Terumah -- Exodus 25:1–27:19

Facebook_CoverDesign_Terumah"Color and I are one."

So quipped Paul Klee during his 1914 painting journey to Tunisia, which he viewed as a major breakthrough for his art. He insisted that the trip enabled him to embrace his calling: "I am a painter."

In this week’s reading, the Israelites are called upon to contribute a remarkable panoply of the most moral of all materials: gold, silver, and copper; blue, purple, and red-dyed wool; flax, goat hair, animal skins, wood, olive oil, spices, and gems. Together, these precious materials will allow the Divine to dwell in the details of the Mishkan (the portable desert Tabernacle). The command given to Moses could not be any more clear:

Make for me a sanctuary that I may dwell amidst them.” (Exodus 25:8).

The inner chamber is veiled by a woven curtain. That chamber is the sacred space where the Ark of the Covenant is placed, and the Ark houses the tablets of the Ten Commandments. On the Ark’s cover hover two winged cherubim hewn of pure gold. In the outer chamber, the seven-branched menorah stands and showbread is arranged upon a table.

The Tabernacle is the divine Artist’s template for a transformative encounter, all contained within a "living shell and skin of the earth on which we live" – that is how color and ritual life become one!

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is a graphic depiction of the Ark’s cherubim. "The cherubim shall have their wings spread upwards, shielding the ark cover with their wings, with their faces toward one another." (Exodus 25:20) The profiles of the cherubim are eagle-like, a nod to the more esoteric descriptions of the cherubim provided by the prophet Ezekiel, the Kabbalists, and others. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Stories A Poem From The Minyan

The beating heart of CBS is our minyan.

We are the only synagogue in the Bay Area with a twice-daily, egalitarian minyan, one in which women and men play equal roles. Morning and evening, we join as one in the intimate Gronowski Family Chapel and carry on our rich tradition of communal worship. We come together to daven (pray) for personal and collective edification, but also because it’s important to us that we are there for every person who wants to pray or mourn, recite Kaddish, or recall the anniversary of a loved one’s passing with communal support.

Ours in a large community, however, and many CBS congregants have not participated in morning or evening minyan services. As a result, not everyone knows how special an experience it is.

With that in mind, we’d like to share the following poem with you, which congregant Stuart Blecher pointed us to shortly before the High Holy Days. The poem's author is Howard Simon, a Bay Area singer-songwriter, businessman, and the Board President of Lehrhaus Judaica. Howard is a member of Congregation Ner Tamid, but he is also a regular participant in our daily morning minyan.

facebook_theark_poemillustrationThe Ark

Ezekiel saw wonders
Wheels of fire, thrones that glistened
Like a thousand suns on the water
But I see only an ark
The upturned sides of this seafaring place
Of this building strong as an ocean

And this small simple room
That sits quietly at her prow
Is a tugboat
And we are the mariners
That each day lead her safely to the sea

And like Noah, the greatest sailor of all
We know how to navigate these shoals
How to save what must be saved
How to keep alive what otherwise would die
In these rough and forgetful waters

But when we are moored
Each kaddish that flows from our mouths and our hearts
Leads the ones we loved
Another step up the ramp and into shelter
Preserving not only their memories
But all those who follow
Even to the tenth generation

And thus we sail
Each day redeeming the world
One floating soul
At a time.

We're a little biased, but we feel the poem beautifully captures the vitally of our minyanim.

Please consider joining us for minyan — and, one day, you’ll have some of your own stories (or poems) to share with the community!

Kezayit (An Olive's Worth): Mistaking Cupid For A Cherub

cupid-valentine_10This week, elementary schools and drug stores across the United States are filled with red and pink decorations and illustrations of a fat, winged baby with a bow and arrow. This portrayal of Cupid, the Greco-Roman god of desire (or, according to medieval Christians, "the demon of fornication"), was popularized by Greek artists during the Hellenisitic period, over 2,000 years ago. Ancient vintage notwithstanding, the depiction remains the most common one today.

Pop quiz time! Do you call that chubby, winking Cupid a cherub or a putto? Or perhaps you believe the two are the same?

If you're like most people, you identify this "cute" Cupid as a cherub, or think that a cherub and putto are equivalent. But most people are wrong, at least technically speaking. (If we want to get really technical, a fat, winged Cupid is a particular type of putto called an amorino.)

So what exactly is a putto, and what does any of this have to do with Judaism? According to Wikipedia, a putto is "a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child, usually nude and sometimes winged." Putto is just the singular of the more familiar putti. Erstwhile art history students should recognize the latter term (as well as this celebrated ceiling fresco by Andrea Mantegna, which features a number of putti doing their putti thing).

Importantly, in the context of Jewish theology, a putto is most definitely NOT a cherub! Cherubs (or cherubim) are much more exciting and mysterious than the baby-faced, winged chubsters most of us have in mind when we describe someone as "cherubic." Cherubim figure prominently in Jewish angelology -- although, as with all things Jewish, there is much disagreement about what exactly they are. In Genesis, two cherubim guard the path to the Tree of Life, but these guards aren't described in detail; we're told only that they're armed with flaming swords. The prophet Ezekiel, however, describes cherubim much more vividly.

CoverDesign_Terumah"Every one had four faces: the first face was the face of an ox, and the second face was the face of a man, and the third the face of a lion, and the fourth the face of an eagle. ... The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it."

Ezekiel's astonishing, even frightening vision is generally dismissed by modern rationalists as the product of an addled mind, but there is symbolic and philosophical value in appreciating cherubim as terrible agents of G-d. Jewish mystics understood this. Perhaps recalling the fiery exchange of Ezekiel's cherubim, they came to prioritize the charged space between the sculpted cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant (described in this week's parsha) as a kind of spiritual singularity. This week's Shabbat handout artwork (pictured just above) is an abstract depiction of that creatively and spiritually charged space.

So it's your call. When you hear the word cherub, you can think of a butterball who shoots you in the butt with an arrow and giggles sweetly. Or you can ponder chimeric manifestations of a sublime and terrible force. While we acknowledge that the latter won't sell Valentine's Day cards, we think one is a lot more interesting than the other.

Image credit: Top, Cupid emoticon by Symbols & Emoticons; Bottom, Christopher Orev Reiger, for CBS