Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Special needs adoption from a Jewish perspective.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Scape-Goat

Today at Yom Kippur services, I heard the story of the Scape-Goat through a new lens.

Aaron shall take the two he-goats and let them stand before the Lord at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting; 8 and he shall place lots upon the two goats, one marked for the Lord and the other marked for Azazel. 9 Aaron shall bring forward the goat designated by lot for the Lord, which he is to offer as a sin offering; 10 while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel.
One goat is consecrated to G*d, while the other has the sins of the people "placed upon its head", and it is let go into the wilderness.  In modern times, the fate of that goat is used to describe the "fall guy" -- the scapegoat for someone else's misdeeds.  We think of the other goat as somehow "superior", since it was dedicated to G*d, while the scapegoat symbolizes sin.

Today, however, I was thinking about this story in the context of the observance of Yom Kippur.  "Hayom" -- TODAY -- the divine Judgment will be decreed.  "Who shall live and who shall die; who by water and who by fire..."  Is this not what was done with the goats?  One died, and the other lived.

But we -- all of us who are here TODAY -- are those who survived the Judgment from last year.  We were not "offered up to the Lord".  Instead, we are here, preparing to wander in the wilderness for another year.  Not only that, but we are carrying with us the guilt for a multitude of sins, most of which are not even ours.  The Scape Goat is each of us, trying to make our way back to safety, back to community, back to harmony with the divine.


This idea is reinforced with the Mincha reading for Yom Kippur, the story of Jonah and the whale.  Like the Scape Goat, Jonah runs away, both from G*d's Judgment and from the task of pronouncing judgment on the people of Nineveh. He neither wishes to judge or be judged.  And yet, in order to fulfill his own purpose in life, he must do both.


What does it mean, then, to escape?  When should we escape and when should we return?  Are we indeed, like the Scape Goat, destined to wander forever, or is true return -- Teshuvah -- possible in our lifetime?  Every year, at Yom Kippur, we fervently pray that our slate is indeed wiped clean, and yet we continue to wander with those pesky sins upon our heads.  We continue to judge and be judged.  We continue to struggle between escape and return.

So... What will we do TODAY?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Organized Religion

Organized religion gets a bad rap these days.

"I'm spiritual, not religious" is a common refrain.  Much evil is done in the name of various organized religions.  Organized religion gives community leaders a "divinely ordained" bully pulpit, and power corrupts.  And yet, organized religion persists.  Young people reject their parents' congregation, only to seek one out ten or twenty years later.  Sometimes in the same denomination, sometimes not, but seeking they (often) do.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I was one of those seekers.   Having just given birth to my first child, I had a new vantage point.  I found myself wondering what heritage I wanted to give my baby.  I visited both churches and synagogues of various flavors, and read the sacred writings of several others.

They were all very similar.  Religious services involve:

1. Reading from an old, revered text
2. Commentary applying the text to current issues
3. Performing various rituals as a community
4. Singing as a community
5. Eating as a community

Some of these elements appear in other types of gathering in various combinations, but any gathering which includes all 5 elements will come across as religious in nature.  Certain political or social clubs can fit this description.  In addition, there is the implicit expectation for religious services to

6. Inspire "spiritual" sentiment in the participants.

It is a common experience, though, that this element is frequently missing, resulting in the aforementioned exodus from communal worship.

What IS a "spiritual" sentiment? It is
* a feeling that the Universe makes sense
* that the Universe has a purpose
* and that one is an integral part of this purposeful Universe

Many spiritual retreats rely on beautiful natural settings to inspire this feeling.  Many atheists experience this easily by contemplating nature, without relying on any deities.  Most religions utilize deities in order to assign the "purpose" of the Universe to an anthropomorphic sentient being, but of course this is not strictly necessary, and is more of a convention of convenience.

Looking back to the five elements of organized religion, we see that the first two connect us to others in time (tradition) while the other three connect us to others in space (community). If we can extend this connection further, we can, in fact achieve connection with the Universe itself.

Connection is a pretty fundamental human need.  Bullies often use fundamental needs as weapons against their victims.  Organized religion is often weaponized, both against members and outsiders.  However, people will return to it, over and over, as long as it fulfills this need.

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