Korban: Drawing Close

          In this year of COVID, what have you done to draw close to God or to others? At times when you feel apart or adrift, what actions have you taken to be connected to others? The entire principle of korbanot, animal sacrifices, was not to kill animals for animals’ sake: rather it is to draw close to the Holy One.

          Imagine offering your choicest flock on the altar with the Kohen granting you atonement for a sin. The thoughts going through your head are likely “That could have been me. Time to repent for my actions.” By seeing an animal’s life taken instead of your own, it would jolt you into returning to God.

          Today we have prayer for atonement, but prayer is much less visceral and tangible. Saying words from one’s lips is not the same as being part of the sacrifice of an animal. Those who have been to the Samaritan sacrifice at Mount Gerizim, which will occur again this coming week, know the impact this sacrifice has in bringing a community closer together and towards God.

          I am not calling for a return to animal sacrifice: rather for a reflection on what you can do to draw closer to your community and to God. While COVID has made us physically apart, now is the time to begin thinking about how to come back together in joy, warmth, and closeness. May we think about what our Korban, our efforts to draw close, will be as we approach Passover.

Blueprint Versus Reality

          Why does Parshat VaYakhel repeat so much that has already been said in Parshat Terumah? Many lines from the first aliyot of each parsha are identical. A common theory is that Parshat Terumah represents the “blueprint” of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) that Moses learned when he was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights. Parshat VaYakhel, in contrast, represents the reality of building the Mishkan. The Ishbitzer Rebbe in his book Mei HaShiloach mentions that the 72 elders (6 from each tribe) made shinuim, changes, when building the Mishkan because of constraints.[1]

          Often our blueprint represents our greatest vision for the reality. However, there are noticeable differences between what we intend and what we achieve. The place I have seen this most in my life is with the births of my daughters Ariela and Leora. We have all sorts of hopes and dreams for our children, a blueprint laid out, yet we know that the people they will become are different from the people we envisioned-and that is great! My hope and prayer for my daughters is that they continue to construct their own, independent reality, with the guidance from our blueprint, but that their reality will be even more beautiful than we could have envisioned, just as the Mishkan, God’s home, upon its completion was even more wonderous upon its completion than in its blueprint in Parshat Terumah. May our hopes, dreams and what we desire (R’tzei) from God become actualized-to a greater degree than we could have imagined.

[1] Mei HaShiloach Sefer Shemot, Volume I, Parshat VaYakhel, ד”ה ויקהל משה

Responsibilities of a Leader

          What are the responsibilities of a leader? It clearly isn’t to “let the people run wild” as Aaron did. When Israel came to Aaron to demand a God to worship in place of Moses, he didn’t object. Instead he said “give me your gold jewelry” and used it to make a molten calf.

          The word being used for how Aaron let the people get is פרע[1], to go wild or let loose. It is the same root as פרעה. Pharaoh, who thought he was god, is at the end of the story governing an Egypt which is out of control. Similarly, by acquiescing to the Israelites’ request, Aaron enables them to get out of control. Aaron thus abdicated his duty in Moses’ absence.

          As a leader, sometimes the right word to say is “no”. There is a Midrash that Aaron only said yes because he could not control the mob; they had killed Hur and would kill him as well. However, I see that is apologetics and instead of bringing patience to the Israelites, Aaron enables their destructive behavior. As Moses’ partner in crime with Pharaoh, Aaron is quick to turn away from Moses and give the people the molten god they demand. He is also quick to throw in an excuse, telling Moses “Don’t be enraged; you know that this people is bent on evil. They said to me, ‘Make us a god to lead us; for that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt-we do not know what has happened to him. So I said to them, ‘Whoever has gold, take it off! They gave it to me, and I hurled it into the fire and out came this calf!”[2] In other words, he exonerates himself, acting like he wanted to burn the gold rather than create the calf.

          The lesson to learn from this is that leaders need to take responsibility for their actions rather than make excuses. We need to admit when we fall short. I hope that we will be able to learn this lesson rather than repeating the mistakes of Aaron by enabling destructive behavior.

[1] Exodus 32:25

[2] Exodus 32:22-24