Sunday, February 14, 2016

Parashat Tetzaveh 5776 - Forever

Echoes of Eden
Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat Tetzaveh

Long ago, we had a Temple. The Temple, or even the loss of it, does not usually occupy the minds or hearts of most Jews: Its rituals seem foreign to us, part of a distant, forgotten world. And yet, in the instructions for the building of the first Jewish house of worship, there is one word that appears over and over: Tamid forever. We are told that the bread offering (25:30), the lighting of the menorah (27:20), the clothing of the kohen (28:29,30,38), the daily offerings (29:38, 42) and the incense offering (30:8) are tamid, forever. To be sure, not all the usages of this term are meant to imply permanence; in some instances, tamid means always, as in usual or constant. We might say that tamid means both always and forever, constant and everlasting.  And yet, to the modern reader, the preponderance of this word in the context of rituals that fell into disuse thousands of years ago may seem perplexing, even ironic.

On a fundamental level, the Mishkan was a home. It was neither exclusively a home for God nor a home for man, but was rather a place where God and man could live together. It was the place that embodied, captured and recreated the stunning spiritual experience of the Revelation at Mount Sinai, the intersection of human experience and Divine existence. By building the Mishkan, this experience was moved from the mountain to a building specifically built and furnished in a manner that was intended to conjure up that singular event. At the very heart of this new home were the Tablets of Stone, engraved with the words God had spoken on the mountain.

Parashat Tetzaveh begins with the commandment to produce the oil that would be used to light the ner tamid, the constant, eternal flame that was to burn in the Mishkan at all times. The text stresses that this flame is to be not only constant, but eternal, for all time, for every generation. This fire, kindled by lighting olive oil in the Menorah, was a reflection of the more ethereal fire in which God had made Himself known to man: Most recently, in the fire that engulfed Mount Sinai as the backdrop to the Revelation, and earlier, in the more private revelation Moshe witnessed at that same location, in the bush that burned but was not consumed, symbolic of the Eternal God. The ner tamid was a man-made representation of the Eternal; like Gods Presence, it was to be constant and eternal, always and forever. Thus, the light kindled in the Mishkan, and later in the Beit HaMikdash, was kindled by the kohen, but was miraculously kept alight by God: This flame, and specifically the western light, was miraculously constant (Ramban 27:20, based on Sifri Bamdibar section 59) because it represented the Presence of God the Shechina, from which the Mishkan draws its name as well as its raison detre.

Parashat Tetzaveh commands us to light the Menorah, to bring the Presence of God into our world and to keep that flame, that representation of our constant and eternal relationship with God, alive and alight at all times, and forever.

Regrettably, our actions can also have the opposite effect, causing the Shechina to retreat and recoil, making it seem as if the light has been extinguished. Rabbinic tradition teaches us that the darkness is no more than an illusion: Even in times of destruction and despair, Gods Presence never leaves the Western Wall, (Bamidbar Rabbah Naso 11) the place of constancy and commitment much akin to the ner tamid, the western candle that was to remain lit forever. Even when the Mishkan or Temple are no longer with us, long after the rituals associated with Temple service are abandoned, the tamid the eternal aspect of the Mishkan - remains. In a sense, the bush is still burning, Sinai still reverberates with the sights and sounds of Gods presence, the Temple is still full of light. Even though the old house was razed long ago, the family remains together, and in every synagogue we leave a ner tamid lit. In the heart of every Jew there is still a place for God, and though the building may be gone, the yearning for God and the sense of His Presence is never extinguished.

For a more in-depth analysis see:

 Echoes of Eden

Audios and Essay Parashat Titzaveh

Audio and Essays Parashat Titzaveh

New Echoes of Eden Project:

The Clothing Conundrum

A Heart of Gold

Aharon Hakohen

The Secret Behind the Choice of Aharon

The Choosing of Aharon


The Awe Of The Mishkan

Holy Clothing

Searching for a Heart of Gold

Royal Clothing

The Selection of Aharon

Where is Moses?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Parashat Terumah 5776 Deep Roots

Echoes of Eden
Rabbi Ari Kahn
Parashat Terumah 5776
Deep Roots

One of the basic necessities for any successful building project is quality raw materials. A building will only be as strong as the materials used to construct it, although a stable foundation, thoughtful and thorough design plans and capable artisans are other necessary components for a solid structure. The building of the Mishkan, of a house designed for and dedicated to the worship of God, presented some very unique challenges. First and foremost: How are the requisite raw materials to be procured in the wilderness? While the plans for the Mishkan were drawn up by God Himself, and the artisans who were entrusted with bringing the plans to fruition were divinely inspired, the materials seem to pose a challenge.

The Torah explains that the precious metals and textiles used to construct the Mishkan were among the possessions, the “great wealth,” that the Israelites took with them when they departed Egypt. However, some of the other materials called for in Parashat Terumah must have been quite difficult to obtain. Where, for example, would they obtain the wood to create the main beam that held the Mishkan together?

Midrashic literature provides a fascinating answer to this question: Long before the Jewish People were given the instructions for building the Mishkan, their forefather Avraham began the process. Avraham, who had been promised by God that he would father a great nation, was also told that this nation would be exiled, abused, and eventually redeemed. How did Avraham respond to this prophecy, this promise? He planted:

Avraham planted an eishel in Beersheva, and there he called out in the name of God the Eternal Master. (Bereishit 21:33)

There is a difference of opinion regarding the nature of this eishel. Some understand the word eishel as an acronym for the Hebrew words for food, drink and lodging, and opine that Avraham built an inn at the edge of the desert, where he received parched and travel-weary guests and encouraged them to thank God for the food and drink he shared with them. Other opinions have a more straightforward understanding of this singular word, and explain that Avraham planted an orchard (eishel being a type of tree). We should note that when he planted this eishel, whatever it may have been, Avraham focused on the aspect of God the Eternal, rather than other aspect that we might have imagined Avraham connecting with, such as God the Merciful, or God the Creator.

The act of planting is an expression of belief in the future. In planting the eishel, Avraham gives expression to his own faith in a God who is Eternal, his own belief in the God who created and planted the very first tree, his belief in the God who will keep His promises to Avrahams descendants. Avraham believes in a God who is Eternal, Master of the Universe.

On the other hand, the idea that Avraham built an inn, a place where he taught travellers about God, is no less intrinsically connected to our current discussion. Avrahams eishel may be seen as the first House of God. Avraham built it as a house dedicated to the service of God, as a place in which men and women might access God. Avraham used this eishel to share his understanding of God with others. In fact, Avrahams grandson Yaakov also had a very strong connection to a House of God: As he lay on the ground in a holy place, Yaakov had a vision of a ladder reaching up to the heavens, and he vowed to build a House of God on that very spot. Unfortunately, his promise remained unfulfilled in his own lifetime.

There is a fascinating rabbinic teaching that draws a more direct line between the two visions, of Avraham and Yaakov, of the House of God: When Yaakov went down to Egypt, he collected the wood from the trees Avraham had planted years before, and made massive beams out of the eishel of Avraham. His grandfather Avraham believed in the future; he had faith that God would fulfill his promises -   and Yaakov was fully aware that he was living the first step, the beginning of the exile. But Yaakov, too, had faith. He knew the day of redemption would come as well, and in anticipation of that day, Yaakov brought the long beams, formed from the eishel planted by Avraham, down to the Egyptian exile. Before his death, Yaakov revealed to his own descendants that these beams, planted long ago by Avraham, would one day be used in a Temple, a Mishkan, a House of Worship to the Eternal God, a place perhaps imagined by Avraham long ago. In this way, Yaakovs vow was fulfilled: Yaakov donated the beams that stood at the very center of the Mishkan.

The idea expressed in this poignant midrash, the process is describes, reminds us that we are the beneficiaries of the saplings planted by our ancestors. They, too, had hopes and dreams. They believed in the future; they believed that Gods Word is true, and they never ceased to call out in the name of the Eternal God, the God of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Some of our ancestors carried their belief through almost unfathomable times of darkness, exile, enslavement and pain, like heavy wooden beams, in the belief that one day their children, or their childrens children, would use them to build a House of God they themselves could only dream of. They had faith that their descendants would one day serve God, Eternal God, in a place founded on their own beliefs, constructed from the beams of their ancestors’ hopes and dreams. As their descendants, we, too, must never lose faith in the future. We must craft and carry the beams that will allow our children, and their children, to continue to call out in the name of the Eternal.

For a more in-depth analysis see:

 Echoes of Eden

Parashat Terumah; Audio and Essays

Parashat Terumah Audio and Essays

New Echoes of Eden Project:
Deep Roots


Building Holiness

The Mishkan; A temporary Abode


Physical Form Of A Spiritual Vision

Terumah Tetzaveh

The Golden Calf Mishkan And Merkava

Sefer Shmot and the Confusing Chronology

Intimacy With God

When Adar Starts - the Joy Begins

The Mishkan; A temporary Abode

Shiur on Tekhelet:
The Argument for Tekhelet


If You Build It, I Will Come

As Seen On the Mountain

Out of Place

Innocence Lost and Found

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book Launch

OU Press and Gefen Publishing House are proud invite the public to a

Book Launch
To celebrate the publication of

Echoes of Eden: Sefer Devarim

And the completion of the
Echoes of Eden Series

The OU Israel Center is honored to host the author,
Rabbi Ari Kahn
 and his students and readership on

Monday night  February 22nd or (evening of) 14th Adar I
אור לי"ד אדר א' התשע"ו
At 8 pm
At the OU Israel Center
22 Keren Hayesod Street
(admission free)

Guest speaker:
Harav David Miller שליט"א

Rosh Kollel of the RIETS Israel Kollel

Echoes of Eden: Sefer Devarim