May 12, 2022


5.13.2022 Weekly Torah Portion

Our annual gala is happening this Sunday at the Beverly Hilton (click here for more info).  After last year’s virtual edition, it will be wonderful to gather together with so many members of Beit T’Shuvah’s extended community.  The make-up of our community is so diverse and eclectic, and I’ve often found that our gala represents some of the best of who we are.  It’s an event that brings together individuals and families from many different walks of life, all in celebration and support of the holy work that happens at 8831 Venice Boulevard.  

Over the past few weeks, our Torah portions have explicitly focused on holiness, starting with G!D’s command/promise: “You will be Holy!” (Lev. 19:2) which was then followed by instructions on how to actually live “Holy” – instructions which include: “do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind” and “love your neighbor as yourself.”  As our founding rabbi, R’ Mark Borovitz teaches, the Hebrew word for holy means “to separate,” “to connect,” and “to elevate.”  The transformations that happen at Beit T’Shuvah occur because individuals and families are willing to do the difficult work that Holy living requires.  They are willing to elevate themselves by separating from negative behaviors and influences and connecting to themselves and others with spirit and soul.  

To separate: 

We tend to think about spirituality and holiness primarily through the experience of connection –  connection with others, connection with our Higher selves, connection with a Power Greater than Ourselves, etc.  While connection is a huge part of the equation, elevated/Holy living often also requires a dimension of separation and distinction (i.e., a healthy sense of boundaries). Maintaining healthy boundaries helps to support an accurate sense of oneself.  For addicts in recovery (and, believe me, for everyone else on Harriet’s “continuum of behavior” who is trying to lead a Holy life), this takes constant effort and maintenance: it’s the daily work of humbly affirming one’s self-worth and the contribution we can make in this world.    

The Beit T’Shuvah community is made up of people who have learned this for themselves and for those they love.  This is one of the things that makes the gathering of supporters at our gala so special – regardless of where you’ve come from, you belong with us.  Knowing the dangers of being “stuck in self,” our community elevates the importance of a place that welcomes others, imperfections and all.   

To connect: 

The wisdom of our rabbinic tradition also recognizes that the pursuit of Holiness involves acceptance and belonging.  This can be witnessed by studying a curiously brief narrative that’s included towards the end of this Torah portion.  In Leviticus 24: 10, we are told:  

There came out among the Israelites one whose mother was Israelite and whose father was Egyptian.  And a fight broke out in the camp between that half-Israelite and a certain Israelite.  The son of the Israelite woman pronounced the Name in blasphemy, and he was brought to Moses – now his mother’s name was Shelomith daughter of Dibri of the tribe of Dan – and he was placed in custody, until the decision of the Lord should be made clear to them.  

Clearly, something must have happened for this unnamed perpetrator, traditionally referred to as the “the blasphemer,” to cross such a clear boundary as cursing the Name of G!D.  Unfortunately, the text provides limited information about who he was and why he acted out in such an egregious way.  Luckily, there are several midrashs that offer additional context and perspective.  The Sifra 14:1 explains:   

Where did he “go out” from?  The Beit-Din (Court of Judgement) of Moses, … after emerging with an unfavorable ruling, he arose, and blasphemed.  

So the blasphemer, following a court ruling that went against him, acted out of rage and projected his anger against G!D, the Ultimate Authority.  What type of ruling could have elicited such a destructive response? 

For he came to pitch his tent in the midst of the camp of Dan  

Whereupon they said to him: “Who are you that you would pitch your tent in the midst of the camp of Dan?”   

He: “My mother was of the tribe of Dan.”   

They: “Scripture states (Bamidbar 2:2) ‘The Israelites shall encamp; each with his standard by signs according to their fathers’ house shall the children of Israel encamp’”…  

The court case was a disagreement about tribal affiliation and belonging.  The blasphemer wanted to be, and believed he was, part of the tribe; however, the rest of members thought otherwise.  The blasphemer believed that even though his connection to the tribe was through his mother’s lineage, he still qualified for membership.  Moses’ ruling left him excluded, alone without a tribe, and ultimately without a sense of where he belonged.  

Not fitting in is such a core wound for many of us!  Through life experience and our own choices, we’ve found ourselves, seemingly, on the outside looking in.  I believe the Torah includes this narrative to caution us about the risks and dangers of focusing excessively on distinctions and separation.  It’s there to warn us that when we get too caught up in attending only to ourselves, our tribes, our people, we begin to diminish the holiness that all of our relationships are capable of containing.  Losing sight of this can lead us to objectify and vilify others – turning people into “other,” whether it be individuals, tribes, or nationalities.    

To elevate: 

Recovery means belonging, doing the work that honors my self and my needs; and it also means being sensitive to honoring another and their needs.  It means recognizing that boundaries exist to inform and contain holiness, not to limit and exclude other Holy Souls.   Our task is to clarify and honor boundaries, that they may further elevate Holy connections.   

Shabbat Shalom!  

Chaplain Adam Siegel