Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Parshat VaYakhel

The People's Mishkan

In this week's parsha, Israel begins building the Mishkan.

It begins with a call for donations and then proceeds with its construction.

While two people, Bezalel and Oholiav, with exceptional artistic and creative skills were selected to oversee the Mishkan's construction, it is clear that the whole nation felt a aprt of it and that it was not the reserve of the elite.

To begin with the call goes out to everybody:

"Moshe called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble" (Shemot 35:1).

Usually the Torah write: Moshe spoke to the children of Israel". However, in this case, everyone was to be present. Indeed, the Hebrew word: "VaYakhel" (he gathered) reminds us of the mitzvah of "hakhel" the gathering of all Israel every seven years.

Moshe asks for the people to be generous: "'Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous hearted person shall bring it" (ibid 5), but the extent of the people's munificence surprises him: "The people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do" (ibid 36:5).

Rashi observes that the community elite, the Nesi'im, are subtly criticized by the Torah for being the last people to donate, as they believed that they would have to complete the people's shortfall (see Rashi on ibid 35"27 where the Hebrew word nesi'sm is spelt without the Hebrew letter "yod" נשאם).

Even the act of construction was open to the entire people. Again Rashi comments that the two supervisors came from the tribes Yehuda, a leading tribe, and Dan, a "minor" tribe. This was to indicate that all levels of Israel's society should be involved in the construction.

Furthermore, the construction was even open to women: "Every wise hearted woman spun with her hands, and they brought spun material: blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen. All the women whose hearts uplifted them with wisdom, spun the goat hair" (ibid 35 25-26).

Additionally, the labor was not only done by the artists: "He made the laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting" (ibid 38:8).

Who were these women "that did service". The term used to describe their work is "lisvo tseva" (לצבוא צבא). This term is used twice more in the Torah (Bemidbar 38:4 and 8:24).

In both instances, it refers to the menial tasks performed by the Levites in the Mishkan.

It seems that the women referred to here (and in I Shmuel 2:22), were menial laborers who worked in the Mishkan. Even women at the bottom of the occupational and special scale were involved in the building of the Mishkan.

God's house is not to be the preserve of the wealthy, but a sanctuary so that all Israel knows that God dwells amongst them.

Last year'sSedra Short on Parshat VaYakhel, entitled: "Raising the Cash" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat VaYakhel entitled: "The Builders of the Mishkan" appears at

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Parshat Ki Tissa

The Golden Calf

Israel witnessed frightening events when God revealed Himself to Israel at Sinai (See Shemot Chapter 20). They then saw Moshe go up the mountain into the eye of the storm, without any food or provisions. He had not been seen since.

Israel's reaction was "Make us a god (elohim) that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don't know what has become of him".

This is strange, because if they wanted a replacement for god, Moshe's disappearance is irrelevant.

We have therefore to alternatives to understanding the people's requests:

The people thought the Moshe was a god
The people wanted a replacement for Moshe

It is easy to understand why the people may have thought that Moshe was a divine being. The people had seen Moshe perform signs, the ten plagues to Egypt, the splitting of the Red Sea, the falling of the Manna and the water from the rock. Despite Moshe's insistence that they worship God, the people, with a primitive understanding of religion, may have still believed that he was a god.

However, even if the people did not think that Moshe we can still understand their request as a seeking a replacement for Moshe. If so, then why do the people ask for a

Within, Sefer Shemot, we have numerous examples where the word elohim, does not necessarily mean, God, but leader:

"Then his master shall bring him to the judges (elohim), and shall bring him to the door, or unto the door-post" (21:6).

"The plea[s] of both parties shall come to the judges (elohim), [and] whoever the judges (elohim) declare guilty shall pay twofold to his neighbor (22:8).

However, the most telling is:

"The Lord said to Moses, "See! I have made you a lord (elohim) over Pharaoh, and Aaron, your brother, will be your speaker" (7:1).

While it is also possible that Pharaoh also saw Moshe as a god, it is clear that God did not. Therefore, the word elohim does not necessarily mean God.

Therefore, by calling for the Golden Calf, Israel did not seek to replace God Himself, only Moshe. The problem, however, is that once the calf was ceated, the people forgot that it was merely a medium, but a god itself.
Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Ki Tissa, entitled: "Counting the People" appears at
Another Sedra Short on Parshat Tissa entitled: "Blood Money" appears at

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Parshat Tetsaveh

The Ephod

"They shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and crimson wool, and twisted fine linen, the work of a master weaver" (Shemot 28:6).

Rashi himself is unsure as to what the Ephod looked like, however, understanding what its function was is even more difficult.

On the one hand it is clear from our parsha and other sources that it was a type of clothing that was worn by holy people:

"Shmuel was serving before the Lord, being a lad girded with a linen ephod" (I Shmuel 2:18).

"Doeg turned, and he fell upon the priests, and slew on that day eighty-five men, wearers of the linen ephod" (ibid 22:18).

On the other, we have a strange story with Gidon. After his success in defeating Midian, Israel asks him to be their king. He rejects their demand, but instead asks them to give him some gold from the spoils of the war. "Gidon made it into an Ephod, and he set it up in his city… all Israel went astray after it there; and it became a snare to Gidon and to his house" (Shoftim 8:27).

How is an Ephod a substitute for being the king and how can it be a snare for the people? This episode seems to make the Ephod out to be an idol.

We can answer this question by seeing how the ephod was used. In our parsha, the urim and tumim are fitted on the ephod. While we are not sure what they are, we do know that they were used to divine God's will: " He shall stand before Eleazar the kohen and seek [counsel from] him through the judgment of the Urim before the Lord" (Bemidbar 27:21).

Furthermore, we see that the Ephod alone was also used for this purpose:

David said to Abiathar the priest, the son of Ahimelech, "Bring near to me now the ephod." And Abiathar brought the ephod near to David. David enquired of the Lord saying, "Shall I pursue this troop? Will I overtake them?" He said to him, "Pursue, for you shall overtake and you shall rescue." (ibid 30:7-8).

It appears therefore, that the Ephod was a piece of clothing that enabled the wearer to communicate with God.

Those familiar with Gidon's story will now understand why Gidon wanted an Ephod. Throughout his journey, Gidon doubted that God a actually communicating with him. He needs signs, counter-signs and even an enemy's dream, to convince that he indeed, was hearing the word of God.

Gidon therefore, wanted an object that would make communication with God clearer. What better than an ephod.

The problem however, is that Israel began to think that the Ephod itself had was an object of worship, rather than a communication tool with God. Therefore, over time, Israel began to worship it.

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Tetsaveh, entitled: "The Mizbeach HaKetoret – Part 2" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Tetsaveh entitled: "The Mizbeach HaKetoret " appears at

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Parshat Teruma

The Keruvim

The Keruvim (Cherubs) were two images that sat on the kapporet, the cover, on the Ark of the Covenant.

The Torah tells Moshe to: "The cherubim shall have their wings spread upwards, shielding the ark cover with their wings, with their faces toward one another" (Shemot 25:20).

Essentially, the keruvim faced each other with their wings held over their heads,

Surprisingly, when Shlomo built the Temple, he placed the keruvim slightly differently.

"He (Shlomo) set the cherubim within the inner house; and they stretched forth the wings of the cherubim, and the wing of the one touched the wall, and the wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; and their wings in the midst of the house touched one another" (I Melachim 6:27).

Shlomo's Keruvim did not face each other – they stood side by side. One wing of each keruv touched a wall, while the second touched the wing of the other. They, therefore looked out of the Holy of Holies.

What is the significance of this difference?

I have heard in the name of Rabbi Menachem Liebtag that this difference epitomizes the difference between the Mishkan and the Temple and symbolizes a change in the relationship of God and the Jewish people.

When Israel built the Mishkan, it was a young nation, discovering its identity and beginning to figure out its relationship with God. It was insecure and needed God's reassurance and guidance. Hence, the Keruvim looked at each other, like a newly wed married couple – they only had eyes for each other. With the Mishkan and this relationship with God, Israel became a "holy nation" (See Shemot 19:6).

However, Israel had a second mission; to become a "kingdom of priests" (ibid). Israel could only begin fulfilling that mission once it was secure in its own identity. At the time of Shlomo, Israel became an empire. It had no wars and no troubles with its neighbors. On the contrary, it began to develop a healthy relationship with its surrounding nations and trade flourished.

It was a kind of messianic era. It was time for Israel to stop looking inwards and to begin looking outwards. It was time for a Temple.

Symbolic of this new stage in Israel's development, the keruvim no longer needed to look at each other. They still need each other; indeed, they held hands. However, they no longer needed to look at each other – they needed to start looking out for others and to begin their destiny of being a "kingdom of priests".

Last year's Sedra Short on Parshat Teruma, entitled: "Living With God" appears at

Another Sedra Short on Parshat Teruma, entitled: "A Home for God" appears at

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