14 haiku for Parsha Vayakhel-Pekudei (involving a major construction project) by Rick Lupert


Vayakhel

I
An all staff meeting.
Building instructions given.
Not on Saturday.

II
This tabernacle
funded by all the people.
The first Kickstarter.

III
A miracle! This
over-funded project is
with the artists now.

IV
Here in the dream lab
curtains are connected and
loops of wool appear.

V
Planks and sockets and
cubits. This is what it takes
to build a Mishkan.

VI
The holiness is
in the details. A golden
Menorah appears.

VII
Who doesn’t love to
see a project completed.
Now, the inspectors.

Pekudei

I
Let’s name all our kids
Bezalel, so that they may
become artists too.

II
Priests looking for the
latest accessories – look
no further: ephod.

III
Pomegranates and
bells. Twisted blue. This runway
will be off the hook.

IV
Laying out the wares
Moses gives them a blessing
for a job well done.

V
With all the pieces
the Mishkan is almost here.
Assembly required.

VI
Like a complex set
of Ikea instructions
Moses builds it all.

VII
A cloud comes. Not one
of gloom and rain. This is the
cloud that strengthens us.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

7 Haiku for Parsha Terumah by Rick Lupert (Ladies and Gentleman the Showbread!)


I
Let them make for me
a sanctuary. The first
Jewish contractors.

II
This bread is so cool
it gets its own show. It’s still
in syndication.

III
Six golden fingers
will light the way. Don’t forget
the purple curtains.

IV
No wall on the east
side of the Tarbernacle.
Learn from that Orangy.

V
How many curtains
does it take to get to the
holy of holies?

VI
If you encounter
an altar with four horns. Odds
are God is close by.

VII
It is a good time
to invest in copper and
all materials.


Los Angeles poet Rick Lupert created a the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 20 collections of poetry, including “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Building Our Mishkan: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)


The ancient sages teach us that the Torah is exceedingly careful with language. No phrase is superfluous. Each word or letter is part of the intricate unfolding mysteries concentrated in the Torah.

In Parshat Terumah, a few chapters ago, we read about the entire construction of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which the Jewish people used as a sanctuary during their journey from Egypt. So it comes as a major surprise in this week’s double parasha of Vayakhel-Pekudei that the Torah repeats the elaborate construction of the Mishkan. If the Torah is so particular with words, how is it possible that we repeat everything again just a few chapters later? Rabbi Avraham Yaakov Hakohen Pam, the great 20th century sage, asked this question and offers a beautiful insight into human nature.

The first time that the God lays out the intricate plans for the Mishkan the Hebrew reads, “And you shall make.” In the second recounting of the construction of the Mishkan, in our parasha, the Torah says, “And he made.”

Each Rosh Hashanah, every New Year, during times of great inspiration and creativity, or periods of searching and isolation, we dream up plans. In our minds we can see how this will all work out. We are going to change our lives for the better in myriad ways. We are going to launch a new and prosperous venture. We are determined to learn, to do, or explore. But so often these dreams and grand plans never come to fruition.

What is one of the common reasons that these plans don’t come about? It is not that we are too unrealistic, or that our ideas lack merit. Rather, all too often it is because we were unable to follow through with these plans. Grand plans happen one step at a time, but it is often difficult — each step may be a hurdle to overcome.

The intricate vision of the Mishkan in Parasha Terumah inspired the Jewish people to build it. The solid metal footings of the beams formed the base of the exterior walls. Fine gold handiwork fashioned the menorah. The intricate woven patterns on the tapestries and the clothes worn by the High Priest during the service were made to exacting standards. The entire vision took many hands, many hours and likely many mishaps along the way.

The recounting of the Mishkan here in Parasha Vayakhel-Pekudei, reminds us that to get from point A to point Z there are many stops in between. It is important that we make great plans, and to follow through with these plans requires us to take small steps at times and involve many people.

When making plans that involve the future of Jewish community, we cannot hope for a quick fix, but rather addressing all needs of a disappearing generation of young people will require a concentrated effort of many hands, many hours and a vision of what can be achieved. It will require the construction of a contemporary Mishkan that binds young Jewish people together and to the Jewish future.

Yonah Bookstein is the executive rabbi of JConnect and founded Jewlicious Festivals (jewliciousfestival.com) in 2005 as a gathering place for young Jews of Southern California. Jewlicious Festival 9 takes place this weekend at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Rabbi Bookstein is also the author of “Prayers for Israel” and conducts seminars internationally about solving the problems affecting young Jewish adults.

Christians arriving in Israel for Tabernacles event


About 7,000 Christian tourists are arriving in Israel for the Feast of Tabernacles celebration.

The visitors, including the heads of Evangelical Christian communities, will participate in a program of seminars and teaching beginning Sept. 23. The program is sponsored by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem with assistance from the Israeli Ministry of Tourism.

The pilgrims for the feast, a Christian commemoration of Sukkot, will stay more than a week in Israel and are expected to spend between $15 million and $20 million, the Tourism Ministry said.

Participants are coming from tens of countries including Brazil, Australia, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Austria, India, Italy, Nigeria, Finland and Norway. In addition to visiting holy sites around the country, they will join in the traditional Jerusalem March on Sept. 28.

Journey of a Lifetime


After serving as a weekend scholar-in-residence in Indianapolis, I was about to begin the first leg of a trip back to Los Angeles. I shared the aisle with a friendly fellow who introduced himself by extending his hand and giving me a strong shake. Noting his crew cut and strapping physique, I sensed immediately that he was in the Army.

“Hi, my name is Sgt. Jonathan Boscoe, and it is a pleasure flying with you,” he said.

Although I was exhausted from the weekend and looked forward to catching a nap on the flight, I made sure to stay awake and converse with a person who, without knowing me, expressed pleasure in meeting me.

During our conversation he informed me he had already served 13 years and in another seven he would retire from the military with a full pension at the ripe old age of 47. Upon hearing this I wondered why such an opportunity wasn’t offered in the rabbinate. Just as I began dreaming what I would do with such a retirement, Sgt. Boscoe brought me back to reality by saying, “I see you’re a man of the cloth. Am I right?”

“Indeed I am, but how did you guess?” I answered.

“Well it wasn’t too hard. The first sign was your skullcap. But if that didn’t give it away your suit did,” he said.

“How did my suit tell you that I am a rabbi?” I asked.

“Look around and show me one other person dressed so uncomfortably. It is Sunday morning. Nobody is dressed like you. That’s how I knew you are on a special journey, not like everyone else on this plane,” he said.

Truth be told, Sgt. Boscoe was wrong. Every human being is on a special journey; the secret, however, is to realize it. This, perhaps, is the Torah’s message when it recounts the details of how the first Jewish house of worship, the Tabernacle, was constructed and dedicated.

In this account, however, the final verse of the book of Exodus puzzles me. Immediately preceding the closing verse the Torah informs us that when the Cloud of Glory rose from above the Tabernacle, the Israelites journeyed, but when it rested they camped. Then comes the last verse: “For the cloud of God was upon the Tabernacle by day, and there was a fire in it by night, before the eyes of the entire House of Israel, in all their travels” (Exodus 40:38).

The final words, “in all their travels,” do not make sense. The first words describe a stationary Tabernacle, not one that moves. If the tabernacle is immobile, then why does the verse conclude, “in all their travels”?

The great medieval commentator Rashi, noting this oddity, offered an answer that resolves not only our text but also informs us what it means to be a Jew. He explained, “A place where they encamped is also called ‘a journey.’… Because from the place of encampment they always set out on a new journey, therefore they are all called ‘journeys.'”

The point is linguistic, but the message is profound. In these few words, Rashi captured the challenge we all face in life. So long as we have not reached our destination, even a place of rest is called a journey. In this way the Tabernacle becomes the symbol of Jewish life.

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of the British Commonwealth explains that the Tabernacle represented a revolution in religious thought. The ancients all believed that gods were restricted to a place. In the journey of life, one could encounter many deities, such as those of Moab, Edom and Egypt. Theology was linked to geography. God, in their frame of reference, was restricted to a specific area. Judaism denounced such thinking. We claimed that God is omnipresent. God cannot be confined to a specific place, not even to the Land of Israel. Rabbi Sacks argues that if anything is responsible for the strength of the Jewish people during the long centuries of our dispersion it is this concept that God is never limited by geography but accompanies each of us throughout life’s journey.

In 1990, the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile from Tibet since 1951, invited a group of Jewish scholars to discuss the secret of Jewish existence. Realizing that he and his followers might have to spend many more years in exile from their land, the Dalai Lama pondered the question, “How does a way of life sustain itself far from home?” He understood that only one people could answer that question — the Jewish people. Even the Dalai Lama, a leader of a group far removed from Judaism, recognized that there is something unparalleled in the Jewish capacity to stay faithful to its faith despite its dispersion.

Judaism understood that even when at rest the Jew is on the move. If we can realize that we each are on a special journey, then our lives become meaningful and the opportunities we are offered are endless.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi of Young Israel of Century City.

Hit Biblical Jackpot at Timna’s Mines


When you ascend the rose red pillars towering over the Arava desert, you hardly expect to look down upon the biblical Mishkan. But that’s exactly what you’ll find replicated at Israel’s picturesque Timna Park just outside Eilat.

Stretching across the desert near the Jordanian border and about 18 miles north of the Gulf of Eilat, Timna once played host to ancient Egyptians, Midianites and Amalekites. Today it welcomes visitors seeking to explore this unique nature reserve.

Timna Park is home to fascinating geological and archaeological finds such as the “mushroom” rock, stone arches and “King Solomon’s Pillars.” It also boasts the world’s oldest copper mines, ruins of work camps, workshops for copper smelting, mining shafts, smelting furnaces and even an Egyptian miners’ temple. In modern times, the now-defunct Israeli Timna Mining Co. operated there.

At the park’s main entrance, you can watch an audio-visual presentation in English. From there it’s a short drive toward the striking sandstone pillars, which are named after King Solomon — although no evidence confirms he ever ran the copper mines here. A Christian group in Germany developed the life-size model of the Mishkan that now stands at the base of the pillars and donated it to the park. Admission to the tent requires a nominal fee in addition to your park admission). If you’re interested in gaining a sense of the dimensions of the ancient tabernacle, it’s well worth it, though you’ll likely find it a bit kitschy.

Following biblical prescripts in Exodus, Chapters 25-30, a sacrificial altar is located in the foreground, complete with a ramp and a decorative minaret. A few feet away is a massive copper-colored washstand where the Kohanim, or high priests, washed before preparing offerings.

The nearby ohel moed, or tent of meeting, also follows biblical designs. Gold-painted cherubim decorate a series of panels that are woven from sky blue, dark red and crimson threads.

Unlike the original, this modern version of the Mishkan boasts a small generator to provide climate control for two plastic mannequins. One is dressed as a Kohen in his priestly attire and the other as his Levite assistant. There are also gold-painted models of the menorah, incense altar, bread and various utensils as described in the Torah. A cloth partition separates the main chamber from the smaller Holy of Holies, where a gold-painted model of the ark is decorated with two cherubim facing each other.

We were led through the exhibit by a Christian volunteer from the Southern United States, which made our experience a bit surreal.

Later we climbed the stairs cut into the massive pillars and took in the spectacular view of the tabernacle, the surrounding mountains and the huge desert plain. As we followed an easy footpath, we noticed Egyptian carvings in the flat walled surface of the mountain. And as we continued down another staircase, we arrived at the Miners Sanctuary of Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of mining. Founded during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I (1318-1304 B.C.E.), this pagan temple served members of Egyptian mining expeditions and their local co-workers.

From there we drove a small distance to the “mushroom” rock. A combination of erosive forces of water and wind created this unusual pillar with a huge boulder resting atop it. The surrounding area is filled with ruins of copper mines, as well as small kernels of naturally occurring minerals. Sifting through the dirt, it’s easy to find real pieces of copper that have become oxidized with a pretty green patina.

Archaeologists who excavated Timna from 1959 to 1990 discovered that mining continued there from the late Neolithic period through the Middle Ages. Its heyday occurred during the reign of the pharaohs of the 14th-12th centuries B.C.E.

As the Egyptians lost control of the region in the middle of the 12th century B.C.E., they abandoned the Timna mines and the Hathor temple. Midianites remained there briefly, removing Egyptian imagery from the sanctuary in order to make it their own. Archaeologists discovered beautifully decorated Midianite pottery, metal jewelry and a copper snake with a gilded head reminiscent of the serpent described in Numbers 21:9.

Scholars believe the evidence of Timna’s sophisticated Midianite culture lends credence to the biblical narrative of the meeting of Moses and his father-in-law, Jethro, a high priest of Midian as mentioned in Exodus 18.

These are just a few of Timna’s highlights. Swimmers will want to visit the lovely man-made lake. The visitors’ center attracts guests of all ages.

And hikers will enjoy the abundant trails, camping privileges and expansive tranquility.

Timna Park is usually open daily from 7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in summer and until 5 p.m. in winter. Even in spring, temperatures can be quite extreme, so remember to time your visit to avoid the blistering midday sun.

You’ll appreciate having a car to explore this massive park, although it’s not necessary for travelers in strong physical condition.

Guided tours are available. Camping is permitted by prior arrangement only. When you enter the park, you can rent a personal audio guide, fill souvenir bottles with colored sand and watch an audio-visual demonstration of ancient copper production.

For more information and to reserve a campsite visit timna-park.co.il. The writer’s trip was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism.

 

For the Kids


One Minute in Time

In Parshat Naso, all the tribes bring offerings to the finished tabernacle: animals, food and incense.
On Memorial Day, we make an offering to all the soldiers who died in all of our wars. We bring flowers to their graves, raise the American flag and honor their memory.
We also have lots of fun on Memorial Day. There are parades and picnics, food and family festivals. In order to remember what Memorial Day is all about, our government passed a resolution in December 2000, called the National Moment of Remembrance. We are asked to stop what we are doing for one minute, at 3 p.m., and spend that time remembering our fallen heroes. Can you remember to take that moment for remembrance?

Freedom and Responsibility

The Israelites were set free from Egypt. Three months later they received the great responsibility of the Torah. How are freedom and responsibility related?
Tell a story, write a poem or create a cartoon that demonstrates the connection between the two.
Deadline: June 24. Prize: A free pass to an area theme park or entertainment complex.
Send your entries to kids@jewishjournal.com or mail to Kids Page, Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA, 90010.

Our Legacy


As I wheeled my shopping cart down the aisle of the local
market on my weekly grocery run, a toddler riding in his mother’s cart
came up the other side. He was one of the students in the
nursery school, and when he recognized me, his mouth dropped open. He pointed
and shouted, “Mom, look, it’s God!”

My young friend’s comment is very instructive. We
imagine God in the image of those who teach us about God. And we perceive the
world of religion in the image of those institutions that introduce us to
spirituality, ritual, and faith. When our rabbis and teachers are distant and
cold, when the rites are forbidding and strange, so, too, the religious life we
acquire — emptied of life, emptied of spirit, remote, removed and alien. But,
when teachers inspire and ritual becomes poetry, then a different sense of the
sacred prevails. The measure of a religious institution is not its magnificent
building, the size of its membership roster or the prestige of its reputation,
but the kind of God it offers its children.

This week’s Torah portion describes the completion of
Israel’s first religious institution, the mishkan (the Tabernacle). The midrashic
rabbis noted the parallels between the Torah’s account of the construction of
the mishkan and the story of the creation of the world. God creates the cosmos.
And God has shared with humanity the power to create. With that power, we
create the human institutions that make the cosmos a livable place. Within
God’s cosmos, there are forces beyond our control. But within the world of
human institutions, the world we create, everything is subject to our control.
And therefore, we are responsible for how our institutions turn out.

What is a Jewish community? It is the world we would create
out of the values of the Jewish tradition. And the quality of our community
life is the ultimate test of our values. Beyond all our preaching and teaching,
it is the institutions of the Jewish community that demonstrate to our children
the meaning of Jewish values and the worth of Jewish commitments. If it is a
community that is gentle, compassionate, inclusive and just, we vindicate all
our claims about Jewish tradition and our concern for its continuity. But, if
the community and its institutions prove to be cold, indifferent, narrow and
callous, no amount of preaching or teaching will persuade our children to live
Jewish lives.

There is much that separates today. We disagree about war in
Iraq; about Israeli policy toward Palestinians; about matters Orthodox,
Conservative and Reform; about how to ensure a Jewish future. These are matters
of deadly seriousness. But more serious still is how we choose to disagree. For
long after these issues have been settled and others arrive to take their
place, we will leave behind a legacy — an example — of how Jews conduct
themselves in controversy. More than what we argue, we teach our children how
to argue. Our children are watching and listening. We can show them that Jews
can disagree over matters of life-and-death importance, but conduct themselves
with civility, respect and control. Or, we can demonstrate the opposite,
namely, the weakness of Jewish values when matters of true importance are at
stake.

“When Moses finished the work [of constructing the mishkan],
the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the
Tabernacle.” (Exodus 40:33-4)

It is yet possible, promises the Torah, to build human
institutions that contain the living Presence of God, institutions that bring
light, protection and inspiration to us all.

“For over the Tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day,
and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout
their journeys.” (Exodus 40:38)


Ed Feinstein is rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

God’s Fingerprints


It was a Saturday morning in the middle of winter — bright and sunny and cold, with a sky washed clean by the wind. Outside, it was business as usual: the boulevard teeming with cars and pedestrians, thousands of plot lines stretching across the city. But inside the sanctuary, it was Shabbat, and another kind of story was unfolding. A young girl stood on the bimah, chanting the prayers in a voice remarkably clear and mature.

She had that look we sometimes see on the face of a new bar or bat mitzvah — the look that takes our breath away. We see, through the contours of the child’s face, the emerging adult. We see confidence and courage and strength; we see joy and hope and a purity of purpose that tears at our heart. They set their dreams before us, these b’nai mitzvah boys and girls. They tell us what they love and what they fear. They tell us what they want to make of their lives, and how they want to change the world. And we, skeptics surprised by the sting of tears in our eyes, believe that they will change the world. We are awe-struck at that moment by the beauty of lives brimming over with promise.

There is a sense of powerful truth in the Midrashic teaching that Betzalel, the creator of the mishkan, the portable Tabernacle in the wilderness, was 13 years old. In this week’s portion, God chooses Betzalel to build the container that will house the Holy Presence. An older craftsman, no matter how skilled, might have been paralyzed with fear at the prospect of such a task. Maybe God needed an artist young enough to dream without constraint, young enough to believe in the possibility of perfection.

We read about two building projects in Ki Tisa: Betzalel is charged with building the sanctuary, and the Israelites persuade Aaron to build them a golden calf.

The tabernacle is, in every sense, an answer to the idolatrous image of the calf. The calf is a product of the people’s anxiety and loneliness; it is the fruit of spiritual crisis. With Moses on the mountain for 40 days, communing with God, the Israelites feel abandoned. Convinced that they are alone in the wilderness, they lapse into panic and demand of Aaron: “Make us a god who shall go before us” (Exodus 32:1).

The wilderness tabernacle, in contrast, is a statement of faith in God’s real and living presence. Containing two stone tablets “inscribed with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18), it asserts that we are not alone in an indifferent universe: The Holy One does indeed dwell among the people. The tabernacle is the symbol of reconciliation between God and Israel. After the painful trauma of the golden calf, says the Midrash, “Betzalel came and healed the wound” (Exodus Rabba 48:5).

Every synagogue today carries a spark of sanctity from the desert mishkan, and all of us who build and support synagogues are like Betzalel, affirming the possibility of God’s holy presence in our midst.

And every now and then, something happens in the sanctuary that reminds us what it’s like to feel the Holy Presence. We watch a young girl stand alone on the bimah on the most important morning of her life. Her mother is there to celebrate with her, but not her father; he didn’t live to see the day of his daughter’s bat mitzvah. The sanctuary is full of loving relatives and friends, most of whom break into tears when the bat mitzvah tells her dad that she misses him and will love him forever.

The sadness of a girl bereft of her father is deep and undeniable. But we sense, even so, that God’s fingerprints are all over this scene: in the way the girl stands before the congregation so poised and unafraid, in the way she lifts up her voice with clarity and strength, in the way she opens her heart and sets her dreams before us. God is there in the mother’s embrace of her daughter, and in the words of love and comfort she offers her today and every day, and in the community of family and friends that gathers to celebrate the emergence of a young Jewish woman who will, we are quite sure, someday change the world. God is there, above all, in the power of an ancient tradition that shelters and sustains her as she leaves her childhood behind.

It is, in most ways, an ordinary winter morning in our car-congested city. Except that, on this morning, our eyes are stung by tears as we meet God in the brave, hopeful face of a 13-year-old dreamer.


Rabbi Janet R. Marder is director of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Pacific Southwest Council.