The Torah portion for last week was shemini (Leviticus 9 – 11). For various constraints, I was not able to submit the commentary on the portion before Shabbat, which is what I attempt to do normally; but the commentary on this week’s portion, tazria (Leviticus 12 – 13), will in fact pertain to both portions, as it will concern itself with the symbolism of the number eight (shemini means “eighth”).
However, in the spirit of the Talmudic statement:
לפוטרו בלא כלום אי אפשר
One cannot get away with nothing (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Chullin, 27b)
I hereby offer a short comment regarding last week’s reading. not, however, with regards to the weekly reading of the Torah, but rather the reading of the haftarah*.
This week, in addition to being the week in which the Torah portion of tsav (Leviticus 6 – 8) is read out in the synagogues, is also the week of the holiday of Purim. Known mainly for its joyous nature—the costumes, the cookies, the abundance of alcohol—the story of this holiday contains a profound message.
This week’s weekly Torah portion is vayikra (Leviticus 1 – 4). It is the first portion in the third book of the Torah, Leviticus (which in Hebrew is also called vayikra). The portion opens with Y-H-V-H calling out to Moses and instructing him about the ways of worship:
Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of Y-H-V-H filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled upon it, and the glory of Y-H-V-H filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:34-35)
But in previous portions we were told that the construction of the tabernacle was not so that God could be dwell in it, but rather in them, i.e. the Israelites. How is it that here we are told that God’s presence fills the tabernacle itself? This is also peculiar given the statement of Solomon, the builder of the first temple:
What is the origin of the miraculous phenomenon of human creativity? How is it that we are the only creatures on the planet capable of performing such enormous creative (the destructive) acts, of the kind that were once attributed to God alone? This is one of the subjects that this week’s Torah portion, vayakhel (Exodus 35:1 – 38:20), touches upon, in the context of the construction of the mishkan, the tabernacle that has been the subject of the last few weekly portions.
As mentioned earlier, ancient lore considered the tabernacle to be a mirror of the structure of the human psyche as well as the structure of the universe. The art of creating the tabernacle, then, is a mirror of, or a commentary on, the primordial act of creation spoken of in Genesis, on one hand, and the nature of human creativity on the other.
The Torah portion of this week, ki tisa, (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35) continues with the theme of the construction of the Tabernacle. But it also contains one of the most potent stories of the book of Exodus: the story of the golden calf.
In a nutshell: after the people of Israel received, collectively, a revelation of God’s voice, including the Ten Commandments, they signed on the dotted line by famously declaring na’aseh ve-nishma’ (נעשה ונשמע) “We will do and listen” (Exodus 24:7). The midrash takes these words to signify their complete trust, since the word na’aseh, “we will do”, preceded the word nishma’, “we will listen”: they committed themselves to obey the Torah even before they heard it fully. (more…)
This week’s weekly Torah portion, tetsaveh (Exodus 27:20 – 20:10), continues the theme of the construction of the mishkan (משכן), the Tabernacle, God’s “dwelling place”.
In last week’s parashah (weekly Torah portion), terumah, we learnt that the Tabernacle may not be a physical structure at all, but a structure in consciousness. The text says:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם:
And they shall make me a sanctuary, and I will dwell within them. (Exodus 25:8)
This idea is echoed in this week’s parashah. At the end of very long and detailed instructions regarding the clothing of the high priest, the ornaments of the menorah, specific of offerings and other matters, the text states: (more…)
This week’s Torah portion, terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), deals with the construction of the tabernacle, the mishkan (משכן), in the desert. The instructions for the construction of the tabernacle are so specific and so minute, that models of the tabernacle can be built with great accuracy (the picture on the left is from such a model built in the south of Israel).
A few verses into the portion, the Torah specifies the effect of building the mishkan:
וְעָשׂוּ לִי מִקְדָּשׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּי בְּתוֹכָם:
And they shall make me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)
The verse seems to suggest, that the tabernacle, the mishkan, will enable God to dwell (lishkon) among the people of Israel. But that is absurd: God confined to a tent? And does that mean that before the construction, God is not able to dwell among them?
This week’s Torah portion, mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18), is devoted almost exclusively to laws from God to the people of Israel. Only the last part of this portion deals briefly with the invitation to Moses, along with Aaron and Aaron’s sons as well as 70 of the elders of the People of Israel, to ascend to Mount Sinai. In the last verse of this Torah portion we are told that Moses alone went up all the way:
This week’s Torah portion, yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23), tells the story of the revelation of the Torah to the people of Israel on Mount Sinai. It is said that this was a collective revelation, witnessed by more than half a million people.
Famously, Moses goes up the mountain and returns with the Torah inscribed in stone. Ancient lore has it that he received not only the written Torah (torah shebikhtav), but also the oral Torah (torah she’be’alpe), a tradition of interpretation of the written text which was initially passed on orally. (more…)