Friday, February 28, 2014

Mission Accomplished

29 Adar I 5774 / Feb 28 – March 1, 2014

In this week’s portion, Pekudei, we wrap up the Book of Exodus and learn that the Israelites have finished constructing the Tabernacle. We find an accounting of how much gold and silver were used in its construction and learn that all of the ritual objects and garments had been completed as well. We also learn the results of the recent census (603,550 males over age 20). Upon the completion of the Tabernacle, Moses blesses the nation.

This action by Moses strikes me. What cause was there for a blessing to be offered? The Israelites had simply completed a project they had been assigned…

Too often in life we don’t carve out the necessary time to acknowledge and reflect upon our accomplishments. When we complete large-scale projects, we’re often so focused on moving on to whatever is next that we fail to pause and take stock of where we were when the project began and how far we’ve come and developed during the time it took us to complete it. Moses, in blessing the nation, essentially provides the space for the Israelites to reflect on and bask in their collective efforts.

Reflect on the following:

Am I making the time to acknowledge my completion of major tasks? 

What would it look like for me to create a regular time to reflect on my personal growth?

Can I help create space and time for others to reflect on their accomplishments? 

Traditionally, when we finish reading a book of the Torah, we say “chazak chazak v’nitchazek” – “be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened.”

This Shabbat, let’s remember that while going from strength to strength, and from project to project, that it’s important to make the time to reflect on the recently completed experience.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Legen- Wait For It…

Ki Tissa
15 Adar I 5774 / Feb. 14-15, 2014

In this week’s portion, Ki Tissa, Moses is still up on Mt. Sinai receiving instructions from God. We learn about how to take a census (everyone gives ½ a shekel!), how to go about making ritual anointing oil, and we learn that even during constructing the Tabernacle and its accoutrements that working on the Sabbath was a no-no.

While Moses was up on the mountain, the Israelites demanded of Aaron that he make them an idol of gold.  Without much protest, he proceeds to create the Golden Calf, and the Israelites dance and sing around it, showering it with adoration. God takes note of this on the mountaintop with Moses and shares a desire to destroy all of them, and to in turn make of Moses (and his progeny) a great nation.  Moses’s response: no thank you.

Moses comes down the Mountain with two stone tablets, sees what’s going on, and proceeds to hurl the tablets onto the ground, shattering them. He then incinerates the Golden Calf, and is so angry that he makes the Israelites drink water mixed with its ashes. Plague ensues. When he confronts Aaron, Aaron says, “I hurled the gold into the fire and out came this calf!” Talk about not taking responsibility for one’s actions…!

The scene continues as Moses has the Levites slay 3,000 Israelite men (which was a very big deal). He then goes back up the mountain in order to ask forgiveness on behalf of all the Israelites for their actions. Moses descends over a month later with a second set of tablets, his face aglow. After delivering instructions, we’re told that he put a veil over his face in order to mute its radiance, and that the practice continued going forward – whenever he spoke to the nation, the veil was removed, and afterwards, he’d cover his face again.

I can’t help but think about the connections between this portion and the need for patience in our lives today. 

The Israelites couldn’t handle Moses being away for over a month – despite knowing he had promised to return – and as a result, resorted to creating and worshipping a physical object.  How short term were their memories exactly? Did they forget about the miraculous plagues in Egypt that they witnessed (and were spared from), and the parting of the Sea, after which they watched their tormentors drown? These were recent events! And yet, they still couldn’t seem to wait for Moses to return and instead turned to idol worship.

Too often today we also lack patience – whether it’s waiting for a return phone call, text or email, waiting for a favorite TV series to start its new season, or waiting to hear from grad school admissions committees or potential employers. We drive ourselves crazy wondering why we can’t have exactly what we want when we want it. We may even sink as low as our Israelite ancestors by watching American Idol because there’s nothing else good on TV, rather than reading a book or doing something useful with our time (apologies to those of you who are AI fans!).

This Shabbat, reflect on your own ability to be patient. Are you meaningfully utilizing waiting times? Are you responding to others as quickly as you wish you were being responded to? Unlike Aaron, take responsibility, and begin developing a personal practice that harnesses your potential frustration and channels that energy into productivity.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Say Yes To The... Breastplate?

8 Adar I 5774 / Feb. 7-8, 2014

In this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, we find detailed instructions for how to go about creating vestments for the High Priest (Aaron) and his sons, as well as how to consecrate and ordain them as the nation’s priests.  Theoretically, this is a logical follow-up to last week’s portion, where we learned about constructing the Tabernacle and its accompanying ritual items.  The Israelites built a beautiful Tabernacle – now they needed folks charged with its upkeep/maintenance and to oversee the offerings made there. 

I’ve admittedly always struggled with the notion of priesthood, as in some ways it seems to suggest an inherent class difference.  And yet, I can somewhat understand that in a time period where animal sacrifice was the norm, having experienced animal sacrificers who would be charged with overseeing the process makes sense.  The alternative, frankly, could be very messy…

As Judaism eventually embraced prayer-based worship rather than sacrifice-based worship, the ancient rabbis helped fill the leadership void vacated by the priests (and prophets).  But prayer was something that everyone could participate in, and didn’t necessarily require specialized offerors (although some might argue that cantors have helped fill that role). With time, something truly beautiful has transpired: it is no longer just “professionals” who have the ability to make meaningful contributions to the success of the Jewish people’s created structures, as was the case in antiquity; rather, everyone has the ability to meaningfully contribute.  Many of the perceived class differences have faded with time, and opportunities for volunteer leadership are endless. 

This Shabbat, reflect on the following:

Which structures in your life have significant meaning / value?

Who are the caretakers of such structures? 

Are you willing / interested / able to step up and take on leadership roles to ensure their success?