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David’s Corner- March 1, 2021

Ki Tassa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

The instructions from HaShem continue in this parasha.  The finest materials are now applied toward three elements:  the creation of the Priest’s vestments, the procedure for consecrating the priests, and construction of the altar for burning incense.

And then there was the big screw-up on the part of some Israelites, or the big explosion on the part of HaShem.  Was the Golden Calf episode inevitable?

 

Consider this.  The Israelites had no real antecedents to the new laws of HaShem.  As we saw in past parashot, there was no conception of rights, in Egypt.  The Israelites were to obey the Egyptian overseers, period.

 

Now, they were out of Egypt and, according to HaShem, have only to obey the word of HaShem in order to be happy.  Perhaps, though, some Israelites feel they needed a break from obeying authority, even if that authority sounds more reasonable than the Egyptians, even if that authority is truly looking after their welfare.

 

Perhaps, too, after the excitement of fleeing Egypt, perhaps because of so many wonders in rapid succession, the Israelites expect Moses to pick up the stone tablets quickly and to skate down the mountain to deliver them to the people.  When Moses doesn’t return after some days, some of the people grow restless and revert back to old polytheistic ways.

 

The people are creatures of habit, creatures who have not fully integrated the new habits of worshipping only HaShem and the habit of keeping the Sabbath.  The key to understanding this is Aaron’s behavior in the midst of the Golden Calf episode.  Aaron provides to Moses the lame excuse that Moses took too long coming down the mountain. It might be inferred that Aaron’s old habit before the Exodus was polytheistic sacrifice.

 

Both HaShem and Moses are furious at the lapse in the Covenant.  HaShem understandably instructs the Levites to kill the offenders.  But Moses, once calm, gets HaShem to calm down as well, or at the very least to realize that his anger could destroy all the Israelites.  HaShem creates a distance between himself and the Israelites so this does not happen.

 

Questions to be discussed:  What does Moses get HaShem to understand about his wayward people?  How does this affect HaShem’s expectations regarding the Israelites?

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Torah Study

“Talkin’ Torah Together!” 
Led by Mel Goldberg
 
The weekly Torah portion is the starting point for FASCINATING discussions. No preparation is necessary, and no Torah knowledge is required. 
The leader summarizes the portion and from there EVERYBODY has something to say! What makes a cubit relevant? How does the part about Hebrews wandering in the desert give you a Midnight insight into your own life? Does it matter if the Biblical stories are true or not? Is your COVID isolation part of what the Torah covers? 
Join in the Saturday discussion and laugh, argue, share from the heart, and feel connected to Judaism and LCJC in your own personal way. 
 

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Friday Night Service

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David’s Corner – February 22, 2021

T’tzaveh (Exodus 27:20 - 30:10)

The instructions from HaShem continue in this parasha.  The finest materials are now applied toward three elements:  the creation of the Priest’s vestments, the procedure for consecrating the priests, and construction of the altar for burning incense.

Nothing is improvised.  Every detail is to be carried out exactly.  To be created are a breastplate, an ephod (a long vest), a fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash; priestly garb for Aaron and his sons to wear as they serve HaShem.  

The materials are exquisite.  Here are those used for constructing a breastplate:  absolutely beautiful yarns of gold, blue, purple and crimson are employed, as well as beautiful stones of carnelian, chrysolite, emerald, turquoise, sapphire, and amethyst among others. (28:15)

The vestments must be consecrated, as must their wearers, the priests.  Here the instructions deal with the procedure.  With each vestment there is a pouring on of oil.  Yet the exacting procedure is only beginning, for a purification rite demands that unblemished bulls and rams be led to the altar to be sacrificed.  The blood of these animals is dripped on the right ear of Aaron and his sons.  Aaron’s vestments, once consecrated are passed on to the sons, and the purification right repeated every day for seven days.  Only Aaron and his sons may consume the meat of the animals. (29:1-28)

The odor is strong, to say the least.  Perhaps this is why instructions are made to construct an altar of the finest acacia wood in order to burn incense.  Incense can help neutralize or sweeten the odor.  No foreign incense is to be used, nor is a grain offering or a burnt offering to be made on this altar. It is to be cleaned once a year. (30:1-10)

In this worldview, the care that is taken in fulfilling these instructions is a mark of holiness, and obedience to them is the highest spiritual discipline.

Questions to be discussed:  Does holiness have its place today?  Is obedience still considered a virtue?  If not, what has replaced it in importance, now that we no longer have temple to make sacrifices?

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David’s Corner – February 15, 2021

T’rumah (Exodus 25:1 - 27:19

The process of building a traveling Tabernacle is most impressive.  This week’s parasha, T’rumah, and next week’s parasha, T’tzavveh, contain HaShem’s instructions for the process.

The first really impressive element is unstated.  It is clear by its omission that the Israelites are not to turn their experience of receiving the law at Mount Sinai into a regular yearly event at Sinai.  Thus the intention behind having a mobile Tabernacle is likely that eventually it will find its more permanent home in the promised land once that land has been entered and conquered.

A further incentive is that HaShem appeals to the Israelites’ sense of participation in the construction of the Tabernacle by having Moses tell them to “bring Me gifts, and that Moses is to “accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.” (25:2)

Let’s be clear, however.  No chintzy, cheap materials in the construction of the Tabernacle are acceptable.  Rather Moses shall accept “gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair; tanned ram skins, dolphin skins, and acacia wood.” (25:3-5)

The reason for these fine materials quickly becomes evident: “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  (25:8) Daddy is joining the kids for this road trip.  

But lets not get too familiar, alright?  HaShem will instruct the Israelites as to which spaces are open to the people, and which are so sacred that only the Cohanim may enter, and then there will be a space that only Moses can be near HaShem.  This will be all by design, HaShem’s design.  (25:9)  

Questions for discussion:  Can the Israelites live up to HaShem’s expectations in the construction of the Tabernacle?  What happens if they don’t?

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David’s Corner – February 8, 2021

MIshpatim (Exodus 21:1 - 24:18)

The tone of the Torah changes with this parasha.  Whereas up to now the focus has been principally on narrative, the Torah now presents the rules by which the the Israelites are expected to live.

 Where to start? So much is necessary beyond the initial commandments which frame essential truths.  Now there is to be a Book of the Covenant which spells out in greater detail what those truths mean in practice.

 Slavery and the liberation from it has been the great cause of the exodus from Egypt.  So perhaps that is the reason the Book of the Covenant begins with slavery.  A clear precedent is established.  Unlike in Egypt, the status of being a Hebrew slave is not a permanent condition unless a slave formally requests it.  The slave is to be released after six years of service, and his wife, should he have one, can join him. (21:2-6)

 A female Hebrew slave who has been sold by her father cannot be freed after six years. But if her owner finds her displeasing, he must let her be redeemed.  And if he designates her for his son and he marries another, he is not permitted to withhold her food, her clothing or her conjugal rights.  However imperfect this appears to 21st century eyes, it marks a clear distinction to what previously occurred in Egypt, for unlike then, Hebrew slaves now have some rights. (21:7-11)

 From the discussion on slavery, the topic jumps to murder.  “He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death.”  (21:12)    However, “If he did not do it by design, but it came about by an act of God I will assign you a place to which he can flee.” (21:13) Discerning intent thus becomes of paramount importance:  accidental or deliberate?   Certainly, as far as former Hebrew slaves are concerned, this is revolutionary.  No Egyptian cared much that Moses’s slaying of an Egyptian overseer was impulsive, with the intent of stopping the beating of a helpless Hebrew slave.


Questions for discussion:  Do you think that the intention of the Book of the Covenant is to draw a clear distinction between what the Hebrews had experienced as slaves and the new society of freedom?  If not, why not?  If so, were there other considerations as well?

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David’s Corner – February 1, 2021

Yitro (Exodus 18:1 - 20:23)

Why does Jethro have a full chapter devoted to him when the big story of the parasha is the giving of the ten commandments?  Perhaps the story of Jethro is not so small.   There are really at least five reasons Jethro demonstrates that he is the ideal father-in-law.  

First, while Moses is away in Egypt, Jethro takes care of Moses’s wife, Zipporah (Jethro’s daughter) as well her two sons, Gershom and Eliezer.  True, one would expect Jethro to assume this responsibility, but there is no guarantee that the headache of rivalries won’t once again rear its head.  Yet when, after the exodus, Jethro brings Moses’s family to him, there isn’t a hint of discord between the brothers nor between their mother and them.

Second, though Jethro has himself lived comfortably in the region, he has tolerated Moses naming his first son, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land,” and his second son, “The God of my father was my help, and He delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh.”  

Third, though he is a priest in another religion, that of Midian, Jethro is very tolerant and supportive of Moses’s faith in HaShem.  He insists that Moses tell him the complete story of the Exodus in detail. Then Jethro makes a burnt offering to HaShem which he shares with Aaron and other elders of Israel.

Fourth, Jethro offers just the right piece of advice in just the right way.  Jethro has known Moses intimately for many years, and Moses trusts him.  So after observing how Moses tends to adjudicate all by himself, Jethro advises him to delegate lesser matters to others, and to concentrate on the big stuff.  Moses listens and follows through on Jethro’s advice.  How essential this is, because Moses must concentrate on much in preparation for the giving of the law!

Fifth, and finally, Jethro quietly takes his leave.  He has fulfilled his role, and now, generously, he leaves Moses and his family to their destiny, while Jethro returns to his own land.  It’s hard to find a more modest servant in the Torah.   

Questions for Discussion:  Have you ever had someone like Jethro in your life?  How did he/she influence your life?

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David’s Corner – January 18, 2021

Bo (Exodus 10:1 -13:16)

The pharaoh knows it is time to let go, but he still won’t.  HaShem, we are told, has hardened his heart.

And look at what that has cost him after 10 plagues.  Not only has it caused the death of his first born, but the first born of all his people and their animals.  It has cost him Egypt itself.

Yet after that 10th plague, he says he is going to finally let the Hebrew slaves go.  He has at last admitted defeat.  But has he?  Not really.  He boards his war chariot and leads his army to overtake the Israelites at the sea of reeds.

There, after the Israelites have walked through a divided sea to arrive on dry land, the Pharaoh’s splendid army is drowned. 

With all of Egypt truly in ruins, why don’t Moses and the Israelites direct their attention to finding further ways to punish the tyrant Pharaoh for his excessive behavior?

Part of an answer might be that HaShem is well aware of the Israelites’ shortcomings.  Later he will call them a stiff-necked people.  They are hardly in a position to judge others as regards stubbornness and ego.

Also, however, after much celebratory partying, HaShem knows that the Israelites will awaken from their hangover and face a new challenge.  They must become a people, ready to enter their promised land, and have many trials and adventures ahead of them.

Questions for discussion:  Why does HaShem harden the Pharaoh’s heart?   What, if anything, do the Israelites learn about having a hardened heart? 

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David’s Corner – December 28, 2020

Benjamin

Genesis comes to an end in the portion, Va y’ hi, with Jacob blessing his children before he dies.  It’s not exactly touchy-feely.   While Jacob does generate positive feelings about Joseph and Judah, he has a long memory of escapades by Rueben, Simeon and Levi, and isn’t shy about busting them on it.

Finally Jacob gets to Benjamin, his youngest:  

“Benjamin is a ravenous wolf;

In the morning he consumes the foe,

And in the evening he divides the spoil.”  (Gen. 49:27)

Rather chilling isn’t it?  It’s the last thing one would expect to be said about Benjamin. He’s the cute kid everyone wants to protect, the one Jacob is adamant about NOT sending to Egypt as Joseph has ordered.

But there might be more to it than that.  First, remember that Benjamin’s mother, Rachel, died in childbirth.  Nor has Benjamin ever known his brother Joseph, because the eldest son of Rachel supposedly was killed by wild animals. So Benjamin has been left to his own devices in dealing with his tough elder half brothers. 

Then, once in Egypt, Benjamin may well have thought he had been a pawn in Joseph’s elaborate charade.  It’s not inconceivable that deep down he developed a certain chip on his shoulder.

In fact, Benjamin’s tribal descendants  will prove to be difficult customers in the time to come, as warriors battling not only external threats in the desert, but, in the Book of Judges, other Israelite tribes.  So accomplished will the Tribe of Benjamin be as soldiers, they will produce Israel’s first king, Saul.

Questions to think about:  Rachel’s two sons with Jacob both have a tangible connection with the Israelites’ future.  Joseph is linked to the Israelite migration to Egypt, and Benjamin is linked to the era of kingship.  Which other brothers are directly connected to Israel’s future?

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David’s Corner – December 21, 2020

Is the story of Joseph merely a legend?

The story of Joseph has become a legend.  A young boy is forced to leave his family and work in an alien land.  He rises to great success and serves the ruler of this alien land.  His family joins him, carving an economic niche by doing work that natives look down upon and won’t do.  The family, with others like it, enjoy decades of success.  Then, gradually, the Israelites lose their advantage and status and will not know freedom again for a very long time. Ultimately they are liberated, and fight to take their promised land.

But is all this merely a legend?  Consider how elements of it have popped up over the centuries.  To begin, many of us have in our past a story of a youthful ancestor who walked across Europe, and then nearly penniless,  booked the cheapest steerage to the United States or Canada. Once established in the new land, the ancestor sent for his family.

As for rising to serve a ruler in this new land, think of Maimonides, who rose to become the physician to the sultan in Egypt.  Or, in our own time, think of the controversial Henry Kissinger, who forged the foreign affairs of the United States for two presidents, opening China in the process.

Ancient Egyptians looked down upon herding, while later European peoples looked down upon moneylending.  Jews filled these jobs to great success.

This happened, too, in Poland.  Jews, fleeing murderous German princes were actually invited into Poland.  Their particular talent?  Financial planning, as they helped manage estates.  Over centuries, the Jewish population in Poland grew to be in the millions.

As in ancient Egypt, the combination of enormous population increase and economic success was perceived as a threat by natives.  Before long, Polish Jews were second class citizens living under poverty conditions in Shtetls.    In our darkest moment as a people, these millions of Jews were not only enslaved in munition factories, but they were exterminated.  

Fortunately the story did not end there.  For just as the Israelites were liberated from slavery and fought for their promised land, so did survivors of the Holocaust fight to establish a new state in their old land.