Well, at least in terms of our Torah readings, anyway. When the second day of Shavuot occurs on a Shabbat, since the Israeli observance and that of Diaspora congregations which only observe one day of the holiday read the regular weekly reading instead of that for the Festival, the weekly parsha is offset by one week until the conclusion of the book of Bamidbar (Numbers). The rectification occurs this week since we are now entering the Torah/Haftarah cycle which leads us through the lead into Tisha B’av, the day of mourning for the national calamities which have befallen our people, and the build-up to the High Holidays. Beginning with next week’s parsha, the three Haftarot D’puranuta, Haftarot of warning, will give way to the seven Haftarot D’nechamta, of comfort, which follow Tisha B’av and start the countdown to the Days of Awe. This week, the discrepancy is ameliorated by our reading a double parsha in Diaspora, while others read a single parsha, Ma’asei, so that we can all be (literally) on the same page next week for Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat preceding Tisha B’av.
But also think about the post-biblical legal, symbolic, and technical mechanics which created this situation. The Torah itself gives no details about how and when it should be read. That originated far later, in the days of Ezra and Nechemia, 4th-5th Century BCE. There was a mandate that the Torah should be read publicly; we needed to improvise in order to determine the practice and procedure by which this could be accomplished. The ultimate conclusion suffers from a lack of liturgical uniformity, but it gets the job done, and has remained fairly steady for millennia.
The same can be said about the responses to innumerable other Mitzvot which have popped up in the wake of otherwise ambiguous commandments or statements from the Torah which have been interpreted—and reinterpreted—in an effort to fit them to each new version of Jewish modernity. The biblical laws of Shabbos observance, not surprisingly, did not specifically address how modern kitchen appliances and culinary preparation should be handled. The Torah’s version of Kashrut seemingly omitted the standards of how plastic or Pyrex™ dishes should be handled. Not to mention whether certain foods, which were unknown in the days of the Bible, could be considered Kosher or not. The Talmud does not have a section on guar gum or microbial rennet cheese. Not to mention all of the rest of the ritual constructions we’ve concocted in an effort to “protect” the Torah, as best we understand it. One could argue, (and I do!) that this millennia-old system of perennial catch-up is the strength of Judaism; for a faith based on Halacha, rabbinical law, we constantly strive to re-apply ancient standards to modern circumstances. Hayashan Mitchadesh—the old is renewed. Our tradition of reinvention is as old as its very sources.
The danger comes, I feel, when people feel they must declare allegiance to one choice while denigrating another. The informed individual knows that since we are all living by Divinely inspired constructions, there is no monopoly on holiness. Only a danger of disinformation or intolerance. Over the past week or so, I davened in several shuls of varied orientations; some up my alley, others not so. But, even though I was honored to participate or lead, I knew the rules and played by them, hoping to bring people to a spiritual consensus even if the mechanics were not my taste. I have had non-Jewish colleagues apologize for mentioning bacon in conversation, and I’ve had Jewish colleagues serve me meals that I could not eat. I’ve also seen Jewish clergy buck the trend of their movements in order to accommodate the practices of those to their right or their left, and Christian clergy whose standard blessing to a friend or parishioner, delivered as automatically as we say “yaashar koach,” invokes the name of a particular individual which we find a little oogy.
Let’s face it. We were all created b’tzelem elokim; in the image of G-d. From the day after the first Shabbos, we’ve been improvising with G-d as much as Hashem has been returning the favor. I am very content with my standards and practices, and I respect those of others, since they all come from the same place, are derived from the same sources, and subject to the same flashes of brilliance or imperfections. Who am I do say? I will do what I can to understand where you are, where you come from, and to meet you on respectful, common ground.
Just don’t tell me that you have the exclusive, inside Divine track. Don’t mandate that living by anything but your morality, rules, laws, or preferences, is sinful. Don’t corrupt a free and fair democracy and try to reverse the direction in which its gears turn. Don’t call out troops to use violence in an effort to prove you’re right and that I, or anyone else, are wrong. And don’t tell me that G-d, or a demagogue, has given you any more authority than anyone else.
Let’s clear the air. Matot and Ma’ase come back together, universally, this week.
So can we.
Rabbi/Hazzan David B. Sislen