Terumah: Tzedakah and Transformation

Terumah

Terumah

Terumah describes the construction of the Tabernacle, a holy place where God dwells. Initially, the parsha seems rather dry: tiny details for lengths, colors of fabrics, types of materials and so forth. But a deeper read illuminates so much about the Israelites, their relationship to each other and to God through the construction of the Tabernacle.

God says Moses to “bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him” (25:3). Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook asks: “Why did God command Moses to take the donations? The

Blueberries. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

Blueberries. La Cienega Farmers Market, Los Angeles

verse should read that they must give an offering!” He continues, “So why did God command that these gifts for the Tabernacle, the first act of tzedakah (charity) on a national level, be donated solely out of sincere generosity?”

He explains that God asked for donations instead of offerings because, “By donating our time and money, we express our inner qualities of chessed and kindness in a concrete and tangible manner. The act of tzedakah actualizes our traits of generosity and contributes toward our own spiritual growth.” The Israelites acts of tzedekah were spiritually transformative. Continue reading

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Mishpatim: We are all strangers

Mishpatim

Mishpatim

In Mishpatim, twice God tells the Israelites not to oppress a stranger because they were strangers in the Egypt. (22:20 and 23:9). This is central to Jewish identity. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “To be a Jew is to be a stranger.”  Rabbi Shai Held writes that, “since you know what it feels like to be a stranger, you must never abuse or mistreat the stranger.” 

Indeed, the Israelites experience as strangers in Egypt and throughout the diaspora provides the imperative that we not only support the strangers in our midst but stand in solidarity. Rabbi Held continues, “Empathy must animate and intensify your commitment to the dignity and well being of the weak and vulnerable. And God holds you accountable to this obligation” Continue reading

Tu B’shevat: New Year for trees: Savor fruits of the earth, consider their journey

Lemons and limes. La Cienega Farmers Market

Lemons and limes. La Cienega Farmers Market

This was originally published in the print and online editions of the Jewish Journal

Tu B’Shevat, which translates literally as the 15th day of the month of Shevat, is the Jewish New Year for Trees. Mentioned in the Talmud, the holiday marks the tithing of fruits grown in Israel.

In the 16th century, Jewish mystic Rabbi Isaac Luria and his disciples developed a seder for the holiday that focused on the symbolism of the fruits and trees of Israel. Like the Passover seder, the Tu B’Shevat one includes four cups of wine, each representing a different sphere in kabbalah. The first glass of wine is all white; the fruit is inedible on the outside and edible inside. The second glass of wine is equal parts white and red wine; the fruit is edible outside and inedible inside. The third glass wine is mostly red and some white; the fruit is completely edible. The last glass of wine is all red; the fruit is “spiritual sustenance.”

The celebration of this holiday has experienced resurgence recently, celebrated as a Jewish Earth Day.

Continue reading