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10/11 June: Parshat Bamidbar (Reform & HEMS)

rabbipaulsmlShabbat comes in 9.02 pm: goes out 10.23 pm 

“When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sacred objects and all utensils of the sacred objects at the breaking of camp, only then shall the Kehatites come and lift them, so that they do not come in contact with the sacred objects and die .

“Let Aaron and his sons go on and assign each of them to his duties…but let not the Kehatites go inside and witness the dismantling of the sanctuary lest they die.'”

Several rabbinic texts explore the meaning of the phrase and examine the reason why witnessing the dismantling of the sanctuary is so lethal.

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 81b) suggests that since the Kehatites see and handle the vessels every day, if they handled them uncovered, they might be tempted to steal them.  Metaphorically, overfamiliarity with religion may tempt some to “steal it,” i.e., use it for ourselves or our own personal aggrandisement.  If we do that, the rabbis teach, we make the holiness disappear.

I think that there is a problem with overfamiliarity but it’s not about stealing.  I like that there is mystery surrounding the ancient tabernacle and Temple, and if you witness the ark, curtains, poles etc. in pieces — then it is more difficult for their “magic” to work on you.

We know that the objects of the Tabernacle, or of our own shul, have to be dismantled at times — the rabbis of old are acknowledging that it must be done  — but they also admit that it comes at a psychological price.



You probably have heard of Shavuot as the festival of weeks, counting 7 weeks from Passover Shavuot.   We know that there is always an agricultural association with the main holidays — so too with Shavuot; it was a harvest festival.   And you may know that Shavuot is associated with the giving of the law at Mount Sinai — we read the ten commandments at services this Sunday morning.

However, you may not have heard of Shavuot as the celebration of the anniversary of our conversion to Judaism. As such, every one of us, having stood at Sinai are ourselves converts.  A convert does not need to know the entire Torah before being accepted as a convert, rather, as Rambam teaches, a sincere convert is taught “some of the difficult mitzvot, and some of the easier ones,” at the time of conversion.

We are all converts on the path of accepting the Torah, just like our ancestors did at Sinai.   But the Torah’s idea of becoming a Jew is not about all or nothing observance.  As long as one is sincerely doing his or her best to observe what they know of and are ready for at this time, they are deemed fully embracing Judaism.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Paul Arberman

June 6, 2016