Torah Portion - Conservative
By Matthew Berkowitz, JTS
Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47; maf: Numbers 19:1-22
Parashat Shemini's Lessons of Leadership
This past week, Jewish communities the world over rejoiced in the celebration of Purim. At the core of our commemoration of this holiday stands the scroll of Esther, the plot of which revolves around the evil designs of Haman to wreak havoc on the Jewish people living in the 127 provinces of the Persian monarch Ahashverosh. Through the downfall of Queen Vashti, the cunning strategy of Mordechai, and the beauty and wit of Esther, as well as other twists and turns, the Jews are saved from what appears to be certain destruction. "The very day on which the enemies of the Jews had expected to get them in their power, the opposite happened, and the Jews got their enemies in their power" (Esther 9:1). More than that, we read, "grief and mourning was transformed to happiness and feasting" (Esther 9:22). The proverbial tables are turned for the good of the Jewish people. In contrast, we encounter this week's parashah, Parashat Shemini, which provides a stark example of celebration suddenly transformed into mourning. Having completed the building of the Tabernacle and set the foundation for divinely ordained sacrifices, the Israelites are ready to offer the first sacrifice celebrating the inauguration of Israel's priesthood.
Rabbi Bradley Artson for MyJewishLearning
Ears, Thumbs And Toes
The ceremony installing the priests teaches the importance of consecrating the entire body for sacred service.
Traditionally, the Book of Vayikra (Leviticus) was known as Torat Kohanim, “the Teachings of the Priests.” Its contents are directed to people who would be ministering in the Temple in Jerusalem, and its topics pertain to priestly sacrifice, ritual and purity.
By Arnold M. Eisen, JTS
Leviticus on Love
I was on a small cruise ship with my family in Alaska this summer, when a couple whom I had come to like and admire asked me with great respect a question that Jews have been been hearing from Christians for many centuries, one that had been put to me more than once by students at Stanford: “How can Jews worship the God of the Old Testament, so full of harsh judgment and wrath, and so unlike the God of the New Testament, who calls to human beings in love?”
By Mark Young, JTS
Exodus 38:21 - 40:38
The Call to Find a Mentor and to Mentor Others
In parashat Pekudei, the Israelites are on a journey to a new life, having escaped the Egyptians, experienced the revelation at Sinai, and completed the building of the Tabernacle. They are now in the wilderness, sometimes unclear about their direction, sometimes filled with fear, and in need of guidance. However, they had mentors to guide them. They had the cloud that indicated the Presence of God, and they had Moses on their side.
By Arnold M. Eisen for JTS
Imagining Community, Then and Now
Anyone who has mounted a fund-raising campaign, or sought volunteers for an institution or organization, will immediately recognize the account of the Tabernacle’s construction in this week’s Torah portion as utopian in the extreme. “All the artisans . . . said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than is needed for the task entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.’ Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: ‘Let no man or woman make further efforts toward gifts for the sanctuary!’ Their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done” (Exod. 36:5–7).
By Amy Kalmanofsky, JTS
Kept by Shabbat
Ahad Ha’am famously said: “More than Jews have kept Shabbat, Shabbat has kept the Jews.” Pretty remarkable coming from the founder of cultural Zionism!
Parashat Ki Tissa either supports or challenges Ha’am’s words. This week’s parashah relates one of the lowest moments in Israel’s story—the sin of the golden calf—in which Israel dances before a god of their own making. Coming down Mount Sinai with the stone tablets inscribed by God’s finger (Exod. 31:18), Moses sees Israel’s frenzy and smashes the tablets. Moses spends the rest of the parashah picking up the pieces and working to restore Israel’s relationship with God. The parashah ends with God giving a new set of tablets to Moses. The holy covenant between God and Israel is restored.
By Lilly Kaufman for JTS
The Jewelry of a Master Teacher
Without using alchemy, the 16th-century Italian commentator Seforno (1470–1550) turned gems into gold. Writing a few short words about the gemstones that adorned the clothing of the High Priest, described in Parashat Tetzavveh, Seforno shares a truly fine insight about achieving greatness as an educator.
We read in Exodus 28:2, “And you shall make sacred garments for Aaron your brother, for honor and for glory.” On the word tiferet (glory), Seforno asserts that the High Priest will be a kohen-moreh norah, an awesome priest-teacher. He explains, שהם תלמידיו החקוקים על לבו וכתפיו, “for they are his students who are engraved on his heart and shoulders.”
By Daniel Nevins, JTS
A Symbol of Peace
The Arch of Titus in Rome is simultaneously one of the saddest and most exciting places for a Jew to stand. It is but a short distance from the Colosseum, the stadium made famous by its cruel sports, built with money plundered from the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE. Titus’s Arch celebrates the destruction of our Temple, a building designated by Isaiah to be a house of prayer for all nations. A bas-relief sculpture on the arch’s inner walls depicts a sickening scene: the triumphant display of the Temple’s sacred objects, the Menorah most prominent among them, along with a pathetic procession of enslaved Jews.