The Glow of the Ner Tamid

20 You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. 21 Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over [the Ark of] the Pact, [to burn] from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages.

This is from the beginning of this Shabbat’s Torah portion Tetzaveh.  Leviticus 27:20.   The Israelites have been instructed to build the Mishkan, the dwelling place for God in the desert.  They have been instructed to build the Tent, the altar, and the Golden Menorah.  In this week’s portion we are given the instructions for the clothing for the High Priests and as well as the instructions for their anointing ceremony.  But this opening verse literally illumines the Holy Meeting Place of God.  With the pure olive oil given by the Israelites -the ner tamid, the lamps will shine continually, Today the Ner Tamid in the synagogue, the Eternal Light signifies God’s Holy Eternal Presence.  And then too, in the tabernacle it was the same.  This regularly kindled lamp burned with the sweet olive oil provided by the people.  God’s symbolic Presence was the transformation of the kindling fuel into the flames of Divinity. When we kindle light today–whether by the beautiful Sabbath candles, Havdalah wicks, or Chanukah Menorah or the Eternal Light in the Sanctuary we are reminded of this warmth of God’s embrace, the light of the Holy Presence in our midst, the glow of family and friendships.  May they burn ever brightly.

God is in the Building.

This week’s Torah portion is parshat Terumah. One of my very favorite Torah portions.  It is important because God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites to build the Tabernacle in the desert. This would become the place God would dwell.  But the Torah portion is very interesting because we assume we are building God’s home on earth.  But the Hebrew tells another story.  It tells us that God will dwell in our midst.  Not in it.  Thus the very project of building together. Of creating together is the place where the Divine dwells.  Not really in the Tabernacle.  This should teach us an important lesson that in our world we find God in the midst of action and creation.  We find God when we cooperate and collaborate together in a larger design, in building something that stand for goodness and holiness.

Perhaps this should be our approach to our world.  When we build a world filled with love as my friend and teacher Rabbi Menachem Creditor sings, Olam Chesed Yibaneh, this is really what God wants of us.  This is the example in this week’s Torah portion. We ought to strive for this together.

The End and a Beginning

Parshat Vaykheil-Pekude

Exodus 35:1 – 40:38

 

This week’s Parasha continues with the recounting of the building of the Mishkan.  In Parshat Terumah  and Parshat Tetzaveh, the instructions and designs are revealed to Moses.  And tradition states that in our portions this week, the plans are executed.  Moses now tells the Children of Israel of the plans and Betzalel and his assistant Oholiob oversee the craftsmen and women to complete the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.   “And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab and every wise hearted man into whose heart Adonai had given wisdom, everyone whose heart lifted him up to approach the work to do it. (36:2). Volunteers were encouraged to be a part of the process of building the Tabernacle!

 It is always exciting to be part of making something. Whether building a home or just redecorating having a project like the building of the Mishkan creates excitement.  That is why there are so many television shows about housing design, make-overs and building anew.  One could get carried away with all the details and want to rush through the project to finish. But the Children of Israel are reminded in the opening words of the Torah portion to observe Shabbat.  The excitement of this project could mean that the volunteers, artisans and workers might work

non-stop. But Moses and God reminds the Israelites of their sacred obligations. 

 

What would it say and mean if Shabbat were violated in the building of God’s place on earth?
It would certainly be a contradiction of values!

 Perhaps for each of us there is an important reminder here.  In a world that wants to push us 24/7 to do more, build more, create more we must push back.  Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of the power and beauty of Shabbat not just the rituals but the opportunity for downtime, reflective time and yes, SLEEP!

 

We are one of the most sleep deprived nations.

 

Some of the latest research shows that “a team of researchers in Wisconsin and Italy has found that in rats kept awake past their bed times, their brains begin to turn themselves off, neuron by neuron, though the rat is still awake” (USA TODAY, 4-27-11). The most likely neurons to go offline are the ones we use daily!   This is like sleeping while you are still awake and affects functioning

 

“The research could mean that the 35% of Americans who told the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that they routinely sleep less than seven hours a night are also having portions of their brains go off-line even though they’re still awake.”

So the ancients and our Torah understood that we workers need down time and time to restore our souls AND OUR BODIES!  Shabbat is the way.  Even when we are excited about building a project, we can’t let our enthusiasm get in the way of taking time off to rest and renew ourselves.

 As the Ten Commandments remind us: Remember the Sabbath Day and Keep it Holy!!!!