וְהָיָה֩ הַדָּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם לְאֹ֗ת עַ֤ל הַבָּתִּים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַתֶּ֣ם שָׁ֔ם וְרָאִ֙יתִי֙ אֶת־הַדָּ֔ם וּפָסַחְתִּ֖י עֲלֵכֶ֑ם וְלֹֽא־יִֽהְיֶ֨ה בָכֶ֥ם נֶ֙גֶף֙ לְמַשְׁחִ֔ית בְּהַכֹּתִ֖י בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם
The blood on the houses where you are staying shall be a sign for you: when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. (Exodus 12:13)
Many years ago, my daughters bamboozled my husband and me into taking them to Sesame Place, where I somehow found myself strapped in next to them on what turned out to be a long and quite terrifying water roller coaster ride.
My daughters are now 19 and 17; one is a first-year student in college and one is a senior at Heschel. For the past two years, I have lived alongside them, as well as their friends and classmates -- many of whom I have known since they were 3 years old and feel an almost maternal love for -- while they applied to college. I have on many occasions felt as though I was right back at Sesame Place, strapped in next to them on a ride whose ups and downs were much higher and much lower than I would have preferred, feeling that I was largely powerless in the face of forces much bigger than myself.
At Heschel, we are lucky enough to have two talented and caring college counselors who bring all of their experience to the challenge of mitigating the harshness of the college process and pointing students towards the positive aspects of the journey. And yet, even with all of our counselors' skill and wisdom, it hurt my heart to watch the effect that this process had on many students that I love. My colleagues and I have devoted years to nurturing these young people, helping them to notice and discover the unique sparks of holiness that we know are hidden inside each and every one of them. Overall, the experience of applying to college felt like the complete opposite of this effort. It seemed to exert a gravitational pull on students that moved them to always reach for the brass ring above all else: what is the BEST college I can get into? We all know the numbers and clearly, many of them do not grasp the ring in the end. This outcome generally deals a significant blow to their self-worth, after 4 years of many late nights and exerting a level of discipline and motivation that is actually pretty amazing for a group of teenagers.
In the book of Exodus, the moment when the Jewish people are ready to be redeemed from Egypt is marked by a sign: the blood on the doorposts. The Mekhilta, a rabbinic midrash on the book of Exodus, asks a question about this moment -- where was the blood? Was it on the outside of the door or on the inside?
This question is not simply a query about architectural design. It is a much deeper inquiry into the nature of redemption. Is redemption a process that takes place on the outside, where it can be seen by all, or is it an internal transformation? In the Mekhilta, the case is made that the blood was on the inside of the doorpost, because the Torah says "the blood will be a sign to you." As the Mekhilta points out "To you, and not to others." According to the Mekhilta, a true sign of redemption is not offered in public. Redemption is not heralded with a sign advertising our achievement to other people. Rather, it is a private matter, indicated by signs that only we can see about ourselves.
The gift that I so badly want to give our students, and that I felt so much in need of when I was in their shoes as a high school student, is to notice and value the processes that redeem and liberate them on the inside, where it counts. As my daughter and her friends graduate from Heschel, I can think back to so many moments that marked their growth and transformation -- times when they spoke up for something they believed in even at the risk of a negative consequence, made a choice to take care of a friend at some personal cost, persisted in the face of adversity (my daughter Lara recently scored her first goal in a hockey game, after 4 years on the team). These moments that may not be as public as a sweatshirt with a name emblazoned across it but to me they are much more authentic signs of transformation. I only wish I could have been more effective in teaching them that it is an illusion that any particular acceptance letter is a sign of redemption.
Why does the Mekhilta even ask the question about where the sign is? When you picture this moment, would it ever have occurred to you that the sign was anywhere but on the outside of the door if the midrash had not raised the issue? The reason the Mekhilta even enters into this discussion is to bring our attention to the fact that while it may be easier to notice signs on the outside, God calls us to pay attention to the ones on the inside. Our students will probably always continue to compete to go to the "best" colleges. But for my part, I am going to persist in the face of adversity and keep teaching them with my words and my actions that I see the holy sparks inside of each of them, no matter what sweatshirt they wear. I guess you could say it is my own effort to liberate myself.
Rabbi Anne Ebersman
This week's Torah portion Metzorah discusses the behaviors that go along with ritual impurity. The conclusion to the parsha is introduced with the following verse:
וְהִזַּרְתֶּם אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִטֻּמְאָתָם; וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ בְּטֻמְאָתָם, בְּטַמְּאָם אֶת-מִשְׁכָּנִי אֲשֶׁר בְּתוֹכָם.
You shall put the Israelites on guard against their impurity, lest they die through their impurity by defiling My Mishkan that is amongst them.
The second half of the verse reminds us of the verse in the book of Exodus that discusses the building of the Tabernacle (Mishkan):
ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם
And they shall make for Me a Temple, and I will dwell amongst them.
When thinking about this verse in Exodus, commentators often note the grammatical inconsistency. We might have expected the verse to say: and they shall make for me a Temple and I will dwell in it (focusing on the Temple). Rather, the verse emphasizes that the purpose of the Tabernacle is for God to dwell amongst the people. It is for this reason that the word for the traveling Tabernacle came to be the Mishkan which means the dwelling place.
In our verse from this week's Torah reading, when God reminds the Israelites to separate themselves from the impure, God says the reason they must do so is that the impure defiles "My Mishkan that is amongst them."
There is a midrash that offers another understanding of this ending to the verse. The Midrash reminds us that yet in another place in Vayikra (16:16), in the instructions of the ritual scapegoat (Yom Kippur Torah reading) – the verse mentions God's dwelling amongst the people in a time of impurity. The midrash quotes Rabbi Natan as stating that based on these two verses one can conclude that the Israelites are a treasured people, for God dwells amongst them even in a time of impurity and exile.
Thus – this verse offers two contradictory yet complementary reminders. The first is a reminder to the Israelites that they must separate themselves from impurity in order to safeguard God's presence amongst them. The second, is that even at times of impurity, God continues to dwell amongst God's treasured people.
The verse begins with the word והזרתם – this word holds a dual meaning. It is unclear whether this word means separate yourself or warn them. Perhaps the dual meaning is intentional: be warned and separate. Do not confuse yourself by God's presence in your midst that you need not continue to separate yourself from impurity. Being a treasured people comes with great responsibility. While God is always present amongst us, it is our responsibility to work every day to merit our worthiness of God's Shechinah (presence).
Wishing you all intentionality and purpose in your Passover clean(s)ing!
Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life
While at first glance this week's reading of Tazria seems to exist solely to make us squirm, it can be better understood as reinforcing the value of life. The bodily fluids discussed here for women and elsewhere for men hold the potential for life, and when they leave our bodies we are prompted to pause and consider that potential. The discrepancy between one week of impurity for giving birth to a male and two for a female has also been explained through this lens; because a female child may in turn have her own children later in life, giving birth to a female represents a greater "loss" or removal of potential life from the mother than the birth of a son.
The Torah also makes a connection between the skin affliction of metzora and childbirth in an apparent non-sequitur in BeMidbar, the Book of Numbers. When Aharon and Miriam comment inappropriately about Moshe and his wife from Cush, God punishes Miriam with tzara'at. Aharon reacts somewhat bizarrely: "Let her not be as the dead, who emerges from his mother's womb with half his flesh missing / אַל־נָ֥א תְהִ֖י כַּמֵּ֑ת אֲשֶׁ֤ר בְּצֵאתוֹ֙ מֵרֶ֣חֶם אִמּ֔וֹ וַיֵּֽאָכֵ֖ל חֲצִ֥י בְשָׂרֽוֹ" (Nu. 12:12). With this connection, we see that tzara'at also highlights the fine line between life and loss, and emphasizes how much appreciation we must have even for potential life.
The story in BeMidbar pushes the point further in demonstrating how much respect we must have for all people. Miriam is punished for speaking ill of Moshe and a woman from Cush, thus showing the respect that Miriam was expected to have towards others, even one who might be considered an outsider. And then when Miriam is punished, Moshe does not demur. Rather, "Moshe cried out to the Lord, saying, "Please, God, please heal her / וַיִּצְעַ֣ק משֶׁ֔ה אֶל־יְהֹוָ֖ה לֵאמֹ֑ר אֵ֕ל נָ֛א רְפָ֥א נָ֖א לָֽהּ" (Nu. 12:13). He tries to avoid her punishment of becoming an outsider (while she heals), even though it was because she had treated another like an outsider.
Finally, one can also see a connection between these lessons and our reading of Exodus Chapter 12 on Rosh Chodesh Nissan. Despite the immensity of our suffering and loss of life as slaves in Egypt, our tradition does not overlook or minimize the suffering and loss of life that the plagues caused Egyptians as a consequence. Perhaps one could consider the seven days of Pesach, like the days of impurity following the emission of certain bodily fluids, as a time to reflect on the value of life and the loss of potential life caused by the plagues.
Notably, for the first nine plagues there is never any question that they will affect the Egyptians and not the Israelites. Yet for the tenth and harshest, somehow there is. "The blood will be for you a sign on the houses where you will be," they are told, "and I will see the blood and skip over you, and there will be no plague on you to destroy when I smite the land of Egypt / וְהָיָה֩ הַדָּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם לְאֹ֗ת עַ֤ל הַבָּתִּים֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַתֶּ֣ם שָׁ֔ם וְרָאִ֨יתִי֙ אֶת־הַדָּ֔ם וּפָֽסַחְתִּ֖י עֲלֵכֶ֑ם וְלֹא־יִֽהְיֶ֨ה בָכֶ֥ם נֶ֨גֶף֙ לְמַשְׁחִ֔ית בְּהַכֹּתִ֖י בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם" (Ex. 12:13). One can imagine the Israelites, when told to smear blood on their doorposts to prevent the Death of the Firstborn from impacting them, wondering why it would be necessary now whereas it hadn't been before. Not only that, but blood on the doorpost seems to me more like an invitation to death than protection against it. And through their action they were the ones extending it! They were not completely separated and protected from death, but rather at its threshold both literally and figuratively.
May we learn from these examples and live our lives with a better appreciation for our own vulnerability and the vulnerability of others, with an appreciation for the fullest potential of life and all living creatures.
Rabbi Jack Nahmod
MS Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8
וַיְהִי֙ בַּיּ֣וֹם הַשְּׁמִינִ֔י קָרָ֣א מֹשֶׁ֔ה לְאַהֲרֹ֖ן וּלְבָנָ֑יו וּלְזִקְנֵ֖י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃ (ויקרא ט:א)
On the eighth day, Moshe called to Aaron and his sons and the elders of the people. (Leviticus 9:1)
Why is the eighth day chosen for the dedication of the mishkan, the sacred space in which the people will serve God? According to the midrash, Adam and Eve's decision to disobey God by eating the fruit of the tree of Knowledge took place on the sixth day, the day that human beings were created. Before banishing them from the Garden, God gave them a day to rest -- Shabbat, the seventh day. Then, as Shabbat ended in darkness and the eighth day began, God taught them to make fire so that they would have the ability to create light and warmth as they began their exile.
In the origin stories of Genesis, the first day represents God's role in creation -- rolling light away from darkness to inaugurate the world. The eighth day, by contrast, stands for humanity's ability to create, with fire as the first-ever technology. As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks points out, the comparison between Adam and Eve and Prometheus, the Titan who brings fire to humanity in Greek mythology, is instructive. In the Greek myth, Prometheus is punished severely for his actions, chained to a rock for eternity while an eagle ate his liver. In the rabbinic imagination, God gives humanity fire as a gift, a technology to be used.
The mishkan's dedication on the eighth day is a reminder of the Primeval eighth day, the day that ushered in human agency. In this way, the mishcon is connected to the people's ability to point their drives and talents towards service. God may have created light, but we have the ability to utilize that light to create solutions to all different kinds of challenges. As we look out at the world around us, full of forces and outcomes beyond our control, the dedication of the mishcon and its connection to the gift of fire remind us that there are still many ways that we can choose to use our gifts to bring light and warmth to the world and the people around us.
Rabbi Anne Ebersman
Early Childhood/Henry Lindenbaum Lower School Judaic Studies Programming Director & Director of Hesed and Tzedek
In this week's Torah portion, Parshat Tzav, we continue to read a detailed description of the sacrifices. Following this description, the Torah transitions to a discussion of the priests and their garments of clothing. In the Talmud, Rabbi Inini bar Sason (Zevachim 88b) inquires as to the reason for this juxtaposition. The reason provided is to teach a similarity between sacrifices and priestly clothing. Just as sacrificial offerings effect atonement, so too do priestly vestments effect atonement.
How is it that clothing can atone for our behavior?
On Purim, we wear costumes. One traditional explanation for the reason we wear costumes on Purim is to fulfill the mitzvah of ונהפוך הוא – everything is topsy turvy. Another explanation for costumes on Purim is connected to the idea of hidden identity. In the Megillah, Esther conceals her identity in order to be selected as queen and then again in order to gain favor before the king as she prepares to beseech him on behalf of her people. Furthermore, God's presence in the Megillah is concealed.
The question therefore might be: can clothing simultaneously conceal identity and atone for behavior?
Yom Kippur is the day of atonement. There is a mystical teaching that connects Yom Kippurin (a parallel name for Yom Kippur) and the holiday of Purim. In other words, we call Yom Kippur a holiday that is like or similar to Purim.
Joseph B. Soloveitchik suggested that one major similarity between Yom Kippur and Purim is that both holidays call for Divine compassion from a place of great distress. On Purim, we seek to hide our distress and fill our day with boundless joy. As we remove our costumes and return to reality, may our Shabbat clothing inspire us to rely on our inner most selves and to therefore act in ways that elevate and atone and therefore fill our world with Divine compassion.
Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life
Why did it matter what animals were offered to God? Was it just about representing a range of animals and items to varying degrees of monetary value, or is there an even deeper significance that is still meaningful for us today? Indeed I think there is deeper significance, and one place to find that significance is in the offering of two particular animals, the sheep and the goat.
The goat has a sordid past in our narrative as a people. "Go now to the flock," Rivkah instructs Yaakov in preparation for deceiving Yitzchak to get the firstborn blessing, "and take for me from there two choice kids, and I will make them tasty foods for your father, as he likes / לֶךְ־נָא֙ אֶל־הַצֹּ֔אן וְקַח־לִ֣י מִשָּׁ֗ם שְׁנֵ֛י גְּדָיֵ֥י עִזִּ֖ים טֹבִ֑ים וְאֶֽעֱשֶׂ֨ה אֹתָ֧ם מַטְעַמִּ֛ים לְאָבִ֖יךָ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֥ר אָהֵֽב (Gen. 27:9). Then, in order to ensure that Jacob escapes detection, she goes further: "the hides of the kids she put on his hands and on the smoothness of his neck / וְאֵ֗ת עֹרֹת֙ גְּדָיֵ֣י הָֽעִזִּ֔ים הִלְבִּ֖ישָׁה עַל־יָדָ֑יו וְעַ֖ל חֶלְקַ֥ת צַוָּארָֽיו" (Gen. 27:16). This final flourish secures the deception, as Yitzchak, of failing sight, "did not recognize him because his hands were hairy like the hands of his brother Esav, and he blessed him / וְלֹ֣א הִכִּיר֔וֹ כִּֽי־הָי֣וּ יָדָ֗יו כִּידֵ֛י עֵשָׂ֥ו אָחִ֖יו שְׂעִרֹ֑ת וַיְבָֽרֲכֵֽהוּ" (Gen. 27:23).
Poetically, the goat subsequently plays a pivotal role in the deception of Yaakov by his own children. After the brothers ambush Yosef and decide to sell him to passing merchants, they need to return home with an explanation for Yosef's disappearance. They decide to claim to Yaakov that Yosef was attached and killed by wild animals, for which they falsify evidence: "they took Joseph's coat, they slaughtered a kid, and they dipped the coat in the blood / וַיִּקְח֖וּ אֶת־כְּתֹ֣נֶת יוֹסֵ֑ף וַיִּשְׁחֲטוּ֙ שְׂעִ֣יר עִזִּ֔ים וַיִּטְבְּל֥וּ אֶת־הַכֻּתֹּ֖נֶת בַּדָּֽם" (Gen. 37:31).
Based on these stories, it is relatively straightforward to understand the meaning behind offering a goat. If it represents deception - albeit divinely inspired in the first case! - then offering it can symbolize ridding ourselves of a character flaw, our deceptive tendencies.
There is potentially more complexity in the sacrifice of sheep, however. Sheep-herding is the training ground for our greatest leaders. When Moshe first encountered God in the fiery bush, "Moshe was pasturing the flocks of Yitro / וּמשֶׁ֗ה הָיָ֥ה רֹעֶ֛ה אֶת־צֹ֛אן יִתְר֥וֹ" (Ex. 3:1), and a Midrash teaches that Moshe's caring pursuit of one stray sheep led him to that bush. King David was a shepherd too, and the very first time Samuel seeks him "he is tending the sheep / וְהִנֵּ֥ה רֹעֶ֖ה בַּצֹּ֑אן" (I Sam. 16:11) And, rewinding to Genesis, Avraham "offers a ram in place of his son / וַיַּֽעֲלֵ֥הוּ לְעֹלָ֖ה תַּ֥חַת בְּנֽוֹ" (Gen. 22:13) to provide closure in the story of the binding of Yitzchak. The sheep, it seems, represents our empathic side; it is about connection with others.
The inclusion of two animals that represent very different narratives in our tradition can teach us to be honest about who we are and who we can be: deceptive, competitive, manipulative; empathic, caring and conciliatory. These are different attributes of every person and every people, coexisting and striving with each other for dominance, and these offerings remind us to be thoughtful in how we manage them. It is intriguing to consider when either would be offered in gratitude, in seeking forgiveness, or as an act of devotion to God. Would we ever thank God for our ability to deceive? Are there times we would seek forgiveness for being empathic, or we would properly have empathy yield to another disposition?
Thus, while the notion of animal offerings is so foreign to us today, this historically integral ritual deserves our attention nevertheless, as it still has much to teach us.
Rabbi Jack Nahmod
Middle School Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8
This week we conclude the reading of the book of Shmot (Exodus). In this week's Torah portion, Pekudei, the Children of Israel complete the building of the Mishkan and present it to Moshe. The Torah states that when Moshe saw that they had completed all the tasks as God had commanded, Moshe blessed them. Or Hachayim (18th century commentator from Morocco and Israel) notices that the Torah states Moshe's name twice in this verse. Or Hachayim suggests that the reason the Torah emphasizes that Moshe is the one who blessed the Israelites is to teach you that this blessing should not be קלה in your eyes. The word קלה means easy or simple. In other words, the Or Hachayim is suggesting that this blessing should not be taken lightly.
In the Talmud (Brachot 7a), there is a discussion as to whether God prays. After establishing (based on a verse from Isaiah) that God must pray, the Talmud provides the text for God's prayer. The Talmud suggests that God prays for the ability to treat God's people with mercy and compassion and not to punish them too harshly. Immediately following this text, the Talmud quotes an earlier source that attributes these words to a prayer the High Priest offered in the Temple on Yom Kippur. It therefore seems clear that the Talmud is suggesting that God learned the words for God's prayer from the High Priest. The Talmud concludes:
לא תהא ברכת הדיוט קלה בעיניך
The blessing of an ordinary person should not be light (קלה) in your eyes.
If God takes the words of a mere mortal seriously, so too should we humans take all words of blessing offered to us seriously.
Or Hachayim reminds us that Moshe is referred to as איש האלוהים – the man of God or perhaps a person connected to the Divine. While Or Hachayim is concerned that we may make light of Moshe's blessing, the Talmud is concerned that we may not take the blessing of simple people seriously enough.
It seems clear that accepting blessing is something we people don't do with ease. In order to truly receive blessing we need to be vulnerable and hear the words that are being offered to us as a gift. May we merit the opportunity to be blessed by the Divine and by ordinary human beings and when that opportunity presents itself, may we be prepared to receive the blessing with an open mind and heart.
Rabbi Dahlia Kronish
HS Director of Jewish & Student Life
וַיַּ֤עַשׂ מִכְסֶה֙ לָאֹ֔הֶל עֹרֹ֥ת אֵלִ֖ים מְאָדָּמִ֑ים וּמִכְסֵ֛ה עֹרֹ֥ת תְּחָשִׁ֖ים מִלְמָֽעְלָה (ל״ו: י״ט)
And they made a covering of tanned ram skins for the tent, and a covering of dolphin skins above. (Exodus 36:19)
The design of the mishcon (Tabernacle) features a series of enclosures, moving from the outermost courtyard towards the most sacred space -- the holy of holies. At each stage, there are coverings made of different materials. One message from this week's parasha is the importance of creating structures to protect and keep private the most sacred elements of the people's relationship with God.
These instructions for covering and enclosure are in contrast to another set of images from the parasha, as the people open their hearts to the service of God. The same Israelites who we have watched over the past few weeks complain about the food and water in the desert and worship a Golden Calf have somehow been transformed this week, bringing offerings so numerous that the designers of the mishcon, Betzalel and Oholiab, ask Moshe to tell the people to stop. The parasha points to a dynamic tension between closing and opening, between drawing a curtain of protection, and creating a possibility for generosity and open-hearted giving. In this week's parasha, it is the firm structures and the ability to keep certain things closed that creates a the context for new possibilities being opened. In a way it is like the relationship between keva and kavannah in prayer -- the purpose of the constraints of the fixed forms (keva) is to provide a container, so to speak, within which the outpouring of true prayer (kavanah) can occur.
In celebration of Poetry Month, our 4th and 5th graders have been exploring the relationship between prayer and poetry. Some fourth grade students created this poem about prayer as an opening, inspired by a poem by Joy Harjo:
To pray, you open a piece of candy and let yourself experience the sweet surprises
that lie inside the wrapper.
To pray, you open the bottom of your piggy bank and let the coins drop onto the floor.
Hear the sound of prayers coming out.
To pray, you open the screen door that separates you from the time to speak with God.
To pray, you open a box and let the words that were trapped inside escape into your mouth, your mind and your heart.
To pray, you open a water bottle in the summertime. You pause. Do you really need it? Yes, you do. Otherwise, you will get dehydrated. The water bottle is your siddur. As the rabbis said, "3 days without Torah is like 3 days without water."
Rabbi Anne Ebsersman
In this week's reading of Tetzaveh, the name of Moshe never appears, the one Torah portion after his birth in which it does not. Why? In another, more widely known example of this, Moshe's name also does not appear in the Haggadah. It is generally understood that the focus of our storytelling and gratitude around the Exodus is properly placed on God, and we don't mention Moshe so that we do not mistake him for our ultimate savior.
Applying that reasoning back to Tetzaveh, on whom is our attention meant to be focused this week instead of Moshe? In this case, it does not seem to be God, because God gets very little mention. Rather, it is the people of Israel who are the proper focus for this week's reading. "You shall command the children of Israel," Tetzaveh opens, "and they shall take to you pure olive oil, crushed for lighting, to kindle the lamps continually / וְאַתָּ֞ה תְּצַוֶּ֣ה | אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ שֶׁ֣מֶן זַ֥יִת זָ֛ךְ כָּתִ֖ית לַמָּא֑וֹר לְהַֽעֲלֹ֥ת נֵ֖ר תָּמִֽיד" (Ex. 27:20). In his book "Kol Parasha baTorah," Yoel Raffel draws our attention to where God says "take to you / וְיִקְח֨וּ אֵלֶ֜יךָ," which a midrash explains as follows: "Rabbi Shmuel the son of Nachmani says, 'to you' and not to me; I do not need the light / אמר רבי שמואל בר נחמני, ׳אליך׳ ולא לי; לא לאורה אני צריך" (Menachot 86b). In other words, whereas at first glance the eternal flame seems to be for God, the midrash teaches that the phrase "to you" actually means "for you"; the flame exists not for God but for the sake of the people. 'This is not my light,' God is saying, 'it is yours.'
This point is reinforced by the fact that the one person mentioned in Tetzaveh is Aharon, whose love of the people is well documented by Chazal, our Rabbis of blessed memory. Aharon was "a lover of peace, a pursuer of peace; a lover of all people who brought them closer to Torah / אוהב שלום ורודף שלום, אוהב את הבריות ומקרבן לתורה" (Pirkei Avot 1:12). Avot deRabi Natan expounds further: Aharon "loved the existence of peace between all individuals, as it is written, 'He spoke true teaching and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and equity and brought many back from sin / תּוֹרַ֚ת אֱמֶת֙ הָֽיְתָ֣ה בְּפִ֔יהוּ וְעַוְלָ֖ה לֹֽא־נִמְצָ֣א בִשְׂפָתָ֑יו בְּשָׁל֚וֹם וּבְמִישׁוֹר֙ הָלַ֣ךְ אִתִּ֔י וְרַבִּ֖ים הֵשִׁ֥יב מֵֽעָוֹֽן.'" (Malachi 2:6)
May we recognize that the eternal flame is ours to benefit from, and with that benefit comes the responsibility to keep it lit; and, like Aharon, may we do what we can to illuminate the world with more peace among people.
Rabbi Jack Nahmod
MS Judaic Studies Head
Rabbinic Advisor N-8
וְנוֹעַדְתִּ֣י לְךָ֮ שָׁם֒ וְדִבַּרְתִּ֨י אִתְּךָ֜ מֵעַ֣ל הַכַּפֹּ֗רֶת מִבֵּין֙ שְׁנֵ֣י הַכְּרֻבִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֖ר עַל־אֲרֹ֣ן הָעֵדֻ֑ת (שמות כ״ה:כ״ב)
״There I will meet with you, and I will speak to you—from above the cover, from between the two cherubim that are on top of the Ark of the Pact." (Exodus 25:22)
We learn in this week's parasha that the meeting place between the people and God was to be the space between the two cherubim that stand, facing one another, atop the ark of the covenant. As Midrash Tanhuma teaches, in an act of tzimzum (contraction) God would reduce the Divine self into a size small enough to fit between these two figures, who, according to the Talmud, had the faces of children.
I am writing these words a few hours after hearing of the death of Orit Spanier, z"l. Orit was a woman who faced a great deal of adversity in her life. Her tragic and untimely death raises many painful questions about God's role in suffering, and where we can find God at difficult moments such as these. The sages of class 2-607 took up the some of these theological questions in their Siddur Ceremony on Wednesday.
Said R. Ancel: Why can't you see God? You can't see God because God is hiding inside of people. R. Hannah clarified: We have a spark of God in us. God also has a spark of each of us in God. I think God is all of the sparks together.
If God is "all of the sparks together," using this beautiful 2nd grade image, then today, as we remember Orit, God's grandeur shines a little bit less brightly. The Divine image has contracted just as it contracted to fit itself between the cherubim. And as parents and teachers prepare to face our children today and try to find words of comfort that will not ring hollow, I hope that we can be guided by Orit's own words: "[Sometimes I ask myself] Why me? Because struggle with disease makes you feel lonely. You feel that you are the only one who suffers. But the community helps you not to feel alone." May we be there for one another, for the Spanier family, and for all those in our midst who are suffering from illness and loss as this time.