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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Parashat Vayahel - Pekudei - the Haftara

Parashat Vaya’hel - Pekudei – the Haftara
1Kings 7:51 – 8:21
Reading date: 21st March 2009 – 25th Adar 5769

Our highlighted Haftara text
“The priest shall take some of the blood of the purification offering and apply it to the doorposts of the Temple, to the four corners of the ledge of the altar, and to the doorposts of the gate of the inner court....On the fourteenth day of the first month you shall have the Passover sacrifice; and during the festival of seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten.”Ezekiel 45:19, 21

Is there a way in the Diaspora to reconnect to natural time and to the land of Israel?

The final two parashiyot of Exodus describe the completion of the Mishkan (which not surprisingly repeats in large measure the instructions found in Terumah and Tetzaveh). The regular Haftara from the first book of Kings and describes the construction of Solomon's Temple.
Ezekiel was exiled to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem (597 BCE), and Ezekiel preached to the exiles in Babylon that YHVH would return Israel to its land, and restore the Temple and its service (that was destroyed in 586 BCE). Ezekiel used vivid imagery and metaphors (the famous passage: the valley of the dry bones, for example, is read on Passover) and often describes complex mystical visions of chariots and cherubs.

The weekly (double) portion of VaYakhel-Pekudei and the regularly assigned haftara (from the book of Kings) is about the creation of sacred space. This week, however, the maftir (additional reading) from the book of Exodus is about sacred time. The juxtaposition of the reading about sacred space and the calendar invite us to think about the tension between these two. Heschel's insights about Jewish attitudes about sacred time from his volume, The Sabbath, are often quoted and I include a portion below.

Heschel convincingly argues that Judaism emphasizes the sanctification of time over the sanctification of space. But in Heschel's portrayal of Shabbat as a day of 'truce' between humans/technology and nature/world of creation, we often overlook that the concept of Shabbat and the seven day week is itself an arbitrary measure of time. The year is a natural solar cycle, the month is a natural lunar cycle. But there is no 'week' in nature. It is an artificial construct, and today, Jews are more connected (if they are connected to Jewish time at all) to the weekly cycle of Shabbat than they are to the monthly cycle of the moon. Most of us know what day of the week it is, but most of the time we don't know what phase of the moon we are in. The Gregorian calendar, of course is no help at all, as it has lost its connection to the moon altogether, even though the very word 'month' comes from 'moon'. The connection is more apparent in Hebrew: the Mishnaic word for month yerach is the same as yarei'ach (moon). The root of the more common word chodesh (month) is chadash (meaning new), since every new moon inaugurates a new month.Unlike Shabbat, the biblical festivals were originally rooted in agricultural and natural cycles of harvest, but their focus has shifted to remembering and celebrating historical events. Pesach is no longer the Festival of Spring, it becomes a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Shabbat is almost abstract time. As Heschel writes:
While the festivals celebrate events that happened in time, the date of the month assigned for each festival in the calendar is determined by the life in nature ... In contrast, the Sabbath is entirely independent of the month and unrelated to the moon. Its date is not determined by any event in nature, such as the new moon, but by the act of creation. Thus the essence of the Sabbath is completely detached from the world of space.The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time.

Thus, we find ourselves with two contradictory claims concerning the character of the Sabbath. On the one hand is the claim that the Sabbath is a time of peace and harmony between humans and nature. On the other hand, "The physical world became divested of any inherent sanctity," because the Sabbath's strictly calculated rhythm liberated sacred time from the natural cycle of the lunation. Therefore the endless seven-day rhythm of the Sabbath, ostensibly established by divine decree but only marked in the world by human counting, hardly seems like a moment of peace between "man and nature" or "complete harmony between man and nature." While it may be a time of "peace" due to practices that restrain human activity, the rhythm is not natural and has nothing to do with the needs of nature.

Although the Shabbat Kiddush contains reminders of both the Exodus from Egypt (zecher leyitziat mitzrayim) and Creation (zikaron lema'aseh breishit), and Shabbat practice may encourage us to live in peace with nature, it is intrinsically not natural. In contrast, the new moon, this new month of Nisan is connected to the lunar cycle. Israel is an incredible country; the recently excavated Ir David may have uncovered King David's palace. Imagine-- we are walking in the footsteps of King David! But most tourists only visit important Biblical historical and archaeological sites and don't see how the Bible is also full of references to Israel's natural world. As most are disconnected from both nature in general and Israel's natural world in particular, this means we have lost an appreciation of the imagery, symbolism and the reality of our biblical ancestors that can only be recaptured by being in the land of Israel. If you tour with Shefa Israel we will give you “a better appreciation of how our ancestors were connected to the 'land' of Israel."

"This month/moon will be for you the head of months." Is there a way in the diaspora to reconnect to natural time and to the land of Israel?

Shabbat Shalom

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