Tetzaveh -- Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

Fashion designer Kenneth Cole once remarked, "You can change an outfit, you can outfit change, or both." How fitting that clothes are what truly outfit spiritual change in this week’s reading!

To outfit spiritual change, all priests or kohanim wear: (1) a full- length linen tunic [ketonet]; (2) linen breeches [michnasayim]; (3) a linen headdress, or turban [mitznefet]; and (4) a long, waist sash [avnet]. To manifest his spiritual shift, the High Priest also wears: (5) an apron of blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, with linen and gold thread [efod]; (6) a breastplate composed of 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes [hoshen]; (7) a cloak of blue wool, adorned with gold bells and pomegranates on its hem [me’il]; and (8) a golden plate upon the forehead with the inscription, “Holy to God” [tzitz].

Initiation into the priesthood takes seven days for Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar, and Itamar. Mirroring the seven day cycle of creation, here Torah is teaching us that every creative choice we make, even the most mundane, outfits us with the possibility of spiritual transformation.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the Holy of Holies as an abstract, contained force. In Parashat Tetzaveh, we learn the Israelite priests must be purified and specially adorned in order to safely approach the Holy of Holies. Comparing Aaron’s "holysuit" to a space suit, religious scholar Tikva Frymer-Kensky (z”l) wrote, "we must have G-d’s holy presence to survive, but we must approach it only when it is contained in the precise manner G-d prescribes, and we come into the realm of holiness only in the holysuit G-d gives us. In the modern world, we have energy that can serve as a metaphor to model this divine power. Carefully contained, nuclear power can fuel our cities, but if the plant has cracks, it will escape and destroy, and if an individual approaches without a radiation suit, that person is dead." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Shemini – Leviticus 9:1-11:47

Facebook_CoverDesign_SheminiYou are what you eat, so they say. But more importantly, as Jews, we eat only in the context of creation.

In this week’s reading, Shemini, aside from Aaron’s mysterious silence in the face of his sons’ immolation, we are drawn into the distinctions conveyed through our dietary laws. The laws of kashrut are commanded, identifying permissible and forbidden animals for consumption, including: (1) land animals only with a split hoof and that chew their cud; (2) fish with scales and fins; and (3) appropriately listed birds and insects.

As we read in Leviticus 11:1-2, the divine imperative for conscious consumption brings awareness that "you may eat out of all the domestic beasts that are on the earth." This phrase "on the earth" appears seven times in this chapter (11:2, 21, 29, 41, 42, 44, 46) – why? It is a reminder taking us back to the sixth day of Creation, when the Earth was first covered with plants and mobile creatures, and the humans were blessed as stewards of "every animal that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:28).

Finally, distinctions relating to ritual readiness are recounted, including the laws relating to the immersion pool known as the mikveh. All these rituals are based on the ancient wisdom of distinction(s); while they continue to evolve, they still have resonance today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration is inspired by fire's central and ambivalent role in Shemini. It goes "forth from before the Lord and consume[s] the burnt offering" (Leviticus 9:24) and also "forth from before the Lord and consume[s]...Nadav and Avihu" (Leviticus 10:2). It is difficult to read of the horrible fate of Aaron's sons without considering the English name for the Shoah – "holocaust n 1. a burnt sacrifice: a sacrificial offering wholly consumed by fire 2. a complete or thorough sacrifice or destruction esp. by fire." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Aliyah Baruch's Bat Mitzvah

AliyahBaruchMy name is Aliyah Baruch. I attend Aptos Middle School and I am in the seventh grade. I like playing soccer, hanging out with my friends and family, taking care of animals, and traveling.

On April 22, I will have my bat mitzvah. It is a big milestone in my life that I will be sharing with people from many parts of the world, including San Francisco, Israel, Las Vegas, and New York. No matter how near or far away my guests travel from, I am so thankful that they will share this important day with me.

I think that your bat mitzvah will stay with you for your whole life; it won’t just be forgotten the day after you’re called to the Torah. My parsha talks about how Aaron’s two sons, Nadav and Avihu, set an alien fire and got struck down because G-d did not instruct them to make the fire. Some rabbis have other opinions about why G-d struck them down; perhaps "they wanted to rise within the priestly rankings and overthrow Moses and Aaron." But I don’t think that is the case. I think the story of Nadav and Avihu is an example of good intentions that backfired because they wanted to be more involved but went about it in the wrong way.

I want to thank my mom and my dad, my brother Myles, my grandparents, and all my cousins, aunts, and uncles for all the love and support they have shown me. I also want to give a special thanks to Rabbi Aubrey Glazer for his help and Noa Bar for giving me the gift of Torah and teaching me how it relates to everyday life. Finally, I want to thank Congregation Beth Sholom for teaching me Hebrew and Jewish learning as well as being the place where I made so many great friendships.

Tetzaveh -- Exodus 27:20–30:10

Facebook_CoverDesign_TetzavehKenneth Cole, celebrated fashion designer and former congregant of mine in New York, once remarked: "Look good, for good."

To outfit spiritual change, all priests or kohanim wear: (1) a full- length linen tunic [ketonet]; (2) linen breeches [michnasayim]; (3) a linen headdress, or turban [mitznefet]; and (4) a long, waist sash [avnet]. To manifest his spiritual shift, the High Priest also wears: (5) an apron of blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, with linen and gold thread [efod]; (6) a breastplate composed of 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes [hoshen]; (7) a cloak of blue wool, adorned with gold bells and pomegranates on its hem [me’il]; and (8) a golden plate upon the forehead with the inscription, “Holy to God” [tzitz].

Initiation into the priesthood takes seven days for Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar, and Itamar. Mirroring the seven day cycle of creation, here Torah is teaching us that every creative choice we make, even the most mundane, outfits us with the possibility of spiritual transformation.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the mysterious Urim and Thummim. "You shall place the Urim and the Thummim into the hoshen of judgment so that they will be over Aaron's heart when he comes before the Lord." (Exodus 28:30) Scholars and rabbis have never agreed on what these special objects of judgment or divination are. Were they made of wood, bone, or stone, and how exactly did they work? Were they physical objects at all? Some rabbis suggest they were instead words inscribed on the hoshen or rays of light which radiated from the breastplate when the High Priest was asked a question. Here, they are two stones marked with the letters alef, for Urim, and tav, for Thummin. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Acharei Mot -- Leviticus 16:1 – 18:30

CoverDesign_AchareiMot"After the ecstasy, the laundry!"

This insight by renowned author and teacher of meditation, Jack Kornfield, co-founder of Spirit Rock in Woodacre, California, encapsulates the challenge of daily spiritual practice. In his bestselling book of the same title, Kornfield offers a uniquely intimate understanding of how the modern spiritual journey unfolds — and most importantly, how we can prepare our hearts for awakening. Kornfield argues that the enlightened heart navigates the real world of family relationships, emotional pain, earning a living, sickness, loss, and death.

Commentators have long been puzzled by the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. Were these two brothers and young Turk priests focused on ecstatic religious experience to a fault? The ecstatic enigma first seen in Shemini (Leviticus 9:1–11:47) here returns to the sobering lesson behind this episode. Perhaps Nadav and Avihu offered a "strange fire" at an unscheduled time and were punished for transgressing the law of the sancta. Or perhaps their spiritual merits exceed even those of Moses and Aaron? This latter possibility is embraced by later Hasidic commentators, who locate in Nadav and Avihu echoes of their own intense pursuits of ecstasy within religious practice. As Kornfield sagely warns, however, sometimes such ecstasy comes at a price.

And the question remains: once the peak experience of ecstasy has been tasted, how does one remain living in the real world -- the one with our laundry? No matter how high the peak experience, we Jews are tasked with living in the world, even if not of it. The expectation of the Tzaddik in Judaism (just like that of the Bodhisattva in Buddhism) is to return from a state of enlightenment to share that light with others.

Understood from the Hasidic perspective, the fatal flaw of these two remarkable spiritual seekers, Nadav and Avihu, is their choice to withdraw from rather than engage in the real world, to return with the fruits of their peak spiritual experiences. The only person authorized entry into the Holy of Holies and grounded enough to process the experience is the High Priest, and even he may only enter once a year to offer the sacred incense of ketoret.

Another aspect of atonement is described through the casting of lots over two goats so as to determine which to serve as a divine offering and which to designate for sins (the scapegoat) and send as an offering to Azazel in the wilderness. How fitting then that this reading is reserved for the High Holiday of Yom Kippur, serving as a perennial reminder of this challenge of grounding our peak, ecstatic experiences into a daily living of our spiritual lives that includes doing the laundry!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by the scapegoat ritual. Azazel's goat is led into the remote desert and set free, roaming unseen in the wilds of our psyche and burdened with our missteps and failings. Past deeds, for good or for ill, are not erased by primitive magic; even ignored or forgotten, they inform our actions in the present. The scapegoat's eyes are always on us, and we are not called upon to be perfect (nor to deny our imperfect pasts), but instead to strive to better ourselves and to make the world better through action in it. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Shemini -- Leviticus 9:1 - 11:47

CoverDesign_SheminiPlaywright Harold Pinter (b. 1930) once remarked:

There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.

And yet distinctions are critical to making informed choices. Firstly, numbers create distinctions in quantity. Numerology plays a significant role in Judaism, especially for identifying and marking special moments, amounts, or things. This week’s reading, Shemini, is named for a number, specifically the eighth day [b’yom ha’shemini]. In the narrative, the seven-day retreat for inauguration in the sanctuary compound is followed by Aaron and his sons beginning to officiate as priests. A fire then issues forth and consumes the offerings; thus, the divine presence is manifest, dwelling in the sanctuary.

Secondly, offerings are seen in relative distinction to the one making the offering. Following the inauguration, we learn of the strange account of Nadav and Avihu offering “a strange fire” before the divine, which was neither commanded nor requested. The result is clear, but the meaning remains enigmatic — the two young priests are consumed by the fire. Aaron is silent in the face of his sons’ immolation.

Thirdly, following this distressing and enigmatic episode, distinctions in the way food is consumed are conveyed through the dietary laws. The laws of kashrut are commanded, identifying permissible and forbidden animals for consumption, including consumption of: (1) land animals only with a split hoof and that chew their cud; (2) fish with scales and fins; (3) appropriately listed birds and insects.

Finally, distinctions relating to ritual readiness are recounted, including the laws relating to the immersion pool known as the mikveh. All these rituals are based on the ancient wisdom of distinction(s); while they continue to evolve, they still have resonance today.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by Aaron's silent response to the consumption of his sons Avihu and Nadav by a holy fire. "And fire went forth from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. ... And Aaron was silent." (Leviticus 10:2-3) Generations of rabbis and commentators have wrestled with these events and invented many compelling drashes...yet the parsha continues to make me incredibly uneasy. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Tetzaveh -- Exodus 27:20-30:10

CoverDesign_Tetzaveh2When asked about the centrality of clothing in his rock ensemble, Kiss, the Israeli-American musician, singer, and songwriter Chaim Witz (born August 25, 1949, and better known by his stage name, Gene Simmons) once noted that:

The makeup is simply an extension of the personality, and colors, clothing, makeup all express something.

Can this ethos be found within Judaism? To outfit spiritual change, all priests or kohanim wear: (1) a full- length linen tunic [ketonet]; (2) linen breeches [michnasayim]; (3) a linen headdress, or turban [mitznefet]; and (4) a long, waist sash [avnet]. To manifest his spiritual shift, the High Priest also wears: (5) an apron of blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, with linen and gold thread [efod]; (6) a breastplate composed of 12 precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes [hoshen]; (7) a cloak of blue wool, adorned with gold bells and pomegranates on its hem [me’il]; and (8) a golden plate upon the forehead with the inscription, “Holy to God” [tzitz].

Initiation into the priesthood takes seven days for Aaron, Nadav, Avihu, Eleazar, and Itamar. Mirroring the seven day cycle of creation, here Torah is teaching us that every creative choice we make, even the most mundane, outfits us with the possibility of spiritual transformation.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Another in our series of original illustrations inspired by mid-20th century graphic design, the artwork that accompanies this post is a simple depiction of the hoshen (the priestly breastplate). Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.