Archives for February 2014

Torah Reflections – February 23 – March 1, 2014

P’kudei

Exodus 38:21 – 40:36

Building The Inner Tabernacle                                          

This week’s Torah reading brings us to the close of the Book of Exodus. In these final moments the Israelites build all the many pieces of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which Moses is to later assemble. S’fat Emet (Rabbi Leib Alter of Ger – 19thc. Poland) comments that many of the verses in our portion echo, in their wording, verses from the story of Creation that began the Book of Genesis. It is as if the last lines of the Book of Exodus serve as a mirror to the first lines of the Book of Genesis. The word m’lachah, usually translated as “work,” for example, repeats at least ten times in our combined portions this week. This is the word used in Genesis to describe God’s “work” of creating. Furthermore, we read in Genesis: “And God saw all that He had made… Thus were completed the heavens and the earth… Then God blessed the seventh day….” [Gen. 1:31 – 2:3]

S’fat Emet compares this with this week’s reading: “Thus was completed all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting…And Moses saw all the work that they had done… And Moses blessed them” [Exod.39:32 – 43]. For the S’fat Emet, this parallel in both stories hints at the redemption of all Creation, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s work. With the building of the Tabernacle, the work of Creation is finally complete. And as our story concludes, the Cloud of Glory can now come down to earth; the Presence of the Holy One can now come to dwell in the Mishkan: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle.” [Exod. 40:34]

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Torah Reflections – February 9 – 15, 2014

Ki Tissa
Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

What If Moses Never Came Back?                                         

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him: Arise, make us a god who will go before us, for that fellow Moses — the man who brought us from the land of Egypt — we do not know what has become of him. [Exod. 32:1]

This “god” Aaron is going to help build, is the infamous golden calf.  It had been forty days and forty nights since Moses had disappeared atop Mount Sinai, and the Israelites had become restless, unable to tolerate weeks upon weeks of inaction. Moses must have died, they presumed. All these trials and tribulations were for naught. And so they resolved to resurrect an Egyptian god — that the golden calf represented — to find reassurance in the familiar. The episode of the Golden Calf is, therefore, seen by many rabbis as a spiritual backslide brought about by a lack of trust in the unfolding of a process. [Read more…]

Torah Reflections – February 2 – 8, 2014

T’tzaveh

Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

The Olive Oil Paradigm    

You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of pressed olives for the light, to kindle an eternal light. Aaron and his sons shall set it up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain that is over [the Ark of] the Pact, [to burn] from evening to morning before the Eternal. It shall be an eternal decree for the Israelites throughout their generations. [Exod. 27:20-21]

Thus we learn why in every synagogue, to this day, the Jewish people continues to kindle a flame, a Ner Tamid, an Eternal Light over the ark that houses the Torah. Our people have followed this biblical injunction for 3000 years, beginning with the Temple in Jerusalem and the kindling of the seven-branched Menorah; which is, initially, what these verses referred to. Though our rabbis would say that this commandment was given to the Israelites at Sinai in anticipation of the Temple being built later — since the Israelites had no way of acquiring olives in the desert, let alone the necessary equipment for extracting oil — many scholars agree that this passage was written, instead, at a time when the Temple was already standing and retroactively inserted into the narrative.

But why oil from olives? [Read more…]