Tag Archives: Exodus

A Touch of Torah – B’Shalach

6 Jan

This week’s Torah is called B’shalach, and this title word itself raises questions. Here is the translation of the opening phrase, from Exodus 13:17 –

Now it was, when Pharaoh had sent the people free…

We, and our historical commentators on the Torah collectively, say: “Huh? Didn’t God bring us out of Egypt?” How is it that when our ancestors began their time on the way to revelation we say that Pharaoh “sent” us free? After all the story seemed to emphasize God’s hand in everything, even the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart.

Perhaps we learn instead that in the wake of all of the plagues and miracles that Pharaoh finally did change his mind despite his hard heart. Moses and God had to convince Pharaoh about God’s power, in the same way that they had to convince the Israelites to follow Moses into freedom.

Even through all of the divinely wrought special effects of the Exodus, people still make a difference. Pharaoh made a significant decision, and the Israelites did too. This continues into the rest of this week’s reading, as the Israelites complained the entire way. We were skeptical of God’s might and capacity to bring us through the desert.

As a stiff-necked and cautious people, we often are wary of something that might be too good to be true. Let us aim to hold onto that keen eye without losing hope that we can make things better.

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Image source: http://www.andrews.edu/ARCHAEOLOGY/img/news/art-Panel-LR-Detail2.jpg

 

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Causing God to Dwell in Our Midst

18 Feb

This week, in parashat T’rumah, Exodus25:1-27:19, the Torah details the commands for the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernace, or portable Temple. We can understand about the need to bring God into our presence, even today, when we imagine God to be beyond the ideas of a tent or an ark of the covenant that might actually contain God. After all, there are moments in our lives when we feel God much more powerfully, and there are places we go in order to experience God more fully too. Life cycle events, Shabbat services, holidays, family get-together’s – we often identify these times as filled with greater meaning, and even the presence of God. Synagogues, holy places, sites of tremendous natural beauty – these loom large in our mind as places where we might feel connected to God.

The Israelites in the desert, after the encounter with God at Sinai, where God visibly showed up in an impressive array of special effects, built a Mishkan, literally a dwelling place for God. Do we think that they really imagined that the entirety of God could fit in a little box inside a tent?

I don’t think our ancestors believed that, and I certainly don’t expect all of you to believe it either. Rather, I think that they understood what Abraham understood before them. Abraham knew that the presence of God entered into a place when we behaved in a certain way – in his case, when he welcomed strangers into his tent. The ethic of hospitality brings the presence of God into our midst. The Israelites understood that when they worked together to build something, when they came together for the improvement of the entire community, that God would dwell in their midst too.

In this way, we read the building of the Mishkan, the bringing together of many different items from many different people with many different skills and advantages, as a way of uniting to transform the Israelite community into something better. The actions of the people of Israel united behind a common cause and helped them overcome their difficulties from the past – like grumbling about being brought out of Egypt, and building the Golden Calf.

To bring God into our midst means acting in a way that transforms people from individuals with different desires and agendas into a community, united around projects and causes that bring benefits to everyone.

While we no longer build a Mishkan and all of its ornaments, including the ark of the covenant, we do reap the rewards of united actions. We come together to pray and to learn, to celebrate and to mourn, and to mark the end of the week and the beginning of Shabbat.

I wish that all of us take moments on this Shabbat to come together with each other, to find family and friends and do something that we couldn’t do on our own. Celebrating Shabbat in community transforms our time together, and brings God to dwell in our midst.

The use of omnipotence

15 Jan

How powerful is God and how does God use that power?

These questions arise in this week’s Torah reading, Bo, which includes the final plagues and the freeing of the Israelites from Egypt.

God commanded Moses in the opening of the parasha (Exodus Chapter 10, verses 1-2):
“…Come to Pharaoh! For I have made his heart and the heart of his servants heavy-with-stubbornness, in order that I may put these my signs among them
2 and in order that you may recount in the ears of your child and of your child’s child how I have been capricious with Egypt, and my signs, which I have placed upon them – that you may know that I am God.“

God’s explicit purpose made life difficult for the Egyptians so that the Israelites would understand the extent of God’s power. God’s power extends beyond physical miracles, God also controls Pharaoh’s heart and mind.

One of our Renaissance scholars from Italy, Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno, suggests that God made Pharaoh more stubborn so that other Egyptians would have the opportunity to repent. This reading expands our understanding of God. God now cares for more than the Israelites – God cares for all of creation.

In Sforno’s reading we can bring our ideas of God into the central message of the Exodus, that all peoples deserve consideration, and that we should not oppress others because we were once oppressed.

Listen closely, go forward together

16 Sep

Rosh HaShanah starts tonight – last daily post of 5772!
May everyone have a sweet and good new year!

Today we look at P’kudei, Exodus 38:21 – 40:38 – the final Torah reading of Exodus. We read about a full inventory of the things that went into the building of the Mishkan, the portable Temple-Tent often translated as the “Tabernacle”, and all of the stuff in it. The Mishkan is completed, Moses installs Aaron as High Priest, and the journey through the desert begins.

The final verses of the Book of Exodus read:
40:36 Whenever the cloud goes up from the Mishkan, the Israelites march on, upon all their marches;
37 if the cloud does not go up, they do not march on, until such time as it does go up.
38 For the cloud of God (is) over the Mishkan by day, and fire is by night in it, before the eyes of all the House of Israel upon all their marches.

Wouldn’t it be great to have such an indicator that told us when to go forward, and when to stay still?

Perhaps we still do, we just need to notice it. Let us make this a year of listening and observing.

May we see and hear and feel the messages people and our world send us before we act.
May we go forward together guided by communal values.
May we build a better world in the year to come.
Shanah tovah!

Transformation all around, if only we would see it

15 Sep

Today for our daily Elul thought we look at Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11 – 34:35 – a lot happens here, not least of which is the Golden Calf incident.

I just had a random reason to glance at one particular verse from this parasha today:
Exouds 34:29 Now it was when Moshe came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of Testimony in Moshe’s hand, when he came down from the mountain – (now) Moshe did not know that the skin of his face was radiating because of his having-spoken with him…

Encounters with the mystery of the universe transform us, and often we don’t recognize the transformation ourselves.

Elul asks us to be open to our own growth – to be like Moses and absorb the changes. Reality is filled with the miraculous. When we notice it we can be transformed.

When someone asks about something, we may learn more than we teach.

Dress for spiritual success, judge not

13 Sep

Today for our daily Elul thought we look at T’tzaveh, Exodus 27:20 – 30:10 – more details about things for the Mishkan, or portable Temple, the special garb for the priesthood, offering ceremonies for the ordaining of priests and their regular duties, and the description of the altar.

We could sum it all up by saying notes on interior decorating and fashion.

We don’t like to think that we get judged on our spaces and our garb. Often we unfairly judge others based on their appearances.

Perhaps the Elul thought of the day on this is: let our work on our spaces and appearances be ours alone, and let us avoid judging what others do for themselves.

Dressing because we want to look good for the Universe seems OK, allowing ourselves to be judgmental about other people’s choices in this, less so.

Relationships first, attachment to details later

12 Sep

Today for our daily Elul thought we look at T’rumah, Exodus 25:1 – 27:19 – God’s instructions on donations and construction regarding the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, or portable Temple space, and all of the things that go in it.

In this list of directions, there remains plenty of room to improvise. While God gives Moses extensive details, there is no real blueprint. While the plan seems to be about creating a place for God, it may actually be about us coming together to create a project that allows us to find holiness as a community.

Our attachment to plans and details may get things done. Elul comes to ask us in preparation for the holiest season whether those plans bring us together for some greater purpose.

Perhaps the details arrived at through a thorough conversation may forge a new relationship. Elul reminds us that strong relationships may be more important than sticking to the details of our original plan.