Love Your Head
Parshat Vayikra/Purim

by Leiby Burnham | March 15, 2019 2:54 pm

It was clear that Paul Bryant was different the moment he was born. He did look a bit strange, his head seemed almost bigger than his body, but all babies are born looking a little strange, so his parents weren’t too worried. Within twenty minutes of his birth, five doctors had stopped by the delivery room “just to make sure everything was OK,” but they all spent an inordinate amount of time checking on the baby, and specifically taking measurements of his head. By now his parents were worried.

It was quickly discovered that Paul’s brain was at least double the size of a normal baby. Word leaked to the press, and by the time Brian and Janice were ready to take their baby home, a horde of reporters were waiting for them at the hospital exit. They asked the hospital for privacy and were given access to a service exit, but if they thought they could escape the press, they sorely underestimated the mob from the Fourth Estate. As they pulled into their driveway they were surrounded by reporters shoving mikes into their faces and asking them if they could snap some photos of Paul “The Brain” Bryant.

Eventually the media circus moved on, but Paul remained quite the wonder. He was talking by the age of six months, was potty trained by eight, and taught himself how to read before his first birthday. By the time he reached the age of nursery, his parents were in a quandary because he could read and write better than most adults, and could play four instruments, but he was still just three years old, and they wanted him to have as normal a life as possible for a boy with a head double the size of regular children.

Brian and Janice enrolled Paul in a Montesorri school that put a lot more focus on individual attention, but even there he was soon asking teachers math questions they couldn’t answer. In first grade, Paul’s science fair display was a newly designed low-cost solar panel that captured 28% more energy from the sunshine and required 50% less in annual maintenance. In third grade, Paul developed a new hybrid wheat seed that produces a more nutritious grain and was less susceptible to blight or fungus. Every time the press covered Paul “The Brain” Bryant, they talked glowingly of his incredible intellect and often described him as “Most likely to win a stack of Nobel Prizes.”

The problems started in fourth grade, and no one could really blame Paul; he just wanted to be a regular kid. He always had trouble finding friends, for starters his head was literally double the size of every other child, and on top of that, he was far smarter than them. Other children always mocked him, calling him Bubblehead, Bighead, or freak. But he wanted to be part of the cool crowd, evidently even geniuses have an emotional side that just wants to be like everyone else. At first he tried winning them over by helping them with their homework, then he started writing reports for them, but the school quickly caught on, there were definitely not five boys in the fourth grade class who could coherently explain how a fusion reactor works, or how the earth has the energy to keep spinning on its axis. Even when he did work for the other boys, they treated him like garbage anyway, “Hey Bubblehead, do my homework or I’m gonna smack that big head silly!”

By fifth grade, he tried to pretend he was only as smart as all the other children in his class; he deliberately failed tests, and loudly complained about how they were too hard. He didn’t hand his homework in on time, even when he could have finished it in a minute or less. He started mimicking the way the “cool kids” talked, using small words like “very very great…,” and kept trying to hang out with them in the playground. But poor poor Paul, it was not working out very very great for him. The cool kids would beat him up, pushing him around the playground and hitting him in the head repeatedly.

By the time he reached high school age, his behavior had deteriorated significantly. His parents begged him to use his gifts, he could be doing doctoral work at MIT at the age of sixteen if he just applied himself, but Paul just wanted to be like the cool kids, and that now included smoking, cussing, drinking, and other risky behaviors. But no one wanted to smoke, drink and cuss with Paul, the guy had a head the size of a basketball, and everyone felt unaccomplished around him, despite the fact that he hadn’t invented anything since fifth grade! But the more they pushed him away, the more determined Paul was to show that he belonged, and he slowly spiraled downward until he hit the ultimate bad-boys in his hometown of Providence, RI, the Pagans MC.

The outlaw motorcycle club known as the Pagans had been around since the late 50’s but had only turned to crime in the early 70’s and had never looked back. Drugs, guns, protection rackets, if it was illegal and on the East Coast, the Pagans were either involved or looking to get involved. The Pagans valued Paul’s brilliance and slowly turned him from a lowly “friend of the club” to a “prospect” and eventually a full “member,” and he used his big head to strategize their crime sprees. And while he brought tremendous financial value to the MC, many Pagans secretly hated him because he was way smarter than them.

Haters gonna hate. A few of the MC members who didn’t like Paul planted recording devices and small video cameras in his locker and then informed the club that he was a snitch for the po-lice. The members of the club came together for a vote, decided Paul was a snitch and placed price on his big head.

What happened next is up for debate. Paul hasn’t been seen in twelve years. He’s not exactly someone who can hide anywhere, no one else had a double-size head. Some say he’s swimming with the fishes. Others say he went to the government, told his full story, and offered to work for them developing cutting edge technology and medicine if they would let him work in their top-secret science labs. No one knows for sure, but we do know that in the last twelve years, electric and self-driving cars suddenly became a reality, we now can program stem cells to become any kind of body cell, nano-bots have started showing up in real life applications, and there are computer chips that think like humans. Draw your own conclusions.

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Next Thursday, we celebrate Purim, the holiday that commemorates the miraculous victory of the Jewish people over Haman and his evil cohort who schemed to generate a genocide that would have wiped out every Jew on the planet. The whole crisis started when the Jews went to the party Achashverosh threw to celebrate the downfall of the Jewish G-d and His ability to protect His people. Mordechai the Righteous begged them not to attend, but the people ignored him, because what do the rabbis know about politics?

As we know because we are here today, the plot was foiled, and now we celebrate. Most of the inspiration of Purim centers around how G-d appeared not to be anywhere in the story, but was really there the whole time, pulling all the strings, planting the salvation (Esther the Queen) far in advance of the bad decree. But let’s look at a different angle…

The Jewish people came out of Egypt, and immediately everyone knew this people was a special people. The frogs, hail, boils, lice, pestilence, and splitting of the sea, insured that no one thought that the Jews were just another nation. At Sinai, G-d revealed Himself to us, and told us that we were going to be a special people, with a special mission of bringing His light into the world; we were going to be a [G-dly] Light Unto the Nations. G-d gave us enormous abilities and talents not given to any other nation; you can’t give people a massive task and not give them the tools to fulfill the task. And G-d warned us repeatedly not to lose sight of our mission, not to feel the need to be like everyone else around us.

Unfortunately, the Jewish people often wanted to be just like everyone else. They ignored their incredible talents and their holy mission, and instead worshipped the gods of the people around them, trying to be like all the cool guys on the block. But the nations of the world never really accepted us, and every time we tried to become “one of the gang,” they bullied us and beat us. This happened for hundreds of years during the Era of the First Temple, culminating in those nations coming to our land, burning down our temple, and taking us in chains to be sold as slaves in Babylonia.

But we still didn’t learn our lesson. We got involved with the Pagans, we ate and drank at their parties, even when they celebrated the downfall of everything we were supposed to be. But they still didn’t love us. They planted rumors about us, saying that we were traitors and disloyal, and put out a hit on our entire collective head.

The Jews were faced with a choice. We could be angry, angry at G-d for giving us this outsize job, mission and capability. After all, there was a moment in Sinai where G-d held the mountain over our head and basically said “Accept my Torah, or this mountain is coming down on you…” We didn’t choose to be born with this special role in the world and all the hate it attracts. We could say the line made infamous by Tevya the milkman, “I know, I know. We are Your Chosen People. But, once in a while, can you just choose someone else?” We could be angry at G-d for giving us a big head and making us be different, making us in a way that we will never be accepted by the cool kids no matter how hard we try.

Or, we could recognize that G-d gave us the most amazing gift, the ability to light up the whole world! And He even gave us another gift that no matter how hard we try to be accepted by the cool kids, we never will be, we will always be forced to get back to our holy mission!

The Jews, in their moment of greatest despair and challenge, decided to turn toward G-d, not away from G-d. They willingly accepted upon themselves the Torah and the Jewish mission in the world. They embraced their supersized head and began to use it to better their lives and the world!

That is indeed the greatest accomplishment of the Megilla story. It was turned into a national holiday for all time, because the message of Purim is timeless. We are all going to face great challenges in life, moments where we can turn away from G-d, feeling like we are unjustly being punished, and feeling the desire to run away from our inner G-dliness, lose focus of our mission, and just be like everyone else. But we learn from the story of Purim, that when we instead turn to G-d and say to him, “I get it, I’ve not been my best, and You’re not letting me lose myself. Thank you for my challenges, I promise to get back on track, and please help me do that!” it will always work. Because He is eternally there for us, when we are ready to be ourselves.

Let’s make sure we take a few minutes out of the chaos that is Purim to have a real conversation with G-d, where we talk about the talents and capabilities He gave us, how we have been using them so far, and how we plan to use them better going forward, and then indeed our Purim will be a day of “Layehudim haysa orah vsimcha… The Jews had light and joy, and gladness and honor.”

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

Being that humans are such complex creatures, there are many ways to describe us. The Torah uses a number of different words to describe humans, each one describing a distinct aspect of our reality. Today we will focus on two of those names and how they are used in our parsha.

In this week’s parsha the Torah teaches us about the different offerings brought in the Temple. The loftiest of the offerings was the olah, an offering that was brought when one simply wanted to give a gift to G-d. The entire animal was burnt on the altar. On the other end of the spectrum was the chatas, brought to obtain atonement for committing a grave sin. When the Torah describes the person bringing the olah it uses the term adam (Leviticus 1:2), while when describing the sinner who must bring the chatas it refers to man as nefesh (Ibid. 4:2). What do those two terms mean, and what can they teach us?

The very first word ever used to describe man is adam. We find it in Genesis, where it’s used when discussing the creation of man. There it says, “Let us make adam in our image.” This name refers to man’s earthly nature, as adama is the word for earth in Hebrew. Man was made with earth because just as earth has the power to stimulate growth in a way that sustains the entire world, so too, man has the power to grow and to sustain others. In that sense, man exists in the image of G-d, Who sustains the entire world. (The Sages tell us that another way to read adam would be as a contraction of the word adameh which means to be similar to, as in adameh li’elyon, I will be similar to the Divine One.)

Thus the Torah says about the person who brings the olah, “If an adam among you will bring an offering to G-d,” because it is referring to someone who wants to be better than he currently is. Even though he committed no wrongdoing, he still wants to grow, to develop a closer relationship with his Creator. This is man at his best, ever trying to develop and extend himself. This is adam!

The other verse referred to reads as follows, “If a nefesh (man) will sin…,” using the term nefesh to describe man. Where does this term come from? Strangely, the first five times it is used in the Torah, it is used to describe the life force of animals. Only in its sixth usage does it refer to the life force of man. This teaches us that man has a side of him that is very similar to the life force of an animal – intemperate, and driven by instinct, lust, and desire. The Torah uses this term in reference to a man who sins, as he is in touch with that part of his personality. He responds to the same instincts that animals respond to, without using his G-d given gift of reason to rise above his base desires.

The message the Torah is sending us is clear. We can be adam, compare ourselves to G-d, growing, sustaining, and benefiting the world. We can also be nefesh, animal-like, base, instinctive, and coarse. Clearly, the best way is to follow G-d’s original plan, which was, “Let us make man, let us make Adam!”

There should be no part of our personality that we hate. Some parts of our personality we love because they are naturally good. Then there are the parts that we should love, because when we iron them out, we not only grow immeasurably, but we tap capabilities we never thought we had! Please pass the salt…

 

Parsha Summary

This week we read from two Torah Scrolls. From the first one we read Parshat Vayikra, the weekly portion, and from the other one we read Parshat Zachor, a special parsha that is always read the Shabbos before Purim.

This week’s Parsha, Vayikra, begins with G-d calling Moses from the Tabernacle for the first time since His Presence rested upon it. Since the purpose of the Tabernacle is to enable the Jewish People to serve G-d in a focused manner and place, G-d’s first discussion with Moses is about the Temple service and the sacrifices.

The Torah describes the laws of the olah, the wholly burnt offering, as they pertain to animals and fowl. (Quick lesson: G-d says both the olah brought from an animal ($$$$) and the olah brought from a bird ($) will bring a satisfying aroma before Him. This teaches us that whether it is an expensive gift or an inexpensive one, they are equally satisfying before G-d as long as the intent is sincere.) The Parsha then elucidates the five types of meal offerings (that is meal as in fine flour, not meal as in bringing a four course dinner with a side of sushi). After describing these basic offerings, the Torah commands us to put salt on everything offered upon the alter (this is one of the reasons we dip our bread in salt after making the Hamotzi blessing – to remind us that our table should be like an altar, and we should eat in an elevated fashion, not out of gluttony).

The Torah then discusses the laws of the peace offering (called that because everyone gets a piece of the action; some of the meat goes on the Altar, some to the Kohanim, and some to the owners who brought the sacrifice) and the sin offerings. This is followed by a description of an offering brought when a group of the Elders of the Assembly make an erroneous judgment, causing a large group to sin. After that, we are told of special sin offerings brought if the king or the Kohain Gadol commits a sin. The message here is that the more elevated your status, the more you must scrutinize your actions since they have a stronger effect. When a sin is committed by a person of higher stature, the atonement process is more elaborate than the process for a commoner.

Finally, we learn of the Asham sacrifice, the guilt offering, brought for a variety of sins such as broken oaths, entering into holy areas while in a state of unknown impurity, stealing and then making an oath denying it, and certain cases of uncertainty as to whether one committed a grave sin or not. And that, my friends, pretty much sums the whole Parsha up!

After the regular Parsha, we read, Parshat Zachor, a special portion read once a year on the Shabbos before Purim as part of a Biblical commandment to remember Amalek. The portion we read reminds us of the battle that the Jews waged with the Amalekei nation when we first came out of Egypt. It tells us to never forget Amalek, and to remember that Ha-shems throne will never be complete as long as Amalek survives. The connection to Purim is obvious, as the archenemy Haman of the Purim story is a descendant of Amalek.

Quote of the Week: The future belongs to those who live intensely in the present. – Samuel Fremont

Random Fact of the Week: Coffee is the second most traded product in the world after petroleum.

Funny Line of the Week: I knew I was an unwanted child when I saw that my bath toys were a toaster and a hair dryer!

Have a Groovadelik Shabbos,

R’Leiby Burnham

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