Shabbat HaChodesh - Vayikra
The Rituals that Make a Nation
I must confess that as someone who has spent most of my adult life studying and teaching modern history, Vayikra—both the parashah and the sefer—is not my favorite portion of the Torah or the Tanakh. We lovers of narrative are in for something of a letdown as we enter a biblical book that, aside from a few brief interludes, seems to be a long list of injunctions relating to priestly service and ritual purity. Indeed, there will be no more sea-splitting or plague-wreaking; the tablets have been given; the golden calf has been wrought and unwrought; and the Mishkan has been planned, plotted, and built. The fun is over, and now it’s time to talk about the particulars of sacrifice, ceremony, and the sacred.
Vayakhel-Pekudei / Shabbat Parah
BY MARCUS MORDECAI SCHWARTZ, DIRECTOR, MATTHEW EISENFELD AND SARA DUKER BEIT MIDRASH; ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, TALMUD AND RABBINICS, JTS
The Sanctuary and the Bomb
The US gave the codename “Ivy Mike” to its first full-scale experimental thermonuclear device. Designed by two of the century’s most significant nuclear scientists, Stanisław Ulam and Edward Teller, Mike’s design was a strangely beautiful one. As historian Richard Rhodes wrote in Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb: “Steel, lead, waxy polyethylene, purple-black uranium, gold leaf, copper, stainless steel, plutonium, a breath of tritium, silvery deuterium effervescent as a sea wake: Mike was a temple, tragically solomonic, invoking the powers that fire the sun.”
BY YEHUDAH WEBSTER, JTS SLIFKA FELLOW
Cowardice asks the question: is it safe? Expediency asks the question: is it politic? Vanity asks the question: is it popular? But conscience asks the question: is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular—but one must take it simply because it is right.
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “A Proper Sense of Priorities”
In Dr. King’s speech, he took a firm stand against the Vietnam War, explaining, “I’m not a consensus leader. I don’t determine what is right and wrong by… taking a Gallup poll of the majority opinion.” In Parashat Ki Tissa, Aaron unfortunately does exactly this. Caving to the pressures of the anxious Israelites awaiting Moses’s return, Aaron fashions the infamous golden calf for the Israelites to worship. Though Aaron must have known what was right, his pride or fear spurred him to do what was popular or safe. Regardless of his motivations, what is clear is that Aaron did not allow his conscience to ask what was right.
TETZAVEH - SHABBAT ZACHOR
Exodus 27:20 - 30:10; Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17-19
By: Reb Mimi Feigelson, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
The Shabbat before Purim is most famous for its name - Shabbat Zachor - the Shabbat of remembering. A month before Nissan we begin to read four additional Torah sections to prepare us for Pesach and all that the festival entails (yes, once Purim is over, Pesach cleaning begins...). Till this day, even though we no longer observe the laws of ritual holiness, we still read the section regarding the red heifer in two weeks time. But this coming Shabbat stands out in its proximity to Purim - Shabbat Zachor will always be the Shabbat prior to Purim.
Tradition teaches us that Haman was an offspring of Amalek, and therefore, we are asked to remember - Zachor - that there is an ongoing force that pursues and challenges us as we journey through life.
Exodus 25:1 - 27:19
Rabbi Brent C. Spodek for myjewishlearning.com
In Forgiveness, Making Space for the Divine
To forgive is to hold on to the future more tightly than the past.
A dear friend recently got a letter that is rearranging her life.
Her childhood was difficult — screaming fights, police intervention when her father got violent, constant fear. Her body and soul were scarred by her father, and then one day she came home from middle school and her father was gone, never to be heard from again.