Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: February, 2019

13 Reasons Why: Ki Tisa 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What adjectives would you use to describe yourself? Are they the same adjectives others would use to describe you?

After the incident of the Golden Calf, Moses asks to see God — and God responds with a brief glimpse, plus a number of important adjectives, known to us as the 13 Attributes of God:

The Pitch: “Adonai passed before him and proclaimed, ‘Adonai! Adonai! a God compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in kindness and faithfulness, extending kindness to the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin – yet not remitting all punishment, but visiting the iniquity of parents upon children and children’s children, upon the third and fourth generations.’” – Exodus 34:6-7

Swing #1: “Like a rainbow, the future is open and may be beautiful, but there are no guarantees as to where it will lead. What is guaranteed is what Moses sought after the Golden Calf episode – that man may continue to test his faith against God’s promise.” – Aaron Wildavsky, Moses as Political Leader

Swing #2: “Moses request to see God’s ‘glory’ but is refused permission. Instead, God determines to have his ‘goodness’ pass before Moses, and at the same time he will proclaim his name. Moses is allowed to see Yahweh’s back but not his face. Here, the word kavod seems to be used to parallel panim in the divine presence. That it is not used in the sense of physical presence is clear from the fact that Moses is denied the right to see God’s kavod but is allowed to see his back and hand. More important, however, is the fact that Yahweh freely and graciously proclaims his name to Moses and reveals his goodness (i.e., attributes). … The revelation of Yahweh’s Name and Moses’ response in Exodus 34:6-9 show that God is gracious, merciful, and forgiving but is at the same time ‘other.’ So the use of kavod here is not concerned with expressing an anthropomorphic understanding of God but with resolving the tension raised by the holiness of Yahweh on the one hand and the reality of human sin on the other. Similarly, the use of shem is to show that God will continue to be with his people precisely because he is the kind of God he is (i.e., gracious and forgiving).” – Peter T. Vogt, Deuteronomic Theology and the Significance of Torah: A Reappraisal

Swing #3: “‘The Lord! The Lord!’ [The repetition of the Name implies that God’s] attribute of compassion is the same before one might transgress and after one might transgress and seek to do repentance.” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: What do our commentators believe is the intent of God’s self-description? Is God being revealing, or is God hiding — or perhaps a bit of both? Does God owe Moses a more intimate relationship? How can we be sure that we truly understand someone else? Does God want to be truly understood?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: One thing we can be sure of: We at Emanu-El truly know Pearl and Warren Hyman, who have given so much of themselves to our synagogue, including, most recently, one of our lobby windows. Join us at services tomorrow morning to honor and thank them on the occasion of their 70th wedding anniversary.

The Big Inning at the End: A paradox of modern sports fans is the desire to know our favorite athlete well. Many of us demand that they be accessible via social media and the traditional press. Should this be part of an athlete’s job description? What happens when we get a close look at an athlete’s life, and we don’t like what we see?

Shabbat Shalom!

The Daily Show: Tetzaveh 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What daily habit can you not live without? What happens to your day if you neglect it?

Now that God has described to Moses the Israelites’ site of worship, the next topic is what kind of worship must be performed:

The Pitch: “Now this is what you shall offer upon the altar: two yearling lambs each day, regularly. You shall offer the one lamb in the morning, and you shall offer the other lamb at twilight.” – Exodus 29:38-39

Swing #1: “Man must endeavor to serve the Lord in the morning as well as at the dusk of life, in youth as well as in old age. In youth, the body is healthy and strong, and man is in full possession of his vigor and energy. However, his mental faculties are still not fully matured. In old age, his mental faculties are mature, but his physical strength has declined. Accordingly, the morning sacrifice should remind man to accept the sovereignty of the kingdom of heaven at the time when the sun of his own life is on the rise and not to allow himself to be led astray by the follies of this world. The sacrifice which he is required to offer at dusk, by the same token, should teach him that even when the sun of his life is about to set he must not grow lax in his endeavors but must gather new strength by continuing to serve the Lord.” – HaDrash VeHaEyun

Swing #2: “In addition to the annual festival cycle, Israelite religion required a communal tamid, “daily/continual,” offering every morning and evening. The tamid had a collective aspect since its results would benefit all members of Israel, regardless of sex, age, or status.” – Gerald A. Klingbeil, Bridging the Gap: Ritual and Ritual Texts in the Bible

Swing #3: “The biblical descriptions of the daily burnt offering … are completely devoid of any concern with expiation. The purpose of the daily burnt offering – and perhaps some other sacrifices as well – is to provide regular and constant pleasing odors to the Lord, so that the divine presence will continually remain in the sanctuary.” – Jonathan Klawans, Purity, Sacrifice, and the Temple: Symbolism and Supersessionism in the Study of Ancient Judaism

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the psychological benefits of the daily sacrificial offering? How do these regular responsibilities add up to a broader set of values? How do seemingly simple daily decisions represent our larger priorities?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We look forward next Shabbat to dedicating a window in our synagogue, donated by Pearl and Warren Hyman in honor of their recent 70th wedding anniversary. Please join us on Saturday, February 23rd, to thank and celebrate with them.

The Big Inning at the End: Athletes are notoriously habitual creatures. For example, Hall of Fame Yankee catcher Yogi Berra ate a banana and a bagel every morning. While this might not be everyone’s breakfast of champions, it seemed to work for him.

Shabbat Shalom!

It’s Curtains For You!: Terumah 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: What aspects of your life do you tend to keep guarded? Have you become more or less guarded as you’ve moved through life?

Part of God’s instructions for the Israelites’ portable sanctuary (mishkan) includes a curtain (parochet) to guard the Holy of Holies:

The Pitch: “You shall make a curtain of blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen; it shall have a design of cherubim worked into it. Hang it upon four posts of acacia wood overlaid with gold and having hooks of gold, [set] in four sockets of silver. Hang the curtain under the clasps, and carry the Ark of the Pact there, behind the curtain, so that the curtain shall serve you as a partition between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.” – Exodus 26:31-33

Swing #1: “In the midst of artistic attentiveness and aesthetic extravagance, we may note especially the prescribed curtain, which is different from the more numerous curtains earlier listed. This curtain [parochet] provides for a separation between ‘the holy place’ and ‘the most holy place’ (i.e., the holy of holiness), wherein are housed the ark and the mercy seat. … What is intended is the creation of the most protected, awesome place to host and entertain properly the very self-giving of God. No doubt the screen was proposed with only the best of liturgical intentions, and it seems first of all to be appreciate for that intention.” – The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 1

Swing #2: “The meaning is not that the veil should be put up first and thereafter the ark should be brought to its place, for the space between the pillars would have been insufficient. … The intention here is only to specify the place of the ark, not the order of the stages in the erection of the tabernacle. … Properly, the ark should be shut in, and it should not be possible to take it out from its place except when the tabernacle was taken down, or in abnormal circumstances, by the removal of the pillars from their position.” – Umberto Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus

Swing #3: “The origins of the Ark curtain go back to the curtain in the wilderness Tent and later the Jerusalem Temple. When the Romans came and entered its holy precincts, so the story goes, their general pierced the curtain with his weapon, firmly believing that he would thus kill off the secret being within. The parochet may be seen as a parallel to the incense which, according to most biblical scholars, was meant to hide the Divine Presence. Halachically, the parochet partakes of the sanctity of the Ark and may not be disposed of when it can no longer be used. While standing up when the Ark is opened is not, according to the Halachah, a requirement, many Jews are so accustomed to it that indeed they feel discomfited when they find themselves in the presence of the scrolls without rising in their honor. For them, standing up when the scrolls of the Torah come into view becomes their acknowledgment that they are in the presence of holy objects. Many Jews would therefore consider a see-through curtain something of an oxymoron.” – CCAR Responsa 5754.20

Late-Inning Questions: How might our commentaries summarize the purpose of the parochet? Does the fact that it protects a holy object make the parochet holy as well? How do we best guard what is sacred in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We’re overjoyed that so many people will join us for our Scholar-in-Residence weekend. While our Shabbat dinner is sold out, we encourage you to hear our Scholar, Dr. Mitchell Bard, tonight (he’ll start speaking in the Sanctuary around 7:30PM) and tomorrow at morning services.

The Big Inning at the End: Even though this might not have much to do with the theme of today’s post, I would be remiss if I didn’t express sadness regarding the death of Frank Robinson, one of the most underrated superstar players in baseball history, as well as the first African-American team manager. His superb talent was matched only by his fiery competitiveness.

Shabbat Shalom!

Being There: Mishpatim 2019

Pre-Game Chatter: How do you prepare to be both physically and mentally present at an important moment? Is it easy for you to do so, or do you need to do specific actions so that you’re ready.

As God invites Moses to ascend Mount Sinai, God specifies that Moses’ full presence is just as important as God’s:

The Pitch: “Adonai said to Moses, ‘Come up to Me on the mountain and wait [be] there, and I will give you the stone tablets with the teachings and commandments which I have inscribed to instruct them.’” – Exodus 24:12

Swing #1: “There is an apparent difficulty here. If Moses came up on the mountain, he would already be there, so why would God also bother to specify, ‘and be there?’ But from this apparent redundancy we find proof that even one who strains himself to ascend onto a high mountaintop, and is indeed able to reach the summit, it is nevertheless possible that he is still not there. Even though he may be standing on the very peak itself, his head may be somewhere else. The goal, you see, is not merely to ascend but also to be there, to be actually present there, and nowhere else – and not to be going up and down at the same time.” – Menachem Mendl of Kotzk

Swing #2: “This is the order of events here. First, Moses entered into the mist, near to the radiance of the radiance of the Divine (Exodus 24:2). Then Moses left, and went to the people to tell them all that God had commanded (24:3). At that time, all the elders and leaders left Mount Sinai, and came to Moses. They thought that God Himself would teach them the commandments, just as He had proclaimed the Ten Commandments. They therefore begged Moses, ‘You go and hear the words. We will remain here, ready to obey everything that you say in God’s name. We do not have the power to hear God’s words, lest we die’ (20:16). Moses then went with them to the people, and told them everything, to which they responded, ‘We will do and we will listen’ (24:7). After that, God told Moses, ‘You alone come up to Me to the mountain. I will give you the Torah, and you will teach it to them.’” – Nachmanides

Swing #3: “At this point in [Parashat Mishpatim], Moses presumably wrote the Ten Commandments on parchment to deposit in the ark of the covenant. The stone tablets of the Ten Commandments are referred to only later in Exodus 24:12 and 31:18. In any event, this is clearly not a reference to the Pentateuch.” – Arthur J. Bellinzoni, The Old Testament

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand what it is like for Moses to be fully present at Mount Sinai? Why is it especially important for Moses to be paying full attention at Sinai as opposed to the other important events that happen throughout his lifetime? Does God need to specify to Moses that the experience at Sinai is an especially important moment? How good are we at identifying the key moments in our lives?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: We are so proud of our Sisterhood, and each year, we are more and more impressed on Sisterhood Shabbat, which is led and run entirely by our female congregants. Please be here Saturday starting at 9:30AM to support them.

The Big Inning at the End: Sometimes, even the great players are caught not paying attention. When Detroit Tigers second baseman Lou Whitaker traveled to Minneapolis to participate in the 1985 All-Star Game, he forgot to bring his uniform. Shortly before gametime, he purchased a Tigers cap and jersey at a souvenir stand, and then took a black marker to draw his uniform number on the back of the jersey. Fortunately, it didn’t take too long – his uniform number was “1”.

Shabbat Shalom!