CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 4
Voices of Torah
That they will take Me an offering (Exodus
25:2). The use of the verb v'yikchu, " they will
take, " in this context sounds a bit odd. One
would expect the text to say rather: " they will
give Me an offering. " Commentators, noticing
this awkward phrasing, have suggested that
" they " refers not the Israelites, but rather
to intermediaries-Malbim suggests the
Sanhedrin-who were designated to receive
contributions from the people.
Parashat T'tzaveh is the first since we opened the Book of Exodus that does not mention Moses, the preeminent
prophet of Israel, an observation that absorbs commentators. (Four parashiyot in Deuteronomy do not mention
him by name, but all are composed of lengthy orations Moses delivered; his presence is deeply felt.) T'tzaveh
focuses on the priesthood: their garments when serving in the Sanctuary (especially those of the High Priest),
details concerning the seven-day consecration of Aaron and his sons to be priests, and instructions for making
the golden incense altar.
It appears that even back in the biblical
period approaching an individual to ask
for contributions was more successful
than making a general appeal for funds.
People respond to requests for " voluntary "
contributions for a variety of reasons, among
them altruism, personal reputation, guilt, and
genuine support for a cause.
The use of intermediaries, however,
introduces a modern moral dilemma. In the
power dynamic of many relationships, it is
questionable whether a person with less power
is truly free to refuse the request of one who
holds power over them. Given the priority
Judaism places on avoiding embarrassment, is
even the peer pressure brought by someone of
equal status still a type of coercion?
Considering the Torah in light of
contemporary morality is a tricky business,
but Umberto Cassuto avoids introducing
intermediaries by citing examples (e.g.,
Exodus 18:12) of " take " used to set aside a
portion of one's possessions for a voluntary
sacrifice to God (Commentary on Exodus, p.
324). Stripping away the power dynamics
and cloud of coercion, T'rumah conveys the
heartfelt gifts of a grateful people.
This detour to discuss the priests is a reminder that ancient Israel had a form of " separation of powers " between
Moses, as prophet, the kohanim, and later the king. Rather than invest all tangible and meaningful power in
one person, as so many ancient " divine " kings claimed, Israel's tradition of three institutions helped it achieve
rebalancing when one overreached, such as when the Hasmonean kings sought to combine the kingship with the
high priesthood. The Rabbis remark that Yehudah b. Gedidya said to King Yannai: " Let the crown of kingship
suffice for you; leave the crown of priesthood to the sons of Aaron " (BT Kiddushin 66a).
While the roles of kings, priests, and prophets changed over time, as did the nature of who might occupy those
positions and roles, the underlying principle of distributing power remains a wise one. We see the danger of
concentrated, undistributed power in the larger political realm. But do we recognize it and the danger it poses in
our own communal institutions?
The need for forgiveness and atonement are spiritually crucial.
God's wrath at Israel for the Golden Calf was very nearly lethal: God wanted to wipe them out, but Moses
convinced God to forgive. When Moses ascends Mount Sinai a second time, God reveals the divine Self
through the Thirteen Attributes (Exodus 34:6-7). R. Yochanan hears in this account a means to attaining divine
forgiveness: " R. Yochanan said, 'The Holy One, wrapped in a tallit, proclaimed: Whenever the Jewish people
sin, let their leader wrap in a tallit and publicly recite the Thirteen Attributes of mercy and I will forgive them' "
(BT Rosh HaShanah 17b).
The Israelites yearn for a tangible ritual that conveys God's forgiveness and affords them catharsis. Ki Tisa's
neighboring parashiyot primarily address the physical elements of Mishkan, k'toret, and offerings that facilitate
healing, gratitude, victory, and most of all forgiveness. No doubt the goat that carried the people's sins to Azazel
must have fulfilled that need for many.
Every Yom Kippur, I wonder: Do the lofty liturgical words our Sages instituted as a practical substitute for
the goat banished to Azazel truly satisfy the need for a ritual that bears our sins away? Does the physicality of
Tashlich effect catharsis?
This year a Jewish community in Philadelphia constructed a goat of scrap metal. Throughout the Days of Awe,
members of the community dropped notes they inscribed with their transgressions into a slot in " Azi's " back.
Although no priest led Azi to the cliff of Azazel, the ritual afforded people meaning, atonement, and catharsis.
What else might we offer our people?
G122578_CCAR JAN-FEB 2021.indd 5
12/14/20 2:29 PM
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 1
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 2
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 3
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 4
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - CRE1
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - CRE2
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 5
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 6
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 7
CCAR Newsletter January/February 2021 - 8