Friday, February 25, 2011

VAYAKHEL: Golden Rings/Golden Calves

by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

There are times when it is painstaking to hear certain sections of the Torah which are repetitive. Endless detail. No minutiae are spared in the retelling. Parshat Vayakhel is one of those times.

Way back in Parshat Mishpatim Moses ascends Mt. Sinai. And for two whole parshas Hashem is teaching Moses all the details of the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its various holy accoutrements (Parshat Terumah), and of the holy garments to be worn by the priests while serving in the Mishkan (Parshat Titzaveh). And then, following a short break in Parshat Ki Tissa, over another two whole parshas (Vayakhel and Pikudei), the entire instruction manual of the Mishkan, its holy vessels, and of the garments of the priesthood is repeated all over again as Moses is now teaching it to the people, recounting all he had learned while atop the mountain.

The forty days he ascended the mountain correspond to the six weeks/parshas which span the narrative! And the two extra days symbolize the two ascents! Of course, the fulcrum for the two accounts is the Golden Calf narrative. We are taught that G*d always provides the cure/therapy (teruphah) before the sickness (machalah). G*d seemingly realizes that the people are in great need for a visceral, experiential taste of spirituality. A dispassionate embrace of an intellectualized cerebral appreciation of the ethical monotheistic ideal would have to await a future sojourn to the yeshivas of Lithuania.

Meanwhile, the people needed more. Hence the Golden Calf. So G*d is instructing Moses in the minutiae of the Golden Vessels so that their spiritual needs may yet be met. To journey from a land and a consciousness of towering god/statues, pyramids, gold-suffused spiritual iconography to a "mere" stark contemplation of the Infinite One was too much to ask. It was stress inducing. And G*d knew it. But Shabbat is the centerpiece, the calm and tranquil eye in the storm of life's middle.

Before unveiling the blueprints for the physical structure of the Tabernacle, we are given the blueprint for the spiritual garment of the soul, namely the Sabbath.The absurd finitude of the Golden Calf is contrasted with the ultimate infinitude of the Sabbath. And the Sabbath itself by definition is a deja vu experience for the soul, much as the narratives surrounding it in the Torah powerfully suggest a certain ring of familiarity regarding the construction of the physical Tabernacle. How so?

In Genesis, in the Creation of theWorld, the realm of the infinite was given an abode in the realm of the finite. Heschel teaches that the Sabbath is a Palace in Time, much as the Tabernacle was a Palace in Space. Indeed the word for "world" in Hebrew (olam), also means "infinite." The notion of "the world" suggests infinity in terms of space, much as the idea of "forever" connotes infinity in terms of time, each sharing a common quality of endlessness. The soul, an aspect of G*d which was exiled from the infinite realm of the upper world to the finite realm of this world, once again gets to taste the spiritual bliss of the Infinite One.

And once again, through the construction of the Mishkan, the material qualities of this world are likewise infused with the spiritual essence of heaven. This is the deepest meaning of the neshama yeterah, the extra soul that we receive on the Sabbath. The Sod Yesharim (Rabbeinu Gershom Chanoch Chenech of Radzin/ son of the Holy Izbeca) explains that just as Moses gathered ("vayakhel") the people as one nefesh (body and/or soul) a second time with regard to teaching the Sabbath, so too is the body infused with a second soul on the Sabbath. Resting on the Sabbath draws down an extra aspect of Divine Light into the world.

Just as the Golden Calf episode functions as the fulcrum between the narratives of the construction of the Tabernacle in all their painstaking detail, so too, in Parshat Chayei Sarah (Gen 24:22) the placing of the Golden Ring (haNezem haZahav) functions as the fulcrum in the painstaking retelling by Rebecca of her encounter with Eliezer, Abraham's servant. A seeming precursor to our own parsha of this week, not a single twist is left out of the retelling. But why? What is the connection?

First is the idea of kindness, that through the kindness that we show one another we may bring redemption to the world. The other idea linking the two narratives is embodied by the very bracelets themselves. When Eliezer placed the Golden Ring on Rebecca, for all time would Jewish women, her descendants, wear that ring. And never take it off.

When Aaron was forced into making the Golden Calf he approached the men and the women for their gold rings and bracelets, with which to make the idol. Many men gave. But all the women refused! As the first post- Sinaitic refuseniks in history, the women were rewarded with their own holiday- Rosh Chodesh, the New Moon, symbolized by the shape of the Ring which they refused to give up. And today our holy women refuse to give up the Sabbath. They are its guardians, who envelop the home with the sanctity of the Shechinah, the Indwelling Presence of the Heavenly Abode.

Jewish women gather together in the home each Friday towards evening, in homes all around the world, together kindling the fires, the holy flames that burned on Sinai, thus subduing, replacing, the other, opposite fires, the fires that burn in Gehennom. Even the fires of gehennom abate on Shabbat. And yet the light of Shabbat endures.

Our mothers, the Jewish women who embody the qualities ofkindness and mercy (chesed verachamim), also embody the peace and serenity of the Sabbath. Therefore, we are known as "rachmanim b'nai rachmanin-merciful ones, the children of merciful ones (our mothers)." Just as Shabbat brings peace to the soul, kindness brings peace between people. Shabbat is the recharging mechanism for our souls, helping us to bring peace and kindness into the world. It has a heavenly taste, being that it is a joyful gathering of light, peace and love, the hallmarks of the heavenly realm.

Shabbat Shalom

© 2000-2011 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman

These words of Torah are written in the merit of my beloved father, Israel J. Melman, obm, Yisrael Yehoshua ben Harav Ya'aqov Hakohen ben Meir Yisrael Hakohen Melman, z"l. And in the merit of my beloved mother, Esther Melman, obm, Esther Bat Baruch, z"l.

I was raised in the musar tradition of silence and meditative thoughtfulness, as were my father and grandfather before me, and was born on the first day chol hamoed Sukkos, which is also the yahrzeit of both Rebbe Nachman and the Vilna Gaon.

http://seferchabibi.blogspot.com/2007/07/yahrzeit-of-my-father-27-tammuz.html
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9506EEDC1630F93BA35754C0A9649C8B63

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=esther-melman&pid=143745543

Chabibi stands for CHidushei Baruch Binyamin ben Yisrael Yehoshua
(a chidush, from the word chadash, means a new, original or fresh perspective)

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About Me

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I played violin with Reb Shlomo and studied under him for over nine years at hundreds of concerts and learnings. Shlomo wanted to give me smicha before he passed. Deepest influences: My father,obm, who was a great scientist and human being, and my grandfather, obm, who was a great Torah scholar who was a musmach of the Mir Yeshiva and taught in Slobodka in Russia before WW1, and was also personal friends with the Chafetz Chaim and came to America in 1914. He knew the Talmud by heart! You could stick a pin in a word and he could tell you what word was on the other side! And my mother, Esther bat Baruch, z"l, who was a scholar of classical Hebrew and Tanach and who gave me a love for the language. And her mother, Anna (Sucher) Deutsch, who was born in Horodenka, spoke six languages, and shared her aged wisdom and eternal sweetness with me. I studied at Brandeis, Hebrew College, Pardes as well as seven years at The Metivta/ITJ earning my Advanced Semicha (yoreh yoreh)under Rav Halivni. What's truly amazing is that Shlomo and Rav Halivni each received semicha from Rav Hutner! But my deepest influences of them all are my sweetest sweetest girls who have taught me the most!