Purim is over and now we march forward to Pesakh. And this is the third of the four special Shabbats leading to Pesakh. So we read a special maftir from Numbers (B'midbar) that tells about how to prepare the ashes and water for the purification. This is a Khuk -- a special law that is not easy to understand and that tradition tells us are beyond our understanding. We are taught that even the wise Solomon had in fact given up on understanding this particular khuk.
A quick word about the Torah Cards -- they are progressing well. I want to thank everyone that has helped me and given me feedback. The end product is so much better than the first prototype - WOW. The first Sefer, V'yikra, will be available by April 1 (followed by B'midbar on May 1 and D'varim by June 1, B'reyshit and Sh'mot by July1, Khaggim by Sept 1 -- all in time for this year's cycle.) For more information, please send me an email.
1. Parsha details: Ex 30:11-34:35, Num 19:1-22 (tri 32:12-34:35 + extra) [Haftorah Ezekiel 36:16-38 (Seph end on 36)]
2. Questions and a few observations
Summary: The census (or mustering) tax, anointing oil, the naming of Betzalel as the master craftsman for the ark and other accessories/furniture, a few words about Shabbat (the v'sham'ru of liturgy), the completion of the first set of tablets, the calf incident, Moshe's return and the breaking of the tablets, the killing of the 3,000, Moshe's pleading with God, Moshe 'sees' the back of God, the attributes, the second set of tablets, some more details and three holidays, Moshe's face radiating.
Extra: the ritual of the Red Heifer and the preparation of the water and ashes, the uncleanness of those who touch the dead.
What a Parsha! This one could fill an entire course and then a lot more. Seven pages typed single-spaced. The details are rich, the insights powerful and the subtleties incredible. And that doesn't even touch the parts left unsaid. In this format, we will only nibble -- and even that will be more then a meal.
Let's start sequentially -- the words of Shabbat that we include in the liturgy - 31:16-17. La'asot et haShabbat -- to do Shabbat. The Sages take it's placement here, right after the details of the Mishkan, as indicating the types of activities to be forbidden on Shabbat. As if She were saying, this is the work that needs to be done, but on Shabbat, rest and don't do these things. But the Hebrew says 'DO Shabbat' -- because on the seventh day, YHVH did Shabbat and yinafash -- that is also a verb meaning to give life, soul. So for seven days we worry about the furniture, the details, who does what -- and then we DO Shabbat. In Her image, we give ourselves life, soul. This is a covenant forever.
Why is this placed after the Mishkan -- well the Mishkan was pretty important, but we always end on a key point -- that key is Shabbat. So as important as the Mishkan is/was, Shabbat is the key to remember. We still have Shabbat (if we chose to DO it), even though we no longer have the physical Mishkan. Of course, by DOing Shabbat, by giving ourselves life, soul (DOing Soul work), we create the inner Mishkan.
And then we get to the calf. Much traditional discussion here. I am struck be details -- position and details tell so much in Torah. There is a slight pause in the text between the words about Shabbat and the giving of the tablets (perhaps to let the concept sink in?). There is no break in the text as the narrative continues into the calf details. Until right after the people " rose up to play." The Hebrew is l'tzakheyk - to laugh or mock. (as in Yitz'khak) Then the text breaks abruptly, and we read "V'dabeyr YHVH" without the familiar "vayomeyr" -- so the One spoke, and NOT in an explaining tone -- saying GO DOWN, for YOUR nation that you brought up from Mitzrayim has corrupted itself (the word is related to abusing oneself).
Is it the creation of the calf that is the problem? More likely it is what the people do. From the narrative, it does not appear that the people really think the calf is God -- it is more a symbol of Moshe -- the children, and we are children at this stage, need something tangible to convince us that things are 'real'. (It hasn't really been that long since we were slaves)
Does Moshe delay? Perhaps. He has been with God and who wants to leave His presence? The tablets are in his hands and perhaps he is reluctant to leave and go back down to the people. In any event, whether Moshe was delayed or the people just thought he was, the calf events take place. God tells Moshe what is happening and offers to make a great nation of him instead of Yisrael -- was this a test of Moshe? If so, he passes it well by pleading for Yisrael by reminding God of His promise to Avraham, Yitzkhak and Yisra'el (not, by the way, Ya'akov...). Do you think God forgot his promise? Do you think He would not live up to the promise made?
So what's the real problem? How does the stiff neck play into this? Perhaps the problem is that the people are not 'stepping up' to what is needed? In the absence of Moshe, even Aharon is not enough to keep them on track. As Moshe approaches Joshua, Joshua comments that there is the sound of war coming from the camp. Moshe answers that what he hears is the sound of suffering or torture -- not the suffering of heroes or of the vanquished, just torture. When they arrive on the scene, Moshe sees the calf and "m'cholot" -- the afflictions, the sickness, he throws down the tablets, burns the calf, grinds it to powder and gives it to Yisrael to drink -- and then he turns to Aharon to ask what happened. After this interchange he realizes that Aharon has, in fact, lost control of at least a segment of the people. Moshe does not even answer him.
This rebellious segment, in fact, threatens the very survival of the group. As a people, Yisra'el will be facing challenges to its very existence. They must act as a unified people with common goals and beliefs if they are to survive the trek across the wilderness and into Canaan. Drastic measures are required to bring the group in line and Moshe does that -- at the cost of about 3,000 men (how many women?).
Not surprisingly, these acts 'sober up' the people and they repent. The Tent of Meeting is moved outside the camp and Moshe talks with God there, outside the camp. The tone at this point is very somber and the people are much more attentive and respectful.
And we get an insight into Moshe's relationship with God. God "spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend." By this, Torah does not mean that each looks at the other's face, but that they 'talked' as opposed to Moshe experiencing only visions.
Moshe has a number of interchanges with the One. After they work out a number of issues and YHVH agrees to most of what Moshe is asking, Moshe pushes with "I beg you, show me your glory." God responds with "I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy."
And Moshe says nothing, so God continues (we know this because Torah says that He said -- so there was at least a pause) "You can not see my face; for no man shall see me and live."
And Moshe still says nothing, "And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and you shall stand upon a rock; And it shall come to pass, while my glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with my hand while I pass by; And I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."
We can only assume that either this is acceptable or that Moshe realizes this is as far as he can push. The discussion is ended.
And the words come down to us as anthropomorphic because that is a limitation of words and images. God is not a person walking that Moshe cannot look at Him. Rather, this is an indication that Moshe will see the effects, the after wash of the One. Moshe will see attributes, but not the whole -- for man, even Moshe, cannot handle more.
So Moshe prepares the second set of tablets and ascends the mount once again, this time much more quietly. And the One shows Herself to Moshe through the 13 attributes (34:6,7) "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, to the third and to the fourth generation."
Moshe immediately bows and worships and asks God to exercise His forgiving nature because Yisra'el needs it. God agrees and a new covenant is made and so are new tablets.
3. Some Observations
What about these new tablets? Are they the same? Let's compare.
Tablets #1 "written by the finger of God.......the tablets were written on both their sides; on the one side and on the other were they written. And the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved upon the tablets."
Tablets #2 "And the Lord said to Moses, Write these words; And he wrote upon the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments."
What do you think?
And what about the golden calf? If the calf itself was the problem, why then did Jeroboam, king of the Kingdom of Israel put a golden calf at the Northern and Southern ends of the kingdom? Tanach records his sins also, namely that he picked holy days 'after his own heart' and he 'consecrated priests who were not Levites'. (I Kings 12) In fact, Tanach is clear about saying that the golden calves 'became' a sin to them because of what was done (and then goes on to explain what these actions were).
So it is not the calf itself, but the actions that cause the problems -- and isn't that often the case? Drugs and guns are not a problem themselves, it is the way they are mis-used that causes the problems. And how can one prevent people from mis-using things? I believe we will wrestle with that question for a long time.
4. Balancing Grounding
This is the last Parsha in the Balancing series and it ends with balancing grounding. Few would say that we should not be grounded -- we need to be grounded in order to function well in our day-to-day lives. So why do we need to balance this grounding?
Because too anchored prevents us from soaring. It keeps our neshama in the world of doing and prevents her ascent into feeling, knowing and, of course, being. And this is such a wonderfully imagical Parsha that we need to be able to soar with it. And so, while grounding is good and necessary, we need to take time for the rest of our Self as well.
This is a wonderful Parsha to read over and over again, at different levels. This Parsha could be called a woven intertwining. And that's the case even before we add the mysteries of the Red Heifer special portion for the upcoming holiday of Pesakh.
5. Shabbat Parah -- the Red Heifer
The special part we read because it involves the purification rites needed if everyone is to participate in the Pesakh sacrifice -- which, of course, was required back then. There is always a potentially lively discussion when one discusses the sacrifice of the Red Heifer for the making of the ashes and water of purification. Every once in a while we hear that a near perfect specimen is born in Israel and the discussion takes off.
And then we get into the discussion of the evils of sacrifice -- and then I have to ask: Of those of us who object to the idea of killing animals 'unnecessarily' -- how many really back up their words with their actions? Do you still enjoy meat to eat? Animals die for that, you know. What about animal testing? Okay for medical? What about for cosmetics and home cleaning products? How many tout that they are vegetarians and then use a product to wash their clothes that a) harms the environment, b) was developed through animal testing, c) actually contributes to our own danger -- ie contains known carcinogens?
Perhaps this is part of the hidden mystery in Parah -- one can do much harm by doing things that should be for the good (of people, environment, etc), but without thorough knowledge and follow-through. Once again, we see precise detail -- and attention to detail is, in fact, essential to things involved in health, purity and "clean-ness".
1. Golden Calf: Is there a 'right' use? Is there anything in your life that is a dangerous golden calf to you? How can you insure that you will 'use' it correctly? What is the sin? Would someone else look at something in your environment as a 'golden calf'?
2. Oseh Shabbat: Doing Shabbat. Do something special to MAKE Shabbat this week. Will it be a special time? A special exercise or movement? A special food or chant? How do we make it a brit l'olam -- a sign forever?
3. 13 Attributes: "And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, to the third and to the fourth generation." What do these attributes do for you? How do they make you feel? What do you know about them? .....
There are many traditional interpretations of the parsha that I neither talk about nor mention. That is done from a position of space. I trust that the average reader is either familiar with these or can find many of them easily in other commentaries readily available.
Thanks for reading this. If I have offended you, please forgive me -- that was not my intention. If you found some joy or happiness in reading this, thank you for allowing me to be a part. If you found a reason to think about something more deeply - kol hakavod and thank you!
And to the people giving me feedback thank you so much! I enjoy all of it. (Including the typos) You have made this weekly practice wonderful.
(c) 2001 Candy Lobb All rights reserved