Friday, February 22, 2008

DVAR TORAH S3: Ki Tisa (11 secret herbs and spices)

I love this week's parasha as there is so much to discuss. In Ki Tisa we have the Half-Shekel Tax "to atone for your souls" (a hint to the IRS to make April 15th more interesting for us...), the Veshamru which has made its way into our Shabbat liturgy, that we should keep the sabbath as a sign of the covenant between Israel and God, the giving of the stone tablets and their subsequent shattering at the Sin of the Golden Calf, Moses' ascent to heaven and actually seeing God more vividly than anyone who has ever lived and learning the Thirteen Attributes and recieving atonement for the sin of the people. It's looking pretty good when for the past couple of weeks we have been dealing with esoteric architectural blueprints. We still get a little bit of it here with cinnamon, galbanum, frankincense and myrrh and the other spices that go into the Ketoret, but still exciting stuff as we get the names of our architect Betzalel son of Uri son of Hur (Cliff Note: Hur is about to get murdered in the mob...) of Judah and his assistant Oholiab son of Achisamach of Dan. W00t, fun.

At this point I realize I forgot to finish and post before Shabbat. Oops.

As we've realized, there is a lot going on here, enough to fill a couple of years of sermons (unlike Terumah and Tetzaveh, those are a little harder. It won't get easier after this week either). Perhaps it is the myriad of topics which makes Ki Tisa so difficult on which to commentate; which should I pick? I'll hold off on the Half-Shekel for two weeks until we reread this account on the special Shabbat Shekalim which precedes, or in this case falls on Rosh Chodesh Adar (II, this year) as Pekudei has less to talk about.

Alright, with all of the fun stuff here, I will challenge myself to talk about the boring portion of this... portion: the spices. We have a long list of spices which will be included in the Ketoret HaSamim, that which will be offered on the Gold Altar in the Kodesh. We get a bouquet of interesting spices that include one called galbanum (which incidentally is not even recognized in FireFox's dictionary. Galbanum is putrid smelling and sulfuric. There is something which is done at the end of Shabbat Musaf in many Orthodox communities that we do not usually do within Conservative Judaism, that being the recitation of Mishnaic and Talmudic passages relating to the Ketoret. In it we recite all of the spices and ingredients that go into the ketoret and that omitting any of them would cause liability of death. Even foul-smelling galbanum must be included. I think this symbolizes people. You might be sweet as cinnamon, sugar and spice and everything nice (see: girls), but you could also be odious and unpleasant as symbolized by galbanum. All are part of our community, people we like, people we don't necessarily like, kind people, sweet people, agreeable people, argumentative and stand-offish people, removed people, jerks. We have Four Sons on Passover and Four Species on Sukkot that also represent people, and all elements in all of our examples, as much as we may not like it, are indispensable parts of the whole. We are all in this together. There may be detractors, but we are all still part of the community, and casting anyone out, as much as they may get on your nerves, is a grave matter indeed.

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