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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April 11, 2020 – Ki Sisa
Program Note: If you are studying for or completing your bar or bat mitzvah you can work with your rabbi, cantor or religious school teachers to complete the Ner Tamid emblem for Scouts BSA. Your studies and efforts will prepare you to easily complete nearly 70 percent of the requirements. The Ner Tamid emblem will enrich your Scouting life and make you eligible to apply for one of several scholarships awarded by the National Jewish Committee on Scouting.
This week at services during Passover, we are reading Torah portions that have to do with our redemption from slavery in Egypt and the first Passover. On Shabbat, we will read a portion of Parsha Ki Sisa, which we read several weeks ago. This week, we read Exodus 33:12 – 34:26.
These verses come after Moses has seen the Children of Israel worshipping the golden calf and he has smashed the two tablets on which God had inscribed the Ten Commandments. The selection begins with Moses asking God to accompany the people on their journey to the Land of Israel, and God responds “My Presence will go with and provide you rest.”
Moses asks that he be permitted to see God’s glory. God responds this would be too much for any human to live through. God tells Moses to stand in the cleft of the mountain, God will pass by and shield him and Moses will be able to see God’s back, which the Sages interpreted as the back of the head, where the knot of the head tephillin is worn.
God instructs Moses to carve two new tablets and Moses again climbs Mt. Sinai for God to inscribe them with the Ten Commandments. Moses called upon God with the holy name we refer to as Hashem (the Name), and God responded with the Thirteen Attributes of Mercy that we repeat on Yom Kippur: “Hashem, Hashem, God, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to Anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth; Preserver of Kindness for thousands of generations, Forgiver of Iniquity, Willful Sin, and Error, and Who Cleanses.”
Knowing that the Israelites were capable of making terrible mistakes such as worshipping the golden calf, God teaches Moses the people can be redeemed with this prayer if they are sincere in repenting and not repeating their mistake. Not only had God redeemed the people a few weeks before by taking them out of Egypt, God redeemed them a second time with this prayer for mercy.
Redemption is freedom from someone else’s rule over you. In redeeming us from Egypt, God freed the Jewish people from the physical restrictions on our bodies created by slavery and from the degradation of our spirits created by living in a land dominated by idol worship.
This Passover, we are struggling with physical limitations caused by coronavirus. We cannot be with our friends at school and Scouts. We cannot be with some of our family members at seder and services. These physical limitations can also affect our spirits, so Be Prepared to be Obedient by following rules about social distancing, Loyal to our friends and families by staying in touch with calls and social media visits, Cheerful and Friendly with everyone because they are feeling the same restrictions you are, Helpful to our families in a time of stress, and Reverent by making Passover and Shabbat special times.
Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom,
April 3, 2020 – Parsha Tzav
This week’s parasha, Tzav, has an important connection to next week’s important event – Passover, our festival of freedom.
Tzav has very detailed instructions about some of the korbanim (sacrifices) that were given in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) in the desert, and later in the Beis HaMikdash (Temple) in Jerusalem. Some of the korbanim were made of flour, and some were animals. Usually some portion of the sacrifices was given to the kohanim (priests) to help sustain them, because they had no other way to make a living for themselves and their families.
We have always asked why God instructed us to sacrifice animals. Maimonides, in his famous book, Guide for the Perplexed (Part III, ch. 2) explains that since the Israelites had known animal sacrifice in Egypt, God took something familiar to them and changed its purpose. In Egypt, animal sacrifice had been an end in itself, being the way Egyptians tried to gain favor with an idol. But God changed the meaning of the offering. The word korbanmeans “to come near”. The sacrifices of the Children of Israel were not to please a graven image, but were a means of directing their religious energies to God, to come near to the holy.
The seder plate you will use next week will have a shankbone or some other symbol of the korban Pesach – the lamb sacrificed at Passover. On the very first Passover, when we were slaves in Egypt, the blood of the lamb was sprinkled on the door posts and lintels of our houses, to show God that Jews lived there and save our ancestors from the plague of the Death of the Firstborn. Thus, our very first korban brought us near to God in a way that saved the lives of all the firstborn males of the Israelites.
But now we have no korbanim bring us near to God. After the destruction of the Second Temple (in the year 70 of the Common Era) Rabban Yohanan Ben Zakkai explained to Rabbi Joshua that the loss the Temple did not mean we could no longer atone for our sins, even though we could no longer bring sacrifices. He said, “Do you not know that we have a means of making atonement that is as good as this? And what is it? Gemilut hasadim – acts of loving-kindness, as it is said, ‘For I desire chesed – loving-kindness – and not sacrifice!’ “(Hosea 6:6). (Avot d’Rabbi Natan 4:21).
Passover will give you many opportunities for such acts of lovingkindness, such as making sure everyone in the community has enough for Passover and helping your family with cleaning, cooking and other Passover preparations.
This year, we must be creative with our acts of lovingkindness, because all over the world communities are practicing social distancing which keeps us from having our extended families and our friends with us during the holiday. We give up this extra measure of joy in order to help keep our family and everyone else safe. We must Be Prepared to help more in our homes, and to reach out with phone calls and social media to those who cannot join us, as well as others who are alone, or sad, and need to hear a friendly voice.
The first of the Four Questions will have a special meaning this year – this night will be VERY different from all other nights, including every other seder night. Make it memorable. Create a new song or write a skit to enhance your seder; make it a secret and tell your family several days before to expect something new and exciting. Involve younger children in your special event. Ask older family members to tell something about Passover when they were a child. Make this seder one your family will never forget – because of how they enjoyed the holiday in spite of hardships.
Shabbat shalom and have a happy Passover,
March 26, 2020 – Parsha Vayikra
Program Note: With Scouts and parents at home for a few weeks, how about working on your religious emblems. Cub Scout emblems are a great family activity. Scouts BSA and Venturing emblems can double as scholarly activities. For more information, workbooks and applications see https://www.jewishscouting.org/awards-and-emblems/
For weeks we’ve been learning about the Mishkan (Tabernacle) – how it was to be built, what vessels were to go in it, how the kohanim (priests) were to dress and how Moses was to anoint the kohanim and inaugurate the services.
The services to be held in the Mishkan and later in the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple) that replaced it were different kinds of offerings, generally to atone for one’s sins. This is what the week’s parasha, Vayikra, describes for us.
For some sins, the offering was an animal, such as a bull, a ram or a dove. In some cases, the offering was grain. By permitting doves and grain to be offered, which were less expensive than bulls and rams, poor people were able to bring offerings. For most offerings, part of it was burned on the Mizbeiach (Altar) and the rest was given to the kohanim for them and their families, because the kohanim had no lands to farm. All of these offerings were salted as part of their preparation.
The First Temple was destroyed in 586 BCE (about 2,600 years ago), and the Jews were forced to go to Babylon. The prophet Ezekiel, a member of a priestly family, was one of them. In one of his prophecies he had a vision of the Temple of the future as shown to him by a guide. Ezekiel described the Mizbeiach: “The Altar, three cubits high, and the length thereof two cubits, was of wood, and so the corners thereof; the length thereof, and the walls thereof, were also made of wood; and he said to me: ‘This is the table that is before the Lord.’ ” (Ezekiel 41:22).
The rabbis of the Talmud explained the statement that the Mizbeiach “is the table that is before the Lord.” They noted that the verse opens with “altar” and finishes with “table” (meaning a dinner table). Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Eleazar explained that as long as the Temple stood, the Altar atoned for Israel, but now a person’s table atones for him. (Berachot 55a).
There are several similarities to the services in the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) and our dinner tables. Just as the priests ate part of the sacrifice, we eat the food that is served at our table. We use it as an opportunity to thank God when we say the blessings over the food we eat. If we have bread, we salt it in remembrance of the salting of the offerings at the Altar. Many people take a few minutes to study Torah at the end of a meal.
These things are all good ways to worship God, which is a way to atone for things we may have done wrong. That’s between each of us and God. But we can go beyond that, and honor God by using our dinner table to be kind to other people. We do this when we invite people in need to eat with us, such as someone who does not have enough to eat, or is ill or elderly and finds it difficult to make their own food, or is lonely and could use the warmth and lively conversation of a family meal.
While we are practicing social distancing to help stop the spread of the Coronavirus, we are not able to invite others to eat with us. We can do a similar kindness to people by reaching out to them with a phone call or a social media chat. Older members of your family would love to have a video visit with you.
So turn your computer into a temple, and make the world a better place.
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