Opening Minds, Bridging Differences, Living Jewish Values.

Parashat HaShavua

Parashat HaShavua - Bamidbar

וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה בְּמִדְבַּר סִינַי, בְּאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד (במדבר א:א)

God spoke to Moshe in the wilderness of Sinai, from the tent of meeting.

This week's parasha, B'midbar (meaning "in the wilderness") is read every year on the Shabbat before Shavuot. The rabbis teach that the parasha is placed here because the relationship between wilderness and Shavuot is significant. "Whoever wants to receive Torah must become like a wilderness. (B'Midbar Rabbah 1:7)." According to this midrash, if we want to receive Torah – the central act of Shavuot -- the surprising prerequisite is that we first make ourselves like a wilderness. The rabbis use the word "hefker," meaning ownerless, to describe the wilderness. The wilderness is also, as anyone who has hiked or camped in the Negev knows, untamed, desolate and even dangerous. What an interesting list of qualities to be necessary for receiving Torah!

And yet, if we think of great spiritual leaders, these qualities seem like a perfect list. Avraham responds to God's command to leave his homeland to go to "the land that I will show you" -- his mind was not "owned" by the idolatrous beliefs of his society, so he hears God's call and embarks on a dangerous, lonely journey to an unknown destination. Moses leaves Egypt on the run after killing a taskmaster who was abusing a slave. Seeing injustice, he acts on instinct. Untamed by the corrupt values of Pharaoh's court -- that it is acceptable to abuse those who are powerless -- he escapes alone to the refuge of the wilderness.

We learn from the rabbis' vision of wilderness that acquiring Torah requires risk and a willingness to stand alone, beyond the conventional boundaries of society. But what makes this insight even more interesting is its context. The content of parashat B'midbar is strikingly juxtaposed to the nature of wilderness. The parasha is devoted to a very precise description of the orderly and structured fashion in which the Israelite community, standing together, will march through the wilderness. The formation is set out in exact detail: first, the tribes who will stand on each side of the camp, proceeding inwards to the Levites' formation.. At the very center, in the most protected and insulated place possible, is the Torah.

Parashat B'Midbar teaches that, while receiving Torah may require danger, solitude and an untamed spirit, transmitting Torah requires safety, community, and structure. For the Torah to safely accompany the Israelites on their journey, it must be surrounded by a community that is prepared to protect it. Its placement at the center, in addition to providing for its safety, serves as a sign to the people who are surrounding it of what their lives are all about, what their core values are.

As a Jewish community, we need both qualities: a willingness to take risks and stand apart, as well as safety, structure and the ability to stand together. We need inspired prophets to make that journey into the wilderness so they may bring back new insights of Torah. We need people who will come together to build spiritually safe and nurturing communities with Torah at the center. While these traits seem at first to be opposites, on a deeper level, they can also be seen as a unity. Perhaps Torah resides in the ability to feel a measure of safety even when setting out into the wilderness, to feel that God's protecting presence is with us as we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and take risks, try new things. Conversely, in the orderly, structured world that protects the Torah, the most important question may be "how can we still take risks, venture outside of our comfortable boundaries?"

In the end, we are each invited to find our way towards this unity, towards both risk and safety. There are times when the Torah we need is the Torah to step out into the unknown, to be willing to stand alone. There are times when the Torah we need is to find or to create community, safety, structure – for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the next generation. May Shavuot be a revelation of the challenges we are called on to face and the safe structures we are called on to create.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Hesed and Tzedek

Parashat HaShavua - Behar- Behukotai

Ahad Ha'am (a late 19th century leading Zionist thinker from Odessa) is famous for saying that "more than Israel kept the Sabbath, the Sabbath kept Israel." Similarly, Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook (first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of British Mandatory Palestine) writes in his essay Shabbat HaAretz (The Sabbath of the Land): "What the Shabbat achieves regarding the individual, the Shemitah year achieves with regard to the Nation as a whole."

Parshat Be'har, the first of the two Torah portions we read this Shabbat, begins and ends with Shabbat. It begins with the Shabbat that Rav Kook discusses – the Shemita (sabbatical) year where the land lies fallow – and it ends with the instruction to observe the Shabbat that Ahad Ha'am discusses – the day of rest that repeats itself each week.

Ahad Ha'am was not focused on religious observance of the mitzvot associated with Shabbat. Rather, he focused on the spiritual renewal that occurs on Shabbat. He explains that the toils and demands of the week are so challenging that we rely on Shabbat to keep us from falling to the depths of moral and intellectual depravity. In this way, Ahad Ha'am suggests that the day of rest offers us a weekly opportunity to recalibrate our moral center.

Should we understand Rav Kook as building on Ahad Ha'am's statement or as contradicting him? On the one hand, they both understand Shabbat as spiritually and religiously rejuvenating. On the other hand, Rav Kook suggests the sabbatical year is for the nation and Shabbat is for the individual, whereas Ahad Ha'am suggests that even Shabbat is for the nation.

Perhaps the difference between Ahad Ha'am and Rav Kook can be understood as the between people and nation. Ahad Ha'am suggests that Shabbat protected us as a people in exile. In exile, we remained a people because of the way the collective of individuals observed Shabbat. On the other hand, Rav Kook understands the relationship between people and land to be the essential defining characteristic of a nation. During the sabbatical year, as the land lies fallow, we suspend the normative social routine, which then, according to Rav Kook "raises the nation spiritually and morally, and crowns it with perfection." In other words, as Rav Kook mentions later in his essay, the shemita (sabbatical) year is an opportunity for a sovereign people with a connection to their land to ensure they reach towards creating a society built on foundations of justice and loving kindness.

Parshat Be'Har teaches that following every seventh year, you shall observe a Jubilee. Next week, we mark fifty years since the Six Day War in 1967 and the reunification of Jerusalem. May the year ahead offer us opportunity celebrate our connection to Jerusalem and to our land, and may each Shabbat offer us the opportunity to ensure that we are reaching inwards and upwards to ensure that our relationship with the land serves to unite us through our commitment to justice and loving kindness.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life

Parashat HaShavua - Emor

The Torah is of course no stranger to repetition. It is not easy, however, to find a place like Chapter 23 of this week's reading where essentially the same idea is stated three times within such a short span of verses. First: "דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָֽמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם מֽוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֵ֥לֶּה הֵ֖ם מֽוֹעֲדָֽי / Speak to Bnei Yisrael and say to them, 'The Lord's designated times you shall declare as holy; these are my designated times.'" (Lev. 23:2) Second: "אֵ֚לֶּה מֽוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה מִקְרָאֵ֖י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם בְּמֽוֹעֲדָֽם / These are the Lord's designated times that are declared holy, which you shall declare at their designated time." (23:4) And third: "אֵ֚לֶּה מֽוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ / These are the Lord's designated times that you shall declare as holy." (23:37)

Much is made of the human agency evident here in the establishment of the holidays. In all three, Bnei Yisrael is declaring them in some way. (23:2: "you shall declare as holy"; 23:4: "you shall declare at their designated time"; and 23:7: "you shall declare as holy.") The story is told in the Talmud of Rabbi Yehoshua being upset because he believes a grave calendrical error has been made. (Rosh HaShanah 25a) He is comforted by Rabbi Akiva, who explains based on a play of words in these verses that humanity is responsible for setting the holiday's times; even if a mistake has been made, the decision stands. In the phrase "אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם - you shall declare," the third word, "אֹתָ֖ם - otam," literally means "them" or "they" and refers to the holidays. It can, however, instead be read "אַתֶּם - atem," meaning "you, humanity, set the holidays." (This is made possible by the lack of punctuation in the Torah scroll itself, which opens the door to creative readings.) As Yoel Raffel says in his book Kol Parasha BaTorah, after the holidays originated with God it then became our responsibility to make them happen.

According to Rabbi David Stav, we count the days of the Omer rather than just let the time pass to emphasize human agency as well. By counting them we become active and engaged in the passage of time, and even more than that in the transition from the miracles that were done for us during the Exodus to the receiving of a Torah on Shavuot that demands action from us. As we read in Deuteronomy, "כִּי קָרוֹב אֵלֶיךָ הַדָּבָר מְאֹד בְּפִיךָ וּבִלְבָבְךָ לַעֲשׂתוֹ - this thing is very close to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can fulfill it." (Deut. 30:14) Every day that we count reminds us to dedicate ourselves to personal growth and self-improvement.

It is worth noting that the word, "אֹתָ֖ם - otam," can also be repunctuated to be read a third way, "אִתָּם - with them." In this reading, the verses are saying that we will be declared holy along with the holidays. May we during this season of counting the Omer take the opportunity for self-reflection and active engagement in our tradition, and may we thereby merit the designation of holiness.


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8


23:4

אֵ֚לֶּה מֽוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה מִקְרָאֵ֖י קֹ֑דֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם בְּמֽוֹעֲדָֽם:


23:37

אֵ֚לֶּה מֽוֹעֲדֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֔ה אֲשֶׁר־תִּקְרְא֥וּ אֹתָ֖ם מִקְרָאֵ֣י קֹ֑דֶשׁ


23:44

וַיְדַבֵּ֣ר משֶׁ֔ה אֶת־מֹֽעֲדֵ֖י יְהֹוָ֑ה אֶל־בְּנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל:

"Moshe related the Lord's designated times to Bnei Yisrael." (23:44)

Parashat HaShavua - Aharei Mot/Kedoshim

קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ: כִּי קָדוֹשׁ, אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם (ויקרא י״ט:ב)

"You shall be holy for I, your God, am holy." (Leviticus 19:2)


What does it mean to be קדוש -- holy? The root kadosh denotes something that is set apart for a special purpose. The first use of the root in the Tanakh refers to Shabbat, the day that is set apart from all others to occupy a unique spot in the cosmic order. In a Jewish wedding ceremony, the traditional "vow" is הרי את מקודשת לי, (you are consecrated to me), signifying a relationship that is both special and exclusive.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, quoting from Sifra on Parashat Kedoshim (19:3) explains that the commandment "you shall be holy, for I, your God, am holy" in this week's parasha means: "be separate and exercise self-restraint." From this perspective, holiness can be achieved through what we forego and choose not to do, whether by avoiding certain foods, refraining from work on Shabbat, or abstaining from sexual relations at certain times.

It is true that there is a particular kind of holiness that can be experienced through that which we forego. Who has not felt the power of those final moments on Yom Kippur as we stand together, hungry but full of purpose, chanting "Adonai hu ha Elohim" as one? As a parent it is often the sacrifices, the things we give up for our children, that bring a powerful feeling of sanctity to life.

And yet, it is interesting to note which mitzvot have been chosen to follow the instruction to be holy in this week's parasha. The Torah does not place the list of forbidden sexual relationships, which call for separateness and self-restraint, in the Holiness Code of Parashat Kedoshim. Rather the mitzvot in this week's parasha include: leaving part of one's harvest for the poor, paying workers on time, judging fairly and, most famously, loving your neighbor as yourself. These are all commandments that speak to the need to strengthen our sense of connectedness to our fellow human beings, not our sense of separateness.

The Torah seems to be pointing to a definition of holiness as a process of discerning between the times when restraint is called for and the moments when connection is called for. The Holiness Code bids us to protect the boundaries of Shabbat. But it also demands that we treat the blind and the deaf with respect. Another way of putting it is that sometimes holiness is achieved through holding back and sometimes holiness is achieved through reaching out. Perhaps holiness can be found in the effort to balance these two values: one the one hand, restraint and moderation as a way of building character and on the other, reaching out to connect to and take responsibility for others, in fulfillment of this week's "Golden Rule" of loving one's neighbor as oneself.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Hesed and Tzedek

Parashat HaShavua - Tazria-Metzora

Choose Life!

This week, as I listened to our students perform and share stories of Holocaust survivors during their presentation of Witness Theater for Yom Hashoa, I reflected on the ways in which each survivor had embodied the commandment to choose life. They spoke of their resilience, of their struggles, of their losses and of their gratitude. On the same day, my 11th grade Talmud class began a new section of Talmud (Sanhedrin 74a) that teaches that if your life is threatened, you are instructed to transgress Jewish law in order to survive as the Torah teaches (Leviticus 18:5): "you are to live by the laws." God's laws, explains Rabbi Yishmael, are meant to sustain life not to require death. In other words, Jewish practice is one that focuses on the living.

At the very beginning of this week's Torah portion Tazria-Metzorah, in a discussion about a woman's purity surrounding childbirth, there is a verse that instructs that a baby boy must be circumcised at eight days old. This verse seems redundant as we already learned the commandment to circumcise from Abraham. Thus, the rabbis conclude, this verse teaches us that even when the eighth day falls on Shabbat, you are obligated to circumcise. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya teaches (Talmud Yoma 85a) that from here you learn that you are required to violate Shabbat to save a life. Rabbi Elazar explains that "if circumcision which involves only one of the 248 limbs of a person overrides the Sabbath, then the whole body certainly overrides the Sabbath" (translated by Nehama Leibowitz).

Nehama Leibowitz raises the question: how can we conclude that it is required to desecrate the Sabbath in order to save one's life based on a kal va'chomer (a fortiori) to circumcision? In other words, what is the relationship between circumcision and saving a life? How can we establish one as more stringent than another?

Leibowitz changes the focus from "if you desecrate the Shabbat for a limb, you should desecrate the Shabbat for a life" to focusing on the nature of the commandment. Leibowitz explains that suspending Shabbat for a circumcision is not an act of leniency (you don't need to observe Shabbat), but an act of stringency – even though the Torah repeats the commandment to observe Shabbat many times, we suspend these requirements in order to enter our children into the covenant on the correct day. And then – says Leibowitz – we can understand Rabbi Elazar's argument. If we take entering the covenant to be such a stringent commandment, all the more-so, we must prioritize our responsibility to save lives above all else. To quote Leibowitz: "the saving of our lives enables us to maintain our association with the Divine".

In the evening service, before we recite the Shema, we say: "for they (Torah & mitzvot) are our life and length of days." May we always remember that above all, our tradition values life and the purpose of mitzvoth is to give expression, meaning and purpose to a life lived in covenant.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish and Student Life

Parashat HaShavua - Shemini

״׳בִּקְרֹבַ֣י אֶקָּדֵ֔שׁ וְעַל־פְּנֵ֥י כָל־הָעָ֖ם אֶכָּבֵד׳״ (ויקרא י:ג)

"'I will be sanctified through those near to Me, and before all the people I will be glorified.'" (Lev. 10:3)

These are the words that Moshe conveys from God to Aaron, after Aaron's sons die while making an offering to God. How are we meant to understand from this the ideas of kedusha (holiness or sanctification) and kavod (glory or respect)? Given the context, are they comforting or chilling?

Implicit here are two notions of God, one near and the other far. The idea of a distant God can be found in the word kavod. The prophet Ezekiel says, "בָּרוּךְ כְּבוֹד יְהֹוָה מִמְּקוֹמוֹ - Blessed is the kavod of the Lord from His place." (Ez. 3:12) In the Torah reading this past Shabbat during the intermediate days of Pesach, we read that Moshe asked God, "הַרְאֵנִי נָא אֶת כְּבֹדֶךָ - please show me your kavod." (Ex. 33:18) God's response? Essentially, no.

Kedushah, by contrast, is all around us and close to each of us. We are told: "קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם - be kadosh, because I the Lord your God am kadosh." (Lev. 19:2) And in Psalms we read, "כִּי בוֹ יִשְׂמַח לִבֵּנוּ כִּי בְשֵׁם קָדְשׁוֹ בָטָחְנוּ - For our heart will rejoice in God, because we believed in God's kadosh name." (Ps. 33:21)

This interplay between closeness and distance in our relationship with God occurs elsewhere. In the formula for blessings we start with second person, "בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ - Blessed are you, Lord our God," and then transition to third person, "אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו - the one who blessed us with His commandments." And initially the liturgical poem Adon Olam is in the third person, with lines such as, "וְהוּא אֶחָד וְאֵין שֵׁנִי - God is the One and there is no other," and then shifts to second person, for example, "אֲדֹנָי לִי וְלֹא אִירָא - the Lord is mine, I shall not fear."

So what are we to make of this back and forth, this alternating closeness and distance? Which is it? Is God near or far? Our tradition, thankfully, provides the spiritual space for the full range of feelings towards God; it allows for the possibility of feeling close and of feeling distant, and perhaps even to move from one to the other and back again in a short amount of time.

To return to our original quote, the use of both kedushah and kavod together shows that we are not meant to choose either one or the other. Similarly in the statement of the prophet Isaiah, "קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ קָדוֹשׁ יְהֹוָה צְבָאוֹת מְלֹא כָל הָאָרֶץ כְּבוֹדוֹ - kadosh, kadosh, kadosh is the Lord of Hosts; the whole earth is full of God's kavod." (Is. 6:3)

We are entering a time of year when experiencing both - and perhaps see-sawing back and forth - is even more likely than usual. On Monday we observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Commemoration Day. Then a week later we observe Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day immediately following. On the days of mourning in particular, we might hear the notion of someone dying al kiddush hashem, in sanctification of God's name. At the moment one dies, does one become closer to God? Is this notion comforting or chilling to us? Is it true of all deaths or only certain deaths? Or, rather, do we in fact feel closer when we celebrate our triumphs as on Yom HaAtzmaut, and more distant from God at times of suffering and loss?

In the weeks to come, as we commemorate our tragedies and celebrate our triumphs, may we make the time and find the space to consider their impact on how we relate not only to each other, but to God as well.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8


Parashat HaShavua - Tzav

מרור על שום מה?

Why do we eat maror (bitter herbs)?

The seder is an intensely sensory experience. In addition to discussing the meaning of the Exodus from Egypt as we read the Magid section, we are meant to re-experience slavery and freedom directly, through our senses, whether it be by reclining in a pose of relaxation unavailable to slaves or by piling haroset onto our matza just as our ancestors were forced to place mortar on brick after brick after brick. It is even the custom in some families to have everyone throw their packs over their shoulders and walk around the table, literally re-enacting the moment of liberation.

Two key symbols in the seder are the salt water of karpas, representing the tears of our ancestors, and the maror, representing the bitterness of slavery. Why do we need both? Isn't one symbol or our ancestors' suffering enough?

Rabbi Shnuer Zalman of Liyadi taught that there are two kinds of sadness. The first kind of sadness emerges from a recognition that the world is broken, that our highest aspirations have not been reached. This kind of sadness is positive. It is a way of reminding ourselves about what we seek to build in the world and the work that still needs to be done to achieve our goals. Our tears of sadness can open our hearts to yearn more intensely for our dreams and ideals, which will in turn motivate us to do the labor necessary to make them a reality. As Rabbi Tzvi Hirshfeld puts it, "Our sense of loss is informed by our appreciation for the whole."

But there is another kind of sadness, a more bitter sadness. We are bitter because our hearts are closed -- we do not externalize our sadness by pouring it out in tears so it remains inside of us, like depression. The tears do not flow because in our bitterness, we do not believe that change can occur.

The seder offers us both symbols. We taste the bitterness of the maror to remember how difficult it must have been for our ancestors to maintain any sense of hope in the midst of such a desperate situation. But we also dip our karpas -- our spring vegetable, symbol of new beginnings -- in salt water to remember that even in the most narrow of straits, there is the possibility of being transported to a place of greater expansiveness. If we can open our hearts to cry and to yearn for a better world, it is the first step towards building that world.

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Hesed and Tzedek


Parashat HaShavua - Vayikra

ריח ניחוח לה׳

In the book of Genesis, the story of the flood reaches a turning point when upon leaving the ark, Noah offers a sacrifice to God, God smells the fragrant smell and speaks to His heart. It is at this moment that God realizes that human beings are imperfect and God decides God can no longer curse the ground on which humans rely. The fragrant smell of the sacrifice seems to have influenced God's heart.

The book of Leviticus in general, and our Torah portion Vaykira specifically, lists many sacrifices the priests are instructed to offer in the Tabernacle. Throughout the list of sacrifices, the phrase ריח ניחוח לה׳ a pleasant fragrance for God repeats itself many times.

Mishnah Menachot notices that this phrase appears after many different types of sacrifices suggesting that all sacrifices have the same outcome. It is not the frequency or variety of sacrifices you offer that matters, but rather the intent to offer these sacrifices to God

Rabbi Shimon ben Azay teaches in the Talmud that this phrase appears after different type of sacrifices to assert that there is only one God. Rather than teach that each sacrifice is for God, and potentially use different names for God each time – which could lead some to cast doubt on the singularity of God's presence and suggest that there are many deities in the heaven – Ben Azay notes that the phrase a pleasant fragrance for God repeats itself each time to form a common denominator for all sacrifices: namely, while they are diverse, the God they serve is singular in nature.

Another midrash notes that the phrase says a pleasant fragrance for God and not for God a pleasant smell. This midrash teaches that the Torah's style is to mention the act before the holy name.

When Noah offered his sacrifice, what was his intent? In that moment, what was more significant: that Noah offered the sacrifice or the effect it had on God and God's new realization about human nature? The repetition of the phrase ריח ניחוח לה׳ a pleasant fragrance for God so many times towards the beginning of the book of Leviticus urges us to remember that while we often dismiss this third book in the Torah as "simply about sacrifices;" in fact it is about the Divine-Human relationship. We must recognize the singularity of God, we must act with intent and purpose and we must focus on our actions. Then, we hope, our actions will merit the opportunity for the sweet and fragrant smell to reach heaven.

Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
High School Director of Jewish and Student Life

Parashat HaShavua - VaYakhel-Pekudei

In this day and age, it is easy to dismiss as unattainable the goal of being focused and fully intentional in our actions. Comes this week's Torah reading to teach us otherwise. "These are the things that the Lord commanded us to make / אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה לַֽעֲשׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם." (Ex. 35:1) According to Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter (1847-1905), author of the Sefat Emet, the use of the word "these" here refers us back to when Bnei Yisrael, upon seeing the Golden Calf, shouted: "These are your Gods, Israel!" Whereas there it signaled a grave sin by Bnei Yisrael, here it signals the correction - the tikkun - of that mistake. With their sin they scattered the force of God from their midst, and now they are reestablishing God's unity among them by focusing their energy and attention on the building of the mishkan, the Tabernacle.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that the raw materials to build the mishkan were donated by "every person whose heart was uplifted, and everyone whose spirit inspired him to generosity / כָּל־אִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נְשָׂא֣וֹ לִבּ֑וֹ וְכֹ֡ל אֲשֶׁר֩ נָֽדְבָ֨ה רוּח֜וֹ אֹת֗וֹ." (Ex. 35:21). The earlier scattering of God's presence could be corrected only with donations of "generous-hearted people / כֹּ֣ל | נְדִ֣יב לֵ֗ב" (Ex. 22), or, as read by the Sefat Emet, people who gave over their hearts into the building of the mishkan, who put them themselves completely into it.

It is this sort of focus and intentionality that, all too often, is now missing from our lives. When we can achieve it, our creative potential is akin to God's creation of the world, as indicated by the echoes of Genesis in the building of the mishkan (which then reverberate through how we define work on Shabbat). It removes separation between God and us, which last week was symbolized by the veil Moshe wore on his face to shield us from the reflection of God's radiance; now Bnei Yisrael are removing that veil by building the mishkan to encounter God.

Daniel Pink, in his book "Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us," describes a mental state called "flow," which enables the "most satisfying experiences in people's lives." In this state, he writes, "people lived so deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away. They were autonomous, of course. But more than that, they were engaged. They were, as the poet W. H. Auden wrote, 'forgetting themselves in a function.'" (113)

May we (re)learn to be open to moments of being wholly present and wholehearted, and may they give us a greater sense of self, and connectedness with others and with God.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8


Parasha Hashavua - Ki Tisa

אֵין מֻקְדָּם וּמְאֹחָר בַּתּוֹרָה – מַעֲשֶׂה הָעֵגֶל קוֹדֶם לְצִוּוּי מְלֶאכֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן יָמִים רַבִּים הָיָה

There is no "earlier and later" in the Torah -- the Golden Calf preceded the building of the Tabernacle by many days. (Rashi on Exodus 31:18)

This week's parasha describes the epigrammatic moment of heresy and betrayal on the part of b'nai yisrael, the building of the Golden Calf. The classical commentators struggle mightily with the psychology that led to this event. Some emphasize how challenging it must have been for b'nai yisrael to maintain faith in God and not backslide to old habits after so many years of Egyptian slavery. One midrash compares the situation to a father who sets his son up in business in a bad neighborhood and then gets angry at his son for becoming corrupted by his peers. There is a sweetness to the loyalty the rabbis show to the people in this parable. They are willing to point the finger even at God to rationalize the people's actions.

Other commentators are less sympathetic. Nehama Leibowitz points out that when God becomes enraged with b'nai yisrael, God doesn't say "they have turned away from Me" but rather, "they have turned away from my commandments." Only a short time ago, b'nai yisrael stood at Mount Sinai and heard a Divine voice instructing them not to worship other gods. And here they are, doing the exact thing they were commanded refrain from doing.

Rashi brings these two perspectives together with a daring move, invoking the rabbinic principle אֵין מֻקְדָּם וּמְאֹחָר בַּתּוֹרָה -- meaning, the Torah is not necessarily in chronological order. Rashi contends that the episode of golden calf took place before, not after, the events of the parshiot of the last two weeks, when God commands b'nai yisrael to build the Tabernacle. Why would Rashi dispute the chronology of the Torah's narrative? By doing so, Rashi portrays God as realizing that in order for the people to change and grow, they will need -- to use an educational term -- scaffolding. Moving directly from idol worship to faith in a completely abstract and invisible God of the universe was too big of a leap. So God gives them the opportunity to build a "home" for God's presence, a place to focus their attention and ease the transition by providing a concrete symbol of God's presence.

In adopting this new chronology, Rashi portrays God as acknowledging what Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed, calls the inevitability of gradualness. No matter how big a miracle is, people don't change in a moment. And so, having been repositioned in the Torah, the Golden Calf becomes situated as part of a longer journey as the people who were once ovdei paroh (servants of Pharaoh) will now be able to slowly, step by step, grow into a nation of ovdei ha shem (servants of God).

Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Hesed and Tzedek