Friday, February 11, 2011

Parashat Tezave. "Tamid" - Always connected!

(NOTE. I particularly enjoyed developing this Devar Torah because its source was the Concordance! By carefully observing instances of a word throughout Torah, I noticed something novel and new. It is amazing how a simple tool like the Concordance - or the Bar Ilan program - can contribute to our understanding of Torah. )

A key feature of the drama of Parshat Tetzave is the notion of "Tamid;" - that the service of God in the Mishkan must be constant, or perpetual.

Let us examine the evidence:

1. The Menora: "To light a perpetual candle (ner TAMID)"

2. and 3. The Breastplate: "Aharon shall carry the names of the Children of Israel… on his heart … before God, at all times (TAMID)."

4. The Tzitz (headplate) "… and it shall be continually (TAMID) upon his forehead…"

5&6. The Daily Sacrifice (Korban Tamid) "…Year-old lambs, two a day, for perpetuity (TAMID) … a Tamid (continual) burnt offering at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting"

7. Incense: "a constant (TAMID) offering of incense."

The theme of "Tamid" resonates throughout the parsha quite clearly, The impression is that the Mishkan service be continual, without a break, constantly serving God. Through the reptition and the consistency, the perpetual motion, we build a sense of Israel's never-ending dedication before God.

Interestingly, many of these activities only take place once or twice a day! The Menora is lit each night (Rashi); the priest's clothes are only worn when the High Priest is engaged in Temple service, but not at night, for instance. The Korban Tamid is each morning and evening, as is the incense. These are not continual acts.

There is a difference between a continual, uninterrupted phenomenon, and one which is periodic, even if regular. Tamid, interestingly, means an action which is not perpetual. But by being a regular, daily, constant rhythm, it engenders the momentum and power of something which is continual, seemingly without interruption.

The clear upshot of all this is that one of the essential elements of Avodat Hashem (worship of God) is indeed that regular, daily action, which is the essential ingredient of "Tamid." Today, the way that we demonstrate this dedication is through our daily prayers which are modeled on the Temple service, and in their constant thrice-daily tempo, they too generate the energy and power of "Tamid."

(In our world, where we find ourselves needing to be "online" at all times, we might have some contemporary reflections to add to this notion of TAMID and the relationship between constant connection and our deeper commitments in life.)


I decided to look up the word "Tamid" and see where it appears in chumash and in which contexts. I was quite surprised to see the results, which to my mind give us something of a "Hiddush."

The word "Tamid" appears 18 times in Humash. 16 of those instances are clearly related to the avodat HaMishkan, the Temple service, indicative, as we have said, of the constant and continual rhythm of the Mishkan service.

However, there are two other instances. The first relates to the pillar of cloud or fire that hovered above the Mishkan from the moment of its construction:

"On the day that the Tabernacle (Mishkan) was set up, the cloud covered the Mishkan, the Tent of the pact; and in the evening it rested …in the likeness of fire until morning. It was always so (Tamid): The cloud covered it, appearing as fire at night." (Bamidbar 9:15-16)

(טו) וּבְיוֹם הָקִים אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן כִּסָּה הֶעָנָן אֶת הַמִּשְׁכָּן לְאֹהֶל הָעֵדֻת וּבָעֶרֶב יִהְיֶה עַל הַמִּשְׁכָּן כְּמַרְאֵה אֵשׁ עַד בֹּקֶר:
(טז) כֵּן יִהְיֶה תָמִיד הֶעָנָן יְכַסֶּנּוּ וּמַרְאֵה אֵשׁ לָיְלָה: במדבר פרק ט

Now this is surprising, because the actor, the subject, has shifted. In the 16 other instances of this word, man engages in an act of worship that is in some way, "Tamid." But now, it God who is relating to Israel in a mannaer reflective of "Tamid." And this is exceptionally powerful. It is as if God reciprocates our dedicated "Tamid – perpetual" service, actively demonstrating that His protective presence remains over the Mishkan at ALL TIMES - Tamid! Man's constant presence in the Mishkan, stimulates God's ongoing protective presence over Bnei Yisrael.

Interestingly, it is Israel who create FIRE in a perpetual manner every evening by lighting the Menora (and also continually on the Mizbeach אש תמיד תוקד על המזבח לא תכבה (ויקרא ו').) Israel also generates CLOUD – ענן הקטרת. We can suggest that there is a visual symmetry, a realistic corollary of man's fire and cloud corresponding with God's fire and cloud.


But the second (or 18th) reference is more exciting still. In reference to the Land of Israel, we read:

It is a land upon which the Lord your God seeks; His eyes are constantly (tamid) upon it, from the year's beginning to year's end."(11:12)

אֶרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ דֹּרֵשׁ אֹתָהּ תָּמִיד עֵינֵי ה' אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּהּ מֵרֵשִׁית הַשָּׁנָה וְעַד אַחֲרִית שָׁנָה: ס דברים פרק יא פסוק יב

In the Wilderness, God responds to our Tamid – our regular commitment - by concentrating His Presence over the Mishkan at the epicentre of the Israelite camp. But this passuk takes it all to a higher level. In the Land of Israel, God extends His providence and protection to the ENTIRE land, which God watches and protects, TAMID – perpetually. In the Land of Israel, the entire land is under God's protective gaze and nourished by His spiritual proximity.

וכן יהי רצון
שבת שלום!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Haredim turned Hilonim - New Israeli series

This week, a new series began on Israeli TV. It is a drama about a group of Hilonim (secular Israelis) who have all left the Haredi (Ultra Orthodox) community. It is called Simanei Sheela (Question Marks) which is a play on the phrase חזרה בשאלה - a contemporary Hebrew phrase indicating a movement from the Religious world to the irreligious. You can watch the opening episode here. It centers around a clandestine apartment which is a "safe house" for Haredi escapees. They keep the address secret so that the Haredi community cannot find them.

One of the fascinating scenes in episode 1 sees all the members of the apartment eating Friday night dinner, with the TV on, smoking, and singing zemirot! A passionate debate ensues instigated by the freshest memeber of the apartment as to why they should be singing zemirot at all if they are now Secular. As many op-eds on the topic have noted (link, link), any religious person who moves to the Hiloni community still carries the baggage of his or her religion throughout their lives! For these people, their songs are still a part of their identity. Their secret knock is to the beat of Hassidic hit music!
Another great scene is when one of the girls who has already been secular for 3 years, becomes terrified of a dog that barks at her. This plays into one of the classic cliches about Haredim that they are terrified of dogs. (Since I also share this fear, I fully identified.)

Incidentally, the phrase חזרה בשאלה is a play on the term חזרה בתשובה. Rather than translating it as "returning (to God) in repentace," it is read by the secular public as "a return to having answers" as if the religious world purports to being able to offer answers to life's difficult questions. In that case חזרה בשאלה means "living with questions." I have to say that from my perspective, this is wholly wrong. I follow Rav Soloveitchik in this regard who says that belief in and practice of Judaism isn't a respite for life's big questions, in fact, it just deepens them! See Halakhic Man, footnote 4(!). Religion should deepen our sensitivity, our caring, our ethical conscience, our peoplehood, our humanity. Our struggles are more and not fewer.
So, let's see how this series develops. Will it have any depth? Will it just be a Haredi-bashing series, or will it be intelligent about this fascinating sub-group in Israeli society who certainly do not have an easy life.

Galant, and the morality of our leaders

The saga of the Israeli Chief of Staff goes on and on. It is upsetting to see the real bitterness, infighting, intense rivalry and interpersonal acrimony in the leadership echelons of the army/Ministry of Defense that this “story” has revealed. However, in the wake of this turmoil, I would like to make a couple of comments that regard morality in public life.

First, this episode demonstrates that Israel is looking to have a leadership which is honest and ethical, upholding high standards. After a corrupt presidents and prime ministers, we are embarrassed by our leaders. Israeli society has had enough of corruption. I am glad that the primary question that is being asked about anyone who rises to high office relates to his ethical standing. This is a good sign.

But I also feel that Yoav Galant has been dealt a raw deal. Yes – his house or “estate” raises serious worries, if only about ostentatious style and extraordinary size. But on the other hand, even if he filed a request for a building permit falsely, even if he did seize some public land, I am not sure this is reason to reject him, especially after he has already been appointed.I asked an Israeli judge about this last week what he thought about the scandal. He said: “They are holding him up to a standard of angels; but we are all human beings, and we all make mistakes.” (link, link) Yoav Galant has been hailed by his soldiers and colleagues as an impressive professional who upholds a high ethical standard, and is infused by his ideological Zionist mission. He sounds pretty good to me. If he had lapse of honesty regarding the legality of his home, so be it. I am not sure that this is a general statement about his integrity and honesty.

I would go further. We are dealing with powerful men. There is a reason that you and I are not the Chief of Staff. The sense of responsibility, the willingness to take chances, the tenacity to rise to the top – these are things that are essential if one is to rise to the top of an organization like Tzahal. Like in the case of Police Chief Danino, (link) anyone who thinks that you can get there without putting a foot wrong here or there, is mistaken. He who dares wins, but in that daring, you sometimes do create enemies, and make errors. So in this case, from what we know, I still think he would have done a good, honest job.

Lastly - I believe that the way that this has been publically juggled between the government, the State Comptroller, Attorney General, and Supreme Court, and inflated by a sensatialist media is outrageous. It should have been dealt with in a simpler and more discreet fashion. I also wonder whether someone is targeting Galant. After the forged letter, and now this episode, does someone have an inappropriate interest to see Galant outside the position of Chief of Staff?