Derech Tzofeh (“The Path of the Scout”) offers commentaries on Judaism from all diverse Jewish Scouting sources to incorporate the values inspired by the Torah, Talmud and Mishnah and relate them to the Scouting program.
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February 8, 2019 – Parsha Terumah
This week, I write in memory of Rabbi Alexander D. Goode, US Army Chaplain and former Scoutmaster, one of the Four Chaplains who gave up their lives saving others in the sinking of the troop ship USS Dorchester, February 3, 1943.
This week, in Parsha Terumah, God gives the Children of Israel detailed instructions on how to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the many items that will be used in it. God commands them to build it, and says to Moses, “They shall make a Sanctuary for Me – so that I may dwell among them.”
One approached the Mishkan by entering a large courtyard, which was 200 feet long by 100 feet wide (about 2/3 the size of a football field). (The Torah gives the dimensions in cubits, which equals two feet.) The courtyard was an enclosure made of beautiful fabric; it opened on the east side. Once you entered it, you would see the large Copper Mizbeach (Altar), where the offerings were made. It was six feet high, and 10 feet on each side. The priests ascended to the top of the Copper Mizbeach by way of a ramp. Beyond the Copper Mizbeach was the Tabernacle.
The Mishkan was a sacred space 80 feet long by 56 feet wide. Its walls were of beautiful wood, and made with fittings of gold, silver, copper and fabrics of turquoise, purple and scarlet wool. It was covered with the skins of the tachash, a now-extinct animal with wonderful multi-colored skin. The front area was the “Holy” and contained three marvelous items:
- The Menorah, a seven-branched candelabra, made from a single mass of gold. Each branch was fashioned into several cups, capped by a knob, and finished with a flower. Special very pure olive oil was burned in the hollow space of the flower.
• The Golden Mizbeach on which incense was burned.
• The Shulchan (Table) made of acacia wood with shelves on which were displayed 12 special loaves of bread.
At the western edge of the Holy was a fabric hanging, the Parochet, and beyond that was the Holy of Holies. The only thing in the Holy of Holies was the Aron (the Holy Ark) the most important object in the Mishkan. The Ark was five feet long, three feet wide, and three feet high. It was a wooden box covered both inside and out with gold. Two Cherubim (heavenly creatures with child-like faces) were affixed to the top, facing each other with their wings spread over the Ark. The Ark had rings of gold at its four corners, two on one side and two on the other side, with acacia wood staves covered in gold with which the Ark was carried.
Diagrams of the Mishkan and drawings of its furnishings can be found at http://torahskills.org/mishkanwebquest/sanctuary.html
Only the priests could enter the Mishkan, and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies.
In a couple of weeks we will learn what was kept in the Ark and what may have been God’s reason to have the Israelites create a place for the Divine Presence to dwell among them. But for now, you can think about the Mishkan and its furnishings like a home – the home of each Jew.
The Mishkan was like a house with four walls and a roof, enclosed by a fence, with beautiful furnishings: a candelabra (the Menorah) for light, a table (the Shulchan) for bread, and an altar used to worship God. Every Shabbat and festival we celebrate our relationship with God: We light candles, parents bless their children with the words of the Priestly Blessing, we bless wine with the Kiddush (as wine accompanied many other kinds of offerings), we salt the challah (the offerings in the Mishkan and the Temple were salted), we wash our hands as was done before conducting the service in the Mishkan and the Temple, and bless the challah.
Enjoy your Jewish home – a place where God can dwell with you.
February 1, 2019 – Parsha Mishpatim
Today, I write in honor of girls joining Scouts BSA for the first time. Welcome!
Last week, in Parshat Yitro, we read about the giving of the Ten Commandments and Moses’ organization of courts of law at the suggestion of his father-in-law, Yitro. There are some interesting transitions in Yitro and this week’s parasha, Mishpatim (Ordinances).
The two events of Parshat Yitro have very different origins. God’s giving the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai is filled with preparation of a divine and marvelous kind. First, long before the events in the parasha, the Israelites are taken out of Egypt with the signs and wonders God performs, culminating in the Ten Plagues that befall Egypt. As the Israelites flee, pursued by the Egyptians, God again intercedes by the splitting of the sea and the drowning of the Egyptians. The first weeks of the journey through the Wilderness are filled with additional miracles by which God gives the Israelites water and food. The Israelites are told to clean themselves physically and spiritually, and to stay at the base of Mount Sinai. There is thunder and lightning. Finally, God gives the Ten Commandments.
During the giving of the Ten Commandments, one interpretation is that after the people heard the first two commandments from God, the intense holiness made them afraid, and they told Moses, “You speak to us and we shall hear; let not God speak to us lest we die.” Thereafter, Moses taught the Israelites the other commandments.
After this, Yitro comes. (The parasha begins with Yitro coming before the verses about the Ten Commandments, but many Sages read the text to mean Yitro came later.) He sees that Moses spends all day judging cases between people, and is wearing himself out as well as making the people wait to have their cases heard. Yitro explains to Moses how to set up a system of courts, with Moses only deciding the most difficult cases. There is no change in nature indicating a miracle is occurring, no thunder and lightning, no ceremonial preparation. A man just gives his son-in-law some good advice.
In Parashat Mishpatim, we continue with Moses teaching the Israelites many other laws commanded by God, including how to deal justly with indentured servants (people who served for seven years) and what damages a person should pay to someone who is harmed by the person’s mistake or negligence.
So we see there is a the transition, from laws given by God with much preparation and ceremony, to the teaching and administration of the law by people. I learn two lessons from this.
First, while God gives the people the laws, the people determine how to administer the laws, thereby serving God.
Second, while we receive – or learn – the law in formal ways (we study it in school, we listen to our parents, we discuss it among ourselves), we apply the law in our own lives on the spur of the moment, each time we interact with someone.
So, now you see how you fit into the divine legal system. Now, be a good citizen (and Scout) and follow the law.
January 25, 2010 – Parshat Yitro – Guest post by Rabbi Josh Feigelson
For the start of our 8th year, Derech Tsofeh is proud to present a d’var Torah by Rabbi Josh Feigelson, Dean of Students of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Rabbi Feigelson writes in memory of his father, long-time Scouter Lou Feigelson, who passed away recently.
When I was 19 years old, I spent the year traveling around the country as National Chief of the Order of the Arrow. It was an amazing experience for ne in many ways, and one of them was that I met so many different people in every corner of the country. And even cooler was that so many of them wanted my autograph.
But here’s a secret: I’m not really a person who likes being at a party, and so meeting people all the time like that was actually a real challenge for me. You might say I was (and am) more of a cat person than a dog person. While I might start out at an event with a full tank of gas and happy to meet everyone (like a dog excited to have visitors), after a few hours of meeting people I wanted to go find a room and read a book to recharge (like a cat who wants to take a nap).
You can’t really be National Chief and be a cat person, though. If you’re going to be a public leader, you’ve got to be able to greet everyone with a smile and positive energy. So I figured out a trick: When my energy would start to lag, I would prepare myself before every encounter and say, “What can I learn from this person?” I realized that every person I met had something to teach me, and I wanted to figure out what it was. That little adjustment in my attitude helped a huge amount, and it’s something I continue to practice over two decades later.
Not to pat myself on the back, but Moshe seems like he was a similar kind of person. In contrast to his brother Aharon, whom the Mishnah refers to as someone who “loves people,” Moshe seems like more of a book person. He would rather be alone with God, studying Torah, than dealing with the constant stream of people who want his help and attention (if not his autograph). While that kind of person can be a good professor, he probably isn’t going to be a great political leader.
Moshe gets help of course at the beginning of Parshat Yitro, when his father-in-law points out that he can’t keep up with the constant demands of his new leadership position, and recommends that he set up a better structure to make it manageable. But we also see that Moshe really figured out the same lesson I learned – a long time before I did! – when we look at the end of this week’s parasha and what happens when Moshe gets a re-do in Parshat Ki Tissa.
In Parshat Yitro, the Torah tells us (Exodus 20:18) that Moshe stood at a distance from the people. After the experience of hearing God’s voice, he couldn’t relate to regular folks anymore, and they couldn’t relate to him. That seems to have had disastrous consequences, because the people ultimately build the Golden Calf, and he ultimately smashes the stone tablets of the law in anger.
But after the Golden Calf, Moshe gets a second chance. When he comes down the mountain the second time, the Torah tells us the people “feared approaching him.” But this time, the Torah continues, “Moshe called to them, and Aharon and all the chieftans in the assembly, and spoke to them.” (Exodus 34:30-31) What happened? Moshe realized that, in order to be a leader, it’s not enough to have the law on your side; you also need to be able to relate to the people you lead. I’d like to think that the deeper lesson that Moshe learned was to encounter every human being as the tzelem Elohim – the image of God – that they are, and to look for something not only that we can teach them, but that they can teach us.
Rabbi Josh Feigelson
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