Monday, February 25, 2013

Angry Moshe Blows His Top

Parshat Ki Tisa (Parshat Parah)
Shmot 30:11 – 34:35
20 Adar 5773 / March 1 –2, 2013

Angry Moshe Blows His Top
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

If there is a portion of the Torah where Moshe seems to be out of his mind, this is it! Moshe is on the mountain and everything is going fine. He is learning Torah with God and crafting a timeless text together. When they are done, God tells Moshe that the people have gone bananas. They are worshiping a false god and God will kill the whole nation and start fresh with Moshe’s kin. Moshe “leaps” into action and begs for the people’s forgiveness. He convinces God that it would be very un-God like for the people to be destroyed now. After all, they’ve come so far. And would we really want a rumor spreading around the world that the Almighty God freed the Jews only to kill them in the desert. No one wants that! God sees the reason in Moshe’s words and relents. The Jewish people will be spared.

This all seems great. Gold star for Moshe.

Now Moshe goes down the mountain hefting the first set of stone tablets. And he hears … debauchery! A raucous celebration that can only mean one thing – God was not kidding and the poop has really hit the fan! He approaches the camp and sees the Israelites dancing around this golden statue of a calf. They are singing around it and pointing to it proclaiming, “This is our new god!”

Moshe has already saved the people from destruction. He could have returned to the community, smashed the baby cow and set the people straight with a strong reprimand. Instead he seems to go ballistic. He breaks the tablets and grinds the calf to dust making it into an atonement cocktail for the people to drink. Then he rallies the people who are still “with God” and orders these zealots to slay their brothers who refused to come with Moshe. They killed about 3,000 people! In the text, he gave this order in the name of God, though it is not evident from the text that God actually told the people to kill their own flesh and blood.

While Moshe learned to ask for forgiveness, he did not seem to model God’s ability to forgive.

As I read Moshe’s story, I get a sense of a man who carries a burden that is too great. He is a leader that is broken by his responsibility. From this story it is very clear to me why Moshe could not continue on with the people to Israel. I hate to come down on Moshe. I would not want to walk even one step in his shoes. For me the story brings a lesson as a leader. Losing one’s head in anger is not a time for action. It is a time for reflecting on why there is so much angry.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Amalek Within

Parshat Tetzaveh (Shabbat Zachor)
Shmot 27:20 - 30:10
13 Adar 5773 / Feb. 22 - 23, 2013

The Amalek Within
by Laura W (Formerly of MH London)

Shabbat Zachor is the Shabbat just before Purim. Zachor means to Remember and refers to the commandment to remember Amalek's attack which is read out in the synagogue on this Shabbat morning:

'Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt. That he encountered you on the way, and cut off those lagging to your rear, when you were tired and exhausted; he did not fear God. Therefore . . . you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget.' (Deuteronomy 25:17–19)

What is the significance of Amalek and what is the connection to Purim?

The Scroll of Esther (3:1) identifies Haman as the descendent of Agag, King of Amalek. Jews are described as being a "light unto the nations" (Isaiah 42:6). The Jews stand for the principle of caring for the vulnerable and weak, Amalek is the opposite "attacking the weakest people trailing behind" (Deut. 25:18). In the Purim story Haman attempts to ethnically cleanse the Jewish people within the Persian Empire.

Megilla (scroll) is connected to the Hebrew word megalleh which means to reveal. Hashem's name is not mentioned in Megillat Esther however there is no doubt that Hashem is in the Purim story. The numerical value of the Hebrew letters that make up the word "Amalek" is 240. This is the same value as the Hebrew word safek, meaning doubt. One of Amalek's battle tactics is to create doubt about God's presence, in an attempt to confuse and ultimately destroy the Jewish people. 

I understand Amalek as the inner critic. The voice which makes us doubt ourselves, our belief in God, our unique cosmic path in the universe and our commitment to Torah. By removing unhealthy thoughts and attitudes we can truly free ourselves from our own personal Egypt and celebrate. 

Shabbat Shalom and Purim Sameach!


Monday, February 11, 2013

Dwelling in All

Parshat Terumah
Shmot 25:1 – 27:19
6 Adar  5773 / Feb. 15 – 16, 2013

Dwelling in All
by Zvi Bellin, MHHQ

In this week’s Torah portion we are commanded by G-d to build a collapsible and portable structure for worship space in the desert.  It seems strange to me that G-d would want a physical structure, especially one made of the finest materials,

“… gold, silver, and copper; and turquoise, purple and scarlet wool; linen and goat hair; red-dyed ram skins, tachash skins, acacia wood; oil for illumination, spices for the anointment oil and the aromatic incense; shoham stones and stones for the settings, for the Ephod and the Breastplate. (verses 25:3-7)”
It seems counterintuitive that the Almighty Being that cannot be contained in language, time, or space, would want to designate one structure as a place to be “more holy” than another place. There is one verse that seems to address this theological conundrum.

“They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell in them.” (25:8)

Contrary to idolatry, where holiness is bound up in a specified object, the Mishkan was more of a center piece that served to uplift the entire community of Israel. The holiness of the Mishkan stemmed from the meaning that the Israelites gave to it and not something attributed to any intrinsic nature. When they called the Mishkan holy, they were able to self-identify as holy because they were doing the naming. Thus the physical act of donating one’s own materials and using one’s own craft to create this holy space, served as a cultural reminder – Holiness is inside of you.

What does it mean for a person to be holy? I want to define it as a choice that an individual makes to live life in an authentic way that allows others to do the same. The key though is the choice that is made to elevate one thing over another. The holiness is in the choosing, not in the thing itself.  

The challenge for me in these portions is to understand G-d beyond a separate Being in the sky that rules over us. If G-d is more of a collective consciousness, or universal unifying factor, then the request for a house did not pop out of nowhere in G-d’s imagination. Perhaps the opulent commandment was a co-creative exercise between the people and the Creator.  Another good example of partnering with G-d to create a better world.