Ki Tisa – A Perfect Fall

February 27, 2018
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Ki Tisa – A Perfect Fall

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“Look what your kids are doing! Go see what your kids are making so much commotion about.” Parents, have you noticed that when your children fail to perform at acceptable levels they cease to be your little angels and become your spouse’s out of control problem? Parashat Ki Tisa contains a very interesting dialogue between Moses and God, where the Holy One appears to have developed the kind of selective memory problems that we often do toward our own children. It shouldn’t shock us to hear Hashem say, “My children have gone astray,” or even something as extreme as “they have prostituted themselves before idols.” Or even “they are a stiff-necked” people, as he does happen to say in this parasha. But here, following building of Golden Calf, we see the kind of disclaimer reminiscent of “Mission Impossible” – “Should anything happen, we will disavow any knowledge of your actions.” Read more »

Tetzaveh – The Sweet Aroma of Prayer

February 22, 2018
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Tetzaveh – The Sweet Aroma of Prayer

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I cannot recall ever smelling incense burning in shul. Such practices in my mind belonged categorically in Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches, or in Buddhist shrines. Most of my own experience of smelling burnt fragrances was in the dormitory during my college years when coeds would use them to cover over the smell of illicit cannabis. Clearly the use of incense is alien to my own religious experience, and yet Torah in both Tetzaveh, and Ki Tisa describes the burning of aromatic spices, or k’toret as important and normative to the activities of the cohanim in the Mishkan.

The incense was to be burnt by the cohanim on the golden altar in the Holy of Holies before the Ark of the Covenant both morning and evening of each day (Exodus 30:1-8). Apparently this fragrant offering was of such great importance, that to alter its formula or content in any way would cause estrangement from the entire community (30:37-38). Such an alteration of the divine prescription may have in fact been the cause of the death of Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the Cohen Gadol (Lev. 10:1-2), again elevating the importance of these burnt offerings of fragrant spices. Read more »

Terumah – The Missing Piece of Furniture

February 15, 2018
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Terumah – The Missing Piece of Furniture

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Toward the end of last weeks Torah portion Mishapatim, Moses, Aaron and his two sons Nadab and Abihu, as well as the seventy elders of Israel prepared to ascend Mount Sinai where Moses was to receive the commandments of God. As a precursor Moses read the book of the covenant to the people of Israel so that they might confirm their allegiance to Hashem, and take upon themselves the yoke of being His people. The youth brought elevation and peace offerings before Hashem and the blood was placed upon an altar that was placed by the foot of the mountain.

When Moses and his entourage ascend the mountain they have an epiphany of the living God, and they see him seated upon His throne, His feet placed upon “sapphire bricks.” What a stunning contrast from the bricks of mud that they forced to make for Pharaoh. The bricks for Pharaoh were to build tombs, but now Israel had the opportunity to build a Mishkan, a Tabernacle that the God of all creation would dwell in. The choice was Israel’s, bricks of mud or bricks of sapphire; accept the yoke of Pharaoh’s kingdom, or the yoke of God’s kingdom. So building the Mishkan would actually be like partnering with God to build a new world, with God, and for God to dwell in our midst.

This weeks portion Terumah describes in detail all of the furnishings and accouterments in the Tabernacle, many of which are replicated in the modern synagogue. Some synagogues include styles and décor that are unique to certain architectural periods, but most of the furnishings are constant and universal to the synagogue experience. Most synagogue décor will include an aron hakodesh (a holy ark), a bema (the podium from where the torah is read), a ner tamid (an eternal light), Torah and haftarah scrolls and of course such pragmatic furnishings as chairs as well as decorative elaborations and artwork to set the building apart and to make it special. But there is always one important piece of furniture that is missing that is central to the biblical narrative of the Mishkan. That is the altar or the m’tzbeach, which is especially prevalent in this week’s parasha. Read more »

Yitro – An Aristocracy of Humility

February 1, 2018
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Yitro – An Aristocracy of Humility

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With the arrival at Sinai, Israel begins to forge in earnest its national identity. It is only in covenantal relationship with the God of their forefathers, the God to whom the entire world belongs that the shared experience of bondage and liberation begin to take on meaning. It is here at Sinai that the full transitions is made from servitude to Pharaoh, to the service of God and His creation.

From the inception of the covenant, Israel is called to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”(Exodus 19:6). This expression describes a careful balance of covenantal responsibilities, which imitate those of the first humans who broke faith with God and whose disobedience caused the cosmic rift. In the first two chapters of Genesis, humankind is portrayed as having an essential participation in the creative process. God names the day and the night, the heavens and the land, the seas and the luminaries, thereby determining their essential natures and functions in the cosmic harmony. But Adam is allowed to participate in the naming process, describing the essential natures of each animal. In this respect the first man is given the original responsibility of reflecting God’s image in this world and is given sovereignty of the earth’s resources (Gen.1:26-28). In light of God’s benevolence though, it is understood that the role of sovereignty requires that we care for the well being of all that is put in our charge. Read more »

Beshalach – Buyer’s Remorse

January 24, 2018
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Beshalach – Buyer’s Remorse

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Here in Connecticut all contracts require a three-day “cooling off” period, a time when all involved parties can examine their contractual obligations and determine whether or not they can honor them. This allows the parties involved to observe the considerations involved in the deal free from the duress that can be created by the pressure of the moment, and minimize the possibility of “buyers remorse”. It would appear that such a “cooling off” period might have been helpful to Pharaoh. As we observe in the parasha for the 7th day of Pesach, When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services! (Ex.14:5)”

Of course it is debatable whether or not Pharaoh really ever had a choice, after all God had made him “an offer he could not refuse”, let the children of Israel go or suffer consequences that may be worse than the ten plagues which culminated with the death of all of the first born sons of Egypt. In fact we are told that it was God that had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, further evidence that dealing directly with God is more complex, urgent and compelling than say purchasing an automobile. It also raises the specter of a moral and theological quagmire. How can Pharaoh be held accountable when the omnipotent God seems to have overtaken his faculties? Read more »

Bo – Passover Lambs and Hesed Community

January 18, 2018
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Bo – Passover Lambs and Hesed Community

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Every year the gift-giving season comes earlier and earlier, to the point that some desperate merchandisers try to lure us into their stores with X-mas in August promotional ads. But as we read Parashat Bo we should be taken with the concept of Passover in January, a reversal of materialism as Hashem offers us the free gift of redemption. Among messianic Jews much has been said concerning the parallels between the sacrifices of the paschal lamb and that of Yeshua. After all the paschal lamb was the Korban Pesach, the essential sacrifice which God commanded the children of Israel to make before liberating them from bondage to the Pharaoh of Egypt and bringing them to Sinai where they would enter into a covenant of service to Him. The blood of this lamb placed upon the lintel and posts of the doors of Israel’s abodes in Goshen stood as the sign by which the destroyer would pass over them, averting the plague of death to the first born which befell the households of Egypt. Similarly the blood of Yeshua, who Yochanon the Immerser referred to as the “Lamb of God,” spiritually holds the curse of sin and death in abeyance, and brings both Israel and the nations into a renewed covenant with God. Yeshua himself used the symbols that surround the Seder meal and the Passover lamb, to ritualize and point forward to his own efficacious sacrifice. Read more »