Time After Time

By Rabbi Shawn Zell

Although not intended as such, it is extremely timely that Shabbat HaChodesh, one of the four special Sabbaths that ultimately segue into Pesach, coincides with adjusting our timepieces to be in sync with a century-old governmental mandate that provides us with an hour of additional sunlight during the day for the greater part of the year. Shabbat HaChodesh is all about time. In addition to the Torah (Exodus 12:1- 20) telling our soon-to-be liberated ancestors that it is time for a new start, the Torah instructs us that it is time for us to reset our focus on life as well.
It is time to focus on goals, rather than quotas. Quotas are imposed by outside forces. Quotas are short-term only to be replaced by other quotas. Goals come from within. Goals are long-term. That is why it is quite common as well as acceptable to speak of and discuss one’s goal in life.
Existing as slaves under Pharaoh, our ancestors knew only of quotas. Each day they knew that they had to fulfill a designated number of bricks and mortar set by their taskmasters. Each day they knew that if they failed to meet that quota, there would be dire consequences. Consequently, they had little time, if any, to think of anything else. “The time has come!” announced Amram’s younger son, Moses. “I’m here to take you out of this place of pyramids. For me to be successful in my G-d given task, I need you to reset your thinking. I need you to put quotas out of your mind. The time has come to begin thinking about goals. The time has arrived to embark upon a spiritual journey; the time has arrived for us to embark upon a physical journey that will bring us to a promised land filled with promises”.
It is a time to focus on stones, rather than bricks. Bricks are fabricated and manufactured. Bricks are made either from clay or cement. Stones are products of the Creator of the Universe. Stones are heaven-sent. When it comes to being immutable, words are etched in stone, not brick. As an enslaved nation forced to produce bricks for the building of pyramids, stones got in the way. As a liberated nation led by Moses, stones were the way. The time had come for the Children of Israel to set their sights on stone tablets bearing the Ten Commandments that Moses carried down from Mt. Sinai. These were followed by 12 stones designated to be worn on the garment of the Kohen Gadol. Last, but not least, the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was constructed on Even HaShtiyah or the Foundation Stone. And even though, no one can lay claim to having seen the Foundation Stone, innumerable worshippers, visitors, and tourist set their sites at the Kotel. As they take in those stones that transcend time, hopefully, they are able to realize, that just as there are people with hearts of stone, so too are their stones with hearts of flesh and blood.
It is a time to focus on the King of Kings rather than the King of Egypt. Pharoah was fallible and flawed. Pharaoh was imperfect and mortal. G-d, the King of Kings is infallible and flawless. G-d is perfect and immortal. Despite his self-perception, Pharaoh was no match for G-d. In time, Pharaoh realized this. He asked that Moses and Aaron take a select group to offer sacrifices to G-d and while doing so put in a good word for him as well. The Children of Israel did not have an easy time focusing on G-d. Time after time, they stumbled; time after time they found it so exceedingly difficult to set their sights on a G-d who sees all, but who cannot be seen. Seeing the great miracles both at the Sea of Reeds as well as in the wilderness could not convince them that it was now time to cultivate a most unique relationship between G-d and His chosen nation. It was time for the Children of Israel to recognize that even monarchs of empires have a specified time here on earth. G-d’s existence however is timeless.
Time after time, the government asks us to participate in a charade of adjusting our timepieces. Time after time, the Children of Israel were reminded how the time had come for our ancestors to concentrate on setting goals rather than meeting quotas, to focus on stone rather than brick, and to set their sights on the King of Kings rather than the King of Egypt. Unlike adjusting our timepieces, these three lessons will most assuredly remain with our people for all times. 

Wait Until the Cows Come Home

BY Rabbi Shawn Zell

Residents of Cowtown have every right to be sensitive to Shabbat Parah or the Sabbath of the Red Heifer, one of the four special Sabbaths on the Jewish calendar, that begin prior to Purim and conclude prior to Pesach. Our venerated sages were onto something when they opined that the Red Heifer ritual – one of purification – could be seen as setting matters straight. “Let the mother cow come and clean up its child’s filth” suggest our esteemed rabbis of the Midrash (Tanchuma chapter 8). Implied, was that the ordinance of the Red Heifer is read in close proximity to or even in tandem with the debacle of the Golden Calf, as is the case this year. Yet, the Red Heifer with its purification powers described in Numbers 19, deserves to be understood in a far greater light.
Cows are first mentioned by name by Pharaoh. Melodramatic comments aside, the  Emperor of Egypt “had a cow” after dreaming about emaciated kine dining on corpulent cattle. By all accounts, Joseph was most adept at interpreting this “nightmare of the Nile”. All the same, Joseph might very well have overlooked the fact, that cows restrict their diets to grass and grain. Differently stated, cows do not eat their own. As much as this nightmare presaged seven years of famine following seven years of feasting, it also delivered an ominous message: Never think that the unthinkable cannot happen. Just as the emaciated cattle suddenly developed a voracious appetite for its own, no less, so too would the time come when a world superpower be relegated to a pile of pyramids.
The very first act of hospitality in the Torah, was when Abraham invited his uninvited guests for lunch. Arguably, cows played a significant role in that episode as well. “And Abraham ran to the cattle and took an offspring of cattle viz. offspring of a cow, and had his butler transform that bovine creature from grazing in the grass to gracing the table. Noticing that butter and milk were also set before the wayfarers, any number of commentators took it upon themselves to explain the dilemma of dining on dairy and meat at the same repast. Here too, our sages appear to have overlooked a most salient point when it comes to cows. The very same animal that provides us meat also provides us with dairy. In fact, the Shulchan Aruch or Code of Jewish Law addresses how cow udders are to be prepared for kosher consumption, in that once upon the time, these udders served as a dainty dish to set before diners. In a culture that eschews drinking goat milk and sheep milk, it appears that the cow is the sole provider of foods that are both kosher but are prohibited from simultaneous consumption.
A paradox is typically defined as a contradictory statement or occurrence that nevertheless holds true. More than a few rabbis however have defined a paradox as the Red Heifer. The Torah (Numbers 19) commands that the ashes of an unblemished, red cow that has yet to be placed under a yoke, are to be sprinkled upon an individual who has come into contact with a corpse. The paradox is that the Kohen who administers this purifying potion to the compromised individual also becomes ritually impure – albeit a totally different type of ritual impurity – requiring self-imposed isolation until evening. So taken by this paradox, our sages of old devoted an entire Mishnaic tractate of 12 chapters dealing with the laws of the Red Heifer.    
At the risk of coming across as impudent, I  see no reason for such consternation on the part of the rabbis. Placing the episodes of Pharaoh’s dream. Abraham’s hospitality and the Red Heifer’s antidotal properties, one can deduce that the cow evokes a number of lessons. The cows of Pharaoh’s dreams remind us that before relegating any event to the unthinkable, think again. The cows of Abraham’s hospitality teach us that the cow, a most kosher of creatures, appears to be the sole provider for dairy and meat, a prohibition so serious, that the Torah finds it necessary to state it three times. The cow appearing in rare Red Heifer form reminds us that when it comes to Judaism and Jewish history, paradoxes are what we as a people are all about. The next time you come across the statement “wait until the cows come home”, you would do well to realize, that in Judaism, the cows have been home since biblical days. We simply hadn’t noticed.