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Saturday, October 25, 2014
   
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Exodus

Shemot שְׁמוֹת Ex. 1:1-6:1  
Va'eira וָאֵרָא 
6:2-9:35  
Bo בֹּא 10:1-13:16  
Beshalach בְּשַׁלַּח 13:17-17:16  
Yitro יִתְרוֹ 18:1-20:23  
Mishpatim מִּשְׁפָּטִים 21:1-24:18  
Terumah תְּרוּמָה 25:1-27:19  
Tetzaveh תְּצַוֶּה 27:20-30:10  
Ki Tisa כִּי תִשָּׂא 30:11-34:35  
Vayakhel וַיַּקְהֵל 35:1-38:20  
Pekudei פְקוּדֵי 38:21-40:38  

Shemot, Exodus 1:1-6:1

2012  
The Book of Exodus opens by reminding us that all of Jacob's family have relocated to Egypt . They came as an extended family of 70 people. Living securely they grew and multiplied, so that when a new king arose who knew not Joseph, he found this large alien population threatening. He claimed to fear that they might become a fifth column and turn on them when an enemy strikes. So they enslaved them, making their lives bitter. Pharaoh also attempted to minimize their growth by ordering the midwives to kill all male offspring. When that didn't work he encouraged the Egyptians to throw all Hebrew males into the Nile.
 
An unnamed Levite woman gave birth and hid her newborn. When she could hide him no longer she put him in a basket and sent him down the Nile where Pharaoh's daughter found him. She recognized him as a Hebrew child, but rescued him. He was named Moses/ Moshe, because she drew him out of the water, "Meshitihu".
 
As a young man Moses saw a taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. Moses slew the taskmaster and assumed no one saw him. Later when Moses attempted to intervene in a dispute between two Hebrews, they objected asking if he would behave toward them as he did toward the taskmaster. Fearing, because his previous act was known, Moses fled into the desert to Midian. There he came upon shepherds making it impossible for women to draw water from the well. Moses came to the women's defense. The women all sisters brought Moses home to meet their father. Moses married Zipporah who bore him his first son named Gershom.
 
We read that God heard the groaning cry of the Israelites and remembered the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. While Moses was tending the flock he came upon a burning bush that was not consumed. God called to Moses from the midst of the bush, telling him to remove his sandals, because he is standing on holy ground. In fear of looking at God Moses hid his face.
 
God tells Moses that it is God's intention to rescue the people and to bring them out of Egypt to a land flowing with milk and honey. God tells Moses that Moses will be God's agent in freeing the people from Egypt.
 
Moses raises several objections, each one answered by God:
1.    Who am I to go? God promises to be with Moses in this undertaking
2.    Who shall I tell the people sent me on this mission? God responds by identifying God's self as Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh, sometimes translated as I am that I am or I will be what I will be.       Moses should tell the people that it is the God of their ancestors that has sent him to them and that God has decided to fulfill God's ancient promise to them. Moses should demand of Pharaoh 3 days leave to worship their God, but God knows that Pharaoh will mock their demand. God promises to bring plagues, prior to the people being released.
3.    What if they do not believe me? God provides Moses with miracles to prove to the people that it is indeed God.
4.    Moses pleads that he is not a man of words.       (Tradition claims he was a stutterer.)   God promises that God will be there to help him.
5.    Moses finally pleads with God to send someone else. But God will not relent.
 
Moses departs for Egypt. Aaron goes out to meet him. Together they assembled the elders, telling them all that God had told him and showing them the miracles.
 
Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh, demanding the right to celebrate a festival with God in the wilderness. Pharaoh challenges Moses claiming that he does not know this God. Pharaoh accuses Moses and Aaron of distracting the people with these strange ideas. Pharaoh accuses the slaves of idleness and demands the same work, but without providing the slaves with the straw with which to make the bricks. The foremen then confront Moses and Aaron furious that they are responsible for making the lives of the slaves even more miserable. Moses complains to God that this is not what he wanted to happen.
 
God responds that Moses is soon to see what God will do to Pharaoh after which he will let the people go and drive them from the land.

2011

We concluded the book of Genesis last week as the Israelites settled in Egypt under the protection of their powerful son and brother, Joseph.  However by the time Joseph dies, it is clear that the Israelites were no longer as powerful as they had been.

Our reading opens when a new pharaoh comes to power who knew not Joseph.  He is threatened by the Israelites, fearful that they would become a fifth column in their midst.  He therefore enslaves them, ruthlessly imposing upon them harsh labors making their life bitter.  In addition pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill all the Israelite males and when that was not successful in controlling the growing population he ordered the Egyptians to throw all new born males into the Nile.

One Levite woman kept her pregnancy and birth a secret.  When she could no longer hide the child she put him in a basket and set him in the river.  Pharaoh's daughter found the infant and named him Moses, because she drew him out of the water.  Moses was raised in the palace.  One day he came upon an Egyptian beating an Israelite.  He killed the Egyptian.  When he realized that what he had done was known he fled Egypt for the Midianite desert.  There he married and while shepherding his father-in-law's sheep, he saw a mystery: a burning bush that was not consumed.

From that burning bush, God spoke to Moses commissioning him to return to Egypt and demand freedom for the Israelites.  Moses raises all kind of objections, not wanting this task.  When he returns to Egypt he speaks with the Israelite leaders and then meets with Pharaoh.  When he demands that Pharaoh let them go, Pharaoh determines that such thoughts are the product of idleness and he imposes harsher labor.  The Israelite leaders complain to Moses that all they have succeeded in doing was to make their life more miserable that it was before.

Moses turns to God and complains concerning his thus far failed mission.  God tells Moses that Pharaoh will let the people go.

2009

“These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob…”  This is the opening verse of the second book of the Torah, Shmot meaning names.

We are told of a new Pharaoh who knew not Joseph and as such felt no obligation to the Israelites who in the intervening years had multiplied significantly.  Feeling threatened that this non-Egyptian minority might become a fifth column in the event of war,

Pharaoh enslaved them.  But they continued to multiply as oppressed populations do.  Oppressing them further Pharaoh also instructed the Hebrew midwives (the commentators disagree as to whether Shifra and Puah were themselves Hebrew or whether they simply served the Hebrews) to kill all Hebrew males at birth.  When that was not successful he ordered all male Israelite children be thrown in the Nile.

One unnamed Levite woman (we learn later her name was Yocheved) hid her child and when she could hide him no longer placed him in a basket among the reeds.  Pharaoh’s daughter found the child and took pity upon him.  The baby’s sister offered to find a midwife to nurse the child and brought her mother.  Pharaoh’s daughter named him Moses.

Once grown Moses secretly killed an Egyptian taskmaster beating an Israelite slave.  Subsequently he tried to intervene in a dispute between two Israelites and they challenged him by asking if he would kill them as he had the taskmaster.  Afraid that his deed was now public, Moses fled to the Midian desert.  There he tried to help women who were being driven off by local shepherds.  One of the women was Zipporah, who became Moses’ wife and Moses began to shepherd his father-in-law’s sheep.

It was at this time that God heard the cry of the suffering Israelite slaves and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  When shepherding the sheep Moses caught sight of a “burning bush” that burned but was not consumed.  There he heard the voice of God, and when called, Moses responded with the traditional word, “Hineni”/ here I am.  God informed Moses of his determination to liberate the Israelite slaves and to bring them to a good land flowing with milk and honey.  God tells Moses that he will be the one to confront Pharaoh.

Moses is not thrilled.  He raises a number of objections: 1. Who am I that I should go? 2. When I speak to the Israelites who shall I say sent me? 3. What if they do not believe me? 4. I have never been a man of words, because I am slow of speech.  God rejected each of these objections and would not take no for an answer.

God sent Aaron, his older brother, to meet Moses returning to Egypt.  They gathered all the people and told them of what God had told Moses.  Performing the signs that God had given Moses the people were convinced.  Subsequently the people went to Pharaoh, demanding that Pharaoh let the people go that they may celebrate a festival for God for three days in the wilderness.  Pharaoh accused Moses and Aaron of distracting the people from their tasks.  Pharaoh accused the slaves of laziness and increased their work load.  The Israelites became incensed with Moses for making their lives more miserable, rather than bringing about their release.

Moses in frustration turns to God asking why he made him the instrument of pain for the Israelites.  God responds,” You shall soon see what I will do to Pharaoh: he shall let them go because of a greater might; indeed, because of a greater might he shall drive them from the land.”

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Va'eira, Exodus 6:2-9:35

2012  
Our reading has two parts: God's reaffirmation and commitment to the liberation of the Israelite slaves and the onset of the plagues, the first seven of which are contained in Parshat Va'eira.
 
At the end of last week's reading Moses speaks to God in frustration. In his first encounter with Pharaoh, the Egyptian king accuses the slaves of contemplating freedom because they are lazy. As a result Pharaoh escalates, by imposing harsher labor upon them. Israelite elders tell Moses that rather than relieving their plight, he has only complicated it. God tells Moses that liberation will come.
 
This week's reading opens with God presenting God's credentials. God is the God of our ancestors who made a covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan. Having heard the cry of the slaves, God is determined to fulfill that ancient covenant. God will liberate the slaves and bring them to their land. God tells Moses to confront Pharaoh once again. Why should Pharaoh respond, when the people do not, Moses demands.
 
God assures Moses and tells him to go to Pharaoh with Aaron and do as God dictates. However God warns that God will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that God can multiply the signs and wonders. Only in this way will the Egyptians recognize that the source of their troubles is God. God instructs Moses and Aaron about how to go about demonstrating wonders, turning a staff into a serpent. In Pharaoh's presence they turned their rod into a serpent. However Pharaoh's magicians could do the same. And Pharaoh's heart hardened even though Aaron's serpent swallowed up thos of the magicians.
 
The plagues follow in order often discussed in groups of three, with the tenth and final plague distinguished from the rest. "The first 2 afflictions in each group are preceded by a warning; the last affliction always strikes suddenly, unannounced. For the 1st, 4th and 7th plagues, Pharaoh is informed in the morning and Mosoes is told to "station" himself before the king; in the second of each series, Moses is told to 'come in before Pharaoh', that is, to confront him in the palace. In the first group of plagues, it is Aaron who is the effective agent; in the third, it is Moses. This symmetrical literary architecture emphasizes the idea that the 9 plagues are not random natural disasters, but deliberate acts of divine will-their purpose being to deliver retribution, to coerce, to educate. They are God's judgments on Egypt for the enslavement of the Israelites. They are meant to crush Pharaoh's resistance and demonstrate to Egypt the impotence of its gods and the uniqueness of YHVH, God of Israel, as the one supreme sovereign God of creation, who uses the natural order for His own purposes."
 
The first seven plagues in order are:
1.    Bloody waters
2.    Frogs
3.    Vermin
4.    Plague
5.    Pestilence
6.    Boils
7.    Hail
 
They are described in quick succession, one following the next. It is unclear how much time intervened between them.

2011

Our reading has two parts: God's reaffirmation and commitment to the liberation of the Israelite slaves and the onset of the plagues, the first seven of which are contained in Parshat Va'eira.

At the end of last week's reading Moses speaks to God in frustration. In his first encounter with Pharaoh, the Egyptian king accuses the slaves of contemplating freedom because they are lazy. As a result Pharaoh escalates, by imposing harsher labor upon them. Israelite elders tell Moses that rather than relieving their plight, he has only complicated it. God tells Moses that liberation will come.

This week's reading opens with God presenting God's credentials. God is the God of our ancestors who made a covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan. Having heard the cry of the slaves, God is determined to fulfill that ancient covenant. God will liberate the slaves and bring them to their land. God tells Moses to confront Pharaoh once again. Why should Pharaoh respond, when the people do not, Moses demands.

God assures Moses and tells him to go to Pharaoh with Aaron and do as God dictates. However God warns that God will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that God can multiply the signs and wonders. Only in this way will the Egyptians recognize that the source of their troubles is God. God instructs Moses and Aaron about how to go about demonstrating wonders, turning a staff into a serpent. In Pharaoh's presence they turned their rod into a serpent. However Pharaoh's magicians could do the same. And Pharaoh's heart hardened even though Aaron's serpent swallowed up thos of the magicians.

The plagues follow in order often discussed in groups of three, with the tenth and final plague distinguished from the rest. "The first 2 afflictions in each group are preceded by a warning; the last affliction always strikes suddenly, unannounced. For the 1st, 4th and 7th plagues, Pharaoh is informed in the morning and Mosoes is told to "station" himself before the king; in the second of each series, Moses is told to 'come in before Pharaoh', that is, to confront him in the palace. In the first group of plagues, it is Aaron who is the effective agent; in the third, it is Moses. This symmetrical literary architecture emphasizes the idea that the 9 plagues are not random natural disasters, but deliberate acts of divine will-their purpose being to deliver retribution, to coerce, to educate. They are God's judgments on Egypt for the enslavement of the Israelites. They are meant to crush Pharaoh's resistance and demonstrate to Egypt the impotence of its gods and the uniqueness of YHVH, God of Israel, as the one supreme sovereign God of creation, who uses the natural order for His own purposes."

The first seven plagues in order are:

Bloody waters
Frogs
Vermin
Plague
Pestilence
Boils
Hail

They are described in quick succession, one following the next. It is unclear how much time intervened between them.

2010

This second parashah in the book of Exodus picks up where we left off last week.  Moses had made demands of Pharaoh, who determined that the reason for the demands was that the slaves were shirkers.  He laid upon them increased labor.  They in turn complained to Moses rejecting the entire prospect of liberation.  Moses at last week's end complains to God that he did not come to make the lives of the Hebrews harsher than previously.

In the last verse of last week's parasha and boldly in the opening this week God tells Moses that the same God that appeared to the patriarchs will fulfill the ancient promise to give them the land of Canaan. God has heard the cry of the slaves and God remembers the Covenant.  With the four famous verbs (commemorated at the Seder with Four Cups of wine) God promises to redeem them: a. I will free you from your labors, b. deliver you from their bondage, c. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and d. I will take you to be my people. The fifth verb, I will bring you into the land, is commemorated by the cup of Elijah.)

God tells Moses to return to Pharaoh, but Moses objects. If the Israelites are unwilling to listen, why should Pharaoh?

God nevertheless sends Moses with his brother Aaron with a warning that God will harden Pharaoh's heart, so that God might multiply God's signs and marvels in the land of Egypt.  God prepares Moses to perform certain miracles with is staff.  However Pharaohs magicians can also perform some of the miracles.

During the remainder of the reading are recorded seven of the ten plagues brought upon the land and people of Egypt in quick succession by Pharaoh's stubbornness: 1. bloody waters, 2. frogs, 3. vermin, 4. Arov (either various kinds of wild animals or swarms of insects, 5. pestilence, 6. boils and 7. hail.  But when each plague ended Pharaoh who with each successive plague begins to soften, hardens and refuses to release the slaves.

2009
Rebuffed after his first unsuccessful visit to Pharaoh, Moses wants to know why God sent him.  God restates God’s history and relationship to the Jewish people with particular emphasis on the promises that were made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob t give then the land of Canaan.  God has heard the moaning of the slaves and has come to fulfill the promises made.  “I will free you from the labors of the Egyptians and deliver you from their bondage. I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and through extraordinary chastisements.  And I will take you to be my people.” (These four verbs of redemption are one source of the four cups of wine that we drink at the Seder table.)  “I will bring you into the land.”  (This fifth verb is the source for the additional cup, the cup of Elijah.)

Though the people were not willing to listen, God sends Moses back to Pharaoh despite Moses’ protestations.  Aaron will be Moses’ spokesman, but God warns Moses that God will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that God can multiply God’s signs and marvels.  But eventually Pharaoh will let the people go.  Moses was 80 and Aaron 83 when the returned to Pharaoh.

There before Pharaoh Moses performed miracles turning his staff into a serpent, which Pharaoh’s magicians could duplicate.  But Moses serpent consumed those of Pharaoh’s magicians.  God then sends Moses to confront Pharaoh as he emerges from the water and demand again that the people be allowed to go into the wilderness to worship God.  When he refuses Moses is to strike the water and turn it to blood.  However since the Egyptian magicians could do the same, Pharaoh was not impressed.

A week later god told Moses to return to Pharaoh and threaten him with a plague of frogs.  However in this case also the Egyptian magicians could bring forth frogs.  Pharaoh begged Moses to ask God to remove the frogs and he would let the people go to sacrifice to God.  The plague of frogs was removed and “they piled up in heaps, till the land stank”.  However, relieved of the frogs, Pharaoh refused to let the people go.

God then had Aaron strike the dust so that it turned to lice.  This time the Egyptian magicians could not replicate the plague.  As a result they came to Pharaoh and said, “This is the finger of God!” but Pharaoh paid them no heed.  God told Moses to confront Pharaoh again as he emerged from the water and threaten him with swarms of insects if he did not let the people go.  He also notified Pharaoh that the area of Goshen where the Jews lived would be unaffected by the plague.  Pharaoh now summoned Moses and agreed to let them sacrifice to their God if they remained in the land.  Moses rejected the offer saying it would be unseemly to sacrifice animals which the Egyptians revere. Pharaoh agreed as long as the people did not go far and Moses pleaded with God to remove the insects.  But Pharaoh again reneged on his end of the bargain.

God instructs Moses to demand that he let the people go.  Otherwise the livestock will be struck with pestilence.  He again God made a distinction between that owned by the Egyptians and that of the Israelites.  As a result all the Egyptian livestock died.  God tells Moses and Aaron to throw soot from the kiln into the sky in front of Pharaoh.  It will become fine dust and cause an inflammation of boils on man and beast.  Here the magicians could not even confront Moses since they were also struck with boils.

Next Moses promises hail “such as has not been in Egypt from the day it was founded until now”.  Anything left outside will die.

Pharaoh summoned Moses and admits guilt in his stubbornness and promises to let the people go.  Moses though tells Pharaoh that he knows that Pharaoh and his courtiers do not yet fear God.  And indeed when the hail stopped, Pharaoh’s heart stiffened.

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Bo, Exodus 10:1-13:16

2011

With seven plagues having tortured the Egyptians in last week's parashah, eight and nine (locusts and darkness) come in quick succession at the beginning of this week's reading.  Pharaoh's courtiers urged Pharaoh to let the people go when Moses threatened an eighth plague.  Pharaoh summoned Moses to ask who exactly would be going on this journey of three days to worship the Israelite God.  "We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and our daughters, our flocks and herds..." was Moses' reply.  Determined that Moses was intent on mischief, he sent them away.  The locusts darkened the land and ate whatever was left of the crop that had not been destroyed by previous plagues.  Pharaoh pleaded with Moses for relief and the locusts flew off.

Then God brought on the darkness, "a darkness that could be touched" for three days.  However as in previous plagues, the Israelites had light.  Summoning Moses yet again, Pharaoh allowed Moses to leave with all the people provided they left their flocks and herds behind.  Moses refused claiming they needed the animals for sacrifices.  In dismissing them Pharaoh pledged that they would not see him again.

God promised one more plague, after which Pharaoh would let the people go.  Moses tells the people about this last plague, death to all of Egypt's first born.  God informs Moses what to tell the people to do in preparation.  They must form in family units of Havurot, sometimes combining more than one family in a unit.  Each Havurah should take a sheep or goat on the tenth day of the month.  On the fourteenth day the sheep or goat should be slaughtered at twilight and place blood on the doorposts and lintel of their houses and they should eat the flesh of the slaughtered animal, roasted over an open fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.  They should eat it dressed ready for departure.  That night God would go through the land and "mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt."  The blood shall be a sign for the Israelites (therefore Rashi says the blood was placed on the inside of the door rather than the outside) and God will pass over those houses, so that they will experience no plague.

This day will be remembered and shall be cause for celebration throughout all the ages.  For seven days we must eat unleavened bread and shall make the first and seventh days sacred occasions.

Moses then summoned all the people and instructed them exactly as God had told him to.  The people bowed low in homage and did as instructed.  In the middle of the night all the first born "from the first born of Pharaoh who sat on the throne to the first born of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the first born of the cattle" died.  Pharaoh summoned Moses and told them to depart immediately.  They should take all their possessions with them and Pharaoh asked Moses for a blessing!

The people urged the Israelites to leave.  The people took their dough before it was leavened with them on their shoulders.  The "borrowed" silver, gold and clothing from the Egyptians.

They journeyed from Ramses to Sikkot, 600,000 men on foot with women and children. They baked unleavened cakes for they had been driven out of Egypt and could not make proper provision for themselves.  The Israelites lived in Egypt 430 years.

God told Moses and Aaron about the law of the Passover offering.

The last section of the Parashah speaks about consecration of the first born, the laws of Matzot and T'fillin and the redemption of the first born

2010

Our reading this week opens with the eighth and ninth plagues, locusts and darkness.  The locusts would cover the surface of the land and devour what remained after the hail destroyed many of Egypt's crops. Pharaoh's courtiers urged Pharaoh to relent and let the people go to worship their God.  Pharaoh called Moses to inquire who would be going.  Moses replied, "We will all go, young and old; we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds".  Pharaoh refused to let them go.  Following the ninth plague Pharaoh offered to let the people go, but not the flocks and herds. But Moses, claiming the people needed the animals for sacrifices, refused Pharaoh's offer.

God then informs Moses of the final plague, after which Pharaoh will let the people go. God gives Moses instructions for how the Israelites are to prepare themselves.  On the tenth of the first month each family is to take a lamb, smaller families can band together, and on the fourteenth of the month they are to slaughter the sheep at twilight, placing the blood on the doorposts and lintels of their homes.   They are to eat the flesh, roasted over fire with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs.  They should eat this meal ready for a journey with loins girded, sandals on their feet and staff in their hands.  They should know that God would go through the land and strike down every first born in Egypt, man and beast, punishing not only the people, but their gods.  Moses is to remind the people that this will be a seven day celebration throughout the generations to come in which they will avoid all leaven.  Moses summoned the elders and gave them God's instructions.

In the middle of the night of the fourteenth, God struck down all the first born in the land of Egypt including Pharaoh's son.  Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and told them to leave and worship their God.  Pharaoh also asks God's blessing!  The Egyptians urged the Israelite departure by giving the Israelites objects to take with them. (see above)

600,000 men led the multitude of departing Israelites from Ramses to Sukkot. They baked unleavened cakes, matza, since they left quickly and did not have time for the dough to rise.  The Torah records that they lived in Egypt 430 years.

2009
Having confronted Pharaoh and raining down seven plagues in last week's Parashah, we come to what is arguably the crowning point to the liberation narrative.

But first we must endure the last plagues.  Eight and nine, locusts and darkness are interesting in that they do not appear on the surface as alarming as some of the previous plagues.  Yet in the description of both the text emphasizes the sense of darkness.  The locusts, Moses warns Pharaoh, will "cover the surface of the land, so that no one will be able to see the land.

Following the warning of the impending plague, Pharaoh's courtiers prevailed upon Pharaoh to intercede.  Pharaoh recalls Moses and Aaron giving them permission to go, but then inquiring who exactly will be going.  In one of the most famous responses in the Torah, Moses declares, "We will all go, young and old: we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe the Lord's festival."  Accusing them of intending mischief, Pharaoh rescinds his initial permission.  When the locusts arrived as predicted and covered the land and ate everything in sight Pharaoh begged forgiveness and asked for the locusts to be removed.  But still Pharaoh would not let the people go.

God then sends the plague of darkness.  "People could not see one another, and for three days no one could get up from where he was; but all the Israelites enjoyed light in their dwellings".  Pharaoh again relents allowing everyone to leave, provided they leave their flocks and herds behind.  Moses refuses the offer claiming that in addition to their own animals, Pharaoh himself must provide additional animals for sacrifice.

The last plague does not come as quickly as the previous nine.  God informs Moses that this will be the last and most severe plague in which every Egyptian household will be bereft of their firstborn, even cattle.  Prior to the implementation of the last plague, God directs Moses to prepare the people.  Each family must take a sheep of goat on the tenth of the month and watch it until the fourteenth.  They should then slaughter the animal and put blood on the doorposts and lintel.  That night they should eat the flesh of the animal with unleavened bread.  They should eat dressed and prepared for a journey.  God will go through the land striking down all the first born, "meting out punishments to all the gods of Egypt".  But the houses on which blood has been affixed shall not be affected.  The people are told that this day will be a day of remembrance for all time in which the people should celebrate a seven day festival and eat unleavened bread.  The people then did as Moses instructed.

In the middle of the night God struck down all the first born in the land of Egypt, save those of the Israelites.  Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron in the middle of the night and said, "Up, depart from among my people, you and the Israelites with you! G, worship the Lord as you said!  Take also your flocks and your herds, as you said, and begone!  And may you bring a blessing upon me also!"

The Egyptians urged the Israelites to leave which they did without having time for their dough to rise.  They "borrowed" from the Egyptians objects of silver and gold, and clothing.

They traveled from Rameses to Sukkoth, a community of 600,000 men aside from children.  We are told that a mixed multitude joined them, which our tradition claims were an assortment of Egyptians who fled with the Israelites.  They had lived in Egypt a total of 430 years.

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Beshalach, Exodus 13:17-17:16

2012  
This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah/ Sabbath of Song, because the Torah reading contains the Song of the Sea, the song of thanksgiving that the Israelites sang when they crossed the Sea of Reeds safely and the Egyptian army drowned when they pursued them. (The Haftarah contains another song, i.e. the Song of Deborah, commemorating the victory that the judge Deborah and her general Barak won over the Canaanite armies.)
 
Our Parashah picks up where we left the narrative last week with the departure of the Israelites from Egypt following the 10th plague. Fearing the people's change of heart and desire to return to Egypt, God led them on a circuitous route. When they arrived at the shore of the Sea of Reeds, Pharaoh had a change of heart and decided to retrieve his slaves. When the people saw themselves pinned between the Sea and the Egyptian chariots, they complained to Moses that this was a bad idea and it would have been better for them to die in Egypt. Moses predicts a great miracle and God's saving power.
 
An angel of God and a pillar of cloud came between the Israelites and the Egyptian army canting a spell of night. Then with a strong east wind the sea was turned into dry land. The Israelites passed through in safety, but the pursuing Egyptian army drowned.
 
The Song of the Sea has become a central feature of Jewish liturgy. It is included in the daily morning service and an excerpt from the song is recalled in the second blessing after the Shema in the transition to the Amidah. It is customary for the congregation to stand during the chanting of the Song. The only other section for which it is customary to stand is the Ten Commandments.
 
However soon after their rescue the people fall into complaining. They complain that the available water is undrinkable. Entering the wilderness of Sin they grumbled about the shortage of food and once again thought wistfully of the plentiful food they had in Egypt. Each day manna will be provided, but on the sixth day the people should collect a double portion. The people proved themselves obstinate and some couldn't even accept these limitations. The food was called manna. When they reached Rephidim they complained again this time for lack of water to drink. God instructs Moses to publicly hit a rock and it poured forth water. (Later in Numbers, Moses hits the rock as here when he is instructed to speak to the rock, rather than hitting it.)
 
The last verses are devoted to Amalek, the leader of a desert people that attacks Israel. The Israelites defeat Amalek, but the final verse warns us that the battle with Amalek will repeat throughout the ages.

2011

After the tenth and most devastating plague, Pharaoh demands that the Israelites depart immediately.  Our parashah opens with God's concern that this recently freed people will have a change of heart at the fist sign of stress and decide to return to Egypt.  When they left Egypt Moses made sure to take the bones of Joseph who before dying asked that when the Israelites leave Egypt they not eave his bones behind.  The Israelites were guided by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.

The people camped as directed near the sea.  God told Moses he would test their determination and loyalty by stiffening Pharaoh's heart and having him pursue the Israelites.  Thus Pharaoh gathered his army and chased the Israelites to the sea.  When the Israelites saw them, they challenged Moses for bringing them into the wilderness to die.  Moses tells them to be confident.  God in turn criticizes Moses for crying out to God.  "Tell the Israelites to go forward."

The pillar of cloud now separated the Israelites from the Egyptians.  Moses held out his arm and the sea parted, turning the sea into dry ground.  The Israelites passed through safely, but when the Egyptian army came in pursuit, their wheels locked and the Egyptians panicked.  According to our text none of them survived.

In thanksgiving for having been delivered safely the Israelites sang a song.  This 19 verse song is part of our daily prayer ritual and the most famous lines

(Who is like You, O Lord among the celestials;

Who is like You, majestic in holiness,

Awesome in splendor working wonders)

Chanted each day at the conclusion of the Shema section of the morning service.

The Israelites continued on and could find no sweet water to drink.  God directed Moses to a piece of wood that sweetened the water.

Soon thereafter they complained about lack of food.  God promised food would rain down to supply the people.  It would be there six days of the week, but not on the seventh.  They should collect only as much as they needed each day , but collect a double portion on Friday.  God provided quail and Manna.

When they reached Rephidim they complained again for lack of water and again questioned why they ever left the plenty of Egypt.  God instructs Moses how to draw water using a stick, which he does.

The Israelites have their first encounter with external antagonists when they are confronted with Amalek.  They go to battle.  They prevainled whenever Moses hands were raised, but did not prevail when his arms were lowered.  They won the battle with Joshua as hero.

2010

In addition to Tu Bishvat (see above), this Shabbat is also known as Shabbat Shirah/ the Sabbath of Song.  It is thus known, because this portion contains Shirat haYam, the song of the sea, the famous song of thanksgiving the Israelites sang after the passed through the parted Red Sea and looked back to see their Egyptian pursuers drowned.  (The rabbis added to the song theme by assigning another song of thanksgiving, that of the judge Deborah and her general Barak, in defeating their enemies in battle.)

Our reading opens immediately following Pharaoh's release of the Israelite slaves.  God led them in a circuitous path so that the people would not be confronted by war and turn back.  We are told that Moses made sure to take the bones of Joseph, buried generations earlier in Egypt.  Joseph had the people promise that when they depart from Egypt that they take his bones with them.  As the left, God accompanied them in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.

Pharaoh, realizing that the people had indeed fled, had a change of heart. He decided to pursue them and retrieve his former slaves.  When the Israelites saw the approaching Egyptians, they being hemmed in by the sea, they complained to Moses, claiming that they had predicted this scenario.  Moses exudes confidence that God will protect them.  However when Moses turns to God, God tells Moses not to cry out to him, but rather to go forward, to lift up his staff and the sea would split so the people could proceed on dry ground.  God now remained behind the camp, providing protection from the Egyptian army.

The people passed through safely and when the Egyptians pursued Moses lowered his staff and the sea swallowed the pursuers.

Chapter 15 contains the famous song of the sea, one of two texts, the other being the ten Commandments, when it is traditional for the congregation to stand as it is read.  The song is also added as part of the preliminary service in each day's prayer service and an excerpt is included at the conclusion of the Shema section of the service.

It is fascinating that after experiencing this extraordinary event, after three days the people seeing no fresh water began to complain.  God showed Moses how to sweeten the water so that they had sufficient to drink. God promises to protect them if they follow God's commandments.  Some six weeks later they began to complain once again, this time due to a shortage of food.  They reflected back on how good things were in Egypt with plentiful food.  God promises to provide food.  That evening quail appeared, followed by a strange substance called manna.  They were told that manna would be supplied to them each day, but on Friday they should collect a double portion, because on Shabbat there would be none to collect.  Still, some of the Israelites did not accept Moses' word.  They went out on Shabbat and found nothing.

Again at Refidim there was no water.  God instructs Moses to gather the elders  and strike a rock from which water will flow.

There they confronted Amalek who came to engage them in battle.  Moses told Joshua to gather men to deal with Amalek.  Whenever Moses held up his hand the Israelites prevailed, but when he lowered his hands Amalek prevailed. Joshua overwhelmed Amalek.

2009
Parshat b'Shalakh contains the famous song of thanksgiving that the Israelites sang they  when crossed the Red Sea safely, saved and protected from the pursuing Egyptian forces.

(The Haftarah is another song of thanksgiving following the victory of Deborah and her general Barak over the Canaanite armies.)

The narrative begins with the departure of the Israelites from Egypt.  God led them on a circuitous route, fearing that the people might have a change of heart if led near the Philistines.  Prior to departure Moses fulfilled a promise made generations earlier when Joseph made his family promise that when they eventually left Egypt that they would take his bones with them.  They were accompanied by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  They camped along the side of the Red Sea.

Pharaoh had second thoughts and decided to retrieve his freed slaves.  When Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites panicked, accusing Moses of bringing them to the desert to die.  Moses promised that they would now witness a great saving miracle.  God ordered Moses to make the people move forward.

The sea split before them when Moses lifted his arms and the Israelites traveled through on dry land.  The Egyptians pursued, but their chariots got stuck in the mud and they drowned.

What follows is the song of thanksgiving that is recited as part of the daily preliminary service and summarized each day in the blessing of salvation following the Shma.  The congregation stands when the Song of the Sea is read.

But crises await.  Three days into the wilderness the people found no fresh water.  They grumbled against Moses.  God directed Moses to a piece of wood that made the water good to drink.  God also promised that if the people heeded God, God would protect them from the diseases they experienced in Egypt.

Six weeks into the journey the people complained because of a shortage of food.  God promised to deliver manna that would be available each day, but on Friday each family should gather sufficient for two days, because on Saturday none would arrive.  That is the reason that to this day it is traditional to prepare two challahs for the Friday evening meals.  God also delivered quail for the people wanted meat to eat.

At Rephidim there was also no water to drink and the people accused Moses of bringing them from Egypt to die of thirst.  God instructed Moses to take his rod that he had used to split the sea.  Before all the people hit the rock and water will come forth.

Finally Moses tells Joshua to take men to do battle with Amalek.  Whenever Moses raised his hand Israel prevailed. When he lowered his hands, Amalek prevailed.  When Moses hands grew heavy, he sat and Aaron and Hur supported his hands.  And Joshua defeated the Amalekites.

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Yitro, Exodus 18:1-20:23

2012  
Yitro or Jethro is the name of Moses' father-in-law. Our reading opens describing Yitro's visit to the Israelite camp in the desert. He brings with him Moses' wife, Tsipora and their two sons, Gershom and Eliezer. Moses brings Yitro into his tent to share with him all that had God had done to Pharaoh and the Egyptians for Israel's sake. In response Yitro proclaims, "Blessed be the Lord who delivered you from the Egyptians...Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods."
 
Yitro observes Moses judge the people in their disputes. Yitro criticizes Moses, because doing this alone with moth exhaust Moses and the people. He urges Moses to seek out capable people and to set up a court system of lower and higher courts for more difficult issues. Only the most challenging issues should be brought directly to Moses. Thus Yitro becomes the earliest basis for the Jewish system of courts.
 
The centerpiece of this week's portion, however, is the revelation of the Decalogue on Mt. Sinai. As the people camped Moses ascended the mountain. God tells Moses totell the people that they already witnessed how God "bore them on eagle's wings". The people will now become God's "treasured possession" and they will become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" to God.
 
God spoke to the people and they committed themselves to obey. When Moses reported back to God, God told Moses to have the people to purify themselves and wash their clothes. On the third day God would descend in the sight of all the people. A boundary should be established so that the people do not ascend the mountain. On the third day they heard thunder and saw lightning, clouds and the sound of the Shofar. The people trembled. The people gathered around the mountain. There was smoke and the shofar sound became louder. Moses ascended and God descended.
 
God spoke then the words that we call the Decalogue or Ten Commandments. The first five refer to relations between God and mankind and the last five provide the most basic rules for moral behavior between human beings..
 
When the people experienced all that they saw and heard they fell back and stood at a distance. They told Moses to interact for them for fear of dying. Moses urged them not to be afraid.

2011

Last week's Torah reading ended on a sour note in terms of setting direction for our relations with those outside.  Once saved from the approaching Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Israelites headed into the wilderness.  They faced several internal challenges and then we read about the attack of Amalek and his people.  Our Torah tells us that as long as Moses kept his arms raised the Israelites prevailed, but when he lowered his arms, Amalek prevailed.  By sunset the Israelites had defeated Amalek.

This week's Torah reading opens on an entirely different tone.  Yitro, a Midianite priest and Moses' father-in-law, after whom the portion is named, after hearing all that God had done, comes to the Israelite camp bringing Moses' wife and two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  Moses recounted for Yitro all that God had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians.  Yitro blesses Moses, becoming the first person in the Torah to bless another and offers sacrifices.

Yitro then observed how Moses sat all day long resolving disputes among the Israelites.  He urged him to seek out "capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain" and set them as judges of lower and higher courts, leaving only the most difficult cases for Moses to hear.  Moses listened to his father-in-law and thus it is that Yitro becomes the original source for the Jewish judicial system.

By the third month after departing from Egypt the Israelites entered the wilderness of Sinai.  Moses ascended the mountain and received instruction from God.  God promises that if the people follow God's commands, they will become his "treasured possession".  The people will then become "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation".  Summoning the people, they agreed, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do!"  God told Moses to prepare the people by remaining pure and washing their clothes for on the third day God would descend atop Mt. Sinai.  The people must not ascend the mountain.  There was thunder and lightning of the third day and the people trembled.  Sinai was all in smoke and the entire mountain trembled and the sound of the horn grew louder and louder.

What follows is the Decalogue, a better designation than Ten Commandments.  Though the numbering is different in various traditions, most commonly we think of the first five commandments being those setting out the basis for a human beings relationship with God and the second five the basis for a human being's relationship with other human beings, i.e. the first five are purely religious parameters and the second five moral or ethical parameters.

"All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking, and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance. 'You speak for us,' they said to Moses, 'and we will obey; but let not God speak to us, lest we die'".

2010

This parasha is names Yitro/Jethro after Moses' father-in-law, a Midianite priest.  It is one of 6 parshiyot named after individuals, the others being Noah, Haye Sara, Korakh, Balak, Pinkhas.  Of this number three are Jews: Sara, Korakh and Pinkhas, the other three non-Jews.

Our parasha opens with a description of the creation of the Israelite judiciary.  After the Exodus, Yitro comes to Moses bringing Moses' wife and two sons.  He hears from Moses all that God did for the liberated slaves, but he also sees that Moses sits all day resolving the peoples disputes.  This is not only not good for Moses, it is difficult as well for the people who have to wait.  Yitro suggests creating a system of higher and lower courts overseen by men of integrity.  Then only the most difficult cases will be brought to Moses for judgment.  Then Yitro returns home.

During the third month after leaving Egypt the Israelites enter the wilderness of Sinai and camped.  Moses ascends the mountain where God promises that if the people obey God's commands, they will be God's treasured possession, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.  When Moses shares this with the elders, all the people committed themselves to God.  Moses informs the people that they should prepare themselves by remaining pure for on the third day they will experience God.

On that third day they experienced thunder and lightning and a dense cloud on the mountain as well as a blast of the Shofar such that the people trembled.  They stood at the foot of the mountain.  God came down upon Mount Sinai and called to Moses to ascend.

There Moses received the revelation of the Ten Commandments.  (As we read the commandments in synagogue it is customary to stand.)  Actually Decalogue (Ten Words) is a better name than Ten Commandments, since the first is not a commandment at all, except perhaps a call for belief in God.  Tradition has it that the first five commandments are religious, i.e. they direct the relationship between a human being and God.  The last five are moral n nature, i.e. they set basic parameters for the relationship between one human being and another.

The people were awed by the experience, witnessing the thunder and lightning, the blare of the shofar and the mountain smoking.  They were fearful of having direct contact with God and instructed Moses to do it on their behalf.  Moses urged them not to be afraid.

2009

This Parashah is always a highlight of the liturgical year because it contains the Ten Commandments.  Actually referring to this section as the Decalogue is a more accurate designation, since the Hebrew "Aseret haDibrot" literally translates as 10 words or 10 statements.  Though the Ten Commandments is a familiar term, nothing about them is clear.  By tradition we have determined that the Ten are contained in Exodus 20:2-14, but even that is open to debate.  How to number them one through ten is not specified and therefore different traditions arose.  In most Jewish sources the "first commandment" is the statement, "I am the Lord Your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage."  However in most Christian traditions the next line, "You shall have no gods beside Me" is added to the preceding since the opening statement is not a commandment.  The Decalogue is repeated in Deuteronomy, but the text is not identical to our text.   We are told that the commandments were written on two tablets of stone, but exactly what each contained is also a matter of interpretation.  The image of two stones with rounded tops and five commandments on each is a conception of western art, rather than any Biblical tradition.

How the people experienced the revelation is also open to speculation.  What in fact did God sound like?  One verse suggests the experience was entirely aural, while another describes it as visual.  One tradition has it that the people only heard the first two commandments, because it is only in those two that God refers to God's self in the first person. (You shall have no other god's besides Me .)   In the rest God is referred to in the third person. (You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord Your God.)  Yet another rabbi posited the possibility that all the people heard was the first word, Anochi/ I, and yet another suggested that the only thing the people experienced was the first letter...the letter alef, which is silent.  The experience thus was so overpowering that simply experiencing God's presence and the silent Alef would have been sufficient.

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Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18

 

2012  

The Ten Commandments, the centerpiece of last week's reading, laid out basic religious and moral principles with little specificity (and no consequences or punishments for violation). This week's reading provides both greater specificity and punishment for those who commit the crimes listed. Though some religious laws are included most of the text deals with ethical laws and violations between one human being and another.
 
The catalog of laws begins with issues of slavery, because slaves were probably the lowest rung on the social scale and thus the least protected. Although indentured servitude is not outlawed in the Torah, we learn that even slaves have rights which must be protected. Other powerless individuals with which the Torah concerns itself in our reading are children, women, the stranger, widows, orphans and the poor.
 
Early in our Parashah we learn that the ultimate punishment is capital punishment. Capital punishment is ordained for intentional homicide, striking or insulting one's parents, kidnapping, bestiality, and sacrificing to an alien god.
 
We read of the rights to person and individual property, laws of compensation, negligence, bailment, seduction, rumor mongering and false testimony. We also read of basic obligations to God including Sabbath and holy day observances, offering first fruits and not worshipping the gods of neighboring peoples.
 
God then calls Moses, Aaron, Aaron's sons and 70 elders. When presented with the obligations, the people answered with one voice, "all the things the Lord has commanded we will do!"  Moses wrote it all down. In commemoration they set up pillars and offered sacrifices. They read the covenant to the people to which they willingly assented. Gad called Moses to the mountain to receive the stone tablets with the teachings.
 
Our reading concludes by telling us," Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights."

2011

Why are there 613 commandments and not just 10?  The Decalogue which we read last week is not a law code.  It offers no sanctions for violators. It only sets down general principles and does not provide us with specifics.

The specifics begin with Parshat Mishpatim.  We might imagine that such a code would begin as does the Decalogue with religious laws: Shabbat, Kashrut, Prayer/Sacrifice.  Rather our code in Parshat Mishpatim not only begins with moral and ethical laws, about how human beings must treat other human beings, but it quite purposefully begins by prescribing limiting behavior by a slave owner toward his Hebrew slave.  This may appear odd, but the Torah is concerned about the most disenfranchised, the most powerless, the least protected in society.

Therefore among other topics Parshat Mishpatim deals with slaves, children, rape and seduction, foreigners, widows and orphans, and the poor.  Our parashah is even concerned with humane treatment of an enemy.

In addition this parashah deals with common issues theft, personal harm and property damage, responsibility for dangerous animals, bailment (responsibility when property is loaned or borrowed), truthful testimony and judicial fairness.

In the midst of the basic laws about human interaction our parashah also sets down religious obligations to God and against apostasy, to observe Shabbat and holy days, etc.

The last section of the parashah is a renewal of commitment by the people to this covenant with God

2010

The revelation of the Decalogue on Mount Sinai is immediately followed this week with an explication of laws.  The Decalogue set down basic principles, but it neither provided details, nor does it offer consequences for those who violate the law.

Mishpatim opens with laws whose purpose is to protect the most vulnerable: slaves, women, children.  Though some of the judgments may appear antiquated from out modern vantage point, many were progressive for their time.  The Torah then confronts major offenses: homicide, abuse of parents and kidnapping, and assault.  As part of the law on bodily injury, the Torah speaks to the issue of a miscarriage brought about when a pregnant woman is pushed when two men fight.  Unlike the law of murder, where the responsible party is subject to the death penalty, here only a monetary fine is imposed for causing the miscarriage.  From this the rabbis determined that a fetus is not considered to be a full-fledged human being and abortion is not murder!  Nevertheless the rabbis considered abortion an injury to the woman and thus is generally prohibited by Jewish law.  It is allowed only to save the physical or mental health of the mother.  Many authorities, including the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards, permit abortion to prevent maternal anguish over the prospect of giving birth to a child with severe defects.  Abortion is not permitted as a retroactive form of birth control.

The Torah portion continues to discuss injuries to slaves, goring oxen, responsibilities for injury due to negligence, theft, various issues of property and bailment.

The Torah prescribes certain general rules: You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not ill treat any widow or orphan.  If you lend money, do not extract interest (the assumption being that the loan was given to a needy person).  You shall not carry false rumors; you shall not join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness.

When Moses presented all these laws to the people, they willingly accepted.  Moses then wrote them all down.

This Shabbat, the Shabbat just prior to the beginning of the month of Adar, which begins Sunday and Monday, is also known as Shabbat Shekalim.  On it we read the reminder that all males above the age of 20 are obligated to pay a poll tax of half a Shekel.  That annual tax was due during the coming Hebrew month.  It purpose was for taking a census and gathering money for the repair of the sanctuary.  Everyone paid the same amount.  No one paid more; none paid less.

2009

Mishenikhnas Adar Marbim b'Simkha/ From the moment the Hebrew month of Adar begins, our joy increases.  This coming Tuesday and Wednesday we will inaugurate the new month of Adar in which we will celebrate the festival of Purim (Monday evening, March 9 through Tuesday, March 10).

The Shabbat just prior to the beginning of Adar is known as Shabbat Shekalim, the Shabbat of Shekels.  On Shabbat Shekalim we read a special Maftir and Haftara, whose purpose is to remind each individual (male) of his obligation to donate the annual half shekel for the maintenance of the Temple.  This annual payment of an equal amount allowed for universal enfranchisement.  Everyone (through the adult males in the family) derived an equal stake in the maintenance of the central place of worship and access to God.  The rich could not claim special privileges and the poor could not be excluded.  Secondarily this half shekel obligation provided an annual census of the people, and provided the information necessary for military conscription should that need arise.

The special Haftarah for Shabbat Shekalim is interesting, because of its contemporary application (2 Kings 11:17-12:17).   Young King Jehoash orders all money donated to the Temple should be used exclusively for Temple repairs.  Some time later the king discovers that no repairs have been made.  What happened to the money?  The text does not make clear whether the money was used for other projects or whether it just disappeared.  However it is decided that a special box would be prepared into which all donations would be placed.  When the box seemed full two officials would oversee the counting of the money.  The money then could be transferred directly to the overseers of the work, who in turn would pay the subcontractors.  In this way they made sure the money went for its intended purpose.  Do you think President Obama should create a similar bailout box to make sure the money goes to its intended recipients?

The Torah reading of Mishpatim/ laws/rules follows immediately upon the Ten Commandments, which formed the centerpiece of last week's reading.   The fact that the first word of the reading, "v'Eleh", begins with the conjunction "v", became a rabbinic proof text that the laws, which followed the Decalogue carried equal weight to that which preceded.

Rabbi Harold Kushner min our Etz Hayyim Humash provides the following insight into the basis of the laws in this week's parashah. "  The laws of the Torah are not given in the names of kings or even in the name of Moses.  They are religious and moral instructions given by God.  Obeying the laws creates not only a harmonious society but a just and holy one.  Violations are seen as offences against God, not just against the violated person.  Unlike the secular legal traditions of other societies, the laws of the Torah are cited not as the products of human wisdom and experience but as a reflection of divine principles built into the world.  Thus the dignity of a human being is as much a permanent part of God's Creation as the law of gravity.

"'Outside of Israel, you would have to go to three different addresses to get the material...in Mishpatim.  The Torah combines law (as in the Code of Hammurabi), cultic instructions (as from a priestly manual), and moral exhortation (as found in wisdom literature).  This is the only Near Eastern literature in which an amalgam of these three interests is found: law, cult and wisdom' (M. Greenberg).  Judaism is based not only on the major pronouncements of the Decalogue but on the hundreds of minor ways in which we are called on  to sanctify our relationships with other people.  Ramban sees this parashah as an extension of the 10th commandment, 'You shall not covet.'  To obey that commandment properly, we need to know what we are entitled to and what belongs to our neighbor.  Our standards for how we treat others must be based not on social-utilitarian concerns, the desire for an orderly society, but on the recognition of the image of God in every person and the presence of God in every relationship."

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Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19

2012  
The last five parshiyot of Exodus take on a very different tone than the first six. Unlike the fist 60% of the book which contains the epic from the enslavement of the Israelites through their liberation and acceptance of the revelation at Mt. Sinai, the latter section contains little narrative (other than the episode of the Golden Calf). Instead this second half of the book of Exodus is dedicated to the detailed construction of the Tabernacle in the desert, its contents and the vestments of the Koahnim, particularly the Kohen Gadol.
 
Parshat Terumah opens with God's instruction to Moses to have the people bring gifts from those whose heart moves them, gifts of various materials. These gifts will be used to fabricate a sanctuary so that God might dwell among them.
 
God then describes in detail the ark, curtain, cherubim, table, Menorah, tabernacle coverings and the wooden structure upon which it will be built. God further describes the altars upon which sacrifices will be offered. Everything is told with great specificity as to materials, sizes and colors with rings and pegs and how it is to be constructed.
 
This Tabernacle will form the center of the Israelite camp as the people prepare to depart from Mt. Sinai on their journey toward the promised land.
 
Our Etz Hayyim Humash includes a comment by Abravanel who suggests "that one purpose of the tabernacle was to combat the idea that God had forsaken the earth, choosing to reside exclusively in heaven, remote from humanity. The tabernacle would be a 'tent of witness' to the fact that God was still in Israel's midst even when they fall short of what they promised to be."

2010

Most of the action that we associate with the book of Exodus occurs in the first 24 chapters: Moses' commissioning at the burning bush, Moses confronts Pharaoh and brings the 10 plagues, the Exodus, crossing the Red Sea, the revelation at Mount Sinai and receiving the laws.

Chapters 25-40 (with the exception of the incident of the Golden Calf) deal exclusively with God's directive that the people donate materials and then build the Tabernacle in the desert, the objects that are to be placed in the tabernacle and the special clothing for the kohanim and the kohen gadol so that they can engage in their sacred duties.

God instructs the people whose heart moves them to bring gold, silver and copper, blue, purple and crimson yarns, fine linen, goat's hair, tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood, oil, spices, lapis lazuli and other stones.  God instructs the people to build a sanctuary, not so that God may dwell in it, but rather so that God's presence may be felt among them.  They are to construct an ark, cover, table, menorah and tabernacle. They are given specific instructions as to materials and sizes and how to go about constructing each item.  All of the specifics are provided.  Now they will need with materials and craftspeople to fashion these pieces to function as the center of the community.

2009

The last five Torah readings of the book of Exodus are markedly different from those that precede.  Until this point we have concentrated on the narrative of enslavement and liberation.  Moses is called upon by God to confront Pharaoh and demand that the Israelites by released from slavery.  Following the Ten Plagues Pharaoh relents only to attempt to recapture them at the Red Sea.  The Israelites pass through in safety leaving the Egyptians drowning in the sea.  They travel to Sinai and receive revelation from God.  The initial commandments are embellished in last week's reading.

The remainder of the book of Exodus is dedicated to collecting donations of materials for the Tabernacle, sanctuary and vestments of the Kohanim.  God provides Moses with specific instructions which he is to transmit to Bezalel, the chief craftsman and those who are to assist him.  They must then bring to reality all of God's directives.  Great attention is given to details and specifications of materials, colors and sizes of every aspect of the project.

One of the first verses has drawn the attention of commentators throughout the ages.  "And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."  One would have logically imagined the final phrase to say that I may dwell in it, but it says something else.  In other words the sanctuary is not a home for God, but rather a focal point for the people, that through its existence in their midst they can feel the presence of God with them.  Our Etz Hayyim commentary explains it as follows: "The sanctuary is not meant to be taken literally as God's abode; God dwells in heaven.  The sanctuary makes tangible  the concept of the indwelling of the divine Presence, God's immanence, in the camp of Israel, a presence to which the people may direct their hearts and minds."

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Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20-30:10

2013 - Tetzaveh & Shabbat Zachor
Exodus 27:20-30:10; Deuteronomy 25:17-19           
The Shabbat prior to Purim is always known as Shabbat Zakhor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. On it we read a special Maftir as the final Torah reading from a second Torah and recite a Haftarah designated for the occasion. When Haman is introduced in the Megillah, we are told that he is a descendant of Agag. Agag was an Amalekite king during the reign of Israelite King Saul and the people originate with Amalek who brutally attacked the Israelites as they wandered through the desert when Moses led them. The special Maftir reminds us to remember Amalek and what he did in those days. The Torah calls upon us not only to remember, but to banish the even the memory of Amalek, seemingly contradictory expectations.
 
The Haftarah then tells us the intermediate story, i.e. the battle between Saul and Agag, where God promises not only victory, but demands that Saul kill every man, woman and child as well as animals. Saul does not fulfill God's orders and as a result Samuel tells him that his descendants will not rule after him.
 
The Torah portion continuing our annual cycle, contains instructions for the Tabernacle to be built in the desert that began with Parshat Terumah last week. The reading opens with two brief verses describing the special oil that was needed to light the continually burning Menorah. The rest of the Parashah addresses the design of the vestments to be created for the high priest and his fellow priests to be worn when they engage in their official duties at the Tabernacle. These individuals will function as intermediaries between the people and God, fulfilling God's expectations for offerings. This sacred duty had to be performed with great seriousness and detail. The priests and high priest were to be distinguished by their clothing.
 
The reading proposes the ceremony of robing the priests as well as their installation into service. The purpose of these ceremonies was invest this special clan with these responsibilities, that they should accept the seriousness of their role and that the people should be witness and accept that this role would be handled by these people on their behalf.

2011 - Shabbat Zachor

Parshat Terumah that we read last week provided God's detailed instructions to Moses concerning the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert and all of its contents.

Parshat Tetzaveh continues God's instruction, but the focus is on the priestly garments that Aaron, the impending high priest, and his four sons, the progenitors of the priestly line would wear when engaged in their priestly functions.  They consisted of a breastpiece, an ephod (a long vest), a robe, a fringed tunic, a headdress ad a sash.

All materials and colors as well as design are specified.  The breastpiece would contain the Urim and Thumim, two stones that could provide divine yes or no answers to difficult question of state or of war. (The Hebrew words on Yale's emblem are Urim and Thumim, symbols of knowledge and doing God's will!)

Following this description, the Parashah provides the ritual ceremony whereby the priests will be installed in their positions.  Moses, Aaron's brother will preside.  The rituals are to last 7 days, including animal sacrifices, meal offerings, washing the body, robbing and anointing.  (The description of the actual carrying out of the ritual will then be described in Leviticus 8-9.) Aaron and his sons will eat of the sacrifices.

Through this process they become dedicated to God and holy

God declares, "I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests.  I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God.  And they shall know that I the Lord am their  God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the Lord their God."  

2010 - Shabbat Zachor

The Shabbat just prior to Purim is always designated Shabbat Zakhor, the Sabbath of Remembrance.  On it we read about the Amalekite attack on the Israelites in the desert.  The special haftarah that we read on this Shabbat indicates that Haman, the villain of the Purim story was a descendant of Amalek.  We are enjoined to remember those who attack us.

Parshat Tetzaveh continues the instructions begun last week concerning the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert.  However after opening with the instructions for lighting the 7 branch Menorah, the Torah portion focuses exclusively on the vestments that must be prepared for the high priest and the ordinary priests when they are engaged in their sacred duties.

"After drawing a parallel between the creation of the world and the fashioning of the tabernacle, commentators have noted that God made garments for Adam and Eve after creating the world and that God describes  the special garments to be worn by the priests after fashioning the tabernacle. 'Just as humans are the only creatures in the universe who do not rest content with their natural skin...the sons of Aaron who minister in their priestly office in the House of the Lord do not serve God in their ordinary, everyday garments'.  (N. Leibowitz)  A uniform simultaneously invests the wearer with special authority (only special people can wear it) and diminishes the person's personal authority (anone wearing it acquires the sense of being special).  'Without these prescribed garments, the kohen is merely an ordinary individual and his ritual act becomes a personal gesture.' (Hirsch)" (Etz Hayyim).

2009

Shabbat Zakhor/the Sabbath of Remembrance annually is observed on the Shabbat prior to Purim.  Haman is a direct descendant of King Agag, an Amalekite.  The Amelkites were the first people to attack the Israelites when they left Egypt and they attacked the rear of the camp containing the women and children.  Agag too fought against the Israelites during the rule of King Saul.  So there is a direct line of antagonists, which connects through the centuries from Amalek to Haman.  Therefore on Shabbat Zakhor we read a short Maftir that urges us not only to remember, but to wipe out the memory of Amalek.  For the Haftarah we will read the section of Samuel I which describes the victory of Saul over Agag.

With the exception of the first verses which speak about the lighting of the Menorah in the Tabernacle, Parshat Tetzaveh deals exclusively with preparations from the Kohanim/priests.  Detailed instructions are given to Moses as to the design and materials to be used in creating all of the priestly vestments.  This is followed by a detailed description of the installation ceremony that was to follow installing Moses' brother Aaron as Kohen Gadol/ high priest and his sons as ordinary Kohanim.

Most of the traditional commentators have written about the fact that this is the only Torah portion in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy in which Moses' name is not mentioned.  Certainly Moses is the focus of attention, since all the above instructions are given to him, but he is not addressed by name.  In this portion alone, Moses is simply addressed as "you".

Some commentaries attribute this to Moses humility.  After all this portion is not really about him, but about his brother and therefore attention is not drawn to him, a leader whom the Torah describes as the humblest of all people.  Others see something else in this omission.  They claim that Moses had actually wanted the position of Kohen, but was passed over in favor of his brother.  Some say the reason lies in next week's portion where following the heresy of the Golden Calf, while pleading with God on behalf of the people, Moses tells God to erase him along with the people.  For that sin we are told he was made ineligible for the priesthood.

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Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11-34:35

2013  
Shabbat Parah is the third of four special Shabbatot that precede Passover. On it from the second Torah we read about the cleansing power of the ashes of the Red Heifer. We read this as a reminder that all who would participate in the Passover offering would have to be in a state of ritual purity. This was an annual reminder that Passover was approaching and that everyone should purify him/herself in preparation.
 
Parshat Kee Tissa opens with a census of males 20 years and above by means of a poll tax. Everyone counted would pay half a shekel. This census helped determine the number of military eligible men.
 
The parashah continues describing the preparation necessary to construct the Tabernacle. Bezalel is appointed as master craftsman because he is imbued with the spirit of God.
 
Attention now changes to Moses atop Mt. Sinai receiving the Decalogue when God informs him that the people are rebelling. They are worshipping a Golden Calf. Furious God tells Moses that God will destroy this faithless people. Moses does his best to intercede on behalf of the people, pleading with God for mercy. Moses descends the mountain and when he sees the Golden Calf smashes it with the tablets of stone he has just received from God. The calf is burned, ground to powder and mixed with water given to the Israelites to drink. Moses confronts his brother Aaron whom he has left in charge. Aaron has no excuse to offer. Moses has his fellow Levites suppress the rebellion
 
Moses then confronts God "face to face, as one man speaks to another!" God provides Moses with a most intimate revelation from which Moses derives the 13 attributes of God. These attributes which emphasize God's compassion are repeated many times throughout the High Holy Day liturgy. God agrees to renew the covenant with the people.
 
Moses carves a new set of tablets, symbolizing the renewed covenant and descends Mt. Sinai with his face aglow from the experience.

2012  
The centerpiece of this week's parashah is the heresy of the Golden Calf. Although we read about Moses receiving the Ten Commandments at Sinai a few weeks ago and the construction of the Golden Calf took place while Moses was receiving them, the incident is not described until this Parashah.
 
Some commentators maintain that this delay was so that God could provide instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle before we read about the Golden Calf so that the actual construction in all of its detail which we read following could be seen as a means of atonement.
 
Rabbi Harold Kushner in our Etz Hayyim commentary explains this violation of the basic covenant with God with the following: "The people-who only a few weeks earlier had been slaves in Egypt where they had witnessed Egyptian idolatry-could not comprehend a God without physical form, as the 2nd commandment called on them to do. (Moses later refers to 'Your people, whom You delivered form the land of Egypt,' as if to remind God of the influences to which they had been subjected there. The Midrash compares the situation to that of a man who bought his son a store in a notoriously corrupt neighborhood and then blames the son for having been corrupted there.) The people needed a visible, tangible symbol of God's presence. They had just come from Egypt where everything, even death, was rendered visible (through pyramids and mummies). It was extremely hard for them to grasp the idea that the greatest reality of all is intangible. The text seems to imply that at least some of the people, who saw Moses as an embodiment of God, wanted the Golden Calf to replace the vanished Moses, without whom they felt abandoned. According to Hirsch, the people did not understand that God had taken the initiative in reaching down to them, believing that Moses had the power to summon God. Without Moses, how could they ever be able to experience God's presence again?"
 
As we all know from the text God informs Moses that the people are rebelling. Moses descends and smashes the Tablets destroying the Calf. Moses then burned the Calf, ground it to powder, mixed it with water and had the people drink it! When Moses confronted Aaron as to what happened during his watch, Aaron's response was exceedingly poor. Moses saw that they people were out of control. Moses own tribe, the Levites, came to his aid. 3000 people, the text tells us died in the rioting that day!
 
Moses then informs the people that he will intercede with God on their behalf and ask for forgiveness. God tells Moses to go ahead with the people to the Promised Land. An Angel will accompany them, but God will not. Hearing this the people went into mourning. God remained non-committal.
 
Moses takes this opportunity to engage God and to ask God to reveal more about God's essence in his appeal to have God agree to accompany the people on their journey. God declares that God will reveal more, but that none may see God's face and live. God suggests palcing Moses in the cleft of a rock, so that God might pass by and Moses might see God's "back". Of course this metaphor is subject to a great amount of interpretation.
 
God instructs Moses to carve two new stones like the first ones so that God might inscribe the words upon them, telling him to return to the top of Mt. Sinai. In re-inscribing the tablets, God reveals what the rabbis interpreted as the 13 attributes of God, emphasizing God's compassionate qualities. Moses once again pleads for God to agree to lead the people and accompany them. In restating God's demands and expectations God consents to Moses' appeal.
 
When Moses descended from the mountain he was unaware that his face was beaming. The people were hesitant to come near. Moses spoke to the people and placed a veil over his face.

2010 - Shabbat Parah, Numbers 19:1-22

Shabbat Parah is the third of the four special Shabbatot that precede Passover.  On it we read in a special Maftir reading of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer, whose ashes were used in the purification ritual so that all could partake and share in the Passover sacrifice.

Parshat Kee Tissa opens with the instructions concerning the half shekel poll tax incumbent upon all males above the age of 20.  This tax allowed for an annual census and since the money would be used for repairs to the Tabernacle, every one, rich and poor, felt an equal stake in its maintenance.

This half shekel tax comes amidst the ongoing description of the articles that were to be crafted for the Tabernacle that we have been reading for the last two parshiyot.  God informs Moses that God has singled out Bezalel, whom God has endowed with a divine spirit of skill ability and knowledge to oversee the Tabernacle project as chief craftsperson.  He will be assisted by Oholiab.

The instruction conclude with a strong reminder not to allow the project to supersede  Shabbat.  Shabbat and cessation from work takes precedence.  The text for this instruction is the v'Shmaru, that we include in every Friday evening and Shabbat morning service. "The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time: it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel.  For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed."  Then God gave the tablets to Moses "inscribed with the finger of God."

However when Moses delayed in coming down the people demanded of Aaron to make them a god.  Aaron told them to bring him their gold rings from their wives and children.  Some claim to Aaron's credit, because he doesn't look so good in this episode, that this was a delaying tactic. Aaron cast the gold into a mold and made it into a molten calf.

God urged Moses to hurray back to the camp because the people are rebelling and are bowing down to this calf.  God tells Moses to leave God alone so that God can express God's anger.  God promises to destroy the people and provide Moses with another people to lead.  Moses pleads with God, claiming the Egyptians will claim this God of the Israelites is wicked having liberated them only to kill them in the desert.  Moses urges God to remember the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them the land.  Thereupon God renounces the punishment.

Moses is met by Joshua who tells him that there is a cry of war in the camp.  Enraged Moses hurled the tablets shattering them at the foot of the mountain.  He burned the calf, ground it into powder and mixing it with water made the Israelites drink it!  Moses turned to question Aaron.  Aaron's explanation leaves much to be desired.  The people were out of control.  Only the Levites rallied to Moses side.  They slaughtered 3000 people.  Moses tells the people he will return to God and plead on their behalf.

God tells Moses to lead the people, but that God will only send an angel with them.  God will not accompany them, declaring them a stiffnecked people.  The people began to mourn.  God seemingly took notice of their contrition.

Moses taking advantage of his special relationship with God pleads with God to reveal more of God's essence.  He asks to behold God's presence.  God accedes claiming that God will reveal God's goodness and grace and compassion, but no one can see God's face.   God places Moses in the cleft of the rock and passed by, so that Moses can catch a glimpse of "God's back".  This scene has led to many interpretations.

God tells Moses to carve a second set of tablets and ascend Mt. Sinai.  Atop the mountain God declared what Judaism has ever since understood as the 13 principle attributes of God.  Since they proclaim God's forgiveness and compassion, we recite these verses over and over again during the High Holy Days.  Moses asks God to pardon the people.  God agrees to renew the covenant with the people providing the people renounce the worship of any other gods.

Moses came down from the mountain bearing the new set of tablets unaware that his face was radiant, since he had spoken with God.  Moses called everyone near so that he could instruct them.  When he finished he covered his face with a veil 

2009

Shabbat Parah is the third of four specially named Shabbatot that precede Passover.  The special Maftir reading describes the purification ceremony involving the ashes of a red heifer.  The reading of this Maftir was meant as a public reminder that Passover is soon upon us and anyone who had become ritually impure should plan to undergo purification, a prerequisite for participating in the slaughter of the Pascal lamb, central to the ancient celebration of Passover.

Parshat Kee Tissa opens with the instruction that every adult male must contribute a half shekel to the poll tax.  This money would be used for maintenance of the central tabernacle.  In this way every member of the community (the males, at least) felt equal ownership.  No one could give more and none could give less.  This was also an annual means of collecting a census of men for defensive purposes if that were to be necessary.

The reading continues with instructions for a bronze laver to be fashioned for the Tabernacle, followed by the all important appointment of construction personnel.  Bezalel, assisted by Oholiav, individuals who God endowed with "divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft" would be in charge of the overall project.  They would oversee the construction of the Tent of Meeting, the Ark and all the furnishings of the Tent, the sacred vestments of the Kohen Gadol/ high priests and of the other Kohanim/priests.

However the people are reminded that engagement in this project must not supersede Shabbat.  The cessation from work on Shabbat must take precedence.

Central to the Torah portion of Kee Tissa are the next chapters which describe the trauma of the Golden Calf and its aftermath.  When Moses delayed in coming down from Mt. Sinai, the people demanded that Aaron make them a god.  Aaron told them to bring him gold from their wifes, perhaps thinking that the wives would not so easily part with their gold.    However when they brought him the gold, they cast it into a mold and created a Golden Calf around which they brought sacrifices, ate, drank and caroused.

God told Moses to hurry down for the people had made themselves a molten calf, were worshipping it and offering it sacrifices.  Furious Moses still implored God to withhold God's anger so that the Egyptians would not say that God brought the Israelites into the desert to kill them.  God accepted Moses' plea.

Upon his descent in his anger, Moses shattered the tablets when he hurled them.  He burned the calf and ground it into powder, pouring over water and made the Israelites drink it.  When Moses challenged Aaron as to what happened, Aaron had the weakest of responses, "They gave me the gold and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!"

The Israelites were out of control and when Moses demanded that those who were with God to assemble before him, it was his clan of Levites who did so.  In gaining control the Torah tells us that 3000 people died.  Moses castigated the people and returned to Sinai to appeal to God for forgiveness.

Following an outbreak of plague, God urges Moses to continue in his mission to bring the people to their promised land accompanied by an angel, but God would no longer accompany them.  The people began to mourn and God determined that God would consider what was appropriate.  Moses sat outside the camp where he continued to meet with God.

Moses asks of God that God reveal more about God to him.  God agrees to lead the people and to reveal more to Moses.  However no human can see God face to face.  Moses is placed in the cleft of a mountain so that God might pass by and Moses see God's "back".  Many rabbis have written volumes on what this experience might have revealed.

God then instructs Moses to carve a second set of tablets.  There God revealed what Judaism has always understood to be the 13 attributes of God in a verse which we recite on holy days and many times during the course of the Days of Awe.  God thus makes a covenant of divine protection with the people.

"So Moses came down from Mount Sinai.  And as Moses came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Pact, Moses was not aware that the skin of his face was radiant, since he had spoken with Him."

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Vayakhel, Exodus 35:1-38:20 and Pekudei, Exodus 38:21-40:38

2013  - Shabbat haHodesh   Exodus 12:1-20
Shabbat haHodesh is the last of four special Shabbatot that precede Passover. Shabbat haHodesh is always the Shabbat just prior to the beginning of the month of Nisan in which Passover is observed. Nisan is considered the first of months and the first of Nisan is one of the four Jewish new years. (Tishrei in which we celebrate Rosh Hashanah is called the seventh month.)
 
With the double portion Vaykhel-Pekudei we conclude the book of Exodus. At the end of the reading the entire congregation will stand and say: Hazak, Hazak v'Nit'hazek (Strength, strength, may we strengthen one another) which we proclaim each time we conclude any of the five books of the Torah.
 
The bulk of this parashah is devoted to a detailed accounting of the fulfillment of God's instructions in building the Tabernacle, a portable Sinai, that the people will take with them for the rest of their journey through the desert.
 
The people are gathered and told that in constructing the Tabernacle and all the implements inside they must also maintain Shabbat. They should not think that this project supersedes Shabbat.  
 
Moses then solicits them for donations of materials that are needed for the project. From precious metals to fabrics, oil and spices to precious stones. All skilled labor is also requested to come forward. We are told in this first Jewish fundraiser, that too much was being donated and that Moses had to tell the people to stop their generocity... Bezalel is singled out as the chief craftsman, because God endowed him with skill and creativity.
 
We are told they made all the furniture, the ark and menorah, fashioned all the materials exactly as God had specified. In the final chapter God tells Moses to set up the Tabernacle and place everything in its proper place. Everything was to be properly anointed. Aaron and his sons were to be washed and and dressed in their sacred garments. The tablets were placed in the ark.
 
The book of Exodus concludes on the following note: "When Moses had finished the work the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it 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."
 
Hazak Hazak, v'Nit'hazek.

2012 - Shabbat Parah, Numbers 19:1-22
Shabbat Parah is the third of four special Shabbatot preceding Passover. On it we read in a special Maftir reading, of the Parah Adumah, the red heifer, whose ashes were used in the purification ritual so that all could partake and share in the Passover sacrifice. Of course sacrifices ended with the destruction of the Second Temple, but we still recall the need to prepare and get oneself in a state of spiritual readiness for Passover.
 
Hazak, hazak, v'nit'hazek. With this double parashah we also conclude the book of Exodus. These combined portions are consumed with the fulfillment of God's detailed directions in constructing the Tabernacle and all the ritual items as well as the priestly robes that the people would now take with them as they left the wilderness of Sinai on their way to the Promised Land.
 
Before construction begins the people were reminded that Shabbat supersedes the Mitzvah of construction. Moses then calls for the donation of the materials that will be needed in crafting the structure and everything inside from precious metals to animal skins, from spices and incense to stones. Moses also called for skilled and talented people to come forward. The outpouring was so great that Moses had to tell the people to stop bringing gifts. It was the best fund raiser on record!
 
Moses announced the appointment of Bezalel, an inspired craftsman to oversee the project with Oholiav as his assistant. They then embarked on the work at hand. Similar to the earlier instruction from God, now each of the pieces is completed. The instructions began with the furnishings and ended with the structure of the Tabernacle. Now the process is reversed.
 
When completed they brought everything to Moses. God instructed Moses that on the first of the month the Tabernacle should be assembled and following assembly, dedication. Aaron was dressed in his vestments, anointed and consecrated, followed by his sons. Once all was in place Moses took the Pact and placed it in the ark, placing a screen over it.
 
"When Moses finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. 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."

2009

Shabbat haHodesh/Sabbath of The month is the Shabbat that occurs just prior to the beginning of the month of Nisan, the month in which we celebrate our liberation from Egyptian bondage.  This is the fourth and last of the special Shabbatot that precede Passover.  (The Shabbat just before Passover, Shabbat haGadol, does not count among the four.)  The maftir reading that we will read from the second Torah tomorrow contains the speech the God transmits to Moses after the ninth plague, instructing him as to how the people should prepare themselves before the tenth and final plague.  The reading begins, "The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: This month shall mark for you the beginning of the month; it shall be the first of the months of the year for you."

Rosh Hodesh Nisan will be observed this coming Thursday.  That day, the first of Nisan, is also one of the four traditional new years in the Jewish calendar.  The Mishnah says that Rosh Hodesh Nisan is the new year for kings and holidays, i.e. we calculate a new year of the reign of a king from this date and we list the annual holidays beginning with Passover.

The double Parashah assigned for this week contain the final chapters of the book of Exodus.  So at the end of the reading Shabbat morning, the entire congregation will stand and say together, Hazak, Hazak, v'Nithazek/ Strength, strength, may we be able to strengthen one another, as we do each time we conclude any of the five books of the Torah.

This concluding reading opens with another reminder that despite the obligations that God has given to construct the Tabernacle, the observance of Shabbat takes precedence.

The people are then encouraged to donate precious metals and stones, fabrics, wood, oil, spices and incense for the project at hand.  All skilled craftsmen are encouraged to participate to fabricate all that needs to be made.  "Thus the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord."

Moses appoints Bezalel whom God "endowed with a divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft and inspired him" to oversee the entire project with the assistance of Oholiav.  But when they looked over the continuing gifts being brought by the people, they had to tell them to stop, because, "The people are bringing more than is needed."

They then got to the detailed work of constructing the Tabernacle, the furniture and accessories.  In the second parashah we read of the complicated work of making the priestly vestments.

When complete Moses came to inspect.  "Just as the Lord had commanded Moses, so the Israelites had done all the work."  And Moses blessed them.  Then everything had to be assembled, everything in its appointed place.  Aaron and his sons had to be washed and suited in their special clothing.  They would be anointed and consecrated.

The Decalogue was placed in the ark and brought the ark inside the Tabernacle, adding the curtain.  Other things were put in their proper place.

"When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.

Hazak, Hazak, v'Nit'hazek

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Pekudei, Exodus 38:21-40:38

2011

Pekudei/ Shabbat Skekalim

Shabbat Shekalim is the first of four Shabbatot that precede Passover.  Named Shabbat Shekalim, because we read--in a special Maftir reading-of the obligation to donate a half Shekel for the maintenance of the Temple.  This reading was to remind the Israelites of this annual obligation.

With Parshat Pekudei we conclude the book of Exodus.  As we do whenever we finish any of the five books, we will stand and say together: Hazak, Hazak, v'Nit'hazek/ Strength, Strength, May We Strengthen One Another.

The last two Parshiyot of Exodus, which on a Jewish non-leap year are read together, detail the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert.  We are reminded of the role of Bezalel, chief craftsman, and his assistant Oholiab.  The metals to be used are inventoried by the Levites: gold, silver, and copper and we are told the purpose of each.

The materials for the vestments of the priests are gathered: blue, purple and crimson yarns.  Special stones and materials were collected for the ephod, the breastpiece, robe tunic, and frontlet.  All was completed as instructed by God.

All the individual parts of the Tabernacle were brought to Moses.  When Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks, as the Lord had commanded, Moses blessed them.  All the pieces were then assembles and dedicated: the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting, the Ark of the Pact, curtain, table, lampstand, altar of incense, and screen.  They anointed the Tabernacle with oil.  Aaron and his sons were washed with water and dressed in their sacral vestments as they are consecrated.

The Pact was placed in the Ark and covered and all the rest of the pieces put in place.

"When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle.  Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle."

Hazak Hazak v'Nit'hazek

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