Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayikra 5778–Kol Cheilev (Revisited)

[Originally written in 2003, I offer a revisiting of this musing.]

Blood and sacrifice. Burnt offerings. Washing innards, Arranging body parts. Wringing pigeon necks, and tearing their wings off. Burning grain cakes. Flinging blood. Guilt offerings. Sin offerings. Offerings for accidental and unknowingly committed sins.
Allow me to be the wicked child and ask – what is all this to me?

It’s yucky. It’s gross. It’s unpleasant.

Putting aside for the moment the thought that our ancestors were probably more comfortable with these acts than our modern sensibilities might allow us to be, the idea behind all these things can certainly have relevancy in our times.

It’s a simple idea, really. It’s about getting our hands dirty. It’s about understanding that there is no way to distance ourselves from having to roll up our sleeves and really work at having relationships with each other – and, as importantly, a relationship with G”d.

(If you think having any kind of relationship with G”d is supposed to a bed of roses, think again. Some people speak about having “found” G”d. Remember those ubiquitous bumper stickers that read “I Found It.” They were a product of the Campus Crusade for Christ back in the mid-to-late 70s. They were intended to give people the opportunity to witness for Christ whenever someone asked the obvious “what did you find?” question.  I always wanted to have a bumper sticker made the said “I Never Lost It.” But I digress. G”d, at least as described in the Jewish tradition – though perhaps sans the rabbinic white-washings and apologetics – is not a deity that demonstrates consistency and emotional maturity. If you’re not struggling to have a relationship – or in your relationship – with G”d, you’re not doing it right.)

Let’s face it — we have it easy. We communicate with G”d through the offerings of our lips, with song, prayer. For many of us, this seems to be enough. G”d demands much more of us than this. G”d demands the offerings of our hearts.

G”d has no needs of gifts, of offerings; no need of the same kind of bodily sustenance that we do. G”d has no need for the meat or blood of sacrifices, the fragrances and smells of offerings, the burnt cakes. All these things are for our sakes, and not G”d’s sake. G”d needs something from this relationship. Figuring out what each of us might have to offer that G”d might desire can be, if such a relationship is important to you, a purpose of life.

(An interesting aside. The text tells us, in Lev. 3:16b, that “kol cheilev l’Ad’nai” “all fat is Gd’s.” This is an additional prohibition to the consuming of blood. The text goes on to say that it is an eternal law for us that we shall not eat any fat and any blood. (Lev. 3:17) We always seem to remember that blood part, but the fat part seems to have been overlooked. Remember all those lovely jars of schmaltz in mother’s kitchen? Perhaps we’d do well to always remind ourselves that “kol cheilev l’Ad”nai.” Of course, being on a string of low-carb diets might make this a little difficult for me! But I digress.)

A relationship with G”d is not an easy thing. It is certainly a holy thing, but not a relationship one can have without recognizing that things physical, and not just spiritual need be involved. (Now there’s a great argument for observing the laws of kashrut.) G”d needs not just our hearts and our minds, but our bodies, too. And once our bodies are involved, we’re in the realm of potentially “icky” things, of having to get our hands dirty.

(An aside from 2018. Now meal kits are the new trend. They once again evoke mixed feelings. The modern grocery has already distanced us from the sources of what we eat that we generally take them for granted. Now we don’t even have to go to the store to get the food. Someday, we’ll have the food printer – actually, it’s already here, but in its infancy – and eventually the Star Trek replicator. Robots are starting to make in-roads. Computers are taking our orders at McDonalds. At least one good thing about meal kits is that people actually have to do the prep and cooking – though I can imagine the ultimate in yuppie comfort – ordering meal kits to be prepared by the housekeeper.)

All life is sacred. Animals are part of G”d’s creation. G”d does not ask us lightly to offer animals as sacrifices. While PETA may think it’s acceptable to compare the slaughter of millions of innocent Jews, gays, Romani and others to the routine slaughter of animals for food in their campaigns for more humane treatment of animals, they miss the point of what we learn in parashat Vayikra.

Sacrificing animals teaches us not that we are superior to them. It does not teach us that it’s OK to slaughter animals, or treat them inhumanely. The Torah is clear on the concept of not causing tzar baalei chayim (the suffering of living animals) and our obligation to treat animals with respect, honor and care. (It should be noted that the tzar in this commandment indeed comes from that same Hebrew root meaning narrow, or constricted that is used in the word mitzrayim – Egypt – the place of our constriction/suffering. I submit that one of the reasons for asking animal sacrifice of the people of Israel was to help them realize that all life, including the life of animals, is sacred. The animals used for sacrifice are carefully chosen, and must be unblemished. The “gift” of their lives is not wasted-what is not offered to Gd that is edible is consumed by the priests and others.
Rather than compare inhumane treatment of animals to the Shoah, perhaps PETA ought to use the example of the sacred nature of sacrificing an animal’s life as taught by our holy Torah.

There is a reason our tradition has developed prayers like the morning’s “asher yatzar” in which we openly discuss the inner workings of our bodies. There’s a reason that Torah speaks of how we deal with excrement. A relationship with G”d demands we accept that we have our physical bodies for a reason, and must offer them in service to G”d as much as we offer our spiritual and emotional selves. We need to be thinking about G”d just as much when we’re in the bathroom as when we are in the synagogue.

I’m not personally in favor of restoring animal sacrifice, even if  the Temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem. (For that matter, I’m not all that enthusiastic for a restoration of the Temple and the Temple cult at all. I’m even less sure that the modern state of Israel is worthy  of being the successor to biblical Israel – not that biblical Israel was any paragon of ethics and virtues.) I am, however, in favor of incorporating into our daily lives the message and the lessons to be learned from G”d’s having asked us, at one time, to engage in ritual animal and plant material sacrifice.(Note to self – thanks, I needed to read that today, Adrian. Sometimes, in my desire to distance my ever-evolving theology from troublesome concepts, I lose that spark that drives me to be someone who seeks to redeem the irredeemable.)

After all, “kol cheilev l’Ad”nai” — “all fat is G”d’s.” We’ve certainly plenty of fat on our bodies. And the word cheilev is used to refer to human body fat as well as animal fat. It also is used to refer to the “best part of” as in the “fat of the land.” And it is also used in a negative way, to describe the “unreceptive heart” by comparing the heart to the unemotional mid-body fat that is near it.

Let’s not let our fat (or our hearts) be of the unemotional kind. Let’s give our “fat” to G”d – the best part of who we are — emotionally, spiritually, AND physically.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018(portions © 2003) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on This Parasha:

Vayikra 5777 – As G”d Is My Witness (aka Osymandias II)
Vayikra 5776 – Stuff That’s Still Bugging Me
Vayikra 5775 – Meaningful Gifts II
Vayikra 5773 (Redux 5761) – Mambo #613: A Little Bit Of Alef In My Torah
Vayikra 5772 – Confession: Not Just for Catholics
Vayikra 5771 – I’d Like To Bring To Your Attention…
Vayikra 5770 – You Can Fool Most of the People Most of the Time
Vayikra 5768 – Redux 5763 – Kol Kheilev
Vayikra 5767-Stuff That’s Bugging Me
Vayikra 5766 – Osymandias
Vayikra-Shabbat Zachor 5765-Chatati
Vayikra 5763 – Kol Cheilev
Vayikra 5759 & 5762-Salvation?
Vayikra 5760-Meaningful Gifts
Vayikra 5764 and 5761-Mambo #613: A Little Bit of Alef in My Torah…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Vayakhel-Pekudei 5778–There IS Business Like Show Business

My musings on this parasha are among my favorites, and I commend them all to you. They’re all listed and linked, as usual, at the end of this musing.

This week, a new musing, rather than a recycling – although many of the ideas in this musing have appeared in my musings before. I’ve used a different angle, a different perspective this time.

Before making Jewish education and music the primary focus of my life and work, I had two-and-one-half decades of work as a theatrical production professional. The experiences I had and the lessons I learned during those years continue to influence me each and every day.  I also still engage into the occasional foray into the theatrical world. During my time in the DC metro area in the 00s, I lent my production skills to two mass choral events presented by synagogues from across the community. While in the Amherst/Northmapton, MA area I designed lighting for a production of Falsettos. Last year I did lighting design for an original play about Rabbi Joshua ben Hananiah and his disputes with Rabbi Gamliel. This fall I will be directing another play by the same author, about King Solomon. Of course, all along, I’ve been supervising and writing Purim Shpiels, and lending my knowledge and expertise in the area of live and recorded audio to the synagogues I have served, and as an audio consultant to other synagogues and organizations.

My musings over the years have been peppered with references to this aspect of my life experience. Just as the piano is an intrinsic piece of who I am and how I live, so are my theatrical skills, and, of course, my Judaism. The combination makes me who I am today – and I daresay that in hindsight, I see how the latter career, as a Jewish professional, actually was part and parcel of the person I was in those years when I was doing other things in music and the theatre-I just didn’t know it yet.

Before I go on, I would be remiss if I did not bring up two life incidents. As some of you may know, last Friday, driving home after learning on my way to synagogue that services had been cancelled, a downed tree had forced me to take a different route, and while driving that route, a tree fell across the road in front of me. A second earlier and it would have hit me. I could have been injured or even killed. It shook me up for quite of while. Many of you lovingly responded to my call for a virtual minyan so that I could say birkat hagomel (and I have since had an opportunity to do so in a real minyan, but the virtual one was, frankly, the better one and the one filled with friends.) Yesterday, we had another bad winter storm here, and my neighbor alerted me to the fact that trees had fallen on our cars where we parked (to be courteous to the people who plow our complex, many of us move our cars before a storm to a separate visitor parking area so the regular tenant spots can be easily plowed out.) We managed to move a few limbs and free up her car, but my car had a huge limb hanging down on it that was severed from the tree – impossible for me to extricate my car without bringing the whole limb crashing down on it and damaging it. There is so much damage in the area (trees and power lines down) that tomorrow (Friday – it is Thursday afternoon as I write this) is the earliest the complex management said they could get a tree removal company to come and free my car, deal with some fallen trees across the road in the complex, and, worst of all, remove a tree that had fallen onto the roof of one of the buildings. Like my situation, the extent of the damage won’t be know until the tree limbs are cleared.

Schools were closed here yesterday and today, so I’ve already lost two days work to snow cancellations. Now I’ll lose the subbing I was scheduled to do tomorrow as I don’t have a way to get there (plus I want to be around when my car is extricated.) I’m also hopeful I’ll have my car so I can get to the synagogue for services tomorrow, where I am leading the choir as part of a Shabbat Across America celebration. I say none of this to seek sympathy or support – it’s just simply cathartic for me to write about it. so thanks for listening.

These things are out of my control of course, and it does no good to dwell on them or become stressed out by them. So here I am, stuck at home with no way to get anywhere. A little Torah study is a good distraction. Here we go.

So I’m reading yet again through parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei and it strikes me – something I never really noticed but should have. I have spoken about how this parsha teaches us to be cautious about separating craftsperson, artisan, and artist. Yet never in all my times reading through Vayakhel has it occurred to me that, in sequence, it describes the design and construction of a set and props (Ex 36 and 37,) the design and construction of the costumes (Ex 39,) and the load-in and set-up of the scenery, props, and costumes (Ex. 40) just as one might encounter with a typical theatrical production.  Chapter 35 could easily describe the efforts of the supporters of a community theater to obtain the materials and financing they would need to mount the production.

FWIW, the “theatrical designs” for the mishkan, and for the priestly garments are really quite spectacular, and make bold and clever use of materials. They are also extremely well-thought-out designs, describing in detail how certain elements are to be manufactured. In theatre, sometimes a designer will leave construction techniques to the technical director, and sometimes they will be more specific. Here, the designs come with details on how to build parts so they will fit together, and exactly how to do that.  As a set designer, I’ve always prided myself on providing good working drawings that not only show my vision, to how to realize it. Of course, I’m open to suggestions from the folks actually doing the work, just as I hope and suspect Betzalel was to those who worked with him, and as I hope G”d would have been in giving Betzalel and his helpers a chance to offer some input (though I somehow doubt that. Not G”d’s usual pattern, when G”d gets specific. Which raises another question, if you believe in human rather than Divine origin of the Torah, as to why the instructions for creation of the mishkan were so specific. It seems easier to me to imagine G”d being that specific, less so folks trying to creative the religious narrative and ethical framework for a people. Perhaps, if I may borrow from Gilbert and Sullivan as I often do, it is a purposeful literary device with “corroborative detail, intended to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.” In other words, make it look real. make it look like G”d might really have said these things. Wow, I’m getting all the usual Adrian cliches into this musing, aren’t I? All that’s missing is a Broadway musical reference.)

I want to think about the specificity of these mishkan and wardrobe designs for a minute. I am someone who is greatly fascinated with ancient human civilization. They accomplished many great feats, yet we too often see them as primitive compared to ourselves. Yet look what the early kingdom Egyptians accomplished. The Babylonians. King Solomon. Some folks insist these ancient civilizations were too primitive to have accomplished such great feats, and claim the assistance of aliens. As much as “I want to believe” I believe the Egyptians, the Incans, the early Chinese and African dynasties, and others had the same human brain power we have today. We may have better tools, and maybe we can do things faster, but their works show great sophistication.

No matter your belief/opinion on the origins of the Torah (or the time period of its creation) you have to admit that it contains designs and instructions that are evidence of a very sophisticated culture.It should say and mean something to us that the Torah bothers to spend so much verbiage on the matter of the design, construction, and assembly of the mishkan and the priestly garments. That’s not a new thought – I’ve said this in other musings on this parasha and others.

All theatre requires community effort, just as all religious worship requires community effort. There are leaders to help move things along, but they work best as part of the community, not separate and apart from it. Theatre and religious services have their participants. Some might say that Theatre is different in that it involves an audience that may or may not be participative, but I might argue that some give and take between a show and its audience is an essential part of the process. This is just as true in religious services.

In the Jewish professional world, we often take great pains to remind ourselves that religious worship is not performance. That is an important thing to remember. At the same time, it is not entirely true, and we ignore that at our own peril. There is craft and artistry in creating a meaningful worship experience, and, truth be told, certain performance skills and devices can and often are a part of the arsenal of tools in making that happen. There’s no shame in that. If Torah can be that specific about the design of the mishkan and the priestly garments, that could be seen as a recognition that elements of performance and theatrics are a necessary part in worship. If you consider the structure of the Jewish worship service, in its daily, Shabbat, and Yom Tov versions, you can plainly and clearly see the evidence of performance planning elements. The whole story of the Exodus is one big spectacle from start to finish – that’s what made it easy for Cecile B.DeMille and others to create performance art from it. The same holds true for many other parts of our sacred texts (and not just Tanakh.)

It’s okay as long as we see and utilize the performance aspects as tools and methodologies to help the kehilla have a meaningful worship experience. (I originally wrote positive worship experience, but I decided it need not always be so to be meaningful.) It’s okay as long as we can be servant leaders; as long as we can control our egos, seek to have I-You and I-Thou relationships rather than I-It relationships; as long as we are “performing” as a component of the service, and not “performing the service.” It’s a difficult balance to maintain at best. All the while, those of us acting as worship facilitators need to also find our own spiritual sustenance in the process. It’s also okay to acknowledge that sometimes, our minds or bodies might just not be in the place we need it to be to do for the congregation what we need to do for it – and I, for one, believe it’s okay under those circumstances to “perform” your role. If you find you have to do this often, then there’s a problem you need to sort out. But occasionally, I think it’s okay. I know there are those who will disagree. However, realistically, I think each of us has found ourselves in a  circumstance where we had to act our way through it – and I’m referring to all people, and life in general, not just synagogue professionals and not just in worship settings.

Just last week I was substituting for a high school drama teacher, and worked on a  project in which they were tasked to discover and relate to others their
“I-Me.” That is, the central core of who they are as “I,” and the ways they are when they interact with others, as one of their many possible “me” personalities. Lots of them were able to identify their inner core I, but struggled with recognizing and describing their external me personalities. Yet we all do it. For some, there is greater consistency to the external faces, and for others, they can vary quite a bit. There’s no value judgment involved – we are who we are. Knowing who we are at the core, plus understanding how we interact with others is a good thing to understand. I think this ties in quite directly with our subject at hand. Know thyself – inner and external. Those external selves – those are the actors, presenting and performing “you” to the outside world. More tools to use, useful even in facilitating a worship experience.

No, no, it can’t be. Worship is a show. I say get over it. Maybe it’s time to think through our gut negative reaction to that a little more critically, and accept that other business can be like show business – and that’s not always a bad thing.

And now, on with the show.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

Vayakhel-Pekudei 5777 – Bell, Pomegranate, Bell, Pomegranate
Pekudei 5776 – Metamorphosis
Vayakhel 5776 – An Imaginary Community (Redux & Revised 5768)
Vayakhel-Pekudei-Shabbat Parah 5775 – New Heart, New spirit
Pekudei 5774 – Pronouns Revisited
Vayakhel 5774 – Is Two Too Much?
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5773 – Craftsman. Artisan. Artist. Again.
Vayakhel-Pekude 5772 – Vocational Ed
Pekude/Shabbat Sh’kalim 5771 – Ideas Worth Re-Examining
Vayakhel 5771 – Giving Up the Gold Standard
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5770-Corroborative Detail
Vayakhel-Pekudei 5769 – There Are Some Things You Just Have To Do Yourself
Vayakhel 5768-An Imaginary Community?
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5767-Redux 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing
Vayakhel-Pekudei/Shabbat HaHodesh 5766 – So How Did Joseph Get Away With it?
Pekude 5765-Redux 5760-Pronouns
Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V’hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761 (Revised from 5758)-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel/Pekude 5758-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.
Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Ki Tisa 5778–Re-souling Ourselves Revisited

When I first wrote this musing in 2005, I had been serving for a year-and-one-half  a congregation whose religious school operates on Shabbat. That the religious school met on Shabbat (and on Wednesdays) was perhaps not as much a matter of choice, as it was a matter of circumstances, as the congregation has shared sacred space in a Presbyterian Church for 40 (and by now well over 50) years, and they use all the classroom space on Sundays for their school.

Working as a Jewish professional has always presented challenges to finding space and time for Shabbat. I recall times on staff at Jewish summer camps where mine was not a Shabbat of rest, but one of even more work, as I was a specialist. Often my Shabbat was spent in last minute finishing of materials the campers had been working on so they could take them home at the end of a session, or so they could be displayed or otherwise utilized on or right after Shabbat. The situation at this congregation just further complicated things.

It’s not that far a stretch to rationalize operating religious school on Shabbat. It is, after all, work that is Lashem Shamayim, for the sake of heaven. And, for a liberal Jew, it shouldn’t be that difficult to accept that rationalization, right?

Yet we get into all sorts of blurry lines here. I did everything I could to avoid handling money – if pizza was coming for the confirmation class, I’d prepay using a credit card including the tip. I’d collect tzedakah boxes but won’t count the money. I tried to put paychecks in boxes before Shabbat. If a school event had an extra charge, I’d try to collect all payments in advance. And so on. The realities sometimes work out differently from the ideal.

So how is the example we adults are setting instilling within our students the importance of Shabbat as expressed in the words of 31:16-17, the words of the “v’shamru.” And especially in light of the preceding verses that condemn Shabbat violators to death, and that order the Shabbat to be a complete rest.


ויאמר יהוה אל־משה לאמר

And the LORD said to Moses:


ואתה דבר אל־בני ישראל לאמר אך את־שבתתי תשמרו כי אות הוא ביני וביניכם לדרתיכם לדעת כי אני יהוה מקדשכם

Speak to the Israelite people and say: Nevertheless, you must keep My sabbaths, for this is a sign between Me and you throughout the ages, that you may know that I the LORD have consecrated you.


ושמרתם את־השבת כי קדש הוא לכם מחלליה מות יומת כי כל־העשה בה מלאכה ונכרתה הנפש ההוא מקרב עמיה

You shall keep the sabbath, for it is holy for you. He who profanes it shall be put to death: whoever does work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his kin.


ששת ימים יעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי שבת שבתון קדש ליהוה כל־העשה מלאכה ביום השבת מות יומת

Six days may work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does work on the sabbath day shall be put to death.


ושמרו בני־ישראל את־השבת לעשות את־השבת לדרתם ברית עולם

The Israelite people shall keep the sabbath, observing the sabbath throughout the ages as a covenant for all time:


ביני ובין בני ישראל אות הוא לעלם כי־ששת ימים עשה יהוה את־השמים ואת־הארץ וביום השביעי שבת וינפש

it shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day G”d ceased from work and was refreshed.

The rabbis went a long way to try and solve the practical issues of everyday living that were affected by the commandments (though I’d also suggest that they created some of their own problems and made matters worse in the ways they chose to define the “oral Torah” what provided the basis for what became halacha. There are many who still maintain that the “oral Torah” was given to Moshe along with the written Torah right there at Sinai, and handed down in an unbroken chain. While I find the workings of the rabbis fascinating, and find great value in studying Mishna, Gemara, Talmud, the many commentaries and midrashim, and later works like the Shulkkhan Arukh, there is not a bone in my body that is willing to accept the idea that the oral Torah was given along with the Torah by G”d – or even that it was created by Divinely inspired human hands at the same time as the sefer Torah. I’m enough of a mystic to remain open to the possibility of Torah mi Sinai, though I maintain my general position that the Torah is more likely the work of human beings – perhaps Divinely inspired or guided, perhaps not. In my worldview, what is known as the oral Torah was a product of later generations, and, while potentially as Divinely inspired as Torah, is not deserving of the directly given by G”d to Moshe status that (whether we believe it or not) that we ascribe to the Torah. And yes, we can go further down the rabbit hole here, down academic and scholarly paths that provide significant evidence that even the sefer Torah as we have it now is the result of a process of editing and redaction, so even if given at Sinai or written under Divine inspiration, what we have today has been altered from whatever the urtext was.

I admit to a certain inconsistency here, in allowing for Torah to be either direct from the Divine, or Divinely inspired, though likely of purely human origin, while insisting that the oral Torah is simply not a product of simultaneous origin with the sefer Torah.  But that’s my position,a nd I’m sticking to it!

So, back to this matter of the rabbis approaching the commandments in general, and in the case of our parasha, these Shabbat-related commandments from a practical standpoint. While G”d may have provided a double portion of manna in the wilderness, in later years, we had to fend for ourselves. Animals still had to be milked, meals eaten, crops harvested, etc. So the rabbis used other pieces of text to help clarify what it meant to keep Shabbat.

We “shabbat” (cease?) on Shabbat for many reasons, among them that G”d commanded us to do so. And because doing so we act in imitation of G”d during creation. Yet, we are not G”d. So how can our “shabbating” be exactly like G”d’s – a truly complete “shabbating?” It cannot. Our “shabbating” is perforce less the “shabbating” that G”d did on the 7th day. We can, and should, strive for that complete rest, but we’ll never quite get there. Only G”d could and did (and can?)

In our tradition, learning has not been considered an activity prevented on Shabbat. If it were, we wouldn’t be reading from the Torah on Shabbat, because, in building a fence a round the Torah, the rabbis would want to prevent even the possibility of learning something when the Torah was read! (I know it’s a convoluted argument, but it works, sort of.) Therefore, I would conclude that learning is permitted on Shabbat. While some learning comes through experience, most learning requires some teaching, and someone to do the teaching. Torah, indeed, teaches, in an of itself, yet our own history and tradition have shown us that a little help with interpretation is required. And it is learned teachers-rabbis, educators, elders, parents, etc. that help provide this interpretation. (I may not believe the halacha to be based on some Divinely-given oral Torah, and I may not hold with a lot of the halacha, but it remains a useful way to try and understand the Torah,)

So, if learning Torah on Shabbat is permitted, teaching Torah on Shabbat must also be permitted. If it wasn’t, I know a lot of rabbis that are in big trouble. And I would venture that anything we teach in a Jewish religious school is teaching Torah. There’s a nice rationalization we can use. That I did use back then. Sort of.

The issues go on and on. Should a class go on a field trip on Shabbat? Should it visit a soup kitchen and make and serve food? Should it make sandwiches to be taken to shelters? Should it watch a video or DVD? We have many large assemblies and programs. Often, the sound system can’t be set up in advance before Shabbat. Is it OK to set it up and use it? Should we have our faculty meetings after school on Shabbat as has traditionally been done?

I am certain that for every one of these questions, a suitably acceptable modern liberal interpretative workaround can be formulated. Yet, still, for me, the rationalizations often fall short. My discomfort with “working” on Shabbat remains. (Never mind that my liberal sensibilities already permit me to use my musical talents on instruments on Shabbat in service to enhancing the worship experience of others and myself.) Never mind that I can’t afford to live anywhere near where I work, so I must drive to and from the synagogue on Shabbat.

At least, that’s where my head was at when I wrote that last paragraph back in 2005. Now, my perspective has grown. To begin with, in the almost 6 years I served that congregation with religious school on Shabbat, I came to observe a curious effect. For the families of that congregation, Saturday became the day when they “did Jewish.” Which meant that when we tried to have events on Sunday, or participate in community-wide Jewish events or educational activities on Sundays when most such events were scheduled to coincide with what most congregations were doing, it was difficult to get people from our congregation to come. The “this is when we do Jewish” effect is not unique, and exists in many of the liberal congregations I have been privileged to serve. Also, having been away from that congregation for many years, I am also realizing that having religious school on Shabbat is an idea worth reconsidering for almost any liberal congregation (at least ones that are open to the use of technology, electronics, etc.) There is something incredibly vibrant taking place in a congregation where all the kids are in the building learning at the same time their parents are in the building praying. The silo-ing that one sees in so many congregations between religious school families and regular service attendees often feels like it has created a huge chasm that is difficult to cross.

So, back to 2005. I had been searching for something to help me with this inner dilemma or “working” on Shabbat in service to Jewish education. I thought I might have found something, and it had been staring me in the face for a long time.

At the end of the v’shamru, the last words of v. 31:17 it says “Shabbat vayinafash.” The Hebrew construction of this verb root, which means “to be refreshed” is, in this case, reflexive, that is, it is to cause oneself to be refreshed. As the root, in noun form can also mean “soul” it is as if G”d were “re-souling” G”d’s-self. (Interestingly enough, and to acknowledge you Hebrew grammar wonks out there, this  verb form, the niphal, is usually a simple passive form of a verb, and is only reflexive in some cases. It is a different binyan, hitpael, that is usually used to represent a reflexive usage. I won’t get into the weeds here and explain why the scholars dub this particular verbal form as being reflexive in this particular case, but if you want to understand it yourself, tze ulemad – go and learn!  In any case, I find this fact doubly interesting, because while we might think of Shabbat as a time when we should be passive, it really is more a time for being reflexive! )

So, in our best efforts to imitate G”d and observe Shabbat, we are called upon to “refresh ourselves” or “restore our own soul to ourselves.” There is little doubt in my mind that the overall feeling I got when religious school was in session on those Saturdays, despite the exhaustion it produced, was refreshing and restorative. As tired as I may have come away from several hours of dealing with students, teachers, parents and more, I can say that I did come away refreshed, renewed, with a restored soul ready to go on into the week.

Now there’s an approach that worked for me. For that time in my life. What about you? What will enable you to refresh yourself, to restore your own soul, on Shabbat? Find it, and do it, whatever it is. If it is true rest, then rest. If it is study, study. If it is going to shul, then go to shul. If it’s a Shabbat walk and a nap, then walk and nap. There are other more secular things you can do that I won’t list here, as each of us must make a choice, and, for my part, I’d rather not encourage you to consider them-but, then again, if that is what accomplishes your “shabbating” who am I to judge?

U’vayom hashvi’i, shavat vayinash. And on the seventh day (G”d) “shabbated” and “refreshed G”d’s-self.” That is how we must each “guard” and “do” (“observe,” my foot! The word is la’asot, from the root meaning “to do.” Nu, how does one “do ceasing?” You figure it out.)

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 (portions ©2005)  by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha

Ki Tisa 5776 – It Didn’t Matter
Ki Tisa 5775 – Shabbat Is A Verb II
Ki Tissa 5774 – Faith Amnesia (and Anger Management)
Ki Tissa/Shabbat Parah 5773 – Fortune and Men’s Eyes (Redux and Revised)
Ki Tisa 5772 – Other G”d?
Ki Tisa 5771 – Still Waiting for the Fire
Ki Tisa 5770 – A Fickle Pickle
Ki Tisa 5768-Not So Easy? Not So Hard!
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5767-New Hearts and New Spirits
Ki Tisa/Shabbat Parah 5766-Fortune and Men’s Eyes
Ki Tisa 5765-Re-Souling Ourselves
Ki Tisa 5764-A Musing on Power Vacuums
Ki Tisa 5763-Shabbat is a Verb
Ki Tisa 5762-Your Turn
Ki Tisa 5760-Anger Management
Ki Tisa 5761-The Lesson Plan

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Tetzaveh/Zachor 5778–STFU!

(Maybe the third time is the charm? This musing is a reworking of my 2006/5766 musing for Tetzaveh “Silent Yet Present,” which was a re-working of  my 1999/5759 musing for Tetzaveh, “Someone’s Missing.” )

Hmm, let’ see. Aaron. Nadav and Avihu. (Keep an eye on those two-Game of Thrones has nothing on Torah.)  Eleazar. Ithamar. Again Aaron. More Aaron. Lots more Aaron. More Aaron than we know what to do with.

But one name is conspicuously absent in all these verses. Moshe. Where’d he go? Well, if we go back to the beginning of last week’s parasha, T’rumah, and consider that there is pretty much one continuous discourse by G”d to Moses from Exodus 25:1 to 30:10, we see that Moshe is indeed there, but silent and not mentioned. Why?

Well, there’s the explanation of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shlomo Zalman, that this is prescient of Moshe’s death, which occurred around the time of year Tetzaveh is usually read. Nice idea, if not really provable, but not where I’m headed.

There’s always those historical-critical theories, like Wellhausen’s JEDP concept of multiple strands of authorship. (Wellhausen’s original concept has undergone lots of transformation over the decades, and is not as popular in scholarly circles as it once was.) That’s not where I’m headed either.

We could consider some other possible meanings:

  • G”d reminding us that we wouldn’t always have Moshe around to deal with things.
  • G”d reminding us that these instructions aren’t just for Moshe, but for all of us.
  • G”d reminding us that no matter how important we think we are, we’re not indispensable.
  • G”d reminding us that all of us are important.

All possibilities. But not the one that jumped out at me.

My idea is that G”d is telling us simply to “shut up and listen.” Or, as the text-based shorthand that has entered our everyday vernacular says, STFU!

That’s one darn long oratory by G”d from the start of T’rumah to the end of Tetzaveh. But Moses says not a word. In this way, he sets a great example for us.

If I were to begin to describe my own faults, one that would leap to the front would be that I’m not a great listener. I often interrupt and can’t seem to refrain from “putting in my oar.” (If I had to stand around for that whole time, listening to that long set of instructions from G”d, I doubt I could have remained silent the whole time. “But….” I would have said, or “How can we….” or “hang on a second, you want us to what?” or “two rams? why two? wouldn’t three be better?” or “a BLUE ephod cover? Blue? Do you know how hard it is to make BLUE?” or “hey, you gotta explain this Urim and Thummim thing to me.” I suspect G”d would have grown so annoyed with my constant interruptions, I’d wind up suffering the fate that Nadav and Avihu would soon suffer. (Remember, they get toasted by G”d for a well-meaning but unsolicited sacrifice. Sorry for the spoiler, folks.)

Yet Moshe, he just stood there and listened. Or maybe he was passive-aggressive, and he let his emotions out later? I can just picture it. Moshe takes Aaron and Miriam aside and says to them:

“My G”d, oops, excuse me for that, I thought I was gonna die of boredom from that speech! Could you believe it? Who does he think he is, G”d or something? Whoops, he is…well, NEVERMIND,” and thus Moshe goes off muttering under his breath. (Sorry, I got lazy and jus went with the gendered male word.)

I’m rationalizing. I’m trying to picture Moshe as imperfect as myself. Clearly Moshe had his faults. But being a bad listener was, generally NOT one of them. (I can hear the nit-pickers now, citing the struck rock moment – the one thing that gets him in dutch with G”d later. I would argue that it isn’t a case of not listening-he heard the instructions quite clearly-it’s a case of not following the directions exactly right-doing more/different than told-hmmm-somewhat like Nadav and Avihu. There’s a parallel I never caught before. Remind me when we get to Chukat.)

Our sacred texts are not silent about silence.

“Even a fool, if he keeps silent, is deemed wise; Intelligent, if he seals his lips.” (Proverbs 17:28)

“The vehicle for wisdom is silence.” (Talmud: Avot 3:13)

“When two quarrel, they see which becomes silent first and say: This one is of superior birth.” (Talmud Kiddushin 71b)

To expand upon these, we’ve all heard well-worn maxims that are variations of

“the secret to x is not just where the [component of x] is, but as much where the [component of x] is not.

Substitute music for x, and notes for [component of x.] Substitute good lighting design for x and light for [component of x.] So many more possibilities. In publishing, we talk about the importance of the white space.

It’s a lesson we all need to learn when it comes to silence. Always speaking out seems to be about “Me! Me! Me! I want to be heard! I want things to be my way!” Silence is about us, about relationship – both the I-you and the I-You (G”d) type. Yes, there is a time to speak up and speak out. Yet it is, in most situations, t is not all the time.

We live in a crazy, busy, fast-paced society. Sometimes, in order to feel like our voice is being heard, we feel like we have to speak out at the same time as others. And so we have all this babble. (Hmm, here’s another parallel…) There’s so much going on at once, we can’t comprehend it all, can’t remember it. If we don’t speak out at the exact moment when it is in our mind, we’ll forget it. So everybody is talking and no one is listening. No way to run a society. (How much truer are these words here in 2018 than when first written in 1999!)

And how much more so in this day and age need we keep our silence when listening for G”d? I’ve little doubt that G”d could make G”d’s self heard if that is what G”d wanted. After all, G”d gives this whole long diatribe through T’rumah and Tetzaveh! Yet even G”d knows that using the big. booming “voice of G”d” a lot might not be the best thing. When You’ve got a voice that loud, You really do need to keep silent, not even whisper, if You expect to hear the miniscule utterings of Your creations. So when done talking, G”d shuts up and listens. We’d do well to learn to be b’tzelem El”him, in the image of G”d, in that regard.

As the response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida played out, it was clear that the students had a lot to say, and were saying it quite loudly and persistently. How quickly the adults tried to “help them.” I and a small chorus of like-minded folks led a chorus of “adults-STFU and let the kids do their thing.” We created the mess they’re trying to fix. We allowed our country to be held hostage to the limited interests of a small segment of the population – perhaps even to the very limited set of adults heading the NRA.

As Linda Creed and Michael Masser wrote in 1985:

I believe the children are our are future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier

As an educator, I live by these maxims:

Much wisdom I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, more from my pupils the most of all.

It’s a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought,
That if you become a teacher, by your pupils you’ll be taught. (Richard Rodgers)

Our youth may be able to accomplish what we grown-ups have been unable to do in the last  50 years! Let’s give them that chance.

Now, I feel compelled at this point to add (especially in light of last week’s musing that was about the present moment and not the parasha) that silence is not always the best response in every circumstance. We are living in circumstances that call upon us to stand firm, speak openly, even defiantly when necessary. Yet even in the midst of our being outspoken, being actively resisting, and calling “BS!” we ought to heed the lessons of Torah and think about how we need to find the right times and places for silence, for Shutting TFU. Our outbursts might be more effective if we punctuate them with the necessary “white space.”

It’s Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim, when we read the maftir from Exodus 25:17-19:

זָכוֹר אֵת אֲשֶׁר־עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק בַּדֶּרֶךְ בְּצֵֽאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָֽיִם: אֲשֶׁר קָֽרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל־הַנֶּֽחֱשָׁלִים אַֽחֲרֶיךָ וְאַתָּה עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ וְלֹא יָרֵא אֱלֹהִֽים: וְהָיָה בְּֽהָנִיחַֽ יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֶיךָ ׀ לְךָ מִכָּל־אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָֹה־אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַֽחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ תִּמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּֽח:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt – how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget!

Look at those ever-confusing directions in Torah to utterly blot out the name of Amalek, yet never forget. If we can do that- if we can hold that tension, as we do some many others in Judaism – then surely we can find the balance between knowing when to speak out and knowing when to STFU.

Moshe, and, I presume, the whole of Israel, stood quietly and listened to God’s entire discourse through T’rumah and Tetzaveh. It’s an example we could do well to follow these days. For only through our own silence will we be truly able to hear what others are saying, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll also be able to hear that kol d’mamah dakah, that still small voice. Unlike so many who have abandoned any hope that G”d still interacts with us, I still believe. Maybe if I, if we all, could just STFU, or more politely “shut up and listen” we might have that faith rewarded. Ken y’hi ratson. Ken y’hi ratsoneinu.

To each and every one of you, a quiet Shabbat of listening.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 (portions ©1999 and 2006) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Tetzaveh 5777 – A Nation of Priests (and a Shtickel of Purim) Revised from 5770
Tetzaveh 5776 – House Guest (Redux and Revised 5763)
Tetzaveh 5775 – Aharon’s Bells (Revised)
Tetzaveh 5774 – It’s Not Urim or Thummim
Tetzaveh/Shabbat Zachor/Purim 5773 – Fighting Dirty
Tetzaveh 5772-Perfection Imperfect
Tetzaveh 5770 – A Nation of Priests? (And a Shtickel of Purim)
Tetzaveh 5768-Light and Perfection
Tetzaveh/Purim 5767-The Urim & Thummim Show (Updated)
Tetzaveh 5766-Silent Yet Present
Tetzaveh 5765 and 5761-Aharon’s Bells
Tetzaveh 5764-Shut Up and Listen!
Tetzaveh 5763-House Guest
Tetzaveh 5762 (Redux 5760)-The Urim and Thummim Show
Tetzaveh 5758-Something Doesn’t Smell Quite Right

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random Musing Before Shabbat–T’rumah 5778–This Musing Is Not About Parashat T’rumah

I tried, but I just can’t. I read and re-read both the parasha and the haftarah, looking for something to use as a basis for what I know I wanted to write about. I couldn’t find it. (Read through to near the end of this and you’ll find a link to a post by someone who was able to find a connection, however tenuous it might be.)

Aside from the link I mentioned above, I’m mostly writing this for the sake of someone who may be reading this years from now (I can only hope.)  I don’t know what’s been written about the history of this period, but here’s how it looks to me from here.

We are almost a month past the end of the first year of the presidential administration of Tonald J. Drump (that’s as close as I’ll come to writing that name, which, to me, is like writing Haman.) I, along with millions of others in the United States, have been living in a state of utter disbelief and utter despair since election day in November 2016. On a daily basis societal, political, and presidential norms are challenged, overturned, ignored, rewritten.

All U.S. intelligence agencies tell us that the Russians actively worked to influence the results of the 2016 election in favor of the Drump campaign, and that we can expect them to continue their efforts to influence election results in 2018 and beyond. The administration continues to downplay this, attempting to cast doubt on the credibility of the intelligence community, and has given no directives to intelligence and law enforcement to actively work to prevent future interference. An Independent Counsel was empowered to investigate whether there was any cooperation between the campaign and administration to assist the Russians in their efforts. Along the way, actions of the administration have led the Independent Counsel to also investigate the administration for possible obstruction of justice. The administration, aided by the entirely Republican-controlled Congress has sought at every step to undermine the credibility of the Independent Counsel investigation. The administration, which has criticized and thus alienated many world leaders, has not once had anything negative to say about Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The President has given favor and cover to white nationalists, abusive men, and sexual predators. He has hatefully made scapegoats out of huge segments of the population – particularly immigrants and other non-white male Christian types. He and his representatives lie candidly and openly on a daily basis. The churn and turnover at the White House has risen to unprecedented levels. Hundreds of staff are operating without full security clearances, and some are being allowed to continue working even though it has been made clear to the White House by the FBI that these people simply cannot be cleared for the levels of clearance required for their positions.

If you’re reading this years after 2018, I’ll assume that the United States has somehow survived as a free and democratic country (if it hasn’t you wouldn’t be able to read this anyway.)

This is what has become our new norm. There’s so much more to it but none of this is why I am unable to write a musing about the parasha today.

The reason I can’t write is about the parasha is that there was another mass shooting yesterday at a public High School in Florida. 17 people were killed – students and staff. Once again, we hear of “thoughts and prayers” and how it is too soon and wrong to politicize this by calling for gun control.

Torah commands us clearly that we should not stand idly by the blood of our neighbors. I cannot and will not stand by the blood of all those slain in the name of “second amendment rights.”

I’ll not make my case here. There are plenty who have written eloquently on the topic of gun control, school shootings, assault weapons, the second amendment, the NRA, etc.  With each one of this horrid episodes comes the hope that this will be the one when the dam finally breaks and we the people are able to overcome the financial stranglehold of the NRA over our politicians. Will this be the one? I’m not hopeful, and you, potential future reader will know if it was. (I pray for your sake it was, or it came soon enough to spare your time from this scourge.)

If we couldn’t bring about needed change in this area under Obama, the chances of doing it under and all-Republican congress and a Drump administration are slim to none. In fact, the President actually promised the NRA publicly that in return for their support in his campaign, he would make sure they got what they needed.

I couldn’t do it, but on the RJ site, Rabbi David Wirtschafter was able to use the parasha as a stepping-off point to a post about this latest school shooting. I commend it to you, even though the connection is more tangential than I might consider viable.


I hope that next week I’ll be able to find some thread to pull at in the parasha. I hope that we all find the determination we need to make the changes this country needs to protect our children – to protect all of its citizens.

Ken y’hi ratson. Ken y’hi ratzoneinu. May this be G”d’s will. May this be our will.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2018 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

T’rumah 5777 – You Still Gotta Wanna
T’rumah 5776 – Gift Cards for G”d
T’rumah 5775 – Dis Legonmenon Driving Me Crazy, Mon!
T’rumah 5774 – Dollhouse
T’rumah 5773 – Virtual Reality, Real Virtuality, or Really Virtual?
T’rumah 5772-When Wool and Linen Together Are Not Shatnez
T’rumah 5771 – TorahLeaks
T’rumah 5770 – Finessing Idolatry, or Outgrowing It?
T’rumah 5769 – Planning for Always
T’rumah 5767-You Gotta Wanna – The Sequel
T’rumah 5766-No Tools Allowed
T’rumah 5765-Ish Al Akhiv
T’rumah 5764-Redux 5760-Doing It Gd’s Way
T’rumah 5763-Semper Paratus
T’rumah 5762-Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?
T’rumah 5760-Doing It Gd’s Way
T’rumah 5761-You Gotta Wanna

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Mishpatim 5778–To See, To Behold, To Eat, To Drink (Revisited)

This week’s parasha, Mishpatim (Ex. 21:1-24:18.) is “chock full o’commandments” and there’s plenty upon which one might muse. Near the end of the parasha are two curiosities.

The first begins with 24:3 and continues through 24:7, ending with the well known “na’aseh v’nishma.”

וַיָּבֹ֣א מֹשֶׁ֗ה וַיְסַפֵּ֤ר לָעָם֙ אֵ֚ת כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וְאֵ֖ת כָּל־הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֑ים וַיַּ֨עַן כָּל־הָעָ֜ם ק֤וֹל אֶחָד֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֛ים אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶֽׂה׃

Moses went and repeated to the people all the commands of the LORD and all the rules; and all the people answered with one voice, saying, “All the things that the LORD has commanded we will do!”

וַיִּכְתֹּ֣ב מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֵ֚ת כָּל־דִּבְרֵ֣י יְהוָ֔ה וַיַּשְׁכֵּ֣ם בַּבֹּ֔קֶר וַיִּ֥בֶן מִזְבֵּ֖חַ תַּ֣חַת הָהָ֑ר וּשְׁתֵּ֤ים עֶשְׂרֵה֙ מַצֵּבָ֔ה לִשְׁנֵ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ר שִׁבְטֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Moses then wrote down all the commands of the LORD. Early in the morning, he set up an altar at the foot of the mountain, with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.

וַיִּשְׁלַ֗ח אֶֽת־נַעֲרֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וַיַּֽעֲל֖וּ עֹלֹ֑ת וַֽיִּזְבְּח֞וּ זְבָחִ֧ים שְׁלָמִ֛ים לַיהוָ֖ה פָּרִֽים׃

He designated some young men among the Israelites, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed bulls as offerings of well-being to the LORD.

וַיִּקַּ֤ח מֹשֶׁה֙ חֲצִ֣י הַדָּ֔ם וַיָּ֖שֶׂם בָּאַגָּנֹ֑ת וַחֲצִ֣י הַדָּ֔ם זָרַ֖ק עַל־הַמִּזְבֵּֽחַ׃

Moses took one part of the blood and put it in basins, and the other part of the blood he dashed against the altar.

וַיִּקַּח֙ סֵ֣פֶר הַבְּרִ֔ית וַיִּקְרָ֖א בְּאָזְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶׂ֥ה וְנִשְׁמָֽע׃

Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will faithfully do!”

It’s a fascinating ritual, and, from what we now of ancient near-eastern culture, no altogether that unusual. It is how the people affirm the covenant that is being given them. First (24:3) Moshe recites all the rules to the people. They answer “All these things that the L”rd has commanded we will do!” Then (v.4) Moshe WRITES down all the commandments. After all, a treaty isn’t a treaty unless it is written down and signed (or sealed.)

But hold on there a second. What are today’s liberal Jews to make of this? It clearly says that Moshe wrote down all the commandments. [To the (shall remain nameless) Reform rabbi who once remarked to me that one could not consider oneself a Reform Jew while still accepting the literal concept of Torah mi-Sinai: take that!] It couldn’t be plainer. Moshe wrote the commandments down. (Of course, what does this do to the concept of oral Torah, and of those mitzvot which do not appear until later in the text? If you’re a linear thinker, it’s a problem. I cannot even begin to layout the mountains of apologetics that have been written to justify that these words do not say what they plainly say. The simplistic answer is that what is referred to here is only the written Torah as we know it, replete with lots of things that need further explication, thus justifying the need for the oral Torah. But if such a thing were truly needed, why not specify it in the Torah itself? The circular and self-referential logic used here mystifies me. But I digress.

After he has written them down, Moshe does a little ritual blood dashing. And then he AGAIN takes the “record of the covenant” and reads it aloud to the people. And the people answer: “na’aseh v’nishma.” We’ll dispense with any discussion of putting carts before horses here.

It’s a nice, tidy little ritual (except for the messy blood dashing) that repetitiously affirms the covenant between the people of Israel and G”d. And it was written down! Not these stone tablets of “the ten.” Those don’t appear until chapter 31, and it says quite clearly that G”d inscribed them. The implication is clear. There was some form of written record of the covenant other than the tablets. Would that we could find it. Would that it obviated the need for this mysterious oral Torah that has been shaped and sculpted by the minds of human beings whilst attributing it to Divine origin. Seems to me if G”d intends to give us something, G”d will tell us about it plainly.

And here’s an interesting thought. Later on G”d carves those ten commandments into stone. Here, it is Moshe who has to do the hard work of writing all that G”d has said down, and transmitting it to the people. One could look at this is several ways. G”d was choosing to emphasize those ten. (Not according to the rabbis.) There’s the theory I propagated in some sermons years ago that G”d chose these particular ten because they were among the hardest to keep.

Or perhaps G”d figured “if I just carve these 10, that’s enough to remind them of all the other rules-the ones which I had Moshe write down anyway. And then I can still catch the heavenly league football game this afternoon.” Or maybe G”d thought “if they can’t figure it out from these ten, the rest are meaningless anyway.”

G”d carving the tablets could be a way of saying “Moshe may get some of the stuff wrong when he writes it down, so maybe I should make sure at least these ten are never disputed.” (Jokes on you, G”d. Never disputed? Ha!) Why didn’t G”d write all of it down for us. Is G”d making Moshe the Bart Simpson of his time, doomed forever to write on the blackboard? And doomed forever at confessing the sins of the people.

Traditional Judaism would claim that G”d gave us the oral Torah to solve this. It seems like a real stretch to me. Only G”d knows the answer here.

(I do not intend to demean the works of the many rabbis and scholars who ultimately contributed to what eventually became Talmud, Shulkhan Arukh, etc.  There is much to be learned from their writings, thoughts, and ideas. It’s likely a goodly portion of their speculations about the fuzzy parts of the Torah are reasonably accurate. I am happy to have Talmud and so many other commentaries as a part of our tradition. I just wish we didn’t feel a need to attach a Divine origin to the process that created them. )

On to our next curiosity. Exodus Chapter 24 vv. 9-11

וַיַּ֥עַל מֹשֶׁ֖ה וְאַהֲרֹ֑ן נָדָב֙ וַאֲבִיה֔וּא וְשִׁבְעִ֖ים מִזִּקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

Then Moses and Aaron, Nadav and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended;

וַיִּרְא֕וּ אֵ֖ת אֱלֹהֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְתַ֣חַת רַגְלָ֗יו כְּמַעֲשֵׂה֙ לִבְנַ֣ת הַסַּפִּ֔יר וּכְעֶ֥צֶם הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם לָטֹֽהַר׃

and they saw the God of Israel: under His feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity.

וְאֶל־אֲצִילֵי֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לֹ֥א שָׁלַ֖ח יָד֑וֹ וַֽיֶּחֱזוּ֙ אֶת־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וַיֹּאכְל֖וּ וַיִּשְׁתּֽוּ׃

Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

Moshe, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu (we’ll be hearing more about them in a while) AND seventy elders of Israel ascended the mountain. And they SAW וַיִּרְא֕וּ (vayiru) G”d, and underneath G”d’s feet a pavement of sapphire, as pure as the sky itself. Even though G”d had pretty much said earlier that only Moshe was to ascend the mountain, G”d does not strike down any of the others. So the seventy elders, Aharon, Nadav and Avihu BEHELD וַֽיֶּחֱזוּ֙  (vayekhezu) G”d, and THEY ATE וַיֹּאכְל֖וּ (vayokh’lu) and THEY DRANK וַיִּשְׁתּֽוּ (vayishtu.)

They’re in the presence of the almighty, and they make a picnic? Of course, the rabbis of the Talmud put a little spin on it, seeing it as an intellectual encounter with the Divine-that what they were eating and drinking was G”d’s presence. A possible and acceptable interpretation. In the presence of G”d there is no need for earthly, quotidian things. G”d provides all that is necessary, and perhaps more. The rabbis say that the elders didn’t really “see” (vayiru, from the root resh-aleph-hey, to see) G”d, they “beheld” (vayekhezu, from the root khet, zayin, hey, which also means to see, or perceive, but is cognate with other Hebrew and Arabic words that mean things like “seer” and “vision” and “inner vision”) G”d. That is to say, they finally “got it.” They understood that G”d was real, and truly could not be represented by idols.” The food and drink are perhaps metaphor for “they perceived with all of their senses.”

However, it could just as easily be telling us “even in the presence of G”d, you have to meet your basic human needs. It’s easy, in the face of something awesome (or awful) to forget all about yourself and your needs. And, with all due respects to the mystics, G”d’s presence isn’t likely to provide your body with the necessary amino acids and proteins to enable you to survive.

Or think of the Grand Canyon scene in National Lampoon’s vacation. “Oh, look, it’s G”d. How impressive. OK, gotta go!” It’s nice to encounter G”d, but we’re hungry and thirsty after that climb.

Of course, the Torah doesn’t say who provided the food and drink (though the rabbis were happy to speculate on that.) Was G”d being a good hostess, or did they bring they stuff with them?

Or maybe G”d had a plan after all. Keep the elders happy and sated, while Moshe comes up the mountain to get these tablets that G”d has inscribed. (Curiously, the text says G”d inscribed the tablets with the teaching (haTorah) and commandment (v’haMitzvah), both the teachings, and commandments. Hmmm. OK, we’ll overlook the singular-ness of the nouns and view them as collective, therefore implying the plurality of “teachings and commandments.” Either way, we have a problem. Because either G”d wrote a teaching and a commandment, or G”d wrote all the teachings and the commandments. Not just ten commandments. Hmmm.)

OK, it’s time for me to go now and see, behold, eat and drink. Will they all relate to a common source, or will some needs get fulfilled divinely and some mundanely? Let’s all go find out for ourselves.

Shabbat Shalom

©2017 (portions ©2007) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this parasha:

Mishpatim 5777 – Whjy I’m Still not Unplugging for the National Shabbat of Unplugging Next Week
Mishpatim 5776 – Might For Right
Mishpatim 5775 – Revisiting Situational Ethics
Mishpatim 5774 – Chukim U’mishpatim Revisited
Mishpatim 5773 – No One Mounrs the Wicked
Mishpatim 5772-Repairing Our Damaged Temple
Mishpatim 5771 – Getting Past the Apologetics
Mishpatim 5770 – Divine Picnic
Mishpatim 5769 – Redux 5757/5761 Change from the Inside
Mishpatim 5768 – Justice for All
Mishpatim 5767-To See, To Behold, To Eat, To Drink
Mishpatim 5766 – Mishpatim with a Capital IM
Mishpatim 5765-Eid Khamas (revised)
Mishpatim 5764-Situational Ethics
Mishpatim 5763-My Object All Sublime
Mishpatim 5762-Enron Beware!
Mishpatim 5761-Change from the Inside
Mishpatim 5760-Chukim U’mishpatim
Mishpatim 5759-Eid Khamas-Witness to Violence

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Yitro 5778–B’khol HaMakom Revisited

You know, for such a short parasha, Yitro is sure full of major happenings. Yitro comes to visit his son-in-law, and offers him some friendly advice. His simple advice to Moshe has become the framework for judicial administration for the last few millennia.

Then the people arrive at Sinai. G”d speaks to Moshe, telling him to say to the Israelites:

אַתֶּ֣ם רְאִיתֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשִׂ֖יתִי לְמִצְרָ֑יִם וָאֶשָּׂ֤א אֶתְכֶם֙ עַל־כַּנְפֵ֣י נְשָׁרִ֔ים וָאָבִ֥א אֶתְכֶ֖ם אֵלָֽי׃

‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Me. (Ex. 19:4)

וְעַתָּ֗ה אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּקֹלִ֔י וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֑י וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ מִכָּל־הָ֣עַמִּ֔ים כִּי־לִ֖י כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

Now then, if you will obey Me faithfully and keep My covenant, you shall be My treasured possession among all the peoples. Indeed, all the earth is Mine,(Ex. 19:5)

וְאַתֶּ֧ם תִּהְיוּ־לִ֛י מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תְּדַבֵּ֖ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

but you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Ex. 19:6)

After Moshe relates G”d’s the words mentioned above, the people respond that they will do what G”d has spoken.

וַיָּבֹ֣א מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיִּקְרָ֖א לְזִקְנֵ֣י הָעָ֑ם וַיָּ֣שֶׂם לִפְנֵיהֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֔לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֥ר צִוָּ֖הוּ יְהוָֽה׃

Moses came and summoned the elders of the people and put before them all that the LORD had commanded him. (Ex. 19:7)

וַיַּעֲנ֨וּ כָל־הָעָ֤ם יַחְדָּו֙ וַיֹּ֣אמְר֔וּ כֹּ֛ל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נַעֲשֶׂ֑ה וַיָּ֧שֶׁב מֹשֶׁ֛ה אֶת־דִּבְרֵ֥י הָעָ֖ם אֶל־יְהוָֽה׃

All the people answered as one, saying, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do!” And Moses brought back the people’s words to the LORD. (Ex. 19:8)

These are all well explored words, and, at least for now, do not cry out to me for further elucidation. (Next year, who knows.)

After a little mood setting (three days worth) G”d speaks to the people from Sinai, uttering the famous 10 things, the Decalogue. You know-the 10 commandments. With all the appropriate theatrics.

I’m not at all sure how I might have reacted standing at Sinai for the declaration of the Decalogue. I imagine that by the point we have reached at the end of our parasha, Yitro, I might have been a bit shell-shocked, speechless and experiencing true awe.

Even so, G”d continues without any re-assurances or comforting words, to caution us to not build any metal gods, and instructing us to build instead a simple altar of earth. And then G”d says:

בְּכָל־הַמָּקוֹם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר אַזְכִּ֣יר אֶת־שְׁמִ֔י אָב֥וֹא אֵלֶ֖יךָ וּבֵרַכְתִּֽיךָ׃

…in every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you. (Ex. 20:21b)

That bears repeating. In every place where I cause My name to be mentioned I will come to you and bless you.

(I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least question why it need only be in places where G”d causes G”s’s name to be mentioned. Why limit it in that way? But, at this point in the narrative, we are talking about the G”d that had hardened Pharaoh’s heart. Hmmm. Discussion for another time.)

For a time in our ancient history, there were many such places. Yaakov awoke from a dream and declared the G”d was present in that place and he hadn’t realized that.

(I’d be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention the apparent absence of G”d for 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Hmmm. Another discussion for another time.)

G”d was demonstrably with us at the Sea of Reeds, at Sinai, and in the wilderness. We built a portable sanctuary so that G”d could dwell in our midst, wherever we were.

When the Israelites first came into the land, the mishkan, at Shiloh was the center of worship. But in the books of Joshua through Chronicles, as many as 20 other sites or high places are mentioned. With the destruction of Shiloh, it is believed that Israelite worship was again relegated to open-air sites. Sites where either the mishkan or the ark of the covenant resided seemed to have a special place, and pilgrimages to those sites may have occurred. (The Aharonic priests seemed to be wherever the ark was, though that’s not entirely clear.) Pilgrimage, however, was a great hardship on many, if not most Israelites, so worship at local shrines, led by a Levite, were acceptable. Then David had the ark brought to Jerusalem (and who knows what machinations of the Aharonic priesthood were involved with that.) Solomon built the Temple, and then there was only one fixed site for worship and pilgrimage. (There is, however, credible evidence that worship at other sites continued, especially in the northern areas.)

Centuries pass. Then, through our own failures to uphold the covenant, that place was destroyed. Somehow, we found new ways to worship while in captivity (and the non-elite Israelites left behind during the exile somehow managed to keep some of the faith alive.) We may have wept and wondered how we could sing the L”rd’s song in a foreign land, but somehow we managed to do so. We developed institutions to replace the Temple. We found Torah study and prayer as suitable replacements for animal sacrifice. We also blamed ourselves and our failures to keep G”d’s covenant for the fact we were in exile, releasing a strong fervor to once again embrace the commandments (and thus creating a need for some way to explain some of the seemingly unexplainable things, and exactly how to follow these commandments.)

Another Temple is built in Jerusalem. (Oddly, and perhaps ironically, it should be noted that Cyrus’ edict allowing the Jews to return specifically did so for the express purpose of worshipping their G”d. Boy, were we good at finding loopholes.) This time, the business, marketing, and tourism aspects were part of the process. The priests became corrupt and the rulers progressively worse. (Post Maccabean revolt we have the House of Hashmon – among the worst rulers Israel ever had.) We traded Syrian-Greek overlords for Roman overlords. Then we got as tired of the Romans as we had gotten of the Greeks, and we foolishly revolted against them. we lost. Bye bye, Temple number 2.

And now we are scattered all around the world.

There are those who would desire to restore that one place. Seems to me that they’re missing the message, and simply desiring to bring back the fabled but failed days of yore. Oh, for one brief shining moment, we had a bit of Camelot in Jerusalem, but it was, alas, short-lived. If we spend our lives merely wishing to bring back that moment, we ignore all that is happening around us.

G”d did not say “in THE place.” G”d clearly said “in EVERY place.”We figured that out in Babylon.

G”d is with us in the synagogue. Not all inheritors of the rabbinic tradition of the diaspora still desire the rebuilding of the Temple, but they sure seem hell-bent on keeping the synagogue at the center of Jewish life and worship. I do not doubt the power of community, and the power of worship in community. Community is an essential component of Judaism. However, we must not allow ourselves to be caught up in the hubris our ancestors also had, believing that only in those places we designate can we commune with G”d properly. Perhaps the synagogue can be re-invented (or re-invent itself.) Perhaps it can co-exist with alternate form of worship. Or perhaps it may fade into the mists of time. Only time will tell.

What are the alternatives to the synagogue? At home. At work. On the street. On vacation. At the nightclub.  In the park. A flash-mob worship. In large gatherings and small gatherings. At Home Depot learning to build a sukkah. (Actually, now that we know where the funder of Home Depot donates so much of his money, we should switch all our programs to Lowes or Menards.) On a farm. On an ocean liner. Someday, on the Moon or Mars.  Everywhere. B’kol HaMakom. In every place we are, we will be blessed, if we will but harken to G”d’s commandments as we understand them.

One of G”d’s appellations is “HaMakom.” The place. Effectively then, all places. In whatever makom/place we are in, G”d is that place. Depending on your understanding of G”d, that could be that G”d is physically omnipresent, or it could mean that, because we are in the image of G”d, everywhere we go, G”d goes. Either way, it’s in every place. Not just one place, or some special places. For those of you who need a little “fear,” you can just look at is as if G”d is there, seeing what you are doing, everywhere, at all times. That’s not my cup of tea, but if it works for you…

Whichever understanding you have, perhaps constant awareness of this might affect how we act and behave – in every place. Not just when we are in any one place. Not little scrolls of parchment in small boxes on our arm and our forehead, nor even in a mezuzah. We become the living embodiment of those words, so the physical artifacts are no longer needed to remind us.  I think G”ds message to us here includes the idea that we need to act holy wherever we are. May we all strive to do so.

Shabbat Shalom,


©2018 (portions ©2008) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Yitro 5777 – Holy Seeds Don’t Produce Identical Plants
Yitro 5776 – Top Ten (Revised and Redux 5766)
Yitro 5774 – The Rest of the Ten Commandments (Revisted and Revised)
Yitro 5773 – From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities (Revised and Updated from 5761)
Yitro5772 – Why I Won’t Be Unplugging on the National Day/Shabbat of Unplugging
Yitro 5771/ Redux Beshalakh 5762 – Manna Mania
Yitro 5770 – Special Effects
Yitro 5769 – Evolution Shabbat
Yitro 5768-B’Kol HaMakom-In Every Place
Yitro 5767-Kinat Ad”nai
Yitro 5766-Top Ten?
Yitro 5765-Outsiders (Updated from 5759)
Yitro 5764-Outsiders II
Yitro 5763-El Kana
Yitro 5762-Manna Mania
Yitro 5761-From Cheap Theatrics to Impossible Possibilities
Yitro 5760-The Rest of the Ten Commandments
Yitro 5759-Outsiders

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment