Wednesday, February 27, 2008



In many years this portion is doubled-up with next week's Pekudei, but this year is a leap year, providing us with extra Shabbatot, so Vayyakhel and Pekudei are spread across two weeks.

Moshe descended from Sinai on Yom Kippur with the second set of Tablets, as recorded in last week's portion, and now the Jews were ready to begin building the Mishkan, which would be their Temple in the desert and for their initial entry into Israel. On the day after Yom Kippur, the Jews were instructed to keep Shabbat - and that's the way Vayyakhel begins. The Jews needed the instruction to keep Shabbat in order to teach that even construction of the Mishkan would not override Shabbat.

Moshe then communicated all of the building instructions to the Jews, and he recruited craftsmen. The Torah specifies that both men and women volunteered and contributed their materials and their work. Betzalel and Ahaliav were commissioned to lead the work.

The craftsmen soon informed Moshe that the the nation was bringing more supplies than were needed. The fact that they brought extra was, itself, an atonement for the spirit of volunteerism which was involved in creating the Golden Calf.

The Torah then goes out of its way to list everything the Jews made, even though all of these items had already been listed in Gd's instructions to Moshe. This redundancy serves to praise those who donated their time, and to show the value of their efforts.

Moshe was the one to actually assemble the Tabernacle; our Sages teach that Gd specifically left this job to him, so he would have a role in the physical creation of the Tabernacle.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ki Tisa


This week's portion is "Ki Tisa."

The portion begins with instructions for a military census, telling Moshe to collect a half-shekel per male of military age. By using a collection for this purpose rather than a direct count, Moshe establishes the principle that we don't count Jews in a normal manner, separating them one by one from the whole, and this is a practice followed to this day.

Moshe was then instructed regarding creation of a "Kiyyor," the copper sink which was used in the Mishkan. The Kohanim washed their hands and feet with the Kiyyor before entering the Mishkan.

Gd gave Moshe the list of ingredients for the oil employed in anointing the Kohanim and the Mishkan. Gd also gave him the list of ingredients for the daily Ketoret (incense).

Gd appointed Betzalel and Ahaliav as lead craftsmen. The Jews were then reminded to keep Shabbat even during the building of the Mishkan.

The Torah then reverts to the storyline of the Jews in the desert:

After Gd's declaration of the Ten Commandments, Moshe ascended Mount Sinai. After 39 days, the Jews grew concerned that Moshe was not going to come back to them. Some commentators understand that Moshe had told the Jews he would be there for 40 days, and that the Jews erred by including the day he had ascended. Others understand that the Jews had no 40-day deadline, but simply lost patience waiting for Moshe.

The Jews asked Aharon to bring them a replacement leader, just as Aharon had brought them Moshe originally. Aharon stalled them, but they ended up building an altar and a golden calf, and celebrating. The consensus of most commentators is that this was not expected to be a true idol, but only a Moshe-like intermediary between them and Gd.

Gd told Moshe, on Sinai, about the golden calf. Moshe pleaded for the lives of the Jews, and then he descended and saw the calf for himself. Moshe smashed the tablets on which the Ten Commandments had been inscribed.

Moshe punished the creators and worshippers of the calf, and he then turned to Gd and pleaded for the lives of the rest of the Jews. He put his own life on the line, saying it would be better for Gd to erase him if Gd would erase them. Moshe also mentioned that the nations would assume Gd had killed the Jews because He couldn't bring them into Israel. Moshe also blamed Gd for giving the Jews a wealth of gold and leaving them leaderless in the desert in Moshe’s absence.

Gd agreed to let the Jews live. He taught Moshe the 13 Divine attributes of mercy, as a means of appealing to Gd whenever needed.

Gd told Moshe to make a second set of Tablets himself. Gd visibly distanced Himself from the Jews at this point, moving His manifestation outside the camp. The portion ends with a physical sign of the new distance between HaShem and the Jews – the Jews were now unable to bear the glow of Moshe's face after Moshe communicated with Gd, and so Moshe donned a veil when addressing the people.

Have a great day,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008



Last week’s portion of Terumah dealt with the structure of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), in which the Jews worshipped Gd as they travelled through the desert.

This week’s portion of Tetzaveh gives a brief description of the oil used for the Menorah, and then focuses on the special uniform of the Kohanim. The Kohanim were those who carried out services in the Mishkan.

The portion describes eight garments, four of which were only worn by the Kohen Gadol (Head Kohen). All of the garments were woven from threads of dyed wool and linen, as well as gold.

The garments worn by every Kohen were:
Ketonet – A long shirt
Avnet – A belt
Mitznefet – A turbanesque hat
Michnasayim – A linen undergarment

The additional garments worn by the Kohen Gadol were:
Ephod – A vest
Choshen – A breastplate
Me’il – A long coat
Tzitz – A gold plate which fit on the forehead

The portion then details the process of dedicating the Kohanim to Gd. This week-long program prepared the Kohanim and dedicated their clothing.

The portion concludes with a description of one last piece of Mishkan equipment, the altar of the Ketoret (incense). This altar was located inside the Mishkan, and it was made of wood and coated with gold. It was smaller than the copper altar we discussed last week.

Be well,

Wednesday, February 6, 2008



This week's portion is Terumah.

The portion begins with instructions for building the Mishkan, a Tabernacle which would travel through the desert with the Jews, and would be the focal worship site for them.
There is some debate as to whether these instructions for the Mishkan were presented before the Jews sinned in building the idolatrous Golden Calf, or whether the Mishkan was Gd’s response to the Golden Calf. According to the latter explanation, Gd had initially intended to manifest Himself to each person individually, and then the Golden Calf changed His approach.

Here is a brief outline of the items described in our Torah portion:
Aron – Ark
This held the tablets Moshe brought back from Sinai. There may have been two of these Arks, one for the tablets Moshe broke and one for the second set; it is not clear from the Torah’s text.
The Aron was a rectangular box made of wood, coated inside and outside with gold. There was a gold lid, too, and statues of two K’ruvim (Cherubs) topped the lid. The Aron stood in the western part of the Mishkan.

Shulchan – Table
This table held twelve loaves of bread, which remained there from one Shabbat to the next.
It was made of wood, with gold plating. It stood in front (East) of the Aron, but off to the north.

M’norah – Candelabrum
The seven-branched M’norah was lit each night.
It was made of a single chunk of gold, and was beautified with inlaid designs. It stood in front (East) of the Aron, but off to the south, opposite the Shulchan.

Mishkan – The Tent
The Mishkan was a roof made of drapes, woven from various types of threads. The roof was supported by wood posts, which themselves had silver supports at their bases. The drapes were covered by colorful hides.

Parochet – Curtain
There was one curtain hanging in front of the Aron, and a second curtain hanging at the entrance of the Mishkan.

Copper Mizbeiach - Copper altar
This altar was a hollow wood structure. The wood was coated with copper.

Chatzeir – Yard
There were a set of wood posts, with copper and silver supports, running around a yard around the Mishkan. The posts held woven walls.

Have a great day,