tools of the trade

I don’t think I realized, when signing on to be the wife of a rabbi, that one of the things I would have to learn was to wield a knife.

Of course I don’t mean a kitchen knife; I have learned well-enough to handle many different ones, but not as the wife of a rabbi per se. Okay, yes, as a rabbi’s wife, I’ve had many guests for many meals over the years, but I probably would have had to cook, anyway.

And I’ve learned to open a pocketknife in order to clean out candlesticks from Shabbat and Hanukkah, so that’s also not what I meant.

What I could not have imagined was that I would use a knife to cut clothing on mourners.

For the act of kriyah, tearing of one’s clothing, as one of the indications of mourning that is done right before a funeral starts, Jewish undertakers take out a little knife to facilitate this cutting of the garment. Since it’s not a good idea to hand a mourner a knife, I guess, the tearing is started by another person. ISHI takes care of the men; I take care of the women, for modesty’s sake. Once the initial cut is made, then the mourner takes over by ripping the garment down more by him/herself.

On Monday, ISHI officiated in a funeral, so I got to take care of this for the women mourners. It hit me harder than usual, not because I was close at all with the one who died, but having to be so matter-of-fact for this step that opened the floodworks was particularly difficult. But after I do that step, I rejoin the rest of the people who have gathered to pay their respects. That is much more comfortable. But, of course, it’s not about me.

Interesting aside about tools (or the lack of them) for the holiday of Shavuot that I am copying from the newsletter from Neot Kedumim:

How did the poor gather from the harvest? 

The Mishna (Peah 4:4) taught that poor could glean only with their hands. Tools were not permitted for gleaning to avoid anyone getting injured if they started fighting over the gleanings.

Which, perhaps, leads me back to the tools that I really need, that yes, we all need.

Cue up the Beatles’ All you need is Love?

Sure. So what does love mean, after all?

It means having an open heart.

(Cue the violins?)

It means being grateful that when someone sees you in shul and says that they really need to talk, you can go into your husband’s office that thankfully is open (and you know it because you already went in to put your very wet raincoat there) and you can listen to them and know that’s what they need.

And when you see the next person when you’re going to the bathroom and they ask if they can meet with you because they have so many questions about what they learned about Judaism when they became observant that they don’t see people doing and you are grateful that they have enough faith in you that they ask you to do that.

And then the next person who comes in is going to go into the sanctuary wearing their (not purple!) poncho because their scarf blew away and they don’t’ want to go into services without a head covering, and you can give them your rainhat which actually stayed very dry because you have a hood on your raincoat since you’re so overly careful about staying dry, and you go back into the rabbi’s office now and you can catch your friend up on your own problems, because that’s how it can and should work.

You can listen to others and then others (not the same ones, perhaps, or usually) can listen to you.

I’ve been re-reading The Burnt Book, but Marc-Alain Ouaknin this week. It’s a powerful book that bears re-reading a few times more. (Yes, I wrote about this book back here three years ago!) Since the main section deals with this week’s Torah portion, I was drawn to it. Simplifying it to the greatest extent, I will summarize the book within the book part. The verses that deal with the carrying of the Tabernacle in Numbers 10:35-36

לה  וַיְהִי בִּנְסֹעַ הָאָרֹן, וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה:  קוּמָה יְהוָה, וְיָפֻצוּ אֹיְבֶיךָ, וְיָנֻסוּ מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ, מִפָּנֶיךָ. 35 And it came to pass, when the ark set forward, that Moses said: ‘Rise up, O LORD, and let Thine enemies be scattered; and let them that hate Thee flee before Thee.’

become, according to many commentators, their own individual book of the Torah, so that there are 7 books and not 5.

They, these verses and their placement, allow us to understand (p. 156):

The bursting open of the book of Bamidbar is the bursting of the “lesser” that contains the “greater”, putting us en route for the experience of thinking of Infinity.

The “greater” within the “lesser” that is revealed in the Book is the most eminent manner that Judaism has of living transcendence.

Tonight is the eighth yahrzeit, anniversary of my mother’s death. I am thinking about transcendence in so many areas.



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