March 18-19, 2016 – 9 Adar II 5776
Annual (Leviticus 1:1-5:26): Etz Hayim p. 585; Hertz p. 410
Triennial (Leviticus 4:27-5:26): Etz Hayim p. 599; Hertz p. 419
Maftir (Deuteronomy 25:17-19): Etz Hayim 1135; Hertz 856
Haftarah (I Samuel 15:2-34): Etz Hayim, p. 1282; Hertz p. 996
Welcome to the new “Torah Sparks” direct from the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem! The CY’s beautiful Beit Midrash is full of students learning Jewish texts and enhancing their relationships with Jewish prayer and the Jewish community. Torah Sparks brings you a taste of their enthusiasm for Judaism and Jewish text from Jerusalem every week.
An Oasis, A Garden In Which God Once Walked
Rabbi Neil Janes, West London Synagogue and Director of the Lyons Learning Project and CY alumnus
Here we stand with Moses and God, at the edge of the book, at the Tent of Meeting, the Ohel Moed. As we start our reading of Sefer Vayikra (Leviticus), we are about to begin a journey into a religious world that seems strange. At the same time, we are able to recognize that within it there are ideas of profound significance. From my learning, I have come to understand that the powerful connection to ancient ideas and yet, simultaneously, the feeling of estrangement from that world, is actually an important part of our heritage.
Israel Abrahams z’l, successor at Cambridge University to Rabbi Solomon Schechter z’l (after Schechter had left for JTS), delivered a provocative lecture in New York in 1923 entitled, “The Permanent Value of Primitive Ideas.” He wrote:
“Put bluntly, Judaism is the richer and better, and more human, because, while it has long passed out of anything like a primitive stage, primitive stages are still present and active in it. This is the virtue of a historical religion. The traces of history are never obliterated. For instance, we could conceivably formulate a more purely ethical, a more absolutely philosophical monotheism than ours, but it would be a monotheism of the head not of the heart, of theory not of experience…
“I suggest, therefore, that it is well that the backward gaze is not altogether a gaze into the useless and the lost. I suggest that it is well that the backward gaze draws within its ken not entirely a waste, but a waste with here and there an oasis, a garden in which God once walked.”
Of course in Abrahams’ time prevailed a modernist sensibility that gave him the self-assurance that he could indeed identify the primitive and the not-so-primitive. But the recognition of how our lives have changed since, for example, the composition of Leviticus, yet remain cognizant of that oasis, the garden in which God once walked, is still a powerful idea.
Our parasha opens: “And [the Eternal] called to Moses and spoke to him out of the Tent of Meeting (מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד), saying…” (Leviticus 1:1). The Midrash (Sifre Bemidbar 58) asks from where exactly was God speaking with Moses. The exegesis there suggests that Moses entered the Tent of Meeting and the voice (note, not Godself) descended from the heavens and spoke from between the Cherubim:
שהיה משה נכנס ועומד באהל מועד והקול יורד משמי שמים לבין שני הכרובים
These are not just “stage directions” – who stands where. In deceptively simple language the Rabbis are asking the profound question – how do we encounter God. The Midrash evokes the tension between God who is unreachable and God who is intimate and loving. The question of intimacy and revelation of God’s presence hovers over the whole of the book of Leviticus; that sense of intimacy vanished with the destruction of the Temple. The texts and their interpretation became the locus of encounter. Yet, no matter how wonderful our texts, they also point to the inescapable reality of our inadequacy to fully encounter God. We are drawn in and yet estranged. In that moment comes our humility and with it a renewed vitality to be readers and interpreters. I venture to suggest, amidst this experience comes our glimpse of the oasis, which, of course, vanishes soon after it is brought into focus. Until the next encounter.
A Vort for Parashat Vayikra
By Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty
The sin of the nasi, the leader, is introduced by asher (4:22) when, not ki or im, if, the terms used for others. The Zohar says it is almost inevitable that leaders sin. אֲשֶׁר נָשִׂיא יֶחֱטָא- “When a leader sins”– the first letters in Hebrew spell ani, “I,” and no one else, commented Rabbi Natan Neta of Chelm (Poland, late 19th C), a student of Rabbi Elimelech of Lizensk. The main cause of leaders’ sins is the pride they so often feel, mitNaSIm (to be haughty, from same root as NaSI, leader), as a result of being in a position of power. Thus Rashi sites the Talmud, “Happy (Ashrei [wordplay on asher]) is the generation whose leader is careful/aware and remembers to bring a sacrifice for his sins.”
By Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty
We are opening the 3rd book of Torah – Leviticus. However, because Purim will take place on Thursday, we will dedicate this week’s learning to the story of Megillat Esther (the Scroll of Esther), found towards the end of the Tanakh (Bible).
1) Where does the story of Esther take place (1:1-2)? How did the Jews end up there? The history of Mordechai might help us (2:5-6. For those interested in the story behind the exile of 597bce, read II Kings 24:8-16. Jehoiachin is Jeconiah.)
2) What is the first event of King Ahasuerus that we hear about (1:3-8)? What impression does this make on you? (Think both about the kingdom and about his values.)
3) The king decides to get rid of Queen Vashti, and her role in the kingdom will be given to ‘her fellow who is more worthy than she’ (1:19). In the Haftara that we are reading this Shabbat someone else lost of his kingdom is described by very similar words (I Sam. 15:28). Who lost the kingdom in the Haftara?
*How is this connected to Esther? (Vv. 2:5-7 might help you.)
*What might be the message of the Megillah?
4) Haman decides to have all the Jews in the kingdom killed, but to do so he needs the king’s permission. His argument to the king is found in 3:8-9. What does he omit when speaking to the king (notice who is talking about)? Why do you think he decides to omit this relevant detail? What in Haman’s suggestion probably convinced the king? The king does not ask any questions and gives a free hand (and stamp) to Haman. What do you think about King Ahasuerus? Why?
5) Esther is sent to beg the king to save her people, the Jews. Rather than approach him with the request when he sits on his throne, she asks him to attend 2 drinking parties, and only in the second one does she present her request. Why do you think that she took this approach?
* An extra challenging question!