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Torah Sparks

PARASHAT VA-YAKHEL - SHABBAT SH'KALIM
March 1, 2003 - 5763

Annual Cycle: Exodus 35:1 - 38:20 (Hertz, p. 373; Etz Hayim, p. 552)
Triennial Cycle II: Exodus 37:17- 38:20 (Hertz, p. 356; Etz Hayim, p. 560)
Maftir: Exodus 30:11 - 16 (Hertz, p. 352; Etz Hayim, p. 523)
Haftarah: II Kings 12:1 - 17 (Hertz, p. 993; Etz Hayim, p. 1277

Prepared by Rabbi Lee Buckman
Head of School, Jewish Academy of Metropolitan Detroit

Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations
Rabbi Martin J. Pasternak, Director

Torah Portion Summary

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

(35:4-36:7) God instructs Moses to collect all the contributions and prepare the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Betzalel and Oholiav are appointed to supervise its fabrication. The people of Israel bring their gifts in extravagant measure, and Moses tells them that no more is needed.

(36:8-38:20) 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; the Ark, the Table, the Candlestick, the Altar of Incense, the Anointing Oil, the Altar of Burnt-Offering, the Laver and the Court.

(39:22-31) A description of the fashioning of the priestly garments.

(39:32-43) The Mishkan and its vessels are brought to Moses, and he blesses and sanctifies them.

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

(40:17-33) Moses sets up the Mishkan as instructed.

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

Discussion Theme: Empowerment

"He made the enclosure...And all the pegs of the Tabernacle and of the enclosure round about were of copper." (Exodus 38:9, 20)

  1. "For my house is a house of worship for all peoples." (Isaiah 56:7)
  2. "More than make Judaism a democracy, rabbinic Judaism made Jewry an aristocracy." (Dr. Reuven Kimelman)
  3. I am quite sure that you have not reflected about what the term 'temple' might signify or what prompted its adoption. What was so discomforting about the term synagogue? A name change usually bespeaks a source of acute distress...

    Jews now preferred to rename their synagogues temples. The deepest reason... is that they wished to project Judaism as a religion. At the outset of the emancipation struggle, that claim was universally denied. Wholly other in fact, Jews were perceived as the clannish and immoral remnants of a once primitive, oriental nation. To Christians, the term 'temple' was intended to convey the idea of a place of worship. The noun 'synagogue' was as alien as the contents of the building. It appeared as a foreign intruder into the vocabulary of cultivated Europeans. On the other hand, a 'temple' was familiar, a spot of holiness where people assembled for matters transcendent.

    To counter the web of prevailing stereotypes, German Jews chose to designate their sanctuaries anew in order to upgrade their religious profile. Along with the nomenclature arose a growing cluster of imposing religious edifices that betrayed both a confidence in the permanence of emancipation and a desperation to be treated as a house of worship. Architects cast about for the most suitable architectural style... A few of the early new sanctuaries were designed to resemble the Temple of Jerusalem, a legacy common to Christian Europe. The Solomonic Temple was suddenly transported to Germany... (which) had become the equivalent of Jerusalem. The Judaism practiced within had surrendered its national character... Paradoxically and inevitably, the services inside came to replicate the spirit of Solomon's Temple. The ancient Temple differed from the medieval synagogue as greatly as did a sacrificial system of worship from a verbal liturgy. It was neither democratic nor participatory. Run by a priestly hierarchy, the Temple left little for the individual to do.

    The daily sacrifices belonged entirely to the priestly domain. On the Day of Atonement an elaborate ritual transferred the sins of priests and Israelites alike onto the back of a single scapegoat in a powerful but passive ceremony of symbolic cleansing. While nineteenth century rabbis extolled the democratic virtues of the synagogue in contrast to the hierarchical nature of the church, they quickly stripped their own laity of any active role. Sermon, choir, hymns, and the cantor conspired to reduce the individual Jew to an observing if edified bystander. A surrogate Judaism unknown sinceantiquity came to fill the magnificent, cavernous spaces of the modern temple. (Dr. Ismar Schorsch "The Synagogue is Not a Temple")

Sparks for Reflection

The Tabernacle, whose description reaches a culmination in this parashah, was the template for the Temple. With the destruction of the Temple, a new model of piety emerged. The early rabbis sought to empower the entire nation as if all had the intimate access to the holy, something that that was formerly reserved only for kohanim. In modern times, however, there has been a reversion to the model of the Temple. That reversion is reflected in the words we use to describe our houses of worship: 'temple,' 'synagogue,' or 'shul.'

Rabbi Schorsch argues that the word 'temple' promotes a misguided notion of what should go on in our houses of worship. The word temple not only is generic and reflects a sense of embarrassment about our identity as Jews, it not only removes the distinction between the Temple in Jerusalem and the temple in Diaspora, it also presents a hierarchical model that encourages passivity.

Do you agree with Rabbi I. Schorsch that the modern synagogue is a throwback to an old model that is not good for the spiritual health of modern Jews? Would yo uagree with others like Rabbi A.J. Heschel who said at a Rabbinical Assembly convention in 1954 that "services are conducted with pomp and precision. Everything is present: decorum, voice, ceremony. But one thing is missing: Life... The edifices are growing. Yet worship is decaying. Has the synagogue become the graveyard where prayer is buried?"

In general, how do feel about synagogues today? Are they successful for their purpose?


 
 
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