Shabbat Shalom! Ki Tisa

Image: The Adoration of the Golden Calf. Painting by Nicolas Poussin. Public Domain.

This week’s Torah portion is full of drama. God commands a tax of a half-shekel, based on the census. This will go for upkeep of the Tabernacle [Mishkan]. We meet a central character of the wilderness years, Betzalel, who will be the general contractor and chief artist for the Mishkan.

God gives two stone tablets to Moses, who carries them down Sinai, only to find that in his absence, the Israelites have panicked and build a calf-idol of gold. (There is a great midrash on this story about what happened when the men asked the women of Israel for their golden earrings.) The Golden Calf story ends in disaster, of course. Moses shatters the tablets and the people who messed around with idolatry get a terrible punishment. The aftermath of these events leaves Moses with rays of light coming from his head, rays that a later generation of Biblical scholars will mistranslate as “horns.”

Some excellent divrei Torah on this portion:

Please Let Me Know Your Ways by Rabbi Robin Podolsky

Can You Really Ask God That? by Rabbi Beth Kalish

Behind the Veil by Anita Silvert

In the Face of It All by Rabbi David Kasher

All that Glitters is not Gold by Rabbi Lisa Edwards

2 Minutes of Torah – Ki Tisa by Rabbi Ellie Steinman [VIDEO]

Can You Teach an Old Calf New Tricks? by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

Shabbat Shalom! Tetzaveh

Image: An open Torah (photo by Susan Krauss, all rights reserved.)

Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10) begins with instructions for the oil and the great lamp [menorah] of the Tabernacle. After that, it is concerned  with the appointment of Aaron and his sons as Cohanim, priests of Israel, with their vestments and with instructions for their ordination. It concludes with instructions for the altar.

Some interesting divrei Torah on this portion:

Nurturing Art: The Sacred Work of Creativity by Rabbi Adina Allen

Responsible Clothing by Rabbi Dorothy Richman

Mortified! by Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

The Most Important Verse in Torah by Ben Elterman

Creating Holy Space by Turning to Each Other by Rabbi Seth Goldstein

The Love We Choose to Give by Rabbi Joel Seltzer

What are Urim v’Tumim? by Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

Within the Mess, There is Holiness by Rabbi Ruth Adar

Shabbat Shalom! Terumah

Image: The Ark of the Covenant, Drawing by James Tissot, c. 1986-1902. Public Domain.

Parashat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19)  begins the process of building the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that will be a dwelling place for God in the midst of the Israelites. Some divrei Torah from around the Internet:

When Humanity Creates with God by Dr. Vivian Mann

Terumah, Gift-Giving, and Valentine’s Day by Rabbi Steven Moskowitz

Structural Integrity by Rabbi David Kasher

Parashat Terumah by Student Rabbi Anna Posner, Leo Baeck College

Every River Has Its Own Course by Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr

The Mishkan: Some Assembly Required by Rafael Kushik

The Torah of 40 by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Bring What You Can, Be Who You Are by Rabbi Ruth Adar

Echoes in the Mishkan

Image: A construction worker. Photo by skeeze.

This week’s Torah portion is awash in echoes. It begins the priestly story of the building of the Mishkan, the dwelling place for God in the midst of the Israelite camp.

It echoes the story of Creation in Genesis. God created the world in seven days. The directions for the Mishkan (“Tabernacle”) are given in seven speeches. At the end of each, the conclusion of this important task is announced.  Both stories have an association with a New Year’s Day: the Creation is believed to have begun on Rosh HaShanah, and the building of the Mishkan concludes on “the first month in the second year, on the first day of the month” (Exodus 40:17.) That was a different New Year Day, the first of Nisan. (For more about the multiplicity of Jewish New Years, see Four New Years Every Year?!)

It echoes the story of the building of Solomon’s Temple in 1 Kings, or prefigures it.The echoes here may reflect that the recorders of the Temple project wanted to echo the story of the Mishkan, or that our account in Exodus actually came after the building of the temple. Either way, there are striking similarities. Later rabbis were aware of the parallel, because they took its conclusion for this week’s Haftarah (reading from the prophets.) (1 Kings 5:26-32.)

We can listen to the echoes of this story in building our own Mishkan Me’at, our own little sanctuary, in our homes. Not a prayer corner, not a shrine, but a living reality in which our homes are sacred places, dedicated to Shalom (peace) and Shalem (wholeness.) The story begins by asking all the Israelites to bring gifts:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: 2 Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. 3 And these are the gifts that you shall accept from them: gold, silver, and copper; 4 blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; 5 tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood; 6 oil for lighting, spices for the anointing oil and for the aromatic incense; 7 lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece. 8 And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them. – Exodus 25:1-8.

We can tell, from this list, that the Mishkan was going to be beautiful. And so can we make our homes beautiful: it is fine to have art, to have collections, to do what we can to make our homes lovely. At the same time, we also note that God didn’t extort these materials from the people: they gave according to their means. So if your Mishkan doesn’t have a gold-plated fridge, don’t sweat it. In fact, if your Mishkan has things that are beautiful because of their associations, or because of the people who gave them to us, that’s wonderful!

I have a friend who has Shabbat candlesticks her children made in religious school. They are as beautiful as the antique silver sticks in the cabinet. Guess which ones she uses more often?  And that is exactly appropriate.

I have a little chanukiah I love. It’s made of pot metal. It’s battered and scratched. But I love it, because I had it when I lived in Israel, and its associations are powerful for me.

And then there are the other adornments: the adornments of mitzvot performed in your home.  Hospitality is a lovely adornment. Shabbat observance is beautiful. Shiva held in the home is sad, but it leaves an aura of sacred beauty afterwards. Tzedakah checks written on the kitchen table, meals cooked for sick friends, words like “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” are beautiful adornments to a home.

My little mishkan has echoes, as well: echoes of Solomon’s Temple, echoes of Creation, echoes of holy moments in my life, echoes of teaching, writing, echoes of the future.

What echoes are in your home? What makes it holy?

 

Shabbat Shalom! – Mishpatim

Image: A gavel and scales, symbols of the law. Photo by succo.

Mishpatim – “Laws” – is named, as all Torah portions are, for the first distinctive word in the portion, but it is also very descriptive. It is chock full of rules and regulations for Jewish living, and finishes with descriptions and commandments for the three great “pilgrimage festivals” of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

It lends itself to a variety of divrei Torah, because each law in it is a gate to a little world of its own. Here are some drashot you may enjoy:

Judaism Abhors Child Abuse by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz

A Lender Be by Rabbi David Kasher

Torah MiSinai is Only One Half of the Conversation by Rabbi Sylvia Rothchild

Sweetness in Judgment by Rabbi Rafi Mollot

The Torah and Slavery by Rabbi Don Levy

The Sanctity of Laws by Rabbi Jeff Goldwasser

The Angry Ox and the Chapel Hill Shootings by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Chapter, Verse, Word & Letter by Rabbi Ruth Adar

 

Shabbat Shalom! Yitro

This week’s Torah portion is Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23.) It recounts how Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro (Jethro) advises him to organize his administrative work. Then the text gives us the dramatic story of the giving of the Tablets of the Law, the 10 Commandments.

Some words of Torah on the web concerning Parashat Yitro:

Empowering the People – by Rabbi Danny Burkeman

Everybody’s Working for the Weekend – by Rabbi Marci Bellows

Parashat Yitro and Judicial Discretion – by Adam Waters

Be Careful What You Want – by Rabbi Laura Geller

A Special Transmission at Sinai – by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

The “Strange” Tenth Commandment? – by Rabbi Don Levy

The 12th Commandment Against Fanaticism – by Rabbi Rifat Soncino

Yitro: A Tantalizing Gap – by Rabbi Ruth Adar

Shabbat Shalom! Shabbat Shirah

Image: A footprint on a sandy shore. Image by https://pixabay.com/en/users/piper60-19643/

This Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah, the Sabbath of Song, because we read the Torah portion Beshallach, which contains the magnificent Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea. The Israelites survive the crossing of the Sea of Reeds with a great miracle, and in gratitude, they sing this song. Then they begin their adventures in the Wilderness of Sin (yes, that’s really the name.)

Some words of Torah on Parashat Beshallach:

On Gazelles and Pillars of Fire by Rabbi Beth Kalisch

The Song to the Violent God by Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

The One that Got Away by Rabbi David Kasher

Water from the Rock by Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Shabbat Shira: The Song of Miriam by Rabbi Sylvia Rothchild

Honoring the Blank Spaces by Rabbi Minna Bromberg

Waiting for a Miracle  by Rabbi Ruth Adar

Also, if you are interested in reading more from other rabbis, check out my new feature, Rabbis Who Blog!