• Dvar for Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38)

    The very last Passuk (verse) of this week’s Parsha, Pekudei, tells us that “a cloud rested over the Mishkan by day, fire will appear in it at night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys” (40:38). Why is fire the only object described in future tense? What does “throughout their journeys” add, especially considering the fact that they didn’t travel at night, which means that roughly half the time they weren’t really traveling?

    One possible answer these questions is that “journeys” refers to our everyday life, and that G-d is with us day and night, helping us with our struggles. So why use future tense? Knowing that G-d will be with us in future challenges comforts us now, and prepares us for whatever the future holds. Perhaps that is also why the flame isn’t separate from the cloud, but burns within it. Our support system is always there, from within, coming in the form of family and friends, but starting with G-d Himself.

  • Dvar for Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20)

    After the disappointing event of the golden calf, Parshat Vayakhel recounts some of the Jews’ positive traits, including their eagerness to contribute materials needed to erect the Mishkan. The Passuk states that “the work was enough for the work that was needed, and there was extra” (36:7). Rashi explains that the first “work” refers to the act of bringing the materials to the craftsmen, but if that’s what the Torah meant, why not be clear about it? Also, if they were stopped after bringing what was needed why would there also be extra?

    The Or HaChaim answers both questions by suggesting that G-d was so pleased with the people’s eagerness to contribute that He found a way to make use of the excess donated, such that no one’s contributions were wasted. G-d was pleased with the effort of the people’s delivery of the materials as much as the donation of the materials themselves. This could be why the Passuk uses the same word to describe the bringing of the material and the material itself. The Passuk would then be conveying that the effort and eagerness of the people was so appreciated that it was as important as the material itself. What’s clear is that we don’t need to be experts in what we do – effort and enthusiasm is fundamental in how we interact with G-d as well as each other.

  • Dvar for Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35)

    Parshat Ki Tisa recounts the Jews’ creation of the Golden Calf, one of the worst sins we’ve ever committed, as well as Moshe’s negotiations with G-d in seeking atonement. The Torah describes G-d’s complaints to Moshe in 4 Pessukim (32:7-10), and then Moshe’s response in three Pessukim (32:11-13), which proved effective. Moshe’s response to G-d started with “why are you angry at your nation?” (32:11). Didn’t Moshe know why G-d was angry? How was this an effective defense?

    Rabbi David Fohrman explains that there are two elements to Moshe’s response that were effective. The first is the word he used for “why” is “Le-ma” (literally means “for what purpose”), which is a forward-looking question. Rather than using the alternate term “madua”, which is more focused on the past. Moshe also made a subtle adjustment to G-d’s complaint. While G-d initially said “go down because your nation acted corruptly”, Moshe’s response was “why are you angry at your nation?” Same word, but Moshe shifts the ownership. Moshe understood that getting over something upsetting requires taking ownership of what’s yours, and requires looking ahead. Once focus is on the future, moving past difficult situations becomes possible, and may even end up strengthening relationships, as this incident did for those that survived it. When we focus on our future rather than the past, we give ourselves a chance to live the life we choose.

  • Dvar for Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)

    Parshat Tetzaveh famously lacks any mention of Moshe’s name, the first time that happens since his birth. Some commentators explain that this is in direct response to Moshe’s argument that if G-d doesn’t forgive the Jews for the sin of the Golden Calf, He should “erase me from your book” (32:32). Although G-d did forgive the Jews, the punishment for suggesting a total erasure was borne out in our Parsha. However, although Moshe is not mentioned by name, he is certainly referred to many times, as the one given the many instructions for the priestly clothing. First, what sort of punishment is it, if he’s still mentioned? Second, why the punishment in the first place?

    Rabbi Jonathan Sacks suggests an alternate approach that bears a practical lesson for us. He first points out that the relationship between Moshe and Aaron was different because they actually got along, and even supported and complemented each other. Aaron represented kindness and peace while Moshe represented truth and humility. Truth is critical in inspiring a nation, while there wouldn’t be a nation to inspire without peace. They recognized each other’s role and respected their difference. That’s why Moshe left this entire Parsha to focus on Aaron and his sons. It wasn’t a punishment, but a lesson of honor and respect.

    The focus of this week’s Parsha on Aaron spotlights a brotherhood that finally worked, and laid a blueprint for us to emulate by respecting our differences and supporting the roles we each can play in creating the people we all can be.

  • Dvar for Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19)

    This week’s Parsha, Terumah, details the intricate instructions of building the Mishkan, a sanctuary for G-d, complete with utensils used for His service. Of all the items, however, only two were to be sculpted of one piece of gold: The Keruvim (the golden angels that rest on top of the ark cover), and the Menorah (the candelabra to be lit daily, with its six branches), complete with upside down goblets, knobs and flowers along its many stems (25:31-37). What was so special about the Menorah that required it be made of one piece of gold, when even the Ark itself didn’t have that same requirement (25:10-11)?

    Rabbi Israel Greenberg suggests that the branches represent different segments of the Jewish nation, and the ornaments on each stem represent diverse approaches of understanding the Torah, and that all people and all approaches contribute to a single goal of illuminating the world. Moreover, the upside down goblets represent not receiving liquid, but supporting the flame of our Torah. The knobs resembled apples, representing the sweetness found from within, and the flowers symbolize the novel insights that we discover hidden within the Torah text. All these factors represent all that the Torah has to offer, but only when they function as one unit, one segment of people inspiring another, and one form of study celebrating the other. We are all different, and those differences make each of us unique and golden, if we act as a cohesive group of people.

  • Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    Parshat Mishpatim lists many of the laws that govern Jewish living and also contains hidden treasures. One example can be found when the Torah describes the punishment for killing another person. Passuk (verse) 12 (21:12) says that when a person kills another he shall be put to death. The next Passuk offers an exception to that rule: When someone accidentally kills, they flee to a safe haven city which was established for those circumstances (21:13). The next Passuk (21:14) seems to go back to explain the first scenario of killing with intent. Why does the Torah restate the same law, seemingly out of order, adding the instruction to “take him” to die for his actions.

    One possible explanation could be that the 3 Pessukim (verses) discuss 3 different scenarios. The first scenario is when someone kills another with intent, the second scenario is when intent is not there, and the third is where intent is there but no action is taken. What do you do with someone that tries to hurt another but doesn’t? You take them out to punish them, but taking them out to punishment is their actual and full punishment, possibly invoking fear, or helping them visualize the punishment to dissuade future actions.

    This set of laws highlights intent as an integral aspect of not only our behavior, but in evaluating others’ actions. And when intent is unclear, don’t judge.

  • Dvar for Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

    Parshat Yitro contains the first time we are introduced to the ten commandments, often overshadowing other important messages conveyed in our Parsha. One such message can be found when the Torah describes the Jews leaving Rephidim and leading to Har Sinai (Mount Sinai), where they would end up accepting the Torah. Why does the Torah tell us that they left Rephidim, when it seems rather obvious that they left where they were to get to Sinai?

    Rephidim was not only where the Jews were attacked by Amalek, but was also known to be the only oasis in the region, a fact Amalek used to their advantage when planning the attack on the Jews. Once the battle was over, the Jews were able to enjoy the comforts of that oasis. It is therefore important for us to know that the people were not only willing but excited to leave the comforts of their environment to accept a Torah with many unfamiliar and sometimes difficult rules and attributes. Comfort sometimes breeds complacency, a lesson easily overlooked but also a key to personal change and growth.

  • Dvar for Beshalach (Exodus 13:17-17:16)

    This week’s Parsha, Beshalach, is filled with miracles, transitions and complaints. The inaugural complaint by the Jewish people involves their fear of being overrun by the pursuing Egyptian army, to which Moshe responds “stand firm and watch…” how G-d will save us (14:13). The word used to instruct the Jews to stand firm is “hit-yatzvu”, a word seldom used by the Torah. Why would it be important for us to stand firm while G-d fights our battle, and what’s the significance of that special word?

    Rabbi Fohrman (www.alephbeta.org) explains that the word hit-yatzvu was used when Miriam stood to see what would happen to Moshe when watching him by the river. Her actions demonstrated her belief that things will work out, despite the perilous risk to Moshe’s life. There’s a difference between observing something and having conviction of a certain outcome. Moshe’s message was not only to have faith in Hashem but to teach them to have steadfast conviction in the result. When we encounter struggles in life,  through one word G-d reminds us to not only have faith but conviction that G-d will also help us through them. Just watch.

  • Dvar for Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)

    Parshat Bo describes the final 3 plagues before Paroh kicks out the Hebrews. The first plague in this Parsha is “Arbeh”, or locust (10:12). Ironically, the same word “arbeh” is used after the Akeida, when G-d promises Araham that his offspring will be many (Gen. 22:17). There, “arbeh” means that G-d will multiply Avraham’s descendants. Why would the same word be used to describe a plague and a promise of a great future? Also, when this plague started, the locusts were brought in by an east wind (10:13). Why is that important for us to know?

    The plague of locusts also included darkness caused by the quantity of locusts in the air, because this also describes Paroh’s distorted vision of what the Hebrews represented. In fact, the entire plague could be a metaphor: People that came from the east (Canaan is east of Egypt), multiplied, and Paroh perceived to be a threat, when in fact they were just doing what G-d had promised their ancestors would happen. The only difference between reality and Paroh’s perception of reality is his perspective, which explains why the same word can describe both.

    Sometimes we need to reorient our perspective, make sure our goals aren’t misguided, and recommit ourselves to reaching those goals.

  • Dvar for Vaera (Exodus 6:2-9:35)

    Parshat Vaera relates G-d introducing the name Kel Shakkai (spelling was modified, out of respect for the actual name) to Moshe (6:2-3), and tells him that the forefathers all knew Him as Kel Shakkai, but that now I am YHVH (we don’t know how to pronounce that, so we say Hashem). What is G-d telling Moshe? What is the difference between G-d’s different names, and what will now change?

    Beth Lesch of AlephBeta pieces together several clues that can combine as an answer to our question. She points out that the first time Kel Shakkai is introduced is when G-d appeared to Avraham (17:1). There, Avraham is instructed to walk before G-d. How does one walk before G-d? Skip to Yakov, who on his deathbed says “The G-d before whom my fathers Avraham and Yitzchak walked, the G-d who has been my shepherd.” (Gen. 48:15) G-d led as a shepherd leads, from the rear. You see, to herd sheep, you don’t lead from the front, for they will not follow. You lead from behind, the flock senses movements from behind them and moves as a group. It’s the perfect metaphor for how G-d guides us, as Kel Shakkai, and asks us to be his sheep, under His protection. The change in our Parsha is from G-d replacing His typical position of guiding us silently and subtly to guiding the Jews out of Egypt with miracles and spender. G-d’s attributes are used as needed, both in the times of the exodus, and in our current lives. Whether we’re being gently guided or boldly led, guidance is always there when we need it.

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