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Rinse and Repeat

Numbers 11:16-17,24-29 (incl. 18-23)

All right, Adonai is going to give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You won’t eat it just one day, or two days, or five, or ten, or twenty days, 20 but a whole month! — until it comes out of your nose and you hate it!

You know, I always seem to find the best parts in the redacted verses. Here’s God manifesting through Moses’ exasperation. Moses reminds me of Paul. Or should it be, “Paul reminds me of Moses”?

Ephesians 2:11-22

14 For he himself is our shalom — he has made us both one and has broken down the m’chitzah* which divided us 15 by destroying in his own body the enmity occasioned by the Torah, with its commands set forth in the form of ordinances.

(*a curtain or screen dividing the congregation in a synagogue; usually between men and women)

Alert! Alert! Radical Idea! —

Here’s a paraphrase to help us unhook from habitual and complacent ways of reading Scripture: ‘abolishing in his own body the antagonism caused by the Torah’s rigid regulations.’ How would that work? I couldn’t help saying, “Wait! What?” There is a deep mystery here. Let my literalism work on behalf of our understanding: Suppose that this antagonism is so deeply woven into the fabric of human nature that there is no way to separate it? Suppose this division is the same as the division between misconception and reality; between the mundane and the divine; between the denial that is delusion and the affirmation that is awakening? That would mean that this division lived within Jesus’s body, just as it lives in all of our bodies, and that it can be destroyed by dying. But it can’t be destroyed by any ordinary sort of dying, but only by the kind of dying that ‘lays down life for the sake of friends.’ The text also gives us a clue about this ‘division.’ It says it was a division brought about by “commands set forth in the form of ordinances.” In other words, rules and regulations that give rise to ‘us vs. them’ thinking; distinctions that generate racism and sexism and all of those other -isms; decrees that teach us homophobia and bigotry; arrogant assumptions that blind us to our common humanity— these are the divisions that Jesus destroyed with authority, by dying as a victim of them. Again, my literal mind interprets our condition as one in which the human and the divine within us cannot be allowed to remain separate.

The truth lies in our recognition that the only way to be “fully human and fully divine” is to die. It’s a paradox. Death in life, life in death. I remember saying this to someone who was worried about ‘life after death’: “Are you alive now? Has there ever been or will there ever be a time that isn’t ‘Now’? So how could you possibly die?”

It’s like that.

Matthew 7:28-8:4

28 When Yeshua had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at the way he taught,29 for he was not instructing them like their Torah-teachers but as one who had authority himself.

After Yeshua had come down from the hill, large crowds followed him. Then a man afflicted with tzara‘at came, kneeled down in front of him and said, “Sir, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

(“Nahmanides viewed tzaraat as a withdrawal of godliness from the world.” —from My Jewish Learning website)

Just two things about this reading:

—Yesterday I told my Karate students that I wanted them to move with ‘authority.’ My purpose was to get them to stop performing the movements mechanically by rote, and instead to act with intention out of true understanding. I honestly think this text is describing the very same thing. I do know it is always amazing to watch a student suddenly ‘get it’ and begin to move ‘with authority.’

—I was struck by the point that several Jewish scholars felt it important to make, that ‘tzara’at’ should not be translated as ‘leprosy’, but rather viewed as more of a spiritual affliction that manifested outwardly as ‘roughness’ or ‘scaliness.’ Historically, tzara’at was not treated by a physician, but by a priest. Remember, Jewish physicians were renowned in the ancient world, so it seems quite clear that this affliction was not considered a disease of the body, but an illness of the spirit which required much more than just medicine.

I suppose we could summarize the substance of Jesus’s teaching like this:

“Make friends with the whole world
and die to save it.
Rinse and repeat.”

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