Torah from Around the World #157

by Rabbi Benjie Gruber, Rabbi of Kibbutz Yahel, Progressive Judaism, Arava Region and Eilat

This week we have the wonderful chance of reading two portions –


(“he assembled”) and


(“the numbers”).

We say goodbye to the book of Exodus-Shemot and prepare ourselves to spend a few weeks with animal parts and the mishkan. Most of these two portions –




– deal with details regarding building the mishkan. The order to create the


and the special clothing for the


was given in the portions of


and now in these two portions most of that is repeated with small changes. This could provide us with an opportunity to once again look over the mishkan, clothing, various tools and special details.

Yet I wish to explore something different. I wish to take a look at the two small issues dealt with in these portions which do not deal with the


. I am referring to the first few verses in


and the last part of


which ends the book of Exodus. I wish to connect the beginning and end of our two portions this week:

1.     Beginning of



א וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם: אֵלֶּה, הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה, לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָם.


And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto them: ‘These are the words which the LORD hath commanded, that ye should do them.

ב שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים, תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה, וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי יִהְיֶה לָכֶם קֹדֶשׁ שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן, לַיהוָה; כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בוֹ מְלָאכָה, יוּמָת.


Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death.

ג לֹא-תְבַעֲרוּ אֵשׁ, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם, בְּיוֹם, הַשַּׁבָּת.


Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.

2.    End of


[the 5 last verses in Exodus]:

לד וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן, אֶת-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה, מָלֵא אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן.


Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

לה וְלֹא-יָכֹל מֹשֶׁה, לָבוֹא אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד–כִּי-שָׁכַן עָלָיו, הֶעָנָן; וּכְבוֹד יְהוָה, מָלֵא אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן.


And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

לו וּבְהֵעָלוֹת הֶעָנָן מֵעַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן, יִסְעוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכֹל, מַסְעֵיהֶם.


And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys.

לז וְאִם-לֹא יֵעָלֶה, הֶעָנָן–וְלֹא יִסְעוּ, עַד-יוֹם הֵעָלֹתוֹ.


But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up.

לח כִּי עֲנַן יְהוָה עַל-הַמִּשְׁכָּן, יוֹמָם, וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ–לְעֵינֵי כָל-בֵּית-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכָל-מַסְעֵיהֶם.


For the cloud of the LORD was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

In between these two issues all other chapters and verses deal with the mishkan. I wish to suggest a connection between these two paragraphs which at first glance indeed have no connection. I think one is supporting the other – one is giving the other the legitimacy. The end of


as we saw describes that “the glory of God filled the tabernacle”. God according to this description is here, close, accessible and felt filling the space. That is the message of the end of


, the end of Exodus. The beginning of


emphasizes the importance of Shabbat and declares that whoever works on The Sabbath must die. As a Progressive Rabbi, teacher, father, spouse and human being I cannot live with this demand of death, I cannot read this in the most literal way – It is difficult for me and unacceptable.

But how can I understand this verse? Is indeed the holiness of the Shabbat so great that whoever does not abide by it must die? Does this law make this holy day holier or is the case here the importance and holiness of the social order – not to allow anyone to be different? Where does such a law come from? Why did people see things that way? I see the connection here between the two paragraphs – the beginning and end of our two portions this week – when people are completely certain that God is here, now, speaking to us and interested in our every step including what we do and do not do on one day or another. If God fills the tabernacle, if God has an opinion about what we do at every moment, this God may want us dead if we do not do exactly as He wishes. Those who believe too strongly in some ideas may tend to do absurd acts in the name of these ideas. Indeed some people would prefer to die than to think.

Was this clear to Moses at the time? Obviously we do not know but it is very interesting to notice what occurs in verse 35 immediately following God filling the tabernacle: ”

And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle


Why is Moses unable to enter? I wish to summarize and emphasize my idea: when God or the God idea or those who believe they speak fully and completely and exclusively in the name of God totally fill the space, then even Moses cannot enter. There is no space for anyone. This is dangerous and can lead to wishes of death to those who live differently.

I pray and hope that in my rabbinical calling and educational work in the Arava area I find the way to present Judaism as a belief and way of life in a way that each can find his and her way to celebrate life.

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