Month: February 2018

Parashat T'tzaveh | Exodus 27:20−30:10

Nestled within Parshat Tetzaveh, amidst detailed descriptions of the priestly garments we find a tantalizingly occult relic from the priesthood: the Urim and Thummim. These were divinatory tools the High Priest would consult when the human capacity for decision making was lacking:

Inside the breastpiece of decision you shall place the Urim and Thummim, so that they are over Aaron's heart when he comes before the Eternal. Thus Aaron shall carry the instrument of decision for the Israelites over his heart before the Eternal at all times (Exodus 28:30).

Of the priestly accoutrements depicted in our parashah, the Urim and Thummim remain the most mysterious, for very little is known about how they were used. They do, however, point to the human heart's yearning for reassurance from the Divine. We see such yearning again in I Samuel where the Urim is listed alongside dream interpretation and consulting a prophet as sanctioned forms of communication with the Divine (I Samuel 28:6).

It is tempting to tie this all up in a nice package, with a moral and a lesson and a practical takeaway, but this is one of those Torah moments that elicit more questions than answers. We humans have a tendency toward cynicism and fear when faced with the unknown, but our parashah offers up these ancient, mysterious tools as an antidote. The existence of the Urim and Thummim offers us a hint as to how our spiritual ancestors sought information from the Divine, and invites us to continue that search in our own lives.

- Rabbi Callie Schulman

Parashat T'rumah | Exodus 25:1−27:19

“God spoke to Moses saying: ‘Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves them’.” This week’s Torah portion, Terumah, begins by creating a religious structure 180 degrees removed from the Israelites’ experience in Egypt. Instead of being forced to labor, they were invited to participate. Instead of being far removed from that which was sacred, they were instrumental in its creation. Each and every person had the chance to opt in — and the space for God’s presence was crafted through their actions.

The same is true today. As the theologian Joseph Soloveitchik reminds us, it is incumbent upon each of us to create a world in which God wishes to dwell. It can only happen when we opt in, each and every day, renewing our desire to live by our highest values and then following through with our actions.

-  Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parashat Mishpatim | Exodus 21:1−24:18

Mishpatim, the rules laid out in this week’s appropriately-named Torah portion, are those commandments that inherently make sense, that come complete with obvious moral backing. (Their ideological opposites, chukim, are those commandments issued without apparent reason that are particular to the Jewish community.) Mishpatim should and have arisen in many thinking societies. Do not murder, take responsibility for your animals, do not ill-treat orphans all make sense to us and are “easy” to uphold when we are thinking and acting as our highest selves. So why are they commanded in Torah and not a separate, secular legal code?
In Jewish tradition, the two are not distinct as they are in American life. To be fully Jewish is to live in accordance with your highest values in the synagogue as well as on the street, in religious as well as secular contexts. To not murder makes sense in a cooperative human society and also reflects the spark of divinity we find in every human being. We do it (or, as the case may be, don’t do it) for secular reasons and religious reasons combined. May our every action reflect this reality.
- Rabbi Aaron Meyer