Sunday, March 1, 2015

Purim Fast of Esther Torah Readings for Wednesday, March 4 and Thursday, March 5, 2015 Megillah Esther

Torah Readings for Wednesday, March 4, 2015 (13th of Adar)

Fast of Esther - Shacharit (Morning Service)
32:11-14; 34:1-10 Shemot (Exodus)

This is the standard reading for minor fast days.  During the year, this material is part of the weekly portion called Ki Tissa.  The reading from chapter 32, which is the first of the three aliyot, relates to the Sin of the Golden Calf - specifically the plea of Moses that the Lord not destroy the Israelites.  “Turn from Your blazing anger, and renounce the plan to punish Your people…And the Lord renounced the punishment he planned to bring upon His people.”  The readings from chapter 34, which comprise the other two aliyot, describe the creation of the second set of stone tablets which replace the first set - the ones Moses shattered against the Golden Calf.  The reading actually ends with a statement by the Lord renewing the Covenant, “He said, ‘I hereby make a covenant.…’”  This is an appropriate reading for a fast day.  It concerns itself with the worst sin of the Israelites - the episode of the Golden Calf.  The first reading shows that God does hear us when we repent and is willing to “avert the evil decree.”  The second two readings are a reminder that from something bad - the Golden Calf - something good - the renewal of the Covenant and the second set of tablets - can come.

Fast of Esther - Mincha (Afternoon Service)
32:11-14; 34:1-10 Shemot (Exodus)

These are the same readings and reasons as the morning service.

Fast of Esther - Mincha (Afternoon Service)

55:6-56:8 Isaiah

The reading is from the Second Isaiah, the Isaiah of the Exile.  In moving, poetic terms, the prophet offers a vision of forgiveness for the truly penitent.  First the penitent person must accept that the Lord is calling the shots, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways, saith the Lord.”  And then the penitent person must change behavior, “Keep ye justice, and do righteousness…Happy is the man that does this…that keepeth the Sabbath from profaning it, and keepeth his hand from doing any evil.”

The Fast of Esther normally falls on the 13th of Adar and is observed in memory of the fast mentioned in the Megillah Esther.  Their fast was a three day fast.  Ours is only a one-day affair.  This fast also reminds us of a theme that runs throughout Judaism - the bitter and the sweet or darkness always gives way to light.  The Fast of the 13th gives way to the Feast of the 14th.  In other words, we should not be too disheartened by moments of defeat because, with the help of God, they are merely the prelude to an even greater joy.

There are exceptions when it comes to observing the fast.  According to Rabbi Shraga Simmons, “If the 13th falls on Shabbat, we don’t fast that day, due to the honor Shabbat.  The fast is not even held on Friday, since this would adversely affect Shabbat preparations.  Rather, we observe the fast on Thursday, the 11th of Adar.”

Torah Readings for Purim, Wednesay Night, March 4, 2015

Megillah Esther

This reading fulfills the first half of the rule that “Each person, man and woman alike is obligated to hear the reading of the Megillah at night and during the day.”  This is the “central observance” of Purim.  While laws pertaining to the holiday may be found in the Talmudic Tractate known as “Megillah,” the simplest compendium of the rules is in Chapter 141 of the Kitzur Shulchon Oruch, copies of which are available in very readable English translation.

Torah Readings for Thursday, March 5, 2015 (14th of Adar)

Purim - Shacharit (Morning Service)
17:8-16 Shemot (Exodus)

The Torah portion describes the battle between that Amalekites and the Israelites that took place in the Wilderness after the Exodus.  According to tradition, Haman is a descendant of the Amalekites, specifically Agag, who was an Amalekite King.  The reading is one verse short of the standard ten usually required, so the last verse is repeated.

Megillah Esther

The Megillah is read after the Torah has been returned to the ark and half-kaddish has been chanted.  This reading fulfills the second half of the rule that “Each person, man and woman alike is obligated to hear the reading of the Megillah at night and during the day.”

Purim is celebrated on the 14th of Adar.  In preparation, here are a few customs and ceremonies related to the holiday.  The emphasis is on the word few.  This is not intended to be a complete compendium of the customs, ceremonies or the reasons for the observances.  I will leave that to the professionals in the community.  The rules concerning Purim cover nine pages in Volume II of the Kitzur Shulchon Oruch (a code of Jewish ritual law).  The material is found in two chapters called respectively, “The Reading of the Magillah” and “Sending Presents of Food, Giving Gifts to the Poor, and the Purim Feast.”  These chapter headings should give you an idea as to the thrust of the holiday observances.

The Half-Shekel
We always remember the poor at Purim.  It became a custom to give three half-shekels or in our case three half-dollars to the poor so that they could enjoy the holiday as well.

Shalach Monos (Yiddish)
Purim is a time for giving gifts.  Traditionally the gifts consist of two consumable items that do not require further preparation.  These may include hamantaschen, other kinds of cookies, cakes or candy as well as grape juice or wine.  In some communities the making and delivery of Shalach Monos baskets has become a Sisterhood fundraising activity.  At any rate, these treats are delivered by a third party.  Frequently children get to play the part of gift deliverers.

Reading the Megillah
Everybody, regardless of sex, is to hear the reading both in the evening and again in the morning.  There are numerous rules about the proper way the reading is to take place.  Interestingly, the name of G-d does not appear in the Megillah.

Eating and Drinking
Purim is a holiday of great joy.  Traditionally a festive meal, including meat, is to be consumed during the day of Purim.

Two Scrolls - Two Women - Two Outcomes
Two of the five scrolls are named for women - The Scroll of Esther and The Scroll of Ruth.  Ruth tells the story of a convert who chooses to move to Eretz Israel, who observes the commandments including caring for the widow, gleaning and chalitzah.  Her merit is such that she becomes the Matriarch for the House of David which includes David, Solomon and ultimately the Moshiach.  Esther tells the story of a Jewess who marries a non-Jew.  Yes, she does it as part of the Divine Plan and yes she does save her people. Of course she does this by using the skills of the courtesan and the harem girl.   Furthermore, according to tradition, her son is King Darius of Persia and Darius is no Jewish ruler; he adopted the customs of his father.  In other words, the line of the born Jew - Esther - disappears from view.  The line of the Jew by choice - Ruth - is with us to this day.  In the 21st century, questions have been raised about the on-going viability of the American Jewish community.  According to some, it would behoove us to look at the lives of these two great women for a clue as to what action steps need to be taken.  First, they would say, we must tap into the zeal of the Jews by choice, embracing them, educating them in the ways of our people while acknowledging their worth and contributions   At the same time, we must reach out and hold on to those who feel themselves to be at the outer rim of house of Israel. We must provide them the education that goes with being an Ashish Chayil in the truest sense of the word. We must draw them back so that Darius will join David as Jews ensuring the future of our people.

Copyright; March, 2015; Mitchell A. Levin

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Torah Readings for Saturday, February 28, 2015 Shabbat Zachor Tetzaveh

Torah Readings for Saturday, February 28, 2015

Shabbat Zachor - Two scrolls are used on this Shabbat.  The first is for the regular weekly portion.  The second is for the special reading for Shabbat Zachor.

First Scroll
Tetzaveh (Command or Instruct)
27:20-30:10 Shemot (Exodus)

Tetzaveh is the eighth sedrah in the Book of Shemot (Exodus).  The sedrah takes its name from the second Hebrew word in the first verse of the reading.  “And you shall command (Tetzaveh) the children of Israel….”  Last week in Terumah we read the instructions for building the Tabernacle and the Ark.  This week we read about those who will be responsible for using and maintaining these holy precincts - the Priests or Kohanim.  Tetzaveh divides into four basic parts.  It opens with instructions concerning the Oil for Lighting (27:20-21).  It then shifts to The Clothing for the Priests (28:1-43) followed by The Ordination of the Priests (29:1-46).  The sedrah ends with instructions concerning The Altar for Burning Incense (30:1-10).  Some scholars contend that the material contained in this sedrah was inserted centuries after the events described were supposed to have occurred.  They contend that this was an attempt by the Priestly Class officiating at the Temple in Jerusalem to provide themselves with a lineage that would justify their position.  The pageantry of the Priesthood described in this sedrah is difficult for many modern Jewish readers to comprehend.  The garments, the bells, the incense, etc. are things that many of us relate to practices in Rome or Canterbury and not to Judaism.  While many of our customs and ceremonies are derived from those of the Priests, probably a majority of American Jews would have difficulty actually seeing them implemented in our time.  Fortunately several of the Chumahism in use today provide ample notes about the literal meaning of the text as well as graphics depicting the vestments of the Kohanim.

Although God addresses Moshe in the sedrah, Tetzaveh is the only weekly portion from Shemot through Devarim that does not mention him by name.  Two reasons are offered.  One is that this omission is a tribute to Moshe’s humility.  Tetzaveh is devoted to the Kohanim and this is Aaron’s turn to be in the spotlight.  A second explanation has to do with the death of Moshe.  According to some, Moshe died on what is now the seventh of Adar.  This date always falls within the week when Tetzaveh is read; hence the absence of his name.

Oil For Lighting (27:20-21)
The sedrah begins with what appears to be a bit of unfinished business from last week.  Last week the Israelites were told about making the Menorah.  This week they are told about the kind of oil to be used and the instruction for kindling the lights.  From this source, among others, has come many customs about kindling lights that we follow today.  These include the “Ner Tamid” or Eternal Light that we find over the Ark, the candles we burn at the start of Shabbat, the Havdalah Candle, the candles lit at the start of each Festival, the Chanukah lights and the Yahrzeit Candle.  Light and fire have traditionally been connected with the presence of God.  Unfortunately, in the 20th century light and fire have taken on another meaning for the Jew as well.  The haunting words of Eli Weisel’s The Night show that God can also be absent in the fire and the light it provides.

The Clothing for the Priests (28:1-43)
The entire chapter is devoted to describing the vestments of the Kohanim.  They include a Breastplate, an Ephod, a Robe, a Tunic, a Turban, a Sash, Breeches and a Headplate.  The Ephod was to be made of gold, blue, purple and scarlet threads.  These are popular colors for the various coverings later used in the synagogue or shul.  A bell was attached to the Robe so that people would know when the Kohan Gadol was moving in and out of a holy place.  A reminder of this bell can be seen in the bells that are attached to the crown or crowns on each Torah scroll.  The Breastplate contained two stones - The Urim and the Tumim.  They were used as a type of oracle.  How they functioned is not quite clear.  There are few references to their use in the TaNaCh.  From a modern point of view, the breastplate used in covering the Sefer Torah is a reminder of this priestly garb.  The Headplate is another example of wearing a reminder of God and his law on our forehead.  The Rosh (the tefillin worn on the forehead) is said by some to be a reminder of this piece of priestly garb.  The Breeches are worn as a sign of modesty.  Remember the earlier commandment about not exposing oneself when leaving an altar.  From a modern perspective, these special vestments may be seen as God’s way of telling us that performing His rituals is not a casual business and that casual dress is not appropriate.  Just as the Kohanim dressed in special attire when performing their duties in the Tabernacle and the Temple, so we wear special items such as the Tallit and dress in our best clothes for such events as Shabbat and Holiday services.  Before we carry this too far we should note that just because the Kohanim performed their rituals barefooted does not mean we should stop wearing shoes at Temple Judah.

The Ordination of the Kohanim (29:1-46)
The sedrah now describes the seven days of ceremonies and sacrifices that will comprise the ordination of the Kohanim.  Moshe is responsible for performing the various anointings and sacrifices.  Those being consecrated are Aaron and his four sons - Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.  While all of them will be Kohanim, only Aaron will be Kohan Gadol.  In a later reading Nadab and Abihu will be killed by God for taking “strange fire” into the Tabernacle.  Why is God commanding all of this?  As the text states, He is commanding all of this because “I the Lord am their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt.”  The description of these ceremonies concerning the Kohanim end with the same words that started the Sinaitic Revelation, also called the giving of the Ten Commandments.  This symmetry would indicate that regardless of how we might view all of this, the author(s) of the Torah, may have seen the Commandments, the Tabernacle, the Ark and the attendant rituals as vital parts of God’s plan to make the Israelites a holy nation, a nation of priests.

The Altar For Burning Incense (30:1-10)
The sedrah ends with the instructions for building one more altar.  Some commentators wonder why the instructions for building this altar were not included earlier with the other items that were in the Tabernacle.  Like the other items last week, this altar was portable complete with rings and poles.  The burning of incense must have been of great importance.  As proof of this, consider the following.  First, this particular altar was placed just outside the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies.  Secondly, traditional Jews recite these words (30:7-8) every day in a part of the Morning Service called Ketoret or Incense Offerings.

98.         The commandment to kindle a lamp (menorah) in the sanctuary (27:20-21).
99.         The specification of special garments to be worn by the priests (28:4-5).
100.          The commandment that the High Priest’s breast piece should not come loose from his ephod (28:28).
101.          The requirement to include a binding in the opening for the head of the High Priest’s robe to prevent tearing (28:32).
102.          The prohibition against others’ eating the special food set aside for the priests (29:32-33).
103.          The commandment that the priests burn aromatic incense at the sanctuary (30:7).
104.          The prohibition against offering sacrifices on the sanctuary’s altar of gold (30:3 and 30:9).
From Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

The Moral Message of the Two Altars
The sedrah of Terumah described the building of an altar of copper.  The sedrah of Tetzaveh concludes with the instructions for making the altar of gold on which incense was to be burned in the Sanctuary.  The Torah is relevant to all Jews and all times, but what is the contemporary application of this passage?  We have no Temple and no altar.  Seemingly these laws have nothing to tell us in the present.  But this is not so.  There are two kinds of Temple - one that can be destroyed and one kind that cannot be destroyed.  As we know from our history the Temple that can be destroyed refers to the brick and mortar constructed in Jerusalem.  The one that cannot be destroyed is the Temple within each Jew, where he or she still performs his or her service in an inward reflection of the service of the Sanctuary.  What follows is an explanation of how one of the laws about the altar can be translated into an important principle about the Jewish soul.

In the Mishnah, it states that the altar of gold and the altar of copper did not require ritual immersion because they could not become impure.  According to Rabbi Eliezer, this was because they were considered to be like the earth (which cannot become ritually unclean).  The other Sages held that it was because the altars were plated with metal.  The metal covering was considered subsidiary to the inner structure (which was made of shittim wood), and this could not become unclean.  Since the Torah can be interpreted on four levels, we know that the laws about these altars have more than just a literal significance.  Otherwise, they could not speak to the generations who live without the Temple and the altars.  There are amongst Jews, men of copper and men of gold.  Those who are rich in spiritual worth are like gold:  their every act is like a precious coin.  The poor in spirit are the copper coins of the religious life.  But every Jew, however he behaves inwardly or outwardly, preserves intact at the heart of his being an essential desire to do G-d’s will - a spark of faith, sometimes hidden, sometimes fanned into flame.  The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe said:  “A Jew does not want, nor is he able, to be torn away from G-dliness.”  This spark is where the altar of the Jew’s inner Temple is to be found.  On the altar, burnt offerings were brought.  They were animals, consumed by a fire from G-d.  And this happens within the Jew.  The sacrifice is of himself.  The animal is his “animal soul,” his egocentric desires.  And the fire which consumes him is the fire of the love of G-d Whose undying source is the spark of holiness at the essential core of his soul.  Whether a Jew belongs to the ”altars of gold” or is one of the “altars of copper,” as long as he reminds himself that essentially he is an altar where the fire of G-dly love consumes the “animal soul” of his self-centered passions, he cannot become impure.

Excerpted from Torah Studies (p.124-127), a compendium of talks by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson

The Role of Aaron
Aaron plays many roles throughout the saga of the Exodus and the Wandering in the Desert.  These roles, and the reasons for them, have been an on-going source of discussion for us since we began studying together.  This week’s sedrah raises the question as to why God commanded Moshe to transfer the position of Kohein Gadol to Aaron.  Some contend that the transfer was a form of punishment because Moshe had at first refused to return to Egypt as the messenger of God.  Others contend that it was not punishment at all but rather an acknowledgement of Moshe’s role in the divine plan.  Moshe was the intermediary between God and the Children of Israel.  As such he was on too high a plan of spirituality to deal with the more mundane matters of life, which is part of the role of the Kohein.  Furthermore, Moshe was too busy teaching the laws of God to the Children of Israel to have time to fill the role of Kohein.  So for both of these “practical reasons” Moshe had to relinquish the position.  Considering the role Aaron had played in confronting Pharaoh, he was the logical choice.  After all, when the text said, Moshe spoke to Pharaoh; it was actually Aaron who was doing the speaking.  However, Moshe had to proclaim that Aaron was to be Kohein Gadol or the people would not have accepted him in that role.  That is also the reason for the seven days of instruction.  It validated the proclamation in the eyes of the people.

Eating and the Jewish People
From the earliest days of the Jewish people to modern times, food and its consumption have been a recurring theme.  From Abraham feeding the three visitors on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah to the Broadway monologues of Jackie Mason, it is eat, eat and eat some more.  Tetzaveh provides food for thought on the subject of eating.  In this week’s portion we read, “And they (Aaron and his sons) shall eat those things with which atonement was made” (29:33).  According to the Talmud, this means that while the Priests eat the offerings, atonement is granted to those who brought the offering.  The Torah verse and the subsequent Talmudic commentary have given rise to a variety of tales on the subject of fasting and the importance of eating as enjoyable pleasure in which people indulge.  Here are a couple of examples which hopefully will provoke thought and commentary the next time you eat, or do not eat, a meal.

A famous sage asked his students, “How is it possible nowadays for a man to offer a sacrifice to a pagan god?”  When none answered, he continued.  “If a man withholds himself from eating because of anger; or if a man is commonly considered to be a scholar and a tzaddik, and though he is hungry he refrains from eating in order that those around him should consider him saintly and abstemious - then such a man is offering a sacrifice to a pagan god.”  In other words, eating is a good thing to do.  If you forgo a good thing for a bad reason, than you are acting in manner that is anathema to Judaism and the Lord.

A man complained to his Rabbi.  “We are told that if a man fasts for the requisite number of days, the Prophet Elijah will reveal himself in person to the person.  I have fasted for that many days and more and yet Elijah has not appeared.”  The Rabbi replied with a story.  The Baal Shem Tov got into his horse-drawn coach and began a long journey.  The horses were used to pulling the coach from town to town.  At each town, they would stop and they would be fed in the manner in which men feed their horses.  But this was one of those magical trips where the Baal Shem would seem to fly through the air defying the laws of time and space to reach the destination.  As they appeared to pass by town after town and nobody fed them, the horses began to wonder.  At first they thought they had become magical horses.  When they continued to pass through the air without feeling tired, they began to think that maybe they were not horses at all.  Instead they were angels.  But when they arrived at their destination, the horses were taken to the stable and given bags of feed.  The horses attacked the bags of feed in the manner of real horses.  “And so it is with a person who fasts, and already imagines himself to be an angel worthy of being visited by Elijah, the prophet.  What counts is that when he has completed his fasts, and is confronted by food, he should not attack it like a horse, because then he remains the same horse that he always was.”

During the week a man divided his time between earning a living, praying and studying the holy books.  He barely ate at all and he ate so quickly that he actually spent more time making the blessing over the bread and reciting the Grace After Meals than he did in eating.  But on Shabbat, each meal was a long, leisurely affair.  There was food and drink in abundance, but not one word of Torah was spoken.  One Shabbat, a visiting sage joined the man for the meal after the morning service.  When he saw all the others were busy eating, he saw what he thought was a golden opportunity to provide a discourse on the reading of the week.  As the sage opened his mouth to begin speaking, his host thrust a piece of challah into his mouth.  When the sage opened his mouth again to speak, his host thrust a piece of fish into his mouth.  Each time the sage opened his mouth, he found it filled with food.  Finally he gave up and ate his meal.  After Shabbat, the sage asked his host why he behaved as he did.  The man replied as follows, “We are taught that a man should fill his days with an occupation, prayer and study to avoid the evil inclination.  We are to do these things with total concentration.  But on Shabbat, we are told that we should enjoy the bounty of our table as well engage in prayer and study.  If we are to pray, study and work without distraction, should we not also enjoy the bounty of the table in the same manner?  So on Shabbat, we eat without speaking of Torah so that we will not be distracted.  For if we spoke of Torah during the meal, then surely we would stop eating and then we would not be observing the Shabbat in the prescribed manner.”

Environment Matters
This week’s reading reminds us again that there is a difference between liberation and The Exodus.  Liberation means being freed from bondage.  Exodus means leaving the place where you have been living.  So why didn’t God force the Pharaoh to free the Israelites and then let them stay in Goshen.  “And they shall know that I am the Lord and their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them” (29:46).  While God is everywhere, He knew that the Israelites were going to need a change of scenery if they were going to be able to learn to live according to his commandments.  He knew that the environment does have an impact on human behavior.  That has led to the admonitions about avoiding certain places lest you be tempted to follow the wrong path.  It also led to the tale of the sage who spurned an offer of great wealth if he would move to a new town because it was not a place where Torah was studied.

Showing Who’s Boss
In describing the attire of the Kohanim (Priests), this week’s portion says “You shall make them girdles” about which the Talmud says, “The girdle of the Kohanim atones for the sinful thoughts” (Tractate Arachim).  This interpretation has given rise to the following story.

“A man once came to Reb Dov Ber, the Maggid Mezritch with the complaint that he was unable to clear his mind of the sinful thought that bothered him constantly.  The Maggid told him to go to Zhithomer and visit with an innkeeper named Reb Ze’ev.  The man followed the Maggid’s command, but by the time he had arrived at the Reb Ze’ev’s inn, it was late at night and the building was locked.  The man knocked repeatedly but there was no answer.  As he stood outside freezing in the cold he called out, “How can you people have no pity on a fellow Jew who is stranded outside on this winter’s night?”  No word was heard from the inn.  No one came to unbolt the door.  At daybreak, the door opened as it always did.  The freezing visitor who had survived the night entered and stayed at the inn for a few days.  But Reb Z’ev did not ask him any questions, a fact that puzzled the man sent by the Maggid.  “Why,” he asked himself, “did the Maggid send me here?”  Finally, the man decided to leave for home.  Before departing he told Reb Z’ev, “The Maggid sent me to visit you - but I don’t know why.”  Reminding the visitor about the locked door that had kept him out of the inn, Reb Z’ev said, “I’ll tell you why the Maggid sent you here.  He wanted you to learn from me that a man is the master of his house, and whomever he does not want inside he simply does not admit.”  (Based on the writings of Rabbi Shlomo Yozef Zevin, of Blessed Memory.)

Rabbi Hirsh and Tetzaveh
On Saturday, February 13, 1897 Emil G. Hirsch who served as Rabbi at Temple Sinai in Chicago preached the sermon at Temple Beth-El in New York.  He based his talk on Chapter 28 of the Book of Exodus which was part of the Torah reading for that day.  Hirsch was considered a radical by some so this excerpt from his talk which appeared in the New York Times, provides a fascinating window into the mind of one of the leaders of the Reform Movement during the last decades of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century.

“What is the real function of religion in life?  What is the real position we Jews should occupy with respect to our religion?

“The chapter read this morning flavors of archaeology, and has initiated us into the mysteries of priestly millinery, but we are to discover what the lessons therein mean.  Each chapter of the Bible has its significance.  The first injunction is to bring ‘pure and clean’ oil to light the lamp to the Lord.  In the Bible, oil, olive oil especially, is the great healing element.  To anoint with oil was to offer healing influences.  Religion is the conciliatory, the soothing element, and it is to soothe us and modify our pride.

“God has made humanity as He has made the world.  As there are all phases of nature, so there are all phases of society, and they are all bound together in the realization of the plan formed by the Almighty.

“In order to extract oil from the olive the fruit must be crushed, pressed, and lacerated.  As is the olive, so is Israel.  Destined to be prosecuted and placed over oil and the light, and must give to the world a religious conception of the universe.  If Israel had a religion only for itself, I would say that it is time it should disappear from the world.  But Israel has furnished the text which all preachers preach to-day.  All the ethics of to-day are flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone.  It is Israel who is lighting the lamp, for which he has furnished the oil, not for his own good alone, but for the good of the world.  The light of Israel’s ethical religion must shine forth from the cover, from the evening until the full dawn of morning.

“Oil does not mix with water.  The Gulf Stream in the ocean, whose waters are distinct from the waters of the sea, is a phenomenon, akin to Messianic Israel.  The one influences navigation, the other the world, yet they will not mix, but remain always distinct.  Israel is still the oil.  It cannot mix with the waters.  It must stand alone.

“Jewish Theology may be the theology of the world, but Jewish ethics are not entirely the ethics of the world, and we cannot yet lay down the burden which has been placed upon our shoulders.  So long as there is darkness on the earth, Israel will be the Messiah for the world - Israel, anointed with this oil to dispel the darkness and living the light.  Then, and not until then, will Israel’s mission on earth be completed.

“That is the Israelite’s conception of religion and that is the Israelite’s duty on earth.  He is the priest, the Messiah, and shall lead upward and onward.  That is what the Prophet had in mind when he exclaimed, ‘I, Jehovah, have not ceased to be, nor you, Israel, have not ceased to be.’”
For more about Rabbi Hirsch see

Second Scroll
Special Reading for Shabbat Zachor
25:17-19 Devarim (Deuteronomy)

Shabbat Zachor or the Sabbath of the Remembrance always comes on the Shabbat before Purim.  It is the second special Shabbat that precedes Pesach.  On Shabbat Zachor we remove two scrolls from the ark.  The first scroll is for the regular weekly reading.  The second scroll is for the special reading Shabbat Zachor that comes from Devarim 25:17-19.  This reading begins with the words “Remember (Zachor) what Amalek did to you on the way, as you came out of Egypt!”  The two sentences recount the attack of the Amalekites that was made without provocation at the rear of the column of the Israelites, the weakest place, when we had just left Egypt.  Because of the nature of this unprovoked attack we are commanded to “eradicate the memory of Amalek from beneath the heavens.…”  This reading comes just before Purim, because traditionally Haman is supposed to be a descendant of Amalek.  Also, tradition tells us that we are to eradicate the memory of Haman just as we are commanded to eradicate the memory of Amalek.  Although women are exempt from most time-driven commandments, they must fulfill the command to hear the reading for Shabbat Zachor.  The command to “Remember Amalek” is of such importance that it is part of the Six Remembrances that are recited daily.

Amalekites in Modern Times
The commandments to Blot out the Amalekites have the harsh sound of a call for genocide to our modern ears.  In addition to which we are puzzled by the command to both blot out the Amalekites and yet to Remember the Amalekites.  What was the great sin of the Amalekites?  For example there is no command to blot out the Egyptians who enslaved us for four centuries so why the Amalekites?  The Amalekites attacked the Israelites when they were at their low ebb, shortly after leaving Egypt in what one commentator describes as an unnecessary sneak attack.  In other words, Amalek is the archetype of the evil doer who prays on the weak, the helpless and the unsuspecting.  When the Jew remembers Amalek, he or she is remembering this kind of evil and the Jew blots out Amalek by protecting the weak from the parasites who prey upon them.  In modern parlance, Jews are blotting out Amalek when we support laws that promote honesty in the world of commerce, that protect the rights of workers and that ensure the safety and healthfulness of food, drugs and water.

Haftarah for Shabbat Zachor
I Samuel 15:2-34 (Ashkenazim)
I Samuel 15:1-34 (Sephardim and Chabad Chassidim)

The Men:  The reading centers on Samuel, the last of the pre-monarchical leaders and Saul, the first King of Israel.  Their relationship was a stormy one at best.  Samuel did not want a king and Saul was not the stuff of which great monarchs are made.

The Message:  The reading relates Saul’s fight with the Amalekites and their King, Agag.  God told Saul that He was punishing the Amalekites for what they had done to the Israelites when they left Egypt.  He told Saul to attack them and wipe them out - men, women, children and all of their livestock.  Saul disobeyed and kept the best of the livestock and took Agag prisoner.  When Samuel confronted him, Saul tried to deny that he had disobeyed God and then he tried to rationalize his behavior.  Samuel would have none of it.  He told Saul that God “regrets” His decision to make him king.  Saul pled, but it was too late.  God and Samuel turned their respective backs on him.

Theme-Link:  Usually the prophetic portion is connected to the weekly Torah portion.  On some occasions, the prophetic portion is linked to the special nature of the Shabbat or an event on the calendar.  This is one of those occasions.  The special Torah reading is about the Amalekites.  The haftarah is also about the Amalekites.  One describes the evil that they did.  The other describes an attempt to finally punish them for this evil.  For many people this is the most puzzling prophetic reading of the year.

This is not the last time Saul will be connected with the Amalekites.  Saul fought his last battle against the Philistines at Mount Gilboa.  When he saw that all was lost, Saul fell upon his sword rather than be taken captive.  Three days after the battle a man came to David’s camp and told him that Saul was dead.  When David asked how Saul had died, the man said he had killed Saul.  He gave David Saul’s crown and bracelet as proof of his deed.  The man identified himself as being "the son of an Amalekite.”  Why did this Amalekite lie about what had happened?  According to some, he thought David would reward him for killing Saul - the monarch who had tried to kill David.  Instead of rewarding him, David had the Amalekite killed for having killed “the Lord’s anointed.”  Some say this episode is further proof of the venality of the Amalekites.  There are those who contend that this troubling haftarah exists to remind us that Evil does exist.  This means that Right and Wrong exist; a concept that makes modern man who lives in an era of situational ethics uncomfortable to say the least.  And this leads back to Saul and David.  When Samuel confronted Saul for failing to follow God’s command, Saul equivocated and tried to rationalize his behavior.  When Nathan confronted David in the matter of Uriah and Bathsheba, the monarch admitted his sin and repented for his deeds.  For some, this explains why the House of Saul fell and the House of David did not.

Copyright; February, 2015; Mitchell A. Levin

Monday, February 16, 2015

Torah Readings for Thursday, February 19, and Saturday, February 21, 2015 Rosh Chodesh Adar Terumah

Torah Readings for Thursday, February 19, 2015

First Day Rosh Chodesh Adar
28:1-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)

This is the standard reading for each Rosh Chodesh.  Rosh Chodesh is the name of the minor holiday that marks the start of each month.  The term Rosh Chodesh is translated as New Moon.  The first day of the month is referred to as Rosh Chodesh because the months are lunar and the first day of each month comes with the start of the new moon.  In the days of the Temple special sacrifices were brought in honor of the new moon.  With the destruction of the Temple, the sacrificial system ended.  In place of the sacrifices, Jews read a description of the sacrificial offerings, which is described in the first fifteen verses of chapter 28 in the book of Numbers.  The Torah reading takes place during the daily morning service.  There are many Jews who have no desire to return to the sacrificial system.  They use these readings as a way of providing a connection with the past which is one of the keys to our future.  Because of its connection with the moon, Rosh Chodesh is thought to have a special meaning for women.  Some sages suggest that wives and mothers should be given gifts on Rosh Chodesh.  There are other sages who think that Tzedakah should be given in the name of these women.  Once again, Jewish fund raisers would seem to be missing a golden opportunity (no pun intended).

Adar is the 12th month counting from Pesach and the 6th month counting from Rosh Hashanah.  A second month of Adar is added to the calendar during leap years.  This year is not a leap year.  Adar is mentioned by name numerous times in the Bible, most frequently in the Scroll of Esther but also in the Book of Ezra.  As reported in the Book of Ezra, the Second Temple was dedicated on the third of Adar.  According to tradition, Moses was born and died on the 7th of the month.  For this reason, officers of Jewish Burial Societies observed the 7th of Adar as a minor fast day.  During the Maccabees’ war with the Syrians, Judah Maccabee defeated the Syrian General Nicacnor on the 13th of Adar.  Purim, which falls on the 14th of Adar, is the most famous event connected with this month.  Because of Purim, Adar is viewed as a joyful month causing the Rabbis to write, “When Adar comes in, rejoicing is increased.”

Torah Readings for Friday, February 20, 2015

Second Day Rosh Chodesh Adar
28:1-15 Bamidbar (Numbers)

Same as the first day; this is actually the first day of the Month of Adar.

Adar Anniversaries
The Second Temple was dedicated on the third of Adar, 350 BCE.  14) And the elders of the Jews builded and prospered, through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo.  And they builded and finished it, according to the commandment of the G-d of Israel, and according to the decree of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.  15) And this house was finished on the third day of the month Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. (JPS Translation)

You would think such a monumental event would rate some sort of annual observance on the Jewish calendar.  After all, everybody knows the date of the destruction of the Second Temple.  Why are we not as conversant with our successes as we are with our failures?  What was the true nature of the Second Temple?  These and other questions surrounding the generation that did and did not return from the Babylonian Exile take on a special urgency as we move from the unremembered 3rd of Adar to the lionized 14th of Adar.  Why do we make such a tumult over a group of Jews who were in danger only because they had not returned to Jerusalem; a group that had forgotten the promise that if I forget thee O! Jerusalem may my right hand forget its cunning?  Yet we turn our historical and celebratory backs on those Jews who remembered Jerusalem and went home to rebuild the Temple in fulfillment of the prophetic visions.

Torah Readings for Saturday, February 21, 2015

Terumah (Gifts, Portion, Donation or Contribution)
25:1-27:19 Shemot (Exodus)

Terumah is the seventh sedrah in the Book of Shemot (Exodus).  It takes its name from the seventh Hebrew word in the second sentence of the weekly reading.  “Speak to the children of Israel and let them take for Me a portion (Terumah) from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take My portion (Terumah).”  According to one commentary, the Hebrew word Terumah lacks a true English equivalent.  The term is variously translated as “portion,” “gifts” or “heave-offering.”  The word Terumah has the same root as the word Hebrew Terumi which means noble, lofty or distinguished.  The word Terumah carries the connotation of things that are set aside for “sacred use” or “for a higher purpose.”  According to the Stone Commentary, the root of Terumah is the Hebrew word “to uplift.”  Hence these gifts, portions or offerings were meant to uplift the giver spiritually.  In this manner the mundane items of the material world would be infused with a sense of the spiritual world, a concept we have discussed many times.  At one level, Terumah is the most challenging sedrah we will encounter during the year.  The sedrah contains no narrative advancing the story of the Israelites.  It provides no compendium of commandments with obvious application in our modern world.  Rather, it addresses something that seems sterile and devoid of meaning in the 21st century.  Merely reading and absorbing a text such as this is difficult.  Yet it is necessary since it is every bit as much a part of the Torah as the Story of the Creation, The Exodus, or the giving of the Ten Commandments.

Terumah provides a detailed description for building the Tabernacle and the Ark.  The Tabernacle was a temporary edifice that would be built one time and one time only.  Yet the Tabernacle must have been of great importance since the description of it is given in great detail.  The Ark would have a longer lifetime.  Eventually, it would be taken to Jerusalem by King David and placed in the First Temple.  If one accepts this scenario, the Ark would have been destroyed in 586 BCE when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple.  Over time, different commentators have developed various lessons from the design and construction of these holy edifices.  For the modern reader, these may be of more interest than the text itself.  But we must still acquaint ourselves with the actual reading.  As with everything else in the Torah, God not only commanded that the Tabernacle be built, He provided detailed plans for it.  This blueprint is in the Torah, which means it is public knowledge.  This differs from the common practice of the time followed by other ancient religions of keeping such information secret.  The Tabernacle is a rectangular structure divided into three parts - an Outer Court, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies.  The Stone Chumash contains a sketch of the Mishkan (pg.463) as well as depictions of other items described in Terumah.  The Holy of Holies contains the Ark of the Covenant in which the Stone Tablets are stored.  The description of the Ark and its function is one of the reasons that some commentators think that Terumah is out of sequence from the point of view of literary narrative.  They contend that the instructions contained in Terumah actually came after the episode of the Golden Calf since that is when Moshe actually brought down the tablets from the top of Mt. Sinai.  Another reason for this contention has to do with answering the question “Why build the Tabernacle in the first place?”  Once the Israelites had experienced the Revelation at Sinai, they were going to leave the mountain and continue their journey to the Promised Land.  According to some, the Tabernacle served as an on-going symbol of the Revelation at Sinai and the sense of holiness the Israelites experienced there.  Since the whole universe belongs to God, He does not need a special dwelling place.  Rather, we need a special place where we can feel the intensity of His holy presence.

The division of the Mishkan into three parts has been the source of many lessons about the relationship between God and man and about our spiritual development.  Just as the Mishkan is divided into different parts of ascending Holiness, so do we experience God in ascending levels.  Also, we experience Teshuvah or “Returning to God” in ascending levels, rather than all in one fell swoop.  Last but not least, for those who are seeking to be more observant of the Commandments, the construction of the Mishkan provides a pattern of gradual approach as opposed to doing things all at once.  In looking for a universal message from this sedrah, consider the concept of Terumah, the giving of gifts described in 25:2.  The gifts are to be given willingly from the people to God.  Furthermore, in giving these “gifts” to God, the Israelites are merely sharing a portion of the material bounty He has given us.  In other words, all that we have belongs to God.  Material items only have value to the extent that they are used for His purpose.

The divisions of the sedrah provided in Etz Hayim listed below are not the only ones possible, but they are broad and functional and they do bring order to what some find is a challenging and chaotic reading.
1.      The directions for the Ark (25:10-16).
2.      The Kapporet and the Cherubim (25:17-22).
3.      The Table and Utensils (25:23-30).
4.      The Seven-Branched Menorah (25:31-40).
5.      The Four Layers of Covering for the Tabernacle (26:1-14).
6.      The Acacia Wood Structure (26:15-30).
7.      The Inner Curtain (26:31-35).
8.      The Outer Curtain (26:36-37).
9.      The Outer Altar (27:1-8).
10.   The Enclosure of “Hatzer” (9-19).

95.   The requirement that the people build a sanctuary for God (25:8).
96.   The commandment to leave in their rings the poles supporting the Ark (25:15).
97.   The requirement that the priests always display the Showbread at the sanctuary (25:30).
Biblical Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

The Placement of the Poles
“The poles shall remain in the rings of the Ark:  they shall not be removed from it” (25:15).  The Ark contained the tablets on which were written the commandments (see 25:16).  The ancient Israelites were to leave the poles in the Ark so that the Ark would always be ready to go wherever and whenever they went.  For example, we know from later Biblical entries that the Ark was actually carried into battle.  Today we leave the poles in the rings of the Ark at all times so that we will always remember to take the letter and the spirit of the commandments into all aspects of our daily lives.

A Chasidic View of Why We Study the Construction of the Tabernacle
“The Three Kinds of Terumah
Terumah means a contribution for sacred purposes, something which the Israelites gave for the building and maintenance of the Sanctuary; and our sedrah, in detailing the plans for its construction describes the form that these contributions should take.  There were three kinds of Terumah:
1.      Shekalim:  the annual contribution of half-a-shekel that was to pay for the sacrifices;
2.      The once-only payment of a half-a-shekel to provide for the sockets (Adanim) of the sanctuary;
3.      The provision of the materials and the coverings of the Sanctuary, which again was a once-only contribution ceasing once it was built.

“The first in other words, was a perpetual offering, persisting all the while the Sanctuary and Temple existed, and still commemorated today in the donation of half of the common unit of currency, before Purim.  The second and third, however were limited in time to the actual period of construction.

“What interest, then, can they have for us today?  The answer is the Torah is eternal, meaning that its every detail has some relevant implication for all Jews at all times.  And especially so for the details of the Sanctuary, for we read of it, ‘And they shall make Me a Sanctuary, and I shall dwell in them,’ whose meaning is that G-d’s presence will rest not only in the Sanctuary itself but also in the heart of each Jew.  Even if the physical building is destroyed, a Jew can construct his own sanctuary of the soul, as an inward correlate of the once-external place.  And each detail of its construction will mirror the precise practical directives contained in this and the subsequent Sidrot.”

Modern Reminders of Terumah
The seven-branched menorah is a common motif in Jewish art, decoration and construction.  Many synagogues use them in decorating their sanctuaries.  In many homes, a seven-branched menorah is used for kindling the Shabbat lights.  The Ark mentioned in the sedrah was built to house the Stone Tablets.  Today the Ark containing the Torah Scrolls is the center-point of the sanctuary.  The sedrah also mentions that there were two altars in the Tabernacle, the inner gold altar known as the incense altar and the copper altar in the courtyard of the Sanctuary.  In many Orthodox synagogues, you will see two lecterns.  One sits in the middle and the other is close to the ark.  One is used for reading the Torah.  The Chazan uses the other lectern when leading the other parts of the service.  It is not a one-to-one comparison, but the symbolism is there.

Where Does God Live?
On the one hand we are taught that God is everywhere.  Yet the TaNaCh describes two edifices which are to be His dwelling places - the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem.  This week’s portion reads, “And they shall make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”  As the Shlah points out, the Hebrew word that is translated “among them” is B’toe-cham which literally means “within them.”  So the verse could read “And they shall make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them.”  Yes, God lives in the entire universe.  Yes, people can find God anywhere.  But by building a special place where God “dwells” our thoughts and souls will be drawn more closely to Him.  As we draw closer to Him, we will allow Him to dwell within our own personal sanctuary (think of the term “The Body is a Temple”).  When God truly dwells within each of us, then we will truly know God.  The person whose note started this thought is Rabbi Isaiah ben Avraham Ha-Levi Horowitz, also known as the “Shlah.”  Shlah is an acronym from one of his most famous works, Shnei Luchos Ha-Bris.  Born in Prague in 1656, he lived in Poland before becoming a Rabbinic Judge in Frankfurt.  After the Jews were expelled from Frankfurt in 1614, he eventually moved to Jerusalem where he was part of the Ashkenazi Community.  He died in 1625 and he was such a significant leader that he was buried in Tiberius near the grave of Maimonides.  In his many Kabbalistic, homiletic and halachic works, he stressed the joy in every action, and how one should convert the evil inclination into good, two concepts that had an impact on Jewish thought through to the eighteenth-century, and greatly influenced the development of the Chassidic movement.

5:26-6:13 I Kings

The Book:  Kings is the Fourth Book in the second section of the TaNaCh (Bible).  The division into Kings I and II is first found in the Septuagint.  Kings covers the period of Jewish history stretching from the end of King David’s reign to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the First Temple.  I Kings covers the period from the death of David to the reign of Ahab and the fall of the House of Omri, these being part of the royal houses of the Northern Kingdom.

The Message:  Solomon is now King of Israel.  God has granted him great wisdom.  He has carried out David’s deathbed commands.  He is firmly in control of the situation and is ready to rule in his own right.  Solomon’s reign is marked by a massive amount of construction.  It begins in this sedrah with the construction of the Temple at Jerusalem.  It will continue with the building of palaces in Jerusalem and the rebuilding of a variety of towns including Hazor, Meggido and Gezer.  All three of these have been sites of great archeological activity.  The reading opens with a statement relating to a treaty between King Solomon and his fellow monarch King Hiram of Tyre.  This is real history.  Tyre was a city-state on the Mediterranean coast, part of what would later be called Phoenicia.  Solomon sent large levies of workers, on a rotating basis, to the land of King Hiram.  There they would quarry stone and chop down cedars to be used in building the Temple.  The haftarah goes on to provide a description of the three chambers of the Temple including dimensions and furnishings.  The author stresses that only dressed stones were used so that no iron instrument was used in Jerusalem in building the Temple.  This is in keeping with the commandment not to use an instrument of iron when building an altar.  Iron was synonymous with weapons of war.  You cannot build a House of Peace with weapons of war.  God has the last word on the construction of the Temple.  It will only be of value as long as the people follow His rules and commandments.

Theme-Link:  The Sedrah describes the Tabernacle.  The haftarah describes the building of the Temple.  Both are dwelling places for God, but that is where the similarity stops.  Terumah starts out with God speaking.  The people are to give willingly for the construction of the Tabernacle.  There is no levying of a tax to pay for the dwelling place of the Lord.  In the haftarah we do not hear the voice of God speaking to the people, but we do hear the sound of the taxman.  “King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel.”  He taxed the people by requiring them to work on the project one out of every three months until it was completed.  The Tabernacle was a portable structure designed only to be used in the Wilderness.  It was intended to help the people overcome the Sin of the Golden Calf and help them take a sense of the Holy with them as they left Sinai and moved toward Canaan.

The Temple was to be a permanent structure.  From a practical point of view, it was designed to replace all of the other cultic centers that existed throughout the Promised Land.  Furthermore, by building it at Jerusalem, Solomon was furthering attempts to strengthen the Davidic Dynasty.  At least three times a year, people would come from all over the kingdom to offer sacrifices at the Temple.  In so doing, they would be reminded of the central role of Jerusalem and the House of David when it came to fulfilling the commandments of the Lord.  We must not lose sight of the fact that in building the Temple Solomon was fulfilling a prophecy that had been made to David by Nathan i.e., that the son of David would build the Temple in Jerusalem.  All cynicism aside, the building of the Temple in Jerusalem was part of the Divine Plan.  In the end, neither the Tabernacle nor the Temple survived.  However, the Tabernacle provided us with a motif for spiritual survival after the exile.  In effect, the Torah became our Tabernacle - the portable spiritual home that reminds of the eternal presence of God.  At the same time, the yearning for the rebuilt Temple has animated the Jew for centuries.  Whether one is a secular Zionist or a bearded, black-coated Yeshiva student (or someone in between), Jerusalem and the Temple Mount are the North Star of our existence thanks in no small measure to the public works projects of King Solomon.  At the same time, the current attempts by one sect of Judaism to control the Temple Mount and the Israeli government’s willingness to use its power to enforce their “rules” should be something that would bother anybody who cares about the concept of the whole house of Israel and the holiness of one of our holiest sites.

Hiram and Solomon were active trading partners.  They built a fleet, which sailed down the Gulf of Aqaba, across the Red Sea and may have even entered the Indian Ocean.  They developed a thriving trade with other parts of Asia and east Africa.  Apparently Hiram did better than Solomon in their various trading relationships.  For in the end, Solomon was forced to cede a section of the Promised Land along the coast near the city of Acco to Hiram.  It is the only time that I know of where Israelites were forced to become part of another kingdom by a Jewish king.  Interestingly enough, Solomon is never reprimanded for doing this.  At the risk of mixing Torah with modern politics, it would seem that those in Israel, who resist giving up any of the territory on the so-called West Bank, must have missed reading about King Solomon.  Or are they going to accuse him of being a foolish appeaser as well?  As I have said, the TaNaCh has survived because of its timeless quality.

Copyright; February, 2015; Mitchell A. Levin