Num, Num: Shabbat HaChodesh, Vayikra 5775 by Cantor Lipp

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 12:13pm -- lcanfield

I love lamb. I was in New York for meetings this past week and my hotel was near a kosher hummus place that has fleishik and once I saw roasted lamb on the menu, I was there.

In a couple of weeks for Passover, I will not be enjoying roasted lamb for two reasons. The first is we have a non-meat household. The second is that since the destruction of the Temple, around which lambs were prepared each year to celebrate our freedom, we have not been roasting lamb for Passover. Brisket, yes. Chicken, fine. Some would say required. But roasted lamb on a spit. No mas.

Why roasted lamb for the first Passover? If the Israelites were to eat matzah because we were in a hurry, why roast an entire lamb which takes much more time than cutting it up and frying or baking it piece-meal or cooking it with water? Furthermore, in no other place in the Bible are we commanded to roast an animal in this way. The terms Tzli Eish only occurs here and in an obscure part of Isaiah where it's in the context of a diatribe against idolatry.

Ancient Egyptians worshiped many animals, the ram among them. It seems no accident that Passover is generally during the time of the astrological sign of the Ram, Aries. Even though Egyptian astrology didn’t adapt these zodiac symbols until influenced by the Greeks many years later, it may be a fortuitous Israelite mash up of Abraham’s Babylonian origins and Moses’ Egyptian upbringing.

Choosing a slow way to cook the ram, a manner which leaves the basic form of the animal visibly apparent and creates a distinct and far-ranging aroma would make it very difficult for the average Egyptian to escape the reality of the 'sacrilege' going on in their midst.

In their book, Why the Jews, Dennis Prager and Joseph Telushkin argue that along with all other reasons given for anti-Semitism -- Bad Economy, Isolationism, Cosmopolitanism, Jealousy of Success and so on -- the most important all-inclusive reason is our iconoclasm, our desire to smash idols of all kinds. Even those of us who aren't particularly observant or who object to the religion explicitly represent the idea of the smashing of idols in most societies in which we live.

It’s important to remember, however, that even in Temple times, the roasting of the lamb was not mandated. In Deuteronomy the lamb sacrifice does not include the roasting requirement.

The smashing of idolatry of all kinds -- of money, of drugs, of a political system or party -- is a worthy endeavor when done with subtlety and when especially when it begins with smashing our own fetishes.

We can’t depend on the kind of protection God offers in the book of Exodus every year. That was a miracle and by Rabbinic times, we were cautioned not to depend on miracles.

At one time the observance of the Sabbath might have been considered a form of iconoclasm, retreating from the world of commerce when our neighbors were engaging in it 24/7. It still is. No reason not to include roasted lamb on the menu unless, like me, you’re in a non-meat-eating household.

Shabbat Shalom.

David Lipp

Hazzan