…and He called to Moses, speaking to him from the Communion Tent. These are the words with which the parsha of Va-yikra launches Leviticus, the third book in our annual cycle. God instructs Moses in the intricate rituals of sacrifice. There are many kinds of offering, some freely made by any member of the community, peace and sin offerings, one for the High Priest, one for the King (though there is not yet a King to sin) those for the community and those for commoners. There are also offerings for unintentional sins, for misappropriation and for dishonesty. Some of the sacrifices allow people who cannot afford to bring an animal to substitute it with a pair of birds and, if they cannot afford these, they may bring wheat meal. There is a whole range of animals – kosher, of course – doves and flour indicated for different purposes The manner of their preparation and sacrifice must have required much study and care on the part of the priests.
The laws relating to offerings continue in Tzav, whose commands cover what may be eaten of the sacrifices and how. It goes on to deal with the installation of the priests. That is all there is to be found in this announcement, but you may find out much more and share in the joy of Shabbat by coming to this week’s service, which will be held at 10.30. Adam Feldman will be leading us.
Earlier Moses received instructions on the making of the tabernacle, the ark, the altars, the lamp and other furniture and implements to be used both to host God’s presence and to serve for his worship. In Ya-yakhel, the construction of these things begins. We have become used to berating ourselves for our failings: the golden calf, our complaints and fears. Here, however, the people show the best within them. Moses ask for offerings of skins, wool, fine linen, gold, silver and precious stones with which to build and weave the furniture and furnishings. He asks for volunteers to craft and form everything as it should be, and he is overwhelmed by the contributions and by the volunteers. So much is given that the architects and builders have to ask the people to stop bringing more things. Sometimes one’s family can bring sorrow and pain, but here they bring joy.
And so we come to P’kudei, or the accounting, the making of the priestly vestments and the literal joining of the tribes of Israel to the High Priest by the names attached to his breastplate. Moses is pleased with all the work and everything is made ready. “God’s glory filled the Tabernacle” and the people are ready to move on, as move they must. Chazak, chazak, v’nitzchazeik.
To join the congregation in prayer and to gain insight into this week’s parsha, come along this Saturday at 10.30. David Jacobs, former Director for Synagogue Partnership for the Movement for Reform Judaism and now a Community Consultant, will be leading the service.
If a person strikes his male or female slave in the eye and blinds it, he shall set the slave free in compensation for the eye. What on earth is anyone doing with slaves? you might ask. Well, this was a new law given in a place and a time when slavery was the order of the day. Remember, too, that, not much more than a century ago, slaves were treated with little or no justice at all in the south of the United States. Nor would it would have been very different in the British colonies of the Caribbean some time before. What we have in Mishpatim is the beginning of a code of personal and social justice which, when it was given, was breathtaking in its humanity (or divinity). When you lend money to My people, to the poor man among you, do not press him for repayment… If you take your neighbour’s garment as security [for a loan], you must return it to him before sunset… with what shall he sleep?… Do not follow the majority to do evil… If you see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its load, you might want to refrain from helping him, but you must make every effort to help him. Now that’s a hard one, but in one sentence it teaches us compassion for both man and beast.
The mishpatim of Mishpatim are accompanied by the sealing of the Covenant, which, in one of their moments of greatness, the people promise to keep “with a single voice”. We also witness Moses ascending the mountain and entering the presence of God. What an awesome scene this is!
When it comes to this week’s parsha of Terumah, the writer is keeping schtum. You can find out about it, however, by coming this Saturday at 10.30 to hear Liz Berg, whose Bat Mitzvah it is, and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who will be leading the service. After kiddush Rabbi Laura will be leading a discussion, as already announced, on ‘Strangers in the Land’.
On Saturday 13 February, we will be celebrating the Bat Mitzvah of one of Kehillat Kernow’s prayer leaders, Liz Berg. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner will be coming down to Cornwall to lead the service. Rabbi Laura will also run a guided discussion after the service on the subject of the stranger. This is particularly pertinent at present as we make our way through the book of Exodus, where the Israelites exchange the settled life of strangers in Egypt for that of wanderers in the desert. The experience of being strangers haunts the Jewish people throughout its history, in the Torah, in Tanach, and right up to the present day. Kehillat Kernow is now a settled community in the ancient land of Cornwall, one of a fellowship of communities in Britain. At the same time, we are now witnessing the suffering of peoples being forced to flee their homes and become strangers in neighbouring countries in the Middle East and in Europe. We cannot ignore this phenomenon.
How much punishment does Pharaoh want? Having watched – nay, been instrumental in making – his people suffer ever increasing horrors, he gathers his army and sets off in pursuit of the Israelites only hours after agreeing to their departure. Once he catches up with them, does he not see the pillar of cloud which guides them by day or the pillar of light which guides them by night? Well, he is not the only one not to see clearly, for the Israelites themselves suffer from a failure of vision and a failure of faith. The sight of the Egyptian army throws them into a blind panic. Yet God is there to support and save them. They cross the Red Sea and thank God in song. This should be enough, but it isn’t, and soon the people are complaining again, this time about the lack of fresh food. God sends quails and manna and, in so doing, introduces the basic law of Shabbat. They travel some more and became thirsty, and again they lapse into discontent.
Of course, they are not used to freedom. One of the contradictions of slavery is that, while you are forced to labour, often for long hours every day with little or no respite, you are not obliged to do anything for yourself. Everything is decided for you. It is, therefore, not so surprising that a people that has not acted for itself in living memory should be frightened and easily discouraged when it walks into the unknown. What is more, by the end of B’shallach, for that is where we are in the story, the people have started literally to fight for themselves and to provide support for their leader. As they engage in battle with Amalek, they enable Moses to be their inspiration by holding up his hands where the soldiers can see them from the battleground. The road to freedom, both physical and spiritual, is not completed, but it is begun.
A fitting preparation for Yitro, which begins with Moses’ father-in-law advising Moses to appoint community leaders at different levels to administer justice, so setting the foundations for a system of government which will last until the time of the kings. The people move on to Mount Sinai, where there is to be a great revelation. But to hear this revelation, you will need to come to the service this Saturday at 10.30. Liz Berg of the lyrical voice will be leading us.