In the First Month of the Second Year

In the First Month of the Second Year


After extensive check-ins where we all caught up with where we now found ourselves in the new calendar year (pursuing job changes, being esteemed, non-collision collisions, relationship growth and change, much more . . .) we turned to Torah. Intending to study today’s actual parashat Vayehi, where Jacob blesses his sons and establishes the character of the future 12 tribes, we were turned instead to complete our study of the Tabernacle at the end of Exodus.

Exodus 40:17-18 “In the first month of the second year . . . the Mishkan (Tabernacle) was erected. Moses erected the Mishkan. “

Reflect for a moment on how much had happened in that one short year since leaving Egypt: the crossing of the Sea, the sweetening of the waters of Marah; the revelation at Sinai; the incident of the Golden Calf; the giving of the Tablets; the extensive preparation of the Mishkan. The people were now poised to establish the dwelling place for God’s Presence to travel within the midst of their encampment – a perpetual, movable, Sinai. “Moses spread the Ohel (tent) over the Mishkan” : the significance of the “Ma Tovu” that we sing on Erev Shabbat became evident - the ever-present combining and living in both the spiritual realm and physical realm simultaneously. Ohel - here specifically referring to the coverings of the Mishkan made of woven fabric (purple, turquoise, and scarlet) and linen, goat’s hair, and animal hides – refers to the physical structure. Mishkan – literally meaning the place of dwelling – has the connotation of the spiritual awareness contained within the physical structure.

Exodus 40:22-24: “He put the Table in the Tent of Meeting on the North side . . . he placed the Menorah opposite the Table on the South side”

That there is significance of the placement in the specific directions is evident. Having just left urban Egypt, the 4 directions were no doubt of critical importance to the Children of Israel, to orient themselves in the wilderness. Tzafon (North), Negba (South) – what is the significance of the 4 Directions in our indigenous tradition? North, the place of mystery, Eagle, fire . . . South, the place of clarity, Speaking Beings, water. There are many deep teachings in our tradition regarding these directions, the qualities they contain, the meaning of their qualities, the place in our lives in which they manifest. Through our discussion today, it was evident we wanted to bring the intention of Direction to Joshua Tree this year, to really seek an understanding of our place within those 4 Winds, of being firmly grounded and surrounded in the foundation of these spiritual directions as we move into the period of personal and societal challenge we all feel coming. Ways to utilize this Kavannah at our seder: awareness of the time of day and it’s relation to the directions; specific rituals being held with awareness of the direction involved (e.g. Rahatz – the laver was placed to the East of the Mishkan); placement of the tribal banners to the 4 directions as we’ve always done, but connect them with posts and string to invoke the courtyard around the Mishkan; have our Mediation Walk stations at those banners, carrying the meaning of the directions with us on the walk.

Exodus 40:36: “When the cloud was raised up from the Mishkan, the Children of Israel would embark on all their journeys.”

How do we know when to move in a new direction, when to start a new project, when to make a change in the direction of one’s life? The Torah teaches us here to pay attention to Spirit, and let spirit guide us on such journeys of import. This concept is repeated throughout our sacred teachings. As when David inquired of HaShem as to the right time to attack the Phillistines and was told to wait until he heard the wind move through the tops of the trees, the sound of HaShem moving out before them (Samuel 2, 5:22-25). How often do we move forward based only on a momentary thought, a whim of the ego, without a deeper knowledge of the timing of our action? Though we can’t always be perfect, Torah tells us to pause for a moment before acting, listen for the wind, the sound of HaShem moving before us, watch for the cloud to lift – then our way is clear and our success assured. Of course our ability to really do this is flawed, limited by the quality of our connection to Spirit. It’s when we try too hard, jump the gun, even with good intentions, that sometimes things don’t work out. But to work to develop ourselves and our connection to spirit, seeking to attain the level of connection of David or Moses, is a worthwhile goal, as long as it always remains held by an ever-present humility.

Free-form discussion continued into more ideas about April:

· Set up the welcome tent again to bring us into that mindset of walking in both worlds simultaneously from the moment we step out of our cars and onto the desert floor;

· What does it mean to be in the Mishkan? Why have a Mishkan? What are we trying to do?

· We may be at a new state of cohesive spiritual development of the community

· Not so important what we do, as that we do something with the intention of “community-making” – that we come together by sharing Kavannah

· Reconnecting with the Great Mother, Earth, so important in all we do

Chazak! Chazak! V’nish’Chazeyk!

(Be strong! Be strong! And may we be strengthened!)

Shamoah Tish’mah l’Kol HaShem Elohecha

(Really listen for the voice of HaShem, the Source of your power)

Next gathering:

Time and Location: To be determined

How Awesome is this Place!

How Awesome is This Place!


This week’s parashat being Vayeitzei, we started by chanting the words Jacob spoke in awe upon awakening from his dream of the ladder: “Surely, YHVH is in this place . . . How awesome is this place!” Acknowledging what it feels like to be in “The Place” (HaMakom), we picked up our study of the building of the Tabernacle.

Exodus 35:22-29 The men and women . . . the leaders . . . all of willing heart brought for the work that HaShem had commanded through Moses . . .

They brought fabric of turquoise, purple, and scarlet, linen, gold, silver, copper, stones – at least those of willing hearts brought the materials needed to build the Mishkan. But what of those who didn’t feel inspired in their hearts? A drash, conceived in the moment:

The people withdrew from Moses. Then those who were willing came forward with gifts of materials for the sanctuary and used their skills for preparing and creating materials.

Not all came forward, only the willing. Were those who did not come forward excluded from the community? There is silence on this question. Certainly one might expect that such a drastic resolution would have been mentioned were this the case. So we may assume that failure to contribute did not result in exclusion or excommunication.

However, as has been commented, that which is freely given returns to the giver more than that which is given upon command or mandate. So, the fullest benefit of membership in the community goes to those who willingly step forward. As some have pointed out, some members of PV community are more actively involved than others. This does not exclude those who only show up sporadically from the community, but it does provide greater return to those who do.

But then, there is a point at which enough – indeed, more than enough – has been given for the work to be done. Is this perhaps the source of Hillel’s first question? Yes, give. But we are not asked to give without limits. We are not commanded to give everything. Giving makes us not just for ourselves, but we must also be for ourselves, and recognize that neither service to the community nor service to the One – if there is a difference – does not require giving everything. We must also take care of our own selves, and recognize when enough giving is enough.

Are there times when we give so much – in a manner that we think we are doing willingly – that we begin to resent how much we have given? Is this because we do not remember that there is actually a limit on how much we are really asked to give? How do we find the balance between giving ourselves to the community and preserving and protecting ourselves? If not now, when?

Exodus 35:30 Moses said: See, Hashem has called by name, Bezalel . . .

Bezalel and Oholiab are named as the master craftsman to build the Tabernacle. God called Bezalel by name. Did He call him, as He had called Noah and Abraham and Moses before him, and had Bezalel answered “Hineni” ? Bezalel’s resume for the position: he had the Spirit of Elohim, Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge – in essence we are being told he had full connection and balance of the upper Sefirot of the Tree, with a direct connection to the Infinite Power source. He was from a good family – his grandfather Hur had held up the arms of Moses in the battle with Amalek (Exodus 17:10). Two other key qualifications of Bezalel and Oholiab: they were both of wise heart, chocam lev, a requirement for leadership in the community, and they were both excellent teachers. These are leadership skills that are critical in community: to be wise from a place of heart-connection with Spirit, implied by the word Chochma, and to be willing to share that wisdom by mentoring those who will work under you – ie. Teach. Do our current political leaders, or wannabe leaders, show either of these qualities? These 2 leaders were craftsmen of every art and craft who could direct others to accomplish the goal: build the Tabernacle. It would seem that a project so-directed has within it an inherent capacity for building community.

Exodus 36:: “the people are bringing more than enough . . .”

The wise people performing the work determined that they had more of the materials needed for the work than necessary. Thus Moses set limits, telling men and women to bring no more gifts. There are limits, even when acting of willing heart, to what can and should be given. To maintain community and reach common goals, even the loving kindness of willful hearts wanting to give must be tempered with what is truly needed to meet the goals of the enterprise. This is further illustrated by the method of building the Menorah. This was hammered out of a single block of gold, which required the limit-setting of an expert goldsmith to know just where to hammer, just where to shift the metal, how to limit it in one direction or another, gradually molding a blob of gold into a 7-branched lamp representing the structure of the universe. How leaders apply limits, how they are received and responded to by the individuals to whom they are applied, are critical elements of community building. It is perhaps part of human nature to bridle at any limits, feeling them a personal obstruction to freedom and desire. And clearly, overexpression of limits can result in oppression and suppression, and subsequent resentment if not rebellion. Yet limits applied with wise heart are critical to maintain the wholeness of the community. This is the principle of Hesed balanced by Gevurah to synergize in the harmony and beauty of Tiferet. The struggle to reach this balance is manifested most clearly in our work by considering the question of what is, and what is not, in service to the Passover Village.

Next gathering: Saturday, January 7

· Location: To be determined