Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Patience Is A Virtue- Parashat Ki Tisa

As a society, I think that we all get a bit impatient.  We want things when we want them, and as soon as possible.  Instead of exerting a little patience, we tend to get frustrated when things don’t go our way.  Haven’t we been taught “Good things come to those who wait?” and “Patience is a virtue”.  Not only does it teach us discipline, but also to appreciate the things that we do have.
This week’s Parashat, Ki Tisa, includes the instructions for taking a census, instructions to make the Washstand, Anointing Oil and the Incense for the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary, and also appointing Bezalel and Ohaliav to head up the architects and craftsmen for the Mishkan on Shabbat.  It is incredible what care they took in building that desert Sanctuary.  The portion continues with the infamous story of the Golden Calf. It's quite a lesson in anger management.  We find the people camped below Mt. Sinai.  Moses has been on top of the mountain for nearly 40 days and the people were already looking for a replacement for him.  All at once, they lose patience and faith and demand a visible sign of God’s presence in their midst. In fact, the Israelites were now being referred to by God as "your people", rather than "my people", as they were throughout their experiences in Egypt. Was God saying to Moses, "They're your problem now" ?

   The Israelites had had it, and wanted Aaron to help them build a golden calf, the epitome of what was just forbidden by the second commandment.  Was this an unreasonable request or merely a sign of insecurity?  Was the golden calf really an idol representing a god or just a visible means of connecting to God?  Sometimes, we find it all too easy to go from being spiritually high to falling into despair.
When we live our lives without God in it, we end up with golden calves.  When we bring God into our lives, we have the glory of the Mishkan.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Nosh Some Hamentashen

Hamentashen, whose sweet fillings peak through the center of the delicious pastry, have become the symbol of the holiday of Purim. Just like any Hanukkah celebration requires latkes, the Purim celebration needs Hamentashen. You can always purchase them in virtually any supermarket, but why not try making them at home. Here is my Hamentashen recipe that I've been using forever. I use the dough recipe that my Grandmother made. Now, she never wrote a recipe down. It was always, "a pinch of this, a handful of that", so I reconstructed this recipe from watching her make this.

3 Eggs
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Canola Oil
1/2 Cup Orange Juice
4 1/2 Cups Flour
1/4 Tsp. Baking Soda
3 Tsp. Baking Powder
1/2 Tsp. Salt

In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs, and add the sugar gradually while beating.
Continue beating, adding the oil and the orange juice.
In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients
Mix well
Add to beaten egg mixture
Dough should be a little sticky.
On a lightly floured board, roll part of the dough to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. Don't use too much flour, or the dough will be dry.
Cut circles with a cookie cutter or a glass.
In the center, place about 1 tsp of prune or apricot filling. I use Lekvar's Prune Butter and Apricot Filling.
Bring each side of the circle into the center to form a triangle, and pinch together.
Bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet at 350 for about 20 minutes 

So, gather the troops, and start baking.   

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Idea Is To Remember - Shabbat Zachor

This coming Shabbat, the one that falls before the holiday of Purim, is called Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembering. We are commanded to remember the evil deeds of Amalek, who attacked the Israelites that were leaving Egypt and who were straggling at the back of the line.
What's strange is that, we are commanded to remember to blot out the memory of Amalek. So, in other words, we cannot forget to remember him, so we can forget his memory! That's a bit confusing. The idea is to remember Amalek and to remember what we might become if we let ourselves forget about our past experiences. But, what about us? Didn't we have any responsibility in our experiences in the desert? Perhaps, we were indifferent to those that were weaker and more vulnerable, and we left them behind. Perhaps, we were indifferent to the needs of others.  

In essence, there might be an Amalek within us in every generation....not necessarily someone who wants to destroy the Jewish people, but an Amalek that cuts the soul. Its about forgetting the humanity of others while pursuing our own needs: selfishness, conceit, narrowmindeness. We must remember the Amalek inside of each one of us so that we can move forward.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Weight Is Great,But The Value Is Greater - Parashat Tetzaveh

Did you know that when the Israelites sinned the sin of the Golden Calf, Moses actually tried to erase his name from the Torah if God didn't forgive the Jewish people?
Well, this week's parashat doesn't mention Moses' name.
But Parashat Tetzaveh begins: "You shall command....", which actually refers to Moses indirectly.  So, his name isn't in the parashat, but he's IN the parashat.

The instructions are then given regarding the clothing of the High Priests....such intricacy, and quite a fashion statement: the breastplates, with the 12 gemstones, each different, each set in gold...and the weight of the ornate garment, with stones placed on each shoulder strap! 

Aaron and his sons must have looked magnificent. But, the real value wasn't necessarily in the gold and the stones. It was in the names it held. These stones had the names and seals of the tribes of Israel carved into them, six on each stone.
"And Aaron shall carry their names before Adonai upon his two shoulders as a remembrance" (28:12)
The expensive linen, rare dyes and gems that Aaron and his sons were wearing were priceless, and it would have been easy for them to forget about why they were dressed in all that magnificence.
But, there was a purpose for all of that weight that they were carrying. It was always there to remind them that the clothing were symbols of their service to God.
The weight on our shoulders might be heavy, but the value is great.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Making Our Space A Holy Space - Parashat Terumah

This week we read Parashat Terumah, the 1st mega-building campaign in the Torah.
The Israelites were asked to contribute gold, silver, copper, precious stones and wood to the construction of the Mishkan, the desert Temple. It was to be the Holy Place, the space where God's spirit would reside.

The text in this portion is some of the most detailed in the Torah.

"V'asu li mikdash v'shachanti b'tocham"
"And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell within them" (Ex.25:8)

What does this mean? Is God just in this 1 physical space? Does this mean that without a sanctuary, we could not experience God's presence? Does God really need a building? Why is there so much detail about the design of the space, if that's not what holiness is all about? Perhaps the desert Mishkan became a Holy space because it involved the entire community, and God truly lived within the people. The sanctuary is symbolic of a sacred space where we can experience God's presence.  Perhaps, we have our own personal sanctuary that makes us feel transformed. It's not the space that brings God's presence, it is us, as we elevate and transform ourselves.   

Monday, February 4, 2013

For You Were Strangers In The Land Of Egypt - Parashat Mishpatim

This week we read Parashat Mishpatim. There is a verse in Mishpatim that has such power, and such resonance, not only in the experience of the Israelites, but in so many today.
That verse is "You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt." (Ex. 23:20)
It is out of our experiences that that we are commanded to remember. We are commanded to work against the oppression that we experienced when we were slaves.  Our own memory of slavery obligates us to do this.
Millions of new immigrants work in this country every single day. We need to let them step out of the shadows, and make their dream a reality. A roadmap is emerging for citizenship for the millions of hopeful Americans that are now living and working in the U.S. Everyone deserves a better life.
President Obama said, "A lot of folks forget that a lot of 'us' used to be 'them," "Unless you're one of the first Americans, a Native American, you came from some place else. Somebody brought you."
 There can be no more important message than this:
“You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt.” For years, the Torah taught this, but it had little to teach, because we were the stranger. Now that we are not strangers, this teaching becomes far more important, and one we must be committed to live by.