Exodus

“Parsha and Purpose” – Pekudei 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“When We Put Service To God Over Concern For Others”

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Parshat Pekudei (Exodus 38:21 -40:38

“When We Put Service To God Over Concern For Others

Parshat Pekudei: the final parsha in the Book of Shemot, and the last section to talk about the construction of the Tabernacle, and essentially the blueprint for the construction of the Temple.

Now, we have already discussed that the Tabernacle/Temple is really a place in which an individual can create sacred moments in time with God, a way in which we can find multiple portals of entry, to feel a connection with God, a romance with God.

Yet, even in this structure, which speaks about connection to God, there also must be a recognition of a sense of respect and dignity. The Gemara tells us that it used to be that the priests would run up the altar, ascend the ramp of the altar to be engaged in one of the first services in the morning “דישון המזבח” the cleaning off of the Ashes of the Mizbe’ach.

The Talmud tells us that once, as the Kohanim were running up the ramp, one Kohen saw that the other Kohen was going to get to the top first and therefore, he pushed him off the ramp so that he could get there first to perform the mitzvah. [Yoma 22a]

In effect, he was willing to ignore the dignity of the other in order to serve and have a relationship with God.

The Talmud then quotes an even more perplexing story: one Kohen saw another Kohen getting to the top of the Altar and took out a knife and stabbed him in order that he, instead, could ascend the altar and perform the service, again putting service to God over concern for the other. [Yoma 23a]

In fact, the story continues with an even more tragic consequence: the father of the child who had been stabbed, also obviously a Kohen, runs over to his son and sees that his son is still alive, and says to a Kohen: “Quick, quick, quick! Pull the knife out of my son while he’s still alive so the knife does not become ritually impure.”

The perplexing component to these stories is that often in our service to God, we forget derech eretz, respect for another person. And when we forget respect for the other person, even the service of God can be destructive. As the Talmud’s narratives we referenced demonstrate: even the service of God can cause a chasm in our relationship to God.

And so as we conclude the story of the building of the Tabernacle – an edifice that is there to empower us to create a relationship to God – let us remember that with all mitzvot, what is of paramount importance is not just the way we engage in the mitzvah, the zealousness and the service of the mitzvah. Rather, it is the derech eretz, the respect for the other, which must come before the observance of the mitzvah, because that in itself is a prerequisite for us to be able to engage with God.

Sadly, we look all over the Jewish world and we see that this message of treating others with respect has been lost. We look all over the world and we see that this message has been lost.

Please, God, as we conclude this section of Shemot, we will take a pause in order to remind ourselves of the responsibility to engage with God through the performance of mitzvot with the recognition that the first step in the performance of mitzvot is derech eretz, is the way we treat the other.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of God filled the Tabernacle… When the cloud was raised up from the Tabernacle, the Children of Israel would embark on all their journeys… For the cloud of God was on the Tabernacle …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Vayakhel 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Redemption Begins With Chesed”

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Parshat Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1 -38:20

“Redemption Begins With Chesed

This week, we bless Rosh Chodesh as we usher in the second month of Adar, Adar Bet, in which we celebrate Purim. Now, logic dictates that Purim should be celebrated during the first Adar, to be consistent with the idea of “מצוה הבאה לידך אל תחמיצנה”, if you have the ability to do a mitzvah, do it right away. [Midrash Mechilta to Exodus 12:17]

So why don’t we celebrate Purim in the first Adar? The halakha is such because there is a need to celebrate Purim as close to Pesach as possible, to promote a juxtaposition between Purim and Pesach. [Talmud, Megillah 6b]

What is the idea behind this connection?

I believe that there’s a message regarding the two different paradigms of redemption that are seen on Purim and Pesach.

There is redemption that is achieved simply by the grace of God, what the kabbalists call “אתערותא דלעילא”, an awakening by God to save and to aid His people. That is what Pesach is all about. Even when the people are so distant from God, there are times in which God feels the need to engage with the Jewish people.

There are times in which God feels that there is a time for salvation, and even when the redemption is directed and fully choreographed by God – of course, there is human initiative, as in the case of Pesach.

We see the role of Moshe, the role of the women ensuring Jewish continuity, the role of Miriam and Yocheved in saving Moshe and modeling how to save the male children.

Yet, there is this idea that the centerpiece of the redemptive experience is totally Divinely-driven. Human actors in the experience, including Moshe, are not really mentioned in the Haggadah.

And then there’s a second paradigm of redemption, “אתערותא דלתתא”, an awakening that comes from below, redemption that is driven by the enterprise of humankind, where the redemptive activity, as we see on Purim, are the actors of Mordechai and Esther. Their initiative is what is critical.

There are no plagues, there’s no splitting of the Sea. Yes, God plays a role. After all, the randomness of the coincidences in the story are too perfect for God not to be orchestrating it behind the scenes.

And, in fact, we hint to God in the Megillah with the words “HaMelech” on top of each column, but the emphasis is on humankind.

The Megillah celebrates human-driven redemption, and while God is hinted to, His name is not even mentioned.

Yet, there are similarities to the way we celebrate both of these holidays:

  • First of all, it is these days that we have a concern for the poor: Matanot L’evyonim and Kimcha D’Pischa; the responsibility of not eating the Paschal sacrifice alone, but rather consuming it with the other; and on Purim, the responsibility to send gifts of food to the other.

We commemorate our brush with annihilation with the reminder that redemption of any sort in Judaism starts with us being kind and concerned for the other.

  • Both holidays, the one celebrated in Adar Bet and the one celebrated in Nissan, at the core, recognize the fact that redemption isn’t possible when we are separate from the other.

The core of the celebrations of both of these holidays is the fact that irrespective of the person’s background, disposition, religious persuasion, redemption of the self and of the community is only possible when we’re willing to recognize the greatness of others.

So we wait for Adar Bet to celebrate Purim so that Purim and Pesach “dance together”.

They celebrate two paradigms of redemption which we honor when we understand that our redemption happens only when we are concerned with the other.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“Take for yourselves an offering to the Lord. Let everyone whose heart moves him bring an offering to the Lord, gold and silver and copper… for the sanctuary and its tents and its coverings” (Exodus 35:5-11) The last two portions of Exodus seem …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Ki Tisa 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Whatever Steps Necessary: On Mirrors, Preparation and Redemption”

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Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 -34:35

“Whatever Steps Necessary: On Mirrors, Preparation and Redemption

Wherever you are in the world, I’m sure just like in Israel, there are signs all over the place encouraging one to wash one’s hands in order to stop the spread of COVID.

The truth is, that in the Temple, there was also a vessel that was used for the washing of one’s hands – albeit not for hygienic reasons, because that was required before one entered into the Tabernacle – but rather as a way to prepare for certain ritual activities. [Exodus 30:17-21]

In fact, this idea is also seen in our time: before the priest performs his priestly blessings (ברכת כהנים), he is involved in a ritual washing [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 128:6].

In fact, we’re all involved in a ritual washing before we consume bread [ibid., 158:1], which highlights the significance of eating, in that it empowers us to make changes in the world; and which highlights the priest’s ability to be the conduit through which the blessings of God are given to His people.

With regard to every other device, we are told its specific size. But this laver (כיור) is the only device in the Tabernacle about whose dimensions the Torah does not specify. That is because the laver (כיור) was built with mirrors that were collected from the women, who used them in Egypt to beautify themselves, to entice their husbands, to have relationships with them, even though they were in servitude, even though they were exhausted, in order to perpetuate, to guarantee, the future of the Jewish people. [Rashi on Exodus 38:8]

And therefore this structure is not predicated on its specific size; rather, it is really the accumulation of all of the mirrors that were contributed in order to build this device that represents preparation for engagement with God.

You see, preparation for engagement with God, or for that matter, preparation for engagement with our spouses, with our children, with anything important requires preparation (הכנה), and therefore this device, this laver (כיור) was built with the mirrors from the women.

It was built as a means to remind us that to engage in something important requires a proper mindset, requires proper preparation, something that we should be asking ourselves in anything important that we do:

Are we walking into it with the proper preparation? Do we have an understanding of the true role of the laver (כיור), that was in the Tabernacle?

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“When you lift up the heads of the children of Israel to count them (in a census), let each one give an atonement offering for his soul when they are counted, so that there not be a plague in the counting of …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Tetzaveh 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Will We Accept God’s ‘Friend Request’?”

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Parshat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20 -30:10

“Will We Accept God’s ‘Friend Request’?

The Temple, the Tabernacle: these are structures that were created in order for us to visit and feel the presence of God. But, as Shlomo HaMelech clearly points out in his dedication speech for the Temple [I Kings 8:27], it is not because only in the Tabernacle or the Temple is God’s presence revealed – God’s presence is felt all over the world – it’s just the intensity of the experiences in the Temple and the Tabernacle that allows us to feel the presence of God in a greater sense of engagement.

It is for the same reason that we see in this week’s Torah portion the introduction of priestly vestments. [Exodus, Chapter 28]

A Kohen is a Kohen even without the vestments, but essentially, the vestments of the Kohen highlight for the Kohen and for all that visit, the unique experience that is being created within the Tabernacle/Temple.

This idea that sometimes clothing makes the experience is why the Torah in very precise ways highlights what vestments the High Priest and the Priest must wear in order to serve within the Tabernacle/Temple.

What is interesting about clothing, although really clothing is really a device of human beings, is that often in God’s search to have a relationship with us, God is spoken about as also being adorned in clothing:

“ה’ מלך גאות לבש” – “Hashem malach ge’ut lavesh” – The Lord is our King, but the Lord is robed in grandeur; “לבש ה” – “Lavesh Hashem” – The Lord is robed in clothing. [Psalms 93:1]

In a song that many of us recite, on Shabbat and Yom Tov, we speak about our relationship with God, Anim Zemirot, The Shir HaKavod, The Song of Magnificence, of respect, of engagement between God and the Jewish people and humanity.

And we recite in that prayer: “יתפאר בי כי חפץ בי” – “Yitpa’er bi ki chafetz bi” – God beautifies himself, through us, through the Jewish people, because he desires us, and therefore, “והוא יהיה לי לעטרת צבי” – “Vehu yihiye li le’ateret tzvi” – and therefore, God shall become a crown of beauty for me.

Immediately afterwards, the sentence continues: “כתם טהור פז דמות ראשו” – “Ketem tehor paz demut rosho” – God’s “head” is like pure gold; “וחק על מצח כבוד שם קדשו” – “Vechak al metzach kevod shem kodsho” – and on God’s “forehead” is the priestly golden head plate.

In other words, God “wears” the same clothing as the Kohen Gadol, because God is searching for a relationship with us. God wants and needs a relationship with us.

We have this unbelievable opportunity. It’s what the Beit HaMikdash and the Mishkan represent; it’s what we need to search for even without a Beit HaMikdash and Mishkan.

Immediately afterwards, we’re told: “פארו עלי ופארי עליו” – “Pe’ero elai u’fe’eri alav”

that God’s splendor is on me when I wear tefillin, and my splendor is on God when He “wears tefillin”.

The prayer continues: “וקרוב אלי בקראי אליו” – “Vekarov elai bekor’i elav” – And He is close to me when I wish to call Him.

Mishkan, the Mikdash, the priestly vestments: they’re there to teach us a message,

and that message is that God is searching for a relationship with us. And even though we’re going through difficult times during COVID, and we may have family and professional challenges, the bottom line is that God needs us and we need God.

And there’s an opportunity as God “wears our clothing”, and we wish to wear His; there’s opportunity to create a relationship.

These chapters, these parshiot, are reminding us of that opportunity. Will we create a relationship with God?

The answer to that question is not found in the Torah portions. The answer to that question is found in our hearts and minds.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –Moses and Aaron were the two great leaders of the Israelites in the desert; prophet and priest. Moses, the master prophet, seems to have arisen to leadership not because he came from a prominent Hebrew family – indeed, the Bible introduces him merely …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Terumah 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Why Do We Need Synagogues?”

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Parshat Terumah (Exodus 25:1 -27:19

“Why Do We Need Synagogues?

One of the most precious and prominent institutions in the Jewish community is under attack during COVID: the synagogue.

Now, I am confident about the eternality of the synagogue, and I thank all the Rabbis and the Rebbetzins and the lay leaders who are doing so much to guarantee and ensure the survival of the synagogue during this pandemic.

But perhaps one of the key messages that is necessary in order to make sure that we guarantee the eternality of the synagogue is found in this week’s Torah portion.

God tells Moshe and the Jewish people:  “ועשו לי מקדש”, ‘create for me a Tabernacle; create for me a Temple’, “ושכנתי בתוכם”, ‘that I may dwell therein.’ [Exodus 25:8]

Initially it was the Tabernacle, then the First Temple, then the Second Temple; and then it developed into smaller “temples” known as synagogues.

As the Talmud states, based on the statement in Ezekiel 11:16, “miniature tabernacles”, “miniature temples”. [Megillah 29a; see also Rashi to Ezekiel 11:16]

In fact that, we’re told that with the first exile from Israel, they took shards of stones from the Temple, and they used it as basically the cornerstones of all the synagogues that they built. [Iggeret (Epistle) of Rav Sherira Gaon, Siman 83]

The fact that when we build our synagogues they face towards the Temple [Berakhot 30a], highlights the idea that our synagogues are the spiritual progeny of the Temple and of the Tabernacle.

But the Temple was not just a place of prayer, not just the place of sacrifice. The Temple had multiple portals of entry through which one could communicate with God:

Essentially, the Temple was the central address for the needs of the Jewish people to find a connection to God.

Synagogues that understand that prayer is only one aspect of their mission;

Synagogues that understand that part of our mission as a synagogue – which does not mean place a prayer – it means a place of gathering, a central address, beit knesset, a place in which we deal with all different issues;

Synagogues that, during COVID, make sure that they extend themselves to people who are lonely; make sure they extend themselves to youth searching for some spiritual connection, for families searching for some spiritual identity; synagogues that find a way to deal with all the different challenges and convene resources for their congregants; are synagogues that understand their mandate to provide multiple portals of spiritual entry, multiple ways for youth, adults and seniors to connect.

And I have seen that synagogues that understand that it’s not just the place of prayer, but a place that can reach out, and be a Heaven and a haven for those around them, those synagogues continue to grow, even though their attendance at prayer service may be more limited.

Please God, we will understand and leave this COVID pandemic stronger when we understand that the message of a synagogue is to be the spiritual progeny of the Temple, ways in which we find to help each individual connect and have a romantic rendezvous with HaKadosh Baruch Hu.

Shabbat Shalom.

—-

‘THEODOTUS INSCRIPTION”

– First Century B.C.E., Jerusalem, discovered at the Ophel (Southern Wall Excavations)
– Earliest archeological attestation for the existence of a synagogue in the Land of Israel
– Greek dedicatory inscription below, which articulates the ‘mission statement’ of the synagogue:

“Theodotus, son of Vettanos, a priest and a leader of the synagogue, son of a leader of a synagogue, grandson of a leader of the synagogue, built the synagogue for the reading of Torah and for teaching the commandments; furthermore, the hostel, the rooms and the water installation for lodging needy strangers. Its foundation stone was laid by his ancestors, the elders, and Simonides.”

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“And they shall make Me a mishkan, that I may dwell among them.” (Exodus 25:8) What is the significance of the mishkan (tabernacle) to Judaism, the Jewish people, and the world? Two perspectives from our tradition offer answers that I believe provide insights that will imbue …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Mishpatim 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The Big Picture AND the Fine Print”

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Parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 -24:18

“The Big Picture AND the Fine Print

This week in Jerusalem, when you walked the beautiful streets of the city, you saw geysers of water on the rooftops of the apartment buildings.

You see, it was a very frigid week and the water heaters on the rooftops exploded, so you just saw water coming from the rooftops. It was like Jerusalem had its own set of Niagara Falls.

Because it was warm and then cold, the “stoppers” of the water heaters expanded and then contracted, and so it basically just broke into two with all the water flying out all over the place.


Left bottom photo credit: Erez Shiryon and Moshe Roseman

Last week’s Torah portion, Parshat Yitro, is about the beautiful meta-narrative of receiving the Torah: the pomp and circumstance, the stage, about our relationship, the marriage canopy, so to speak, between ourselves and God [Exodus, Chapters 19 and 20].

In this week’s Torah portion we’re introduced to the details. “Ve’eleh Hamishpatim”, ‘and these are the details’ [Ibid., Chapters 21 through 23]. The juxtaposition between the meta-narrative, the big picture, and the details, is critically important, highlighted by so many of our commentators.

What an important message for us, because, sometimes, in order to deal with big, grandiose ideas, you need to understand that the details, the small things, are critically important.

True, we can’t just deal with the details, because then we lose the larger message. But born into the details is the ability to implement the larger message.

Parshat Yitro was about the larger message. It’s about the need for us to inspire this message in ourselves, in our children and in our grandchildren; to speak about the larger message, and not to get focused just on the details.

But Parshat Mishpatim is about the fact that if you truly want to have a fidelity to the larger message, it has to be found in understanding the details.

After all, Shabbat is a beautiful meta-narrative, but it is only experienced when you’re connected and committed to the details.

Our responsibility to be a moral people and to engage people with respect is critical, but it can only be implemented via through the details that are found in the nooks and crannies of Parshat Mishpatim.

You can have a large water heater that contains 150 liters of water on your rooftop, but if the stopper, the small item that holds the water in place, expands and then contracts and shatters – if the small details are forgotten – then all of a sudden the water explodes all over the place.

The juxtaposition between Parshat Yitro and Mishpatim is not only a requirement in the Torah – therefore that “vav”, that connection, starts off this week’s Torah portion – it’s also true about our lives.

We always have to be committed to the larger narratives. And we have to share those larger narratives.

But we have to realize that those larger narratives in our lives, whether it’s in our relationships with our spouses, children, grandchildren and parents, or with God, really happen when we’re committed to the details that are found in Parshat Mishpatim and the details that are found in any important relationship in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“And he took the Book of the Covenant, and read it into the ears of the nation, and they said, ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we shall do and we shall understand” (Exodus 23:7) At Sinai, the Jewish nation entered into its …

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