Tetzaveh – Exodus 27:20 – 30:10

This Torah portion is primarily about the priestly vestments, clothing, adornments and the altars.  Two things struck me particularly.  The commentaries point out that in the Torah portion Moses’ name is not mentioned at all yet the “directions” are to him.  So it is selfless and ultra present at the same time. Moses said to G-d that he would be nameless in the Torah as a result of the people sinning with the golden calf.  The ultimate selflessness, to remain nameless in the holiest of holy works.  And yet, he is in this most intimate relation with G-d in this portion, G-d providing him with the instructions required for the priests to maintain the relationship between G-d and the people.  Which directs my attention to the tzedakah question – nameless?  I think so.  We as Jews talk about tzedakah, about charitable good works, about tikkun olam, all the time.  There are those who do many good works but feel it necessary to be recognized as often and as publicly as possible.  How close to G-d does that put the person?  The good is the good but I think the desire for a “return” undermines the value of the good.  Sometimes the recognition, the price to the recipient, is too much.  There are those who do small good works but do them anonymously.  How close to G-d does that put the person?  Much closer I think.  It is much more intimate an act to do small acts of kindness and charity without hope of reward.  Not to say that there aren’t those that do great works without the need of public reward.

The other theme in this portion that struck me is that of the “everlasting” light that is supposed to burn from morning until night.  Isn’t that a contradiction in terms?  All the time versus some of the time.  I loved a commentary I read which is essentially that this contradiction is a metaphor for the contrast between the perfect and the imperfect. That it is our job to find a relationship between the divine and the human, the eternal and the temporal.  And isn’t that the meaning of our lives, the striving for a perfection that we know perfectly well is unattainable, yet we continue to strive.  And as with tzedakah, doesn’t the striving for the unattainable put is in a more intimate relationship with g-d.  And this is not the same as striving for “success”.  It is striving for the divine; the perfection of our selves.  Ironically striving to attain the perfection of our human selves is by definition to only attain a better imperfection! 

Ultimately in this portion, both themes that spoke to me are about doing the best we can not because it is asked of us, not because it will gain us material goods or rich recognition, but because it brings us closer to the divine.  They are both about improving our relationship with G-d and what is best in us; in having a more intimate relationship with G-d and with ourselves.  Shabbat Shalom.

Elena Kagan and Anti Semitism On the Rise

In the last few days I have read more anti-semitic trash than I can wrap my head around.  Everywhere I look there are articles about the fact that the appointment of Elena Kagan will, if she’s confirmed, result in a Supreme Court made up entirely of Jews and Catholics.  The first comment I heard about it was from my Rabbi several weeks ago.  I thought it was interesting and so did he.  He spoke of diversity and history, education and curiousity and the Jewish legacy of questioning and learning.  He most specifically did not speak of any idea that somehow the Court would be “skewed” or manipulated as a result of the religious makeup of the Court.  I am shocked that many of the comments I have read have been in Jewish publications! First, I should say that I am a lawyer by training and I spent most of my working life as a public defender; whose primary job, I believe, is to defend the fundamental principles contained in our beautiful constitution.  I believe deeply in the freedoms embodied there and that they comprise the essential safeguards of our society, the first and last protection from unchecked power, often kown as fascism.  Next, I believe that those who serve as jurists in our Federal Court system generally feel the same way.  Often they share different beliefs about how best to interpret the constitution which, like the Torah, should be a living document, interpreted to be relevant in the modern world.  What constitutes judicial activism is a controversy that has gone on for decades; centuries?  And that debate is a healthy one, the different views keep our system in balance.  Those who serve on the Supreme Court, I believe, are always changed by that service.  Witness the number of democratic appointees that have turned conservative and republican appointees who have turned the other way.  They should be changed.  The responsibility of those who serve on the Supreme Court is awesome in my opinion and I believe that most who serve take that responsibility very, very seriously.  The one exception currently being Clarence Thomas but I will save my opinion on that for another day.  So, what stands out most is this.  When the entire Court, for virtually all of its history until the last decade, was white, male, protestants, nobody complained.  There was no talk of diversity, or the lack thereof.  There was no talk of a “skewed” Court because of the religious, gender or racial makeup of the Court. So instead of one protestant there will be none. Why do so many care so much all of a sudden about the religious composition of the Court?  Look around, our country is becoming more and more “diverse” every day.  My son’s friends are Hindu and Muslim, Jew and Protestant, with the Protestants in the minority.  The Court should be comprised of the best and brightest, the most thoughtful and the most caring.  The Court should be comprised of those who, like Elena Kagan, have dedicated their lives to learning the law, living the law, teaching the law and loving the law.  Why do so many care so much?  Because racism and anti-semitism are all too alive and well here in the land of the free.  It may be better but we are not done yet.