Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Sanctuary, God and us

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When Moses tells the people of Israel the commandments of God regarding the building of the Tabernacle, what to do and how to do it, the Torah repeats the same data already detailed ten chapters earlier. The parasha Vayaqhel seems to copy in a kind of routine the contents of the parasha Terumah.

There is a little omission, though; there is a short sentence that Moses did not tell:

V’asu li mikdash v’shakhanti b’tokham”, “They will build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them” (Exo. 25:8).

How is it possible that Moses failed to remember such an important thing, the reason and the goal of the whole act of building?

Maybe he did not forget.

Maybe Moses gave us the interpretation of what this building had to be.

Let’s see – God said to Moses, even before telling him the list of tasks for the construction, “they will build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among them”. Moses told the people, even before transmitting God’s orders regarding this building, “work shall be done for six days, but on the seventh day there shall be something sacred for you [yihyie lakhem kodesh]” (Exo. 35:2)

Moses did not say that the seventh day shall be holy, but rather that ON the seventh day (“UVAyom hash’vyi’yi”) there shall be something holy, something sacred for you (“yihyie lakhem kodesh”)

This is the sanctuary, the Mikdash (Kodesh and Mikdash come from the very same Hebrew root) that is to be built, for God to dwell among us. This is the true mobile Temple, the true holy place. It is not a physical place, but a kind of island into the time: it is the Shabbat. It is an island into the time that we have to build with our soul, putting the week between brackets; this week full of rush, troubles and desires. In doing so we give birth to a new dimension that reveals its sacred nature.

Moses teaches us that God’s commandment “they will build Me a sanctuary” really means “on the seventh day there shall be something sacred for you”, something sacred that we have to create, to build, so as to let God dwell among us: “and I will dwell among them”.

Let’s be good builders of the sacred.

Parshat Va-yetze

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Yaakov is a very complex character that presents dilemmas and experiences that are very close to our own life. His way to respond to the challenges compels us to reflect upon our stances, our beliefs, our principles. How would we react if we were in his place? What does he teach us, his descendents, by his behaving?

A very common situation in our daily life is the doubt that affects our confidence in the Almighty. We use to think that this is a direct consequence of modern times, of an era of spiritual skepticism derived from the scientific attitude in modern society.

But in our parasha we discover that this phenomenon existed always. One of the expressions of this doubt regarding the confidence is the lie that both Abraham and Yitzhak told regarding their wives. They lied out of fear that the local dwellers kill them in spite of God’s promise!

Yaakov, for his part, he establishes conditions to accept the Almighty ad his God! The Torah says: “Jacob made then a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, if He protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house, then the Lord shall be my God” (Gen. 28:20-21).

Many commentators try to understand that Yaakov did not really establish conditions for his belief. Some consider that he was afraid of losing God’s protection because of his possible future sins (Radak and Hizkuni, among others). Other commentators say that Yaakov was actually swearing that after having enjoyed of the Almighty’s protection, he will worship God in that very place (Ramban, Rabenu Bahya ben Asher, Rav Hayim Paltiel, Rosh, Keli Yakar)

But the simple reading of these verses put forward the doubt, the dilemma, the lack of confidence of Yaakov. He does not know for sure whether God’s promise will indeed become true. He is only beginning his spiritual journey. His belief comes from his parents and his grand-parents, but he has not yet developed his own in his soul.  Up till now his life experience may have taught him the incertitude of the confidence: his father prefers his brother and he himself receives a blessing by deceiving; but the blessing is intended for somebody called Esav. His mother assured him that if anything goes wrong with the deception, she will carry the consequences instead of him (“Upon me be your curse, my son“); but now it is Yaakov who must run away and his mother does not defend him.

This doubt is not only his, although. It is also ours. We find ourselves all the time in the twilight zone of our confidence in God’s promise to the Jewish People. We believe, yet we ask questions. We are confident and skeptic at the same time. Sometimes we feel that we can rely on nobody, but God. And some other times we feel that we can rely on nobody, period.

Our spiritual growth and our dialogue with God are not constructed without doubts. They are forged by struggling deeply with spiritual doubts and by building again and again our confidence and our belief in God. Yaakov’s spiritual development is the symbol of this struggle, of this going from the doubt towards the deep understanding of the relationship between God and Israel His People. Yaakov learnt in his childhood how difficult it is to trust, but in time he understood that even if “my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up” (Psalms 27:10). In that moment, he became Israel and ceased being only Yaakov. Yaakov establishes conditions, while Israel is grateful to God. Yaakov runs away, while Israel comes back. Yaakov is plenty of doubts, while Israel seeks to trust. Yaakov looks for one only answer to his needs, while Israel knows that life is too complex and there is not only one solution to the challenges we face. As it is written: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for You are with me” (Psalms23,4)

Parshat Toledot

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One of the challenges that parshat Toledot forces us to face is whether we develop independence or dependency in the parent-children relationship.

The Torah opens by: “these are the generations of Yitzhak” [v’ele toledot Yitzhak], yet it does not go on with the latter’s children (like in other instances in the Torah) but with the generations of Abraham: “Abraham begat Yitzhak”. A known midrash tells us that God formed Yitzhak’s face similar to Abraham’s, for everybody to know that it was he who fathered Yitzhak (see Midrash Agadah, Bereshit 25:19 and also Rashi). Maybe our Sages felt how difficult it was for Yitzhak to get free from his father’s influence. We find indeed in our parashah, Yitzhak mirroring many times Abraham’s behavior. But his results weren’t as successful. Imitating the success of the previous generation is not a way of gaining accomplishment.

Yitzhak’s dependency on his father, or Abraham’s difficulty in letting the son of his old age go and develop himself, all made it hard for Yitzhak to walk independently. Who knows? Maybe the story of the Binding of Yitzhak, the Akeda, symbolizes the sacrifice of the dependent child on the altar of a parent who cannot release him … and yet God says to him: “Let him go!”

A lesson for all the generations.

We meet then the two siblings: Esav and Yaakov, who struggle with the imprint cast by their parents – the names, that fix behavior; the preference, that fixes behavior. The names: Esav, a man of doing (esav-aso = alef-samekh-vav = to do), a man of handwork. A practical person without any thought, reflection or cogitation, without any ability to evaluate. He’s a man of here and now – either he does, or he dies. And Yaakov, a person who arrives at his goal by indirect ways – he tracks [okev], he bypasses [okef] , he follows [meaqev], he hampers [meakev]. They both mirror what their parents established for them. And everybody, parents and children alike, enter into a series of actions/mistakes that only perpetuates the difficulty of recognizing the value and the dissimilarity of each one of them, as well as the value of being dissimilar.

Another lesson for all the generations.

It will take two parshiot, 21 years, and a lot of suffering from both sides (mainly from Yaakov), until both brothers would be able to be free from repeating the model established by their parents… and to meet… and to recognize each other… but the wounds and the scars will remain.

Everyone meant well and thought of the wellbeing of their children. But they not always regarded their children. In fact, they saw in their children their own reflection, forgetting that “toledot”, generations, speaks of “going forth” and not “going back”. It speaks of “we give, we guide, we show, we teach… and you must go on without imitating”.