Month: June 2017

Parashat Chukat • Numbers 19:1-22:1

This week’s Torah portion, Chukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1), describes a most curious incident. When commanded to “speak to the rock” in order to produce water for the Israelites to drink, Moses instead hit the rock with his staff. Though this was exactly the recipe for producing water Moses had used previously (in Exodus 17:6), this time it is seen as an act of defiance. God took offense, claiming “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” 

It seems that a good defense lawyer would be able to make an argument that the punishment was far more severe than warranted by the crime — if in fact a crime even occurred. Was not Moses just doing what he was already commanded? Should the leader of the people be held to that much higher a standard than the average Israelite? Was Moses really offering an intentional slight to God through his action? Join us for our Shabbat morning Torah study at 9:30 AM on Temple’s Seattle campus to argue the case! 

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

Sh’lach L’cha • Numbers 13:1−15:41

As the culmination of the ancient Israelites' wandering in the desert approached, Moses sent spies to scout Eretz Yisrael. Ten came back quite concerned about the reality they saw: "The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size... and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them!" (Number 13:33-34) Only two, Caleb and Joshua, maintained faith in God and certainty in their ability to enter the Promised Land.

Human beings in every day and age know the dilemma of the spies. Fear and uncertainty often pervade our lives, both interpersonal and professional, and threaten to derail even the most seemingly-assured plan. Others look like giants to whom we will never measure up, challenges of space and time seem insurmountable... and yet with faith in God and certainty in our abilities we can make the conscious choice to be like Caleb and Joshua. Chazak v'ematz, may we each be strong and courageous!

Rabbi Aaron C. Meyer

Parashat B’ha’a’lotcha • Numbers 8:1-12:16

I’m going to let you in on a little secret – one that my sorority sisters and college a cappella buddies wouldn’t necessarily be thrilled over me telling you. Well … maybe it’s not a secret so much as a "trick of the trade" or one of those “everyone-knows-this-is-how-they-do-it-but-no-one-wants-to-admit-it” things. Are you ready?

Nearly every religion, subgroup, secret “society” and extracurricular league uses candles – and, thus, light – for significant episodes, rituals and initiations.

Thus, the “special sauce” of some of humanity’s most sacred moments – Shabbat dinner, group initiation or Sunday mass, among them – often involves the kindling of light.

The question of “commandedness” always comes into play for us Jews and this week’s Torah portion hits on that directly. In the first verses of B’ha’a’lotcha God speaks to Moses, instructing him to tell Aaron to “mount the lamps; let seven lamps give light at the front of the lamp stand.” (Numbers 8:1-2) This direction might seem like a simple instruction given from boss to employee – yet dozens of commentaries draw out a deeper meaning of phrase.

What God is telling Aaron to do is not so much a “put this here and move that there” directive – THIS is a message colored by a pursuit of holiness and desire to create a sublime system of worship. Rather than rely on one simple light – the ner tamid alone, perhaps – God insists on multiple lights, drawn together in the form of a menorah. Those lights extend and increase that which has been kindled in the presence of the community, for the community. The light goes further, penetrates deeper into the darkness, and serves as a symbolic anchor for the greater whole. Additionally, the increased light echoes the many faces, names and identities of those gathered there in the first place. Thus, the light is an extension of the community itself.

A long time ago, one of my teachers shared with me that B’ha’a’lotcha is really a message to the community – not just the priests, or the leadership – that each light matters. Each light counts. When we kindle a light, as God instructs Aaron to do, we bring forth increased possibility and potential; we ignite the spark within one person, and another, and another – inspiring them to bring their light and potential to the greater whole. And when we do this, we inspire an entire community to continue bringing forth their light and finding others, thereby raising each and every one of us up to our fullest potential. May we continue to be blessed with the ability to kindle the lights of one another in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen

Parashat Naso • Numbers 4:21−7:89

Watch the Best of Rabcast for Rabbi Weiner's interpretation of this week's parashah, Naso.