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This week's parsha

Unless otherwise noted, "This week's Parsha" comprises articles taken from contributors to the website.  We show the original author's name here, so that proper attribution is given.  For the sake of brevity, footnotes cited in the original author's writings are omitted from this website.  If you need to see the citations, please refer to the original articles on the website.

The Good, the Evil and Transforming the Bad

The approaching festival of Passover makes us confront issues concerning good battling against evil, escape from enslavement by enemies, the triumph of light over darkness.  There are such battles on a national level, and they also exist within a person in the form of the struggle of the Good Desire against the Evil Desire, and escape from the enslavement to inner narcissism and negativity.
Jewish teaching recognizes that very often we are engaged in such conflicts in order that we should survive.  The battle is often not only on our own behalf as Jews, but a battle for civilization as a whole, for the universal ideal of belief in G-d and the ethical behavior which should result from that belief.  When the Bible condemns the idolatry of the ancient Canaanites it condemns their depravity:  "for also their sons and daughters they burn in fire" (Deuteronomy 12:31).

Read more: The Good, the Evil and Transforming the Bad

The Moment of Shared Intimacy

The Humble Moses

The book of Leviticus begins with the sweeping majesty of Moses’ first entry into the Tabernacle. Vayikra, G‑d “called unto” Moses and invited him to the Tent of Meeting. Uplifting and inspiring as the moment was, Moses received his honor in abject humility. In the Torah, the letter aleph of the word vayikra is written smaller than the other letters, as a tribute to Moses’ humility.

The Midrash recounts this tale in dramatic fashion:

When G‑d spoke to Moses at the burning bush, Moses tried to hide, but G‑d declared, “Go, and I will send you to Pharaoh.” Meaning: if you don’t liberate them, no one else will. At the Reed Sea Moses set himself aside, but G‑d proclaimed, “Raise your staff and split it.” If you don’t split the sea, no one else will. At Sinai, Moses once again set himself aside, but was instructed, “Ascend to G‑d.” If you don’t ascend, no one else will be permitted to.

Those who chase glory never quite reach it.

At the Tent of Meeting, Moses stood aside yet again. G‑d finally demanded: how much longer will you lower yourself? This hour awaits no one but you! At that point, “Vayikra -- G‑d called unto Moses.” Of all the people G‑d could have called, he called only to Moses.

The Small Aleph

It is rather fitting that G‑d chose to allude to Moses’ humility by diminishing the size of the letter aleph. For the aleph had, on an earlier occasion, demonstrated its own humility.

Rabbi Akiva taught: The twenty-two letters with which the Torah was given are engraved with a pen of fire upon the awesome throne of the Holy One, blessed be He. When G‑d sought to create the world, the letters appeared before Him, each yearning to be the first letter with which the world would be created.

The letter tav appeared and said, “Master of the universe, would that the world be created with me, for the very word Torah begins with me.” But G‑d turned it down, and the tav withdrew. Next came the shin, but it too was rejected. And so it was with each letter. Last to approach was the beit, who asked that the world be created with it, considering it is the opening letter of baruch Hashem, the traditional divine blessing. G‑d accepted the beit’s plea and began creation with the word bereishit, “in the beginning.”

Even in a marriage, there are intensely private moments.

All this while, the aleph stood silently by. G‑d called to it and said, “Aleph, why do you remain silent?” The aleph replied, “It is because I have no strength with which to address You. Their numerical values are great, whereas mine is small: beit is two, gimmel is three, and so on, whereas my value is merely one.”

G‑d replied, “Aleph, have no fear; your place is at their head. You are one, so am I, and so is the Torah which I will give to my nation, Israel. I will begin it with aleph, as it is written, “Anochi, I am the L‑rd your G‑d.”

When Small Is Great

It becomes clear that those who flee from glory are crowned with it, but those who chase glory never quite reach it. As the first letter, the aleph could have demanded first rights to creation, but it didn’t. It didn’t see its greatness; it saw its own paucity. And as a result, it was selected to be the first letter of the Ten Commandments.

Moses, as the leader of the nation, could also have demanded entry into the Tabernacle, but he didn’t. He humbly demurred. Ironically, his humility was also his greatness, and it was only on account of his humility that he was invited to enter the Tabernacle.

The Bride

Why was humility a prerequisite to enter the Tabernacle?

When the tabernacle was first erected, Moses was not permitted to enter. Jewish mysticism explains that the Tabernacle was to Moses as a bride is to a groom. Moses was not permitted to enter during those first moments, because the Tabernacle was still preparing for its much-anticipated meeting with Moses, and the groom is not invited to watch as the bride beautifies herself for him.

There are few secrets between husband and wife. But even in a marriage, there are intensely private moments when we want to be alone, and even our spouses are not welcome. One such moment is when a wife beautifies herself for her husband. She does not want him to see the work in process, because she takes intense pleasure from presenting the final product. She wants him to see her in her full glory, and does not want to be seen before the work is complete.

Entering before he is welcome is an invasion of her privacy. She wanted to give herself to him with all her love and in all her beauty, but by entering prematurely and without permission, he took that from her. It wasn’t his to take; it was a violation of her space, her love and her very person.

We might suggest that when the Tabernacle was complete, G‑d’s very essence descended to be with Moses. The space G‑d occupied was so intensely sacred that no one, not even Moses, was allowed to enter. G‑d wanted to be alone with Himself before He gave Himself to the Jews.

But Moses, on account of his humility, was ultimately invited into this most private of cubicles. Just like a bride tolerates no one in her room yet does not mind the presence of an infant, so did G‑d invite Moses into His innermost cubicle, because Moses regarded himself as an infant before G‑d.

Some spouses resent being barred from their beloved’s private space. They demand the right to enter, because secrets shouldn’t be kept between husband and wife. They tear down the curtains their spouse puts up, and in the process, tear down their spouse too. They succeed in invading their spouse’s space, but when they finally enter, they find it empty.

When we lay claim to our spouse’s space, we deny him or her the ability to invite us in. When we cherish and love our spouses, when we feel privileged to be married to them, we empower them to invite us in.

Moses never felt entitled. He was thrilled and humbled by the opportunity to await an invitation. He taught us to love without reserve and to cherish without expectation. In the end, should we be invited to share that sacred space, our spouse will hold the door for us and lovingly welcome us in. And when we finally enter, our spouse will be fully present and ecstatic with the opportunity to share.

The Magic Touch

Do hard workers become successful people? I’d like to think so . . . when I’m successful. But for every time I’ve worked hard and succeeded, I’ll show you another time when I worked hard and fell flat on my face.


Success is the magic that floods my efforts with satisfaction. But success is never a guarantee, because there are so many variables that play into my ideal outcome. Magic happens when all the variables are aligned and things play out even better than I’d anticipated.


What’s unnerving is the schism between work and success. In that schism, I am so vulnerable. Sometimes work flows seamlessly into success, and then I take all the credit for my achievements. Other times, that gap brings success close, but so out of reach.


I have my work cut out for me today. In the morning, I’ll prepare for a few of my classes. Success would mean that my students walk away stimulated and consciously aware of their core spiritual identity.


Later on, I’ll cook for Shabbat. Success would mean that the food is perfectly kosher and very tasty, and nurtures my Shabbat guests.


When my daughter comes home from school, I’ve planned some alone time for us. We’ve been getting into power struggles, and we need to talk. Success would mean that she shares openly with me and is receptive to my guidance. Ultimate success means that she develops healthy skills for conflict resolution.


After the kids are asleep, I’ll write. If I’m lucky, I’ll uncover the unifying idea behind my research and find the right words to express myself.


Success may be a wild card, but hard work is a skill you can master. You need to assess your resources: internal resources like talents, skills and intelligence; or external resources like money, family and friends. Once you know what you have to work with, you need to have the confidence to utilize and cultivate those resources. As the old adage goes, “You’ve got to do your best with the tools you have.”


It’s G‑d who gives us the resources with which to work. My opportunities are His gift to me. But pulling things together and pushing my agenda forward is laborious work. And once I put in the work, it’s all too easy to forget that G‑d is the sole determinant of success.


Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was a disciple of the Baal Shem Tov, and later became a rebbe in his own right. He had a student who meticulously observed the mitzvah of refraining from eating leavened foods (chametz) on Passover. This student scrutinized every morsel of food that he ate on Passover -- he wouldn’t even eat at the home of his rebbe, Rabbi Pinchas. Rabbi Pinchas invited him to his house for every meal, and every day his student refused him. On the last day of Passover, Rabbi Pinchas invited him yet again, and his student politely declined yet again. “Check the bottom of your water barrel,” Rabbi Pinchas told him. Lo and behold, lying at the bottom of his water barrel was a kernel of wheat -- actual chametz. The student was shocked and devastated. He ran to his rebbe and cried, “How could G‑d have done this to me, knowing how careful I am not to have one speck of chametz in my home?” The rebbe replied, “We all need G‑d’s help, and we all have G‑d’s help -- unless we say to G‑d, ‘I’ll manage on my own.’ Then G‑d says, ‘By all means, show Me that you can do it on your own.’”


It’s humbling to have to ask G‑d for success. Especially when you’ve invested so much personal ingenuity. But G‑d’s final touch is much more effective than our cumulative efforts.


There are short-term goals and more global pursuits. Top on my list of global, lifelong pursuits is to develop spiritual sensitivity. I want a relationship with G‑d that tugs at my heartstrings. I want a higher consciousness, and more passion when I do mitzvot. Does that sound noble or unrealistic? Perhaps it’s both. Chassidic teachings explain that authentic feelings for G‑d are a gift from Him. My part is to serve G‑d through the mitzvot. I can’t make myself enlightened, but I can do what G‑d wants of me. If I’m successful, if G‑d chooses to bless me with overt success, then our relationship will be emotionally satisfactory as well. Spiritual narcissism comes from going directly for the inspirational relationship with G‑d. Humility means doing what G‑d wants and waiting for Him to gift me with inspiration.


The template for our partnership with G‑d is spelled out in the Jewish people’s first national venture: the construction of a portable sanctuary, the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was G‑d’s home on earth and His vehicle for communication with the Jewish people. It was an intricate and exciting project. G‑d had provided them with all the resources they needed, as well as detailed instructions. Parshat Vayakhel describes how the Jews invested money, labor and effort into the construction. Everyone pulled together in their unique way. The Parshah’s name, Vayakhel, means “and he assembled,” and they truly assembled a beautiful structure with elegant furniture. But it was empty. It didn’t feel like G‑d’s home yet. The Parshah concludes, but the story doesn’t culminate.


In the next Parshah, Pekudei, Moses reviews the inventory of the Tabernacle and sets up shop. And then the magic occurs: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the L‑rd filled the Mishkan.” G‑d transformed the Tabernacle from a wooden edifice into a magical, G‑dly oasis.


“Work smarter, not harder” is a popular phrase. To me, working smarter means consciously attracting G‑d’s blessing to our endeavors, acknowledging our dependence on Him, being aware of the partnership between us.


Sometimes, partnering with G‑d can be counterintuitive. Like when I’m so frantically busy that I don’t have any time to pray. But here is another perspective: “I have so much to do today, I can’t afford not to pray!” I can work from the bottom up, but only G‑d can see the situation from the top down.


The Lubavitcher Rebbe said that although having a large family is so incredibly time-consuming, the more children a mother has, the more efficiently she will work. Not only because of her learned expertise, but because G‑d gives her work an extra dose of blessing and success so that she can accomplish more in less time.


In Parshat Vayakhel, the Jews work hard to make the Tabernacle happen. In Parshat Pekudei, G‑d’s presence rests on the Tabernacle.

In a standard year with 12 months (not a leap year with 13 months), we don’t have enough weekends for the 54 Torah portions to be read. The solution is to double up several of the short Parshiot. The Parshah of Vayakhel is paired up with Pekudei, making them “sister Parshiot.” This Parshah partnership itself speaks volumes about efficiency and time management. If you want to get twice as much done as usual, look to merge “Vayakhel” and “Pekudei” -- personal effort and the recognition that it’s G‑d who makes it magical.

In our thoughts


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