Friday, April 10, 2015

Shemini: how do we correct?

Last week, before Pesach, I got a letter in the mail at the office. Well, not exactly a letter; it was my Orbit article (and blog post) about Israel and AIPAC that had been torn out of the newsletter, with grammar corrections in RED INK with the words "GRAMMAR IS IMPORTANT!" scrawled in the margin.  Thankfully there were only a few errors! Whew!

As a former English Major I totally agree, and was glad for some constructive feedback (though Red Ink dude?), but was surprised that I found no further note, nor even a return address on the envelope. Now, it may be that my mysterious grader simply forgot to include his or her contact information, or deemed it unnecessary. But I fear that, in this era when people hide behind anonymity on the internet to harass and demean others, to "correct" people in anger and self righteousness rather than love, this may have been an exercise in venting of spleen rather than loving kindness.

The text demands different behavior. Toward the end of Chapter 9 of Leviticus, Aaron, now nearly completely ordained raises his hands and blesses the people, then steps back into the Tent of Meeting with Moses. Then they both emerge, bless the people again, and God's Presence descends, consumes the offerings in fire (thus indicating the acceptance of the ritual and the newly-minted kohanim).

Why the repetition? It could be that one was the priestly benediction, found in Numbers, and the other was from Psalms, as the rabbis suggest. But there is an additional teaching, one perpetuated by my teacher Janet Marder: that Aaron, in his first time out as Priest, was unsure of himself, and didn't quite do it right. So Moses took him back into the Tent of Meeting, gave him a pep talk, showed him how to do it, and then came back out and did it with him.

Note what does not happen: Moses doesn't castigate his brother for doing it wrong. Nor does he let him just die on stage, as it were. He corrects, and also supports. And he acts in a way publicly to show his support, without undermining Aaron as the new High Priest.

So, kudos to the mystery grammarian for writing me in private! And constructive criticism is always a good thing. But, what would have happened if he or she had spoken to me (privately and personally)? What if we had had a conversation?  Frankly, what would happen if we all did that, rather than keeping score passive-aggressively or going for the jugular?

None of this is life-or-death and I don't want to make the point that I was offended; actually, I wasn't. But I'm taken with the idea that, instead of silently seething or correcting people anonymously--which only leads to suspicion of motive--we reached out to one another in a brotherly way?

After the second time, God's presence emerges and accepts the offering. Is it because Aaron got it right this time, or because Moses acted as teacher rather than judge? I'll let you explore that for yourself.

No comments:

Post a Comment