Hesed in the House for myself: So how’s that work?

Covid 2020 picture of me taken in July on part #1 of the MLK NCSY Day of Giving mission by Rabbi Claire Ginsburg Goldstein.

So how did it come to be that once I was functioning as an 18 season camp rabbi, here below, not too long ago, I might add,  and now this is what is in my life due to Covid, see above.  Can this transition be explained? It might be explained as a runaway train, with broken or cut brake lines. It also could be explained as a phenomenon of “I didn’t see that coming”. I bet that if I look in our Jewish sources, I might find a teaching or two to explain or intuit that this can and does happen in life. Expect the unexpected. Don’t be surprised. Be on guard and be prepared.

Camp rabbi picture shared with me, to be used publicly,  taken by Joel Kaufman

I happened to tune in to Torah Anytime/ Chazak marathon. I caught a thought that penetrated my soul. “On the one hand”, the Persian rabbi taught…I hadn’t heard anyone teach like that in some time. I was curious. I zoomed in. What might he offer that I had forgotten to consider, to ruminate upon, that was true to this time, Covid time that is. Could his teachings apply to me, an Ashkenazi Jewess?

Again, a scavenger hunt through our texts. I love it actually. I enjoy how our texts are built upon and interfaced with one another. They are an intricate woven web of insights and arguments, based upon personal experiences, personal eye witness accounts, personal understandings of what one sees in front of them, and personal interpretations.

He continued.“Yehudah Ben Teima says, be bold like a leopard, with ease like an eagle, run like a deer and be valiant like a lion to do the Will of your Father in Heaven. (Pirkei Avot 5:23) also said the bold-faced will go to Hell and the shamed face will go to Heaven.” (Pirkei Avot 5:24)

Ok, now what? How does this teaching apply to my life? It does. I have seen myself participate in and take on each role; leopard, eagle, deer, and lion. I have acted with bold face. I have acted with shamed face. But then what is the correct or healthy way to act at this point in my life? What act of Hesed do I do for myself to keep me fit and healthy, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, especially living through this Covid 202p pandemic.

How can I understand these teachings and how they pertain to me?

This is what I found in Torch: Torah weekly and how I see this speaking to me.

Parshas Tetzaveh (Zachor) 5778

“Chutzpah

You shall make a Head-plate of pure gold, and you shall engrave upon it …Holy to G-d. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead so that Aaron shall bring forgiveness … (Exodus 28:36-38).

The Talmud in Zevachim 88b teaches that each of the High Priest’s begadim, or vestments, symbolized Divine atonement for various sins. The Tzitz, Head-plate, denoted Divine forgiveness for brazenness and chutzpah. The Hebrew words for brazenness are azus metzach, literally a “bold brow;” hence, the Tzitz that is worn on the metzach, brow, of the High Priest.

We need to understand how the High Priest’s wearing of the Head-plate with the words Holy to G-d engraved on it atones for the Jewish people’s sin of brazenness and chutzpah.

Furthermore, we are taught in a Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) 5:24: He [Yehudah ben Teima] used to say: The brazen go to Gehinnom (Hell), but those with shame go the Garden of Eden. May it be Your will, G-d, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days, and grant us our share in Your Torah.

What is the connection between the first part of the Mishnah, which describes the spiritual danger of brazenness and the virtue of shame, and the second part of the Mishnah, which is a prayer for the coming of the Messiah?

Chutzpah, azus, brazenness, by any standard, is a character trait that demonstrates a person’s lack of shame. It is a character trait that goes against the personality of a Jew, considering the fact that, according to our tradition, Jews are defined by three traits: baishanim, they have a sense of shame; rachamanim, they are compassionate; gomlei chasadim, they perform acts of loving kindness.

Without a sense of shame, there’s no stopping a person from doing the most depraved and immoral acts. In fact, chutzpah is considered the hallmark of Amalek, the arch-enemy of the Jewish people, who was so brazen as to attack the Jews and the Torah for which they stood – even after witnessing how G-d punished the Egyptians for oppressing His people.

There are times, however, when chutzpah can be a good thing. When it comes to doing the right thing when we have to take an unpopular stand for a moral cause in the face of overwhelming peer and social pressures – then we need to bring out that trait of brazenness. As the very same Yehudah ben Teima taught in the preceding Mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:23): Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, swift as a deer, and strong as a lion, to carry out the will of your Father in Heaven….”

What I learned from these teachings, that we are constantly being reminded by our ritual observances, our words, our actions, and by even the clothes that we wear, that we need to assess the situation and sense when it is safe and an appropriate time to act or react. If we all said and did what we wanted, there would be total anarchy and chaos, like we are seeing in so many parts of our world today.

What if for today, we “stirred the pot” just one less time or left out names or left out identifying details or even engage in “Shimarat Halashon” guarding the tongue ?

Thankfully we have those who guide and teach us, like the rabbis of old and new,  the Chabad shiluchim for another example. They may wear clothing that doesn’t “fit” into the societal mainstream but they are following Gd’s command. They are using chutzpah in a good way. I can learn from their courage and conviction of their moral compass. To me, that is acting like a leopard or lion.  “On the other hand,..” as the rabbi proceeded, what about the deer and the eagle? The deer is light footed and is constantly being pursued. He must look back to make sure that he has distanced himself from his predator.  The eagle?   Exodus19: 4‘You have seen for yourselves what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself/ Me. 

Life is not a smooth path. There are bumps and ridges, without warning sometimes. There are hidden curves and jagged, sharp turns. There are occasions when we might fall off of the path and lose our way without a lantern or flashlight to show us our way back to the main road.

My answer to self, HeSedintheHOuse to and for self,  is not a simple answer. SO what now? For today, choose which animal (be it the leopard, the lion, the deer, or even the eagle)  and characteristic (brazen or shamed faced) will enable you to be at your best and serve Gd. And sometimes it is a mixture of all. It can change on a dime or it can change on a Kohen’s “tzitz” (headpiece worn on his forehead to remind him NOT to be brazen). The important point, is that one becomes aware of what one needs to do to care for oneself, even during Covid 2020. May we all stay safe and healthy.

Gmar Hatima Tovah! May Gd come quickly to inscribe each and everyone of us in the Book of Life.

Camp rabbi picture shared with me to be used publicly, taken by Joel Kaufman

Shalom

Rabbi Claire, finding her new and renewed path during Covid 2020

the teddy bear rabbi,

out to bring even more Hesed in the House to our World.

About the Author
Rabbi Claire conceived of the concept Bears from Bergenfield upon a routine check of the Israeli staff at camp SLC August of 2001. She realized that the world needed to wake up and become aware of the suffering the Israelis were enduring as the Palestinians continued their intifada against them. After 18 years and 195,000 teddy bears amassed and redistributed, Rabbi Claire is searching for more public platforms to proliferate and advance her message, that Jewish lives matter, especially with a teddy bear. Rabbi Claire lives in Bergen County with her husband of 38 years, Larry, and their 4 children, Sam, Shira, Seth, and Sarah Rose, plus their incoming son-in-law Ivan. For further information of how to get involved with this endearing project, contact her at lgcg98@aol.com.
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