Open Hearts. Open Minds. Strong Values.
By Eric Mendelsohn for Reconstructing Judaism
A D'var Torah for Tetzaveh
This Torah portion consists of the ordination of Aaron and his descendants as priests, vast descriptions of the vestments that the priest should wear, and the law of the half-shekel temple tax. This segment was probably rewritten in King Josiah's time, and again during the exile, and again upon the return to conform to what the priests were wearing at that time. Nothing in this parasha of direct relevance to Judaism, even to traditional Jewish practice, survived the destruction of the Temple, though Jews have chosen to dress the Torah in a mimicry of the priestly vestments. (Some segments of the reading are important in Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition as the basis for the vestments of bishops, and for the implicit idea that bishops can ordain priests.) As far as I know, Apple Computer has not announced a device called the “E-phod” which will allow users to connect to God via the Internet for the expiation of sin.
By Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben for Reconstructing Judaism
Wherever We Let God In
In a famous Hasidic saying, the Kotzker Rebbe was once asked: “Where does God dwell?” to which he replied, “Wherever you let Him in.”
So this week as I read the Torah portion I have wondered about all the places where people let God into their lives, and the places where they keep God out. I spent time today talking with eleven-year-old Alex whose father has been lying in a coma in the hospital for a week, ever since a massive heart attack left him with little chance of recovery. Alex looked up at me through tear-filled eyes and had a message for God: “It sucks! And it isn’t fair.”
Mishpatim - Mahar Chodesh
By Rabbi Shai Held for Reconstructing Judaism
Turning Memory into Empathy: The Torah’s Ethical Charge
One of the Torah’s central projects is to turn memory into empathy and moral responsibility. Appealing to our experience of defenselessness in Egypt, the Torah seeks to transform us into people who see those who are vulnerable and exposed rather than looking past them.
Parashat Mishpatim contains perhaps the most well-known articulation of this charge: “You shall not oppress a stranger (ger), for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 23:9; see also 22:20). By ger, the Torah means one who is an alien in the place where he lives—that is, one who is not a member of the ruling tribe or family, who is not a citizen, and who is therefore vulnerable to social and economic exploitation.
By Rabbi Howard Cohen for Reconstructing Judaism
"Hearing" The "Voice" of God
What does it mean to “hear” the commanding “voice” of God? A key word in this week's portion suggests that it is not necessarily all that clear. Moreover, one particularly trenchant verse in the haftarah reinforces the problem with understanding revelation (which I am equating with the notion of hearing the commanding voice of God).
After three days of preparing for an event to occur on Mount Sinai, Moshe gathered the people together at the foot of the mountain. The summit became engulfed in a furious storm of lightening, clouds and thunder. “The whole mountain trembled violently.” Moshe began to speak to God: “The blare of the shofar grew louder and louder: As Moshe spoke, God answered him…”
Shabbat Shira - Beshalach
By Joel Hecker, Ph.D., for Reconstructing Judaism
Evil and Compassion: Two Sides of One Staff
“Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea and split it apart, that the Israelites may come into the midst of the sea on dry land” (Exodus 14:16).
What is the nature of this staff? Is it a walking stick? Sign of God’s power? Or magical device?
The Zohar, the central text of Jewish mysticism that first appeared in Castile in the late 13th century, has a uniquely challenging teaching about the staff. But first some background. In Exodus 4:2–5 we read the following dialogue between Moshe and God: “‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A staff.’ He said, ‘Fling it to the ground.’ And he flung it to the ground and it became a snake and Moshe fled from it. YHVH said to Moshe, ‘Reach out your hand and grasp its tail.’ And he reached out his hand and held it and it became a staff in his grip.”