D’var Torah: Rabbi Ron Fish (Tetzaveh)

Of all the holidays of the Jewish year, Purim in particular invites us to play dress up. Whether it is your parents’ old 80s outfits (watch out for the shoulder pads and baggy sweaters), pretending to be your favorite action hero or just putting on a crazy wig- Purim is fun on display.

And the story of the Megillah has dress up as a central theme as well.  At the start of the story we see King Achashverosh and his friends dressing for a party. His wife Vashti refuses to ‘dress up’ for them, causing all the ensuing chaos. Esther spends months preparing to appear before the king, finally presenting herself in her finest array. When the king wants to honor Mordechai he dresses him in the king’s clothes. And when Mordechai wants to show his anguish over the danger his people faces he dons sack cloth and ashes to demonstrate his grief.

But given the many ups and downs of the story, the many costume changes of the characters in the book, we are always brought back to one central truth: the clothes don’t tell the whole story. If you want to know how good a person is you shouldn’t rely on the exterior. That layer can be deceptive. It is too easy to pretend to wear your heart on your sleeve, only to change that outfit in the next moment. In fact, the great moment of redemption in the story of Purim is when Esther finally ‘takes off her mask.’ She drops the façade she has worked to uphold, and proudly declares that she is a Jew. Her act of revealing her true self is when pain and fear are transformed into victory and hope.

This lesson about knowing the heart, versus trusting appearances, is an important one. So it is quite ironic that this week’s parashah focuses nearly entirely on the vestments – the costume – of the kohanim. We see in great detail how these holy actors must wear specific, highly regulated articles of clothing. They also are to adorn themselves with outer layers of frontlets and sashes, turbans and breastplates, each outward and symbolic expressions of their role. According to the rabbis, the items described in Parashat Tetzaveh are reminders of deeper values as well: modesty, justice, mercy and self-control.

But if the message of Purim is that we should never trust outward appearances, this seems strange! Why is it that the Torah seems to present these layers of clothing as so holy and so important?

Perhaps the message we are to recall is that we should see every outward expression for what it truly is – a costume. It is easy to wear the cloak of humility, but to be arrogant; to act the part of the pious, but to be cruel. For that reason, our masks and costumes on Purim are entertaining. We know we aren’t Spiderman or Tom Brady-but it’s fun to pretend. At the same time we all need to remember what it is we should aspire to. And even though the Kohanim are only people (in fact many of them were quite flawed), we ask our leaders to wear the costume that expresses our hopes for the kind of leaders we would so like to see in this world. They are certainly nothing more than human beings, but these ancient priests had to put on the clothes that would remind them, and the people of Israel, just what kind of people we should be. Even if wearing the linen garments of purity and innocence were a costume, it is also a call to be people of virtue. And we pray that our leaders, and all of us, might take seriously the mantle we are privileged to wear. After all- the pursuit of our best selves is no joke.

Rabbi Fish, Temple Israel of Sharon, Schechter Parent

D’var Torah: Ethan Porath ’20 (Teruma)

When does bread rise? When you yeast expect it. I told my friend I was going to open a bakery specializing in Indian bread. He asked me what I was going to name it. I told him, “It’s Naan of your business.” What’s the worst thing about a bread pun? It tends to get stale. And for those of you who are Gluten-free, I have some corny jokes. In a sandwich, bread literally holds our food together. I guess that is why it is called a staple food.

Bread is so important that when Hashem commands the Children of Israel in this week’s parashah to build for God a sanctuary, what is known as the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, bread plays a central role.

In the Kodesh haKedoshim, the Holy of Holies, stands the Aron HaKodesh, the holy ark that houses the Ten Commandments. Outside of the Kodesh Kedoshim, in the area known as the Kodesh, or the Holy, are three pieces of sacred furnishings.  One is the Menorah. One is the Golden Alter for incense. And one is simply known as the Shulkhan, or table. On the Shulkhan stood 12 loaves, known as the Lechem HaPanim, or in English as the Showbreads.

וְעָשִׂיתָ שֻׁלְחָן עֲצֵי שִׁטִּים אַמָּתַיִם אָרְכּוֹ וְאַמָּה רָחְבּוֹ וְאַמָּה וָחֵצִי קֹֽמָתוֹ

You should make a table of acacia (a-kay-shah) wood, two cubits long, one cubit wide, and a cubit and a half high.

The table was to be coated in gold and decorated.

וְנָתַתָּ עַל־הַשֻּׁלְחָן לֶחֶם פָּנִים לְפָנַי תָּמִיד:

And on the table, you shall set the showbread to be before Me always.

In Sefer Vayikra, the Torah gives us the recipe for the Lechem Hapanim, and further instructions.

וְלָקַחְתָּ סֹלֶת וְאָפִיתָ אֹתָהּ שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵה חַלּוֹת

And you shall take fine flour, and bake twelve loaves of it.

And you shall set them in two rows, six on a row, upon the pure table before the Lord. And you shall put pure frankincense upon each row, that it may be on the bread for a memorial, an offering made by fire to the Lord.

 בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת יַעַרְכֶנּוּ

On every Shabbat shall the kohen set the Showbreads

לִפְנֵי ה’ תָּמִיד

Before God continually

 מֵאֵת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל

being offered from the people of Israel
בְּרִית עוֹלָם

as an everlasting covenant.

One of the questions asked by the Talmud in Masekhet Menachot is what does the Torah mean in both Shemot and in Vayikra when it says that the showbreads have to be before God always.  Does this mean that a day cannot go by without the showbreads being present, or does this mean that even a minute cannot go by without the breads being in the table.  The Talmud imagines that there were two teams of kohanim who gathered every Shabbat, one team slowly pulled out the trays with the 12 loaves of the Lechem Hapanim, while the second team at the very same time slid in trays with 12 new loaves for the next seven days.

The Lechem Hapanim was baked every Friday, just like our Challah.  I wonder who the baker was in the Mishkan?

Why did bread deserve such a central role in the service of the Mishkan, and later in the Beit HaMikdash, the Holy Temple?

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin explains that bread symbolizes blessing and prosperity, and that always having the Lechem Hapanim before Hashem means that we pray that Hashem should grant us good luck and always let us have something good to eat in our homes.

Just like the manna did not fall on Shabbat, so too we are not allowed to bake bread on Shabbat.  The Talmud in Masekhet Shabbat learns the prohibition against baking from the fact that a little later in Sefer Shemot the Torah places the mitzvah to keep Shabbat right next to the mitzvah of building the Mishkan. From this close placement, the Rabbis learn that whatever it took to build or operate the Mishkan is what is forbidden as labor for us on the Shabbat.  The Mishnah in Masekhet Shabbat list 39 forbidden categories of labor. 11 of them are involved in the making of bread, from sowing the seeds of the wheat to grinding the flour to kneading the dough to baking the bread.  It takes a lot of people doing different activities, and a lot of work, to create a single loaf of bread.

And yet, what is the ברכה we make over bread:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה’ אֱלֹקינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, הַמּֽוֹצִיא לֶֽחֶם מִן הָאָֽרֶץ.

Blessed are You, Hashem our God, King of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the ground.

Does Hashem really bring forth bread from the ground? What about the farmers? And the millers? And the bakers? … And the Goldbergs. [pause] Just joking.  But seriously, what about all the other people who have their hands in the dough? Perhaps the ברכה is teaching us that we are God’s partners in developing the world.  When we make things, we are doing God’s will and work.

As I become a Bar Mitzvah and continue to grow in my study of Torah and my performance of Mitzvot, I know that Torah and Mitzvot are like making Challah. It takes a lot of effort, many other people help to create the final product, and all of it is in partnership with Hashem.  And the best part is that a life of Torah and Mitzvot is delicious, and that’s no joke!

Ethan Porath, Grade 8

D’var Torah: Bil Zarch (Yitro)

What happens in parshat Yitro is kind of a big deal. The Israelites hear directly from God, a very unusual occurrence. Normally when there is communication with God it has been through intermediaries – be it plagues, angels, or some other way – God doesn’t have the habit of speaking to the Jewish people without some kind of intervention. Can you imagine the scene once they hear that God is going to be talking directly to them? In my mind, I picture jitters of all types, some frayed nerves, a few lost tempers, and a bunch of wild accusations about what is actually going to happen when God speaks.

They prepare for this interaction and what happens? They freak out. They can’t handle the thought of it. They speak to Moshe and say, “You speak to us, and we will hear, but not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (20:16). Could it be that they psyched themselves out for what was going to happen? (I can relate to that.) Or was it that they felt they didn’t have an equal say on how the relationship was going to transpire? (I can see that as well.)

If we look at what is happening to our school today, can we find any correlations?  There are a range of emotions, a tinge of nervousness, and inevitably there may be some things we just won’t know at this moment. Schechter is at a pivotal moment. We are going to be one school under one roof. Our culture is about to be tested in so many ways. There are going to be so many inspirational things that are going to transpire over the coming weeks, months and years. How lucky are our children to be the benefactors of this bold move.

The question is how will we as the adults embrace the change? I believe it is an opportunity that we don’t even know of all of the positive implications yet. If we go back to that scene with the Israelites, I imagine there was a lot of debate on how to handle this interaction with God. In the end, we know how that turned out!

Bil Zarch, Director of Camp Yavneh, Schechter Parent