Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parasha sheet and share it with your friends and family: Click here: Parashat Tzav

Tzav: Pulling Back the Curtain

Vayikra began with a detailed list of the different sacrifices a person could bring and the laws pertaining to them. Somewhat surprisingly, the Torah seems to repeat itself in this week's parasha, listing once again all the sacrifices and how they are to be brought. What is the point of this repetition?

The answer can be found in the first verses of each parasha. Vayikra begins with a command to Moshe to speak to the children of Israel; the opening verse of Tzav commands him to speak to the Kohanim. Accordingly, Vayikra details the laws pertaining to the person bringing the sacrifice, while Tzav details the laws pertaining to the Kohanim executing the sacrificial service. The first concern of the one bringing the sacrifice is what may be brought, and thus Vayikra opens with those requirements. On the other hand, the first concern of the Kohanim is how the sacrificial service must be executed: ensuring that the offerings on the altar are completely burnt, determining who may eat from which portions of the sacrifices, and other similar details. It is the same sacrifice in each case; the difference is one of perspective.

In laying out the duties of the Kohanim, our parasha quickly deviates from the focus on sacrifices per se. After stating briefly how the burnt offering is to be burnt, the Torah spells out in great detail the ritual of the terumat ha'deshen, the removal of ashes from the altar by a Kohen each morning. In addition to this daily ritual, a Kohen must also do a more thorough removal of the ashes when necessary, changing into non-priestly clothes and transporting the ashes outside the camp. This almost amounts to janitorial work, "garbage removal," and is certainly not something likely to be perceived as a very lofty task. What is the importance of telling us of this lowly task, and why do so at the very beginning of the parasha?

The Torah is pulling the curtain back to let us see what goes on behind the scenes. In the beginning of Vayikra, when the person comes to the Temple to bring a sacrifice, all he or she sees is a clean and ordered space: the Kohanim functioning efficiently, in a coordinated manner, and the visitors being treated respectfully and attended to in a proper and timely fashion. In short, everything is functioning just as it should. The person's only concern is the sacrifice that he or she is bringing.

But this beautiful setting does not come about automatically. It is the product of an efficiently run organization, and an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes effort is required to make everything look perfect. The priests make it all look simple for the worshipper.

For the Temple to function as it should, the ashes have to be taken out every morning, the floors have to be washed, the utensils have to be cleaned and put back in their proper places, the fire has to be tended, the supplies have to be available, the Kohanim have to be organized and coordinated. As the law of entropy teaches us, disorder is the natural state of affairs, and maintaining order requires constant work and attention. From the perspective of the one bringing the sacrifice, all of this work is invisible. From the perspective of the Kohanim, it is a top priority. If the ashes aren't removed or the fire isn't tended, the Temple will not be able to open for business.

It is so easy for us as consumers, as recipients of other people's services, to be completely blind to this sort of effort, to think service is simple and to take it for granted. How often have we gone to a conference and not even thought about the fact that everything was exactly as it should be? We take this as a given; if things were just right, we would be irate: "Why isn't my room ready?!" "I can't believe they didn't take care of my special request for lunch!" Sadly, these are not uncommon remarks at such events. The thousands of details and the hundreds of man-hours required to get everything perfectly in place, to make it all look easy and simple, are somehow so easily forgotten.

This blindness is not limited to conferences, of course. In our interactions with our spouses, how often do we get upset when something is not exactly as it should be, completely taking for granted all the effort that we do not see, or choose not to see? Are we fully cognizant of how much work it takes to keep a house in order, to "remove the ashes": taking out the garbage, vacuuming, doing the wash, putting everything in its place, keeping the house stocked with groceries, having meals ready at the right time, having the table set, having the dishes done, having the bills paid, interacting with the children's teachers, handling the planning for camp or extra-curricular activities? Do we see all of this? Or do we just get upset when something was forgotten or not done to our liking?

This also occurs in our appraisals of our rabbis and teachers, the Kohanim of today. How often do we go home from shul complaining about some detail in the rabbi's sermon or some other small thing that was not exactly perfect? Do we remember the hundreds of hours, the enormous effort, required to keep the shul running? Do we recognize the number of hours that the rabbi puts in teaching, visiting people in the hospital, providing counsel, working with bar and bat mitzvah children, or being at every shiva house and every bris?

When it comes to those who have taken upon themselves the holy task of educating our children - in Torah or in secular studies - do we ever stop to appreciate the hours upon hours that they put in over countless nights: grading tests, preparing lessons, writing thoughtful feedback on exams and essays, writing assessments, writing letters of recommendation? Or do we take all of that for granted, or worse, do we not even see it at all? When we go to parent/teacher conferences we want to hear how wonderfully our children are doing. We might also come with concerns - or a long list of complaints. But do we ever take the time to thank these tireless individuals, not only for the teaching they do in class but also for their endless, behind-the-scenes efforts to make sure everything will be just right, just so?

Because this work is so easily overlooked it requires extra encouragement. Our parasha opens, "Command, tzav, the children of Israel" (Vayikra, 6:1). According to Rashi, "tzav means nothing other than urging - for now and for all future generations." Those who are doing the tireless work behind the scenes need encouragement. The work is hard. It can be never-ending, inglorious. It can feel like taking out of garbage, not like the holy work that it is. For it is what brings kedusha to the lives of those being served.

There is a reason why some of our most talented people don't go into avodat haKodesh and devote themselves to the Jewish community, or why we sometimes lose our best rabbis and our best teachers. If all of their effort goes unacknowledged, if we do not give them the encouragement, the tzav,that they both deserve and need, then we should not be surprised if the fire on the altar no longer burns as strongly or as brightly.

This is the challenge of Parashat Tzav. Can we extract ourselves from our Vayikra perspective? Can we put ourselves into the perspective of Tzav, of the Kohanim? If we can, we will see that, from their point of view, the first concern is not what animal to bring or even how it is to be brought. Rather, the first priority for those serving in the Temple is that mundane and necessary task of making sure that the ashes are removed, that all the work is done the night before so that everything will be perfect in the morning. The Kohanim's work is to ensure that everything will flow so easily and function so perfectly that it can be taken for granted. Our work is to make sure that we never take it for granted.

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parasha sheet and share it with your friends and family: Click here: Parashat Vayikra

A Sweet Savor

"The priest shall bring it all, and burn it upon the altar: it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet savor unto the Lord" (Vayikra, 1:13). We are told eight times in this week's parasha that the sacrifices are a "sweet savor" to God. This graphic anthropomorphism of God is challenging to modern ears, but we can understand the power that it held for people in the past. It communicates the idea that our sacrifices rise up to God: the smoke rises to heaven, bringing with it the smell of the burning meat, and God is pleased by our offering. The message is clear: God desires our sacrifices.

Rambam believed otherwise. He was bothered by the institution of sacrifice and claimed that God only commanded it as a concession to human weakness. In his Guide to the Perplexed, Rambam suggests that God used sacrifices as a way of weaning the people off idolatry (III:32). As the method of worship for all the pagan gods, sacrifice was the only form of worship the people of the time could conceive of; they would not have been able to worship God solely through prayer. Thus, God moved them away from idolatry and commanded that they redirect their worship - with sacrifices - to God. God may have desired sacrifices as a temporary concession, but God certainly does not desire the practice as an ideal form of religious worship.

Ramban rejects Rambam's position, pointing out that sacrifices were used to worship God even in situations free from a context of idolatry. Indeed, Kayin and Hevel offered sacrifices that were acceptable and pleasing to God, as did Noah. Furthermore, Ramban states that it is religiously offensive to suggest that the entire institution of sacrifice was not God's true will:

His [Rambam's] statements are preposterous. They "heal the great hurt superficially" and render "the table of the Lord disgusting" by limiting its use to placate the wicked and the foolish. But the Torah states that they are "...a sweet savor" (commentary on Vayikra, 1:9).

This debate - and the significance of sacrifices as a "sweet savor" - becomes central in the context of Pesach: Should we still bring a korban Pesach today? Starting with the Hatam Sofer (19th century, Hungary), there have been those who have argued for continuing the practice, even in the absence of a Temple. Putting aside questions of politics and practicality, is such a thing even halakhically possible?

On the one hand, one could argue that we are all considered temei met, impure due to contact with a corpse. Indeed, last Shabbat was Parashat Parah, named after the special maftir from Bamidbar 19 detailing the laws of impurity of corpses and the purification ritual involving the ashes of a red heifer. This reading reminds us how the people had to purify themselves in order to bring the Pesach sacrifice. But this is not an obstacle today. Given that we are all impure, we could bring the sacrifice regardless, based on the principle of tumah hutra bi'tzibbur, communal impurity is set aside for communal sacrifices.

But what about the absence of the Temple? This also need not be a halakhic barrier. The Gemara in Megilah (10a) states that the original kedusha, the sanctity, of Jerusalem and the Temple from the time of Joshua remains today. Rambam rules this way, explaining that the kedusha of the Temple and Jerusalem never departed, for once God's Presence rests in a place it remains there for all eternity (Laws of the Temple, 6:14-16). One might argue that this does not sufficiently address the lack of a physical Temple, but the Gemara Megilah (10a) also says "makrivim af al pi she'eyn bayit," "one can offer sacrifices even without a Temple." Rambam also rules in accordance with this.

So, even though we are ritually impure and without a Temple, it would seem that we could still offer sacrifices. (And the priestly garments could be easily manufactured - there is an institute in Israel that has already done so!) This position was argued by Hatam Sofer in a responsum, but for him the discussion was merely theoretical (YD 2:236). In the following generation, his student, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Kalisher, tried to make the theory a reality.

Rav Kalisher wrote an entire book, Drishat Tzion, arguing for the obligation to bring the korban Pesach. In writing the book, he hoped to put the bringing of the korban Pesach at the top of the communal agenda. Rav Kalisher's initiative and his motivation for it can be better understood in a larger historical context. He began it when the Reform movement was just starting. The rejection of both the significance of the Land of Israel and the concept of shivat Tziyon, the return to the Land of Israel, was high on the agenda of the budding Reform movement, and the repudiation of the whole institution of sacrifices went hand-in-hand with this. It was thus important for Rav Kalisher to reassert the centrality of the Land of Israel, the Temple, and the sacrifices.

In hopes of getting other rabbis to sign on to his initiative, Rav Kalisher sent his book to Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, a staunch opponent of the Reform movement in Altona, Germany, for approval. Rav Ettlinger did not sign on. Instead, he offered a surprising counter-text to the passage in the Talmud allowing one to bring sacrifices without a Temple, and his response brings us back to the phrase, "a pleasing smell" (Teshuvot Binyan Tzion 1).

Rav Ettlinger quotes a Biblical verse at the end of Vayikra that prophesizes the destruction of the Temple. That verse states: "And I will lay waste to your Sanctuaries, and I will not smell the sweet savor of the sacrifices" (Vayikra, 26:31). According to Rav Ettlinger, this verse is telling us that, although the Sanctuary retains its sanctity even after its destruction, and one can technically still bring sacrifices, God declares that God no longer desires such sacrifices, that they will not be considered li'rayach nichoach, as a sweet savor. And it is a halakhic principle that a sacrifice that is not considered to be for a sweet savor is invalid. In an astounding move in the context of a halakhic, Torah she'b'al Peh argument, Rav Ettlinger states that, "although the Talmud says that one can still bring sacrifices, God states: 'I will not smell their sweet savor.'" God trumps the Talmud!

But what about the statement that sacrifices can still be brought? This, answers Rav Ettlinger, is only when God is no longer "laying waste to the Sanctuary." At any time in which the Temple is being actively rebuilt but has not yet been completed - such as the beginning of the Second Commonwealth or as will be in Messianic times - one can bring sacrifices without a Temple. But as long as the Temple is laid waste, then God is telling us that God does not want our sacrifices.

Rav Ettlinger's approach is of great importance. It speaks to how we deal - theologically and practically - not only with the destruction of the Temple, but with other historical developments that the Jewish people have had to face. He argues that God sends us messages through historical events, and in our responses, we should not try to recreate previous realities in today's world. Rather, we should respond in a manner appropriate to the context of contemporary realities.

The question of how to respond to the destruction of the Temple, and along with it the corresponding transition to a Judaism in which prayer and Torah learning are the central forms of worship, is actually debated in Hazal. There are those that see our contemporary forms of worship as mere substitutes for a more ideal, sacrificial order - "nishalma parim si'fateinu," "let our lips be a substitute for oxen" (Hoshea, 14:3) - and there are those who state that prayer and Torah are greater than sacrifice. The latter approach can be seen in a verse from Tehillim, a verse that follows the opening of the Shemoneh Esrei itself: "God, open up my lips, and let my mouth speak of Your praise. For You do not desire a sacrifice, that I should give it. A burnt offering you do not want" (Tehilim, 51:16-17).

As we approach Pesach and prepare to celebrate the seder with all its rituals, we can reflect on the meaning of the seder night and how it has transformed from the time when we had a Temple and the entire people gathered together to sacrifice and eat the Paschal lamb. While our sedarim are certainly less bloody, and while we may believe as Rav Ettlinger did that such sacrifices are no longer desired, we can still be saddened by the loss of the sweet savor that came from a truly communal, nationwide celebration of the chag of Pesach. Without sacrifices, it is up to us to identify how our worship, on the seder night and throughout the year, can bring us together as a people and connect us to God, so that it may rise up and be received by God as a sweet savor.

Shabbat Shalom! 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parasha sheet and share it with your friends and family: Click here: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Please Come to a Complete Stop 

The people, having thrown themselves with religious fervor into the making of the Golden Calf, are given a chance to redeem themselves with the building of the
Mishkan. Men, not women, gave of their jewelry for the making of the Golden Calf. When it came to the Mishkan, however, women gave in addition to the men: "And they came, both men and women... and brought broaches, and earrings, and rings, and bracelets, all jewels of gold" (Shemot, 35:2). Perhaps to underscore how these gifts cancelled out those for the Calf, the Torah even emphasizes the men's giving, pointing toward "every man who offered an offering of gold to the Lord."

The giving of gold for the building of the Mishkan and enthusiastic participation in its activities and construction served as a tikkun for the Sin of the Golden Calf. It is thus not surprising that the people, propelled by a desire to make right their wrong and to fix what they had broken, gave so enthusiastically. In fact, the people gave so much that they had to be told to stop:

And all the wise men... spoke to Moses saying: "The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make." And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, "Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary." So the people were restrained from bringing (36:5-6).

Understood this way, the service to God was the giving. The cessation of donations is only mentioned to emphasize how great the people's service to God had been, how much they had given. The Sefat Emet, however, turns this on its head:

The righteous people and the wise men saw that the contributions were more than what was appropriate, and they were concerned that it would no longer be done with true intent, for the sake of Heaven... For when one finishes all of his actions (i.e., realizes all of his ambitions), it can lead to pride. But when one stops in the middle, because of his awareness of God, this is the true tikkun of his actions.

According to the Sefat Emet, the true service to God came not in the doing but in the stopping. When we are giving, building, producing, our intentions might be to serve God, but we can get carried away; in the end, all of our efforts might really be about ourselves. We take pride in how great we are - how religious we must be - because we give so much time and money, because we learn Torah so many hours each day, or because we daven such a long shmoneh esrei. The more we do, the more opportunity we have to give expression to ourselves, our personalities, and our ambitions; the more we do, the more of ourselves we put into the world. This can lead to a situation in which there is no longer a place for God.

The tikkun of giving gold for the Calf was not giving gold to the Mishkan. A person who gives to the making of an idol one day and to God the next may possess great religious passion but no strong religious conviction. As long as she can give, as long as she can build, it doesn't matter to whom or what she gives. Maybe tomorrow she will find a new cause, another god or another temple, and throw herself into that with equal abandon. The tikkun does not come from the giving; it comes from the stopping. It is in the cessation that a person demonstrates that one's giving is not about them, their self-expression, or their sense of religious fulfillment; it is about God.

This explains why the parasha that includes the building of the Mishkan opens with the mitzvah of Shabbat. Shabbat is about stopping. Even if our work during the week is holy work, even if we are using our talents to serve God, we stop when Shabbat arrives. Even the building of a place for God's presence on Earth must stop for the sake of Shabbat, for the sake of God. It is in our stopping that we serve God.

Just as working six days out of the week mirrors God's creative activity, we imitate God when we pull back on Shabbat. There was no space for humankind as long as God was creating. A tremendous act of tzimtzum, of God withdrawing Godself, was required so that humans could come onto the stage. In parallel, as long as we are involved in creating there may not be space for God. It is on Shabbat, when we finally stop, that we truly allow God to enter.

Sometimes, however, the greatest challenge is not stopping for Shabbat but at other times, realizing that the job is done. How many institutions are established with a specific mission and yet continue their work after they have accomplished their goal? The ongoing purpose of the institution becomes its own survival, and it stops serving any greater purpose.

Not so with the Mishkan. The building of the Mishkan stopped when the work was done. Va'yekhal Moshe, "so Moses completed the work" (40:33). The term used for the completion of the Mishkan, va'yekhal, is the same term used to describe God's completion of the creation of the world: va'yekhulu hashamayim vi'ha'aretz, "and the work of the Heavens and Earth was completed." God completed the world, and when God stopped mankind emerged. Moshe completed the Mishkan, and it was only when he stopped that God entered: "Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" (40:34).

This stopping may be harder for men than women. I can say from personal experience that men can have a hard time listening, pulling back to make space for the other. When we hear of a problem, our impulse is to immediately begin searching for a solution. We are compelled to bring ourselves into the equation. Perhaps this is why the men were singled out as particularly needing the tikkun. They had to learn that it was not all about doing; it was also about stopping.

This is critically important for us as parents and as spouses. To support we must make space. When our rabbinical students learn pastoral counseling, the most fundamental lesson is how to be a good listener. When a rabbi hears of someone's struggles or pays a shiva call to someone who has just experienced a loss, it is natural for him to think that sharing his own similar experiences will be helpful. But of course, that only makes the situation about him. The only way that one can truly be there for others is by actively listening, making space for the other person, removing oneself and being fully present for the other.

Recently, one of our rabbis told me that he had been working on his humility, feeling the need to be mitzamtzem, to pull himself back to make space for others. But he realized that through this very act he was still focusing on himself. It was all about him and whether he was doing a good enough job at pulling back. He told me that after realizing this he no longer asks, "How can I make space for that person?" Rather, he asks, "What is it that this person needs?" This small change has made all the difference for him.

In all of our activities but perhaps especially in our religious endeavors, we must learn the importance of stopping: stopping to make space for others, stopping to make space for God. Only in our stopping, in our pulling back, can we truly build a temple not to ourselves but to God.

Shabbat Shalom!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

A Thought on the Parasha

Feel free to download and print the Parasha sheet and share it with your friends and family: Click here: Parashat Ki Tisa
Behold I Have Called by Name

Over the course of two parshiyot the Torah has described with great detail the construction of the Mishkan and the making of the priestly garments. Our parasha is introduced with a seemingly unrelated theme: a census of the people in which each person will pay a half-shekel. Why mention a census here?

Broadly speaking, the Torah is alerting us to the dangers inherent in a major national project such as the building of the Mishkan. We know that earlier project of this scale did not end well, namely, the construction of the Tower of Babel. The precise sin of the builders of the tower is not spelled out, but it is clear that it had something to with their being a single people with a single purpose: "Behold one nation and one language there is for them all, and this they have begun to do" (Breishit, 11:6). The problem is not one of achdus; unity is a good thing. Rather, it is the loss of the individual in the process.  In such a large-scale and single-minded project, all that matters is the vision and the goal: "We will make for ourselves a name." And when this happens on the national level, the will of the People often squashes the importance of the individual. Persons become faceless, interchangeable, and of little if any worth.

The midrash says as much when it states that no one would pay any attention at Babel when a person would fall off the tower, but when a brick would fall, they would cry and bewail its loss (Pirkei Di'Rebbe Eliezer, 24). This is no midrashic exaggeration - it is estimated that close to a half-million people died building the Great Wall of China. The building, the edifice, the vision - this is all that matters.

What can be done to protect against this, to preserve the humanity of each individual? In the case of the Tower of Babel, the people were dispersed and given new languages. This created diversity and distinctiveness, ensuring that they would not once again homogenize into a melting pot of faceless unity.

In the case of the Mishkan there was another answer. In Terumah, the command of the Mishkan opens with each person's personal and self-motivated contribution:  "From every person whose heart moves him, you shall receive My offering" (25:2). And in this week's parasha, God proclaims, "Behold I have called by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur... and with him Ahaliav son of Achisamak of the tribe of Dan" (31:2,6). People are named; they are unique individuals, each with special talents that he or she brings to this task. This continues in next week's parasha with the women who spun the wool, linen, and goat's hair (35:25-26). We are also told that the washing basin commanded in this week's parasha was made from the mirrors donated by women who gathered at the Tent of Meeting (38:8). The Torah goes out of its way to give faces and form to some of the individuals involved in this huge national endeavor.

And there is yet another way that the Mishkan differed from the Tower of Babel: Those building the tower sought to reach up to the heavens; those building the Mishkan sought to bring God's presence down to earth. When we attempt to leave our world to reach God, it is easy to make everything in this mundane reality subservient to that lofty goal. When we attempt to leave our world to reach God, everything in this mundane reality becomes subservient to that lofty goal. When we attempt to bring God into our world, in contrast, we remain anchored in the world in which we live and connected to the people who inhabit it with us.

The command of the census is a part of not losing focus on the individual. By its nature, a census says every person counts. We are not just an abstraction, a "nation." We are thousands and thousands of separate, distinct people; we mourn every death, and we celebrate every birth.

On the other hand, taking a census can bring about the opposite mentality: Everyone is just a number; no individual matters. If ten people die the total number is smaller, but any other ten people will make up the difference. Any one person is fungible.

It is to counteract this that the Torah commands the giving of the half-shekel as part of the census. As the Rabbis explain it, they were not permitted to count individuals directly. Rather, the number of people would be known by the sum of the half-shekels. We can aggregate and count money, not people. One person and one person and one person do not make three people. People must always remain distinct and unique. They will have names, not numbers. They will always be Reuven, Sarah, and Shimon: "Behold, I have called by name."

And there is another corrective: Shabbat. At the completion of the detailed instructions for the Mishkan, the Torah commands again the observance of Shabbat. Shabbat and Mishkan are almost always juxtaposed, and the implicit message - which the Rabbis made explicit - is clear: you must rest on the Shabbat even if it means interrupting the building of the Mishkan. The project is not what is ultimately important. It does not override all and continue without end. There are things in this world that matter more than building the Mishkan, and Shabbat, with its message of human dignity, is chief among them.

Shabbat proclaims that no living thing, and particularly no human, can be made a slave to his work, nor a means to an end, even a lofty, religious end like the Mishkan. Humans are fundamentally free; they have a basic right to rest, a right to be free from the unrelenting pressures and demands of the world. It is thus no surprise that Shabbat can be violated to save a human life. A major goal of Shabbat is the recognition of each person's humanity, a quality which we cannot allow the larger forces in the world to reduce or eradicate.

Naming the individuals, refusing to tally people as numbers, and interrupting the building of the Mishkan for a weekly day of rest allowed a national project of supreme importance to continue with enthusiastic participation and without ever losing sight of the face and individuality of each and every person involved.

The loss of the individual is a matter to be feared not just in worldly projects but in ideologies as well. Whether a project or an idea, the person is lost when something else is assigned a position of ultimate importance. 

To not do this, and to give an ideology supreme importance, can be seen as a modern manifestation of the sin of idolatry. If idolatry was, in the time of the Torah, making something a god which was not in fact God, then a contemporary translation of that would be assigning ultimate value to something which is not of ultimate value. The Torah teaches us that, after God, people are of the greatest value, and that the mitzvot are overridden to protect human life. Giving anything else, be it any ideology or vision, more importance than real people is a turning of that ideology into an idolatry.

This brings us to the Golden Calf. In the building of the Mishkan we saw the faces of some of the individuals involved; in the making of the Calf all we see is a faceless crowd. And far from each person contributing according to his or her personal motivation, the entire people act as one undifferentiated unit:  "And the entire people tore off their earrings and brought them to Aharon" (32:3). It is one mob acting in unison, all giving the same thing, all doing the same thing. With the idolizing of the calf came the formation of an unstoppable mob, and any individual - whether Aharon or one of the people - was swept away by its force.

This remains an ongoing struggle. How do we devote our lives to something larger than ourselves without losing sight of the real people in front of us? This can be a problem when dealing with ideologues, even those working for human rights or other social justice causes. One can reach a point where the work is all about the cause and not about the people it is meant to serve. This can also be a problem in religious leadership. The religious leaders that I am most wary of are those who are the self-proclaimed defenders of the faith. Too often, too many people are sacrificed in the name of religion or for the sake of the cause that they believe reigns supreme. I am personally inspired by religious leaders, be it a rabbi, or even be it the current Pope, who believe that their religion is strong enough to defend itself and who understand that their responsibility is to defend and protect the individual.  When we build a Mishkan, when we devote our lives to something larger than ourselves, the names and faces of the real people we encounter must always be in front of us.  We must always be able to say: "Behold I have called by name."

Shabbat Shalom!