BY JULIA ANDELMAN, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT, JTS
The double parashah of Tazria-Metzora ranks at the top of the list of parshiyot to avoid for a bar or bat mitzvah. Its detailed lists of bodily ailments—rashes, colorations, emissions, and secretions—associated with ritual impurity are not the stuff of religious inspiration in contemporary times. I confess to having once colluded with congregants to subtly move the date of their daughter’s bat mitzvah celebration slightly further away from her Hebrew birthday, in order to provide her with a more palatable Torah reading to chant and speak about than Tazria-Metzora. But this year—the year of #BlackLivesMatter—has caused me to read Tazria-Metzora through a new and painfully relevant lens. The parashah tells us over and over again of skin conditions and other physical states and symptoms that, while not represented by the majority, are, in fact, entirely normal within the varied spectrum of human experience—but that are nonetheless treated as problematic abnormalities, raising questions about who has a full place in the community and who must be marginalized, put outside of the camp, barred from the rites and rights of full citizenship. How sadly contemporary indeed, then, do our parashah’s central themes turn out to be.
The Intermediate Shabbat of Passover
(Exodus 33:12-34:26) After Israel worshipped the golden calf, Moses shattered the first set of tablets. Now Moses again ascends Mount Sinai in order to receive the new set of tablets. Moses pleads for God’s assurance of support. God reassures Moses and also reveals His 13 divine attributes. Moses then brings down a new set of tablets with the Ten Commandments.
The Haftarah is taken from the Book of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The prophet finds himself in a valley of dry bones and, under the vivifying effect of God’s spirit, the bones knit together and become covered with flesh. Ezekiel understands this vision to mean that the people of Israel, having been exiled to Babylon, will again be reborn as a nation.
Both the fact that Passover, recalling past deliverances, looks forward to future redemption and an old tradition that the resurrection of the dead will take place during Passover determined the choice of this passage as the Haftarah for the Intermediate Sabbath of Passover.
The Song of Songs
It is customary to read the biblical book Song of Songs on the Intermediate Sabbath of Passover. Rabbinic tradition interprets the book as a love song, where the “beloved” is taken to mean God and “the bride” to mean the congregation of Israel. This tradition made the Song of Songs especially appropriate to Passover, because it marked, as it were, the beginning of the courtship of Israel and God before, metaphorically speaking, they became finally wedded at Mount Sinai by Israel’s acceptance of the Torah.
Another reason given for the reading of this book on Passover is that it is a song of the spring. To the poet and the singer, spring is synonymous with hope and happiness. A people’s hope lies in its freedom and its attachment to the law of God. This, too, is the lesson of Passover, for which the people of Israel have fought since they left Egyptian servitude, and this is the eternal message it wishes to convey to the whole of the human race.
Shabbat HaGadol - Parashat Tzav
Leviticus 6:1 - 8:36; HAFTARAH Malachi 3:4 - 3:24
By Rabbi Bradley Artson, for MyJewishLearning.com
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.
Yet, our tradition also holds that the eternal task of the Jewish People is to mold ourselves into a nation of priests, a holy people. In doing so, the standards that apply to a ‘kohen‘ (priest) in the Beit Ha-Mikdash (the Temple) are essential tools for elevating our own spiritual and ritual status as well. The same guidance that the Torah provided the ” at his task can ennoble and uplift the serious Jew of today as well.
By Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. Reprinted with permission of the Jewish Theological Seminary for MyJewishLearning.com
Addressing Our Loved Ones
While God commands Moses, He also calls to him affectionately.
I never heard my parents address each other by their first names. They showed their mutual affection, which remained palpable till late in their lives, by using pet names. My father called my mother "Mutti"(from the German word for mother–Mutter) and my mother always called him "Schatzi" (from the German word for treasure–Schatz). As my father aged, he developed the habit of saying "Mutti" to himself audibly and often, without ever intending to attract her attention. Alone in his study, he would emit the sound of her name when he rose from his desk to get another book or just reclined to rest for a moment. She was clearly the anchor of his life.
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Shabbat HaChodesh - Vayak’heil/P’kudei
BY MATTHEW BERKOWITZ, Jewish Theological Seminary
Of Leadership and Investment: A People Engage
Parashat Va-yak·hel-Pekudei continues the building of the Tabernacle—detailing the materials, craftsmanship, appurtenances, and its completion. Far from being the domain of the elite, the building of this dwelling place for God represents an endeavor undertaken by the entire people. We read that
Moses then gathered the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. On six days work may be done, but on the seventh you will have a Sabbath of complete rest . . . Moses said further: This is what the Lord has commanded: Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him will bring them . . . gold, silver, and copper, blue, purple and crimson yarns. (Exod. 35:1–4)
Why turn to the “whole Israelite community,” and not simply a cabal of leaders, contractors, and artisans to realize this vision? Such a strategy would have been far easier for Moses, limiting the scope of participation to the elites of the community.