Posts Tagged 'Terumah'

The Practice in Hospitality : Terumah and Making Space for Others

As Torah portions go, this is a big week. In Terumah we start getting the blue print for the Tabernacle. If that was not significant enough, the Tabernacle is itself the blueprint for our experience of Shabbat. The 39 categories of work that went into building the Tabernacle are the same varieties of labor that are prohibited on Shabbat. So while I don’t assume that we will return to the cult of the tabernacle or ritual slaughter in the third Temple any time soon, Shabbat with all of its assorted rituals is a fixture of my life. Here in Terumah there is a clear plan for what will be built and made, but that is not where they start off this large-scale project. Rather, they start off with themselves. As we read:

‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart makes him willing you shall take My offering.( Exodus 25:2)

While their gifts are going to fit into a very clear and focused plan, their gifts were from the heart. At the center of our national narrative is a collaborative non-profit project that celebrates the diverse offerings of every individual while working toward a common goal. And about this project God says:

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

The text does not say “make this building so that I can dwell in it“- the Tabernacle, but rather in “them”. When building the Tabernacle we were building a place for God to be with us.  When we made space for God to be our guest we were transformed into the host and in so doing God was in us.

In making the world God, the Lord of Hosts, was making a place for us to be. God rested on Shabbat from that work, so we could be together with us God’s guests. Similarly by instructing us  to rest from our kind of work on Shabbat, we are invited to be the Host for God in our lives. At  the core of the Tabernacle, the Temple, and Shabbat is a profound notion of hospitality.

This fundamental notion of making space for guests brings us back to the advent of Judaism. There we see Avraham in his post-op discomfort standing in his tent vigilantly looking out for would-be guests. From the beginning being Jewish is less a disposition toward God and more about behaviors that make us open to others in our lives. Maybe if we made enough room for all of the people we would have enough room for God in our lives. In this sense Judaism is less of a faith and more of a practice in hospitality.

 

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Curating Memories

Memory is a powerful thing; it is central to our identity. However, it is interesting that our memory often has only a limited connection with the actual history of an event. This is brought to light through the words of Kodachrome, by Simon and Garfunkel. The lyrics read,

If you took all the girls I knew when I was single
Brought ’em all together for one night
I know they’d never match my sweet imagination
Everything looks better in black and white

The way in which we frame a memory colors it. In this song, memory removed all the pigment of blemishes.

It is interesting to reflect on the nature of color and memory in light of Terumah, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read about the Tabernacle in its entire splendor. It was gold, turquoise, purple, scarlet, and more. Every year we read about the building of the tabernacle. We are forced to recall its beauty while none of us has ever seen it. In the Mishnah when discussing the construction of the Temple, there are a number of disagreements. This is striking in as much as there was an actual Temple. Why would there be a disagreement about a physical reality? The answer must be in the importance of memory over history.

I think about this all the time as my children are getting older. What kind of memories are we all curating. I write this as we prepare to go on a family trip. In my preparations I went out and bought the three older children disposable cameras for them to start curating their own memories. Looking out at the future of their lives it is touching to think about what memories will they keep in the Holy of Holies. What will become the foundations of their personality, faith, and practice? The question for all of us is, how do we balance a reverence for the past, relevance of the presence, and sense of mission for the future?

Christina’s Yearning

One of my favorite paintings is Andrew Newell Wyeth‘s Christina’s World (1948). Perhaps his most famous image, it depicts his neighbor, Christina Olson, sprawled on a dry field facing her house in the distance. It seems that Wyeth was inspired by Christina, who, crippled with polio and unable to walk, spent most of her time at home.

Christinasworld.jpg

Besides his attentions to the details of the field, the Olson farm,  the colors, and the shading, the greatness of this piece is how his painting depicts movement. We the viewer join her in her  desire to crawl home. It is hard to look at this and not to experience the emotion of yearning.

I was thinking about Wyeth’s painting when reading Terumah, this week’s Torah portion, in which  we read about the construction of the Aron, Holy Ark. There we read:

 17 And you shall make an ark-cover of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. 18 And you shall make two Cherubim of gold; of beaten work shall you make them, at the two ends of the ark-cover. 19 And make one Cherub at the one end, and one Cherub at the other end; of one piece with the ark-cover you shall make the Cherubim of the two ends thereof. 20 And the Cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, screening the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the ark-cover shall the faces of the Cherubim be. ( Exodus 25:17-20)

This is at once our most holy image and one which is just too hard to understand. Why are they facing each other? On this the Talmud says:

Rabbi Kattina said: Whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the Cherubim were shown to them, whose bodies were inter-twisted with one another, and they would be thus addressed: Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman. (Yoma 54.)

It must have been amazing for those three times a year for the Cherubim to touch, but what of the rest of the year? Rabbi Kattina’s Cherubim spent much of the year frozen and reaching out for each other. Like Wyeth’s Christina caught struggling to get home, the Cherubim are perpetually caught in a state of yearning for each other.

I have been thinking about this on the occasion of having recently turned 40. I am sure that I am not alone in still thinking of myself as an 18-year-old. It has been hard to come to grips with the fact that my children are much closer to my imagined age then I am. My father-in-law said it well in a very touching birthday note. He wrote, “today you are 18 years old with 22 years of experience. In other words, it is all about attitude in life. You are living your life to the fullest, always searching to maximize your opportunities and experiences.” We are always reaching and yearning for things that are out of reach, being the Olson Farm ,the other Cherub, or being 18 again. On the occasion of reaching  this milestone it is important to take stock of how many things I have been able to reach in my life. I have been blessed with an amazing wife, a beautiful family, and meaningful work that I enjoy doing. What am I really yearning for? What do I want to accomplish with the rest of my time on this earth? Reaching this milestone has helped me focus in on the things I still want to do with my life.  I am confident that best is still ahead of me.

-for more on Wyeth  check out Artsy’s Andrew Wyeth page

Cherubim in the Knesset

In Terumah, this week’s Torah portion, we read about the construction of the Aron, Holy Ark. There we read:

 17 And you shall make an ark-cover of pure gold: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof. 18 And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of beaten work shall you make them, at the two ends of the ark-cover. 19 And make one cherub at the one end, and one cherub at the other end; of one piece with the ark-cover you shall make the cherubim of the two ends thereof. 20 And the cherubim shall spread out their wings on high, screening the ark-cover with their wings, with their faces one to another; toward the ark-cover shall the faces of the cherubim be. ( Exodus 25:17-20)

This is at once our most holy image and one which is just too hard to understand. On this the Talmud says:

Rabbi Kattina said: Whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the Cherubim were shown to them, whose bodies were inter-twisted with one another, and they would be thus addressed: Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman. (Yoma 54.)

I love this image. Not because of its hetero-normative assumption around coupling, but rather because of the public modelling of affection. There we were the whole nation coming together in Jerusalem to see this powerful image. Where as all year these angelic figures are locked in a the moment before an embrace, in the company of the people joining together they do the same.

This gendered image took on a whole new valence when I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Ruth Calderone’s recent speech as a new member of the Knesset. I encourage you to watch it.

Simply put, Dr. Calderone a secular Talmud scholar gave a great shiur, class, to a room full of Kippot. There she quotes the Talmudic story.

Rabbi Rechumei was constantly before Rava in Mechoza. He would habitually come home every Yom Kippur eve. One day the topic drew him in. His wife anticipated him: “Here he comes. Here he comes.” He didn’t come. She became upset. She shed a tear from her eye. He was sitting on a roof. The roof collapsed under him, and he died. ( Ketuvot 62:)

At the end of her talk she artfully applied her interpretation of this story to the current state of affairs in Israel. She said:

I learn that often, in a dispute, both sides are right, and until I understand that both my disputant and I, both the woman and Rabbi Rechumei, feel that they are doing the right thing and are responsible for the home. Sometimes we feel like the woman, waiting, serving in the army, doing all the work while others sit on the roof and study Torah; sometimes those others feel that they bear the entire weight of tradition, Torah, and our culture while we go to the beach and have a blast. Both I and my disputant feel solely responsible for the home. Until I understand this, I will not perceive the problem properly and will not be able to find a solution. I invite all of us to years of action rooted in thought and dispute rooted in mutual respect and understanding. I aspire to bring about a situation in which Torah study is the heritage of all Israel, in which the Torah is accessible to all who wish to study it, in which all young citizens of Israel take part in Torah study as well as military and civil service. Together we will build this home and avoid disappointment. (Translated by Elli Fischer)

The Rabbi Rechumei and woman in Israeli society seem to represent the male and female faces of the Cherubim. For so long the male and female seemed to pitted against each other. After her talk I cannot say that they are locked in an embrace. There was clearly a lot of tension in the room. But there was this amazing moment when the Chairman of the Knesset Yitzhak Vaknin of the religious Shas party interrupted her and joined in the discussion of the Talmud she was teaching. Some where offended that he interrupted her. Dr. Calderone responded, ” I am happy about this participation in words of Torah.” It seemed like a very holy moment. At this moment the Cherubim were  looking at each other. It would seem that we need to make the rest happen. We the people need to reconnect and come together. We need to fall in love again and get lost in the eyes of the other. When we all grow toward appreciating the diversity of our Jewish culture the fractured elements of our society will become  inter-twisted with one another. That would be a festive day.

Divine Organizational Tension

This last week we hosted graduate students from the Hornstein Program at the Foundation for Jewish Camp. They were in New York learning lessons on how Jewish Non-profits work. In my preparation for their coming I gave some thought to what makes organization achieve optimum productivity. I realize that one of these lessons that I have learned at the FJC comes from Terumah, this week’s Torah portion.

In this week’s Torah portion and the next week’s as well we learn many details of the construction of Tabernacle and all of the accoutrement. Where there is a clear plan for what  will be built and made, that is not where they start off this large scale project. Rather, they start off with themselves. As we read:

‘Speak to the children of Israel, that they take for Me an offering; of every man whose heart makes him willing you shall take My offering.( Exodus 25:2)

While their gifts are going to fit into a very clear and focused plan, their gifts were from the heart. At the center of our national narrative is a collaborative non-profit project that celebrates the diverse offerings of every individual while working toward a common goal. It is based on unity without forcing uniformity.

And about this project God says:

And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8)

The text does not say “make this building so that I can dwell in it“- the Tabernacle, but rather in “them”. If it were just a random gifts from their hearts that did not fit into a master-plan, it would not amount to anything. It is clear that the purpose of this project is not the material or the construction, but rather the act of their coming together itself.

As a non-profit we at the Foundation for Jewish Camp are not running after making money. We are not even limited to getting more Jewish children to overnight camps  with Jewish missions. We see camp as a tool for  creating community. Camp is a place that people are moved to share from their hearts. We aspire to model that in our organization itself. While everyone has a role and we have a clear strategic plan, we try to tap into everyone’s individual passions.  In speaking with the students from Hornstein I realized that more organizations need to tap into the wellspring of this divine tension. It is here where our personal passions meet a common plan that organizations will achieve greatness.

Kodachrome

Memory is a powerful thing; it is central to our identity. However, it is interesting that our memory often has only a limited connection with the actual history of an event. This is brought to light through the words of Kodachrome, by Simon and Garfunkel. The lyrics read,

If you took all the girls I knew when I was single
Brought ’em all together for one night
I know they’d never match my sweet imagination
Everything looks better in black and white

The way in which we frame a memory colors it. In this song, memory removed all the pigment of blemishes.

It is interesting to reflect on the nature of color and memory in light of Terumah, this week’s Torah portion. Here we read about the Tabernacle in its entire splendor. It was gold, turquoise, purple, scarlet, and more. Every year we read about the building of the tabernacle. We are forced to recall its beauty while none of us has ever seen it. In the Mishnah when discussing the construction of the Temple, there are a number of disagreements. This is striking in as much as there was an actual Temple. The Temple was not just in color and 3D, it was real.  Why would there be a disagreement about a physical reality? Like everything else Jewish, the question is better than the answer. One answer must be in the importance of memory over history.

The question for us is how do we balance a reverence for the past and present, relevance of facts and feelings, and sense of mission for the future? In this new world in which history is being “documented” like never before (as evident by the proliferation of blogs like this one), we need to approach memory with an open heart and open eyes. How we will be remembered will not be aided by any rose-colored glasses.


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