Project Genesis


So Many Details of the Tabernacle!

Question: Why are there so many details on the building of the Tabernacle, yet hardly any details regarding the creation of the world and us?

Answer: It is important to keep in mind that the Torah was given primarily for the purpose of relating a concrete message, and an eternal covenant from G-d, to the Jewish people. It is not a history of the natural world and its inhabitants. In truth, although the secrets of creation are cloaked within the Torah, that is only a function of the Torah’s infinite depths and not its main purpose.

It makes sense that the details of the Tabernacle are drawn out, seeing that it is a direct commandment to the Jewish people on how to bring G-d’s Divine presence into their lives!

From a literal standpoint, the Tabernacle was the place in which G-d “rested” His presence amongst the Jewish people, later to be manifest in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.

Allegorically, every detail of the Tabernacle has applicability to our lives. For example, the Ark, which housed the tablets of the Ten Commandments and the Torah, had a wooden frame. However, it was to be covered by pure gold, inside and out. This teaches, that someone who wishes to be a worthy vessel of G-d’s word must have purity and sincerity of thought that matches his or her actions (i.e. you must be pure – both inside and out).

Furthermore, note how the vessels of the Tabernacle were carried by staffs which were placed through loops attached to the vessels. In the case of the Ark alone, there is a commandment that the staffs may never be removed. This alludes to how a person should view the Torah—constantly a fundamental part of his or her life, in every realm of existence.

It seems that volumes could be written regarding the meaning and function of the Tabernacle. To be quite honest, I learn something new about it every year. Perhaps the central idea we can take away is this: “Make for Me a Tabernacle and I will dwell amongst you?” (Exodus 25:8) can be homiletically understood that each one of us has the ability to make room for G-d in our hearts and in our lives; and if we do, G-d will surely fill that space.

Best wishes,
R’ Daniel Fleksher

The Ark that Didn’t Take Up Space

Question: Why did the Aron Hakodesh (The holy ark) in the Mishkan (Tabernacle) have no measurment or no space what so ever? What was the reason for that?

Answer: Hi! The Aron haKodesh had no measurement because it was not a physical object.

I want to illustrate by talking about miracles a little. You know, there are two kinds of miracles. Modern technology would look like a miracle to someone from the past! We know things about the laws of nature which people in the past didn’t understand. Since they couldn’t understand the principles behind airplanes or electric lights, these would seem like magic or miracles to them. Such miracles are based on ignorance.

However, there’s another type of miracle. That’s the kind where the laws of nature are actually broken. This is possible only for someone who is working from the outside of the system. For someone playing a computer game, there are rules, and different types of characters in the game, and limitation on what each one can do. But to the computer programmer, those limitations don’t exist. If someone playing the game saw what the programmer can do to change the situation of the game, he might be tempted to ask, What kind of character has the power to do that? However, the question would be a mistake. The programmer can do what he does precisely because he’s not part of the game. He’s working from the outside, and is outside of its rules. Since Hashem is outside of the world, he can do real miracles. The rules by which the world runs are his and he made them. He likes them and almost always works within them, but he’s not bound by them.

The Aron haKodesh was the place where Hashem spoke to Moshe and taught him the Torah. As the point of connection between Hashem and his world, it is the closest thing in this world to something outside of the world and its limitations.

Thanks for the interesting question.

Michoel Reach

The Divine Presence Among the Jewish People

Filed under: The Temple, G-d and Torah

Question: I heard that the Divine Presence completely lifted from the Jewish people after they crossed the Jordon. Did it leave gradually? Did Moshe Rabbeinu (Our teacher Moses) impact this? 

Answer: Hi! Thanks for your really interesting question. If you’re asking about the “Ananei HaKovod”, the Clouds of Glory, I haven’t been able to find out the answer, though I’m still looking. Our sages say that they vanished when Aaron, the High Priest and Moshe’s brother, died, but that Moshe was able to bring them back in his merit. But after that? Did they vanish when he died? The Talmud says that Israel continued to eat the Manna after Moshe’s death for another month or so, until they had crossed into the land of Israel and were beginning to eat from the produce of the land. But about the Clouds of Glory I haven’t found an explicit source.

But if you’re asking about the Divine Presence, so to speak – well, for sure that never left at all. They were moving into another phase of their existence, one more built around the laws of nature and less around the miraculous, but Hashem’s presence was still with them. And there was still one special place, the Mishkan (the tabernacle), where the miraculous still had its place as well, and which operated entirely beyond the laws of nature.

Even when the Holy Temple was destroyed hundreds of years later, our sages say that the Divine Presence went into exile with his people, and is with them still.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Question: Thank you Rabbi Reach for a most thorough response!  Did the Jewish people have any resistance moving into this new phase of their existence, from miraculous to more natural? Wasn’t this an issue with the Spies? 

Answer: Hi! Thanks for the follow-up. I definitely see this difficulty in making the transition as being one of the most important themes of this part of the Book of Numbers. They sat at Mt. Sinai peacefully for a year. The minute they started to move towards the Land of Israel, Boom! One disaster after another, back to back. And as you say, some explain the spies this way, some explain the demand for meat this way, and Moshe’s hitting the rock instead of a more subtle approach… As the Maggid of Dubno said to the Gaon of Vilna, it can be quite a trick to deal with the world outside the Beis Midrash (The Torah Study Hall). Hashem knows the best path for each of us, but people can be afraid nevertheless.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Fetus vs. Newborn

Filed under: Abortion

Question: In Mishpatim, 21:22, we are shown that if a man injures a pregnant woman and she miscarries the crime is treated as bodily harm to the woman and not murder of the fetus. The guilty party is to be fined and not sentenced to death. Only if the injury leads to the death of the woman is this crime murder. Would it be correct to infer from this that the pro-choice argument that the fetus is not to be considered as a humanbeing is essentially correct according to Torah?

Answer: Your inference is used as a proof by the ‘Meirat Einayim’ (one of the commentators on the Shulchan Aruch) that there is a legal difference between a fetus in the womb and a new-born baby. The law he is referring to in the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, Siman 425:8) states that one is permitted to kill a fetus in order to save the life of the mother. However, once just the baby’s head has exited the body, it would be prohibited to kill it, even to save the mothers life. Thus, it is clear that once the head has exited the body, it acquires a new legal status.

However, the fact that there is a difference between a fetus and a new-born is in no way a proof that it is morally acceptable to perform an abortion. There is a verse in the Torah specifically prohibiting the killing of a fetus:

” Shofech Dam HaAdam, BaAdam Damo Yishofech” (Genesis 9:6)

The simple translation of this verse is “He who spills human blood shall have his own blood spilled by man”; however, the Talmud states that this verse can be read another way – the letter ‘Bet’ in Hebrew can either mean ‘by means of’ or ‘in’ and thus, says the Talmud, we can read the verse as “He who spills human blood IN a human” – the Talmud asks: ‘what human is IN a human’ – and answers that it must be referring to a fetus; thus we see that the Torah does refer to a fetus as a ‘human being’.

Yours sincerely,
Ari Lobel

Eye for an Eye vs. Turning the Other Cheek

Question: My non-Jewish friends tell me that they think Judaism is wrong because it teaches one that an eye for an eye is the right way instead of turning the other cheek. Are they correct in their assessment of the Jewish religion? Is eye for an eye a part of Judaism and beliefs?

Answer: The quote, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” comes from our Torah, our bible. It may be found in Leviticus 24:20. This, however, does not mean that if someone cut off your hand then we should cut off his hand, G-d forbid. This verse has been misinterpreted by Christians and Muslims for centuries. All of our commentaries tell us that what it means is if someone causes you to lose the use of your hand in an accident or a similar case, then that person owes you financial damages up to the value of your lost limb. So if you were a professional arm wrestler and someone caused you to lose your arm wrestling hand then they might owe you the value of that hand including your lost wages, etc. None of the Jewish commentaries teach us to cut off the hand of the one who caused the loss. It simply is a lie if someone tells you that this is the Jewish opinion.

Now, with that said here is where your friends are wrong. We do not believe in “turning the other cheek.”

If a homicide bomber blows himself up in a crowded section of Tel Aviv, G-d forbid, then Christianity teaches to “turn the other cheek.” Judaism teaches to wipe evil off the map. The Israeli government will seek terrorists out and pull them from where they sleep. The Torah allows for us to protect ourselves from murderers at all costs. The Pope has publicly said many times that the Israeli government should not actively go after terrorists in Ramallah or Jenin or Gaza because we have to learn forgiveness. Who is turning the other cheek? According to Jewish law if someone is about to kill someone we are allowed to kill him first. The Torah allows for the death penalty in many cases. The Torah allows for harsh penalties for theft, lying, and harming a fellow person.

Does this sound like turning the other cheek to you? You can tell your friends that they should learn about Judaism in a real way before saying anything about it. If you ever have general questions about Jewish philosophy you can go to www.aish.com and www.torah.org. They have a great selection of articles there on various topics.

Be Well,
Rabbi Litt

The Names of Yisro

Question: Why did Moses’ father-in-law have three names?

Answer: If “chosen” means “in-law”, and not specifically “father-in-law”, there’s no need to assume that one person had three different names. Reuel was priest of Midian when Moses arrived, and Moses married his daughter, but Yeser was head of the family when Moses asked his permission to return to Egypt. Yisro (a variant spelling of Yeser) brought Moses’ wife and children to him at Mount Sinai; by that time he was priest of Midian. Hovav, (another) son of Reuel, stayed for a while, and Moses asked him to guide the Jews in the desert, which he apparently declined to do. On the other hand, it’s perfectly possible that Reuel was also called Yeser/Yisro; we know of several people who had two names, including Sarah/Yiscah, Yaakov/Yisroel, Esau’s wives, and many of Jacob’s grandchildren.

All the Best,
Rabbi Azriel Shreiber

How Did the Torah Exist Before it Happened?

Question: Could you explain to me how Jacob could study Torah “in the tents” if Torah was given to Moses centuries later? And could you explain how Jacob could study the Torah in which he, too, is a character?

Answer: Hi! Thank you for the interesting question.

The Ramban explains in his introduction to the Torah that the Torah was created before the world, black fire written on white fire. Even so, he says that that doesn’t mean that its form was fixed. He has an interesting way of describing this: He says that the spaces between the letters weren’t assigned yet. However one understands that, the idea is that the Torah is not just a record of events. It is the embodiment of the relationship between Hashem and His world.

As the world progresses, and human beings use their free choice, Hashem’s relationship with us progresses and changes as well. I don’t know exactly what the Torah looked like in the time of Jacob; it wasn’t the same as the Torah we have today, because we weren’t the same. Some things had already happened, like the creation of the world, the flood, and Hashem’s relationship with Abraham and Isaac. And some aspect of it is surely fixed and always was. Other parts, like Mount Sinai, and the sin of the Golden Calf, and the people of Moav hiring Balaam, were yet to be, and were still up to people’s free choice. The Torah continued to develop and reflect our relationship with him until it reached its final form by the death of Moshe Rabbeinu.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

Why don’t we visit Mount Sinai?

Filed under: G-d and Torah

Question: If Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai by G-d himself why is this Mountain not visited by Jewish people or tourists around the world?

Answer: We would not want people to worship the mountain or to even think that it had more holiness than any other place. The mountain enjoyed a special holiness only for the time that Gd spoke to Moses there. Once that moment passed
the mountain reverted to its previous status. We also are not certain of the location of this mountain. The mountain that Christians have identified as Mt. Sinai and have even built a church on has not been verified as the right location.

All the Best, Rabbi Azriel Schreiber 

Artistic Expression in Judaism

Question: I am an art student and I will be traveling to Greece to assist my sculpture professor with a monument. I would like to research/interview/learn about the Jewish community in Greece. I have 2 specific interests: How Jewish Law views art- in history and now, and I deeply want to understand my own connection as a Jew. Because I am not familiar with the Talmud, or other texts etc., I do not know what questions to ask or even how to begin my research. I would greatly appreciate a push in an appropriate direction. Thank you for your time

Answer: One could, in general terms, say that Jewish law permits (and sometimes even encourages) artistic expression, but with certain significant exceptions. Based on the passage found in Exodus 20: 20, the Oral Torah (whose foundations are found primarily in the Talmud) prohibits the depiction of

  • The moon, sun, stars or any visualization of angels, even as -dimensional representations

  • Human forms in relief or full 3D

  • Any image that is being created for the purpose of an idolatrous practice.

The 19th Century scholar known in academic circles as Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chajes documented repeated rabbinic attempts to prohibit artistic depictions in synagogues – which were, interestingly enough, repeatedly ignored by the Jews who designed their synagogues. The root of this rabbinic disapproval is the legal restriction on praying in the immediate proximity of any image out of fear that onlookers might assume you are praying to the image.

Historically there is plenty of evidence of tiled or embroidered mosaics on Biblical themes – at least some of which would likely have been done under rabbinic approval. But still, my feeling is that the Jewish emphasis was on artisanship rather than fine art. See Exodus 25 and I Kings 6.

Regarding your general knowledge of Judaism there is virtually no end of information available on the Internet. But, since you’ve got to start somewhere, let me point you at some of my own material. www.torah.org/learning/basics/primer is a site that tries to cover some of the more general ideas and history. www.marbitz.com/essays.html is a collection of some of my essays on topics that seem to come up in a lot of correspondence.

But to give you a very profound first taste of what Judaism should mean to the Jewish soul, here’s an English translation of Mesillat Yesharim (Path of the Straight) by the 18th Century Italian rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato: http://www.shechem.org/torah/mesyesh/ – try a slow, thoughtful read of the first few chapters.

If you have any questions, please let me know. I wish you the very best in your search!

Good luck!

Rabbi Boruch Clinton
Ottawa, Canada


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