2/14/2013

Shabbat Terumah

Candles Friday 15th at 5:11
Havdalah 16th at 6:07

The commentators disagree as to whether the Tabernacle was always part of the plan for the Israelite community or whether it was only introduced after the Golden Calf episode as a response to the need for some physical central focal point.

Religious life is a constant balance between the home and the synagogue, the private and the public. Torah requires of us to invest in both and that is why we have family meals, with blessings and celebrations at home and at the same time we come to the synagogue for services together. Sometimes the home takes priority and sometimes the community.

After the Israelites came out of Egypt they complained about the lack of water and food. This basic need seems to have overridden all the miracles that they were blessed with. Even the dramatic presence of God on Sinai could not stop the grumbling. It was only when everyone was involved in creating something, in building the Tabernacle, that there is no more mention of rebellion or dissatisfaction.

The fact is we humans need challenges and we need to be kept busy. On a personal level, we often get depressed or suffer setbacks. Complaining usually gets us nowhere. There’s no point in giving up and falling into paralysis. We need to be kept busy and set targets for ourselves each day. Similarly as a community we only come together when there is a project that requires our involvement.

That is why the chapters on the Tabernacle are so long and repetitive in contrast to the narrative and the laws, which are concise. It’s the constant discipline of having something to do that forces us to get on with our lives instead of giving up. The daily rituals have their benefits.

NEXT WEEK: Don’t forget on Saturday night, February 23rd, we will be reading the Megilah at 7 pm in our synagogue.

2/08/2013

Shabbat Mishpatim

Shabbat Shekalim and Mevarchin Chodesh Adar
Candles Friday 5:02pm
Havdalah on Saturday at 5:58pm

The word Shekel literally means something that is weighed. Early coins were simply weights and measures and used initially in barter. But as we know from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice the word became one of abuse. As if only Jews used coins and money. The first bankers were the Assyrians and Babylonians over four thousand years ago. Then came the Greeks who were the main rivals of Jewish merchants around the Mediterranean two thousand years ago and their fierce rivalry often led to violence. The Italians came to dominate Medieval European finance until the Germans, the French and the Spaniards overtook them. The Dutch and the British dominated the financial world in the West but the Americans soon took over the top spot. “Wall Street” became the code for “Rich Bankers.” Soon no doubt it will be the turn of the Chinese.

The Shekel however symbolized something very different to us Jews. It symbolized charity and community. The Torah commanded each Israelite to donate half a Shekel each year to ensure that the Tabernacle and later the Temple, were financed and supported by the whole people. Throughout the periods of the Temples all Jews wherever they lived accepted this obligation, a tax in effect, to support the central sanctuary of the people. The shekel therefore became the test of identification with the nation. After the destruction it turned into an annual donation sustaining the Jews who continuously returned to live in the Land of Israel often under terribly harsh and debilitating circumstances.

The Mishna tells us that at the start of the month of Adar they used to announce the obligation to donate and started collecting. So the Shabbat when we announce the month of Adar, as we do this weekend, became the time to remember our obligations to help the poor prepare for Pesach and to ensure that our communal coffers were replenished. The Shekel doesn’t just mean Israeli currency. It stands for charity and community.

Now is a good time to remind you that Purim will be on Sunday February 24th, which means we will be having our annual Megilah reading on Saturday night the 23rd at 7 pm.