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Posted March 2, 2018 - 7:06am

Freedom On The Tablets

Parashat Ki Tisa is the transition between Moses’ encounter with the LORD on top of Mount Sinai and his return to the Children of Israel at the base of the mountain. While in the sublime presence of God, he was given a very special gift, “the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). The midrash tells us that these tablets were brilliant to look at, because they were made with lapis lazuli, a deep blue semi-precious stone with intense color. The Torah uses the following description for the tablets:

Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets that were written on both sides; on the front and on the back they were written. The tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. (Exodus 32:15–16)

These commandments were not just something Moses came up with. These words, as well as the very tablets themselves, were given by God himself. Our sages use this passage to relate an important message about divine origins of the commandments God gave Moses to transmit to the Children of Israel:

It says: “And the tablets are the work of G-d, and the writing is G-d’s writing, engraved on the tablets” (Exodus 32:16). Read not “engraved” (charut), but “liberty” (cheirut)—for there is no free individual, except for he who occupies himself with the study of Torah. And whoever occupies himself with the study of Torah is elevated, as is stated (Numbers 21:19), “And from Mattanah (“the gift”) to Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel to Bamoth (“the heights”). (Avot 6:2)

Posted February 23, 2018 - 7:11am

The Degradation of Holiness

After the instructions for making the oil for the Temple menorah, parashat Tetzave is primarily focused on the consecration of the kohanim (priests), including how their priestly garments are to be tailored. As part of the consecration ceremony, Aaron and his sons are instructed to offer up a ram and eat it at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting:

You shall take the ram of ordination and boil its flesh in a holy place. And Aaron and his sons shall eat the flesh of the ram and the bread that is in the basket in the entrance of the tent of meeting. They shall eat those things with which atonement was made at their ordination and consecration, but an outsider shall not eat of them, because they are holy. (Exodus 29:31–33)

According to this passage, the ram served three purposes. It was for atonement, ordination, and consecration. The priests were commanded to eat it, but it was forbidden to outsiders. Leviticus 22:10 reinforces this saying, “A lay person shall not eat of a holy thing; no foreign guest of the priest or hired worker shall eat of a holy thing.” These instructions sound similar to Paul’s instruction for partaking of what is commonly called the Lord’s Supper:

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord … For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. (1 Corinthians 11:27, 29)

The Didache (one of the earliest testimonies to the teachings of the Apostles outside of the Apostolic canon) interprets this prohibition narrowly to mean those who have not come to faith in Yeshua:

Posted February 16, 2018 - 8:40am

The Forest Hidden Behind the Trees

Parashat Terumah opens with God giving Moses instructions for the building of the Mishkan, the Holy Tabernacle. When reading through this section of the Torah, and the portions that follow, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all of the details given that describe how the Tabernacle was to be constructed. We read about planks of acacia wood, gold, silver, bronze, multi-colored yarn, linen, goats’ hair, rams’ skins, and more. We read about how each individual item had to be so many cubits wide, or so many handbreadths thick. There are so many details that many people are tempted to skip ahead and try to find where the storyline picks back up.

But we need to remember the significance of what we are reading. These instructions served as the blueprints for Moses and the Children of Israel to actually build this incredible structure called the Tabernacle. They needed to have detailed instructions so that the pieces would come together to create something spectacular. However, there is a particular detail at the beginning of these instructions that is easy to overlook. When God tells Moses that He wants the Children of Israel to build a dwelling place for Him, He says something unusual. Exodus 25:8 begins by saying, “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in …” We would expect the final word to be “it.” God wants the Children of Israel to build Him a house that He can dwell in, right? But that’s not how it ends. The last Hebrew word of that sentence is betocham, which means “in them” or “among them.” Therefore, the passage reads:

And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. (Exodus 25:8)

Posted February 9, 2018 - 6:04am

An Eye For An Eye. Literally?

Upon a cursory reading of the Torah some of the laws contained within it seem not only a bit harsh, but even barbaric at times. This week’s Torah portion contains laws that seem to fall into that category and tend to make the modern reader uncomfortable. One of the passages is related to personal damages caused by physical violence:

You shall pay life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe. (Exodus 21:25)

It would seem that from this passage that the Torah condones an extreme and retaliatory brand of justice. If two people get in a fight and one gouges out the other’s eye, then the offender is to have his eye also gouged out as repayment for the offense. This passage is often used to contrast the harsh justice of the Torah to Yeshua’s message of grace and mercy:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

From this passage, it appears that Yeshua is telling his disciples that the Torah prescribed a one method of dealing with offenses, but he is now prescribing a different one. Where the Torah endorsed strict, retaliatory justice, Yeshua endorses mercy and grace. But is this really what Yeshua is teaching his disciples? Was the Torah’s instruction of “an eye for an eye” taken literally in Yeshua’s day? 

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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