Virtuosity Savored

A blog by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Month: March, 2020

The Tent Commandments: Vayikra 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Have the last couple of weeks of social distancing caused you to reevaluate what you like and don’t like about your home? Do you hope to make your home more hospitable after the conclusion of our current crisis?

As the book of Leviticus opens and God grows accustomed to a new dwelling place (the Tabernacle), God mentions a place where the sacred and mundane collide:

The Pitch: “If his offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he shall make his offering a male without blemish. He shall bring it to the entrance of the Tent of Meeting, for acceptance in his behalf before the Lord.” – Leviticus 1:3

Swing #1: “There is another meaning figuratively concealed under the enigmatical expressions. And the words employed are visible symbols of what is invisible and uncertain.” – Philo

Swing #2: “The designation of ‘the entrance of the Tent of Meeting’ as a location for this offering … reminds the worshipers that they are at the transition area between the divine realm and the human realm.” – Timothy M. Willis, Leviticus

Swing #3: “The Torah stresses this [location] as the donor is not allowed to invite the officiating priest to come to his home and slaughter the beast in question in the donor’s or the priest’s yard, and perform the rituals connected with it. This would be disrespectful to God. Imagine a donor of a gift to a mortal king inviting the King to come and pick it up at the donor’s home!” – Chizkuni

Late-Inning Questions: How do our commentators understand the purpose of the Tent of Meeting? How does it enable the Israelites to get closer to God even when they are unable to see or touch God? What lessons do we learn at a time when we try to connect with people that we are unable to see (in-person) or touch?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Among other things, we are busy planning virtual meetings and content that will help make your observance of Passover meaningful during these challenging times. For now, we invite you to look at guidance provided by the Conservative movement as you plan for the holiday.

Shabbat Shalom!

Makers of the Found Ark: Vayakhel-Pekudei 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: How can we collaborate with others when we practice social distancing? What emotional and intellectual tools are you using in order to connect with others?

As we forge ahead in the midst of a global pandemic, an example from our Torah portions might give us some insight:

The Pitch: “Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high.” – Exodus 37:1

Swing #1: “Whereas with all the other objects, Betzalel presumably limited himself to more or less directing and guiding the other works, the ark he made with his own hands; for it is the principal object for which the whole sacred Dwelling Place was erected.” – Samson Raphael Hirsch

Swing #2: “Betzalel’s achievement, while great, is not comparable to that of the Creator. He makes the Mishkan from a plan, with the help of thousands of Israelites, from materials donated by the entire community. As we have insisted throughout, it is a collective effort. (In fact, the classical commentators all state that the reason for the second presentation of Betzalel by Moshe is that the community must assent in his appointment as the chief craftsman.)” – George Robinson, Essential Torah

Swing #3: “Now, how old was Betzalel when he made the Tabernacle? Thirteen years, for it is written, ‘And all the wise men, that wrought all the work of the Sanctuary, came every man from his work which they made’ (Exodus 36:4).” – Sanhedrin 69b

Late-Inning Questions: Given what our commentators taught, how can we evaluate Betzalel’s contribution to the building of the Tabernacle? How much credit should he get? Is he able to get help from other Israelites when he needs it? When is it necessary to ask for help from others during a trying time?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: Please join us online today at 5:00PM ET for some pre-Shabbat singing, and tomorrow night at 8:30PM for Havdallah. Go to to log in.

Shabbat Shalom, and stay safe!

Thoughts on Ki Tisa and Our Current Realities

It would be frivolous to use my typical blog format given what we’re all thinking about.

Instead, a brief word about a key moment from our Torah portion, Ki Tisa:

“[The Sabbath] shall be a sign for all time between Me and the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and was refreshed.” – Exodus 31:17

The last word in this verse in Hebrew is “vayinafash”, translated here as “and was refreshed.” The Torah commentator Sforno links this word with a similar word, “nefesh”, which can be translated as “spirit.”

“This is why the seventh day is one devoted to the spirit, resulting in God giving Jews an additional soul for use on that day. This additional soul assists us in concentrating on the spiritual dimension of the day. When man was created, God made him in His image, i.e. first and foremost concerned with spiritual concerns. The extra soul granted us on the Sabbath is to help us live up to that vision God had of man when He created him.”

At a time when, understandably, we are deeply concerned about our bodily health, we have begun efforts to distance ourselves from other people physically. But we should not use that as an excuse to distance ourselves from one another emotionally. Rather, we must continue to connect our souls with those of others. Taking a cue from Sforno, it behooves us to act as if we have an extra soul — an extra motivation to ensure that our ties to one another are stronger than ever.

I wish everyone safety, tranquility, and health this Shabbat and beyond.

Shabbat Shalom!

Am I Only Dreaming, Or Is This Burning An Eternal Flame?: Tetzaveh 2020

Pre-Game Chatter: Is the Ner Tamid (perpetually-lit lamp) an important synagogue symbol to you? What does it represent to you?

The establishment of a continuously-burning flame in a house of worship seems to mean different things to different people:

The Pitch: “Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over [the Ark of] the Pact, [to burn] from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages.” – Exodus 27:21

Swing #1: “Of all the commandments related to the Tabernacle, this is the one ritual that remained intact throughout the exile, and was easily moved from the context of the Temple into Diaspora experience. By reading women and their ritual role more fully into the life and development of the tradition, we can understand the Temple lamps as a ritual precursor for the lighting of Shabbat candles.” – Rabbi Sara Paasche-Orlow, “Tetzaveh: Finding Our Home in the Temple and the Temple in our Homes”, from The Women’s Torah Commentary, Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, ed.

Swing #2: “The Tabernacle is not conceived of as a temporary measure for a limited time, but one in which the permanent priesthood of Aaron serves throughout all their generation.” – Brevard S. Childs, The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary

Swing #3: “Our Rabbis estimated half a log of oil as sufficient for the nights of Tevet, which are long, and they ordained a similar quantity for every night of the year, and if any were left over on the shorter nights it did not matter (Menachot 89a).” – Rashi

Late-Inning Questions: Which explanation(s) of the Ner Tamid do you find most compelling? Is its presence in a synagogue reassuring to you in any way? What aspects of your spiritual life can you always count on?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: This year’s Purim celebration will have a truly international flavor. Join us for Purim Around the World on Monday, March 9th, starting with food from various countries at 6PM, then our Megillah reading featuring customs from different communities starting at 7PM. And don’t forget to bring items for the Kosher Food Pantry — you’ll get a raffle ticket for every item you bring!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of things or people we can always count on, do you think that Cal Ripken’s streak of playing 2,632 consecutive games is the most impressive baseball records? If not, what is?

Shabbat Shalom!