“When you raise and light the lamps, the seven lamps shall illuminate the menorah.” The lamps flame with holiness and burn with the freedom of the Israelites. And certainly B’ha’lot’cha begins well with instructions for the inauguration of the Levites into their role as God’s servants. Rules for Passover follow, then the wonderful image of the divine cloud that covers the Tabernacle by day, giving way to the divine fire by night. When the Israelites are to move on, the cloud lifts and goes ahead to guide the people on their journey. The Ark goes forth, the Ark stops and the people go obediently and happily with it. But how long can they remain happy? Not very long, sadly. They are soon complaining again, this time about the endless days of manna, whereas in Egypt they had fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. They forget what they paid for this good diet in the way of remorseless forced labour and lack of freedom. No sooner has God sent quail to fill their bellies, even to nausea, than Aaron and Miriam complain against their long-suffering brother. They are silenced by God’s description of how He speaks to Moses, not in visions, but face to face, “Moses, who is like a trust servant through My house.” Miriam is punished, but ever compassionate and loving, Moses asks God to forgive her.
And so we come to Sh’lach L’cha and the episode of the spies and yet another episode of backsliding. There is, though, hope, always hope. Moses, yet again, prays to God to forgive the people and, just as important, two examples of great courage stand out, for Joshua and Caleb, despite the risk of being stoned by the people, appeal to them to have faith in God and go forward into the promised land.
As usual, there is much, much more, and you can hear it and live it by coming to the service on Saturday at 10.30. Pat Lipert will be leading us.
Lifting the heads of the Israelites in the desert is a nice way to think of the beginning of the book of B’minbar. One can think of it as taking a census or as raising the spirit of the people in holiness and confidence. The first two parshiot are marked by precision and reiteration. First, leaders of each tribe are designated one by one. Next, each tribe is counted and the numbers recorded in the exact same way, all except for the Levites, who come later. Then the camps are designated around the Communion Tent: Judah, with Issachar and Zebulun, to the east; Reuben, with Simeon and Gad, to the south; Ephraim, with Manasseh and Benjamin, to the west, and Dan, with Asher and Naphtali to the north. The Levites are in the middle, also divided into sub-groups. Thus, there are clear lines radiating out from spiritual centre of the whole camp to all the tribes, one great extended family or nation. God then gives instructions for the Levites, who have been dedicated to God in place of the first born of all the Israelites. Each group (Gershon, Kethoth and Merari) are given specific tasks relating to the care and transport of the Tabernacle. It is almost as if the nation were being constructed according to some architectural plan.
Three interludes, curious at first sight, follow. The first describes the trial by bitter water of the suspected adulteress. (One wonders what happened when the wife suspected her husband of adultery. What redress did she have?) The second interlude goes through the law governing the Nazarites, those who dedicated themselves for a period to special devotion to God. In a way, the idea of the Nazarite seems curiously un-Jewish, closer perhaps to the Christian idea of the hermit. The third interlude is the beautiful Priestly Blessing.
We then go back to the exactitude of the previous parts, as the gifts of each tribe for the sanctification of the Tabernacle are recounted, twelve word-for-word repetitions of the same items: silver and gold vessels and sacrificial animals. Of course, this underlines how each tribe is equal and is generous to the same degree.
But I have said far to much and I will leave it to Liz Berg to tell you more as she leads us in prayer and reflection this Saturday at 10.30.
Note that Shavuot begins in the evening. The counting of the Omer is completed and we celebrate the giving of the Torah.
Did you know that, if you have any slaves in your house, you must release them and their children at the next jubilee year? Also, if any of your close relatives have been sold into slavery, you must redeem them as soon as you can get the funds together. Actually, the jubilee, every fiftieth year, does not apply when all the tribes are not living in Israel. At least that is the general opinion. Still, the principles are good ones and go well together with the commands not to take advantage of those in need by lending at exorbitant interest, returning property to its original owner at the jubilee via a system of purchase similar to that applied to leasehold properties today, and letting the land rest every seven years. All these rules are laid out in B’har, which comes before this week’s parsha of B’chukkotai. Here, God lays out the rewards for obedience and the punishments for disobedience, a theme which will appear again in D’varim. The rewards are comforting, the punishments frightening, but there is always the promise of God’s forgiveness in the event of repentence, something we most imperfect of beings must rely on.
There is more in the parsha than I can fit here, despite B’chukkotai and B’har being particularly short parshiot. You can find out a great deal and join together in another wonderful Shabbat experience by turning up this Saturday at 10.30. Adam Feldman will be leading us.
Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!
K’doshim reiterates many of the laws already announced, particularly in Mishpatim. There is a different emphasis now, reflected in the name of the parsha, i.e. holiness. “You must be holy, since I am God your Lord and I am holy,” God tells Moses. The ethical weight of the laws is palpable and again there is an insistence on justice, fairness and compassion. “Do not falsify measurements… Do not curse, even the deaf… Do not pick the incompletely formed grape clusters……the above must be left for the poor and the stranger.” Not harvesting every single ear of corn nor every grape has an ecological meaning now, over and above the original consideration given to the needy. Today’s super-mechanised harvesting techniques mean that nothing falls to nourish birds, dormice and other creatures in the period when they need to store fat for the winter to come.
The parsha is punctuated with a refrain reminding the people of the holiness of God and the holiness they are being expected to share in. And this leads naturally to Emor and the even higher level of holiness demanded of the priests. The rules governing their behaviour are followed by those marking out the most holy periods of the year, starting with Shabbat and continuing through the festivals from Pesach to…. Well, to reach the end, you should come to the service on Saturday at 10.30. Pat Lipert will be leading the service.
This Thursday is Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, Israel Independence Day.
Last Saturday, being the first day of Pesach, the parsha was different from normal and we would have read of the Exodus and, interestingly, from Deuteronomy, of the danger of forgetting God in times of prosperity. Of course, this is the main reason why we celebrate Pesach: to remember, and there is so much to remember. “…the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and a powerful arm, with overwhelming terror, and with miraculous signs and wonders.” We lived in tents, in the desert for forty years, agreed to accept the Covenant and gradually grew into a nation, ready to embark on a huge social experiment inspired by the word of God. We were slaves and we became free. In a way, we all repeat this journey in our own lives.
Now we return to the story in hand. Acharei Mot opens with God giving instructions to Moses for the sacrifices to be offered on Yom Kippur, one of which gives origin to the concept of the scapegoat. Ironically, the Jewish people themselves have often been made scapegoats for the misfortunes of the nations among whom they have lived. The parsha continues with the prohibition against eating blood. And then there are the sexual laws. I will say no more, but leave it to our service leader, who this week will be Liz Berg. Come along at 10.30 to hear her, to pray and to share the Sabbath with like-minded souls.