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Showing posts from February, 2014

Pekudei and Finishing the Work

The Torah portion describes the conclusion of the Tabernacle construction project with the following words: “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle…. When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys; but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift. For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.” (Exodus 40:33-38) The tabernacle was the vehicle by which God led the people on their journeys. In fact the Hebrew word for tabernacle, mishkan, is related to the Hebrew “to dwell” which is connected to the name for God, Shechinah. This name is the name that we use when we want to suggest God’s presence is most felt. And all of this is tied to the building of the mishkan, tabernacle. The Torah also su

Vayakhel and Gathering Goodness

Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira was a popular teacher in pre-war Poland, leading a community in Piaseczno, a suburb of Warsaw. After the German invasion, and following the death of his family, he was shipped to the Warsaw ghetto. There he managed to run a secret synagogue. His teachings and sermons were popular among those trapped in the ghetto. In the months prior to the ghetto’s final days, as the Warsaw ghetto uprising neared its bitter end, Rabbi Shapira prepared for the worst. He hid his sermons and teachings in a milk canister. After the war they were found by a construction worker. His writings continue to be studied to this day. I have spent some mornings in the warmth of Jerusalem’s summer pouring over his words. I return again and again to his work Bnai Machshavah Tovah, a treatise on creating and sustaining a conscious community. He writes there of the power of community. He opens with the goals of the synagogue community he wishes to create. Our association is

Ki Tisa and Shabbat Signs

Shabbat is described in a number of ways. It is called a reminder of creation and in particular the work of creation. God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. When we pause and observe Shabbat we recall that God ordered the heavens and the earth. According to the great medieval Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, we affirm our belief in God by celebrating Shabbat. Shabbat is also called a reminder of the exodus from Egypt. Again when we mark the seventh day we recall that God freed us from Egypt. More importantly our observance is a testament to our freedom. Only a free people can set a day apart. Only a free person can set out on a vacation (unless of course a winter storm enslaves us!). To choose to sing our Shabbat songs and prayers together is a reminder that we are free. We can choose to go to services or not. When we do, however, our hearts are lifted together and our souls can be refreshed. In this week’s portion Shabbat is also called a sign

Tetzaveh, Rolling the Dice and Making War

In ancient times the High Priest, and the priests, never dressed down. He was always dressed in finery and adorned with jewels, especially on his breastpiece. In fact, the hoshen mishpat, the breastpiece of decision contained twelve different stones, one for each of the twelve tribes: carnelian, chrysolite, emerald, turquoise, sapphire, amethyst, jacinth, agate, crystal, beryl, lapis lazuli and jasper. I will leave it to the jewelers (as well as the bejeweled) members of our congregation to help further define these precious and semi-precious jewels. Within this breastpiece was a unique fortune telling device: the Urim and Thummim. “Inside the breastpiece of decision you shall place the Urim and Thummim, so that they are over Aaron’s heart when he comes before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall carry the instrument of decision over his heart before the Lord at all times.” (Exodus 28:30) We know very little about the Urim and Thummim. The evidence within the Bible is inconsistent and unc