Thursday, July 02, 2009

Little Mishkan on the Prairie

My teacher and pal, Amichai Lau Lavie, and I performed a maven ritual
for the American Conference of Cantors. We interpreted a bit of
parshat Chukkat which instructs us to find, slaughter and burn a red
heifer. Most rabbis say the red heifer is just one of those odd,
unexplainable laws that we just have to accept., a classic "God only
knows why" statute. But during the discussion part of the ritual, one of the cantors, an
avuncular Heeb whose name ... OK, I never asked it, but anyway, as we
pondered the queer nature of the heifer, Uncle Cantor asked if anyone
had read "Little House On the Prairie." He went on to explain that
the Torah formula of cow plus an aromatic plant plus water and ash is
almost identical to "Little House's" recipe for soap. Making soap from
cow fat and ash is apparently a dirty job which requires a biiig clean
up of the soap maker, the instructions of which are also part of the
commanded biblical ritual.

I choose to think of this as a smoking gun, proof certain that one of
the most perplexing of our god's commandments was just something She
picked up on a library shelf.