Archive for febrer de 2014

Parashat Pekude

God’s Dwelling in Community


This week we conclude the reading of the book of Exodus and as the final lines are read, we all shout “chazak chazak ve nitchazek!” “May we all go from strength to strength!” It has been a long journey through the book of Exodus as we have read of our ancestors journey from being a slave nation to a free people, a true community. One of the final acts in the book is the construction of the tabernacle in the wilderness. If we look closely at the language used for the construction of the tabernacle, we find that it shares great parallels with the process by which God created the world in the opening of the book of Genesis.


There it says that “On the seventh day God finished the work of creation.” In our parashah Moses finished the work of creating the tabernacle. The Hebrew words used for “finished” and for “work” in each instance is the same. Just as God blessed creation, Moses blesses the people. Further, the phrase “just as God commanded Moses” is repeated seven times as part of the description. Seven, echoing the number of days of creation, seven, reflecting the number of wholeness, holiness and completeness. Finally, the order of theconstruction of the tabernacle and of the creation are in parallel. When God created the world, God first created the environment and then filled it: the heavens, the earth, the seas first, followed by the creatures in that environment – three days on the environment and three on the creatures. Similarly, the tabernacle has three areas, the outer chamber, the holy chamber and the holy of holies, each filled by different representatives of the people, until the holy of holies is filled with the spirit of God.


In a beautiful explanation Rabbi Jonathan Sacks says that when God created the world, God created a place for humanity to dwell and when we created the tabernacle, we created a place for God among us. But our creation was different from that undertaken by God. God worked alone to make the world and all that is within it. But when we came to create for God, the community worked together, each one contributing what they could, each one offering gifts from their hearts. That is the essence of community, working together to bring God and godliness into the world. This act of cooperation shows how far the Israelite community has traveled through their wanderings in the Book of Exodus. They are no longer a disparate group of individuals; instead they are a community, and only as a community commanded to build a tabernacle.


We cannot bring God’s presence into the world alone, we must work together, each one giving what we can, each one contributing from our hearts. We no longer have a tabernacle but the presence of God is with us each time we reach out to one another, when we embrace and welcome, when we join together for a higher purpose. That is the lesson of the tabernacle and the lesson the Israelites came to learn from their years in the desert.


May we all feel the warmth and beauty of community and celebrate a Shabbat filled with goodness and peace and then God will truly dwell amongst us.


Shabbat Shalom


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Parashat Vayakhel

Paradise Island: It is not a place, but a time…


Parasha Vayakhel presents Judaism’s teaching that the spiritual path is enhanced more by the sacredness of time than the sacredness of space. One might not immediately think such a conclusion is accurate, for after the soaring narrative of the opening of the Torah from the book of Genesis through the giving of the mitzvot at Sinai, the Torah presents five parshiyot in a row which primarily deal with the construction of the tabernacle, our first holy space. Its repetitive details about the building of this holy space at first make one think that having a holy space is the most important aspect of Judaism. Indeed, one rabbinic commentator suggests that “God so loved the idea of having a permanent home amid the Israelites that the details were repeated”. Another suggests that the earlier version of the instructions represents God’s commands, reflecting the enthusiasm descending from on high for this link with God; and that the later version represents Israel’s carrying out those commands, “showing the corresponding enthusiasms welling up from below.”

(See commentary, Etz Hayim, p 552).


However, other commentators notice a few salient points that indicate that “holiness in time” supersedes “holiness in space.” First, throughout the book of Exodus there are many references to Shabbat interspersed among those concerning the construction of the Tabernacle, as in the opening of this week’s parasha. Second, the commandment of Shabbat forms part of the revelation at Sinai; the commandment to construct the holy space of the Tabernacle only comes after the making of the Golden Calf and the apparent need of the ancient Israelites to have some more concrete form of worship. Third, as Abraham Joshua Heschel, the great 20th century rabbi who coined the term “holiness in time” and called Shabbat “an island in time” noted:

One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word kadosh – holy; a word which is more than any other representative of the mystery and majesty of the Divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar? It is indeed a unique occasion at which the distinguished word kadosh is used for the first time: in the Book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: ‘And god blessed the seventh day and made it holy’.” Indeed, the rabbinic tradition understands that malakha (the work prohibited on Shabbat) relates to 39 categories of labour involved in the construction of the Tabernacle.


Sadly, many Jews miss out on the joy of Shabbat. Some look at the experience in an all or nothing” way: given the 39 categories of malakha and the many halakhot (Jewish laws) derived from them, keeping Shabbat is “far too onerous”. Yet, we can look at things differently and create our own “island in time”. In our increasingly frenetic and materialistic world, Shabbat offers a day in which we refrain from consuming and producing and focus on enjoying the experience of being. Eating, drinking, singing, sleeping, reading, learning, praising, thanking, relaxing, conversing and loving are the central activities of Shabbat. Perceived this way, we realize that Shabbat is an extraordinary gift, an opportunity indeed to “rest and re-soul”. We then can understand that Paradise island is a not a place, but a time ….

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Parashat Ki Tissa

Perfectly Okay


This week we read the infamous story of the golden calf. Moses is on the mountain with God, inscribing the tablets with the law and the children of Israel are left to fend for themselves. During the time Moses is gone, they construct an idol of gold which they proceed to worship with great fervor. When Moses returns from the mountain, he discovers the Israelites dancing and praying to a god made of gold. In his anger and frustration, Moses throws the tablets to the ground and smashes them into pieces.


Moses then returns to the mountain and with God, creates a second set of tablets. But what was the fate of the broken tablets Moses brought down from the mountain? What do the Israelites do with them? They do not throw them away, they do not discard them, rather, they take them and place them inside the ark with the new tablets. The broken, shattered pieces sit there, beside the ones which are whole, forever a reminder of the incident of the golden calf. A physical memory of their transgressions, an ever-present symbol of what they did wrong.


If that were where it ended, it would lead to an extremely problematic story, for there would be nothing to learn from it other than the continual reminder of a stain and blot on the people’s record. I believe that there is a further power in this story, more to the placement of the broken pieces than merely reinforcing the negative message of the incident. I think it is a reminder not only of the tablet’s shattering and brokenness but ours as well. They tell us that we are all flawed, we are human, we are broken, we struggle and suffer, we have pain and hurt, and sometimes we act from places which are far from noble. We are not perfect, we make mistakes, we get it wrong and that is ok, because that is what it means to be human. In so many instances where people do not accept responsibility for their behavior, I think it is because we are not supposed to show the flawed side of who we are, we are supposed to be perfect, to never make a mistake, never get it wrong. But that is not the message of Judaism, that is not the message of our parashah. The broken tablets sit there in the ark, beside the perfect ones, to acknowledge the brokenness of us all. To say, it is all right to get it wrong, it is ok to acknowledge our frailty and our humanness, and it is only when we do that, that we can grow and become who we are truly going to be in the world.



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Parashat Tetzaveh

Dress For Success


Parasha Tetzaveh continues the story of the design of the tabernacle and the role of the priests who will serve in it. From the sweeping narrative that began the Torah, through the exciting stories of our patriarchs and matriarchs, the Exodus from Egypt and the standing at Sinai, we have moved to the details of the design. Many find the concluding parashiot of the book of Exodus (only broken by the narrative surrounding the golden calf in next week’s Ki Tissa) dry in their detail, stimulating only for budding architects or fashion designers. This week’s parashah focuses mostly on the design of the garments that the priests will wear, concluding with instructions for their anointing and installation.


Few argue for a return to animal sacrifice should the Temple ever be rebuilt, but many still acknowledge that maintaining a priestly identity connects us to an ancient spirituality. In the times of the tabernacle and Temple, the priest would don special clothing and in so doing, assume a role, just as an actor does these days. He would then serve a function on behalf of the people serving as a conduit, a channel for God’s energy. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch has written: “without his prescribed garments the Cohen is merely an ordinary individual and his ritual act becomes a personal gesture.” Nechama Leibowitz notes that because the priests have specific roles and rituals the authority is not personal to them but rather to function and form. Maintaining a token of that function and form in our service today could help us move away from the cult of personality that so often devolves upon religious leaders.


Indeed, it seems one of the central themes of this week’s parashah is for us to avoid the cult of personality, the worship of a person instead of God whose emissaries we are. This week’s parashah is the only one from Exodus through to Deuteronomy that does not mention Moses. As well, it is always read in the first week of Adar, which coincides with the traditional date ascribed to Moses’ yahrzeit, the 7th of Adar. Some Rabbis see this as parallel to the minimizing of Moses’ presence in the Haggadah. It is far too easy for us to engage in hero worship and to forget that our teachers are there to empower us, not to do our work.


This week the teaching in the Torah is that there are important times that we remember no matter what our work, how much each of us makes God’s presence felt in our words and our deeds, ultimately each and every one of us is an equal creature of God. The priests’ autonomy and costume indicate that they have no special power in transmitting God’s blessing, which only channels through them, directly and equally to each of us. 

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