Friday, February 27, 2009

My Appreciation and Need for Comments!

To anonymous, thank you for writing. The more discussion we have from each other, the more fodder we all have for thought and growth.

Comment on Comment on Creation Itself

A comment on my previous post elaborated on a sense of place. I hope everyone reads it. The writer made some very good points about having a sense of place and, in that place, a sense of order. This isn't order in the guise of neatness (thought it could be) but a structure to your life. Creation itself is how God brought -- and continues to bring -- order out of chaos. Since the sages compare the building of the Mishkan to the very act of Creation, it stands to reason that the Mishkan was a way for us to bring spiritual order out of the chaos of slavery.

The Mishkan was a part of our history and is our present as well. The word Mishkan literally means dwelling-place. Here, it's a dwelling place for Hashem. But it can't really be that! God is everywhere! Rather, it's a way for us to dwell with Him. We surround ourselves with objects that remind us of Him. The symbols aren't holy, but are a way to help us achieve holiness.

Food for thought, which the commenter probably knew when describing the importance of a sense of place: one of God's names is Ha'Makon, the Place -- the Place of the Entire Universe.

Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Shaina

Monday, February 23, 2009

Why Do 21st Century Jews Bother Learning about Tabernacles?

Our sages explain that Hashem’s directions for building the Tabernacle led to deep layers of holiness. The Tabernacle – Mishkan in Hebrew – would represent many important themes of Torah: the covenant, the creation of the world, the importance of integrity, even the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Statements of Revelation at Mt. Sinai.

Obviously, the Mishkan was not an ordinary building. It was intended to help bring us into God’s holy presence. This leads to a few questions:

1. Do we really need a special building to enter God’s presence? Why or why not? Without such a building as a communal and religious focus point, would we be able to retain a strong core?

2. How do we address the role of symbolism in our own buildings? Do we surround ourselves with objects that remind us of family, religion, our interests? Why do we need these reminders in our homes?

3. The Mishkan was built with the finest materials the Israelites could find. Does cost equal quality when we are designing a place that will hopefully enhance our spirituality? What should be our priorities in creating such a place?

Think about these questions. They are only a few of the issues raised by the parshah Terumah. I welcome your input.

Rabbi Shaina

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Building a Tabernacle, Creating a World

The parshah Terumah is akin to an ancient Hebrew version of Architectural Digest. It’s a guidebook to building the Mishkan -- the Tabernacle -- in intricate detail.

What happened to the great spirituality we’ve seen radiating from Moses’ encounters with the Kadosh Barukh Hu? Has ruach somehow become lost in a sea of minutiae? For crying out loud, in the afterglow of our greatest moment as a people – in this reading, we’re measuring curtains!

As usual, we’re better served by taking a closer look at these “trivial” details ... for as we know, Torah is rarely found on the surface of the text. And since the Mishkan is a place to enable the people to connect with God and holiness, we know that there must be more to this Parshah than meets the naked eye.

We’re creatures of flesh and blood and cannot exist on a purely spiritual plane. We must infuse our worship with the concrete world -- and at the same time, take care that we do not let the concrete world overtake us.

It’s hard having a God whom we cannot see or even visualize. After all, we relate to the world through our senses! The Torah shows us that we can and should find concrete expression of our worship -- as long as we stay focused on God and God’s Oneness.

The Zohar tells us: Rabbi Yose was once deep in study, Rabbi Isaac and Rabbi Hezekiah being with him. Said Rabbi Isaac: We are aware that the structure of the Tabernacle corresponds with the structure of heaven and earth.

A medieval commentator, the Or Hachayyim, explains this further: God equated the building of the Mishkan with the creation of the earth itself!

Simply put, we cannot ignore the details of the Tabernacle any more than a surgeon can avoid the study of anatomy! Let’s take a look at just one of the allusions..

Exodus 26.1 says: “Make the Tabernacle of ten strips of cloth.”

Simple instruction - or deeper meaning?

Below the surface, the Or Hachayyim compares the ten strips of cloth to God’s ten utterances with which tradition teaches that He created the universe.

Ten is certainly a number signifying foundation. We have ten fingers, five on each hand. It takes ten to have a minyan, a quorum for public prayer.

God spoke ten times and created the world. We could easily say dayeinu, that’s enough -- but we have more ... the Aseret Hadibrot, the Ten Statements -- better known as the Ten Commandments -- God’s spoken revelation to the entire people Israel ... these utterances also created .. not only the foundation for all Torah, but the beginning of Jews as a people.

In mysticism, we have the ten sefirot, or Emanations and Attributes of God. Ten represents our understanding, feeble though it may be, of God’s nature.

Therefore, the Or Hachayyim says that through construction with these ten strips of cloth, the Israelites received merit for building the Mishkan as if they had created the universe itself.

This Torah portion has this and so much more to teach us. Stay tuned for more. And please share your questions and comments!

Rabbi Shaina

Blogging and Torah

With this blog, I hope we'll have a forum to learn and discuss a variety of issues, especially those related to God and Torah.

Along those lines, I want to encourage everyone to read the weekly Torah portion. The first step is letting you know where to find it! After that, I'll post my own thoughts as well as ideas from commentators, ancient to modern. The blog will provide you an opportunity to share your thoughts as well.

Getting started: the reading from this coming Shabbat is the parshah Terumah, Exodus 26:1-30, found in Etz Hayim starting page 491. The haftarah is I Kings 5:26-6:13, Etz Hayim page 500.