Ki Tissa -- Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

Construction of the Tabernacle is left to the wise-hearted artisans, Bezalel and Aholiav, and proceeds according to schedule, but Moses does not return from atop Mount Sinai exactly when expected (32:1). This leads the impatient Israelites to sculpt a molten calf of gold and worship it (32:6).

When he finally returns, Moses sees his people dancing around this idol and becomes enraged; he smashes the first set of tablets, destroys the molten calf, and executes the culprits behind this moment of grave idolatry. Then, in a moment of great empathic compassion, Moses turns to God and says: “If You do not forgive them, then blot me out of the book that You have written!” (32:32) Perhaps this eruption of empathic compassion is what allows Moses to formulate a second set of tablets upon his next ascent to Sinai?

When Moses is able to be truly present to the others in his community, no matter how errant, he is then granted a vision of the divine, through the thirteen attributes of mercy. After Auschwitz, the great French Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) took this remarkable moment of Moses’ request for a complete encounter with the divine “face” (33:20) only to be granted a view of “the other side” (33:23) to teach us that every human encounter with "the other" presents us with a trace of the divine.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the golden calf, Torah's most prominent symbol of idolatry. Here, the calf's head references Charging Bull, the famous bronze sculpture that's sparked countless photo ops in downtown Manhattan since it was installed in 1987. The choice isn't intended as an attack on capitalism (which, when thoughtfully regulated, is the most workable system we’ve come up with), but perhaps our modern championing of relentless economic growth is a species of misbegotten idol? In the background are golden earrings featuring the Egyptian Eye of Horus, a reference to the story's collection of Israelite earrings to create the calf; surely, their earrings' iconography and style would have been Egyptian following such a long period of assimilation. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Report From Dublin

Rabbi Glazer recently participated in Philosophizing Monotheism, a conference at the National University of Ireland, Dublin. On his return to the States, he shared the inspiring report below.



The wonderful conference was the culmination of an ongoing relationship I have been cultivating with a group of Israeli academics. I've done so with a few intentions in mind.

Ireland2Firstly, I aim to increase the intellectual and spiritual exchange between Israeli and Diaspora scholars that has been challenged recently by the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, especially the arm of the movement that calls for an academic boycott of Israel. Secondly, it is essential that we collaborate across our Jewish spheres on academic projects that will shape the future thinking of Judaism and monotheisms more broadly. Thirdly, to further the awareness and integration of these collaborations, I hope to publish and disseminate gleanings from the ongoing exchanges taking place in Israel, Europe, and America.

Aside from having the gift of focused time to present, listen, reflect, question, and dialogue with each other for uninterrupted hours on end, this was a unique meeting of scholars and philosophers of religion from many walks of life, all sharing a passion for what I call Critical Judaism and Critical Religion. To be able to interrogate the core of our respective monotheistic religions in freedom without fear of persecution is a relatively recent modern phenomenon. On the one hand, this gathering recalled the medieval, magical moments of Convivencia during a golden age of Spain (if not the one usually spoken of), when philosophers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were in constant fruitful exchange and allowed each other's theological thinking to challenge, influence, and inspire each other. On the other hand, as Irish philosopher Dermot Moran commented, my theological investigations (which coincide with his research on Dionysius and Don Scotus) put me in the good company of Baruch or Benedict de Spinoza and Giordano Bruno, both of whom were excommunicated for their heresies from their modern communities. Alas, today we live in a very different world. Such accusations of heresy would demand a kind of caring and religious literacy that seems to be rapidly dissolving, especially in the religious spheres of America.

Ireland1Over these days we were blessed to spend together, I came to realize the gift of scholarly exchange from my vantage point as a scholar-rabbi, especially with Israeli colleagues, living both in Israel and in the European Diaspora. They all equally appreciated my perspective, especially when it turned to questions of the future of religious institutions and applications of critical thinking. The quality of conversation and the feeling that our reflections about God, the world, and humanity matter could not be more urgent and inspiring. At this juncture, being in Ireland, presenting in English, and thinking through all the layers of monotheisms, beginning with the Hebrew Bible, rabbinic literature, mysticism, Hasidism, and its abiding influence on the big questions in philosophy of religion like ethics, justice, cosmotheism, conversion, and doubt will continue to resonate with all of us as we part ways. After a year of planning, we all experienced a light that only appears when scholars from across religious and philosophical boundaries come together in free exchange.

I am grateful as well as for my training at the Center for the Study of Religions at University of Toronto, which really paved the way for this kind of exchange. One of the most remarkable moments for me came in reuniting with a colleague from graduate studies at the Center for the Study of Religions, Mahdi Tourage, (an Iranian refugee to Canada in 1986) to see how decades later we both remained attuned to so many parallel theological concerns in our respective traditions of Jewish and Islamic mysticisms. It was both inspiring and alarming that Mahdi's courageous paper could only be accepted at a forum like this one given that his insightful, critical thinking remains on the margins of the Islamic academe. Ironically, as we discussed this situation at length, he shared with me the struggle that even renowned Jewish scholars of Islam like Aaron Hughes experience with their remarkable critical scholarship, most recently, with Islam and the Tyranny of Authenticity. Clearly, the more opportunities there are to normalize and disseminate this kind of critical discourse on the philosophy of religions, especially in Islam, the better the world is poised to enable the evolution of monotheisms.

Gathered outside the conference center in the top photo (left to right) are: Ward Blanton (University of Kent), Itzhak Benyamini (University of Haifa), Rabbi Aubrey Glazer, Dermot Moran (University College Dublin), Maeve Cooke (University College Dublin), Mahdi Tourage (University of Western Ontario), Raphael Zagury-Orly (Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design), and Joseph Cohen (University College Dublin). Elad Lapidot (Humboldt Universitat, Berlin) and Maureen Junker-Kenny (Trinity College, Dublin) participated, but were already off to other conferences by the time of this photograph.

Pekudei – Exodus 38:21 – 40:38

Facebook_CoverDesign_PekudeiAs we close the Book of Exodus, let us return to the challenge posed to our assumptions about the myth of the return of religion by philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in You Must Change Your Life (2014). Recall that Sloterdijk argues that it is not religion that is returning, but a mode in which humans are practicing, training beings that create and re-create themselves through exercises and routine, ultimately transcending themselves. What is the exercise being described here in the construction of the Tabernacle?

As detailed last week in Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20), this is an ongoing project that challenges its artisans – Bezalel, Aholiav, and the assistants – in the very way Sloterdijk describes. The artisans complete the Tabernacle as communicated by Moses in the previous reading of Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19). There appears to be recurrent repetition in these later parashot of Exodus — but is this merely repetition? Too often in life, we realize that once we regain something we previously relinquished, we appreciate it as though for the first time. In experiencing repetition, you come to learn that everything that exists does so only by divine grace. In this way, repetition is instructive.

The blueprint for the Tabernacle closes Exodus and thus teaches us an important lesson about our relationship to Torah learning. All the gold, silver, and copper of thinking must ultimately be accounted for in how we construct our lives. How does one go about making a sanctuary – one that provides a space or way for the divine to dwell in everything we do?

Following Exodus and Sloterdijk, consider now that everything each of us does is part of an individual practice that is intimately intertwined with our greater community of practice. This is the closing challenge of Exodus, made to every individual in search of religious community.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week’s illustration is inspired by the detailed account of the work carried out by the artisans of the Mishkan. The ancient blacksmith's hammer seen here might be similar to that used by Bezalel and his team as they hammered and shaped the copper of the Mishkan's altar. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Ki Tissa -- Exodus 30:11 – 34:35

Facebook_CoverDesign_KiTissa"Literature, painting, and sculpture give material expression to all the spiritual concepts implanted in the depths of the human soul, and as long as even one line hidden in the depth of the soul has not been expressed outwardly, then it remains the task of art [avodat ha’umanut] to bring it out" (Rav Kook, Olat Re’ayah, II, 3).

Such outward expression of an inner aesthetic of the devotional heart is found in this week’s description of the design of the Tabernacle – why else would these artisans, Bezalel and Aholiav, be referred to as wise-hearted?

How then does Moses relate to the innovations of Bezalel’s design? Acting as the communal leader, Moses seems to have missed the deadline, and does not return from atop Mount Sinai exactly when expected (32:1). This leads the impatient Israelites to sculpt a molten calf of gold and worship it (32:6). When he finally returns, Moses sees his people dancing around this idol and becomes enraged; he smashes the first set of tablets, destroys the molten calf, and executes the culprits behind this moment of grave idolatry. Then, in a moment of great empathic compassion, Moses turns to God and says: “If You do not forgive them, then blot me out of the book that You have written!” (32:32) Perhaps this eruption of empathic compassion is what allows Moses to formulate a second set of tablets upon his next ascent to Sinai.

When Moses is able to be truly present to the others in his community, no matter how errant, he is then granted a vision of the divine, through the thirteen attributes of mercy. Perhaps this manifestation of compassion is "the task of art [avodat ha’umanut]" that Rav Kook writes of.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork depicts the artisan Bezalel. "See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship…" (Exodus 31:2–3) Bezalel finds himself "enthused" – literally, "possessed by [or inspired by] a god," and he crafts the Mishkan while riding a wave of sustained creative energy and focus. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38)

CoverDesign_PekudeiThe American investment manager Diane Garnick (born 1967) once remarked that:

"Accounting does not make corporate earnings or balance sheets more volatile. Accounting just increases the transparency of volatility in earnings."

Just how volatile are the earnings of the burgeoning Jewish community we read about this week in Pekudei? An accounting must now be made of all the gold, silver, and copper the Israelites have donated for the construction of the Tabernacle -- as prescribed last week in Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1-38:20). Meanwhile, Bezalel, Aholiav, and the assistant artisans complete the Tabernacle as communicated by Moses in the previous reading of Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19).

There appears to be recurrent repetition in these later parashot of Exodus — but is this merely repetition? Too often in life, we realize that once we regain something we previously relinquished, we appreciate it as though for the first time. In experiencing repetition, you come to learn that everything that exists does so only by divine grace. In this way, repetition is instructive.

The blueprint for Tabernacle closes Exodus and thus teaches us an important lesson about our relationship to Torah learning. All the gold, silver, and copper of thinking must ultimately be accounted for in how we construct our lives. How to go about making a sanctuary -- one that provides a space or way for the divine to dwell in everything we do -- this is the closing challenge of Exodus to every individual in search of religious community.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration depicts the divine presence manifesting itself in the form of a cloud that descends upon the Mishkan. From Exodus 40:34: "And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan." Seen here, however, the cloud also calls to mind the column of smoke/pillar of fire theophany that appeared earlier in Exodus to guide the Israelites out of Egypt. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Ki Tissa -- Exodus 30:11-34:35

CoverDesign_KiTissaIn Ki Tissa, design of the Tabernacle is assigned to the wise-hearted artisans, Bezalel and Aholiav. We hear the echo of their influence in Israel even today.

For example, the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, established in 1906 by artist Boris Schatz, has evolved into one of the world's most prestigious art schools. We learn this week why the name Bezalel is synonymous with more than a century of Israeli art, innovation, and academic excellence. Bezalel’s namesake shines -- the school is responsible for producing numerous artistic breakthroughs and has demonstrated a remarkable ability to respond and adapt to cultural changes. If its numerous generations of graduates – the vanguard of Israeli artists, designers, and architects, both in Israel and around the globe – is any indication, then Bezalel remains as strong an influence as ever in Israeli society.

But how does Moses relate to the innovations of Bezalel’s design? Acting as the communal leader, Moses seems to have missed the deadline, and does not return from atop Mount Sinai exactly when expected (32:1). This leads the Israelites to sculpt a molten calf of gold and worship it (32:6). When he finally returns, Moses sees his people dancing around this idol and smashes the first set of tablets, destroys the molten calf, and executes the culprits behind this moment of grave idolatry. Then, in a moment of great empathic compassion, Moses turns to God and says: “If You do not forgive them, then blot me out of the book that You have written!” (32:32)

Perhaps this eruption of empathic compassion is what allows Moses to formulate a second set of tablets upon his next ascent to Sinai. When Moses is able to be truly present to the others in his community, no matter how errant, he is then granted a vision of the divine, through the thirteen attributes of mercy.

After Auschwitz, the great French Jewish thinker Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) took this remarkable moment of Moses’ request for a complete encounter with the divine “face” (33:20) only to be granted a view of “the other side” (33:23) to teach us that every human encounter with "the other" presents us with a trace of the divine.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Image credit: Another in our series of original illustrations inspired by mid-20th century graphic design. Although the artwork specifically depicts the Israelites' worship of the golden calf in this week's parsha, it is more generally inspired by the relationship between fear, ecstasy, resignation, and faith (of a certain kind) -- think Søren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling or, if you prefer the philosophy of another brilliant anti-Semite, think of Arthur Schopenhauer's notion of the sublime providing supreme liberation through self-negation. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Shabbat Art Experience

RandThis Shabbat, CBS will launch the Shabbat Art Experience, a new activity for families with children in grades 2 – 6 that will occur on select Shabbats when our Shabbat School is not taking place! The program is free of charge, however participation in each session is limited to the first ten families that RSVP. Please RSVP to Michael Lederman.

Led by
Elyssa Wortzman, a visual artist with experience teaching and creating community programming for children and adults in the New York, Toronto, and San Francisco Jewish communities, these sessions are open to all.

The first Shabbat Art Experience takes place this Saturday, February 6, 9:30 - 11 a.m. Participants will look at artist Archie Rand's satirical painting of the 501st mitzvah ("Do not insult or harm anybody with words!") and Reb Nachman of Breslov's teaching about seeing the good in everyone. Kids will have the opportunity to create collages interpreting these teachings, and their artworks may be hung in your homes as a reminder to use their ayin tov (eyes of seeing the good).

twister The second Shabbat Art Experience will take place the following Saturday morning, February 13, also from 9:30 - 11 a.m. Participants will play Mishkan Twister! Using the game of Twister as inspiration, we will explore the shapes and forms of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle or portable sanctuary, a spiritual center in the desert). Like Bezalel, builder of the Mishkan and one of the first Jewish artists, participants will then build their own portable sanctuaries out of candy. Yummy fun!

We invite CBS Shabbat School families to join us, but also encourage families from the greater Jewish community (e.g., the Brandeis School) to participate in these free activities!