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Bringing Up Israel: Parenting a New Nation

Recently, my daughter and I had an exchange that felt like we were enacting an ancient script between parents and teenagers. It left me wondering where on earth this script comes from, and how I ended up with the parental role.This week’s parashah, B’haalot’cha, provides some answers. God and the people of Israel struggle: the people are tired of manna, yearn for the food of Egypt, and cry out for meat. 

D'var Torah By: 
Teaching the Value of Gratitude
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Phyllis A. Sommer

Rabbi Grushcow sees B’haalot’cha as a parental negotiation-gone-wrong between God and the Israelites, and I do agree that this is one of the more concrete examples of this kind of relationship in the Torah. And yet, God's response can be, for us, a reminder that gratitude must be taught and reinforced.

The Limits of Communication

Parashat T’rumah provides precise instructions on how to build the Mishkan and its contents. But those guidelines, like the design for the Temple menorah, have been interpreted in various ways throughout the ages. What does this teach us about the nature of communication?

D'var Torah By: 
How to Avoid Misunderstandings in Texts and Email
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Michael Harvey

Just as the Sages varied their interpretations on the instructions in T’rumah for creating the menorah, so we too can interpret messages in different ways. We should be careful how this applies when we use text messaging and email. 

If You Missed It the First Time

In Numbers 9:7 some people who cannot offer the Passover sacrifice at its set time approach Moses saying what amounts to, “We want to bring a sanctified offering to God. It isn’t fair that we are not allowed to do it.” God's answer is that they can still participate, but a month later on a day called Pesach Sheini – the Second Passover.

D'var Torah By: 
Pesach Sheni: A Model for Reform Observance
Davar Acher By: 
Rabbi Ilana Schachter

Priding ourselves on radical inclusion, the Reform Movement encourages everyone to participate in Jewish life and ritual as a means to connect to one another and to the Divine. In instances where observing rituals at appointed times hinders this connection, we too have written responsa and crafted policies for sheni, second chances for rituals and adaptations in Jewish practice. 

Giving Gifts of Free Will

As the Torah continues the Israelites’ dramatic, people-building saga, Parashat T’rumah approaches the story from a new angle. Instead of developing the literary adventures of a no-longer-nascent people or focusing on the striking events at Mt. Sinai, this week’s Torah portion is about the details. And these details are not the specifics of community-building or daily life. Rather, they concern, in painstaking minutiae, the construction of the Tabernacle. This is a parashah about holiness, and in the case of Parashat T’rumah, the holiness is in the details.

D'var Torah By: 
How to Move the Right Heart at the Right Time
Davar Acher By: 
Cantor Erin R. Frankel

In Parashat T'rumah, Exodus 25:1-2 relates that, “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved,” the text manages to be both inclusively open and exclusively specific. We tend today to read this invitation as an equalizer; no matter the gift, God will accept it. 

Finding God in Large and Small Spaces

Anyone who has lived in New York City is familiar with the challenges of "small-space living." When I was apartment hunting in New York, I looked at one apartment where the kitchen was so small, the refrigerator was placed directly in front of the kitchen sink. In order to wash your dishes, the real estate agent explained, you could just stand off to the side and reach in. In the apartment I ended up taking, one of the bedrooms could only fit a bed — no other furniture at all. Luckily, my roommate was short enough to be able to stand underneath a loft bed to access a desk and a dresser.

Since I left New York, though, the concept of small-space living has come into vogue. HGTV, for example, currently airs three series on the glamour of living in spaces with an average size of 180 square feet. An article describes, "For some, the tiny house movement has become a way of life, adjusting to a smaller space and fewer possessions, with a goal of saving money and focusing on relationships and experiences."1

Just a few years after leaving New York City, when my husband and I moved into our not-so-tiny house, I remember wondering how we would ever fill the space. It was so much bigger than any of the apartments I'd lived in. I quickly got used to life in a house, and I'll admit that I much prefer it to the tiny apartment with the side-access sink. But a beautiful midrash on this week's Torah portion, Parashat T'rumah, suggests that God might think about things a little differently.

D'var Torah By: 
The Heart Is the Key to Holiness
Davar Acher By: 
Nancy Wechsler

Rabbi Kalisch beautifully points out that neither a tiny New York apartment nor a sprawling home guarantee sacred space. Houses of worship or breathtaking mansions are not hallowed dwellings based upon physical structure alone. Midrash Sh'mot Rabbah 34:1 creates the foundational text that God does not require or even desire a palace, for even a small space created with loving hearts is perfectly suitable the Holy One.

In the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 7a, the Rabbis draw a parallel between loving hearts of a couple's bed and the Mishkan. We read:

When love is strong, a couple can make their bed on [the width of] a sword-blade, however, when love is no longer present, a bed of sixty cubits does not provide sufficient room. This is alluded to in the verses: Of the former age when Israel was loyal to God, it is said, 'And I will meet with you and speak with you from above the Ark-cover' (Ex. 25:22). And further it is taught: The Ark measured nine hand-breadths high and the cover was one hand-breadth; ten in all. Again it is written, as for the House that King Solomon built for the Eternal, the length thereof was three score cubits, the breadth thereof twenty cubits and the height thereof thirty cubits. But of the latter age when they had forsaken God, it is written: 'Thus says the Eternal, "The Heaven is my throne and the earth my footstool. Where is the House that you may build for Me?" '(Isa. 66:1).

Outside the Camp: A Modern Midrash

This midrash, or haggadic story, takes place amid the Israelites' wandering in the desert. We read in B'haalot'cha :

D'var Torah By: 
Divine Mistakes
Davar Acher By: 
David Spey

Dr. Ochs insightfully teaches the idea that we humans, we Jews, instill our own lives and experiences with meaning and thereby can find God in all aspects of life.

Nothing Is Merely Ordinary!

Judaism teaches us to distinguish the holy. This doesn't mean that holy things are separate from ordinary ones; rather, the ordinary can become holy.

D'var Torah By: 
Finding Holiness in Ritual
Davar Acher By: 
Sarah E. Mack

Our parashah begins with the command to Aaron to light the lamps of the menorah in the Tabernacle (Numbers 8:1-3).

Sacred Leadership

This past winter saw the release of a movie version of the Exodus story, directed by Ridley Scott.

D'var Torah By: 
Being a Stranger
Davar Acher By: 
Kimberly Herzog Cohen

Rabbi Steven Kushner thoughtfully notes the power of Moses' staff as symbolic of his compassionate and humble leadership style.

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