A Bissel Torah – 03/20/2020

Shabbat shalom!

Below you will find a description and discussion of what is happening on this Shabbat. I hope you enjoy the reading and that you have discussions with your family about them.

If you are going to join us for Kabbalat Shabbat tonight, and would like to have an e-Siddur to read along, the Rabbinical Assembly is sharing parts of the Siddur Lev Shalem with Conservative congregations. Here is the link: https://www.rabbinicalassembly.org/form-download-e-siddur-0


This week we have a double Torah portion, Vayakhel and Pekudey, it is Shabbat Hahodesh, and we announce the new month of Nissan.

Shabbat HaHodesh is the last of 4 special shabbatot before Pessah. The maftir aliyah reading comes from the Book of Exodus 12:1-20. The maftir describes the different aspects of the celebration of Pessah, connecting us with our ancient past and ensuring we are prepared for the holiday that is coming. Rosh Hodesh Nissan will be on Wednesday night and Thursday.

A summary of the parshiot

At the beginning of the parasha, the commandment to observe the Shabbath is repeated, emphasizing that during Shabbat no work is to be done. Afterward Moshe asks the Israelites to donate gifts of gold, silver, copper, precious stones, fine linen, wood, oil, and spices to be used for building the Tabernacle (mishkan). Moses turns the project over to Bezalel and Oholiab, the skilled artisans chosen by God to oversee the work. They tell Moshe that the people have been very generous and have brought much more than it is necessary to complete the building project (we should be so fortunate!). Moses tells the people to stop bringing their donations. The work begins, as skilled craftspeople work on the cloths, planks, bars, curtains, screens, lamp stands, altars and priestly garments.

With this parasha we complete the book of Exodus. We read about the completion of the mishkan, the tabernacle which the Israelites built in the desert. The Parasha (and the Book of Exodus) ends with the cloud of the Eternal filling the whole tabernacle.

Parasha discussion

  1. At the end of Parasha Pekudey the Israelites finish building the mishkan, the movable tabernacle built for use in the desert. When the work is completed, Moshe anointed the Tabernacle. God’s Presence fills the sanctuary and remains there throughout the Israelites’ journey. The language in the final verses of the Book of Exodus is reminiscent of the language that is used at the end of the first story of creation, in the Book of Genesis, 2: 1-3.

Compare the 2 texts:

A. Tanach – Genesis Chapter 2

  1. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.
  2. And on the seventh day God ended God’s work which God had made; and God rested on the seventh day from all God’s work which God had made.
  3. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it; because in it God had rested from all God’s work which God created and made.

B. 1. Tanach – Exodus Chapter 39

  1. And Moses looked upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Eternal had commanded, so had they done it; and Moses blessed them.
  2. Tanach – Exodus Chapter 40
  3. Thus did Moses; according to all that the Eternal commanded him, so did he.
  4. (…) So Moses finished the work.
  5. Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Eternal filled the tabernacle.
  6. And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode on it, and the glory of the Eternal filled the tabernacle.

As I think about these two texts together, I imagine God taking a deep breath and enjoying everything that was created. When we finish working we can relax. We become the owners of our time again and can enjoy ourselves without the pressures of having something to do. We can also regroup and use this time to reflect upon what we can change in the future. Why do you think that the language and motif are similar in both texts? What is different about them?

  1. In an article called “The Temple and the World,” Dr. Jon Levenson writes:

“We should not be surprised to find that the texts describing the creation of the world and those describing the construction of a shrine are parallel. Each recounts how God brought about an environment in which you can find “rest”. The Sabbath and the sanctuary represent the same moment in the divine life, one of exaltation and regal repose, a moment free of anxiety…”

Dr. Levenson describes the moment of completion of the world, and the moment of completion of the mishkan as a moment of “exaltation and regal repose, a moment free of anxiety…” How can we imitate God and recreate those moments in our lives?

  1. In the prologue of the book “The Sabbath,” Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel writes:

“Technical civilization is man’s conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time. In technical civilization, we expend time to gain space. To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence. To gain control of the world of space is certainly one of our tasks. The danger begins when in gaining power in the realm of space we forfeit all aspirations in the realm of time. There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”

“Indeed, we know what to do with space but do not know what to do about time, except to make it subservient to space. Most of us seem to labor for the sake of things of space. As a result we suffer from a deeply rooted dread of time and stand aghast when compelled to look into its face. Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations.”

“Judaism is a religion of time aiming at the sanctification of time. Unlike the space-minded person to whom time is unvaried, iterative, homogeneous, to whom all hours are alike, qualitiless, empty shells, the Bible senses the diversified character of time. There are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious. Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals (…). Jewish ritual may be characterized as the art of significant forms in time, as architecture of time. Most of its observances—the Sabbath, the New Moon, the festivals, the Sabbatical and the Jubilee year—depend on a certain hour of the day or season of the year. It is, for example, the evening, morning, or afternoon that brings with it the call to prayer. The main themes of faith lie in the realm of time.”

“The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation; from the world of creation to the creation of the world.”

Dr. Heschel contrasts our mastery of space with our difficulty to build in time. For him, Shabbat is a way in which we can practice being masters of our time, recognizing the preciousness and beauty of time. As this COVID 19 pandemic continues, what are the lessons we can learn from Dr. Heschel’s insights? How can we build that cathedral in time?

With blessings of peace and health,
B’virkat shalom uvriyut,
Rabbi Lia Bass