“Parsha and Purpose” – Terumah 5782
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“Why Do We Need Synagogues?”
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.
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:
- The Temple was in charge of the hospitality needs of all of those who came to Jerusalem. [Yoma 12a]
- The Temple was in charge of issues of social justice by having three courts in its plaza. [Maimonides, Laws of The Sanhedrin 3:1; Maimonides, Laws of The Sanhedrin 1:3]
- The Temple was a place that dealt with the ecological challenges of the time, by the way it packaged the offerings, the remnants of the offerings, of the sacrifices, and the fact that it used the blood of the sacrifices to fertilize the Kidron Valley. [Mishnah, Middot 3:2]
- The Temple was a place that was in charge of the administration of higher education for adults, and proper education of the Oral Tradition and the Written Tradition for children [Tosefta, Sanhedrin 2:2; Talmud, Pesachim 26a; Jerusalem Talmud, Megillah 3:1].
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.
– 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.”
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“Parsha and Purpose” – Terumah 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha
“The Dialectic of Purim: Fighting Amalek and Valuing Every Human Life”
Parshat Terumah (Exodus 25:1- 27:19)
“The Dialectic of Purim: Fighting Amalek and Valuing Every Human Life”
Next month, students from Ohr Torah Stone’s two hesder yeshivot and three seminaries for women will be starting their service in the IDF.
Until that time, they will continue to study day and night in their batei midrash. Some are studying the complicated chapter of חזקת הבתים , the third chapter of Baba Batra which deals with presumptive ownership; rights of possession and privacy; and respect for public spaces.
What a remarkable phenomenon! A group of 250 young men and women who will be serving in Israel’s elite IDF units prepare for their military service by studying the laws that govern how to create a productive, civil society and a spiritual connection with God.
There is a larger message here: Judaism never celebrates wars and their victories. Rather, we focus on perpetuating life and human rights.
On Chanukah when the land of Israel was freed from the Greek Hellenists, our holiday focuses not on the Maccabees military victory rather on the religious freedoms achieved and our reentry into the Temple. Shabbat 21b
On Pesach, on the day in which the Jewish people cross the Yam Suf, we do not recite a complete Hallel liturgy, because in that redemptive moment our Egyptian taskmasters were drowned. Mishnah Brurah 490:7
In the upcoming holiday of Purim that we clearly see this dialectic, starting with the pre-Purim Torah reading, Parshat Zachor, that we read this week.
Parshat Zachor reminds us of the Biblical mandate to wipe out the nation of Amalek. Deuteronomy 25:17-19
Who is this nation, and why must we remember to destroy them?
Maimonides writes that since the Seven Canaanite nations no longer exist, the commandment to remove them is no longer applicable. But, he says, the mitzvah to obliterate the nation of Amalek remains operative. Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars, 5:4-5
How is it possible that we remain commanded to destroy something that no longer exists?
Rav Soloveitchik explains in the name of his father, Rabbi Moshe Soloveichik, that Amalek is more than an extinct nation lost to history. Rather, Amalek represents an eternal ideology bent on destroying the Jewish people. Kol Dodi Dofek, Footnote 23
This is why it remains a Biblical requirement for us, as a nation, to wipe out anyone who adopts that Amalek ideology.
I am sharing this message with you at the precise spot where Dvir Sorek, ז”ל – a student at our Robert M. Beren Machanaim Hesder Yeshiva, a young man who wholeheartedly pursued Jewish-Arab co-existence as a core value – was murdered in cold blood, in an act of Amalek – an act of terrorism.
We will lovingly remember Dvir his life and legacy forever.
But at the same time that we commit to the necessity of destroying the ideology of Amalek, on Purim we simultaneously exhibit a commitment to the sanctity of life.
On Taanit Esther, the day before Purim, we fast. Because it was on that day that we engaged in battle in order to defend ourselves, and even though we triumphed, we remember in sadness that we were forced to take the lives of others – even our enemies. Mishnah Brurah 686:2
Purim focuses on the unity necessary within our people to guarantee redemption.
The unity that is found in giving mishloach manot gifts to our neighbors, matanot l’evyonim to help those facing challenging times.
B’ezrat Hashem, the time will soon come when all Israeli young adults will no longer need to train for war.
In the meantime, we will continue to prepare them with the tools they will need to survive while giving them the spiritual wings to thrive and build meaningful lives.We will work to celebrate the dual identity of Purim. For the sake of the Jewish people and all of humanity, may we succeed in this crucial endeavor.
Shabbat Shalom.The Dialectic of Purim: Fighting Amalek and Valuing Every Human Lif
Shabbat Shalom: Terumah (Exodus 25:1- 27:19) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –– “They shall make an ark of acacia trees. Overlay it with pure gold— outside and inside—and you shall make upon it a gold crown all around. Cast for it four gold rings and place them on its four …
“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. Jerusalem Talmud Shabbat 7:2 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.
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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 …
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