Torah This Week
Welcome to Torah This Week, where you will find thoughts and reflections by CLAL faculty and associates on the Torah portion of the week.
(Exodus 35:1 - 38:20)
"Take from among you gifts to the Lord," Moses instructs the Jews in the name of God. "Everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them" (Exodus 35:5). When it comes to giving gifts to God--in this case for the building of a tabernacle--God wants people to donate voluntarily. God does not, after all, need gifts. When it comes to donations for the poor, however, the Torah legislates that every third year one put aside a tenth of one's income, and that during the other two years, at harvest time, "When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and the stranger" (Leviticus 19:9 - 10).
God is self-sufficient; the poor are not. For this reason, the Torah decrees that donations to the poor are not voluntary. They are an obligatory tax imposed on all Jews. Contemporary Jewish law obligates Jews to give ten percent of their net income to charity. Those who cannot afford to do so should give as near to ten percent as possible.
(Exodus 38:21 - 40:38)
This parsha describes the building of the Tabernacle. What is the purpose of the Tabernacle? If the whole earth is filled with God's presence, if God is accessible from any place, why build one special place?
There are two midrashim that offer contrasting perspectives on the mishkan. The first teaches, "There once was a king who married a beloved daughter to a foreign prince. Following the wedding, the couple prepared to leave for the prince's land. The king said to the prince: I cannot bear my daughter leaving, but neither can I keep you here. Do me one favor. In your home prepare a small area for me where I might be with you. So God said to Moses, "I have given you the Torah. I cannot part with it; neither can I take it from you. Please, wherever Israel goes, let them make me one place where I might be close to you." According to this midrash, the mishkan is for God. The mishkan is a place of love, intimacy and deep connection among God, Israel and Torah.
In contrast, another midrash notes that after the Golden Calf, God said, "Since you have allowed evil into your midst, I cannot dwell with you, but neither can I completely abandon you. Therefore, make me one small area where I can dwell in your midst." Here, the mishkan is necessary because the people are sinful. If the community were "perfect," it would not need a mishkan at all!
Each midrash presents a different focus on the mishkan. The former sees it as a sign of God's love and Israel's spiritual ascendancy, the latter as an outgrowth of Israel's failure. The former sees the mishkan as an intrinsically sacred place for lovers, the latter sees it as instrumentally sacred, functioning to make us better people.
Can these midrashim serve as a model for building the modern mishkan? Which role is more consistent with the role of the synagogue in our day?
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