Sunday, February 26, 2012

Truma 5772: Rabbi Chaim Brovender on why there are two narratives about building the mishkan (tabernacle)

It's worth listening to here.

The basic question is: Why do we need the repetition of the tabernacle narrative in Vayahkel and Pekudei, if we have it in Terumah and Tezaveh? What does the repetition add?

In short, Rav Brovender's own idea is that there are two narratives in the Torah. What was, and what could have been. With regards to the tabernacle, the two narratives are separated by the sin of the Golden Calf. Even if chronologically, the building of the tabernacle does come after the sin of the Golden Calf, the placing of the first narrative before it is indicative of what should have been - a tabernacle built straight after the Revelation at Sinai. The second narrative indicates that it was built on the back of the Sin of the Golden Calf.

Also at the end a moving link to depression, hope and Rebbi Nachman from Breslev. Sometimes we find ourselves in a state of mind that is like a child, full of hope and innocence, and other times we find ourselves connecting to a darker past, even depressed. This is the tension with which one might read the tabernacle narratives, aware of what was and what should be. Rebbi Nachman, who may have suffered from depression, taught - Asur Lehityaesh - it is prohibited to give up hope. It's a prohibition, just like driving a car on Shabat. Not just good advice. What should be - must be the driving force in our lives.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

God, Torah and Israel - Midrash Raba on Teruma (Hebrew)

אמר הקב"ה לישראל: מכרתי לכם תורתי, כביכול נמכרתי עמה, שנאמר: ויקחו לי תרומה

משל למלך, שהיה לו בת יחידה. בא אחד מן המלכים ונטלה. ביקש לילך לו לארצו וליטול לאשתו

אמר לו: בתי שנתתי לך יחידית היא, לפרוש ממנה איני יכול, לומר לך אל תטלה איני יכול, לפי שהיא אשתך, אלא זו טובה עשה לי, שכל מקום שאתה הולך, קיטון אחד עשה לי שאדור אצלכם, שאיני יכול להניח את בתי.

אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא לישראל: נתתי לכם את התורה, לפרוש הימנה איני יכול, לומר לכם אל תטלוה איני יכול, אלא בכל מקום שאתם הולכים, בית אחד עשו לי שאדור בתוכו, שנאמר: ועשו לי מקדש:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Rather be the Tail of a Lion than the Head of a Fox

What did Rav Matyah Ben Cheresh mean when he said "better be the tail of a lion than the head of a fox" in Avot 4:20?

Was he saying it is better to accept a lower position in a bigger company than a higher position in a smaller one? Better be a small part of a huge project rather than lead a smaller one?

I used to think so, but recently I'm thinking his statement is about religious faith and serving God.

Rav Matyah can be read to be saying that whatever is done with the wrong intention, i.e. for something other than serving God, is like being the head of a fox. But the most mundane of activities, if done for the service of God, is like being the tail of a lion.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


If the 10 Commandments are the most powerful symbol of the Jewish contribution to Western morality, could the preceding story about Yitro - a non Jewish priest who both recognizes the Jewish God and also offers advice about how Moshe should be running his judicial system - be the Torah's way of telling us to be open to wisdom from gentiles? There is in the story of Yitro's meeting Moshe both the preservation of Jewish identity and the accepting of advice from someone outside the Jewish faith. Had the Torah wanted to relay a pro-Wisdom-in-all-its-forms-and-sources message, it might explain why it specifically places this story before the 10 commandments. The message seems to be not to be closed off to Wisdom from the outside...

On the other hand, there is a strong (unanimous?) tradition in Rabbinic literature that Yitro converted. What converted means specifically in the context of Israelites in the desert is not clear at all, but the word "Vayichad" would support this reading. The question then of why the story of Yitro precedes the 10 Commandments can still be partially answered by pointing to openness to external Wisdom, but Yitro's conversion in and of itself would suggest more than that.

Perhaps, just as we read about Ruth before we celebrate receiving the Torah on Shavuot, so too right before the 10 Commandments we tell the story of Yitro. Both these people freely chose to join the Israelites -- a powerful example for those born into a life where Torah is taught to them before they can actually choose it for themselves.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Anger management

If I told you that you had won the lottery and handed you the winning ticket, would it change your mood? What if someone that very next minute said something obnoxious, someone close to you, talking to you in a hurtful way. Something really obnoxious and shallow. Would you get angry? Would you have the strength to ignore it? Would you at least be able to control the explosion? Maybe contain it instead of letting it blow away that good feeling of having won the lottery?

The point is that without a purpose to your life, you won't be able to. Without meaning, which is outside the current situation, but has the power to help you see the situation differently, you won't be able to get through the day.

Orthodox Judaism teaches that life has a huge purpose. Serving God.

The idea of serving God is not appealing to a person who doesn't feel they benefit from such an activity. But for people who do see the value in Serving God, people for who service of God is a live, flowing experience of His Holiness, for such winners of the spiritual lottery there is a way to handle anger. Because just as a man would be a fool to burn his winning lottery ticket, so too would he be a fool to burn up his relationship to God.

A princess was in love with a peasant. But the king wanted her to marry a prince from a far away land. It would help build the kingdom. The princess wanted to please her father but she loved the peasant.

One night she ran away. She gave it all up and ran. The king was distraught but the princess, knowing this would be so, had left him a letter saying - There was a fire raging but I'll be back.

It was raining heavily. She ran through the night, swamps, mud, sewage. Finally, she arrived. The bridge under which the peasant lived was safe. She married him. She wanted to bring him back to the palace. But the peasant said it would cause a fire and they must wait. So they lived under the bridge, and waited.

Sometimes there is no way to change another person immediately. But over time, quiet persistence might accomplish what a thousand battle ships could not.