“For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan [Tabernacle] by day, and there was fire within it at night, before the eyes of the entire house of Israel in all their journeys” (Exodus: 40, 38).
We were taught to believe that the text of the Torah is economical and succinct, and that Torah and redundancy are mutually exclusive. We therefore cannot but wonder why the Torah is so verbose when describing the construction of the Tabernacle.
Megillas Esther contains deep themes of identity, boundaries, and communication. The theme of identity is spotlighted when Esther outs herself as a proud Jew. In Tractate Megillah, the Talmud begins its analysis of the Purim story by showing how walled and unwalled cities celebrate Purim differently. The Megillah refers to itself as a letter; letter writing and communication in general are also primary motifs of the Purim story.
This week’s parsha, Mishpatim, relays G-d’s instructions on how we should behave toward one another. In consecutive verses, chapter 22 requires Jews to acknowledge the dignity of strangers (verse 20) and of widows and orphans (verses 21-23). In the case of the former, the Torah succinctly and in straightforward terms admonishes not to “wrong or exploit” them, for “you” lived as “strangers in Egypt.” In the case of the latter, the Torah goes into greater detail.
Traditionally, Jews refer to this Shabbat, in which we read the Parshat Beshalach, as Shabbat Shira (Shabbat of the Song). “The Song” refers to the Song of the Sea, Az Yashir (Exodus 15:1-19). The newly freed Israelites sang this song in praise to G-d after crossing the Sea of Reeds safely; we Jews consider the song as a statement of faith. This Shabbat, the Torah reader will chant special cantillations when reciting the relevant verses. We incorporate these verses every morning in our prayers.
This week’s parsha, Vayechi, opens with the story of Jacob in his last days. He summons his son, Joseph, the viceroy of Egypt, who promises to ensure his father’s burial in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. Soon after, Jacob lies on his deathbed; Joseph comes to visit and brings his two sons to receive their grandfather’s final blessings. Placing his hands on their heads, the Patriarch obliges. “[Jacob] blessed Joseph, saying, ‘G-d before Whom walked my forefathers, Abraham and Isaac; G-d Who tended to me from the time I was born until today. May the angel who rescues me from all evil bless the children ... ’” (Genesis 48:15-16).
In this week’s parsha, the Torah describes one of the garments of the high priest (kohen gadol) as having lots of bells sown around its base (Exodus 28:33). Most would consider that alone to be strange enough, but the parsha also informs us that the high priest’s garments are designed specifically to exhibit “honor and beauty” (ibid. 28:2). Being British, it’s hard for me to imagine the Queen of England opening Parliament wearing a bell. So, why the bells, and what does this have to do with honor?
The solution to this riddle is found in understanding honor. For many, attaining honor is something of an enigma. You have probably encountered people who think they are entitled to more honor than perhaps they deserve. These people demand that their name be pronounced properly at all times, that they get a seat commensurate with their “station” in life, and other conspicuously little (or sometimes not so little) details.
Our Sages tell us “He who chases honor will have honor flee from him.” In other words, the more we demand respect, the less we get it. Honor comes from respecting others. As Ben Zoma (Pirkei Avot 4:1) explains, “Who is the one to be honored, the one who honors others.”
What do clothes of honor look like?
As our Sages explain, the high priest would wear bells to alert people of his presence in advance so that he would never walk in on someone unexpectedly and potentially make him feel uncomfortable. In fact, our Sages say even a person in his own home should knock before entering a room for the same reason.
The more we value, respect, and honor others, the more honor returns to us. That is true honor, bell or no bell.
Originally from London, Rabbi Stephen Baars resides in Rockville, Maryland, and serves as executive director of Aish Seminars. An educator and marriage counselor for the past 25 years, Rabbi Baars and his wife, Ruth, are blessed with seven children. Learn more about Rabbi Baars at www.getbliss.com and www.core9.live.
This week’s parsha tells us that when the Jewish people will enter the Land of Israel, G-d will drive out our enemies by sending ahead deadly wasps (Exodus 23:28).
After the Jewish people left Egypt, “they traveled for three days in the desert but did not find water. And they came to Marah, but could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter (that is why the place is called Marah [literally “bitter”]). Then the people complained to Moses saying, ‘What will we drink?’” (Exodus 15:22-24)
The book of Genesis is the history of the world, in that it features the pained and unfortunately consistent story of brothers not getting along. It starts with Cain and Abel (“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9) and only ends when two brothers finally get the right answer: Yes.
When does death occur? Is it when the brain ceases to function, or maybe when the heart fails to pump blood? While this question is important, consider this: Maybe life stops long before either of these two calamities. Long before the ambulance is called, someone could already be DOA.
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