Torah from Around the World #366

Recent Issues

By: Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld,

Congregation Albert

, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

When my wife and I were engaged, we forged an agreement that, 29 years later, is still in force. When buying furniture, painting the house, remodeling, putting artwork on the walls, and all other home tasks that require being able to picture the end result in your mind, I am to lay out any large requirements I have (e.g. the furniture has to be comfortable) and she makes the decisions on the details. She is capable of picturing the end result in her mind; I cannot.

So as we arrive to the second half of Exodus, I am lost. I am the opposite of Betzalel and Oholiab. The only detail I understand in these


is the need for a Betzalel and an Oholiab. Thus, to find meaning in these


I look to others who find a deeper meaning in the description of the building of the Tabernacle and all of its accoutrements.

In his 13th-Century Kabbalistic commentary on Parashat Terumah, Rabbi Bachya ben Asher wrote: “’accept my discipline instead of silver; accept knowledge instead of gold.’ (Proverbs 8:10) In this verse Solomon warns man (sic) that he (sic) would harness his (sic) powers of alertness and energy for the pursuit of the ethical values of Torah rather than for the amassing of silver and gold…. The only thing which cannot be amassed to excess without negative results is Torah.’”

Rabbeinu Bachya goes on to imply that God commanded the Israelites to give so much of their “silver and gold” to the building of the Tabernacle in order to reduce their reliance on material wealth and focus on the Shechinah, which would dwell in the Tabernacle, and the ethical precepts of the Torah.

Today we live in a world divided. The on-the-surface the divide seems to be between the wealthy and powerful, and those who are not. To some degree that is correct, but I see it in a different light. There are those who choose the values we learn from Torah, and those who do not. We all know people who, regardless of socio-economic status or political beliefs, either uphold our values or purposely rend them.

I have a friend who has been blessed with economic wealth. He chooses to use that gift to live by our Jewish values. He provides resources for education, economic support for those who need it, and wants to expand the reach of Liberal/Progressive Judaism and the values we teach.

Another friend, a political conservative to his deepest core, fulfills Maimonides’ highest level of tzedakah by providing training to the unemployed either by hiring them himself or finding them jobs.

Then there is my confirmation classmate who gets the little he has by stealing and dealing drugs. Another classmate supports her family and her own self-esteem by taking whatever low-paying jobs she can find.

Our Reform/Liberal/Progressive movement built its foundation on the values found in the Prophets. Slavery in Egypt and the Exodus forged our identity as a people and expanded our understanding of what it means to be a stranger, to be seen as “other”. Through these past centuries, we have built upon that foundation. Whether in America, Israel or the rest of the world, our calling remains to be a “light unto the nations.”

Today we confront a world that fears and denigrates the stranger in our midst. Calls for immigration bans come from every corner of the globe. Historic racial, ethnic and religious prejudices, once seemingly in decline, rear back up, threatening to block out the light we strive to bring to the world.

Our Jewish values and our Reform/Liberal/Progressive understanding of our Jewish values call upon us to fight to bring light into our world, like the menorah would bring light to the Tabernacle.

Our history reminds us that while the

ner tamid

, the eternal light, always shines, there are times that darkness threatens to overwhelm it and we, like the Hasmoneans and so many others, are required to rekindle the light, fight to make our values and our message shine brightly once again.

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