Friday, 8 February 2019

The Importance of Terumah




Terumah, in Hebrew, means “contribution.” It is the name of this week’s Parashah (Torah portion).

Too often the word is translated to mean “donation.” That is NOT what the Torah meant and that is not what our sages intended it to be perceived as when they named this week’s Parashah after it.

Furthermore, according to Zohar, Vol. II, p. 147a, the term means “lifting up.”

What is the significance of these different definitions to one small word, the reader might ask.

The answer lies in the subject of this week’s Parashah. It provides the details surrounding the construction of Beit Hamikdash (the Tabernacle), G-d’s dwelling place among His People. “Then Have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. (Exodus 25:8).
Just as He created and defined the universe through a set of very strict laws, so does G-d provide a very well-crafted and carefully demarcated set of principles and patterns that include materials and exact measurements for the blueprint that will eventually materialize into His House. His instructions are very clear and for a reason.

This House will be built with the wisdom of the heart. That combined balance between mental and emotional intelligence is what will be the corner stone of Beit Hamikdash. Its construction and eventual structure will reflect the true nature of G-d. Though G-d can create a universe and a dwelling House among His People, both with set boundaries, He himself is limitless.


In other words, as we, Jews, know, G-d’s presence cannot be either confined to or openly manifest itself in our physical world. The intention, the nature and the purpose of the House G-d wishes the Yisraelits to build for Him can be found in Deuteronomy 12:22: “Then there shall be a place which the Lord, your G-d shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.” The name will be the essence of that House, we are told.

Some may stop and ask, why does G-d put forth so much detail when He describes what some may consider a very elaborate and complicated plan? The Yisraelites would surely have other issues to address when they come to Eretz Yisrael. They will have to run an orderly society. They will have to establish a proper judicial system, they will have to have a strong army, fight enemies (as their name Yisrael suggests) and many other matters. Surely, G-d could have built that House merely by speaking. After all, did He not create a whole universe purely by His exclamations?

And that is where the Terumah, contribution, comes into the picture.

G-d does not merely wish to have a House among the Yisraelites, a House that will bear His name. G-d wishes each and everyone of them to be part of this grand master plan. He asks every single member of their People to contribute, each in their own way, towards it. That way they will not be merely spectators, they will become part of it. They will help create it. Creators cannot separate themselves from their creation. This way, G-d wishes to ensure that He will not only dwell in His House but also in them, in their hearts and in their essence

That is why, I believe, the Zohar, as mentioned above, defines, Terumah also as “lifting up.” When G-d dwells in each and everyone of us, our soul is enriched by invisible wings which lift us and enables us to soar to blessed and blissful spheres which, in many cases, our daily burden bars us from reaching. It brings us closer and closer to what G-d has destined us to become “a Goy Kadosh,” “A Holy Nation.”

Shabbat Shalom


Saturday, 2 February 2019

Na'aseh V'Nishma







This week’s Parasha is Mishpatim. Am Yisrael is at the foot of Mount Sinai and is receiving G-d’s Laws.

I have been to Mount Sinai. I stood on top of it where Moshe received the Torah and where G-d revealed Himself to Am Yisrael. G-d did not appear to them in any shape or form, merely in a spectacular scene in the configuration of sounds, lights, torches and the reverberation of the Shofar. "וְכָל הָעָם רֹאִים אֶת הַקּוֹלֹת וְאֶת הַלַּפִּידִם וְאֵת קוֹל הַשֹּׁפָר וְאֶת הָהָר עָשֵׁן וַיַּרְא הָעָם וַיָּנֻעוּ וַיַּעַמְדוּ מֵרָחֹק" (Exodus, 20; 14).  This dazzling audio visual spectacle must have had a profound effect on those witnessing it for according to the Hebrew quote above, they “saw” the sounds. The root Re’eh, Reish Alef, Hey  ר,א,ה  also appears in the Tanach in the context  of “understand.” They internalized the divine message and acknowledged it by pledging, “Na’aseh Ve’nishma.” We shall do and we shall hear.

What a sight, what an emotional upheaval it must have been for those present. When I stood on top of that mountain and looked down at the valley underneath where all of Am Yisrael was gathered, I closed my eyes for a brief moment. I was one of them. I could feel the surge of their emotions, the quivering of the foundations of their being, their joy, their ecstasy and the reflection of awe in their eyes. I could feel the words and the sounds that they witnessed as they were being etched on the walls of their essence, an imprint that has been passed on to us, their descendants.
Standing there, I felt proud, very proud, for yet another reason.

The exact number of those that came out of Egypt is not clear. We do know, however, that there were at least 600,000 men among them. So one can safely surmise that there were at least 600,000 witnesses to what I described above, witnesses to their covenant with the G-d of Avraham, Yaakov and Yitzchak.


 Now, what other religion, especially among the monotheistic ones, can claim such a widespread testament to validate that experience? And we all know that there is credibility and authority in numbers. 

With all due respect to other religions where Divine revelation rendered itself to one individual, I am very glad that to our covenant there were so many witnesses! It certainly sends a strong message out.

And, as a Jew I am honoured to be one of its carriers.

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

As a Jew, I define myself in Hebrew only (Part Two)







About two years ago, I published the following article. Needless to add, I still stand behind every word I wrote in it.
https://wingnsonawildflight.blogspot.com/2016/02/as-jew-i-define-myself-in-hebrew-only.html

Recently, as result of my studies towards earning a PhD in Hebrew/Yiddish Literature starting at the end of 19th century through post WWII, I realized, yet again, the need to stress and share with my fellow Jews why I believe it is important that as Jews, we should define ourselves in Hebrew only.

As many know, the period I mentioned above also includes one of the darkest, if not the darkest chapter in our history, the Shoah (AKA Holocaust). I have resolved that from now on, I will use the Hebrew word Shoah when I refer to that chapter.

Here are some of my reasons.

The etymology of the word “Holocaust” stems from the ancient Greek holocaustun “a thing wholly burnt” and Latin holocaustum origins which later morphed into its Old (12th century) French holocauste “sacrifice by fire, burnt offering,” and the English “holocaust” forms. (https://www.etymonline.com/word/holocaust). According to Morris and Morris, Dictionary and Phrase Origins (1962), in its original form, a holocaust was a sacrificial burnt offering to pagan gods in pre-Christian times.”

Sacrificial burnt offerings, as a means to overcome guilt for failing to live according to one or another moral code, is a practice that many cultures adopted, especially in ancient times. Yes, Torah also requires the sinner to bring sacrifice. The only difference, though, between it and other sources, is that in Hebrew, the language of Torah, we do not call it “burnt offering.” The Hebrew term for that practice is referred to as “Offering Korban” (from the word karov – to come close). In the Hebrew/Jewish tradition, the offering of Korban, or sacrifice, according to Rabbi Steven Heil, “is governed by strict regulations, “so that “we tangibly relate to G-d in a true proper way.” The detailed rituals of sacrifices as outlined in the Torah played an essential role in our ultimate way to serve G-d.  

Is that how the world and some Jews wish to refer to the untimely death of my young cousins and millions of other innocent Jews, young and old, who were killed by the Nazi war machine? Were they a “burnt offering” of some sort, as the term “holocaust” suggests? Were they even a “korban” for any sins committed?

Shoah, which in Hebrew means “catastrophe,” on the other hand, defines that atrocious episode in Jewish history more accurately. That event was aimed at eradicating our People from off the face of this earth altogether. There was no sacrifice involved here, merely some evil force that played god and decided who should live and who should die. Whichever way one looks at it, it is a “catastrophe.”

Are we, Jews, going to let a term that originated in ancient pagan cultures and has nothing to do with our sad experience, define us?

If other nations, or groups wish to use the term “holocaust” to define efforts to annihilate or slaughter them, let them use it. They are already doing it anyway.

For me, as a Jew, however, there is only one word to describe what happened to my parents and their generation. I call it Shoah.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Prayer








I dedicate this article to Dr. Drori of Bar-Ilan University whose excellent course, “States of Prayer” has provided the inspiration for writing it.

Prayer is one of the most important tenets in Judaism. It is an act, I believe, that many, regardless of faith or creed, have performed, at least once, at some stage in their lives.

Prayer can reveal itself in various ways and different forms. For some, it is a means, a conduit of communication, be it with G-d as the recipient, another addressee or simply with one’s own self. It is an act that can be conducted publicly, privately and almost anywhere and at any time.

For me, prayer mostly belongs to the realm of privacy. It is a time to step back from my busy daily schedule and reflect. I use that very precious and time confined deed to reconnect with G-d, the universe that surrounds me and above all, with my own inner self.

As such, on many occasions, I compose my own plea, depending on the circumstances and its recipients. I may not always utter the words vociferously. Many a times, it is only my lips that are moving. Other times, the words are forming in my head. They take on their own shape, colours and rhythms. It is then that, like the flicker of a candle flame which dances ecstatically as it seems to aspire to free itself from the wick, so does my soul wiggle and shake as if it desires to rise above my corporal body and wander upwards towards some unseen source of strength that can help fulfill my heart’s wishes and desires.

 One of the main ingredients, however, if not the most important one that prayer needs to possess, if it is to be effective, is what we Jews call Kavanah (intent).

Any prayer that lacks Kavanah, the engine that powers it, the steam that fuels and energizes it, is akin to an empty vessel that is used for decoration purposes only. Kavanah brings meaning to the prayer. It is essential for the cleansing of one’s soul. It is extremely vital to what the author of Deuteronomy 10:16 so eloquently describes as the circumcision of the heart.

For me, prayer is the process which provides the catalyst for the ongoing course of the distillation of my essence. It weaves a cloak of purity that wraps and cradles the walls of my being. It is the spring that renews my Jewish fountains of strength as it fills the void created by a world that confines my ancient soul to a state of existence which reduces it to stressing, valuing and almost idolizing the “here” and “now.”

 For I know that there is more to and above our corporal presence on this earth. I have had a glimpse at it. And it is prayer, sincere prayer, that provides me with the compass which leads me along the path to the staircase that will one day get me to that wonderful state where so many aspire to reach yet very few do.