This week’s Torah portion, bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20), is the first Torah reading in a book of the same name (referred to in English as Numbers). The word bamidbar (במדבר) means “In the wilderness”.
Wilderness is the backdrop of most of the Torah. It is where all the drama of the people of Israel as a people, as opposed to a family, takes place. And it unfolds in the space of 40 years, after which, supposedly, our forefathers crossed the Jordan river and entered the Promised Land.
The opening verses of the Torah portion of bechukotai, (Leviticus 26:3 – 27:34) reminded me of the ideas of American physicist David Bohm (1917-1992). An innovative thinker, Bohm did not limit himself to physics and went further than many in trying to grapple with the implications of quantum physics on our understanding of mind and brain. He also engaged in famous conversations with J.D. Krishnamurti, one of the most significant spiritual teachers of the 20th century, and developed a system of “dialogue,” a way for people to conduct a conversation which takes the insights he has gained into the nature of mind and consciousness into account. (more…)
This week’s Torah portion, behar (Leviticus 25:1-55, 26:1), discusses many items of social justice, including the issue of slavery. Slaves were an integral part of the economy in those days. While the Torah does not abolish slavery, it seeks to secure the right of slaves by law (Israelite slaves, that is; slaves of non-Israelite descent receive a much harsher treatment, unfortunately):
If your kinsman under you continues in straits and must give himself over to you, to not subject him to the treatment of a slave. He shall remain with you as a hired or bound laborer; he shall serve with you only until the Jubilee year. Then he and his children with him shall be free of your authority; he shall go back to his family and return to his ancestral holding. For they are my slaves, whom I freed from the land of Egypt, and may not give themselves over into slavery…. For it is to me that the Israelites are slaves: they are my slaves, whom I freed from the land of Egypt, I Y-H-V-H your God. (Leviticus 25:39-42, 55)
Y-H-V-H spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the whole Israelite community, and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, Y-H-V-H your God, am Holy. (Leviticus 19:1-2)
The Hebrew word kadosh (קדוש), meaning holy, means different, other, set apart. As such, it is an attribute of God, as the one who is completely set apart from creation, the transcendental reality. (more…)
As practically all of the book of Leviticus, this week’s Torah portion, acharey mot (Leviticus Ch. 16-18), lists numerous rules regarding how Aharon, the chief priest, is to conduct himself while he is in the Tent of the Meeting (another name for the Tabernacle).
For the Hassidic rabbis, these are just codes for how one should conduct oneself during prayer. The “Tent of the Meeting” is not a physical place for them; it is the deeper realms of one’s consciousness. Entering the Tent of the Meeting (ohel mo’ed) is entering that place within oneself, where one meets one’s Maker.
At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, tazria, we are told this regarding a new baby boy:
וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁמִינִי יִמּוֹל בְּשַׂר עָרְלָתוֹ:
On the eighth day, the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. (Leviticus 12:3)
Is there a significance to this number eight, to doing this on the eighth day? It turns out there is. According to the great 16th century rabbi Yehudah Livai of Prag (the Maharal of Prag), everything that pertains to the supernatural intervention of the divine in the world is associated with the number eight.
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 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…)