Wednesday, March 30, 2005

III-3 Shemini When Tragedy Strikes

30 March III-3 Shemini When Tragedy Strikes

Torah: Lv 9-11:47 JPS transl

Haftorah: 2 Sam 6:1-7:17 / Ez 45:18-46:15 JPS transl


1. Lv 9:1-16
2. Lv 9:17-23
3. Lv 9:24-10:11
4. Lv 10:12-15
5. Lv 10:16-20
6. Lv 11:1-32
7. Lv 11:33-47


Shemini continues with the dedication of the Mishkan, the Sanctuary or Tent of Meeting. The priests are secluded seven days during their ordination. During the procession of sacrifices, disaster suddenly strikes. Moses supervises Aaron and his sons in the sacrifices. Aaron brought a goat, as a sin offering on behalf of the people, followed by an ox and a ram for the people's well-being. Lifting his hands, he blessed the people before entering the Tent of Meeting with Moses. When they came out, they again blessed the people and the Divine Presence appeared. Fire issued from the Lord, consuming the burnt offering. Aaron's two sons, Nadav and Avihu, presented their fire pans containing incense., but they were struck dead. The parsha continues with the differentiation of kosher and nonkosher animals and the laws of purity and impurity, distinguishing between kashrut and purity. All animals are clean, but not all acceptable for eating. Extensive discussions of kashrut belong within the domain of halakha with rabbinic authority. Separation of kosher/nonkosher animals reflects the need to conserve the world entrusted to us from creation.


"Moses and Aaron then went inside the Tent of Meeting. When they came out, they blessed the people; and the Presence of the Lord appeared to all the people. Fire came forth from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the fat parts on the altar. And all the people saw, and shouted, and fell on their faces" Lv 9:23-24

"Now Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu each took his fire pan, put fire in it, and laid incense on it; and they offered before the Lord alien fire, which He had not enjoined upon them. And fire came forth from the Lord and consumed them; thus they died at the instance of the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord meant when He said:

Through those near to Me I show Myself holy,
And gain glory before all the people."

And Aaron was silent. " Lv 10:1-3

"Then Moses inquired about the goat of sin offering, and it had already been burned! He was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, Aaron's remaining sons, and said, "Why did you not eat the sin offering in the sacred area? For it is most holy, and He has given it to you to remove the guilt of the community and to make expiation for them before the Lord."
Lv 10:16-19


For seven days, the newly ordained priests have rehearsed the rituals of their office and endured intense self-examination before the final presentation. They are in the last stage, just minutes before becoming publicly dedicated priests. The last seconds before the Presidential Inaugural Address, the last breath before the ski-jumper slides off the bench in the World Cup Finals to speed down the hill into space. There is no turning back, but only the future consequences of personal decision brought into public attention.

As spectators, we view the record as film devoid of the sound track. We see the procession, but suddenly a fireball clouds the lens. Two men lay lifeless on the ground. Incomprehensible, tragedy strikes at the high point of life. The gymnast flies off the high bar, but catches his feet on descent and lays broken on the floor. Horrified, we see buildings collapsing from the plane's impact. We seek for the rationale, for justification to explain the overwhelming tragedies of our lives-- often there are none. Desperatel, we try to console ourselves with hollow words; yet the grief, the loss is unspeakable. Why did it happen?

Tragedy is easier to accept when we can point the finger and rationalize it. The high school student on her way to the graduation ceremony, but never arrives in the parking lot in her car. The young soldier finally on the way home after months overseas, suddenly shot down days before his departure. Grief intensifies with its meaninglessness.. Coming into confrontation with our limitations and mortality, we feel bitter injustice.

Rabbis argue over the passage. They knew what to do. They were trained. The punishment seems so grossly injust. Risks were limited through proper indoctrination and yet the incomprehensible happened. Midrash and commentary reflect a myriad of interpretations, all trying to explain the inexplicable.

When tragedy strikes, we recoil with anxiety, questioning "Why me? Why?" The personal reactions of Moses and Aaron are contrasted in the passage. Moses said to Aaron, "This is what the Lord meant when He said: Through those near Me I show Myself holy." (Lv 10:3)

A bit much to swallow for a father in shock, but Aaron continues leading the people through the public ceremony without rebutting. He is silent. Later Moses upbraids him regarding the sin offering inadvertantly left on the altar and completely consumed by fire. "Why did you not eat the sin offering in the sacred area? For it is most holy, and He has given it to you to remove the guilt of the community and to make expiation for them before the Lord." (Lv 10:17)

Oftentimes we must fulfill our public obligations despite personal tragedy. Instinctively, we yearn for escape to relieve our distress privately, but responsibilities demand our presence. Aaron fulfills his duty despite a father's grief. He leads the show. Torn between his public obligations as the High Priest and those of a bereaved father, he has no appetite for eating or celebration. No words assauge his loss. Often, well-intentioned people offer hollow consolation, "He was a good man. He lived next to God." Falling like loose change, the words clatter on the ground.

Moses instructs the uncles regarding the disposal of the bodies, continuing the ceremonies without interruption. He seems inhuman, dedicated only to law and protocol. Moses, the dutiful policeman, instructs the paramedics how to clean up after a terrible accident with the mask of rigid action, more dedicated to legalities and ritual than given to human compassion. We never see his internal turmoil, but hear only the response and instructions. Likewise we rarely hear or see the personal reactions of those so dedicated in our society to the restitution of order after a tragedy. We do not know the pain of the fatigued doctor or the anguish of the policeman, arriving on the scene after a grisly accident. We assure ourselves that they are in their element. They are professionals. They know how to react and they know what they are doing—yet we sympathize with the victims' families, weeping with them.

In truth, we need both sides to survive the inexplicable tragedies besetting us. We can identify crib death, but often we cannot truly avoid it. In everything we do, even when we know the exact protocols and procedures, risk remains. After a tragedy happens, there are questions and investigation and explainations—they offered a "strange fire" to the altar of the Lord; but the explanation falls short of human comprehension.


Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke, for the Lord had come down upon it in fire; the smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled violently... The Lord said to Moses, "Go down, warn the people not to break through to the Lord to gaze, lest many of them perish. II-5 Yisro Ex 19:18-21

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, Tzav: Ears, Thumbs, and Toes
My Jewish Learning
"Philo (1st Century Egypt), perceived that, "The fully consecrated must be pure in words and actions and in life; for words are judged by hearing, the hand is the symbol of action, and the foot of the pilgrimage of life.""


Rabbi Cary Kozberg, Shemini: Boundaries Sanctity and Silence
provides commentaries on the deaths of Nadav and Avihu
" Perhaps one of the hard lessons to be learned here is that affirming sanctity is ultimately about maintaining limits and boundaries. If Nadab and Abihu were indeed too zealous in their devotion by bringing to the altar that which God had not commanded, perhaps their sin was that they "broke through" those boundaries and thus compromised the sanctity of the moment and the Sanctuary itself."

Beth Freishstat, Shemini: Death Grief and Consolation

Kolel, Shemini 5762
four different interpretations of the deaths of Nadab and Avihu

Rabbi Pinchas Avruch, HaKollel Shemini 5763: Safety in Numbers

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos 5761: Un-influenced Service

Rabbi Robert S. Leib Tzav: Lost and Found: From Obsolete Ritual to Personal Responsibility
My Jewish Learning

Rabbi Levi said: It is a praiseworthy enactment that a person who behaves boastfully should be punished by fire, as it is said, "This is the law regarding a person striving to be high: It is that it goes up on its burning place." [Note: The burnt offering (ha-olah) is linguistically related to the verb, alah, "to go up," "rise," "ascend," and is midrashically taken here to mean climbing to pretentious heights, assuming an insolent and overbearing attitude.] (Leviticus Rabbah 7:6 on Leviticus 6:2)

Yanki Tauber, Chabad, Shemini: Consumed

Chabad, Keeping in Touch: Shemini

Rav Kook, Shemini: The Error of Nadav and Avihu
a cabalist explanation

II-5 Yisro

Friday, March 25, 2005

III-2 Tzav keep the Fires Burning

25 March III-2 Tzav keep the Fires Burning

Torah: Lv 6-8:36 JPS transl

Haftorah: Jer 7:21-8:3, 9:22-23 / Ez 36:16-38 JPS transl


1. Lv 6:1-11
2. Lv 6:12-7:10
3. Lv 7:11-38
4. Lv 8:1-13
5. Lv 8:14-21
6. Lv 8:22-29
7. Lv 8:30-36


In Vayikra, Moses addresses the general public regarding sacrifices: what and how sacrifices should be made, but in Tzav, the audience is restricted to the priests, regarding the particularities of sacrifice. Moreover, the instruction of sacrifice seems countered by the prophets whon rail against empty ritual. Tzav frequently falls on Shabbat HaGadol, the last shabbat before Pesach when the haftorah is read from Malachi regarding God's enduring love for Israel and the warning of final judgment and messianic age heralded by the return of Elijah. Tzav reiterates the importance of maintaining the perpetual fire on the altar which is interpreted as man's need of sustaining a passion for God's commandments and maintaining faith in God. Instructions on clearing the ashes from the altar and the institution of Aaron and his sons for the priesthood fall within the parasha.


"A perpetual fire shall be kept burning on the altar, not to go out" (Lv 6:6).

"All meal offerings brought before Hashem shuld not be prepared leavened for you shall not cause to go up in smoke from any lavening or any honey as a fire." III-1 Vayikra, Lv 2:11

"You must not bring an abhorrent thing into your home..." Dt 7:26

"Every haughty person is an abomination to the Lord." Prv 16:5

"Hear, O Israel! the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shlal love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down nd when you get up. Bind them as a sign upon your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." V-2 Voeshenan Dt 6:4-9


Fire can be productive or destructive. A fire warms the chilled room, renewing the use of numbed fingers. Fire glows in the fireplace after a brisk day outside in subzero weather. We sit by the pot-bellied stove, thinking how lovely the warmth is, but warn the children about falling against it. We know equally well that fire is dangerous, able to consume our lives and houses, leaving scars for life.

Fire is the symbol of passion. passion can consume the person utterly, so that his life becomes self-destructive. The stalker who is obsessed with possession of another person, the perfectionist who can not yield to human faults or minor imperfections in his art. The singer who becomes obsessed with having total control over the voice and in the end becomes trapped by her own fear and anxiety of not performing well.

The Ner Tamid, the eternal light that hangs in the synagogue represents the perpetual fire on the altar in the Beit HaMikdash. Do not let the fire go out. There are two reading of the words, "in the altar" and "on the altar," which are interpreted that we should not only give with the burning love of our hearts whenever we commit a sacrifice to god, but we, ourselves should be the altar in which the love of God burns. Our lives should be such lights that burn perpetually so that others see that God exists. But there are restrictions on the offerings—there shall be no honey or leaven.

Why? Honey is a sweetener. Whernever something is bitter, such as baking chocolate, we add sugar to make the cake. We don't want to taste the bitterness. We add sugar into the yogurt or in the tea, making something that might be somewhat acidic palatable. We want the sweet things in lfie and we don't particularly like sharing the bitter or accepting the bitter. Sugar alters the flavor and the chemical reaction. Put too much sugar into the brownies and you get glazed bricks. Maybe a work of love, but indigestible.

Simularly, no leaven was added to the flour offering. Leaven is a symbol of vanity, pride or self-importance. When you make a quickbread with baking powder, mixing it into the melted butter, the dough swells rapidly. It poofs up suddenly and sizzles and then collapses. This can later cause a problem in the actual baking, because the leaven has lost its effectiveness and the sweetbread comes out soggy in the middle or lopsided, just as baking in too hot or too cold an oven can cause problems.

We are something like this.Vanity can fizzle good intents just as self-importance can bloat into nothingness like a puff pastry without any filling. Flaky? Okay, but really what God wants are the basic ingredients straight. No flattery, no artifice and no pomposity. It's very difficult to love someone who is full of himself, but so easy to enjoy the convivial warmth of modest living, of a humble dwelling.

We are burned by scams, bad love affairs and through ill-use. We know the scorched fingers that got licked by the flames, the singed feeling on the edges of our heart after being inexplicably jilted or exploited for our kindness. We refrain from getting too close from those whose passions boil over, afraid of getting scalded in the process. Consider this in your daily actions. It only takes a small spark to combust a major forest fire, but the hearth of our hearts should be a warm inviting place for anyone left outside in the cold winters of life. By inviting a person into the warmth of our homes, we offer oftentimes encouragement to live and hope for those who struggle through the blizzards of catastrophe and and despair.

A quick fire burns rapidly, leaving the room still chilled by the frosty dampness of the stone walls, but slow-burning embers will cut the chill, dry the walls and make the home a healthy place to live.


Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Tzav 5760
story of the shepherd and the king

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Pirkei Avos 4:4 Dust and Ashes
"The arrogant person, however, focuses on himself alone. He has robbed G-d, so to speak, of the talents he was blessed with. He is thus missing the most fundamental component for building a relationship with G-d. In fact, the good deeds he does perform may be doing no more than increasing his pride and haughtiness -- further *distancing* himself from G-d, rather than bringing him closer"

Rav Frand Mincha Offering: Leavening Agents and Honey: No. Salt: Yes


Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, JTSA Tzav 5760

Chabad, Tetzaveh: Oil, Wick, Vessel and Flame

Based on the writings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch (1773-1827), and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Kolel Tzav 5762
Kolel: The Adult Center for Liberal Jewish Learning
story of the Dubno Maggid and the bellows

Kolel Tzav 5763
Kolel: The Adult Center for Liberal Jewish Learning
Pinchas Peli, discussion of Ner Tamid and significans of "burning on the altar" (al ha-mizbeach) and "burning in the altar" (tukad bo)

Kolel Tzav 5764
Kolel: The Adult Center for Liberal Jewish Learning

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights: Tzav 5758
story of the wonderful etrog

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos Tzav 5760: Ashes-Separate and Remove

Gilah Langner, Tending Flames, Seeing Faces
My Jewish Learning, Tzav

Rabbi Moshe Peretz Gilden, HaKollel Tzav 5763 Relentless Struggle

Rabbi Pinchas Avruch, HaKollel, Tzav 5764: Dressing the Part

Kolel: Tzav 5760
The Adult Center for Liberal Jewish Learning
"Contained within R. Twerski's interpretation of our verse is a challenge, a challenge to become more "zealously" generous and truly altruistic"

Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook, Tzav 5760: The Price of Special


Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook, Tzav 5762 : Closing the Gap
offers a description of the purpose of each type of sacrifice

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos, Tzav 5762: The Olah Offering: 'Minding' Our Own Business

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsah Insights: Tzav 5762
Korban Todah-thank offering

Moschiach Online: Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile

Chapter 13: Charity
How to give from the heart

Chapter 14: Sacrifies
2. During the times when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, a Noahite was permitted to bring a korban olah, a burnt offering wholly consumed by fire.5

Saturday, March 19, 2005

III-1 Vayikra Coming Close

19 Mar III-1 Vayikra Coming Close

Torah: Lv 1-5:26

Haftorah: Is 43:21-44:23


1. Lv 1: 1-13
2. Lv 1:14-2:6
3. Lv 2:7-16
4. Lv 3:1-17
5. Lv 4:1-26
6. Lv 4:27-5:10
7. Lv 5:11-26


Vayikra, referred as the Torat Kohanim., is concerned with the pratical application in temple worship and ritual. After the destruction of the Temple in 70CE, prayer and synagogue worship came to replace the temple ritual and sacrifices. Instead of sacrifices, we pray for forgiveness. We are not excused from the mitzvot of reparation for the losses we cause others. Anyone could bring sacrifices to the Temple. God is accessible to everyone. "Korbanot" means to bring close. Sacrifice drew people to God, reconciling the disparity of the physical and spiritual worlds and allowing an introspective encounter with the Creator of the Universe. Unlike heathen offerings, the sacrificial animal was not consumed by fire to be a heavenly banquet. A small portion of the fat was sacrificed, parts given for the priests and the remainder eaten by the person bringing it. Sacrifice involved community participation as well as personal reconciliation with fellow man.


"Or when a person utters an oath to bad or good purpose--whatever a man may utter in an oath--and, though he has known it, the fact has escaped him, but later he realizes his guilt in any of these matters... he shall confess that wherein he has sinned. And he shall bring as his penalty to the Lord, for the sin of which he is guilty...." Lv 5:1, 4-6 JPS transl

"The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: When a person sins and commits a trespass against the Lord by dealing deceitfully with his fellow in the matter of a deposit or a pledge, or through robbery, or by defrauding his fellow, or by finding something lost and lying about it; if he swears falsely regarding any one of the various things that one may do and sin thereby-- when one has thus sinned and, realizing his guilt, would restore that which he got.... he shall repay the principal amount and add a fifth part to it. He shall pay it to its owner when he realizes his guilt. Then he shall bring to the priest, as his penalty to the Lord... The priest shall make expiation on his behalf before the Lord, and he shall be forgiven for whatever he may have done to draw blame thereby. " Lv 5:20-25 JPS transl


Vayikra follows Shemos, providing the instructions for temple service and sacrifices. In Shemos/Exodus, Moses leads the Israelites from enslavement in Egypt into freedom. Freedom has no meaning without social structures and laws; chaos quickly ensues. Moses ascends Mount Sinai; God reaches down. The Ten Commandments consititute a new covenant further elaborated in Mishpatim. Becoming a holy nation is not a matter of ritual, but of action, dependent on the relationships between man and man.

God instructs Moses to take up a collection of free-will gifts for the construction of the Mishkan. The gifts could not be cast-offs or the result of illicit behavior. You cannot steal something and offer it to God. Similarly offerings, brought before the priests, must be from the heart. Before giving a sin offering, restitution must be made to anyone wronged. Personal relationships must be reconciled before bringing the sacrifice to the priests. Emphasis was not on the slaughter on the animals, but on retrospection and teshuvah—repentance. "Korban" means to come close. In bringing sacrifices, anyone could enter into God's presence to make an atonement for his sins or to give a thank offering.

Many types of korbanot existed. The Olah was an ascending offerng, wholly consumed on the altar. Minchah was a flour offering made with olive oil and frankinscense. Shelamim was a peace offering that was eaten by the person bringing the offering after certain parts were consumed on the altar and others given for the Kohanim. Chatat, was a sin offering to atone for a wrong whether the King, High Priest or ordinary person. All people make mistakes. Asham was the guilt offering for someone who has doubts whether or not he has betrayed God or broken commitments by making false promises or vows.

Although many shudder at the thought of slaughter, consider how different this world would be, if we ate meat with full awareness of the life we destroyed to fill our stomachs. Today, animals have little value. A quick trip to the grocery store retrieves a frozen chicken or steak from the deep freezer. Headless, legless and formless, it imparts no impression on us as being a creation of God. We stick it in the pan and later devour it without thought to the value of life. There is no relation between body and soul.

Through sacrifices, people were constantly reminded of life's values. The meat was not wasted by massive recall by a FDA botulism warning or tossed into the garbage container at the local diner. Each person was confronted with his own transgressions and mortality, recognizing the irreplaceable value of life, whether human or animal. Which animals? Cattle, sheep, goat and dove—those that are domesticated.

The very poor could bring a flour offering. It was treated no differently than if it had been the blue rbbon bull of the local county fair. The significance of the sacrifice was not so much the gift, but how it was given. Just as Moses counted every little ring and hook for the Mishkan, so God accepts the smallest sacrifice as if it were the biggest.

Each sacrifice was salted. (Lv 2:11-13) A preservative, salt symbolizes the covenant made on Mt Sinai.God's love is everlasting. Salt heightens the flavor. Honey and leavening were forbidden additions. They change the nature of the sacrifice. So it is with spirituality, we need to develop our own qualities rather than adding superficialities or mingling strange elements. We need to bring out the hidden qualities rather than trying to be something different than ourselves.

Moreover, the opening of Vayikra begins, "Vayikra el Moshe" and God called to Moses... Midrash explains that the aleph at the end is reduced because of Moses' humility. Moses wanted to write "vayikir" which denotes happenstance such as the calling of Balaam, not the divine calling of the angels to one another, declaiming "holy, holy, holy." God was no hallucination to Moshe, but he made a compromise with God. "Vayikra" is written with the final aleph was reduced. Moshe didn't want others to feel excluded because he was personally called; the call extends to us also.

"Rav Naftali Amsterdam was a disciple of Rav Yisrael Salanter. He once came to his teacher and said, "Rebbi, if I had the head of the Shagas Aryeh and if I had the soul of the author of the Yesod v'Shoresh haAvodah and if I had your personality traits (midos) -- then I could truly be a Servant of G-d." Rav Yisrael responded to him, "Naftali -- with your head and with your heart and with your personality traits you can be Naftali Amsterdam. That is all you have to be. You do not need to be the Shagas Aryeh or Reb Yisroel Salanter or anybody else."

Rav Frand, Vayikra 5764: Mincha Offering: Leavening Agents and Honey: No. Salt: Yes


Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline, Terumah 5763 re: gifts

"G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: 'Speak to the children of Israel, that they take an offering for me; from every man whose heart desires [to give], take my offering.'" [Ex. 25:1-2]

Yanki Tauber, Terumah: Anatomy of a Dwelling

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos, Terumah: It's the Thought That Counts


Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, The Spirituality of Business Ethics

Rabbi Melissa Crespy, Fellow, JTSA Vayikra 5762
regarding sin offering and reparation

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, Vayikra 5762

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights: Vayikra 5763

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, Vayikra 5768

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights Vayikra 5757

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline, Vayikra: Lesson from Sacrifices

Tzvi Freeman, Vayikra Animal Sacrifices

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, JTSA Vayikra 5762

Rabbi Melissa Crespy, JTSA, Vayikra 5763

Yechmiel Telles, Vayika: The Gift

Thursday, March 10, 2005

II-11 Pekudei Bride''s Homecoming

10 March II-11 Pekudei Bride''s Homecoming

Torah: Ex 38:21-40:38

Haftorah: 1 Kgs 7:51-8:21


1. Ex 38:21-39:1
2. Ex 39:2-21
3. Ex 39:22-32
4. Ex 39:33-43
5. Ex 40:1-16
6. Ex 40:17-27
7. Ex 40:28-40:38


Pekudei closes Exodus with the accounting of materials used for the Mishkan. The Torah is parsimonious, but the Mishkan and its construction takes up nearly five parashas in comparison to the very short section in Yisro for the the Ten Commandments or its applications in Mishpatim. "Why?" ask the rabbis, "why the repitition?" Consider if you planned and built a house from raw materials that you gathered together or collected from donations. Would it just be a five minute comment to your co-workers? "Oh, incidentally, we built our house.." or does every detail count? How many times does a company proof the prototype of a new airplane before placing it into production? Does it celebrate the first one off the line? Is it held accountable for ever screw and seam that makes it fly? "Oh, George, we forgot the screws in the carbines..." Does it really that the communication systems and auto-pilot function?


"These are the records of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Pact, which were drawn up at Moses' bidding--the work of the Levites under the direction of Ithamar son of Aaron the priest... The silver of those of the community who were recorded came to 100 talents and 1,775 shekels by the sanctuary weight: a half-shekel a head, half a shekel by the sanctuary weight, for each one who was entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, 603,550 men. " Ex 38:21, 25-26

"Just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so the Israelites had done all the work. And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks--as the Lord had commanded, so they had done--Moses blessed them." Ex 39:42-43

When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Ex 40:34

The Bride's Homecoming

Pekudei seems repeat the previous parashas, but with small differences. When the Mishkan was finished, Moses gave a public accounting of all the donations. Consider all the organizations in this world where the money goes in, but never given public accounting. The latest inflationary presidential budget giving little or no benefit to its citizens. Moses learned quickly about the grumblings and discontent of a people fresh out of an oppressive government. They gave, he took. In return they need not only to see the completed Mishkan, but also how their contributions were utilized.

How often have you given something to watch it disappear? Later, you ask timorously, "Whatever happened to that scarf..." "What scarf? Oh that scarf. You know I never did like it and so one day, I gave it to the women's bazaar." The sinking feeling lands like the high speed elevator in your toenails: nothing worse than giving an unappreciated gift or finding it parked in the garbage outside a week later.

The Israelites, too, wanted to see their gifts appreciated and utilized. Each thing they gave, they gave a part of themselves, anticipating the day the building would be standing in its splendor according to the building plans. They stopped by the workshops, inspecting the various preparations for months now, they sniffed with curiosity whether the completed project would somewhat resemble the original instructions. Does the cake on the table resemble the one in Julia Child's cookbook?

The Mishkan was a special: a dwelling place for God's Pressence among them. Each person invested in it through donations or assisting in weaving and spinning or other forms of craftsmanship. It wasn't a prefab dwelling or something rented on borrowed money where the bathtub was falling through the floor and blackrot on the walls. It was the first community project made from heartfelt donations. Like any major construction site, the public had its critics and inspectors daily investigating its progress. The various bits scattered about the camp were nearly like putting together a three dimensional puzzle.

Beyond that, the Mishkan was a portable palace for the Shekinah, the bride of Shabbat, the Divine Presence of God. In rural villages, weddings are big events. Marriage isn't made in an hour under the canopy or before the altar, but requires long-term commitment. Once, a young man loved a lass, so he went to ask the father's permission. Being a small community, naturally many people knew of his intent and their romance. He wasn't rich, but came from a hard-working family. The future father-in-law's stern temperament had a reputation for the strict upbringing of his family. They were plain folks living in the back dingles of the town with their own cow. The young man, put together his courage in his pocket and went to to plead his cause. Shortly thereafter he reappeared relatively glum. Curiosity asks even when it shouldn't, particularly from the young and impertinent, "Well," we said, "What happened?" John looked up, face filled with darkness, "He said Jacob labored seven years for Rachel and received Leah, but he was more honest than that. If I would wait seven years, then I could have my bride."

Seven years seems an eternity, but maybe the father-in-law knew something that we didn't. A test, but seemingly a cruel one. In those seven years, the young man had many things to do. He needed gainful employment to provide for his wife; he needed a house and the things to go in it. More than stardust in the eyes and warm feelings over hot chocolate, the real preparations for the wedding aren't all the frills of a dress or the gilded invitations to guests, but the work involved in building a new home. Everything counts for a bride—the gifts have to be opened, the inventory made, the letters of gratitude sent and a place to put everything when the door finally opens. The community floods in to inspect it and sound their approval.

Years later, couples still remember their wedding day. They take out the photographs, tell their grandkids of their first house and remember how amazing it was when the house rose out of the sawn timber and scattered nails: the home made from love.

The Mishkan became the unifying force of the community, belonging to each of them. As they stood before it, they knew that the bride had arrived. A thick cloud of God's glory covered it. In awe they awaited the Shekinah to descend and dwell with them.

And the final product – well, it came out better than the cake.

"Khazak, Khazak, V'Nitkhazek!"

to say upon the closing of a book of Torah: from strength to strength, let us be strengthened (let us strengthen one another)


"The man, meanwhile, stood gazing at her, silently wondering whether the Lord had made his errand successful or not. When the camels had finished drinking, the man took a gold nose-ring weighing a half-shekel, and two gold bands for her arms, ten shekels in weight." I-5 Sora: Gn 24: 21-22 on Rebekah's betrothal

Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook, Vayakhel: Vayakhel & Shekalim - Intent Speaks Louder Than Action

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, JTS, Terumah 5765 2005

on the Shekhinah

Yanki Tauber, Terumah Good Morning

"The Lord went before them in a pillar of cloud by day, to guide them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, that they might travel day and night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people." II-4 Beshelach: Ex 13:21

"And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while He spoke with Moses." II-9 Ki Thisa: Ex 33:9


Tanki Tauber, Vayakhel Partner

Yanki Tauber, Community, Individuality, and Why It's Frustrating to Have a Brain

Irwin Kula, Pekudei: Role of Tabernacle
two drash regarding purpose of Tabernacle

Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook, Pekudei 5760: Mirror of God

Gilah Langner, Pekudei: Keeping Accounts
Gilah Langner is a consultant and mother living in Washington, D.C. She is co-editor of Kerem: Creative Explorations in Judaism.

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, JTSA, Pekudei 5763

Rabbi Label Lam, Dvar Torah, Pekudei 5763 An Original Thought

Yanki Tauber, What was the Holy Temple

Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, Pekudei: Experiencing God In The Dark And The Light
from UAHC

The Holy Temple An Anthology

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

II-10 Vayakhel From The Heart

2 March II-10 Vayakhel From The Heart

Torah: Ex 35-38:20 JPS
At Jewish Theological Seminary of America

Haftorah: II Kgs 12:1-17 JPS


1. Ex 35:1-20
2. Ex 35:21-29
3. Ex 35:30-36:7
4. Ex 36:8-19
5. Ex 36:20-37:16
6. Ex 37:17-29
7. Ex 38:1-20


The Mishkan making is resumed after the Golden Calf Event, often interpreted as a form of atonement for the sin of idolatry. It opens with an exhortation for keeping the Shabbat, admonishing the Israelites to do the work in six days, but on the seventh day, rest. Regardless of how elaborate or monumental a project, limitations need to be set before beginning. Work in life is never completed, therefore God warns us to make space and time sacred for His Presence. Belalzel and Oholiab are the master craftsman overseeing the projects. Detailed activities of the women are related, emphasizing the importance of each person and individual gifts within the community. No gift is too small for the eyes of the beloved. Just as a fiancee seeks to find favor in her beau, we should seek to please God, the lover of all mankind. We should beautify our lives to attract the pleasure of His gaze.


Thus the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to God. Ex 35:29

He [Bezalel] made the laver of copper and its stand of copper from the mirrors of the women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of meeting. Ex 38:8

The King has brought me to his chambers.
Let us delight and rejoice in your love,
Savoring it more than fine wine—Song of Songs 1:4

Let me be as a seal upon your heart,
Like the seal upon your hand.
For love is fierce as death... Song of Songs 8:6


The master Artist Belazel made the Kior, the laver, and the stand from the copper from the mirrors presented to him from the women. Midrash relates that when the Israelites were in Egypt that the men were so oppressed with labor they had no desire for life. Their wives would go out to the fields to meet them, taking with them some food and distract their husbands from their hardships. By beautifying themselves and playing with the mirrors, they would beguile them to love.

Vanity? No. The women longed for the companionship of their husbands, driven into hard labor. With few resources, they had only themselves to offer. Brides go frantic as their wedding day approaches, fussing over their physical appearance, joining exercise clubs to be particularly buff on that special day. Afraid that they are not beautiful, they fear rejection. A girlfriend frets when a birthday cake for her boyfriend goes flat in the oven. She crawls under the table if her mascara runs in the rain or a tear appears in the hosiery. The yearning for acceptance nearly drives some people crazy with elaborate self-improvement programs; but these women had only themselves to give. Throughout literature, mirrors are not only used as a symbol of vanity, but far more often a symbol of unveiling the soul. "Mirror, mirror on the wall," says the cruel queen, "who is the fairest of them all?"

The lines do not betray her beauty, but her jealousy and evil intent in her heart. This is why folklore states that vampyres cannot be seen in mirrors—they hav no souls. The mirrors the women pass to their husbands are reflections of their own yearning to give of themselves. In love, there are few secrets and many sorrows shared together. The lover seeks to bring happiness to the beloved, helping him achieve his desires. The emphasis is giving from one to the other, not taking. Without the attention from their wives, the men's lives are unmeaningful and without reward. Through their wives, they find beauty in the world and a renewed desire to live: purpose shared within the secrecy of two souls, each yearning for fulfilment in the other. No one is made to be completely alone or completely unloved. No one can survive long in a world of hardship without human compassion. The soul yearns for fulfilment in the eyes of the other.

The mirrors became the laver and washstand for the Kohen to wash their hands and feet before assuming their religious duties. Hands represent the deeds we do and feet travel the paths we go, both requiring purification before God. Hands and feet should be purified by the desire to give of ourselves with our whole hearts, just as the wives desired to ease their husbands sorrows and provide comfort and reassurance in their lives. They had only themselves to give; we should contemplate our personal sacrifices of love.

In the late evening, the mystics, dressed in their best, went out in the fields to greet the Shabbat bride. "Le chai dodi, likrat Shabbat..." traditionally greets the Shabbat as the stars appear. We yearn to return to the divine, finding solace in God and celebrating the creation of the universe and the escape from slavery. Man seeks God in the hardships of his life, and the Shekinah leads him into the Divine Presence

When the Israelites departed into the Wilderness, the Shekinah went before them, guiding them by day in a cloud and at night in a pillar of fire. So God's Spirit leads us back from daily slavery into His Divine Presence.. Our lives are redeemed His love for his people, guiding us through the wilderness and personal oppression in this world.


Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart moves him. II-7 Terumah Ex 25:1-2, 8

Say therefore unto the Israelite people: I am the Lord. I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements. And I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God. II-2 Bo Ex 6:6-7

You have seen what I have done with the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Me. among all peoples. Indeed all the earth is mine, but hyou shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. II- 5 Yitro Ex 19:4-5


Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook Vayakhel 5763: Vayakhel & Shekalim - Intent Speaks Louder Than Action

Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook Vayakhel 5762: It's the Thought that Counts

Rabbi Lauren Eichler Berkun, JTSA Shabbat Shekalim, Vayakhel 5763

explanation of the mirrors

Rav Frand, Vaykhel 5762: Women Symbolize the Power of Renewal

Rav Frand, Vayakhel 5757: Mirrors Appropriate Component of Vessel Used to Sanctify Hands & Feet
look halfway down the page: Kiyyor, Kior, Laver

Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, JTSA Vayakhel 5757: Feminism and Orthodoxy

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, JTSA, Va-Yakhel 5760

Rabbi Yisroel Ciner, Parsha Insights, Vayakhel 5758
story of Rav Nachum