases found in the biblical text there are several versions of what causes leprosy:

(i) Haughty eyes, (ii) A Iying tongue, and (iii) Hands that shed innocent blood; (iv) A heart that divises wicked thoughts, (v) Feet that are swift in running to evil; (vi) A false witness that breathes out lies, and (vii) He that sows discord among brethren. R. Johanan said: All these are punished by leprosy. [Leviticus Rabbah XVI: 1]

For ten things [i.e. sins] does leprosy come upon the world: (i) idol-worship, (ii) gross unchastity, (iii) bloodshed, (iv) the profanation of the Divine Name, (v) blasphemy of the Divine Name, (vi) robbing the public, (vii) usurping [a dignity] to which one has no right, (viii) overweening pride, (ix) evil speech, and (x) an evil eye. [Leviticus Rabbah XVII: 3]

The one who contracts tzarat is a sociopath. He is a danger not to just himself but to everybody around him. But it is one particular sin, lashon hara, evil speech, which is mentioned most often in reference to tzarat. As we read in several place in Talmud, Lashon Hara is equivalent to bloodshed. It is of course related to Miriam’s slander of Moses in Numbers 10. Yet even Miriam’s case ended after seven day quarantine. Tzarat is often not a permanent thing in the text, only King Uzziah and Elisha’s assistant Gehazi gets a permanent case. Given that, the rabbis make a startling claim:

So also when [leprous] plagues come upon man. First they come upon [the fabric of] his house. If he repents, it requires the pulling out [of affected stones]; if not, it requires pulling down [the house]. Then they [i.e. the plagues] come upon one's clothes. If he repents, they require washing; if not, they require burning. Then they [i.e. the plagues] come upon his body. If he repents, he undergoes purification; if not, HE SHALL DWELL ALONE (XIII, 46). [Leviticus Rabbah XVII: 3]

In the case of Nadab and Abihu, there was a warning. It was told to Moses before the incident. Moses was told something by God, and said and did nothing. In the context of tzarat, we see the same thing that has bothered me this week: warnings. Tzarat isn’t the end punishment, but instead the warning that something worse will await you if you continue to do sociopatic things to others. One must turn away from that path, and quarantine is not about the biological hazard as much as the behavioral and giving the person time to calm down and change. Yet, a loss of pigmentation in skin and hair is also a rather obvious visual signal to others as well. Others will stay away from a case of tzarat even if such a person was not quarantined. All are warnings to change before something terrible happens.

With all that is coming out about the events in Blacksburg at the early part of the week, once again I have much to wonder about warnings, and what I could have said to the person who objected to my calling Nadab and Abihu heroes. My only answer upsets me even more. What is more disturbing than not having a warning is to have the warning and not heed it. Not only was last monday a tragic event, but once again it is a set of warnings. It is a warning that guns kill, and there are people that guns should not be sold to. Like Columbine and 9/11 before it, obsessive mass media coverage of the event will once again will transmit the disease to others. Some will take such coverage, along with the less controllable media of internet communications, as approval for such an act, and such viral Lashon Hara will infect and breed a string of copycats.

Hind sight is 20/20. Yet, one does not need hindsight when the event happens not just once but multiple times. Midrash Rabbah’s view of Tzarat, in reverse order of the biblical text, is of an increasingly personal disease. Its effects get more severe each episode reminding us we do know a lot more than we think, and that we must act. A man certified as insane owned hand guns. While a suspected terrorist might not be able to board a plane, that same suspected terrorist can still buy any weapon in the U.S. and open fire in a shopping mall or school. No one can prevent him until he does.

As I wrote this, I look onto the cover of newspapers and see the leprosy in the video-game posed cover photo of this madman. I heard the sickness in an interview with an early suspect in the case, a guy who happed to be a gun collector and graduate of Virgina tech. He told CNN that had students been permitted concealed weapons the tragedy would have been adverted. If this is not Tzarat I have no idea what is. Who gives a portable weapon to the demographic most likely to be drunk?

So I have to ask, when is the Tzarat of society too personal? When is it too severe that we actually take action to prevent the problem? In the words of the great Sage Hillel: If not now, When?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Parshat Shimini 5767: Of Cows and Love Letters

Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

This week, we have three major parts of our portion; we continue the sacrifices started in last week’s portion. It is the eighth day of sacrifices, and everything goes so well God performs a wonder and fire from the Lord devours the sacrifices. But things then turn tragic. Two of Aaron's sons offer alien fire and are consumed by the fire of the Lord themselves. The rest of Leviticus 10 then gives the aftermath of this tragedy and a prohibition against priests making sacrifices while intoxicated. We end with the laws of prohibited and permitted animals for eating, the basis of the kosher laws. Those start in chapter 11 with

1. And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying to them, 2. Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the beasts which you shall eat among all the beasts that are on the earth.

While much of what we’ve read from the book of Leviticus has been mitzvot that has been rather impractical in post temple times, in the next few chapters of Leviticus many mitzvot will deal with public health. This all starts with the backbone of the kosher dietary rules in Leviticus 11.

Yet this is not the first time we have heard of the rules of kashrut. Two of its most significant rules were given earlier:

It shall be an everlasting statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that you eat neither fat nor blood.[Lev 4:17]
The first of the first fruits of your land you shall bring into the house of the Lord your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.[ Ex 23 19]

As a public health and food safety professional I can appreciate those like Maimonides who see health issues in kashrut. But in my religious life I see things very differently. The way I deal with kosher as a Jew has a lot less to do with health and a lot more with the mitzvot. When we look at the mitzvot we can categorize them in many different ways, but one of the easiest is of course as the negative (i.e. don’t) and positive (do) mitzvot. Of course, we have both in this parsha. For example here is the positive mitzvah of eating red meat:

What ever parts the hoof, and is cloven footed, and chews the cud, among the beasts, that you will eat. [Lev 11:3]

Torah then tells us the negative mitzvot of eating red meat, with examples.

4. Nevertheless these shall you not eat of those that chew the cud, or of those that divide the hoof; the camel, because it chews the cud, but its hoof is not parted; it is unclean to you. 5. And the coney, because it chews the cud, but its hoof is not parted; it is unclean to you. 6. And the hare, because it chews the cud, but its hoof is not parted; it is unclean to you. 7. And the swine, though its hoof is parted, and is cloven footed, yet it chews not the cud; it is unclean to you. 8. Of their flesh shall you not eat, and their carcasses you shall not touch; they are unclean to you.[Lev 11:1-8]

The examples in verses 4-7 are actually underlining the negative mitzvah. It makes sure we know that if only one of the conditions is true, it is still prohibited. Positive and negative mitzvot in the simplest sense tell us what is permitted and what is prohibited. Yet one might ask if this means I have to eat a steak at every meal. Not quite. There are really three states for a mitzvah instead of just positive and negative. We can split positive into two categories, permitted and obligatory. “Observe the Shabbat” is obligatory for example. Eating red meat is permitted, though only under the obligations of an animal with split hoof and chews its cud. While you have to observe the Sabbath you don’t have to eat red meat, you could eat chicken or tofu. Thus we have three categories of Mitzvot: obligatory, permitted, and prohibited. Much of Jewish law since Sinai has been trying to determine which of these categories any specific act happens to be.

We then take the mitzvot, and find the halakah, the ways we accomplish those mitzvot. And this leaves many schools of thought of how to find the halakah and whether each of the halakah are obligations, permissions or prohibitions.

The Jewish tradition has a way of finding the halakah, by deriving it from the biblical text, and from other halakot. But at its core, it isn’t the result of the mitzvah which is important but the deed, the act of doing it. As part of Jewish thinking we are searching for God, and as Heschel points out, God is in a search for us. When God asked Adam “where are you?” in the Garden of Eden, he was not asking Adam, he was asking Humanity. Like the protagonists of the Song of Songs, Jews and God are unrequited lovers searching and pining for each other. They might find each other for moment, then the moment is gone. It is like a princess who is kept hidden in a castle, except for a little crack in the castle wall. Her lover, who she can rarely see, tries to slip love notes through the crack in the wall, just saying “I love you” to let her know he is still there. But she might not be at the crack at that time so she only sees the love note on the ground in front of the hole. If he can slip enough love notes at one time the two lovers can know each other are there and peer at each other through the crack, a tiny glimpse of each other. So too we try to slip love notes to God. Those notes are the mitzvot. We do the mitzvot because they are like a list of the things that we know please our partner.

In orthodoxy, the halakah of those mitzvah are set, primarily in the codification by Joseph Caro and Moses Isserles. The rules are rigid and all must conform. Yet we all write love letters differently. Circumstance changes as do people. While it does create simplicity in following halakah, I do not agree with codification. Until the arrogance of Maimonides to codify the Talmud, there really was no codification. The rabbis declared that only in dire emergencies could a prophet declare a new mitzvah. Halakah was fluid, agreed on by a teacher and a community, which is why the Talmud wrote the minority opinion alongside the majority ones. Several places in the Talmud we are told to follow the custom of the local community, which then give the minority practice of eating chicken with milk of R. Yosi of the Gallilee, who reckoned that hens have no milk and are thus permitted [Shabbat 130a]. Yet later codification would take the majority view as immutable law, and Chicken with cheese was banned forever.

Fundamentalism often takes a stringent ossified view of the Law, while there may be a lenient fluid view of halakah as well. For me however, I think the halakah should remain fluid, but should be based on the works of the past. Our ancestors put a lot of thought effort and experience into their innovations of halakah, one I do not think should be ignored. While we may not come to the same conclusions, we must use the same methods.

As an example we can once again take the issue of eating red meat. I am not a vegetarian, nor do I have any social action or environmental agenda to my diet. I also never want one, because it would diminish what I am doing. I do not eat red meat purely as a love note to God. I did in essence prohibit it, but not from an ethical standpoint but a stringent use of the following negative mitzvah:

17. It shall be an everlasting statute for your generations throughout all your dwellings, that you eat neither fat nor blood.[Lev 4:17]

While the traditional Jew is slightly more lenient in their halakah, I am more stringent, prohibiting red meat on the basis I cannot remove fat and blood to the extent there would be none in the food and still keep it edible. So I simply skip red meat from my diet. It was with such a strict interpretation of the requirement for two witnesses in a capital punishment case that the rabbis pretty much minimized the death penalty to non-existence. On the other hand, I do eat poultry, and in accordance to R. Yosi’s lenient halakah will allow dairy with my chicken. In most of my love notes to God, my performance of the mitzvot, I have done the same kind of finding my own halakah. Even if I derive it from classical sources, what I end up with may not be anything near conventional.

Yet in some I do not derive my own. When I am in my prayer community I follow the communal halakah. My own halakah and traditions can be strongly unconventional. When praying alone, I pick the tunes and the liturgy. When praying together I use the communal liturgy and the communal halakah. There is stability and continuity to the communal setting, a very stable foundation for the rest of my practice, which may disagree in fundamental ways with the communal. The foundation may be used by more than me, and to build other personal halakot, yet tying all of us down to a place where it remains authentically Jewish.

I often wish that foundation, that religious community was also more of the meeting and study place to exchange ideas about halakah, but I’ve yet to find such a place. Some may have the knowledge but ossify the halakah, some are fluid with the halakah, but are either ignorant or reject the knowledge. I’ve never found somewhere with both.

I do not fully know what God intended with the mitzvot, how we really got them or even if they should all be followed. All I can do is follow as many as I can for no other reason than following a single mitzvah I try (but don’t always succeed) in reciting every morning: V’ahavta et Hashem b’kol l’vavcha…You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart with all your soul and with all your might. I do this because I love God and desire to be close to God, and know that a paradoxically transcendent but lonely God feels the same for me. The more Mitzvot I do means the more love notes I send. When I say the Shema, or decline a hot dog, I am really saying the same thing.

God, I love you.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Parshat Passover 5767: Story

This week we read a special reading for Passover. However, in this week's Drash I want to talk about one aspect of the holiday, and its role in Judaism.

The Jewish religion is known by most as a religion of law. The 613 mitzvot and countless halakah definitely lend credence to that view. This view has continued into modernity, but isnt quite true. Laws require enforcement, yet there really is no word for enforcement in biblical Hebrew. The modern Hebrew word for enforcement comes from a root which means to ride a donkey in Rabbinic Hebrew, and has the meaning of oppressive burdens in paltry number of appearances in Tanach, such as Proverbs 16:26. It's clear that the Biblical mind did not have a good view of the idea of enforcement. The biblical law did not use enforcement, it used prophets. Prophets didn't go around arresting anyone not following the law, but instead told the whole nation of their mistakes.

Yet the first Mitzvot given to Israel is the mitzvot surrounding the holiday of Passover, the when and how it is observed. This occurs in Exodus 12 and 13. For a book of mere law, why all the "fluff" before, the stories of Genesis and the early history of Moses? Why have stories interspersed into the laws, Like the one of Nadab and Abihu in next week's reading, or of Miriam's slander and leprosy? Why do we need them?

In terms of Passover, we read as one of those mitzvot found in Exodus 12:

You will observe this matter as an ordinance to your descendants forever. When you come to the land which the Lord will give you as he spoke, then you will observe these services. When your children ask you: What is this service to you? You will answer: This is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord when he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when he smote Egypt but our houses he saved... [Ex 12:24-27]

It was from this and similar passages that the four sons of the Passover haggadah were derived. What is critical in all four passges is the mitzvah that we are to do when we hear that question - tell a story, a tale of the Exodus from Egypt. The word haggadah actually means story. It is derived from the Hebrew verbal root NGD (נגד) which means in its simple tense to be opposite, or facing someone or something. Yet in the causative tense known in Hebrew as the hiphil, this verb hagid (הגיד) means to tell a story, more literally to cause to be opposite someone. The word itself gives a shade of meaning: To tell a story is to make another person sit opposite you. But such a meaning for story presents us with an interesting question: Does this means there is a requirement for there to be a listener for a story, or that telling a story brings people together to listen?

Exodus 13:8, using our word as a command reads

8. And you shall tell (higgadta) your son in that day, saying: This is done because of what the Lord did to me when I came forth out of Egypt.

Notice at first the story is commanded here to be told in the first person, as though each person came out of Egypt personally, and telling the story in a way that the next generation will do the same. By telling the story, we transmit the story to others, to the next generation, who will tell the story to their descendants. It is for this reason we gather at Passover to recite the story of Passover. The youngest at the table traditionally asks the four questions to begin the storytelling process and continuing the tradition of transmitting the story to the next generation.

Story and the explanation of story, known in Hebrew as aggadah, needs the listener not to just transmit the story, but also act on it. Story itself is a very special message; it is the missing part of the enforcement issue. In Judaism we have storytellers instead of enforcers, both of the past and of the future. We have the stories and exclamations of the prophets telling of what would or could happen if the people do not change. But we also have story which helps us to remember why we do the things we do. We eat maror because the Egyptians made the live of the Egyptians bitter. We eat haroset as a remembrance of the clay used for bricks. Story is bound by practice. The theology and ethics, the part missing from the laws and mitzvot, are found in the Aggadah. Theology and ethics are the driving force that moves us from studying law to action. The Tamudic sage Rabbi Gamliel made many Halakic rulings, including mandating we tell of the three things at the Passover table: Passover sacrifice, Matzah and maror. Yet, it is in the Aggadah, he says something even more significant:

Excellent is the study of the Torah together with a worldly occupation, for the energy by both of them keeps sin out of one's mind; as for all study of the Torah where there is no worldly occupation, the end thereof is that it comes to naught and brings sin in its train;[Avot 2:2]

His son, R. Shimon noted:

All my days I grew up among the sages, and I have found nothing better for a person than silence. Study is not the most important thing, but deed; whoever indulges in too many words brings about sin. [Avot 1:17]

One can get too bogged down in the details of law, and how to do them. Story on the other hand takes us to the motivation of the law. For Passover it tells us a story, not just of an event millennia in the past, but of our own participation in being free to observe the mitzvot. The Baal Shem Tov even notes that the evil inclination tempts people to sin not by asking them to directly sin, but by getting them to study too much Gemara.

The Baal Shem Tov's disciple, HAsidHYaacov Yosef of Polonnoye was at first a staunch opponent of Hasidism, advocating a very strict acetic life. When R. Yaacov Yosef was the Rabbi of Szarygrod he was very punctual about the time for the Morning Prayer. One morning he goes to the synagogue to find it lock and abandoned. When he finds out that everyone is listening to some stranger telling stories in the marketplace he gets very angry. About ready to flog this man, he goes to the market place to confront him asking him:

"Are you the one who interrupted the communal prayer?" He answered; Rabbi, I am the one." The Baal Shem continued: "I request his eminence not be angry with me. Let me tell him a story." Rabbi Yaacov Yosef listened to the story and was deeply moved by it. He regained piece of mind and was no longer angry. The Besht continued: "If his eminence would like I shall tell him another story" "tell it to me" he replied. When the Besht had finished, still a third story then Yaacov Yosef entered into conversation with him and immediately was joined to him.

The Besht attracts a whole town and converts an opponent by mere story. Interestingly there is a parallel story found in the Talmud:

R. Abbahu and R. Hiyya b. Abba once came to a place; R. Abbahu expounded Aggada and R. Hiyya b. Abba expounded legal lore. All the people left R. Hiyya b. Abba and went to hear R. Abbahu, so that the former was upset. [R. Abbahu] said to him: 'I will give you a parable. To what is the matter like? To two men, one of whom was selling precious stones and the other various kinds of small ware. To whom will the people hurry? Is it not to the seller of various kinds of small ware?'[Sotah 40b]

Aggadah is cheap. It is easy to absorb on any level of understanding. It is also useful, and that makes it very attractive to the casual observer, bringing them closer. As a teller of story I note how people respond to story compared to a fact. They often listen, not even realizing they are absorbing the information they never would have had I lectured it. Not only that but they remember it long after we part ways. When I mention a story about R. Gamliel and or the rabbis of B'nei B'rak during our Passover Seder, it comes alive at times where people have troubles pronouncing all those rabbis names. When telling a story I am reminded of the Hasidic student who said he was not interested in learning Torah from the Maggid of Metzrich, but how he ties his shoelaces. Yosi. b. Yotzer gives a similar thought when he says in the Perkei Avot [1:4] to cover yourself in the dust of the feet of the sages. Both are discussing the Aggadah of living. Despite a Jewish tradition of nicknaming authors by the names of their works, people are not soulless books. Compare this to the writing on a Torah scroll, there are only consonants there. The vowels are from the human soul: they are the actions and speech of real people when reading the Torah. When we understand those people as people, when we understand how holy even tying your shoelaces are or where a sage get his feet dirty, we understand the person behind it and can model their behavior to be holy -- and get the whole Torah.

Aggadah brings the words of Torah to life, to the frame in which we live our lives, and thus we do both parts of the verb Nagad. We are attracted to Mitzvot that we may not have known of or were reluctant to observe. We are also motivated through Aggadah to actual practice and observance of halakah and mitzvot we may not otherwise do. At Passover we tell a story, the story of the beginning of mitzvot. We tell it because it is a mitzvah to tell the story, to remember the Exodus from Egypt as though we were there. When our families gather together singing Dayeinu or dipping our fingers into the cups of wine for the ten plagues, we tell a story of slavery in the tight place, to the freedom of Torah.