Triennial Reading-Tetzaveh, Exodus, Chapter 28, verse 1 through Chapter 29, verse 18.
This week’s Parsha lends itself to an almost literal reading—Tetzaveh describes in great detail the duties of the kohanim, and the rituals that those priests were responsible for. The detail is incredible—all the colors and fabrics of the priestly vestments are described. We are told that every priest wore four vestments, and that the high priest—the Kohen Gadol—wore an ADDITIONAL four. In this Parsha (and only in this Parsha), we read nothing of Moshe, and, instead, Aharon—quiet older brother of Moshe—moves from the background to the foreground.
I want to focus on one detail. What might seem to be a tiny detail, a detail that hardly merits mention. On a literal level, this detail represents a part of the high priest’s wardrobe, and it appears at the hem of Aharon’s robe. In other words, it’s the BOTTOM, the lowest part, of his priestly outfit. We are told that at the hem of the robe were “golden bells and pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet.” This line is just one of many in Tetzaveh that lovingly specifies the details of ritual practice and wardrobe.
If we imagine for a moment what these hems must have looked like, we can only guess at their beauty, at their majesty. But here I want us to move beyond the literal and to think about another sensory aspect of these priestly garments—the sounds of those bells. The bells announced Aaron’s arrival—and I’m guessing that the sound of those bells must have been like the ring tone on your cell phone—you recognize it as your own. So, people must have been able to recognize Aaron’s ring tone wherever he went. His comings and his goings.
But it’s also important to note that the sound of those bells works in TWO directions, not one. On the one hand, the people know that Aharon is coming. On the other hand, Aharon HIMSELF is aware of the sound that he makes as he performs his priestly role, as he moves from place to place.
So what, you might ask? That was then, this is now. But let’s think more about those bells. What does it mean that people would know that Aaron was approaching? To me, it makes clear that they won’t be surprised by him. No sneak attacks. There’s a midrash that tells us that, even when someone knows you’re coming, you should make a noise out of respect, as if asking for permission. In fact, to underline this point, Rashbam says, “Do not enter YOUR house suddenly.” Think about that—YOUR OWN HOME. Even on your own property, you need to give the people there some time to prepare, a little warning.
So, what we are describing here is basic courtesy—DEREK ERETZ. If we have to enter OUR OWN homes slowly, how much greater a responsibility must we have to enter the homes of OTHERS with care and without haste? Even the high priest had that same obligation, that same boundary. And even when invited. And if the ranking official of the holy spaces had to conform to this compassionate behavior, all of us must be under the same obligation.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
Triennial Reading-Terumah, Exodus Chapter 26,
verse 1, through Chapter 26, verse 30
Second Torah, Parshat Zachor, Deuteronomy
Chapter 25, verses 17-19
Inside the Holy of Holies was the Ark. Inside the Ark were the Tablets of the Ten Commandments. There were other items in the Holy of Holies that we know about through tradition. There was an urn with Mannah in it as testimony to these events for future generations. In addition, there was the anointing oil that Moshe had made to anoint the Kohanim in the Tabernacle. Next to the Aron was the Staff of Aharon which had sprouted flowers and almonds (Numbers 17:25). The High Priest’s vestments were also kept there. The broken Tablets of the first set would be in the Holy of Holies as well. In addition to this list was also the Torah scroll that Moshe had written himself, also right outside the Aron.
This entire Parshah is puzzling to us. We live primarily in Exile, and we have no Mishkan or Holy Temple. There is no High Priest and there are no sacrifices. What good then does it do us to read about how the Mishkan was constructed? Why do we have to know how the beams and pillars were made and what their dimensions were, and how the priestly vestments were made? What use is it to us to know how the sacrifices were offered? There are no practical applications of these things today. If you are going to tell me that we need them to know how to do it in the future, it is really not necessary. The future construction of these utensils and the Holy Temple will come only when the Mashiach is here. And by definition the Mashiach will be the King and he will teach us how to make all these items and how to keep them. So, our understanding of this portion and its intricacies are subject to the Mashiach’s review and endorsement. Without his say the future is not going to happen. Therefore, this question remains: why read and study it if there is no application for this knowledge today?
One answer we glean from rabbinical writings is that studying these portions of the Torah earns for us the merit of actually performing the construction of the holy objects.
Maftir: Parshat Zachor
The second Torah reading this morning is one that gives this Shabbat its name, Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. We are commanded to remember the atrocities of Amalek. They attacked the stragglers of B’Nai Yisrael, those least able to defend themselves. We are told that, in every generation, members of Amalek rise up to do us harm. History has shown us that this teaching is, regrettably, true. We always commemorate this Shabbat right before Purim, a story of a member of Amalek seeking to wipe us out.
The Haftorah provides us with another example of the evil of Amalek, who attacked the Jews in the Wilderness and still constituted a threat in the days of King Saul. Saul’s failure to totally annihilate Amalek, as God commanded, sets up later attacks on Israel. It also spells the end of his favor in God’s eyes, and leads to his removal as monarch.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman
Exodus Chapter 22, verse 4 through Chapter 23, verse 19.
This Shabbas is one of three Torahs-pretty rare on our calendar. We have the regular reading. Mishpatim, the reading for the New Moon and the commemoration of Shabbat Shekalim, explained below.
The chapters in Parshat Mishpatim cover a vast array of social rules, moral imperatives, ethical injunctions and civil and criminal laws, all of which are linked to the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) which were read last Shabbat.
Compensation must be made for damages caused by one's animals grazing on another's property or from a fire that one carelessly caused. Responsibilities of guardianship, situations in which someone is guarding that which belongs to someone else, are also discussed. The general principle is that liability increases with the benefit that the one guarding the property receives or expects for his services or that he gains from the entrusted property.
The subject matter moves from "stolen property to the stolen heart" and deals with the man who seduces an unmarried woman and is required to pay punitive damages to her and/or her father and must marry her provided that she consents. Three capital offenses described as "toevot" (abominations) follow -- the prohibition of sorcery, bestiality and apostasy.
This section concludes with laws that express concern for the disadvantaged of society -- the stranger, the widow and orphan, and the poor. The Torah states, for example, that one who lends money to a poor person should not demand repayment when none is reasonably forthcoming. Included in this passage is the prohibition of charging interest on personal loans. Additionally, if one takes a poor person's bedding as security for a loan, it must be returned each evening for his use.
One is forbidden to curse judges, The Judge, God, or leaders of the people. One should not withhold the gifts (e.g., firstlings of the soil, of the human womb and of domesticated animals) from God. While the latter laws deal with animals that are to be dedicated to God, the following law refers to those prohibited for human consumption. A "treifa," literally an animal torn up by a predator and left to die, is forbidden to eat.
This section concludes with laws intended to maintain the integrity of the judicial system and those regulating humane treatment of one's enemy. For example, courts many not hear one side of a dispute without the other party being present. Included in this prohibition is not to be influenced by rumors, Lashon HaRah. Judges may not accept testimony from unworthy witnesses. In their deliberations, judges must be careful not to do anything that might pervert justice or unfairly shift the feelings of the court against the accused. Generally, rules of law are determined by majority vote of the judges. Judges may not show favoritism, even towards the less fortunate.
Special Haftorah: Shabbat Shekalim
This haftorah signals the onrushing of special days on our Luach. It precedes Purim, and this haftorah, along with three others, lead us into the cherished days of Pesach. Despite our reluctance to speak about money on Shabbat, this haftorah emphasizes the monetary donations that ensured the upkeep of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. We can perhaps draw from this reference that, since we no longer have a place for sacrificial offerings, our support of worthy, Jewish causes takes the place of lambs and goats on the altar. And it’s so much more streamlined to donate funds rather than lead an animal to Jerusalem for ritual slaughter!
Parshat Yitro, February 6, 2021
Exodus, Chapter 19, verse 1 through Chapter 20, verse 23.
In this week’s Parsha, we, through our ancestors, are endowed with the giving of the Ten Commandments. This cataclysmic event gives us, the Jewish people, temporal boundaries, that is, boundaries between the time before and the time after the giving of the Law, marked by the blasting of the shofar. We read of spatial boundaries, for example, the boundary between the mountain and the people. There are gender boundaries--the men, for example, are commanded "do not go near a woman." But the boundaries go beyond gender, to the divide between oneself and one's neighbor, whom we now must recognize as different from us—we must not covet, the tenth commandment tells us, because we know that what is our neighbor's is not ours. These commandments articulate ethical boundaries as well, between what is right and what is wrong. The fifth commandment—what some have called the “hinge” between our love for God and our love for our fellow human beings—marks a boundary between generations: Honor thy father and thy mother.
And though we would never dare to describe any of these bounded domains as more sacred or special—remember that there is no hierarchy among the mitzvot—I think that the separation that is most meaningful to me is the boundary between Shabbat and all other days. Here in Yitro, we read Zachor et Yom HaShabbat L'Kodsho: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Later in the Torah, this mitzvah is repeated, with one important difference. There it reads, Shamor et Yom HaShabbat L'Kodsho.” “Observe (or GUARD) the Sabbath and keep it holy.” “Zachor” prompts us to positive observance of the Shabbat, for example, making Kiddush and having meals of mitzvah; “Shamor” instructs us to refrain from activities that will desecrate the Shabbat.
This dual treatment of Shabbat is alluded to in the beautiful Kabbalat Shabbat prayer, L'Cha Dodi. It begins, Shamor v'Zachor b’deebur echad. There we hear “zachor” and “shamor” in one utterance. That unity reflects our belief that God voiced these two words about Shabbat simultaneously. No more boundaries--God was harmonizing with himself! When we pray together and lift our voices in harmony, we should “zachor” ,remember, how much closer we are to God. And when we do acts of loving-kindness and create harmony among people, how much like God are we?
May we strive to create harmonies, by our voices and our actions, throughout our lives. Amen.