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Torah Sparks

VAYAKHEL-PEKUDEI - SHABBAT HA-HODESH
March 9, 2002 - 5762

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

Annual Cycle: Exodus 35:1-40:38; Hertz, p. 373; Etz Hayim, p. 552
Triennial Cycle I: Exodus 35:1-37:16; Hertz, p. 373; Etz Hayim, p. 552
Maftir: Exodus 12:1-20; Hertz, p. 253; Etz Hayim, p. 380
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18; Hertz, p. 10; Etz Hayim, p. 1290

This Shabbat’s Torah Portion Summary

Vayakhel

(35:1-3) An additional warning about observing the Shabbat.

(35:4-35:20) God instructs Moses to collect all the contributions and prepare the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).

(35:21-29) The people of Israel bring their gifts in extravagant measure.

(35:30-36:7) Betzalel and Oholiav are appointed to supervise the making of the Mishkan. The Israelites cause a "problem": "The people are bringing more than is needed." Moses announces: No more, thank you.

(36:8-37:16) The making of the cloth walls, roof, planks and bars of the Mishkan; the making of the Parochet (cloth partition) and curtain for its doorway; the construction of its various vessels; an accounting of the materials used in building it; description of the Ephod (priest's outer garment) and breastplate.

(37:17-38:8) The construction of the Menorah, the incense altar, the sacrificial altar, and the bronze basin.

(38:9-20) The construction of the enclosure of the Mishkan.

Pekudei

(38:21-39:32) A description of the priestly garments.

(39:33-43) The Mishkan and its vessels are brought to Moses. He sanctifies them.

(40:1-16) God commands Moses to set up the Mishkan and to consecrate Aaron and his sons as priests.

(40:34-38) God causes His Shekhinah (Holy Presence), to dwell in the Tent of Meeting.

This Shabbat's Theme: "Looking at Rosh Hodesh Anew"

"Ha-Hodesh Hazeh - This month (Aviv/Nisan) shall be to you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you" (Ex 12:2)

This Sabbath is called "Shabbat ha-Hodesh". The name is derived from the special Maftir reading today which begins with the above verse. Shabbat ha-Hodesh always falls closest to the upcoming beginning of the new month (Rosh Hodesh) of Nisan and is meant to alert us in advance to the celebration of Passover (just in case some of you may have forgotten).

  1. The celebration of a new month Rosh Hodesh has deep roots in Jewish tradition and in fact, was regarded as an important semi-festival. In ancient Israel, the day was celebrated with special sacrificial offerings and the suspension of everyday occupations (I Samuel 20:18-34; II Kings 4:23). It was a day for sounding the trumpets at the Sanctuary (Num. 10:10). It was also considered a favorable time to offer religious instruction (II Kings 4:23). The prophets regularly mention the new moon festival and the Sabbath jointly, naming the new moon festival in the first place. From Amos 8:5, it is proved that trading was prohibited on both alike - "When will the new moon be over, that we may sell again? And the Sabbath, that we may offer corn for sale?" In Isaiah 1:13-14, the new moon festivals stand at the head of the list of the seasonal holy days, including the Sabbath. The new moon of the seventh (biblical) month (Tishre) was observed as a Sabbath in addition to the usual worship on the day of the new moon, and was designated as a special Sabbath (Lev. 23:23). This celebration assumed the character of a new year's festival, later to be called Rosh Hashanah. (Philip Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts, p. 563)
  2. Rosh Hodesh is now counted among the minor festivals, because in the course of the centuries, and especially after the destruction of the Temple, it lost its festive character. The only observances still associated with Rosh Hodesh are liturgical. There are no restrictions on work and no special rituals. In former times, pious women used to refrain from working on Rosh Hodesh - a custom based on the tradition that the women of the generation of the desert were rewarded with a festival of their own because they refused to cooperate when their husbands asked them to give their jewelry for the Golden Calf. (Isaac Klein, A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, p. 256)
  3. ...At the building of the Golden Calf, the men willingly donated their jewelry but the women refused to donate theirs (Pikei d'Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 45). However, for the building of the Tabernacle, the women did donate their jewelry. The Tabernacle was dedicated on Rosh Hodesh Nisan. The reward of the women (for that act) was that Rosh Hodesh became their holiday. (Another reason for its association with women) is that women, like the moon, have a monthly cycle. This (explanation) is used as an opportunity for many positive and beautiful statements about women and women's bodies. (Miriam Klein Shapiro, "The Woman's Role", Conservative Judaism, Fall, 1978)
  4. "Starting and Growing A Rosh Hodesh Group" - A group of women gathers, either in someone's living room, in the shul library, or at the Jewish Community Center. A leader or facilitator - often a woman who's been involved in organizing this first meeting - has planned an introductory program. The format of this program will vary, depending on the interests, expertise, and experience of the leader-facilitator. Some groups will observe a ritual or celebration that is tied to the theme associated with the Jewish month, while others may begin and end with a brief song, poem or activity, but focus mainly on a semi structured discussion or study session. (Ruth Berger Goldstone/Merle Feld, in Celebrating the New Moon: A Rosh Chodesh Anthology, ed. by Susan Berrin, ch.10, p. 88)
  5. Even though I don't like women's separate services, I recommend that rabbis not be hasty in forbidding them. I do not like them because I want to be where the women in my family pray and, after the service, I want to share reactions with them to all that was said and done. But if there are devout and committed women to whom such services are meaningful, then by all means, they should not be made to feel that their innovation is blameworthy... some of the most cherished halachic rules and institutions of today began as innovations upon which one rabbi or another must have frowned when they were first projected. (Emanuel Rackman, chancellor of Bar Ilan University, quoted in Lilith, Summer, 1986)

"Sparks" for Discussion:

Rosh Hodesh, the new moon festival, has been on the wane. As Susan Berrin puts it, "There are far more Jewish bird-watchers than there are moon-watchers." (op cit. p. xiv).

However, over the past thirty years, Rosh Hodesh, has in a certain measure become especially relevant to Jewish women in search of their spirituality and has taken on new forms of observance. How else might we "renew" the new moon in our time? Where do men fit into this? Or don't they?

Postscript

"On the eve of each Rosh Hodesh, repent and make restitution by word and deed. Enter the new month as pure as a new-born babe." (Isaiah Horowitz, Shne Luhot Haberit, Author, Gerer Kabbalist, 1555 - 1630)

As we conclude the reading of the Book of Exodus, let us rise while the last verse of the& Torah portion is read. At the completion of the reading, let us join in chanting: Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek - "Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened."


 
 
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