Many years ago I returned from Israel and planned to move to Philadelphia. I spent a few weeks at home before the move. The first Friday I was home I bought a timer for the lamp next to my bed so that it would go off at certain time allowing me to sleep. I did not realize that I did not understand the directions how to use the timer. I went to bed, was able to read for a bit until the timer turned the lamp off at the time I wanted. Unfortunately around 2:30 am the timer turned the lamp back on and I suddenly had bright light shining on me. Needless-to-say I did not get much sleep that night.
This week we read the double parsha of VaYakhel/Pekudei and in doing so we complete the Book of Shemot. The main thrust of these two parshiyot is the completion of the building of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary the Israelites were commanded to create during their sojourn through the desert. As we discuss last week embedded in all these parshiyot is Shabbat, that one special day in the Jewish week that takes on a different dimension.
The parsha opens with Moshe gathering the people together and relates the following Divine command,” on six days work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest . . .” Two words are significant here. First is the word for work. The Hebrew is melacha. The second work is that for complete rest which is Shabbat. Unfortunately these translations are not adequate.
What exactly is melacha? It really isn’t work. The reason that the concept of Shabbat occurs often in these parshiyot regarding the Mishkan is that melacha is related to those activities that were used to create the Miashkan. The rabbis generated 39 categories of creative activity that were employed to build the Mishkan. It is these activities from, which we must refrain on Shabbat.
The first time the word Shabbat is used, as well as the word melacha, is the beginning of the second chapter of Bereshit. There had just been six days of activity to create the world. On the seventh day there is none; that creative activity has come to an end. If one reads the first verses of that second chapter it reads, “. . . and He stopped on the seventh day, from all His melacha that He did.” What did HaShem stop (the word is Va’Yishbot – the root is the same as Shabbat)? He stopped doing melacha. However, the word melacha is not defined. Not until Parshat VaYakhel do we understand the word for melacha is related to the activities for the mishkan.
HaShem used “melacha” to create the world. Humans, through the Divine command, used melacha to create the Mishkan. Shabbat is the cessation of the creative activity necessary to build and maintain the mishkan, to create and maintain the world. In a bit of a twist, one must actively stop in order to create Shabbat.
The Mishkan was another dimension in space; it was created to be a dwelling place for the Divine presence (however that truly worked). Shabbat is our Mishkan in time; it is another dimension to experience something special that the regular week can’t capture.
Chazak, Chazak, v'nitchazayk
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger
I was up early this morning. At 4:00 am I found myself in the kitchen chopping vegetables, boiling water as I made a pureed vegetable soup, made gefilte fish and put the meat, barley, potatoes and beans into the crock pot for cholent. Later today my wife will make the chicken. By the time I get home this afternoon there will be a familiar delicious aroma emanating from the kitchen. Shabbat is coming.
This week we read Parshat Ki Tissa. A common theme found within this parsha as well as the two previous parshiyot, Teruma and Tetzaveh and next week’s double parsha VaYakhel/Pekudei, is that of the Mishkan, its construction and maintenance, and the Kohain and his functions. The Mishkan was built to serve a place for HaShem’s presence to dwell. The Kohain was the designated person to oversee and perform the Divine rituals. The idea of kedusha, holiness, was pervasive throughout the camp.
Embedded in these parshiyot is Shabbat. “The Israelites shall guard the Shabbat, to make the Shabbat an everlasting covenant for generations. Between Me and the Israelites it is a sign that in six days HaShem made the Heavens and the Earth and on the seventh day He stopped and was refreshed.” This is but one passage that we read in these parshiyot. This passage is also the introductory verses recited for the Shabbat day Kiddush. Shabbat adds to this idea of holiness. However, whereas the Mishkan was holiness in a place, Shabbat is holiness in time.
In contrast to all this we read the unfortunate incident of the Golden Calf. Moshe was up on Mount Sinai and supposed to return in 40 days. The people counted the days incorrectly and when Moshe did not return at the time they anticipated they became agitated, converged upon Aaron, who took their gold, threw it into the fire and out came a golden calf. Many of the commentators say this was not an act of idolatry, that the calf was supposed to replace Moshe, not HaShem, however given that the people announced, “. . . this is your god, O Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt,” there is certainly a idolatrous nature to the event.
There is an idea within the Torah commentators that the some of the events in the Torah are not in chronological order, but rather placed in the order we have them for reasons we may not fully understand. The incident of the Golden Calf is one such example, that it took place prior to the command to build the Mishkan. Despite the miracle of the splitting of the Sea, and spectacular event at Mount Sinai, the people were still accustomed to the religious practices of Egypt. The Mishkan and Shabbat serve to constantly remind the Jewish people that there is but One HaShem in the world, and that presence could be perceived in place through the Mishkan, and in time through the Shabbat.
We no longer have the mishkan, or the Temple. We still have Shabbat, that wonderful, sacred time by which we are reminded of priorities in life. It is the day when we can unplug from the regular week of wrestling with the world and focus on appreciating the world, appreciating what we have, appreciating the holiness of life itself.
The soup, fish chicken and cholent are waiting. Shabbat is coming.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger
In November we had the first round of Parent / Teacher Conferences. At the end of the second night I walked slowly to my car. It had been two 12 hour days and I was tired and not really focused on anything in particular except to go home. I opened up the rear door of the car, put my book bag on the seat and then got into the front. Something was wrong. The seat was pushed all the way back and my feet didn’t reach the pedals. The inside of the car looked different. Suddenly it hit me - I was in the wrong car!! I discovered that my car was two spaces away on the other side of white van. I got out of the car, grabbed my bag, got into my car and went home.
This weekend we have the merit once again to read Megillat Esther, the episode of the near annihilation of the Jewish people at the hands of a tyrannical madman and the salvation they received from Queen Esther. There are two specific points in Megillat Esther which are particularly poignant to me.
The first comes when Mordecai, through a middle man, requests that Esther go to the king to intercede on behalf of the Jewish people. Esther is reluctant since one who approaches the king without being summoned could be put to death and she hadn’t been summoned in a while. Mordecai’s reply message that she must go ends with a statement that is powerful, “. . . and who knows whether it was just for this occasion that you attained the royal position.” Esther’s task, or at least one of them, was to save the Jewish people from destruction.
The second moment comes towards the end. After the war, after the Jews defeated the Persian army, the narrative of the megillah describes the Jews’ victory and the establishment of Purim as a holiday, that there should be feasting on the 14th of Adar (on the 15th in the capital of Shushan) and that Jews should exchange Mishloach Manot with one another to promote friendship and unity. The text then says that the Jews “established and accepted” to observe these days. The Talmud explains on this verse that Jewish people were accepting on themselves not only these days of a new holiday of Purim, but the entire Torah. This moment was a recommitment to Jewish tradition.
We all have an important role to play in this world, a role that no one else can fulfill. Esther’s role was to save the Jewish people and set in motion other events that would lead to the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. Our role - whatever it is – is no less crucial than Esther’s. We never know what souls we may save, how our actions may build others. We must remember that our actions, our words are powerful. Yes, we make mistakes, yes, at times we fall short. Jewish tradition has the concept of Teshuva, to repent, to return to get back on track.
Jewish tradition is our guide. The Talmud says that the Jews in Esther’s time made a new commitment to the Torah. The word “Torah” means instruction. It comes from the same root as “shoot.” One shoots straight. Jewish tradition is our instruction guide to help us along our path – so we don’t get into the wrong car in the dark.
May this Purim be a joyous one for everyone.
Shabbat shalom and a Purim Samayach
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger
Note: This week's "A Shabbat Thought" is coming early, as I will be away tomorrow in celebration of the Bat Mitzvah of my daughter Baila.
This week we read Parshat Terumah, and in doing so we begin a series of parshiyot which focus primarily on the building of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary the Israelites transported with them on their journey through the desert.
As the parsha begins, the Israelites are enjoined to donate a terumah, a portion. However that portion was to be given voluntarily. The command was such that if their heart moved them do so, they should contribute. Rashi points out that this was a good will offering. The Torah then lists several precious metals, and other items that would be used ultimately to construct a Mishkan, a sanctuary dedicated to the Divine.
The Israelites were asked as individuals to contribute something that was greater then themselves. The Mishkan served as a focal point for the people, a reminder that the Divine was in their presence and part of their lives.
GBDS is our Mishkan. GBDS is our place where we are creating something great. We all give our personal terumah, our talent, our creativity, our passion for something greater than ourselves; to a greater good, the strengthening of the Jewish people, the continuity of Jewish tradition.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger
I am blessed to work with a wonderful group of people. One example where this is evident is every year after the Curriculum Fair. As most of the teachers will say, this event generates some anxiety as we prepare the students, working very hard to get everything done. In the end, the Curriculum Fair is wonderful; the students do extraordinarily well. What makes it work is the manner in which the teachers work together to create an event that showcases the students and highlights the school. Parents come away knowing what a special place GBDS really is. Last night’s Curriculum Fair was no different.
This week we read Parshat Yitro, and in it we reach a climax of sorts to the whole Exodus from Egypt saga. In fact, Jewish tradition posits that it was just for this event that the Exodus took place. This event, of course is the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
The Torah itself relates “. . . and the Israelites encamped there opposite the mountain.” Rashi comments that the Hebrew word for encamped is rendered in the singular which is irregular given there were 600,000 people. Rashi explains there was complete unity among the people. They were “like one person with one heart.” It was that unity that enabled them to receive the Torah. The Torah brought the people together, the Torah unified the people.
When we work together, with a common purpose, we become unstoppable. Yes, there will always be differences, a variety of opinions and idea, and numerous points of view, however once we realize the shared goal, and we work together towards that goal, there is really nothing that can’t be accomplished. The ancient rabbis speak of “70 faces of Torah”, acknowledging there is more than one point of view. Indeed Talmudic discourse is full of disagreements as the rabbis debated the minutia of law, but they were debates to understand how to fulfill the Divine will that was expressed in the Torah and that ultimately bound them as one. Today, we are the heirs to a rich and beautiful heritage.
As we read of the experience of the giving of the Torah, may we remind ourselves of Rashi’s comment of being “like one person with one heart,” that unity, that collaboration, working together towards a common goal is the key to great things. When we are one, when are united we strengthen not only ourselves but our community as well. The future becomes that becomes much brighter; success that much sweeter.
I wish everyone a wonderful, restful Presidents’ Week vacation.
Rabbi Yaakov Traiger