Wednesday, February 28, 2007


+ Ner tamid (Ex. 27:20): the eternal flame, which hangs above the ark in pretty much every synagogue the world over. This is the first thing mentioned in this week's parshah. The comments in Etz Chayim focus on the importance of light and the meaning of light and fire. I'd never really thought about it, but as the commentary says
"... light itself cannot be seen. We become aware of its presence when it enables us to see other things. Similarly, we cannot see G-d, but we become aware of G-d's presence when we see the beauty of the world, when we experience love and the goodness of our fellow human beings."
The comments go on to describe fire as light that is liberated from a log of wood or a lump of coal, "even as G-d becomes real in our lives in the process of liberating the potential energy in each of us ..."

+ I find this parshah incredibly difficult (much like the past few) to read. It seems hard to consume all of the put this in gold, put that in gold, cover this in gold, make these laden with jewels, do this, do that. The extent to which the kohenim were doused with expensive gear is almost nauseating. This parshah seems so demanding. The clothing seems so extravagant. suggests:
So it is that all clothing indicates values, revealing with what part of society we identify and where our aspirations lie. The elaborate and startling clothing of the Kohanim indicate how their worldview and their values functioned too. The fact that they wore intricate and expensive clothing amidst general simplicity, that they wore elaborate jewelry when no one else did so, indicates that biblical Judaism stressed the royalty of G-d. Just as G-d's servants dressed like royalty, so we were to relate to the entire ritual surrounding G-d as though G-d were a grand sovereign.
But I struggle with this. I look at the Catholic Church today and see the "royal" status of the pope and I am filled with a sort of disgust. The suggestion that the priests were dressed up as a way of crowning G-d king just seems wrong. And even if that was the purpose of the royal garb and extravagance, then isn't that wrong?

I'll admit that were the Temple to be rebuilt, I would be filled with joy and excitement, but is not the Judaism that has thrived the Judaism of simplicity? The personal relationship with G-d, not the ritual-through-priests relationship with G-d.

I can't reconcile a time -- any time -- when such garments and expectations were thriving. BUT, there is a but. But perhaps this was a reflection of Egyptian culture?

+ And on that note, I have to touch on perhaps the most poignant piece of this parshah -- the olive oil. It's interesting because the parshah begins as I said earlier with the eternal light. The importance of light in Judaism cannot be overstated, either. Olive oil is specified for the lighting of the menorah, even though at the time, olives were pretty much impossible to acquire. There's a lot of commentaries and sermons written on the significance of olive oil in relation to the Jewish people, relating to it's inability to mix with other liquids despite it's ability to spread quickly and soak whatever it comes into contact with. As such, we are like olive oil -- the very substance which illuminates holy objects in our lives:
Like oil, Jews, too, will often find themselves mixing in a wide variety of circles -- social, business, civic, communal or political. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. At the very same time, though, we need to remember never to lose our own identity. We should never mix to the point of allowing our own Jewish persona to be swallowed or diluted.
I think it's particularly important to reflect on this. At the same time, it makes me sad to think about the United States, and how it sort of demanded that everyone turn their oil into water. My only desire to study American Jewry comes from the analysis of assimilation and acculturation -- basically, the LOSS of the Jewish identity. I don't find American Jewry as a whole fascinating ... I simply find the lack of it interesting. Saddening, though. There is still a distinctness, but not in the way that it could have -- and should have -- ended up. Rawrgh.