Sukkot 5782 – Shabbat Chol HaMoed

Exodus 33:12 – 34:26

“The L-RD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way; and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light.” – Exodus 13:21, JPS 1917 Tanach

When B’nei Yisrael was seemingly ensconced at the Sea of Reeds, as the Egyptian army approached, “the angel of G-d, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them; and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel” (Exodus 14:19-20, JPS). Thus protection was assured to B’nei Yisrael, sheltered by the Cloud, and illuminated by the Pillar of Fire (synonymous with the angel of G-d); yet, the Egyptians remained in darkness.

After crossing through the Sea of Reeds, the Cloud of Glory continued to shelter B’nei Yisrael in the journeys through the wilderness, and the pillar of fire continued to provide illumination at night. During Sukkot, we remind ourselves of the existential nature of these journeys, by dwelling in temporary structures known as sukkoth, similar to the makeshift tents that provided shelter from the physical elements for B’nei Yisrael in the wilderness. Yet, on another level, these structures are meant to remind us of the Clouds of Glory that sheltered the Children of Israel.

In reviewing the parashas, I was struck by the use of a word, very similar to the Hebrew word, sukkah. Both words share two common letters in their shoresh (root word), the letters shin and kof. The word sukkah, basically means, tent or booth, as per the temporary structures built in the wilderness journeys. The word sakoti means cover or covering, and is found in the following verse: “And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover [sakoti] thee with My hand until I have passed by” (Exodus 33:22, JPS). So, perhaps this is at least one connection found to Sukkot in this parashas chosen as the reading.

What might this similarity imply? In the context of the pasuk (verse), H’Shem’s hand, figuratively speaking, shields Moshe from His brilliance, thereby protecting him from the overwhelming glory of H’Shem.* One might say that H’Shem’s hand serves as a temporary sukkah, encompassing Moshe, while He passes by; yet, surely, some of the brightness of H’Shem is still visible to Moses, since a hand would not serve to totally encapsulate and block the light. This is comparable to the skach, the roof of a sukkah that leaves visibility of the stars and sky above.

Moshe received a fuller revelation of H’Shem at that time; he also heard the thirteen attributes of mercy proclaimed as “H’Shem passed by before him” (34:6, JPS). These are the same attributes of mercy that are recited in the prayers for the holidays. We seek H’Shem’s mercy, not only in anticipation of forgiveness, leading up to Yom Kippur; additionally, according to the Zohar, we may still seek His mercy through repentance, prayer, and charity until the the gates are completely closed for the year’s decrees on Hoshannah Rabbah – the seventh day of Sukkot.

*According to Ibn Ezra, some commentators translate kappi (hand) as clouds. Thus the rendering is that the cloud covered Moses, in like manner as the Cloud of Glory, symbolized by a sukkah.

Moving On

parashas Beha’alotecha 5781

“In the second year, in the second month, on the twentieth day of the month, that the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle of the testimony.”

  • Numbers, 10:11, JPS 1917 Tanach

B’nei Yisrael had been encamped at the base of Mount Sinai for ten days under a year. When the Cloud lifted up from above the encampment, that was the signal to journey to the next location. “And the cloud of the L-RD was over them by day, when they set forward from the camp” (Numbers 10:34, JPS 1917 Tanach). Thus, did the Children of Israel move out in the formation that was previously established for them.


First the tribe of Judah, then, as they began to march, the tabernacle would be disassembled, and placed in the care of the three Levite families. Two of the families followed the tribe of Judah; the third Levite family followed the tribe of Reuben. The rest of the tribes followed in formation behind them. “Whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tent, then after that the children of Israel journeyed; and in the place where the cloud abode, there the children of Israel encamped” (Numbers 9:17, JPS). By day also He led them by a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire (Psalm 78:14).

Let us consider how G-d’s Presence guided the B’nei Yisrael, during the wandering in the desert. “Thou goest before them, in a pillar of cloud by day, and in a pillar of fire by night” (Numbers 14:14, JPS). This points toward H’Shem’s role in our lives to guide us in the right direction, to be a compass in an uncertain world, and a light in the darkness, as well as a refuge from the tumults of life. Appropos of the times, the day speaks of the necessity to turn towards the Creator, whose words are better than silver and gold (Psalms 19:1-5, Proverbs 8:19).

dvar Shemini 5781 – Inner Shame

B”H

dvar for parashas Shemini 5781

“And Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting, and came out, and blessed the people; and the glory of the L-RD appeared unto all the people.  And there came forth fire from the L-RD.”

– Leviticus 9:23, JPS 1917 Tanach

“The fire came down like a pillar from heaven to earth.” – Sifra

The people had grown expectant, to the point of concern, over the previous seven days, in which Moses daily performed the inauguration service on his own. On the eighth day, corresponding to the first of Nissan, one year after leaving Egypt, everything was in place; yet, still there was no fire from Shomayim (Heaven).

The offerings of that day included a calf as a sin-offering, of which commentary mentions atoned for Aaron’s role in the making of the golden calf.  Also, a goat as a sin-offering to atone for the people. Additionally, an olah, and the people’s shelamin – peace offering – as well as the daily morning Tamid offering.

It was at this point, that “Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting.” According commentary, one possible explanation, offered by Rashi, who refers to Sifre, is that when Aaron perceived that the offerings had been made, yet, the heavenly fire had not descended, he thought that H’Shem was still angry with him, because of his role in the sin of the golden calf. He pleaded to Moshe, in the midst of his “inner shame,” whereupon they both entered the sanctuary to pray.

Even upon beginning his role as Kohein Gadol (High Priest) upon making the first offerings, Aaron recalled his sin, and through his prayers, may have sought further atonement for his transgression. Surely, this must have been a humbling experience for him; elsewhere, commentary explains that even though he felt ashamed, this was precisely why he had been chosen, because he remained humble, as a result of recalling his sin. The principle is encapsulated in the pasuk (verse), “my sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:5). If we keep our past sins in mind, this will help us to keep our ego in check.

Sanctuary

B”H

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they take [lakach] for Me an offering [terumah]; of every man whose heart maketh him willing ye shall take My offering [terumah].”

– Exodus 25:2, JPS 1917 Tanach

While H’Shem conversed with Moshe on Mount Sinai, He gave him the instructions for the building of the Mishkan. In order for the Mishkan [portable tabernacle in the desert] to be built, first, a collection was necessary. The collection was a freewill offering of the people for H’Shem, for the sake of building a sanctuary, where H’Shem would dwell. Everyone gave according to what their heart inspired them to give.

The Hebrew word, “lakach” is translated as “take;” although, “bring for Me an offering” would seem more linguistically correct. According to many commentators, the Torah is teaching us that when we bring an offering, we are actually taking for ourselves. I.e., the benefits of giving to a G-dly cause, outweigh the cost. We receive much for our efforts, for we have a reciprocal relationship with H’Shem. When we give, we are blessed with abundance.

For example, regarding the tithes, brought during the first Temple period, it is written, “Bring ye the whole tithe into the store-house, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now herewith, saith the L-RD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall be more than sufficiency” (Malachi 3:10, JPS).

“And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I show thee, the pattern of the tabernacle.”

– Exodus 25:8-9, JPS 1917 Tanach

The Hebrew word, mishkan [tabernacle], literally means “dwelling place.” The Mishkan, or tabernacle was a structure that served as a Mikdash (sanctuary). Within the Mikdash, or sanctuary, the Ark of the Covenant rested within the inner part of the sanctuary, the Kadosh Kadoshim (Holy of Holies). It was here that H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah rested, between the two golden cherubim [angels] on the cover [kapporet] of the Ark.

From this holy place, surrounded by a Cloud of Glory, H’Shem spoke to Moses. After the Revelation at Mount Sinai, H’Shem’s Presence dwelt within the Sanctuary. Yet, According to Sforno, the Shechinah would have rested upon each and every individual, who was at Sinai, because of the high degree of spiritual elevation present. Only because of the sin of the Golden Calf did the Tabernacle become necessary, wherein the Shechinah dwelt in the  Sanctuary.