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“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tissa 5780

Screenshot from Bereishit video

“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Ki Tissa 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Finding Comfort in Times of Crisis”

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Parshat Ki Tissa: Finding Comfort in Times of Crisis

There’s a profound message in this week’s Torah reading about how to cope with a serious threat that faces human society.

First, recent events remind all of us that even if Chinese culture and Western culture are very different, and our societies are quite dissimilar, we recognize that we share one world and what happens in one country affects the entire world. What happens in China affects what happens in Europe and affects what happens in and America; we’re all part of one society even if we have different philosophical perspectives, traditions and values.

Kol haKavod to so many American rabbis (I had the privilege of joining them) who wrote a letter showing solidarity with Chinese Americans, and said that we can’t allow xenophobic feelings to affect the way we engage with others, and that we need to treat other minorities with respect during these times of challenge.

And I am especially appreciative of my students, participants in the Straus- and Beren-Amiel programs, rabbis and educators in Italy and throughout Europe, who are dealing with difficult decisions of whether to keep their synagogues open for community prayer or not, based on the rules and regulations of their respective countries regarding issues of health and the needs of every individual person that prays with them.

Kudos to them- the decisions that they are making instruct us all about the priorities within halacha of dealing with the safety, health and security of every one of our parishioners.

Parshat Ki Tissa teaches us a very important lesson that we can learn in relation to the corona virus: the mitzvah of the half-shekel.

This mitzvah is a reminder that everybody is obligated to give a half-shekel – not a full shekel. It calls attention to the fact that we cannot do it alone; we are part of a larger group, a larger team.

It is the only biblical commandment that one must borrow funds in order to fulfill, because it reminds us that as individuals we cannot move our goals along, but as a society, we can change the world.

And during this time of the corona virus we’re reminded of the fact that as individuals we’re really not effective, but if we’re careful and we engage as a society, we can deal with the challenges that we face.

Parshat Ki Tissa points out the responsibilities that we have as a society to make a difference in the world. That half shekel not only contributed to the building of the Temple, but to ensuring that the communal needs and issues that faced the Jewish community were supported by a common, cooperative effort by each and every individual.

This mitzvah emphasizes to all of us that as we’re dealing with the challenges throughout the Jewish world, and throughout the world community, of the corona virus, we are all just part of a whole. As individuals, we are all only part of the process. We need to be safe and secure, but that takes cooperation from everyone. We must recognize that we can each contribute to making a difference; we can each contribute our half-shekel portion. But individual action is not enough – as a society, we have a global responsibility to both confront this threat and deal with other challenges that beset mankind.

Shabbat Shalom

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Parshat Ki Tissa: Tablets and Fragments

Parshat Ki Tissa: Tablets and Fragments Did Moses break the tablets because he was shocked by the Golden Calf, or was it premeditated? Rabbi Shlomo Brown, Executive Director of Midreshet Lindenbaum  “As soon as Moses came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, he became enraged; and he hurled the tablets from his …

Read moreParshat Ki Tissa: Tablets and Fragments

“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Ki Tisa 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35) Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the Two Tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (Exodus 34:29) What is the significance …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Ki Tisa 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Tetzaveh 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Tetzaveh 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Will our Children Carry on Our Spiritual Legacy?”

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Parshat Tetzaveh: Will Our Children Carry On Our Spiritual Legacy? 

During the week in which we read Parshat Tetzaveh, we commemorate the loss of Moshe Rabbeinu, on the 7th of Adar. Some suggest that this is the reason why his name is not mentioned in the entire parasha – a unique phenomenon from the beginning of Sefer Shemot until the end of the Torah. 

But I’d like to ask a more challenging question. 

Why don’t we know where Moshe is buried? After all, we know where our patriarchs and matriarchs are buried. We know where other great personalities are buried. Why is the exact place of Moshe’s burial hidden from us? 

The answer that I’d like to suggest is a difficult one, but one which I think should speak to all of us. We don’t know where Moshe is buried because the purpose of a burial place is for family. Ultimately, visiting the burial place of an ancestor, like saying Kaddish, is a mark of continuity, of personal connection with the previous generations.  

Our rabbis teach us that Moshe’s children did not follow in his footsteps. We hear very little about them at all; there is no indication that they participated in Moshe’s “career” as Eved HaShem – God’s servant. His sons may not even have been present at Mount Sinai, when the Torah was given to the entire Jewish nation.  The Book of Shoftim tells us that one of Moshe’s descendants – a Levite – even served as a priest to an idol. Moshe’s sons did not continue his legacy.

What good is it to know where a person is buried if children do not continue their parents’ traditions? We need to ask ourselves this question during the week of the anniversary of Moshe’s death. 

How do we make sure that our children and our families continue our legacy? We have to realize they are not our spiritual genetic clones and that they don’t always look at Judaism the same way that we do. But we do have keep the avenues of communication open with them so that our legacy continues even after we are no longer here. 

After the end of our days in this world, the people who will sit shiva and say Kaddish for us are our children. Making sure we have a relationship with them while we are alive is critical. 

We learn from all the strengths of Moshe Rabbeinu. One of his greatest strengths was his unique relationship with God. But the Torah reminds us to also learn from his weaknesses.  The Torah tells us that Yitro has to bring Moshe’s family back to him, to remind him to engage with his own family. That does not seem to happen; Moshe is more comfortable engaging with God than he is with his own family. It is God himself who buries Moshe – we have no indication that his sons were even with him before, or even after he died. At the end of the day, there is no identifiable burial place because his children do not continue his legacy. 

This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, and the yahrzeit of Moshe’s death on the 7th of Adar, should remind us to ask ourselves some very important questions: how do we engage with our own families to make sure that we leave a spiritual legacy to our children? How do we communicate with them to ensure that they will continue to be committed to our heritage? What we do today determines whether we truly deserve a resting place that our children will visit.

Shabbat Shalom, and may we truly understand the meaning behind Moshe Rabbeinu’s yahrzeit.

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Parshat Tetzaveh: Moses is Missing…Really?

David Nekrutman

Parshat Tetzaveh: Moses is Missing…Really? David Nekrutman is the Executive Director of  Ohr Torah Stone’ Hertog Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation (CJCUC).   The observational humor of Jerry Seinfeld has made audiences laugh for decades. His take and comic delivery on human behavior has even caused an existential crisis for many who buy donut …

Read moreParshat Tetzaveh: Moses is Missing…Really?

“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Tetzaveh 5780

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Now you bring near to yourself Aaron your brother and his sons with him…. to minister to Me. You shall make vestments of sanctity for Aaron your brother, for honor and splendor” (Exodus 28:1,2)  The two leaders during this interim …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Tetzaveh 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Terumah 5780

“Parsha and Purpose” – Parshat Terumah 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“When Ritual Becomes Idolatry”

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“When Ritual Becomes Idolatry”

With Parshat Terumah, we have reached the final section of the Book of Exodus. In these concluding Torah portions, we are introduced to some vital concepts.

We are introduced to the construction of the Mishkan – the Tabernacle in the desert and the forerunner of the Mikdash – the Temple in the Jerusalem in Terumah and Tetzave, which we will read next week. Afterwards, we are told about Shabbat, which is juxtaposed to the construction of the Tabernacle to teach us that the building of the tabernacle does not suspend the prohibitions of Shabbat. Our rabbis learned from this that precisely those creative labors used to build the Tabernacle define the activities forbidden on the Sabbath. Further on in Ki Tissa, is the incident of the Golden Calf, and immediately afterwards we return to the subjects of Shabbat and the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

Tabernacle, Shabbat, the story of the Golden Calf, Shabbat and Tabernacle.

What is the connection between these various components? What insight can we derive from this interplay? I think that there is a profound message here for each and every one of us.

The whole purpose of the Tabernacle and of the Temple was to create sacred encounters with God. Our challenge is to use that structure to create multiple portals to connect with the Divine.

Judaism involves a great deal of structure and prescribed actions. There’s a danger in that structure and repeated activity to become rote behavior, robotic and fossilized. Our prophets recognized this; Isaiah spoke out against treating the Torah as “a commandment of men learned by rote”. Instead of conduits to create sacred encounters with God, the commandments can become formalized and spiritless rituals. The concluding Torah portions of the Book of Exodus, which focuses on freedom and redemption, come to remind us that institutions such as the Mishkan and the Mikdash are not ends in themselves. They must be like the experience of Shabbat, a portal to spirituality, a means through which we connect with God- otherwise they become no different from the Golden Calf. Even the Two Tablets of the Covenant, according to the 19th century thinker, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, were in danger of becoming a fetish for worship, similar to the Golden Calf. That’s why Moshe broke them. That is why the Temple was eventually destroyed. It was no longer a place where the Jewish people experienced God’s Presence.

The Mishkan and Shabbat are juxtaposed. They are meant to be points in place and time where we experience God. And if you remove that connection, then you are left with a Golden Calf.

How many times in our lives -and I’m speaking to myself more than anybody else, -how often are we so committed to the ritual that we forget about the message, or the language, or the conduit, through which the ritual is trying to get us to connect with God?

Says God, at the end of the book of Exodus, the book of freedom, I will orchestrate these laws in the following fashion. The Tabernacle and the Temple are a means for us – God and man, God and the Jewish people, God and society – to create a bond. We have an opportunity to step out of the everyday world and create a sacred space and a Shabbat-like experience.

If we forget this message, if we forget that sacred space and rituals are an opportunity and not an end in themselves, then they become no different from the Golden Calf. That is what makes this orchestration, this spiritual symphony, where each instrument plays its own proper part, so essential to leading a holy life.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

 

 

 

Parshat Terumah: The Correct Way to Rebuke

Rabbi Shuki Reich - Photographer Rony Nathan

Parshat Terumah: The Correct Way to Rebuke  Rabbi Shuki Reich serves as rosh kollel at the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary and Head of the Susi Bradfield Women’s Institute of Halakhic Leadership What is the right way to express rebuke, and what does it have to do with the Holy Ark of Hashem? At times, …

Read moreParshat Terumah: The Correct Way to Rebuke

“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Terumah 5780

This week’s “Shabbat Shalom” has been sponsored by Ian and Bernice Charif of Sydney Australiain honour of the birth of their granddaughter, Ellie Yona Charifon 23 Shevat/17 February 2020 Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 – 27:19) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “Make one cherub on one end and the second cherub on …

Read more“Shabbat Shalom” – Parshat Terumah 5780

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