- Weekly D'var Torah
I love reading, learning Torah and preparing quality lessons, which are hopefully meaningful and transformative for my students. The last few weeks our Torah readings have been focused on organizing and then building the Mishkan—the Tabernacle or sanctuary in which God’s presence was to be felt the strongest.
During last Shabbat’s Torah reading of VaYakhel-Pekudei, the Mishkan was constructed. Then on the first day of the month of Nissan—which we celebrate on Thursday—the Mishkan was completed and ready. Apart from Moshe there were two tribal leaders who were integral to its construction. Betzalel from the tribe of Yehuda was called upon by God and bestowed with the divine spirit of skill, ability and knowledge in every kind of craft. Oholiav from the Tribe of Dan assisted in its construction.
Once the Mishkan has been fully constructed we find the word קרא (karah) being used again. This time the Torah states: ויקרא אל משה (And He called to Moshe). Why is karah used and not the usual וידבר (va’yidaber) or ויאמר (vayomer), i.e. God spoke or said to Moshe? Instead, God “calls'' to Moshe. What is going on at the beginning of Sefer VaYikra (Leviticus, third book of the Torah)? It’s as if Moshe is being asked to answer some sort of “call” and go on another mission. Last week, karah was used in reference to Betzalel from the tribe of Yehuda who was “called” upon to construct the Mishkan. Moshe is now the undisputed leader of the Israelites, who led his people out of Egyptian bondage. His mission continues but in a different direction. Moshe is now “called” upon to teach Torah and be the law-giver to the Israelite nation. His mission has changed. He completed his first mission—lead them out of Egypt. Moshe is now answering his next, and all-important mission, on behalf of his people, to lead them as their spiritual guide and mentor.
In a previous D’var Torah I focused on a “calling” which I received many years ago, when I was sent to “visit” Russian Jews, known as refuseniks. Without a doubt that event was transformational. It strengthened my Jewish identity. Yet my next “calling” was the one to make aliyah, to go, contribute and live on a kibbutz in Israel, and make a major contribution to this unique collective agricultural community. I was the young, raring to go, sometimes naive idealist. I helped run the dairy farm and loved every moment. I was part of a group of committed, Jewish, socialist, Zionists who wanted to build up the Land of Israel. We wanted to create a just society based on the ideals of Torah Va’Avodah—living a life of Torah, working on Eretz Yisrael (Land of Israel) and contributing to the young State of Israel. It was during this period that I felt my closest and strongest connection to the Jewish People, Israel and my heritage. I had a third calling, but I will tell you about that at another time. Perhaps, the Jewish People narrative is one of “callings'' and fulfilling missions. Perhaps the seder night, which we will be celebrating in two weeks time, is one when we read about the mission of the Jewish People after first looking back at our history. It’s not been easy, but we are very much part of making this world a better place.
So what is your calling? Hopefully, you will find it just as Moshe and Betzlalel did and became great leaders for the Israelite nation. Perhaps at this present moment we are all being called upon. We are called upon to not only remain in our homes but to also demonstrate an incredible amount of self-control and perform acts of gemillut chassadim—of selfless kindness to others—especially the weak and the elderly.
Finally, there is a prayer for the new month. It is traditionally recited on the Shabbat prior to Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. On Thursday, we will be celebrating the new month of Nissan, which means we are a mere two weeks exactly from Pessach. In my opinion, this tefillah captures what each of us are praying for during this time of stress and societal separation. Yet we know there will come a time, hopefully very soon, when we can come out of the present situation and return to our routine.
Yehi Ratzon, May it be Your will Lord our God and God of our fathers, to renew for us this coming month for good and blessing. Give us a long life, a life of peace, a life of goodness, a life of blessing, a life of sustenance, a life of physical health, a life marked by fear of heaven and dread of sin, a life without shame or disgrace, a life of wealth and honor, a life in which we have love for the Torah and fear of heaven, a life in which our hearts’ desires are fulfilled for good. Amen Selah (Translation - The Koren NCSY Siddur).
And may I add, may we speedily return to a life of routine and to a welcoming, loving society without fear of illness or pain. The Bernard Zell staff miss being in front of your children—our students—but we will continue to offer them quality educational programs, albeit through technological means. Shabbat Shalom.
B’vracha and be safe.