This is the last Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. As our thoughts naturally turn to reflect on our past and how we can improve for the coming year, this Shabbat’s Torah portion helps direct us toward our goal.
The last 7 verses of this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisah, describe a change in the appearance of Moshe Rabbenu. “Aaron and all of the Children of Israel saw Moshe, and behold the skin of his face had become radiant; and they feared to approach him.” The Torah continues and says Moshe first called Aaron, then the leaders, and finally anyone from the nation to join him in his tent for learning. “When Moshe finished speaking with them, he placed a mask on his face. When Moshe would come before Hashem to speak with Him, he would remove the mask until he departed; then he would leave and tell the Children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. When the Children of Israel saw Moshe’s face, that it became radiant, Moshe put the mask back on his face, until he came to speak with Him.” (Shemot 34:29=35) What does these concluding verses our Torah portion come to teach? As a prophet, was Moshe modeling proper behavior for future generations in the case of a pandemic?
One of the challenges to learning the Tanakh, Hebrew Bible, is that the narrative or events presented in successive texts may in fact span several years. We read the Torah portion of the week or accompanying chapter in the Prophets without reflecting on chronology. This coming Monday night and Tuesday, we are going to read Megillat Esther, the Scroll of Esther. It takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes to read, depending on the time allowed to drown out the name of Haman. But how much time did it take for the history presented in the Megillah to play out and where does the miracle of Purim fit into the sequence of historical events?
What does it mean to create a Sanctuary for God? Surely, God does not need any structure made by humans. So what does it mean when, in this week’s portion, the Torah states, “They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I will dwell among them”?
When we talk about religion our minds jump to notions of God and theology, or perhaps religious practices and ceremonies, or to a list of do’s and don’ts for the faithful to follow. The realm of civil law is relegated to the mundane world of the practical, not the lofty spiritual plane. Here again, Judaism demonstrates unique qualities.