A Tabernacle from the Flames and Smoke – Vaykahel

ner_tamidThis past Shabbat our congregation was touched by that which we never thought could happen to us. An early morning electrical fire destroyed our kitchen and the heat and smoke found their way to every corner of our sanctuary building. No space was left untouched by smoke or soot. And while the flames are extinguished the reminders of this tragic Shabbat morning linger. And they will linger for a long time to come.

We find gratitude in that no one was injured. The building was empty on that early morning, February 15 and our Torah scrolls were relocated and are safe. Responses about the news still come from near and far with the same message of hope: ‘we are here to help however we can and thank God no one was injured.’ ‘It’s only stuff and stuff can be replaced, a life cannot.’ Yet still we mourn because while it is only “stuff” it is Our stuff that we take great pride in and love with all our hearts and souls. Our home has been touched by the flames of destruction and our hearts break. There are those of you in our congregational family who understand this all too well and I know this event opens wounds yet again.

This week’s parasha is almost ironic, but then again, we experience that there are times in our lives that the Torah portion for that week is the one we need at this moment.

Vaykahel is a beautiful story detailing exactly how the Tabernacle was to be built. With the artist’s direction of Bezalel and his partner, Oholiab, inspired by God, the people go to work creating the architectural plans and building to God’s exact specifications the place the people will gather, pray and learn. The details are breathtaking and the clear descriptions of the materials and colors used leap off the parchment. The people bring the treasured offerings to build the Tabernacle in great quantity. Everyone wants to participate, everyone wants to be a part of building not only God’s home, but their spiritual home. No one is left out and no one holds back their gifts. It is an expression of the ultimate love for community and peoplehood.

Over the past 72 hours our community has called out asking…wanting to help. Messages of “what can I do?” “let us know what you need” and “we’re here to help rebuild” have flooded our email and voicemails. And for now, as we are just starting to strategize that plan I continue to return the messages with, “thank you, please stay in touch with us and we will stay in touch with you. We will rebuild together.”

We are the Israelites in the parasha wanting to come forward to bring our gifts. We are the Israelites today wanting to rebuild our syngagoue; our beit k’nesset, beit t’fillah, beit midrash – house of gathering, prayer and learning. And together, we will!

Even in the midst of this tragedy there remains a beacon of hope still shining bright in our sanctuary. A light that needs no electricity, no power except that which God gives to us. Our ner tamid, eternal light, is still shining! Powered by the sun and unaffected by what has befallen us, the ner tamid calls us to remember that no matter what, no matter where, God is always here with us. God has not left us. If anything, God has protected all of us. It is the beacon of hope to remind us that our congregation is not the building but rather the people who make up the Temple Beth Sholom family. We are a house of peace (Beit Shalom) and we will be a complete and whole house (Beit Shalem) again.

May each of us hold on to the light of our ner tamid within our hearts and may we be strengthened to rebuild our home as our community is strengthened with the love we share for our congregational family.

Kein y’hi ratzon – May it be God’s will and May it be ours!

Add a Little Beauty

Every Shabbat I try to do something special for the family. I’ve made it my custom to bake challah every week. I admit, there are some weeks that slip past me and I can’t get the dough up, but at least it’s a goal. Our family, like all families, is very busy. With Dahvi in high school, Yoni in fourth grade, and my Shabbat schedule, we seem to be going in too many different directions. When they were younger, it was so much easier to get the family together for Shabbat, have dinner, light the candles, say Kiddush and enjoy the challah. But today, dinner is optional. However, Shabbat is not. Even if it means we gather in the kitchen at 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon, we have to find time to celebrate Shabbat together somehow. These few minutes are precious to me and I want them to be meaningful and beautiful. That’s why I bake challah every week; carefully braiding it and baking it just the way we like it.

We are told to make Shabbat and all of the mitzvot beautiful – chidur mitzvah. This week’s Torah portion, Tetzaveh, makes a big deal out of making something beautiful. Almost half of the portion is spent carefully describing in great detail, the garments for Aaron, Moses’ brother and appointed High Priest for the Tabernacle, and his son’s. The ephod of gold, blue, purple and crimson yarns. The lazuli, amethyst, emerald, and sapphire stones. The woven work of the tunic that will then be adorned with gold threads and bells all along the edges so that God might hear him when he enters the sanctuary. These adornments are meant not just to identify who the Cohanim are, but rather, to make the mitzvah of their work elevated because of the beauty of how they are adorned.

On Shabbat, we hope to make things a bit different than the rest of the week. We hope to adorn it with a table set with the candles, Kiddush cups, and challah. We braid the challah to show that this is not just an ordinary loaf of bread. We braid the challah to bring some beauty to our Shabbat. Even though the meal might be as simple as ordering pizza, because that’s what we have time for, how can we add something beautiful to our Shabbat table for that moment? How can we make the mitzvah of observing Shabbat that much more beautiful so that it does not just roll into the rest of the week?

I know not everyone has time to bake challah every week – I put the dough up on Thursday afternoon and bake it that night. But, we all have time to add a little something different and beautiful to our tables, our kitchen counter, our home, to physically acknowledge the beauty of Shabbat is with us. This coming Shabbat, consider bringing out the candlesticks you might not have used in a while. Or fill the Kiddush cup and offer the blessing for just a moment. Or even set a tzedakah box out as a reminder at the end of the week that the change we have in our pockets or wallets can go to do some good for someone else bringing beauty to their lives.

Yes, life is busy and sometimes we are going in so many different directions that we don’t think one small act of making Shabbat beautiful will make a difference, but try it. You might be pleasantly surprised that a little chidur mitzvah, making a mitzvah beautiful, can make such a difference in a week.

If you want to try baking your own challah, here’s the recipe I use each week. Then get creative and try some other ingredients to your liking. Make it your own.

1 cup hot water
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 teaspoons yeast
Mix them all together in a bowl and let the yeast start to do it’s work.

In another bowl:
½ cup oil
½ cup honey
2 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
5-6 cups flour. (I sometimes use wheat or combine wheat and white flour)
Add the yeast mixture.

I mix it all in a Cuisinart. Put the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and let rise till doubled or when you can get to it.

Divide the dough into 3, 4 or 6 and braid. Here’s one link to get your started to braiding your challah.

Brush with egg wash – 1 egg scrambled with a little water.

Oven 350 degrees for 45 minutes (or less if you like it a little underbaked). Tap on it, if it sounds hollow, it’s done.  However, pay attention to the challah as it bakes. If it starts to get a little too brown on top, put a piece of foil lightly over the top.

Shabbat Shalom!