Rabbi David Walk, Education Director

Congregation Agudath Sholom | 301 Strawberry Hill Ave | Stamford, CT 06902 (203)-358-2200 www.agudathsholom.org

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Walk Article



Rabbi David Walk


            We rabbi types are always burdening the Jews with the issues which plague us in Torah texts.  Sometimes the subject is interesting to the layman, but sadly sometimes it is not.  There are occasions when I feel that my listeners have no connection to a textual concern which I find fascinating and compelling.  I guess this can happen in any profession sometimes the non-professional will see the enthusiasm of the doctor, lawyer or car mechanic for a topic, but often they will not.  This situation can be deadly in a class, article or sermon, and rabbis should feel the need to get congregants excited about the religion and its ideas.  This week, however, the problem is so obvious that if the rabbi can't make the congregant see the difficulty, maybe it's time to check out one of those other jobs.  The Torah has spent two entire weekly readings (Teruma and Titzave) describing the instructions for the portable Temple and all its furnishings, and now it repeats the entire material all over again.  Now the problem would be great (and boring) enough, but it's compounded by the fact that, again, we rabbi types spend a lot of energy trying to convince people that the Torah never wastes a single letter.  So, what gives here, when a reasonable observer could claim that the Torah has wasted thousands of letters, hundreds of verses, and many minutes which could have usefully been dedicated to Kiddush? 

            Of course, there have been numerous attempts to answer this conundrum over the centuries.  Some claim that it's sort of stylistic.  We, often, first give the instruction, and then record the faithful performance of these directives.  Others suggest that the two renditions represent the two historical Temples.  However, even though some of these attempts clearly have merit, generally they're not compelling.

            I'd like to suggest an approach to this difficulty through an explanation about a totally different mitzvah which I think can be applied back to the portable Temple.  This week's Torah reading begins with a new presentation of the mitzva of Shabbat.  This is curious because this is at least the fourth time (concerning the manna, in the Ten Commandments and last week) that Shabbat is being taught to the people.  Nevertheless the entire community is being assembled to hear again that they must observe Shabbat.  Full assemblies are rare and tend to be reserved for momentous declarations.  Nu, what gives?  Apparently a revolutionary aspect of Shabbat is about to be unveiled.  The Sfat Emet (second Gerer Rebbe, Rav Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, 1847–1905) suggests that a novel way of thinking about Shabbat was being proclaimed.  He proposes that Shabbat is a gift.  As a substantial present, Shabbat must be more than just the cessation of work.  We apparently only stop our physical labor so that we can dedicate our spiritual and intellectual powers to the gift.  So, what is this gift?  According to the Rebbe, this marvelous bequest is the ability to see Shabbat in everything.  The Rebbe bases this premise on this verse in last week's parsha:  Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy (Exodus 31:13).  Through the separation from physical labor, Shabbat gives us the ability to observe the world in a different way, and then, hopefully, realize that this spiritual reality exists the rest of the week as well.  It's just camouflaged by the workaday world.

            Now, I'd like to know why this great insight was only available in this week's reading, which is after the sin of the Golden Calf?   The Kedushat Levi (Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, 1740-1810), I believe gave us the insight to handle that question.  He says that some people worship God because of miracles, while others crave a relationship which is based upon the Deity's true essence, love, compassion, grace, etc.  Before the sin, most of the Jews based their devotion to God on the miracles performed during the exodus.  That relationship was obviously fragile.   After the sin, when the Jews were reestablishing their connection to God, we based our bond with God on the true essence of God as expressed in the Thirteen Attributes of God's character (34:6-7).  The Jews took this new, more sophisticated approach to God and applied it specifically to our Shabbat observance.

This is why the version of the Ten Commandments recorded in Exodus tells us to keep Shabbat because God created the heaven and earth (20:11).  However, when the Ten Commandments are repeated in Deuteronomy, the reason for keeping Shabbat is stated as that we should remember that we were slaves and not to be harsh to others (Deuteronomy 5:14-15).   This requires us to internalize the lesson of Shabbat not merely to observe a miraculous phenomenon. 

Now, I think that we can apply what we've learned from Shabbat to the Mishkan, or portable Temple.  Initially, the purpose of this national shrine was to keep alive the memory of the miraculous experience at Mount Sinai.  But after the sin, the purpose of this cultic center was to proclaim to ourselves and the world that God can manifest Divine Presence in this realm, anytime, anywhere.  The Temple is the paradigm for this fact.  This is a much more important message to carry forward throughout Jewish history, and eventually won't require the physical presence of a Temple.  We can make this declaration in our synagogues and homes throughout our Diaspora. 

So, at this point we can say that the assembly of the entire community was to announce a new way of looking at Shabbat, and by extension a new way of looking at the Mishkan, as well.  This is why we repeat the Mishkan building instructions.  The directions didn't change, but our perspective did.  From this point on the Mishkan is no longer a reminder of the past, but a harbinger of a bright spiritual future imbued with the Divine Presence.                         


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