Thursday, March 22, 2018

Tzav: The Great Sabbath

Image result for passover lamb image
Parshat Tzav, Shabbat Ha-Gadol, “The Great Sabbath”-  Why is it the Great Sabbath?  In the story of the First Passover, this Shabbat was the day, according to the Talmud, the 10th of Nissan, when the Jews chose the lamb they would sacrifice on Passover.  And considering that the lamb was considered a god by the Egyptians, preparing to sacrifice it was the first real challenge to Egyptian authority that the Jews made. 
But the other reason is that this Shabbat was the one that rabbis would always give a sermon (can you imagine that once rabbis didn’t always give sermons – why did people even come to shul?).  The sermon would be on the rules for getting ready for Passover.
And what is the significance of Passover?  It is nothing short of our birthday, or maybe a little like our Bar Mitzvah, as a people.  We had been around, as a tribe, before that, but on Passover, like the book of Leviticus from which our weekly parshah comes, is all about, we were separated out by God, and set on the path towards holiness, kedushah. 
That idea of holiness in Hebrew is about being set apart, called, as it were to be different – to take on responsibilities and have a certain mission in life that God gives us.
On Passover we are separating out all sorts of things – dishes, food, many things, but most important, we are separating ourselves, reminding ourselves, of our call to be holy:  קְדֹשִׁים תִּהְיוּ כִּי קָדֹושׁ אֲנִי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Vayikra: Making Manners Great Again

Image result for manners image free
VaYikra, “Making Manners Great Again”:  All too often, ours is a society in which politeness, not of the which fork and which knife do I use variety, but in the sense of it is a valuable thing to consider how one’s actions might impact on others, seems to be forgotten. 
The very first verse in Leviticus, which we start to read this week, reminds us not to forget the value of acting towards and communicating with others in ways that show respect:  "And the Lord called unto Moses, and spoke unto him" [Lev. I.1]. Why was it need to call first, and then to speak? The Torah teaches good manners, that a man should not communicate to another anything before he tells him that he wishes to speak to him. And this is in support of R. Hanina, who has said the same.
Said R. Menasseh the Great: How is it known, when one person communicates something to another, that one has no right to tell it to a third without permission? It is written, "spoke unto him.”
God is teaching that speaking is no simple thing – it is very important and must be done correctly.  Some of our biggest sins come from talking when we shouldn’t.  And some of our greatest errors come in gossiping about others and sharing things we shouldn’t.  It’s no surprise we get a lesson like this then.
The trick of course is to remember it – perhaps that is why we return to the Torah again and again every year – it’s valuable and even simple lessons can still be hard for us to learn!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Take Note! (Vayakel-Pekudei)

Vayakhel-Pekudei: “Take Note!” -The root p-k-d is used in the Torah when God "takes note" (Genesis
21:1) or calls to account (Exodus 34:7)

Taking inventory appears to us to be an impersonal task. As it 
relates to the building of the tabernacle it is a record of the amount and type of items used in its construction. Jumping ahead to the 
book of Numbers, the commentator Sforno points out that the inventory of the same items found in Pekudei is presented differently: you shall list by 
name the objects (Numbers 4:32).
…each one of them (the articles counted) was worthy to be 
considered as important and to be called by its private (individual) 
name, not only as part of a generic group (category). This is 
certainly justified (regarding) each one of the holy vessels…
(Sforno on Exodus 38:21), 

If within a category of inventory the individual item is not lost, how 
much more so with a human being than with an inanimate object. 
We often worry that society treats us as just another number, 
classifying us by common denominators. Not so with God. 

Society objectifies, God individualizes. With this comes the notion of God "keeping tabs" on each one of us; while it may make us uneasy, it should be comforting.

At the beginning of the Book of Exodus we were treated as objects in 
Pharaoh's inventory. God's redemption restored our humanity. To 
Pharaoh we were numbers in generic categories; to God we are holy 
vessels with individual names. This transformation carries a 
responsibility that should be used for the benefit of community and 
for service to God. Isn't it time we each took inventory of our 
abilities and put them to use for a holy purpose?

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The Golden Calf of Miscommunication, Ki Tissa

Image result for free image miscommunication

Ki Tissa, The Golden Calf of Miscommunication:  This week we read about the biggest mistake the Jewish People made, fashioning and then worshiping the Golden Calf.  Certainly inauspicious, the incident teaches us a lesson about how to conduct our relationships properly.

The medieval work, the Kuzari tells us the Calf was made because the people got scared, confused about what time Moses said he was coming back from his trip up Mount Sinai to talk to God.  This led to the big misunderstanding, and the people turned to an idol, not because they were rejecting God, but because they were desperate for some tangible sign of God, so they made the Golden Calf. 

They fell victims to greater error through lack of good communications and letting their fears about their relationship with Moses and with God run wild.

Too often in human relationships this is the very same problem that we face.  We have problems in our relationships with others, not so much because we don’t like them, but because we either aren’t attuned to what they are really saying to us, or because we ourselves aren’t expressing our needs carefully enough.  Then we let our sense of not being understood raise all sorts of other doubts and troubles, and then the problem grows greater. 

Had Moses simply said, “I’ll be back in 40 days from today” or had the Jews said, “we’re really concerned to be without you” the problem would have been solved.

Let us pray and work hard to have far more happy and meaningful and loving relationships than that, but when difficult days do present themselves, remember the lesson of the Golden Calf, and be sure to always take the time to talk to those you care for, express your troubles, and listen.  If you do this, you won’t necessarily avoid all the hard days, but you’ll know how to get through them.

Shabbat Shalom!