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!

 

 

Shabbat Shalom! Bo

Parashat Bo continues the Exodus story, in Exodus 10:1 – 13:16. We read about the horrors of the last three plagues, and Pharaoh’s stubbornness. Then the Israelites receive their instructions for Passover: slaughter a lamb, use the blood to mark the doorway, and eat the meat with unleavened bread while standing, ready to dash out of town. The final plague descends at night, the killing of the firstborn of Egypt. As the Egyptians wail, the Hebrews “and a mixed multitude” flee the country.

Here are some divrei Torah to illuminate the text:

Moses and Aaron Come to Pharaoh (G-dcast.com) (VIDEO)

Joining the Exodus by Natan Sharansky

The Moon Waxes and Wanes and We Learn to Count Time – Rabbi Sylvia Rothchild

Pharaoh’s Final Request – Rabbi Beth Kalisch

Seeking Compassion – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

What About the “Collateral Damage?” – Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

Are You Coming or Going? – Rabbi Ruth Adar

 

Enjoy!

Are You Coming or Going?

Parashat Bo begins on a curious note. We usually translate “bo” as “come.” But in Exodus 10:1, “Bo el Par’o” in Exodus 10:1 is usually translated, “Go to Pharaoh.” “Come to Pharaoh” would suggest that God is with the ruler of Egypt, and the next phrase seems to confirm it: because I have hardened his heart. So here we have a layering of paradoxes: a “come” that means “go” and a God who is somehow with Pharaoh, the embodiment of evil.

Most translators say, “Well, that can’t be right!” and change the more common “come” to “go:”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh. For I have hardened his heart and the heart of his courtiers, in order that I might display these My signs among them; and that you may recount it in the hearing of your sons, and of your sons’ sons how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and how I displayed My signs among them – in order that you may know that I am the LORD.” – Exodus 10:1-2, JPS translation

The Zohar offers one solution to the paradox of “go” and “come”.  It reads Exodus 10:1 as a metaphor in which God calls to Moses from Pharaoh’s throne room, summoning him into the cavern of a fearful serpent, the evil heart of Egypt’s soul.

The Kotzker Rebbe offers a different solution to the problem in apparent meaning: he suggests that God is telling Moses: “Don’t be afraid because I will be with you in the throne room! In fact, I’m already there waiting for you!”

The process of Exodus is like the journey from youth to maturity. Sooner or later, those who wish to become truly mature must confront the darkest parts of their personality. “Come,” our yetzer hara [evil inclination] calls to us, and we enter its chamber, filled with dread, because we know it to be powerful. “Enjoy yourself,” it murmurs. If we surrender to it, we give ourselves over to selfishness.  The task of the mature Jew is to take a sober look and see the evil inclination for what it is. This can be terrifying, precisely because the ugly thing is deep within us. As the Kotzker Rebbe reminds us, it is then  we may realize that despite the terrors of that place, God is with us every step of the way.

The good news is the Kotzker Rebbe’s interpretation: we may be down there in the hole with our worst inclinations, but we don’t have to be there alone. God goes with us into those dark places. I find it reassuring to remember that Jews all over the world are with me in this struggle, too, each of us wrestling our own private demons.

All human beings have an inclination to selfishness. Indeed the rabbis assure us that we cannot thrive without a little of that yetzer harah. (Yoma 69b) That is not just human nature, it is the nature of all creation. But our task, as human beings, is to struggle with our selfish inclination and to keep it within the limits prescribed by Torah.

In the opening phrase of this week’s Torah portion, the Kotzker Rebbe reminds us that we have to go into the darkness – but God not send us there alone.

A slightly different version of this d’var Torah appeared in the CCAR Newsletter.

 

Shabbat Shalom! Va’era

Parashat Va’era (Exodus 6:2 – 9:35) continues the saga of the struggle between God and Pharaoh. It deals with Moses’ feelings of inadequacy, the obstinacy of Pharaoh, and the first seven plagues.

Beyond the familiar story, what can we learn from this portion of the Torah? Here are some divrei Torah that explore parashat Va’era:

On Plagues and Hardened Hearts – Rabbi Rachel Barenblat

Double Vision – Rabbi Dan Ornstein

Spirits in a Material World – Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

Vaera and God’s Many Names – Rabbi Steven Moskowitz

Moses was Twice a Refugee – Rabbi Joshua Stanton

Does God Hear Prayer? – Rabbi Sylvia Rothchild

Kicking It Up a Notch – Rabbi Stephen Fuchs

And two of my own:

It’s Not About Us

Why Couldn’t Moses Speak?

Shabbat Shalom!