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“Extra Ordinary or Extraordinary Gifts,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

March 29, 2024 | 19 Adar II 5784

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings, a weekly reflection as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

At the end of the book of Exodus the Israelites brought voluntary gifts to assist in the building of the mishkan, the sanctuary they would carry with them through the wilderness wandering. The text goes into great detail about the willingness of their hearts to heap the bounty of gifts in service of the mishkan construction. The items they brought shined and sparkled, gold objects of all kinds, fine threads and other linens, silver, copper, and even acacia wood. They piled on gifts brought from the heart and voluntarily, so much so, that they had to be asked to stop.

We may ask how they knew what to bring. God had told Moses, and Moses, in turn, conveyed it to the people. Though all the gifts were precious and played an important role, they were merely things, beautiful and needed, but just things nonetheless.

Now that we have arrived to Leviticus, God commanded Moses to convey to Aaron, the high priest, and his sons the rituals for the various offerings to God. But these offerings are not just things; they are the sacrifices with which the ritual could be performed. In English, sacrifices mean something sacred. In Hebrew, it means to draw near with what will be regarded as holy, a distinct extraordinary offering to the Divine.

In order to complete the various rituals described, the people were expected to bring forth specified animals and choice flour, the very items they would have used to sustain themselves. It must have been a harder choice. There is no mention of being moved by their hearts to bring forward what was needed. The expectation was there. And the people obliged.

The gifts of the heart became transformed through the various rituals described as the pathway to the divine. Leviticus begins not only a new book in the Torah but also the next chapter in the religious life of these former slaves. Though we might never be able to imagine a spiritual life based on material and animal sacrifice, the ancients had their way of reaching toward the sacred.

The challenge for us is to appreciate a tradition handed down to us where the importance of engaging in ritual clarifies communal commitment to the whole. What we bring and how we bring it still connects us to an extraordinary spiritual life reaching toward the sacred.

Shabbat Shalom!

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This Weekend at Temple Israel

  • We come together as a community to celebrate Shabbat at 6:00 p.m., onsite or online. Register to join on Zoomor log on via Facebook Live, or our website
  • Torah Study gathers onsite or Register to join on zoom at 9:00 a.m. beginning with a short Shabbat service and Torah reading, followed by an engaging study and conversation. All levels and abilities are welcomed!
  • TGIS gathers at 10:00 a.m. onsite. No registration necessary.
  • Gather online to say goodbye to Shabbat with a lay-led Havdalah on Zoom at 8:00 p.m.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher