Divrei Torah by Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Parashat Vayikra opens the Book of Leviticus. The portion begins: “He called to Moses, and G-d spoke to him from the אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, the Tent of Meeting saying…
There are 2 remarkable things here in just these few opening words. The very first word,Vayikra /He called out to Moses, is unusual. Every other time G-d speaks to Moses the Torah says: vayidaber Adoani el Moshe leimor, and God spoke to Moses, saying… but here we have an additional phrase, that God called out, to Moses- vayikra . This book begins with an immediate statement about relationship. One can only call out of there is someone to receive the call.
We should note that the previous book of Exodus ends right after Moses erects the Tabernacle and the Cloud of G-d’s Glory fills the space. The Torah states that Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and G-d’s Glory filled the Tabernacle. Now this book begins with G-d reaching out to Moses, as if to say, don’t be overwhelmed by my Presence. I want to connect with you. Please come in.
And not only this, but the Torah shifts the name of this wilderness Sanctuary from Mishkan to Ohel Mo’ed, from Tabernacle to Tent of Meeting. Throughout the Torah, three different terms are used for this space. The first term, מִקְּדָשׁ / Mikdash, comes from the root קדש/kodesh, meaning “holy” and which is translated as “Sanctuary” from the root, sanctus meaning, a holy place.
The second term is מִשְׁכַּן/Mishkan, from the root שׁכן /shochein, meaning “dwell,” thus the translation to “Tabernacle,” meaning a dwelling-place for the Divine Presence to reside. Now the third name used here in this first verse of Leviticus, is אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד / Ohel Mo’ed, meaning “Tent of Meeting”.
Of these three names, מִקְּדָשׁ /Mikdash/Sanctuary is by far the least common. The Torah uses it only 15 times. More usual is the name מִשְׁכַּן / Mishkan/Tabernacle which appears 104 times. But the most common name is אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד /Ohel Mo’ed/Tent of Meeting which appears 135 times. I would suggest that this new name speaks most directly to the primary intended purpose for the space; a place in which the human and the Divine might come into relationship for the sake of manifesting holiness. This is a beautiful vision of companionship and partnership.
This year, as in most years, this portion is paired with a special additional reading from the book of Deuteronomy. These three extra verses contains a decree that we must remember the actions of Amalek in the wilderness. We read these following verses on the Shabbat preceding Purim.
“זָכוֹר / zachor – Remember what Amalek did to you when you were on your way out of Egypt: how he chanced upon you on the way and attacked from the rear, all the weak ones who were straggling behind you, when you were tired and exhausted. And he did not fear G-d. And so, when G-d gives you respite from all your surrounding enemies, in the Land G-d gives to you as an inheritance – eradicate the memory of Amalek from under the Heavens: You shall not forget!”
The verses stress, we must remember what Amalek did and also eradicate its memory. What is the meaning of this? How shall we remember something and at the same eradicate its memory?
Gili Zivian writes, Amalekism is baseless hatred; Amalekism is cruelty to the weak who live among us; Amalekism is the discrimination against the strangers and the aliens who dwell in our gates; Amalekism is racism.
Torah teaches us to remember what Amalek did to us, remember how the weak and feeble ones were attacked, just as the Israelites are about to enter the promised land and become empowered over others. And it is every year that we read these words so that WE do not become like Amalek and allow baseless hatred to develop within us and turn to violence against those who are powerless. Torah teaches, remember that Amalek is a potential that lives in all human beings, that was expressed in the wilderness, that was expressed through Haman’s genocidal desires, that was expressed through Hitler’s actions, through the ideology of White Supremacy and through the murder of 49 Muslims at prayer this past week. Do not turn a blind eye. Remember Amalek and blot it out. Today we all must say, Zachor/Remember the threat that is White Supremacy and call it out. Amalek by any other name is White Supremacy and it is a threat to every Jew, every Muslim, every person of color.
Now what might be the connection between the Ohel Mo’ed/The Tent of Meeting, Amalek and Purim? In the Megillah of Esther, when the lives of all the Jews are threatened, Esther is at first reluctant to plead to the King for their lives. Mordechai sends her a letter with the following message:
“Don’t imagine escaping from the king’s palace any more than all the other Jews; because even if you keep silent at this time, salvation and deliverance will arise for the Jews from some other place – while you and your father’s house will be destroyed!” (Esther 4:14).
In other words, do not think that just because you live a life of privilege, you will escape the murderous hatred of Haman. The hatred of Amalek is a pervasive sickness fueled by xenophobia. Our survival and the survival of our brothers and sisters depends ultimately on developing a sense of shared responsibility rooted in our connection with one another. The אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, the Tent of Meeting is an inner space, a consciousness, where we all connect with the Divine that exists in one another. It is the theology of connection that unifies us and eradicates Amalek.
May our eyes behold the truth, that we are all of one parent, one source, one home from which we all emerge and to which we will all ultimately return.
Prayer for the murdered at Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch, New Zealand
By: Alden Solovy
Oh people of conscience,
Cry out against arrogance.
Cry out against hatred and anger.
Cry out against violence and oppression.
For G-d requires us to stand
In the name of justice and freedom,
For G-d requires us to oppose terror,
To muster our power and energy
Against racist aggression
And to protect all houses of prayer.
We implore You,
Look down upon the suffering
Perpetrated against churches, mosques and synagogues,
Against houses of worship in so many lands,
By the hand of wickedness,
By the hand of malevolence,
By the hand of ignorance and sin.
Today we remember with sadness the attack on Al Noor Mosque, Christchurch, New Zealand,
And the loss of precious life.
With Your gentle and loving hand,
G-d of Shelter,
Unite all of your children
Under Your canopy of hope and love.
Bring the light of salvation and healing
To the four corners of the earth.
Rabba Kaya Stern-Kaufman
Rabba Kaya served as Interim Rabbi of RJC from October 2017 through June 2019.
More about Rabba Kaya