CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - 4

Voices of Torah
Mishpatim/Shabbat
Sh'kalim
(Stephen Wylen)
The Torah says: You shall not eat the
carcass of an animal that was torn by
beasts; you shall throw it to the dogs
(Exodus 22:30).
The Sages taught that the dogs receive
this treat as a reward because they did not
bark at the Israelites as we departed from
slavery in Egypt. The dogs overcame their
natural inclination. It says in the Talmud
that Bar Bei Rav was sitting and meditating
on his evil desires and how to overcome
them and a dog came and ate his meal
(BT Taanit 11). Rabbi Meir Yehiel of
Ostrovcha teaches us that overcoming the
evil desires within us puts us on the level
of the dog. That is why the dog ate Bar
Bei Rav's food. Human nature is that we
are perfectly capable of doing good. It is
in our nature to have a pure soul, and we
need only strive to keep it pure.
This theme recurs in Chasidic teaching.
We should not dwell on the bad that
we could do, but on the good of which
we are capable. The quickest way to
improvement is to focus on what we do
best, and do it. If one is always trying
to improve on one's worst capabilities,
then one will spend all of one's time in
frustration focusing on matters that are not
engaging and which cause depression.
Leave what you cannot do well to others,
and focus on your strengths!

T'rumah

(David Novak)

One might ask: Why does Torah include an
abundance of exquisite detail in Parashat T'rumah?
Why such vivid descriptions for every measurement,
decoration, color, fabric, and material? To my mind,
this allows our imaginations to paint pictures of
the magnificent place for God to dwell among the
people. The detail is especially important today, as so
many people have a difficult time accessing God's
reality. T'rumah gives us a place to visualize in our
attempt to concretize God's presence among the
Israelites and, hopefully, in our lives.
To what might this be compared? Think of places
you have never been, yet which are familiar to you.
For example, the set of "The Honeymooners," "I
Love Lucy," "The Brady Bunch," or "Seinfeld." Many

of us remember the kitchen, the living room, the
door where the characters entered and exited; yet
none of us has ever physically stood in any of these
spaces. How many of us can draw a blueprint of "The
Addams Family" home from the sets we saw on TV?
These quondam sets remain vivid in our memory
because we were able to see them and experience
them, time and again. That is how Torah helps our
minds work when we encounter T'rumah. Setting the
stage for God's dwelling place among the wandering
people, we can read these details as the exquisite setdecorating for God's presence not only in the lives of
our ancestors, but in our lives, as well.

T'tzaveh (Amy Scheinerman)
These are the vestments they are to make [for the
High Priest]: a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a
fringed tunic, a headdress, and a sash. They shall
make those sacral vestments for your brother Aaron
and his sons, for priestly service to Me (Exodus 28:4).
In a world of obsessive attention to fashion and
wardrobe malfunctions, we must allow that clothing
conveys messages concerning position, status, selfimage, or a combination. Polonius said: "For the
apparel oft proclaims the man" (Hamlet, Act 1,
Scene 3).
Our Rabbis had a different view. Based on Torah's
juxtaposition of sections on sacrifices and priestly
vestments, the Sages (BT Z'vachim 88b) explain
each element as a means for atonement: the k'tonet
(coat), recalling Joseph's k'tonet passim, atones
for bloodshed; the m'chansim (breeches) atone

for lewdness; the mitznefet (headdress) atones for
arrogance; the avneit (sash) atones for impure
thoughts; the choshen mishpat (breastpiece) atones
for neglect of justice; the ephod atones for idolatry;
the me'il (robe) atones for lashon hara; and the
tzitz (headplate) atones for brazenness. Imagine if
we ascribed meaning to each garment we donned,
permitting it to remind us of an ethical or musar
value we cherish?
Similarly, we find (BT Shabbat 10a) that Rava bar Rav
Huna donned fine shoes to pray. In contrast, Rava
removed his cloak and prayed like a servant before
his master. Which is correct: to dress up, or to dress
down? Dressing up can remind us of the infinite
potential of the human soul for growth. Dressing
down can elevate our souls through humility. Perhaps
apparel can shape the soul.

Ki Tisa (Ruth Adar)
Adonai, Adonai, God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth;
showing mercy unto the thousandth generation,
forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and
pardoning...(Exodus 34:6-7). The liturgical
formula we recite on the Yamim Noraim is known
as the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy. The Rabbis tell
that God demonstrated to Moses how to recite
this verse before a congregation and assured
him that any time Israel sins, Yaasu lif'nai b'seder
hazeh, let them perform before Me this procedure
(i.e., these attributes) vaani mochel lahem, and I
will forgive them (BT Rosh HaShanah 17b). Is this

to say that the recitation of the Thirteen Attributes
is a "magical formula"? The notion that we can
manipulate God by reciting a charm is surely a
troubling notion to a modern Reform mind.
Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz (17th century) explains
in Sh'nei Luchot HaB'rit that we should not
merely recite the Thirteen Attributes as they have
come down to us. We should rather act with
compassion, mercy, and forgiveness; God will
then treat us in kind (Singer and Lauterbach,
"Middot Shelosh-'Esre," Jewish Encyclopedia).
4

When we emulate the attribute of mercy, our
deeds bring God's mercy into the world; there
is no magic formula than can only be spoken.
Therefore, it is up to us to strive daily to be
"merciful and gracious, long-suffering, abundant
in goodness and truth, showing mercy, forgiving
iniquity and transgression and sin, pardoning."
This is a tall order indeed, but as human beings
who view ourselves as the pinnacle of Creation,
created in the image of God, and who strive
to live in covenant with God, it is how we can
bring forgiveness into the world for others and for
ourselves.



CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015

CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - 1
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - 2
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - 3
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - 4
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - Insert 1
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - Insert 2
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - 5
CCAR Newsletter Jan-Feb 2015 - 6
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