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Torah Sparks

February 23, 2008 – 17 Adar I 5768

Annual: Ex. 30:11 – 34:35 (Etz Hayim, p. 523; Hertz p. 350)
Triennial: Ex. 30:11 – 31:17 (Etz Hayim, p. 523; Hertz p. 350)
Haftarah: I Kings 18:1 – 39 (Etz Hayim, p. 548; Hertz p. 369)

Prepared by Rabbi Joyce Newmark
Teaneck, New Jersey

Torah Portion Summary

God instructs Moses to take a census of adult men by asking each to donate a half shekel. The instructions for making the bronze basin, the anointing oil, and the incense are given. Bezalel is named to head the construction of the mishkan and its furnishings, with Oholiav as his assistant. God tells Moses to remind the people of the importance of keeping Shabbat and then gives him the tablets inscribed with the Ten Statements.

While Moses is on the mountain, the people despair of his return and demand that Aaron “make us a god who shall go before us.” Aaron fashions the Golden Calf and the next day the people offer sacrifices and rise to dance before it. God tells Moses what is happening in the camp. Moses pleads with God to restrain God’s anger and then descends the mountain. When Moses sees what the people are doing, he angrily shatters the tablets. He destroys the calf and 3000 of its worshipers are put to death. Moses returns to Mount Sinai and intercedes with God to save the people.

God tells Moses to lead the people to the land God has promised, but that God will no longer go in their midst. Moses once again steps forward on behalf of the people and God relents. Moses asks to see God, but God refuses, saying, “man may not see Me and live.” Moses ascends Mount Sinai a third time and receives the revelation of God’s Thirteen Attributes. After forty days, Moses descends the mountain with the second set of tablets.

All Together Now

And the Lord said to Moses: Take the herbs stacte, onycha, and galbanum – these herbs together with pure frankincense; let there be an equal part of each. Make them into incense, a compound expertly blended, refined, pure, sacred. (Exodus 30:34-35)

  1. and galbanum A spice whose odor is bad... And Scripture numbers it among the spices of the incense to teach us that it should not be unimportant in our sight to include among us in the assemblies of our fasts and our prayers the sinners in Israel, that they should be numbered together with us. (Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, 1040-1105, France])
  2. Rabbi Shimon the Pious said: No fast is a true fast unless some of the sinners in Israel participate therein, for the smell of the galbanum is bad, yet Scripture enumerates it together with the other spices. (Keritot 6b)
  3. Galbanum was to be mixed with the incense although it stank because God’s mercies are always manifest over Israel – over those that are wicked among them and over those that are upright. (Tanna de be Eliyahu)
  4. One who says, “Let good people [any only good people] bless You” is considered to have spoken heresy. (Mishnah Megillah 4:9)
  5. On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook... (Leviticus 23:40) The product of hadar trees: these are the Israelites. As the etrog has taste and smell, so among the Israelites some have both Torah and good works. Branches of palm trees: these are the Israelites. As the date has taste, but no smell, so are there Israelites who have Torah but no good works. Boughs of leafy trees: these are the Israelites. As the myrtle has smell, but no taste, so there are Israelites who have good works but no Torah. Willows of the brook: these are the Israelites. As the willow has neither taste nor smell, so there are Israelites who have neither Torah nor good works. What is God to do with them? It is not possible to destroy them. God says, “Bind all together into one bundle, and the one will atone for the other.” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12)

Sparks for Discussion

Why is it crucial that sinners be included as part of the congregation? Does anyone but God truly know which members of the community are sinners and which are righteous? Are there people whose behavior should prevent them from being included in a minyan? How might you rewrite these texts in modern terms to describe the various people who should and must be included in our shuls and communities?

The Seventh Day

The Israelite people shall keep the Sabbath, observing the Sabbath [literally, to make the Sabbath] throughout the ages as a covenant for all time. (Exodus 31:16)

  1. The mitzvah of Shabbat is different from other ritual mitzvot, such as tzitzit, tefillin, sukkah, and lulav. Even if these commandments are not observed, they are still distinctive objects, unique to themselves. This is not so with Shabbat. If it is not observed actively, there is no way to tell it from any other day. The day itself has no special character. (Torah Temimah [Rabbi Baruch Epstein, 1860-1940, Russia])
  2. We have been taught that Rabbi Yose ben Rabbi Judah said: On the eve of Shabbat, two ministering angels accompany every man from the synagogue to his home, a good angel and an evil one. When the man arrives home and finds the lamp lit, the table set, and his couch spread, the good angel says, “May it be God’s will that it be thus another Shabbat!” and unwillingly the evil angel responds, “Amen!” But if not [if the room is dark, the table and the couch bare], the evil angel says, “May it be God’s will that it be thus another Shabbat!” and unwillingly the good angel responds, “Amen!” (Talmud Shabbat 119b)
  3. Rabbi Hanina said: A man should have two cloaks, one for weekdays and one for Shabbat. When Rabbi Simlai preached this to an assembly, the disciples burst into tears in front of him, saying, “Master, our garment on Shabbat is necessarily the same as our garment on weekdays.” He replied, “Nevertheless, you must make some change in it for Shabbat.” (Jerusalem Talmud Peah 8:7, 21b)

Sparks for Discussion

The Torah Temimah makes a profound point – we decide if the seventh day is Shabbat or merely Saturday. There are many Conservative Jews who are Shomrei Shabbat – Shabbat observers who refrain from all prohibited forms of work and perform the prescribed Shabbat rituals. There are many more who are not. But Shabbat is not a matter of all or nothing. Just as Rabbi Simlai told his poor students that they should make some change in their everyday clothing to acknowledge Shabbat, we can take gradual steps to “make Shabbat.” Usher in Shabbat with candles and Kiddush, use the good china and silverware for Friday night dinner, don’t listen to the car radio while driving to shul, turn off the TV, computer, and other electronics.

What ways can you think of to begin to “make Shabbat” or to expand your current Shabbat observance? How can those who are more observant help those who want to learn and practice more? What specific things mark the difference between Shabbat and Saturday in your life?

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