VAYIKRA SHABBAT ZACHOR* 5779

ASCENTS AND DESCENTS – HIGHS AND LOWS

March 14, 2019

7 Adar I 5779

The Lord called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. Saying, speak to the Israelite people and say to them… [Leviticus 1: 1, 2]

Exodus is a testament to Moses’ ability and leadership. God chose him to be His surrogate to challenge Pharoah, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to transmit the Divine commandments. The book concludes with Moses informing the community of God’s wish that it build a Mishkan (sanctuary) where He would make His presence known and experienced. The book ends with the triumphant declaration, “Over the Mishkan, a cloud of the Lord rested by day and fire would appear by night, in the view of all the House of Israel throughout their journeys” (Exodus 40:38).

Leviticus then opens, “God called unto Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, (the Mishkan’s holiest site).” A Midrash reflects that Moses believed that with the completion of the Mishkan, his work was now done. Freed of the burdens of leadership Moses was ready to resume a private life. God, however, reminded him that life is not only about experiencing the highs. It is also about dealing with the mundane needs that inevitably crowd into our days. Moses was thus commanded to continue leading and teaching the Children of Israel.

Hopefully, we have all enjoyed precious accomplishments and successes. These highs are our moments on a mountain that are followed by inevitable descents. A veritable glow often shines forth from a bride and groom during their wedding; it’s a wonderfully high moment in their lives. Then the band stops playing, the last mint is consumed and the guests depart. The couple is overjoyed that their relationship has been formalized, legalized and sanctified, but like Moses after the dedication of the Mishkan, there is the reality that the truly demanding work to build a married life is now before them.

While on the mountain, it’s foolhardy not to enjoy its rarefied air and to agonize about the problems that will still be there upon our descent. Too often on vacation, we permit our daily challenges and concerns to accompany us. We remain all too aware that, once home, our days will be filled with a myriad of activities, problems and deadlines.

Then, there are the dark moments in our lives: bereavement, illness, and work tensions. The Psalmist was well aware that descent into the pit of despair is part of the human condition. He thus encourages us not to lose faith in ourselves for “weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:6).

This faith in a better tomorrow is one of the take-aways of Purim. Esther and Mordecai ordained the festival “… to celebrate the month in that was turned from sorrow to joy and from mourning to a Holiday…” (Esther 9:22)

Highs and lows are part of life. May we be blessed with many moments of joy that brighten our days and may those of sadness be few and far apart.

From the holy city of Jerusalem, my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat of peace and of blessing and a Purim Sameach, joyous Purim celebration.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman

*This Shabbat preceding Purim is designate as Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat of Remembrance. The selection read from the second Torah (Deut 25:17-19) is the command to eternally remember that the Amalekites attacked our ancestors shortly after their liberation from Egypt. Amalek is associated with Purim since Haman is referred to as a descendant of the Amalekite royal family. Purim begins this Wednesday night with the reading of Megillat Esther, the Book of Esther.


PEKUDAI 5779

MOSES – THE GOLD STANDARD OF PUBLIC SERVICE

March 7, 2019

30 Adar I 5779

These are the records of the Tabernacle… Which were drawn up at Moses’ bidding … under the direction of Itamar son of Aaron the priest [Exodus 38:21].

The people willingly deposited with Moses the plethora of woods, fabrics, gold, silver and precious stones to be used by the gifted artists, Bezalel and Ohiolov, in fashioning the Mishkan. With the completion of the task, Moses was audited by Itamar to assure the community that he (Moses) had not enjoyed any personal benefit from the vast array of contributions.

Although Moses was praised by God as trustworthy and honorable, he nonetheless felt obliged to be audited. He was aware of the ease with which community funds could be misappropriated, and he was determined to forestall any allegations of dishonesty. For the Rabbis, Moses, insistence upon the audit was a model for anyone responsible for community funds. The Talmud records that those assigned to count the annual half shekel tax were to wear garments without pockets in order to forestall allegations of dishonesty.

Moses, in his day, and Samuel, centuries later, took great pains to affirm that they had not taken advantage of their high office to accumulate wealth.

When confronted by the supporters of Korach, Moses turned to God, saying, “I have not taken the ass of anyone nor have I wronged anyone of them.” (Numbers 16: 15) Samuel was more explicit, in his final oration, stating, “Testify against me in the presence of the Lord…. Whose ox have I taken or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? Have I taken a bribe to look the other way? (I Samuel 12:3)

In our day, the questions might be, “Have I used government vehicles for personal use? When on traveling on public business, have I chosen to fly business rather than the allotted economy? The prevailing rule of thumb is that public office is a public trust. The lesson taught by Moses is that not only must one have clean hands but that one’s integrity must be vouchsafed by third parties. Thus one of the responsibilities of the government ombudsman is to assure that public funds are not diverted for private use.

This concept of not enjoying personal gain from a public position was exemplified by Harry Truman. When his term as president ended, he retired to his modest home in Kansas City and. steadfastly refused corporate invitations to appear before them at a handsome fee. He noted that the invitation wasn’t to Harry Truman, the individual, but to Harry Truman, Past President of the United States, and the Presidency, he insisted, is not for sale.

Human nature has not changed over time. There continues to be the constant temptation to enrich oneself at public expense. Our tradition has set a high bar in its demand that public funds not be diverted for private use, and it’s a challenge we all face.

My mother for many years was the office manager of a local Yeshiva. Rabbi Mandel, the head of the school, exemplified a high standard of righteous behavior. In the days of snail mail, from time to time envelopes arrived with the postage stamp not canceled. A common practice was to peel off the stamp for use in another mailing. The Rabbi, however, would discard the stamp insisting that it had already been used to deliver the letter and it was a form of theft to use it a second time. Was he being overly righteous or embracing the standards of Moses and Samuel? When it comes to diverting public funds, even the minimum amounts are significant. I suspect that Moses would have expected us to adhere to the highest possible standard.

From the holy city of Jerusalem my best wishes for a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach, a Shabbat have peace and blessing.

Rabbi Arnold M Goodman