Archive for February, 2016


Friday, February 26th, 2016

by Wendy Low

Parsha Ki Tissa is a well-known portion telling the story of the golden calf. When studying the portion, I was struck by an interpretation by Sarah Gershman in her video for G-dcast. She says that Parsha Ki Tisa is about the power of seeing things with your own eyes.

At the end of the video, she summarizes,

“It is really the act of seeing something with your own eyes that causes such a deep emotional reaction. It is the people not seeing Moses that makes them want to create the calf. It is seeing the calf that makes the people feel more secure and not need Moses anymore. It is God seeing the people dancing around the calf that makes god so angry. And of course, it is Moses seeing the people that makes him smash the tablets.”

Washington DC, like many cities around the United States, is a city segregated by race and class. Many tourists never leave Northwest, let alone the many residents who never leave their own quadrant. . When we only read about issues in newspapers, but do not see and meet people different from us, it is easy to not act.

Working and volunteering with Yachad means seeing another part of DC. Yachad means together and that is how we do our work—side-by-side with our neighbors, sharing stories, telling jokes, building relationships. With Sukkot in Spring coming soon, volunteers will descend upon neighborhoods of DC to repairs homes. Some who have volunteered before will meet their third, forth, or twentieth homeowner, while some younger volunteers may meet a Yachad homeowner for the first time.

This Spring, come see with your own eyes what our work is all about and all of the good that we are able to do.

Returning to the portion, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, says that the incident of the golden calf was a reaction to the people who had felt God’s greatness, but not his closeness. The people needed to encounter God “not only at unrepeatable moments in the form of miracles but regularly, on a daily basis, and not only as a force that threatens to obliterate all it touches but as a Presence that can be sensed in the heart of the camp.”

And this is why the Mishkan was so important, because it created a space for God to dwell among the people. Rabbi Sacks concludes, “We cannot see God’s face; we cannot understand God’s ways; but we can encounter God’s glory whenever we build a home, on earth, for His presence.”

Thoughts on Parshat Tetzaveh

Friday, February 19th, 2016

After the Exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Mount Sinai come five torah portions that describe the details of the building of the Mishkan, the tabernacle in the desert.

From last week’s Torah portion, Terumah, we learn about the importance of giving. The name of the portion literally means, “a contribution”. God said to Moses: “Tell the Israelites to take for me a contribution. You are to receive the contribution for me from everyone whose heart prompts them to give.”(Ex. 25:2) Rabbi Jonathan Saks comments that the he best way of encountering God is to give. He says, “Where people give voluntarily to one another and to holy causes, that is where the divine presence rests.”

In this week’s portion, Tetzaveh, we learn that to give once is not satisfactory.

In both Terumah and Tetzaveh, the word tamid is repeated over and over again. Rabbi Joel Levy, the head of the Conservative Yeshiva notes that this word is usually translated as always, but might better be translated as “continually”, “regularly”, “constantly” or “perpetually”. He goes on to say, “In these parshiot the Torah bridges the gap between the one-off event of the Revelation at Sinai and the human need for rites and practices that preserve such a unique moment through constancy and repetition. Our individual and communal lives contain peak moments, one-off events, but for those events to be nourishing over time they need to be preserved, normalized and regularized.”

Sukkot in Spring welcomes many volunteer groups to repair homes over the course of a day or two. For many people, our work is characterized by these one day builds and the good feelings of volunteering to make a meaningful change; however, our work might be better seen from the lens of the past two decades of work to make DC a place where people can afford to stay in their homes, families can grow, and neighborhoods can continue to thrive. Through our work, we are hoping to make housing a stable and constant for more families. We hope that soon this will be the norm for all families in DC.