Rabbi Blog

March 2012 Archives

Build by putting down the tools

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Vayakhel-Pekudei tells the story of the construction of the Tabernacle, God's portable shrine among the Israelites. The plans which had been laid out in the previous three portions are now implemented- Moses solicits gifts from every segment of the community, designates and trains artisans, and supervises the construction.  This is an incredibly important project.  And yet, before engaging in that process, Moses reminds the Israelites that they are to observe the Sabbath- that they are to labor for six days, and to rest on the seventh.  Indeed, the Sabbath is connected with the Tabernacle in the previous week as well.

There are several possible reasons why these two concepts might be connected.  On a basic level, we can understand that just as the Tabernacle is the physical locus where God's presence is felt, Shabbat is the temporal focus for God's presence.  The Tabernacle represents the possibility of a perfected world, as does the Sabbath.

Our sages explain, however, that this connection has further implications.  Despite the incredible importance of the Tabernacle as a national project, its construction does not override Shabbat, and indeed it is precisely those tasks which were essential to constructing the tabernacle which are forbidden on Shabbat!  Perhaps we are meant to learn that no matter how important a project might seem at the time, we must remember that sometimes other things must take priority, sometimes we must take a break to refresh our souls, even if only so we can continue all the more once we have been refreshed. 

We all have things that we regard as our highest priority.  Sometimes we must take a step back and recharge.  Even a project as important as seeking God's presence in the physical world will not succeed unless we occasionally drop the physical and embrace the spiritual.

Try building yourself by putting down your tools:  Next shabbat is the National Day of unplugging.  http://www.sabbathmanifesto.org/unplug/

New ownership at the Atlanta Jewish Times

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I was delighted to hear that Cliff Weiss has taken over ownership of the Atlanta Jewish Times. I offered the following thoughts on the occasion of their first edition under new management.

 How do you repair what has been broken?  The story of the Golden Calf, read by Jews around the world this week, provides spiritual and physical answers to that question.  Figuratively, it is a story of a broken covenant.  Just 40 days after the Israelites experience revelation and accept the Ten Commandments, they violate those commandments dancing around the Golden Calf.  Moses pleads with God for divine forgiveness, and ultimately saves the people and renews the covenant.  It is also, of course, a story of physical breaking and restoration of a vehicle for words.  Moses shatters the tablets of the covenant, and ultimately returns with a new set of tablets.

One might ask why breaking the tablets was an appropriate response to the breaking of a promise, to the Israelites' betrayal of the covenant.  Isn't breaking things in anger is a sign of uncontrolled temper, not sensitive spiritual leadership?  One traditional view explains that Moses did so to shock the Israelites.   Indeed, the totality of Moses' response includes other harsh words and deeds.  Sometimes a breach of trust requires a dramatic gesture to convey the seriousness of the betrayal, cause a change in the personalities involved, and enable a return to the covenantal promise.

Another view relates that breaking the tablets was an appropriate step because the tablets were, in fact, the written record of the promises that had been broken.  Breaking the tablets was a way of "undoing" those promises and cancelling out the offense.  Writing new tablets was a way of creating a new covenant and remaking those promises. 

We always read the Torah in the light of our own experiences.  At one time or another, many of us have had the experience of having a trust broken,  perhaps in business, among friends, or even, God forbid, among family.  The experience of the Golden Calf tells us that there are times when a trust is broken, and only by shattering and remaking the relationship can we restore that trust.  

 Of course, this understanding of the Torah has a particular resonance this week, as the Atlanta Jewish Times comes under new ownership and leadership.  The Jewish Times served, for decades, as a trusted voice in our Jewish community.  That trust was, unfortunately, broken, and many longstanding relationships were shattered as a result. 

And yet, the Torah's account of the Golden Calf indicates that restoration of a covenant is possible.  Those who were involved in the most egregious aspects of the sin were not able to participate, but the Israelites, as a group, accepted the second set of tablets, and a restored covenantal relationship with God.  New tablets replaced the broken ones, and remained with the Israelites for centuries, their words a permanent commitment.

New ownership and management of the Jewish Times is an important step in the restoration of a broken trust.  New tablets are being crafted to hold words that were homeless in a time of broken of trust.  May they lead to the creation of a renewed covenant with the community and a trust that is well-founded and long-lasting.