Month: March 2018

Yom Rishon shel Pesach | Exodus 12:37-42, 13:3-10

The formative Jewish narrative — more than the creation of the State of Israel, more than the days of creation, more even than the covenant at Sinai — is the Exodus from Egypt. Freedom FROM Egypt, to be sure, but also the freedom TO: to create a moral society in keeping with the values and truths of the burgeoning Jewish religion. The Exodus is commemorated and relived in our upcoming Sedarim, true, and recalled most frequently in our tradition.
We remember the Exodus when we recite kiddish at our dining room tables every Friday night. We remember the Exodus when we sing Mi Chamocha during every service. We also remember the Exodus when we walk into our homes and other Jewish spaces. An early precursor to the mezuzah is found in the Torah portion we read this week: “Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and to the doorposts.” (Exodus 21:22) When we continually remember the Exodus, when we embrace the accompanying responsibility, it should be enough. Dayeinu!
- Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parashat Tzav | Leviticus 6:1−8:36

Leviticus, dense and replete with antiquated ritual though it may be, is the book that makes the Torah - the Torah. Unlike other Ancient Near Eastern texts, which are mainly prose, mainly law, or mainly poetry, the Torah includes all three. This week's parsha, Tzav, continues the legal-framework of the book with  instructions about sacrificial offerings and the priestly ordination. While last week's parsha was directed to the entire community, this week's is directed at the priests themselves, and yet, it is available to all to read and study.

Rabbi Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi notes in her commentary to Tzav, that Israel sets itself apart from other ancient cultures that it resembled with this inclusion in the text: "... the priests in most cultures in the ancient world kept secrets of their profession away from the public eye and transmitted them privately from generation to generation. In contrast, Leviticus reflects a commitment to keep the rules of the trade, as it were, in public view." (The Torah: A Women's Commentary, URJ Press 2008). Perhaps this can help us understand a related notion expressed at the giving of the Ten Commandments, "You shall be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation." (Exodus 19:6)

Yes, the work of the priesthood, and the texts of Leviticus are highly specialized - and pertain to a specific time in our ancient heritage. But the work of the priests, the rituals and offerings, was public knowledge. Perhaps so that all of Israel could see themselves as in relationship with the Divine, and indeed, capable of sacred connection and holy work.

- Rabbi Callie B. Schulman

Parashat Vayikra | Leviticus 1:1−5:26

Arnold Eisen, Chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary (the Conservative Movement’s rabbinical school), teaches that the Book of Leviticus, which we begin this week, is a "how-to handbook" for the ancient priests on which the rest of us are merely eavesdroppers. This next book of Torah is filled with instructions about the various sorts of sacrifices to be offered and how to perform them correctly. We, as contemporary readers, he says, are quite removed from sacrifice and are probably even repelled by all the blood, gore, and priestly technicalities of Leviticus.

With a little bit of wisdom and detachment, however, we can still derive meaning from Leviticus’s attention to human frailty and imperfection, its sustained reflection on the importance of ritual, and its understanding of the need for holiness and community. It’s not as easy as finding meanings in Genesis’ stories of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs or in the highlight reel that is Deuteronomy, but most things that are worthwhile are not easy. Roll up your sleeves and join us for Torah study this month at 9:30am on Temple’s Seattle campus!

- Rabbi Aaron Meyer

Parashat Vayak'heil - P'kudei | Exodus 35:1–40:38

There is a common misconception that art was not an historic part of the ancient Israelite, and indeed, Jewish worship tradition. Given the commandment prohibiting the worship of graven images, such a misconception is understandable. However, in this week's Torah portion we read of the Israelites coming together to create what can only be called works of art in the construction of the Tabernacle that the Israelites carried with them throughout their wanderings in the wilderness.

In the Sefer Yetzirah, one of the earliest books of the Jewish esoteric, each of the Twelve Tribes is associated with a month of the Hebrew calendar. This month, Adar, belongs to the tribe of Naftali. Midrash further connects Naftali to those who, in this week's parsha, were responsible for the work of weaving that went into the creation of the Tabernacle. The connection with Naftali, and indeed with the artists Bezalel and Oholiab, mentioned in this week's parsha as the chief artisans of the Tabernacle, remind us that creativity is a sacred and essential part of our tradition.

Rabbi Jill Hammer writes, "The tribe of Naftali holds the secret of weaving the sacred into the works of human hands. Naftali shows us how the spirit and the natural world can be woven together into a single fabric." (The Jewish Book of Days, JPS 2006). May our Torah continue to remind us of the varieties of ways in which we can express our yearnings to connect our lived experience with that-which-is-greater-than-us.

- Rabbi Callie Schulman

Parashat Ki Tisa | Exodus 30:11−34:35

“Today I am a man; tomorrow I return to the 7th grade” goes the classic joke about religious maturity occurring at age 13 in Jewish tradition. This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, suggests an older age at which one should be counted as an adult: “When you take a census of the Israelite people…everyone from the age of twenty years up shall give.” Rashi and Ibn Ezra, two traditional commentators, suggest that this is the age at which one is capable of true understanding and should be counted as an adult. At age 13 we may understand our responsibilities in Jewish tradition — but it isn’t until age 20 that we are held fully accountable.
Car insurance companies have long known the difference between societal conference of responsibility and when it is actually likely to be carried out. Don’t even think about renting a car until your prefrontal cortex has reached a later stage of development around age 25. It makes good sense…the same sense we have known for some 2,500 years.
-Rabbi Aaron Meyer