Monday, February 23, 2015

Shabbat Zachor; T'tzaveh

Exodus 27:20−30:10

Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Creating Sacred Space

Our congregation, Beit Tikvah, rents space from a wonderful community. The sanctuary of First Christian Church/Disciples of Christ offers a peaceful haven to both of our religious communities and to other groups as well. Its distinctive shape can be seen by all those driving up Roland Avenue, towards Lake.

Glance up towards the west as you approach the end of the boulevard, and you see an uncommonly-shaped building. The sanctuary itself also offers a relatively uncommon vista. There is no stained glass, no organ pipes. There is nothing imposing in the architecture, but rather, a great deal that is inviting. Softly colored wood. Pews arrayed in circular ranks, three quarters of the way around the space. Simple furnishings. Very little overtly religious symbolism.

The sanctuary is very easily transformed into Congregation Beit Tikvah's space prior to our Friday night services, or on holidays. Our ark is easily wheeled in from its resting place in a discreet corner of the social hall. A few details - including a beautiful six-pointed cloth for the reading table - and our sacred space is ready.

Continue reading.

Follow us on   

Monday, February 16, 2015


Exodus 25:1−27:19

Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

The Golden Calf and the Mishkan

This week's parashah, Terumah, begins the section where God gives Moses the instructions on how to build the Mishkan/Dwelling Place - the portable sanctuary that will follow the people through the desert.

It seems strange that following the spiritual high of the Revelation at Sinai the first thing that God tells Moses once he ascends the mountain for his 40-day stay is what material objects are needed for the building of the Mishkan.

Aviva Zornberg mentions two different classical interpretations of this narrative. The first states that the Mishkan is given by God to the people because after the encounter at Sinai they are holy and prepared to accept the instructions and to receive the gift of a divine dwelling place in their midst. This interpretation also views the Mishkan as a kind of "portable Sinai," as much of the language describing the Mishkan echoes the description of Sinai. In this way the Mishkan enables the people to take the unique spiritual high of Sinai with them wherever they go.

However, Rashi and others have another interpretation, which is actually more prevalent. This interpretation again relies on the belief that there is no true chronological order to the Torah, and so the instructions for the building of the Mishkan are placed after the building of the Golden Calf (rather than before, as it would appear from reading the actual text). In this interpretation the gold used for the Mishkan "atones for the gold of the calf." This interpretation is often read simply as meaning that, after the Golden Calf, God realized that the people needed a physical representation of the Divine presence, and so God designed the Mishkan. However, in Zornberg's analysis it becomes clear that it is much deeper and more complex than that.

Continue reading.

Follow us on   

Monday, February 9, 2015

Shabbat Shekalim, Mishpatim

Exodus 21:1−24:18

Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

The Gift of Freedom

The Parasha this week is Mishpatim, considered the beginning of what is called the "Book of the Covenant." Portrayed as being instructed by God to Moses while still on Mount Sinai, the Book of the Covenant is really the first set of detailed Torah legislation. It includes laws on how to treat slaves and the penalty for various crimes. All of these laws are meant to provide a structure for the newly forming Israelite society. We must remember that the people had only known slavery throughout their whole lives and now they must be taught the rules and regulations of a free society. Without these they might assume that freedom was equivalent to anarchy and havoc would ensue (just think of the Golden Calf incident which takes place while Moses is still on Sinai receiving all of these laws).

In reading these laws it has always fascinated me that the first law is concerning how they are to treat a Hebrew slave. How strange that one of the first regulations for a newly freed people would be how to treat their own slaves! One would think the text would state unequivocally that slavery was not to be permitted or that this would be the last thing on the people's minds.

Continue reading.

Follow us on   

Monday, February 2, 2015


Exodus 18:1–20:23

Rabbi Steven Pik-Nathan for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities

Words of God

The week's parashah, Yitro, takes its name from the opening line which states "And Yitro (Jethro) father-in-law of Moses heard all that God had done to Moses and to Israel his people, that God had taken Israel out of Egypt." The parashah then continues on with Yitro's advice to Moses not to take on the duty of judging the people's grievances alone, but to appoint judges to help him. Finally, the parashah reaches a climax with the central event of our religious mythology, the giving of the law/Torah at Sinai. It is at Sinai that the ragtag bunch of former slaves finally covenants themselves to God as a people. At Sinai the nation/people of Israel is born.

At this point I must confess to you that I do not believe in Sinai as a literal, factual, or historical event. I doubt that it happened at all, just as I doubt the historical veracity of the exodus, the splitting of the Sea of Reeds and so many other events in the Torah. But that does not concern me. What concerns me is not the "fact" of these mythic narratives, but rather, the "Truth" of them. I care what the message is that the tale is meant to teach. I care what the ethics, values and beliefs are that underlie the story, and not whether or not a mountain named Sinai ever existed or a man named Moses ever ascended its heights.

Continue reading.

Follow us on