Rabbi’s Message, Feb 22, 2024

WHOSE NAMES DO YOU CARRY ON YOUR SHOULDERS?


ILLUSTRATION: Dean Martin, LP vinyl record cover, “Everybody Loves Somebody” (1964).

 

            Two questions: the first is for trivia fans, and the second is for those who like to find connections between our Scriptural readings and popular culture.
            First question: What song did Dean Martin adopt to replace his signature “That’s Amore” rendition, on his widely-watched television show? Answer, “Everybody Loves Somebody.”
            Hopefully, rare—and so much to be pitied—is that lonely person who walks through life without someone special. We can wish that the song lyrics are true, that everybody loves somebody.
            And this leads to the second question: Who loves whom, in our current week’s Torah reading? Answer: The High Priest Aaron loved the LORD, and equally, the people of Israel.
            This week’s reading describes the ceremonial garb of Aharon.  There were names inscribed on several of his garments.  On his forehead he wore the sacred name of the LORD, YWHW.  On his shoulders, two inscribed stones serving as buttons to his tunic, or perhaps as epaulets, he bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel—six on each stone:
            “You shall take two carnelian stones and engrave on them the names of Israel’s sons. Six of their names on the one stone and the six remaining names on the other stone in the order of their birth. Lapidary work, seal engravings you shall engrave on the two stones the names of Israel’s sons, incased in filigree of gold you shall make them. And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod as remembrance stones for Israel’s sons, and Aaron shall carry their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a remembrance.” (Exodus 28:9-12)
            This literally spells out the unique task of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest—to keep God in mind and to bear the weight of the people on his shoulders; to bring God and the faith community together.
            But the analysis should not end there.  God instructed Moses, nine chapters earlier, to tell the people that if they adopt God’s covenant, they will all become mamlekhet kohanim v’goy kadosh, “A kingdom of priests, a sacred people” (Exodus 19:6).  To some degree, there is a priesthood of all believers.   

Illustration: Aaron the High Priest in his ceremonial garments. Credit: Albany Missionary Baptist.org
 
            It is proper for each of us to ask, then: whom do I carry on my shoulders? Maybe family? Maybe those beloved souls who have become family to me, thanks to heart and soul, if not to DNA? Maybe even our furry and winged and scaled and finned friends, the depths of whose souls people scarcely understand?
 

Illustration: LP vinyl record cover, Jefferson Airplane, “Surrealistic Pillow” (1969)
 
                My advice is very simple, and it can be summed up in the lyrics of a singing group from the generation after the audience of Dean Martin’s.  Jefferson Airplane sang this bit of elemental wisdom:

Don't you want somebody to love?
Don't you need somebody to love?
Wouldn't you love somebody to love?
You better find somebody to love.
 
            But of course, the Bible has told us all this, and the Rabbis have amplified and refocused its message.   Love God.  Love your neighbor. Let your soul grow soul connections with the souls of another or of several others. Cultivate a circle of shalom, and let love flourish within it.
            And there is more: Love the stranger.  Especially—love the stranger, because then you will outgrow the lurking, selfish, mistrusting xenophobe who threatens us from within, and you will grow into a more magnanimous and magnificent version of yourself.
            As the great sage Hillel taught, pulling all this together: Be one of the disciples of Aaron the High Priest, loving God and loving people, loving peace, and bringing people closer to Torah.
            Amen.