“If you build it, I will come”

No, Shoeless Joe Jackson does not make an appearance in this week’s Torah portion. (If you missed the reference, please leave a comment and I will fill you in later in the week.)

In this week’s parsha, Terumah, God commands the Jewish people to build the Tabernacle or Mishkan as a place to serve him during their time in the desert. However, God promises the Jews that this place will be much more than a place of service; it will be a place for the presence of God himself to constantly be amongst his people. As the passage says: “Make for me a sanctuary and I will dwell amongst you” (25:8).

The Torah describes, in great detail, the structure itself, along with each vessel used within. Furthermore, the Torah describes how the nation brought donations for the actual construction of the Mishkan. The Mishkan and each of its vessels required unique materials, most of which were donated by the people in the desert. However, there seems to be one exception.

The Torah prescribes that the beams of the Mishkan be made from “shitim” trees. Seemingly, some sort of cedar. Believe it or not, there were no “shitim” trees to be found in the desert. Cactus, yes; “shitim” no. Where then did they come from?

Our sages tell us that our father Jacob actually planted the trees in Egypt and before his death commanded his sons to take the trees with them when they would eventually leave Egypt and enter the desert. Jacob told his sons that, in the future, God would command them to build a Mishkan and use “shitim” trees for its beams.

This week’s food for thought is: Out of all the materials that were needed to build the Mishkan, why specifically did Jacob prepare the “shitim” trees? What was it about the beams of the Mishkan that he found it so imperative for his sons to “schlep” these huge trees out of Egypt? What did he see and what was he preparing for?

Chew on it. Let me know what you think. And please…have a wonderful week.

P.S. Join Mesorah DC @ 6th & I this Friday night. Visit www.MesorahDC.org for more info.

There never was a rebellious son.

This commentary is on last week’s Torah portion, but owing to the gross incompetency of one of GTJ’s staff members (the redheaded one), the commentary is only being posted now.  Apologies.

Anna Batler blogs about faith and feminism at  http://sotah.net/.  The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Batler.

The rebellious son first appears in Shemot and then again in the last book of the torah, Deuteronomy.  In both texts he is stoned.

One who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death…One who curses his          father or his mother shall surely be put to death.  (Exodus 21:15-17).

“If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, that will not hearken to the voice of his      father  or the voice of his mother and though they chasten him, will not hearken unto         them, then shall his father and his mother lay hold of him and bring him out unto         the        elders of his city… They shall say unto the elders of his city: This son is stubborn and             rebellious, he doth not hearken to our voice, he is a glutton and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones that he die; so shalt thou put away the evil          from the midst of thee; and all Israel shall hear, and fear” (Deut. 21:18–21).

His stoning is remarkable because the crimes of which he is convicted are not otherwise capital offenses.  Assault and even manslaughter are punished with compensatory damages and exile to safe cities respectively.  Exodus 21: 12-19.  The general rule changes if the victim or the accuser are either the father in Shemot or both the mother and the father in Deuteronomy.

Long before modernity, Jewish tradition rejected this practice and even the spirit of this practice.  Over several pages, the Talmud severely limits the application of this law – it could only apply in the small window between Bar Mitvah (onset of legal liability) and physical maturation (growth of body hair), a window that is estimated in the Talmud to be about three month, and there are further limitations on top of that. For example, if the rebellious son flees from his trial and then becomes an “adult” he is no longer liable.   There are no records of this punishment actually occurring.  Parents are prohibited from hitting their adult children.

The offensive law and ethos that give rise to it is effectively erased.  Its presence in the torah exists as testimony to what is possible in the sands of time and the light of day.  In the Jewish future, I imagine men and women will sit down to write Dvar Torah’s on how our generation effectively erased the prohibition on same-sex relationships and overarching gender inequality from the text.  They will look at those prohibitions as we look upon the stoning of the rebellious son – as a testimony to Judaism’s capacity to remain, after thousands of years, a religion in the process of becoming.


Wrapping up the week with Rabbi Berkman

Rabbi Berkman is a rabbi for Mesorah DC and leads this weekly discussion of the Torah portion.  The first part to this discussion ran on Monday.

A father had many children, nearly all of whom grew up to be fine, upstanding people. One son however, fell into the wrong crowd and eventually became a thief. Although this father loves and cares for all of his children equally, his central focus of worry and concern is on his son that has gone astray. How can he help him? The father wonders. What can I do to help the child I love get his life in order? Such are the worries of any parent who has a child in trouble, and so are the worries of God almighty when one of his children has chosen the wrong path in life.

We began the week with a question on the Torah portion. Of all the laws in the Torah dealing with interpersonal relationships, why begin with those dealing specifically with a slave?

We have to understand the nature and purpose of the institution of slavery that the Torah is teaching us about. A person steals and is unable to repay the stolen property. What do we do? Logic may dictate to throw the guilty party in jail. While throwing a thief in prison may serve as a punishment, chances are it will do nothing to help the criminal right his ways. Whenever the sentence is over the thief will return to society, be broke, need money, rob a bank, and end up back in the slammer. How often do we see criminals as second time offenders?

God, in the Torah has other ideas. This fellow has gone as gone astray of the law and forgotten how to live a proper lifestyle. Sell him into a proper, healthy family situation. Allow him to learn from their ways. After six years, he can return to society as a new person having relearned how to live proper way of life. Punishment is necessary. Punishment alone though, does not suffice. The Torah way of slavery, more than anything else is a rehabilitation process. Our sages explain that this slave is treated with the up most dignity.

God is worried about of one of his children and therefore doesn’t jump just to punish, rather he prescribes a plan to help his dear child find his way home.

We learn these laws first to remind us that we are all God’s beloved children and he looks to deal with us with nothing but compassion and concern. As we prepare to deal with each other, we must remember that the person we are dealing with is one of Gods children and do so with compassion and concern just as God himself asks us to do.

What a powerful message. Shabbat Shalom to all of God’s beloved children.

P.S. don’t forget Café Night 7pm Monday @6&I. Kosher class starts this week email

srulimotzen@gmail.com for more details.

Gather the News – Jewish News of the Week – 1/28

Goldberg knows that antisemitic ducks do NOT fly together

Why gather on a cruise, when you could Gather the News?  Oh yeah, because cruises are awesome.

  • The Guardian creates a dramatic graphic exclusively for the Palestine Papers.  Oh right, and the Palestine Papers happened.
  • Egyptian protests, among others in the Arab world, continue.  But is it good for the Jews?  Eh, let’s wait and see.
  • A Jewish professional hockey player sues the Anaheim Ducks for alleged antisemitic remarks.  In other news, there is a Jewish professional hockey player. [1]
  • The New York Jets mercifully get eliminated from the playoffs.  Meanwhile, some intern at CBS affiliate WLKY makes a hilarious error (HT to DovBear). [2]
  • Urban Outfitters has decided that the frum look is in.  Girls, if you were ever wondering how to rock “hipster tznius,” then look no further. [3]
  • Jewish Funds for Justice spends “six figures” to publish a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal condemning Fox News chief Roger Ailes and general crazy person/fellow Fox News employee Glenn Beck.  Jewish Funds was pleased, until they realized they gave Rupert Murdoch ANOTHER SIX FIGURES.
  • A Holocaust-denying parent accidently makes his views known to an Upper East Side PTA listserv.  You can pretty much guess what happens next. [4]
  • Just when you thought Google couldn’t get any more benevolent, they go and do this.
  • Israel finds that its commandos acted appropriately during the flotilla incident, while the UN and Turkey disagree.  The Washington Post writes a terrible headline for the story, and despite the snow in DC this week, Hell remained hot. [5]
  • As part of the Jerusalem 2111 contest, one Israeli filmmaker creates the best thing since Sharktopus (video not tznius).

Shabbat Shalom, and watch out for sharktopi!


[1] Trivia question: what kind of business does Goldberg’s family own?

[2] Seriously, though.  Thank G-D they’re not in the Super Bowl.

[3] I’m no longer allowed in Urban Outfitters.  My pants fit appropriately, and that apparently upsets the other customers.

[4] If you guessed “an expensive full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal protesting his actions,” you would be incorrect.

[5] I’ve used this cliche before, but you have to stick with what works.

Sixth & I Trivia Results

Team Happy National Popcorn Day!

The results from last week’s trivia competition at Sixth & I Synagogue are in.

Our winners represent the best of the best of the best (sir!). Consider our subset: Jews are disproportionately well-educated, D.C. is the best educated city in the country, and people who go to trivia contest are presumably better at trivia than the average person.

So here they are:

Team name: Happy National Popcorn Day!
Team players: Rebecca R., Samantha T., Frannie M., Daniel Z., and Noam R.

Congratulations to the victors!

Second Place: We’re Jew…ish
Third Place: Bananas are an Aggressive Fruit

Stay tuned for February’s trivia contest co-sponsored by Sixth & I Synagogue and B’nai B’rith International.

Jewish Federation of Greater Washington Connects Generations

Nearly 100 young professionals and established leaders in the DC-metro area enjoyed a night of networking and an informative panel discussion at the launch of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s ConnectGens program on January 19, 2011.

The event, featuring three local, young entrepreneurs, was moderated by Danny Krifcher, Former Executive Vice President, AOL.
Panelists included:

– Erik Kimel, Founder and CEO, Peer2Peer Tutors
– Jonathan Neman, Co-Founder and CEO, Sweetgreen
– Micha Weinblatt, Founder and CEO, Crooked Monkey

ConnectGens is a sub-committee of The Network that helps build connections between promising young professionals and established professionals within the Jewish community. These motivated, talented, and promising young Jewish professionals have already made a significant contribution to the community through donating, fundraising, volunteering, and showing the knowledge, skills, and abilities to become effective future lay leaders.  The program, co-chaired by Michael Newman and Jason Langsner, was born in Jerusalem during The Federation’s Inaugural Birthright Alumni Leadership Mission.  Applications for the 2011 Mission are now available.

For more information on ConnectGens, visit www.shalomdc.org/thenetwork or for information on the Birthright Alumni Leadership Mission, visit www.shalomdc.org/alumnimission

ConnectGens | Young Jewish Entrepreneurial Panel from ConnectGens on Vimeo.