Blemished Faith

5 May

This morning I found myself reading with jaw dropped about Connie Culp, a very brave woman from  Ohio.  Five years ago she was shot in the face at point-blank range and seriously disfigured.  This past December, she was the recipient of a new face, from a deceased donor, the first such transplant in US history.

On Tuesday she held a press conference and revealed her new face publicly for the first time. Wishing to move the focus of attention off of herself, the 46-year old Culp emphasized that she wants to help foster acceptance of those who have suffered burns and other disfiguring injuries. “When somebody has a disfigurement and don’t look as pretty as you do, don’t judge them, because you never know what happened to them,” she said.

And then I thought about this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Emor…

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the LORD’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the LORD who sanctifies them.” (Lev 21:16-23)

I read God’s words, I read Connie’s words….I am humbled.

Connie Culp knows well the anguish, the feelings of being ostracized for so long because of a blemish, a mutilation that she bears through  no fault of her own.  How could it be that our Torah would pour so much salt on the open wounds of those who must not only suffer the glances and rejection from their fellow human beings, but must also be cast away by God, banished from serving alongside grandfathers, fathers and brothers…even sons….because of a physical disability or condition over which they have absolutely no control?

A life sentenced to standing outside the Temple, being reminded day in and day out that they are blemished, unfit to serve.

I will share with you an insight of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch which goes a long way in offering significance to this prohibition, although it does not necessarily address the personal anguish that the law would no doubt cause the blemished Kohen. I am not sure that can ever be adequately addressed.

Basically, according to Hirsch, the Temple was the center of Jewish life.  Through service in the Temple, the kohanim were charged with presenting to the world-at-large Judaism’s central teachings. The services in the Temple were to symbolically convey the fundamental goals of our faith, the purpose of our religion.

Jewish faith in God was never meant to amount to the sum-total of what you expect to see outside, under a tent at a religious revival healing service. You know, the kind of spirited gathering where a cripple or deaf person comes forward and the minister heals him through the spirit of holiness.

Judaism was not founded as a quick-fix faith, or a faith for the tired and the weary.

Writes Hirsch about those soothsayers and cult leaders:

They and their sanctuaries speculate on the pain and  grief of the “believers.” It is not the vivacious and happy ones who go to their halls.  It is the blind, the lame, the sick and the weak who wend their way to their altars.  Not as the ruler of fresh pulsating active life, and the joy of life, but the consoler for what they had to endure and suffer and do without, is what religion is to them.

Not so is God and His Temple which Israel is to bear through history as the God of the whole humanity. The Sanctuary of  His Torah demands the full complete life with nothing left out, nothing missing, and promises in exchange a rich full life in which even death and pain lose their sting. (on Lev 1:3)

It is not the afflicted and the infirm, not the blind and the lame, the disfigured and the crippled, the broken and the sick, for whom the Jewish Altar is erected, so that weary, burdened humanity can drag itself up to it to to find compassionate consolation or even miraculous healing.  It is life in its completeness, in its freshness and strength, which there is to gain consecration to an active life of God-serving deeds, and thereby acquire the everlasting freshness of youth and unbroken forces of life.  Life and strength, not death and weakness, lives at the Altars of God….That is why it must be perfect, complete men – not blemished ones – who have to perform the offerings in this Sanctuary of Torah. (Lev 21:17)

Of course Judaism provides shelter and support to the weak and the needy, to the hurt and the anguished; however, that was not the purpose for which Judaism was introduced to the world.

In 1843, a Jewish Karl Marx wrote: Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

Some 30 years later, Hirsch would set the record straight – what Marx had described was not the mission of Judaism.

In the Temple, the center from which this message was to emanate outward to the world, the symbolism of every rite, every service or sacrifice, was considered to be of great significance.  Those who were leading the sacred rituals must not appear to be drawn to their service by personal needs for healing or sympathy.  They needed to publicly convey the fundamental principle of the Jewish faith – that Jews are meant to takes their good, complete, stable lives, and dedicate those lives to God’s service.

So too today, ideally we are to come forward before God without demands, without yearnings for personal salvation.  We are to approach God carrying with us  all that is good in our personal and national lives , with a desire to make it even better  in service of God and all of God’s creations



One Response to “Blemished Faith”

  1. david porter Saturday, May 9, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    interesting. I have respect that you’ve always challenged the toughest questions. working karl marx into the equasion added an interesting perspective. I learned much from this. thank you rabbi.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: