Temple Jeremiah


Shabbat M’tzora

Dear Friends,

This week’s portion, M’tzora, which is often paired with Tazria in certain years, talks about the proper purification ritual for leprosy, both for the afflicted person and their home. It also talks about the emission of bodily fluids.

Hmmmm…..this doesn’t seem like a very pleasant lesson to be learning on what is supposed to be our day of rest and relaxation, does it? But if we concede that much of the Torah is metaphor, then it becomes easier for us to look at this parasha in modern-day terms. The leprosy (which rarely exists in society today, thankfully) represents the selfishness, destruction, bigotry, and xenophobia which have sadly become a prevalent part of our society, particularly in the last three years. It represents bondage to many of the things we as a society believe we are entitled to have access to.

M’tzora tells us that when God inflicts a person with leprosy, before they are allowed back into their community (which is referred to as a camp), the priest has to offer a sacrifice with two living birds. One has to be killed, while the other is set free. When the person is healed, they must shave every single bodily hair and scrub their clothes and body clean. Then, on the eighth day, the priest must make yet another sacrifice, this time waving the blood of two lambs all over the place as an offering of expiation at the tent of meeting. This doesn’t exactly sound pleasant. I would be willing to bet that people today would certainly be more able to part with their guns, violence, and bigotry if the consequence was being splattered in lamb’s blood.

In Sefer Torat Ha Maggid (the Torah according to the 18th Century Chassidic teacher, Rabbi Dov Ber), we learn that on the Shabbat preceding Passover (Shabbat HaGadol), the Israelites were commanded to bring a lamb into their homes and keep vigil over it until Erev Passover, when they would sacrifice it for their first Seder. Consider the magnanimity of this: the lamb was worshipped by Egyptians and was therefore by extension, an object of their oppression. Yet in the end, it became a symbol of their liberation. The same holds true for the lamb in M’tzora, where the blood of two lambs is a metaphor of a leper’s freedom from the bondage of the disease.

Later in our parasha, God instructs Aaron and the Priests about how to make clean the home of a leper. The Torah specifically states that God says, “When I inflict leprosy on a house.” As clergy, I am often asked the question as to why God allows, and often seems to create, so much suffering. Perhaps it is because we must learn how to take apart, do away with, and rebuild our lives, much in the same way that we are called to repair and rebuild the world in preparation for the Messianic Age—an age when, as our Aleinu prayer states, “All who are created in God’s image will become one in spirit and friendship, forever united in the service of making good.”

In my opinion, it is always important to remember that that the Torah is indeed written by human beings who at that time were interpreting it as we are today. I believe the book of Bereishit, where we learn that God created all human beings in God’s image and are therefore sons and daughters of God with free will. But this cuts both ways. As we see God’s greatness in the Torah, we see the greatness of human beings who partner with God to make it. Conversely, God has allowed humans the freedom of utter destruction, as we also see in Torah and as we see in our society today, with the numerous mass shootings and people in power who refuse to fix this problem.

But it is up to us to turn these violent symbols of bondage, violence, and oppression into our liberation. And we do so every time we practice our “modern day sacrifices.” We get out to vote, feed the hungry, go to rallies, or write to a congressperson. Even things so seemingly small, such as breaking a chain of dysfunction we may have experienced as children by making better parenting choices,sSaying a kind word to someone, or even just offering a kind or warm smile to a stranger can make our world better, moving us just a little bit closer to repairing it. It is up to us to make clean the impure, which in our society today means bigotry, hatred, and selfishness, to tear down the parts of these homes which contain it, and to rebuild for the good. May we all work together because we are sons and daughters of Adonai.

Here is a link for a brand-new prayer that I wrote, which contains the text on the left side of the page of our Aleinu prayer entitled “L’Takein Olam b’malchut Shaddai.” It is intended for us to sing after we recite the Alienu, with the “L’takein” refrain being the part most frequently sung, which we can all grab onto and sing along with. I welcome your thoughts about this song. May it help you to understand the Aleinu prayer in a deeper, more meaningful way, and be inspired to help heal the world in your own way.

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

About Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman

Cantor Susan Lewis Friedman is thrilled to be the cantor at Temple Jeremiah. She moved to the area from the New York/New Jersey area in 2015 after beginning her tenure at Beth Emet in July of 2015, just after receiving Cantorial Ordination from The Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music of the Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion. Previously, she served as cantor at Beth Emet the Free Synagogue in Evanston, IL where, in addition to the many life cycles and other duties of the cantor, she directed the Adult Choir, created and directed a Teen A Capella Choir, Jr. Choir, and Intergenerational Band. Cantor Friedman strives to help all members of the community find their Jewish voice and she regularly invites anyone who is interested to sing with her during Shabbat and High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman has a wide range of musical styles, and feels at home in almost every style of Jewish music, such as playing her guitar in a small setting where everyone is participating with her, or singing a piece of Chazzanut or liturgical music for a large congregation. Her belief is that nearly all Jewish music has its place in our synagogue, and when done prayerfully and with great intention, can inspire us to hear God’s voice, and can often help us to find prayer within our souls that words alone cannot arouse. Cantor Friedman holds degrees of Bachelor of Music from Illinois State University, Master of Music from Arizona State University, and Master of Sacred Music from the Hebrew Union College. During her time as a student she served as Cantorial Intern at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Short Hills, NJ. There, she founded and directed their 40 member Junior Choir, Keshet, and also served as the cantor of the Barrie H. Greene Early Childhood Center. During her tenure at Jeshurun, she created and implemented the synagogue’s first ever Yom Kippur Family Service for which over 600 families were in attendance. It has since been a staple of their High Holy Days services. Cantor Friedman is a regular soloist with the Kol Zimrah Community Choir right here on the North Shore. She is an active member of the American Conference of Cantors and was asked to be on the leadership committee for the 2018 convention as Co-Chair for all of the Tefilot (Prayer Services) for the convention. She is an active member of the Reform Cantors Chicago, and is frequently invited to collaborate in Cantorial Concerts with colleagues throughout both Chicagoland and all over the U.S at places such as Temple Emanu-El Dallas, Temple Judea in Palm Beach Gardens, and Anshe Emet Synagogue with Hazzan Alberto Mizrahi. One of Cantor Friedman’s biggest passions is helping to sustain and foster the Reform Movement in Israel. From 2010-2011 Susie lived in Israel for the first year of school and volunteered at Congregation Ohel Avraham, part of the Leo Baeck Center in Haifa, where she served as volunteer cantor. She formed strong relationships with Rabbi Gabby Dagan, and the congregants who quickly became her Israeli family, and she decided to become a bat mitzvah with them. Six months later, Susie co-officiated a b’not mitzvah for seven Israeli women, all of whom celebrated with Susie at her ceremony and grew up never knowing that a bat mitzvah existed—only bar mitzvah. That year, Susie also conceived, directed, accompanied, and performed in Broadway on the Carmel, a concert to raise money for families who could not afford to have b’nai mitzvah for their children. While in Israel, she was nominated by her piers and received the Rabbi Jason Huebsch Memorial Prize for all of her work with Ohel Avraham. Prior to becoming a cantor, Susie appeared in the Broadway National Tour of CATS playing the roles of Jennyanydots and Grizabella. She also performed in regional opera, theater, concert, and as a pianist/singer/entertainer in clubs throughout NYC, hosting her own weekly open mic show at The Duplex. She has had the great fortune to perform with Betty Buckley, George S. Irving, and Alberto Mizrahi, and is frequently sought out to sing in various cantorial concerts throughout the U.S. She is a proud member of the American Conference of Cantors, the Reform Cantors of Chicago, and Actors Equity Association. Her love of children and strong desire to inspire b’nai mitzvah students to remain engaged in Jewish life inspired her to be a cantor. It is Susie’s goal that every student who walks through the doors of the synagogue will grow up to become vibrant, participating members of congregations. She is married to the love of her life, Ross Friedman. Her absolute greatest achievements are their daughter, Abigail Hannah Friedman, who was born on May 6, 2013, and their son, Zev Noah Friedman, who was born on Nov. 5, 2014. They are both living examples of her answered prayers.
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