By Dr. Vivian Mann | Director of the Master's Program in Jewish Art and Visual Culture
Parashat Terumah records God’s commission to Moses to build the Tabernacle as the spiritual center of the Jewish people, the place where God would dwell among them (Exod. 25:8). Set in the center of the Israelite camp, viewed from the surrounding tents, the Tabernacle was intended to be a physically imposing structure. Its specified height and size gave it a grandeur lacking elsewhere in the camp, and the sumptuous materials of which it was composed were outward signs of its special nature.
Parashat Yitro is a Torah reading of monumental ideas, foundational concepts, and widely-recognized importance. By all measures, this week’s portion must be considered a highlight of the entire Torah, since it includes no less (and a lot more!) than the Ten Commandments. This seems to be the right place to explore questions such as these: what did the actual revelation (Exodus 20) include? What were God’s commandments? Why were these statements singled out, especially given the amount of law scattered throughout the Torah? What gives these brief pronouncements their distinctive importance?
Lord, where will I find You? Your place is remote and concealed. And where will I not find You? Your being fills the world. —Yehudah Halevi (trans. Hillel Halkin)
His glory fills the universe. His ministering angels ask each other, “Where is the place of His glory?” —Shabbat Musaf Kedusha
There are a few texts that have helped me get through dark and difficult periods in my religious life, first amongst them being several paragraphs by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik buried in a footnote in his essay Halakhic Man. At another stage of my life long since gone, I
By Rabbi Abigail Treu | Director of Young Adult Engagement & Community Outreach, National Ramah Commission, JTS
As legend has it, my great-grandfather quit school after the eighth grade. Apparently this decision had little to do with academics: my Grandpa Harry, z”l, was a smart man who went on to become a successful furrier with his own business in Manhattan. No, apparently it had everything to do with social pressure. As legend has it, he walked into school on the first day of the ninth grade, realized that no one at his new school knew him, and walked out.
I think of him every year as I encounter that powerful verse that launches the Exodus story: “A new king arose over Egypt who did not know
We Jews are not a religious lot. In fact, by a variety of metrics cited in the recent Pew report, Jews are less religious than any other religious group in America. For instance, only one quarter of Jews say religion is “very important” in their lives, compared with more than half of Americans overall. More to the point that I’d like to explore, a belief in God is much more common among the general non-Jewish public than among Jews. The latest Pew report tells us that amongst people who identify as Conservative Jews, (only) 41 percent said they “certainly” believe in God.
What a magnificent and rich Torah reading we have this week, Parashat Va’et-hannan! It’s as if the Torah wants to compensate the Jewish community for the week gone by, a week during which we commemorated Tishah Be’av, the putative anniversary of so many devastating events that have occurred throughout Jewish history. This week’s “reward” is a reading that incorporates a restatement of the Ten Commandments (Deut. 5:6-17) followed almost immediately by the first paragraph of the Shema (6:4-9).
Coincidentally, those two units were originally part of a basic prayer service as attested in the Nash
By Rabbi Joel Alter | Director of Admissions, The Rabbinical School and H. L. Miller Cantorial School and College of Jewish Music, JTS
It’s not for nothing, this reputation God has for consuming anger. The Torah itself makes the case. Our parashah opens with yet another instance of God hovering at the brink. God is prepared to wipe us out in a rage over our incessant violations of the inviolable. We read in Numbers 25:10-15 that God grants Pinehas a “covenant of peace” for having leapt into action (at the end of last week’s parashah), publicly slaying two people who grossly violated sacred boundaries before the entire people.
Ex Libris Familiae Abraham (bookplate). BP 1:8:3. (1978)
It might be surprising, given its association with the people’s sin of being dissuaded from entering the Land, that the motif of the two spies carrying an enormous bunch of grapes (Num. 13:23) became a popular Zionist symbol and eventually even the logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. Indeed, it has been suggested by arts writer Menachem Wecker that several of the older Christian representations of this image deliberately portray the two grape-bearers in a negative light. (A few of those images are featured in this blog post).
When the spies returned to the Israelite camp in the wilderness of Paran after scouting out the Land of Canaan, they reported that the land did indeed flow with milk and honey but that it could not be conquered. It was full of warlike people—Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites, Emorites, and Canaanites—men of enormous size and strength, giants descended from the sons of gods dwelling in fortified towns with walls that reached the sky.