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Torah Sparks

March 3, 2007 – 13 Adar 5767

Annual: Ex. 27:20 – 30:10 (Etz Hayim, p. 503; Hertz p. 339)
Triennial: Ex. 29:19 – 30 (Etz Hayim p. 513; Hertz p. 346)
Maftir: Deuteronomy 25:17 – 19 (Etz Hayim p. 1135; Hertz p. 856)
Haftarah: I Samuel 15:2 – 34 (Etz Hayim, p. 1280; Hertz p. 995)

Prepared by Rabbi Avram Kogen

Summary of the Parashah

This week’s Torah-portion opens with the commandment to use pure olive oil in the rituals of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary. Next we read detailed specifications for the vestments that Aaron and his sons are to wear when functioning in a ritual capacity. Instructions are then given for a ritual to consecrate the kohanim in order to give a formal beginning to their priestly status and ritual positions. Finally, we are told about the daily sacrifices of incense that the kohanim were to offer in the mishkan.

Issue #1: The Mishkan as a Divine Abode

Last week, in parashat Terumah, we read of God’s offer to the Israelites:

Let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

This week, as the project unfolds, we read:

There I will meet with the Israelites, and it shall be sanctified by My Presence. I will sanctify the Tent of Meeting and the altar, and I will consecrate Aaron and his sons to serve Me as priests. I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I the Lord am their God, who brought them out from the land of Egypt that I might abide among them; I am the Lord their God. (Exodus 29:43-46)

How might the Israelites extend themselves to enable God to recognize that He is a welcome guest in their midst?

What might we do today, in the twenty-first century, to project our welcoming of God into our synagogue community?

In our homes and congregations we observe many formal rituals of welcome, among them: ushpizin (welcoming guests to a sukkah), Kabbalat Shabbat (welcoming Shabbat), welcoming mourners as they come to the synagogue on the Friday evening of shivah. Can these acts of welcoming people be a part of welcoming God as well? In what ways are these two kinds of welcoming related?

Issue #2: Where is Moses?

Curiously, the name of Moses is not mentioned in all of parashat Tetzaveh. It is the only parashah in the last four books of the Torah in which Moses is not mentioned by name. This glaring omission has sparked the imagination of many students of the Torah. Moses does receive commands from God, but the language is always phrased as “you” shall do this or that.

One interpretation that has been offered is that Moses has receded in order to allow Aaron to occupy center stage, as it were, because the content of this week’s Torah-portion deals with the vestments of Aaron and his sons in their role as kohanim.

A more straightforward explanation might be that Moses was on Mount Sinai for a follow-up visit, and so he was not among the Israelites at that time.

A third explanation recognizes the boldness that Moses demonstrated toward God in arguing for the survival of Israel as a people. When God proposed to destroy the people of Israel as punishment for the sin of the golden calf, which would have left Moses as the lone survivor through whom God could still fulfill His covenant with the patriarchs, Moses boldly told God that if He will forgive the people’s sin, fine,

but if not, erase me from Your book which You have written. (Exodus 32:32)

No one can expect God to ignore such defiant words completely. According to this interpretation, God gave Moses a token punishment: He erased the name of Moses from this week’s parashah.

All these suggestions are fanciful. Of them, which fits best with the traditional understanding of Moses’ personality? Is the ability to step back from the limelight as positive trait for a leader? Does the suggestion that God might punish Moses for taking a deeply felt stand seem uncomfortable? What is the vision we have of a proper leader – one who simply accepts orders or one who raises questions about orders that might not be appropriate? Did God expect Moses simply to be a yes-man?

Issue #3: Amalek

In anticipation of Purim, we read a special Maftir dealing with the attack of the Amalekites upon the Israelites shortly after the exodus from Egypt. You may recall this narrative, which we read just four weeks ago. Today we read a more terse treatment of this incident from Deuteronomy, rather than Exodus:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt – how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear. Therefore, when the Lord your God grants you safety from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you as a hereditary portion, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget! (Deuteronomy 25:17-19)

Reread the Amalek narrative in Exodus 17:8-16 that we read four weeks ago as part of the weekly Torah portion. What strategic element does the Deuteronomy passage add to the familiar Exodus passage?

There is no text in the Torah dealing with the threat to the Jewish community in the Persian empire, because the Torah had long since been completed at the time the Purim story took place. The closest analogy available was the story of Amalek’s unprovoked attack on our people. Some interpretations suggest that Haman may have been a genealogical descendant of Amalek. Whether or not we take these interpretations seriously, we should recognize that Haman was indeed a spiritual descendant of Amalek.

Many of us tend to associate Purim with merriment and even reckless abandon, almost a Jewish alternative to Halloween. However, that is only part of the story. When we ignore mortal threats to the Jewish people past, present, or future, we do so at our own peril. How can we remember hurtful events in ways that have a positive outcome? Is there a method to remembering that helps us grow? A way of remembering that is less than positive?

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