Hair, There and Everywhere: B’ha’alotkha 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: Should our bodies be artistic expressions of what we believe? Do we ever have the right to criticize others for treating their bodies in an artistic way that we find objectionable?

Our Torah portion this week speaks of how the Levites’ bodies need to be altered for the Divine service.

The Pitch: “This is what you shall do to [the Levites] to cleanse them: sprinkle on them water of purification, and let them go over their whole body with a razor, and wash their clothes; thus they shall be cleansed.” – Numbers 8:7

Swing #1: “God’s abhorrence of body hair continues. In Leviticus He praised bald men and ordered healed lepers to depilate. Now He mandates that His tabernacle servants purify themselves by shaving off all their body hair. (And on the eighth day, the Lord created the Abercrombie and Fitch catalog.)” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #2: “The need for this was due to people who had been contaminated through contact with the dead of the people who had been executed due to their involvement in worshiping the Golden Calf.” – Rabbeinu Bahya

Swing #3: “When speaking of the process of purifying the Levites … the reason [is] that ‘hair’ symbolizes clothing, and clothing is something that separates between one’s essence and contact with something from the outside.” – Kedushat Levi

Late-Inning Questions: Our commentaries for this verse vary wildly; did you find a deeper meaning in it, or did you react to it more sardonically? Is it difficult to understand ancient rituals as products of their respective places and times, or can you find some universal meaning in them? Would you ever alter something on your body for another person or for a cause?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: It’s a little bit belated, but I want to congratulate Bob Greenberg for being hired as Synagogue Emanu-El’s Executive Director. I’ve enjoyed talking to him in recent weeks and I believe he’ll be an excellent addition to the synagogue staff. I’m sure the Emanu-El community will reach out to enable him to feel at home.

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!