Terumah – The Missing Piece of Furniture

February 15, 2018
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Terumah – The Missing Piece of Furniture

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Toward the end of last weeks Torah portion Mishapatim, Moses, Aaron and his two sons Nadab and Abihu, as well as the seventy elders of Israel prepared to ascend Mount Sinai where Moses was to receive the commandments of God. As a precursor Moses read the book of the covenant to the people of Israel so that they might confirm their allegiance to Hashem, and take upon themselves the yoke of being His people. The youth brought elevation and peace offerings before Hashem and the blood was placed upon an altar that was placed by the foot of the mountain.

When Moses and his entourage ascend the mountain they have an epiphany of the living God, and they see him seated upon His throne, His feet placed upon “sapphire bricks.” What a stunning contrast from the bricks of mud that they forced to make for Pharaoh. The bricks for Pharaoh were to build tombs, but now Israel had the opportunity to build a Mishkan, a Tabernacle that the God of all creation would dwell in. The choice was Israel’s, bricks of mud or bricks of sapphire; accept the yoke of Pharaoh’s kingdom, or the yoke of God’s kingdom. So building the Mishkan would actually be like partnering with God to build a new world, with God, and for God to dwell in our midst.

This weeks portion Terumah describes in detail all of the furnishings and accouterments in the Tabernacle, many of which are replicated in the modern synagogue. Some synagogues include styles and décor that are unique to certain architectural periods, but most of the furnishings are constant and universal to the synagogue experience. Most synagogue décor will include an aron hakodesh (a holy ark), a bema (the podium from where the torah is read), a ner tamid (an eternal light), Torah and haftarah scrolls and of course such pragmatic furnishings as chairs as well as decorative elaborations and artwork to set the building apart and to make it special. But there is always one important piece of furniture that is missing that is central to the biblical narrative of the Mishkan. That is the altar or the m’tzbeach, which is especially prevalent in this week’s parasha. Read more »

Yitro – An Aristocracy of Humility

February 1, 2018
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Yitro – An Aristocracy of Humility

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With the arrival at Sinai, Israel begins to forge in earnest its national identity. It is only in covenantal relationship with the God of their forefathers, the God to whom the entire world belongs that the shared experience of bondage and liberation begin to take on meaning. It is here at Sinai that the full transitions is made from servitude to Pharaoh, to the service of God and His creation.

From the inception of the covenant, Israel is called to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”(Exodus 19:6). This expression describes a careful balance of covenantal responsibilities, which imitate those of the first humans who broke faith with God and whose disobedience caused the cosmic rift. In the first two chapters of Genesis, humankind is portrayed as having an essential participation in the creative process. God names the day and the night, the heavens and the land, the seas and the luminaries, thereby determining their essential natures and functions in the cosmic harmony. But Adam is allowed to participate in the naming process, describing the essential natures of each animal. In this respect the first man is given the original responsibility of reflecting God’s image in this world and is given sovereignty of the earth’s resources (Gen.1:26-28). In light of God’s benevolence though, it is understood that the role of sovereignty requires that we care for the well being of all that is put in our charge. Read more »

Beshalach – Buyer’s Remorse

January 24, 2018
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Beshalach – Buyer’s Remorse

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Here in Connecticut all contracts require a three-day “cooling off” period, a time when all involved parties can examine their contractual obligations and determine whether or not they can honor them. This allows the parties involved to observe the considerations involved in the deal free from the duress that can be created by the pressure of the moment, and minimize the possibility of “buyers remorse”. It would appear that such a “cooling off” period might have been helpful to Pharaoh. As we observe in the parasha for the 7th day of Pesach, When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services! (Ex.14:5)”

Of course it is debatable whether or not Pharaoh really ever had a choice, after all God had made him “an offer he could not refuse”, let the children of Israel go or suffer consequences that may be worse than the ten plagues which culminated with the death of all of the first born sons of Egypt. In fact we are told that it was God that had hardened Pharaoh’s heart, further evidence that dealing directly with God is more complex, urgent and compelling than say purchasing an automobile. It also raises the specter of a moral and theological quagmire. How can Pharaoh be held accountable when the omnipotent God seems to have overtaken his faculties? Read more »

Bo – Passover Lambs and Hesed Community

January 18, 2018
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Bo – Passover Lambs and Hesed Community

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Every year the gift-giving season comes earlier and earlier, to the point that some desperate merchandisers try to lure us into their stores with X-mas in August promotional ads. But as we read Parashat Bo we should be taken with the concept of Passover in January, a reversal of materialism as Hashem offers us the free gift of redemption. Among messianic Jews much has been said concerning the parallels between the sacrifices of the paschal lamb and that of Yeshua. After all the paschal lamb was the Korban Pesach, the essential sacrifice which God commanded the children of Israel to make before liberating them from bondage to the Pharaoh of Egypt and bringing them to Sinai where they would enter into a covenant of service to Him. The blood of this lamb placed upon the lintel and posts of the doors of Israel’s abodes in Goshen stood as the sign by which the destroyer would pass over them, averting the plague of death to the first born which befell the households of Egypt. Similarly the blood of Yeshua, who Yochanon the Immerser referred to as the “Lamb of God,” spiritually holds the curse of sin and death in abeyance, and brings both Israel and the nations into a renewed covenant with God. Yeshua himself used the symbols that surround the Seder meal and the Passover lamb, to ritualize and point forward to his own efficacious sacrifice. Read more »

Va’eira – Four Stages of Liberation

January 11, 2018
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Va’eira – Four Stages of Liberation

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We are just two weeks removed from the beginning of the  New Year  in accord with the western secular calendar, the one by which a majority of Jewish people worldwide conduct their normal life’s business. Many have  already s broken  the past year New Year’s resolutions; work harder, work less, spend less money, make more money, eat better, exercise more, swear less, etc. In reality the civil New Year is rarely a time for serious reflection, rather a brief interlude in the tumult of life, a short lived celebration that often provides a “farewell tour” for the very behaviors that we have flippantly resolved to abolish, a not too subtle reminder that we really don’t want to change. So we are free only to make the same resolutions a year later, ten pounds heavier and 365 days closer to our expiration date. Much like the ancient pagans, we subscribe to calendar whereby we are presumably bound by the endless cipher of nature’s repetitive cycles, and an unassailable wall of inevitability limits our human potential.

The biblical calendar on the other hand, though cyclical, is seen as an advancing spiral, moving toward the consummation of the Creator’s perfect design. Therefore we are given endless opportunities to redeem and be redeemed. The exodus from Egypt is but the beginning of a journey toward total liberation from any and all limits to our potential as individuals, and the full potential of humanity as a whole. We are free to begin the journey anew at any time; hence we liturgically celebrate Passover in the spring, but relive its urgency throughout the year. Read more »

Shemot – What’s to Know?

January 3, 2018
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Shemot – What’s to Know?

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What is in a name? This is an apropos question since this week’s parsha begins with lots of names. In fact it is called Names or Shemot in Hebrew. It begins v’aleh shemot b’nei yisrael (Exodus 1:1), “these are the names of the sons of Israel.” The narrative then goes on to name each of Israel’s sons by name. It tells how many children and grandchildren, seventy in all, moved down to Egypt and how they prospered and multiplied. The narrative serves as the divine voice, displaying not only a great knowledge of Israel’s prodigy, but an actual concern for them.

This is a direct contrast with the Pharaoh of Egypt. Verse 8 begins, vayakedem melech chadash al mitzraim asher lo yada et yoseph, “a new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.” Of course the new Pharaoh would have had knowledge of Joseph and his service to the kingdom, saving it from the ravages of famine and making it the most powerful nation in its ancient world. He would have been raised with this information, as it would have been part of the history and lore of ancient Egypt. So what the meaning of this verse? Read more »