An Update & Some Thoughts on the Torah Portion

I sincerely apologize for not keeping this blog updated. I have, however, been writing. If you want to keep up with my writing, you can read my pieces on the Huffington Post Teen, or follow me on Twitter find out when I post pieces on other sites. In the meantime, here are some musics on this week’s Torah portion that we will read in synagogue tomorrow:

 

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, we see the introduction of Sabbath, immediately followed by the listing of all of the materials used to build the Tabernacle. The two are read continuously, and the implication seems to be that one idea flows right into the other. What does one have to do with the other?

To me, Biblical Judaism seems to place a large emphasis on location. We read extensively about the land of Israel and the commandments that pertain to it. We read about the Tabernacle and how it stood at the metaphorical and literal heart of the Jewish encampment in the desert, and then about the role that the Holy Temple played once it was constructed several hundred years later. The discussion of the construction of the Tabernacle occupies several full portions, and what the priests and the Levites are supposed to do inside the Tabernacle (and, later, the Holy Temple) occupy the majority of Leviticus, the book that we will begin next week. The Tabernacle and the Holy Temple were not just communal gathering places, but were also places were religion was at integral.

Today, however, Judaism looks remarkably different. In an age where we do not have the Holy Temple or the Tabernacle at the center of our religious lives, something else has replaced sacred places: sacred time. Today, practices such as the Sabbath seem to be at the center of our observance, as do other, more ritualistic practices. Tefilin (phylacteries) is laid at a certain point every day, and there are certain times by which we have to pray every day — Shacharit (the morning service) can only be said until midday, Minchah (the afternoon service) until the late afternoon, and so on. Our practices, as opposed to being relegated to a specific place that is central the Jewish community, have been adapted to relegated to certain times, but can be performed virtually anywhere. While it might be seen as better to pray with a minyan, it is certainly not required. In a world where the Jewish community is far less concentrated than it was during its encampment in the desert or its settlement in the land of Israel, times have taken on much more important roles in religion. Now, instead of gathering together in central locations to perform religious rites, we all perform them at the same, regardless of where we are.

This brings us back to this week’s parashah. I think that Moses is trying to incorporate both sacred times and places. The Torah is meant to be a timeless document: even though it was written at a specific time, and given to a specific group of people with very specific circumstances, we are challenged with finding meaning in it today, as Jews living in the twenty-first century.

Here, it seems, the Torah is helping us find the balance between the generation that received the Torah and today, and it seems to be showing us that our connection with Judaism and the Jewish people is no less because we do not have the Tabernacle or the Holy Temple, and practice Judaism in a way that would be foreign to the Dor Ha’Midbar, the Generation of the Desert that received the Torah. How we connect to religion may be different, but the strength of that connection is not. Perhaps the Torah, more than being a book of laws or history or a historical document, is meant to act as a connection between a time when Judaism was a religion of sacred place and a religion of sacred time.

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