The Historical Benefit of "Evil Weed"

March 9, 2012
By Jane Marcus Most of us, when asked to reflect on this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11–34:35), would comment on the dramatic story of the Golden Calf. I’m going to follow a different path. My focus is on a detail in the beginning of the parashah that describes the laws concerning the holy tabernacle. I want to talk about one ingredient in the recipe for the anointing oil (Exodus 30:22-33). The Torah: A Women’s Commentary explains that the oil used to anoint sacred objects and priests was to be made of four precious spices – myrrh, cinnamon, cane, and cassia – combined with olive oil. The common English translation of the third ingredient, replicated in most English versions of the Tanach is “aromatic cane.” However, a different translation appears in The Living Torah where Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan writes that some sources identify “fragrant cane” – keneh bosem in Hebrew – with the English and Greek word “cannabis” referring to the hemp plant. Kaplan’s reference is significant. The Ben Yehuda Hebrew-English dictionary, written by Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the father of modern Hebrew, defines the Hebrew word “kanabos” as hemp, a botanical relative of marijuana. While the parashah establishes severe penalties for use of the holy oil on profane objects or laypeople, it does not prohibit use of any of the separate ingredients. Punitive laws passed in the past century have distorted, demonized, and suppressed the long history of both the practical use and palliative power of this versatile plant. Medical research is only now rediscovering the healing potential of cannabis, and many are taking action to make it available to those who might benefit from it. In 1999, the Women of Reform Judaism passed a resolution on Health Issues calling on sisterhoods to support legislation that would permit marijuana to be prescribed for critically ill patients and to be used to conduct research. And, in 2003, the Union for Reform Judaism passed a Resolution on the Medicinal Use of Marijuana calling for advocacy to change local, state and federal law to permit the medicinal use of marijuana and ensure its accessibility for use by patients under medical supervision and for further scientific research. The story of the Golden Calf shows the people of Israel to be stiff-necked and stubborn. I urge us to consider whether we are being stiff-necked in stubbornly insisting that cannabis is an “evil weed” when it may, in fact, be something quite beneficial. Our ancestors had no problem using this plant along with other healing herbs and medicinal plants. Perhaps it was because of its many healing properties that they chose to invest this particular plant with holiness by blending it into the sacred oil. If we value rather than vilify the healing power of this ancient plant, we can improve our world by making it more compassionate, holy, and just. May the light of the Shabbat candles brighten all our lives. Please share this e-mail with your sisterhood and encourage them to pass it on. Shabbat Shalom. Jane Marcus is a WRJ Board Member and a member of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos Hills, CA.

Related Posts

Inclusive Voices

September 15, 2016
by Rabbi Rabbi Loren Filson Lapidus On Tuesday, July 26th, as Hillary Clinton officially became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major U.S. political party, I tried to explain to my five year-old daughter the import of the moment. This was not the first time I have shared with her the legacy and history she carries as a girl, and one day a woman, in this world. “Women couldn’t always wear pants,” “Women couldn’t always vote,” and “Women couldn’t always be rabbis”—just a few of the things my daughter, and I, have the opportunity to do through the pioneering of the women who came before. When I was younger, I did not fully appreciate this legacy. After all, I took for granted that as a woman I would have opportunities equal to any man. I was then exposed to the realization, little by little, that I have a woman’s voice in a world that is not always ready to listen. As a woman, a daughter, a sister, a wife and now a mother, my worldview is shaped by these roles and my identity as a female. It is only in recent years that I have embraced my role as “woman rabbi” and the opportunities to raise the feminine voice—my voice—with pride and strength.

Leading Torah Study: Framing the Message

July 27, 2016
By Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt What does it mean to lead a Torah study? When we sit with congregants, friends, are guests in different communities, what is it we are doing when we are given the honor to lead a Torah study? There is something quite amazing that we are doing – we are framing the message for this group. For that short moment in time that we are asked to lead, we are transmitting a concept, idea, ideal or moral teaching that we believe the group needs to hear. It is a truly powerful moment and the texts, commentaries, works that we bring to the table also convey the message of what our values are or what sources contribute to our very own understanding of the week’s parashah. For the Torah studies that I lead, I am indebted to a rabbi and teacher who taught me the important lens of gender to bring forth powerful lessons, messages and teachings.

How I Became an Accidental Chai Mitzvah

August 26, 2015
by Debra Bennett On the Sunday morning after Thanksgiving, Rabbi Satz announced that our post-Shacharit bagel-and-coffee conversation would have to move from the boardroom in 15 minutes, unless we wanted to stay to join the new Chai Mitzvah class. My mother and I, being curious women, stayed to join the class of eight. The topic of that first class was "Adult Rites of Passage," a fitting way to begin since what falls between ages 13 and 113 is part of what Chai Mitzvah addresses, and Chai Mitzvah itself is a new adult rite. That morning, words from the Mishnah resonated with the class, holding up well as a life cycle prescriptive and descriptive in the 21st century: at 15, one should begin study of the Talmud; at 18, the chuppah; at 20, pursuit; at 30, strength; at 40, understanding; at 50, counsel; at 60, old age; at 70, fullness of years; at 80, strength—that one gave us pause until my mother, in her 80th year herself, offered that age means loss, and that dealing with that takes strength.