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Torah Sparks

June 1, 2002 - 5762

Prepared by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Num. 8:1-12:16; Hertz, p. 605; Etz Hayim, p. 816
Triennial Cycle I: Num. 8:1-9:14; Hertz, p. 605; Etz Hayim, p. 816
Haftarah:  Zechariah 2:14-4:7; Hertz, p. 620; Etz Hayim, p. 836

Torah Portion Summary

(8:1-4) Aaron is commanded to light the menorah in the Tabernacle.

(8:5-26) The Levites are purified and dedicated for their initial term of service in the Tabernacle.

(9:1-14) The first Paschal lamb sacrifice, and instructions regarding the "Second Passover" a month later for those unable to observe it at the proper time.

(9:15-23) The cloud over the Tabernacle tells when to travel and to rest.

(10:1-10) Two silver trumpets used to signal various matters.

(10:11-34) After one year less ten days, the Israelites leave Mount Sinai and travel according to a set order.

(10:35-36) The two sayings called out by Moses when the Ark traveled.

(11:1-15) The complaints of the people at Taberah, and then about the monotony of the Manna. Moses despairs of leading them.

(11:16-35) God gives a share of His spirit to the 70 elders so that they can help Moses lead the people. God sends quail for meat. God then strikes the people with a plague out of disgust with their unrestrained cravings.

(12:1-16) Moses marries a Kushite woman and endures criticism from Aaron and Miriam. Miriam is punished by God, but at Aaron's urging Moses prays for her healing. After being quarantined outside the camp for seven days, she returns.

Discussion Theme: "Going Too Far" With Ritual Objects?

Now this is how the Menorah was made: it was a hammered work of gold,hammered from the base to flower petal. According to the pattern that the Lord had shown Moses, so was the Menorah made, (Num. 8:4)

Note: The menorah, originally one among many objects in the Tent of Meeting, has become one of the most familiar symbols of Judaism. Today we use an eight-branched menorah - now known more precisely as a hanukkiyyah - to commemorate the eight days of the Hanukkah miracle. (Etz Hayim, p.816)

  1. "And Aaron did so..." (Num 8:3) Aaron was praised because he did not change what he was told to do. (Yehudah Leib Alter, the Gerer Rebbe, Sefat Emet)
  2. How to make a menorah... What shape should the menorah be? As long as the flames are kept distinct and do not merge to form a bonfire, one has a choice of shapes... (The (first) Jewish Catalog, compiled and edited by R. Siegel, M. Strassfeld, S. Strassfeld, 1973, p. 133)
  3. Highly recommended: forage in the woods to find your own menorah... The exposed root of a fallen tree, fingers pointing in various directions, is striking and lends itself beautifully to adaption as a menorah... (Ibid)

Creativity in the fashioning of ritual objects or paraphernalia is certainly not discouraged in Jewish religious life. In fact, the practice of hiddur mitzvah - "the beautification of a mitzvah" - has much positive support in our tradition. A succah, for instance, may meet the basic structural requirements specified by Jewish religious law but more highly commended is a succah which meets those requirements and additionally, is beautifully embellished with festive decorations. A tallit may be fashioned very simply of cloth with fringes affixed in its four corners. On the other hand, an atarah - "crown" may be fashioned for the edge of one side of the tallit, lending it a special beauty. So too, are there numerous creative examples and a broad variety of Havdalah spiceboxes.

Returning to the Menorah as described in this week's parashah, we note that it certainly was fashioned in a manner which reflected an appreciation for distinctive beauty. But emphasis is made that in fashioning it, Aaron was somewhat constrained to do so in a specified manner.

Which brings us to a consideration of a trend in our time in the fashioning of Jewish religious objects. Take the hanukkiyyah first. Clearly, in addition to artfully designed ones, there is a growing tendency to developing "kitschy" types. Some, we must say, are actually cute though with a biblical motif (eg. animals entering Noah's Ark) and are obviously geared for use by children. But then there are other types of hanukkiyyot There are those, for instance, that are modeled upon a sports motif with baseball mitts, or basketball hoops (and for grown-up children - golf club bags) that serve as candle holders. Some hanukkiyyot have an assortment of well-known Disney characters holding the candles aloft. Recently, I saw a hanukkiyyah displayed in a Judaica store which had the New York skyline as a backdrop for the candles. Could this be a "post-9/11 motif" that is supposed to tie in with the Hasmoneans and Hanukkah?

I don't know how you feel but I think we should maintain a certain sense of propriety when it comes to Jewish religious items.

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