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.

Ekev -- Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Facebook_CoverDesign_EkevWilliam Shakespeare once wrote, "There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so." If a beneficent Creator created the world, is it merely a question of thinking that accounts for why bad things happen to good people? We are disturbed by such moral calculus.

This week’s reading of Parashat Ekev provides us with an opportunity to challenge this ethical rationalization. In continuing with his legacy speech, Moses’ address to the Children of Israel takes on the following tone: If you fulfill these commands, then (and only then) you will prosper in the Land of Israel. Moses also points to moments of collective backsliding – the Golden Calf, the rebellion of Korah, and the skepticism of the spies – not merely to point a finger, but also to offer an opening for the work of forgiveness by the Merciful One, a way to practice the power of return, known as teshuvah — a devotional posture all but absent from Greek philosophy. This spiritual practice of teshuvah is ongoing, and especially important as we approach the month of Elul that precedes High Holy Days. Within this description of the Land of Israel as "flowing with milk and honey," we also learn about the beauty of the "seven species" (wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and dates).

This week then is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how each of us comes to terms with, or questions, this moral calculus in the ongoing journey of our relationship to the divine.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is inspired by a passing mention in Parashat Ekev; we learn that the Israelites are aided in their conquest of the Promised Land by the tzir’ah. "And also the tzir'ah, the Lord, your God, will incite against them, until the survivors and those who hide from you perish." (Deuteronomy 7:20) Rashi and Nachmanides contend that the tzir'ah is a hornet, with Rashi further detailing that the insect "injected poison into [the Canaanites], making them impotent and blinding their eyes wherever they hid." Today, many frum naturalists assert that the tzir'ah is the Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis), the largest hornet species in Israel and the species on which this illustration is based. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Bamidbar -- Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Facebook_CoverDesign_BamidbarCommunity building requires many relational building blocks for success. As we journey through the Book of Numbers this year, I am reflecting upon the lessons I learned with Dr. Sarale Shadmi-Wortman (Oranim College of Education) during the Rabin Bay Area Leadership Mission to Israel.

There are four tangible ways of measuring the intangibles of intentional community. One key for community building is Commitment; you want each member to feel responsible for the general good of the group, for its spiritual and emotional well-being.

In the desert of Sinai, there is a collective understanding of the need for a census of the twelve tribes to be conducted. The Levites are to serve in the sanctuary, substituting for the firstborn, who were disqualified upon their worship of the Molten Calf. In dismantling and transporting the portable sanctuary, the Levites bore a great burden. The Kohathites carried the sanctuary’s vessels, while the Gershonites were responsible for the tapestries and the Merarites transported the wall panels and pillars.

In other words, it took a coordinated effort to ensure the continuity of this site for communal worship. While each tribe retained its own leader and flag, marked by tribal color and emblem, it was the greater purpose of community that galvanized their journey and its ongoing inspiration through the desert.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is a straightforward depiction of one of the Levites' prescribed Mishkan chores: "They shall remove the ashes from the altar and spread a cloth of purple wool over it. They shall place on it all the utensils with which they minister upon it: the scoops, the forks, the shovels, and the basins-all the implements of the altar." (Numbers 4:13–14) 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.

Eva Leavitt's Bat Mitzvah

Facebook_EvaLeavittShalom. My name is Eva Sivan Leavitt and I’m a seventh grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. I am looking forward to my bat mitzvah, which will take place this Saturday, March 18.

I've been part of the Beth Sholom community since preschool, and now I’m entering the adult community. My portion is about Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, and Aaron making the golden calf.

Some of my hobbies are art and cooking, and I also sing in a chorus. I have lived in Israel for a year, and I love traveling. Traveling gives me a chance to see the world in a different way and to learn about other people and cultures.

I think that to enter adulthood is to learn more about yourself and not so much about reaching a milestone or becoming a certain age. I think that each person has a different path to entering adulthood.

I want to thank Rabbi Glazer for helping me with my drash, and to Noa Bar for teaching me my Torah portion and my haftarah.

Max Billick's Bar Mitzvah

facebook_maxbillickMy name is Max Billick, I’m a seventh-grader at The Brandeis School of San Francisco. I’m interested in politics, history, constitutional law, world languages, Talmud, and cooking.

This Shabbat – on the fourth day of Sukkot Chol HaMoed – I will be called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah. On the occasion of my bar mitzvah, I will be recognized as a member of this community and brought into the covenant.

On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot we will be reading from Parashat Ki Tissa. In the parsha, G-d commands Moses to conduct a census. After the census, G-d gives two tablets to Moses on which Moses inscribes the Ten Commandments. Meanwhile, the Israelites decide to make a golden calf. G-d is displeased about this but Moses is able to convince G-d to not forsake the covenant. When Moses saw this for himself, he was enraged and broke the tablets. He pleaded with G-d again not to forsake the covenant, and again carved tablets that he inscribed the Ten Commandments upon.

I want to thank my tutor Noa Bar, for helping me prepare for my bar mitzvah, and Rabbi Glazer for his invaluable help in preparing my d’var Torah.

Ekev -- Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25

Insta_CoverDesign_EkevWhy do bad things happen to good people if a beneficent Creator created the world?

This problematic question perennially troubles us, and so too did it trouble philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. In his book Théodicée (Theodicy) (1709), written seven years before his death, Leibniz strives to develop a strategy that will clear God of the charge of being, as it were, the author of sin. The philosopher claims that although God wills everything in the world, his will with respect to what is good is decretory (decree-like), whereas his will with respect to what is evil is merely permissive. This implies that the Creator’s permissive willing of evils is morally permissible if and only if such permission of evil is necessary in order for one to meet one's moral obligations. Leibniz’s claim is that the evil that God permits is a necessary consequence of God's fulfilling his duty (namely, to create the "best possible world").

We may not be philosophers like Leibniz, but we are nonetheless disturbed by such moral calculus. This week’s reading of Parashat Ekev provides us with an opportunity to challenge this ethical rationalization. In continuing with his legacy speech, Moses’ address to the Children of Israel takes on the following tone: If you fulfill these commands, then (and only then) you will prosper in the Land of Israel. Moses also points to moments of collective backsliding – the Golden Calf, the rebellion of Korah, and the skepticism of the spies – not merely to point a finger, but also to offer an opening for the work of forgiveness by the Merciful One, a way to practice the power of return, known as teshuvah — a devotional posture all but absent from Greek philosophy. This spiritual practice of teshuvah is ongoing, and especially important as we approach the month of Elul that precedes High Holy Days. Within this description of the Land of Israel as "flowing with milk and honey," we also learn about the beauty of the "seven species" (wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates, olive oil, and dates).

This week then is a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how each of us comes to terms with, or questions, this moral calculus in the ongoing journey of our relationship to the divine.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an abstract image created using colors drawn from an aerial photograph of the Jordan River meandering through the Jordan Rift Valley, near where some (literalist) Biblical scholars claim the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land with Joshua. "Hear, O Israel: Today, you are crossing the Jordan to come in to possess nations greater and stronger than you, great cities, fortified up to the heavens." (Deuteronomy 9:1) Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Simone Jochnowitz's Bat Mitzvah

Facebook_JochnowitzHello. My name is Simone Jochnowitz. I’m an eighth grader at A.P. Giannini Middle School. My interests include hanging out with my friends, playing trombone in my school band, dancing, and going on walks with my dog. This coming Shabbat, August 27, I will become a bat mitzvah.

My parsha is Ekev, which means "if." In this parsha, Moses tells the people Israel about all the good things that will happen to them IF they follow the laws and commandments that he has taught them. He reminds them about the unfortunate episode involving the Golden Calf, and other evil actions they committed during their 40 years in the desert. Parashat Ekev also contains the famous question, "What does HaShem want?" (The answer: "Follow his ways and do justice.")

I would like to thank my mother and father for teaching me the haftarah and helping me with my speech; Rabbi Glazer for his support; my brother and sisters for their love and encouragement; and the Congregation Beth Sholom community for celebrating this simcha with me and my family.

Bamidbar -- Numbers 1:1 – 4:20

Facebook_CoverDesign_BamidbarThe great Chinese philosopher Lao-Tze (ca. 4th century BCE) once remarked:

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step."

Such wisdom might allow us to see the work of the Levites in a different light.

In the desert of Sinai, a census is conducted of the twelve tribes. The Levites are to serve in the sanctuary, substituting for the firstborn, who were disqualified upon their worship of the Molten Calf. In dismantling and transporting the portable sanctuary, the Levites bore a great burden. The Kohathites carried the sanctuary’s vessels, while the Gershonites were responsible for the tapestries and the Merarites transported the wall panels and pillars.

In other words, it took a coordinated effort to ensure the continuity of this site for communal worship. While each tribe retained its own leader and flag, marked by tribal color and emblem, it was the greater purpose of community that galvanized their journey and its ongoing inspiration through the desert.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is inspired by G-d's request that each Israelite tribe fly the standard of their division outside their encampment. "The children of Israel shall encamp each man by his division with the flag staffs of their fathers' house; some distance from the Tent of Meeting they shall encamp." (Numbers 2:2) The flag is a marker of tribal allegiance, but it should also serve as a symbol of that which we aspire to, a measure of excellence -- a "standard" in all respects. 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.

Aidan Swan's Bar Mitzvah

DSC_0111Hello, my name is Aidan Swan. I am a seventh grader at the Brandeis School of San Francisco. I enjoy sports, and my favorites are basketball, baseball, golf, and rock climbing. I also like to watch the Warriors and Giants, hang out with my friends, and travel. I am very excited that this Shabbat is my bar mitzvah and my parsha is Ki Tissa. I’m looking forward to sharing this day with friends, family, and members of the congregation.

My portion is filled with mistakes and lessons. Moses goes up Mount Sinai to talk to G-d and, while he is gone, the people make a golden calf to worship. When Moses comes back and sees what has happened, he is so angry that he smashes the tablets G-d has just presented him with. So much more happens, but you'll need to come on Saturday if you want to hear about it!

I have loved studying for my bar mitzvah. Thank you to Rabbi Glazer for being a great help in understanding my parsha and helping me write my drash. Thank you to my amazing tutor, Batshir, who helped me learn my haftarah and Torah portions and made studying a great experience. Thank you to my family for being there every step of the way, and for always supporting me and encouraging me.