Friday, 28 February 2014

Pikudei Turn the Synagogue into the Mishkan

It has been a busy week, finishing the details of building the mishkan. Oh wait, that wasn't me. Bnai Yisrael has finished the mishkan in Parashat Pekudei. I was busy with other things. 

Not only does the week's Torah portion end the construction of the Tabernacle, it also completes Sefer Shemot. With Rosh Chodesh this week, it is definitely a time of completion and moving forward. By no coincidence, this week my husband and I are being welcomed into our new position as Rabbinic family at Sephardardic Bikur Holim
 What does the completion of the Mishkan mean? The relationship between the Jewish people and God is changing, as there is a now designated place to serve Him. In the mishkan, we are dwelling together, showing Hashem our devotion through sacrifice and ritual. Mishkan means dwelling and this is where Hashem dwells with us. 

But the word מִשְׁכַּן  Mishkan is also 'מי שכן', 'whose neighbor?' Just as this special house of God is for Him, one must be mindful of everyone in it. The people in the Mishkan are neighbors, they are a community, serving Him together. And being unkind, ignoring, or rude to one's neighbors, runs counter to the objective of working on a relationship with God. 

Sadly, we do not have the Mishkan, or the vessels from it today. It is replaced by synagogues. Synagogue is Greek for 'assembly'. Kal קהל and בית כנסת beit knesset, other words for our modern houses of prayer, have similar meanings. All are a group of people. 

The Mishkan was a building of incredible beauty, filled with the holiest artifacts. So are our synagogues! The Mishkan was the place for the most devout prayers. So are our synagogues! 

What is the difference between the Mishkan and the synagogue? The people truly regarded everyone around them as a neighbor. God dwelled in the Mishkan in a special way. Clearly this two elements are related.

When we regard everyone affiliated with our synagogue as a neighbor, we create the environment in which Hashem most wants to dwell. Are we a good neighbor to the people sitting near us? Did we warmly wish them a 'Shabbat Shalom' but still respect their prayers and space? Did we make sure that all of our neighbors have plans for lovely Shabbat meals? Did we make sure that our neighbors are well? When a neighbor has been away, have we asked after them? When someone is new to 'the neighborhood' how do we make them feel welcome?

We are not going to easily recreate the vessels or structure of the Mishkan. But every synagogue in the world should be working to replicate the ambiance of 'Whose neighbor?"

For this week's project the girls are working on actualizing this. For example, being kinder to all of the children at synagogue, not just their friends. We also did work on making a physical project.

At this site there is a neat paper Mishkan building project.

But more important than the paper is the love that fills the building!

Shabbat Shalom!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The Great Artists of Vayakel

 Parashat Vayakhel recounts the building of the Mishkan and the mitzvah of Shabbat. There is very little information in Vayakhel which has not already appeared in the 3 previous parshiyiot. But let's have a look at a section about Bezalel.

What do we know about Bezalel? 
30. Moshe said to the children of Israel: "See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah.לוַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל רְאוּ קָרָא ה בְּשֵׁם בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן אוּרִי בֶן חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה:
31. He has imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, and with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanshipלא. וַיְמַלֵּא אֹתוֹ רוּחַ אֱלֹהִים בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת וּבְכָל מְלָאכָה:
The gemara further clarifies his lineage. He is the grandson of Chur the son of Miriam. Bezalel has yichus [important family lineage] and incredible, God given skills. 

Then we have Aholiav. 

34. And He put into his heart [the ability] to teach, both him and Aholiav, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.לד. וּלְהוֹרֹת נָתַן בְּלִבּוֹ הוּא וְאָהֳלִיאָב בֶּן אֲחִיסָמָךְ לְמַטֵּה דָן:
35. He imbued them with wisdom of the heart, to do all sorts of work of a craftsman and a master worker and an embroiderer with blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen and [of] weavers, those who do every [manner of] work, and master weavers.לה. מִלֵּא אֹתָם חָכְמַת לֵב לַעֲשׂוֹת כָּל מְלֶאכֶת חָרָשׁ | וְחשֵׁב וְרֹקֵם בַּתְּכֵלֶת וּבָאַרְגָּמָן בְּתוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי וּבַשֵּׁשׁ וְאֹרֵג עֹשֵׂי כָּל מְלָאכָה וְחשְׁבֵי מַחֲשָׁבֹת

We do not know more about Aholiav's lineage. The tribe of Dan is known as the lowliest group. To build Hashem's house, the creme de la creme is chosen next to Joe Schmo. 


Because we all start out the same in Hashem's eyes! People might judge one another, from this family or the other, but it is not our place. People are great because of their God-given skills, how they harness them, and what they do with them. They are not just great because of their last name.

In keeping with the theme of great artists utilizing their great gifts, the girls and I looked at some art history. I found these posters online, made by an art teacher.

Using these posters, we compared the artists and their work. We talked about where each was from, the time they lived in, what time of art they made, and how their pictures make us feel. 

Gabi has been learning about da Vinci at school and was very excited to share all she knows. She was also interested in knowing more about Jackson Pollock. Cohava liked Georgia O'Keeffe's flowers and though Andy Warhol's art was silly. 

The we talked about how Hashem gives everyone talents and we need to use them. 

Hashem chose Betzalel and Aholiav to build His house because of how they would use their great talents. They were the greatest artists in history. Cohava is insistent that Hashem is the greatest artist because he made everything, but accepted the point of people's skills.

I asked the girls to make similar posters for Betzalel and Aholiav.
Here are the results of Betzalel.

I plan to make a "Great Artist" Wall in the play room, using the original posters, the Betzalel/Aholiav, and showcasing their work. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Ki Tisa- Three Projects, no sins!

Parashat Ki Tisa contains many components, but it is most known for chet ha'egel, the sin of the golden calf. Last year, I contemplated ways to teach about this catastrophic event without traumatizing the girls.  This year I realized it was entirely unnecessary. I have three projects planned for this week, all based on the first aliyah, and I could have many more.

Project 1) the Parasha opens with Hashem commanding a census in the form of a half-shekel donation. The Torah explains the currency and benefits to the people for giving. Sadly, we no longer have this ancient currency, but we do have interesting modern coins. In Australia I loved the coins and enjoyed learning all about them at the mint. My favorite was the 50 cent piece, which was a dodecahedron. Instead of notes for $1 or $2, a gold coin is used. If I were in Australia, the girls would be intentionally giving gold dollar coins for tzedaka (after counting them). In Israel we would use the nifty bicolored 10 shekel coin. Here in the good old USA, I got some dollar coins.

The girls and I had a lesson about currency and math. What each coin looks like, its worth (it is a whole new system here), and how many of them make a dollar. 

Project 2) Next the Parasha discusses construction of the laver, the special sink used by the Kohanim in the Mishkan. This sink is one of the primary origins for washing hands, Netilat Yadayim. The Kohanim washed in a special way to purify their bodies, cleaning themselves spiritually. We are not Kohanim, but we have the same opportunity for spiritual elevation each morning (and other times). This is not the same as washing hands for bread, a common misconception. The whole washing process is different. 

I decided it was time to really teach the girls about Netilat Yadayim [negal vasser for my Ashkenazi readership]. It is something they are meant to do each morning, but I rarely have time to supervise or remind them, so this is an opportunity for reinforcement and re-education into a pre-existing process. 

I searched for a chart with instructions for how it is done. I found one! It was in Yiddish. So I made a chart.

 Then I changed it a little, removed the color and Tefillah and printed it again.

The girls and I reviewed the pictures and instructions. Then they got to work with a pack of colored pencils. Feel free to print these out and use them at home/school. 


With a review of what to do, it was time to make the mitzvah mehudar (even more special and beautiful) by decorating our own washing cups.

I looked at buying plastic washing cups [natlanim] and only found bulk purchasing available.

So I bought handled sippy cups instead. A washing cup should have handles, no spout (sorry little teapot), and larger than three ounces. 

I think this smaller size is better for children, as it is less unwieldy to use with small hands.

For a time, it seemed that many of my parasha projects involved coloring on things with permanent markers. I decided that would not be the same here.

Instead we are decoupaging. I bought special decoupage glue, but you can just mix equal parts elmers glue and water.

On the computer I made/collected some different samples of the words "al netilat yadayim" and images related to them.

 I gave Cohava and Gabi stickers, construction paper, scissors, and these images. 

The big girls were enjoying themselves, but Ruti wanted a piece of the action. I retrieved the very plain white plastic natlan from my bathroom and Ruti(and I) got to work.
 It was so much fun! When the cups were finished, I took them outside and put on a few coats of sealant. 

Gabi was so excited about the new chart and cups that she cleaned the bathroom to make it nice for them (Gabi! Cleaned! Unprompted! That alone makes this project worthwhile). 

This morning they rushed to the bathroom to fulfill the mitzvah.

 After the lavar is described, the first Torah aliyah goes on to talk about Shabbat. You know what to do for that one: Have a great Shabbat.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Tetzave- Kohen clothes are sweet

Parashat Tetzaveh provides an in-depth look at the special clothing worn by the Kohanim. Last year we learned about their clothes and made Kohen paper dolls [see here]. I thought about further pursuing our organization theme and working to organize the clothes in their closet and drawers with an improved system. 

Instead I rewarded their good behavior with something entirely fun.

"What is your favorite piece of Kohen clothes?" I asked.
"The me'il. I like the rimon and bells, which make music whenever you walk," Gabi replied. [Gabi loved the paper dolls last year and thought about the clothes a lot. Once she told me, 'I dreamed I married a Kohen and he was very good as his job. He liked being a Kohen so much that he even slept in his special clothes. Except his migbat hat kept falling off in bed."] 
Cohava said, "The choshen with the pretty stones."
I explained to the girls that they weren't just pretty stones, and began to explain the Urim V'tumim but it is a deeply profound concept which either went over their heads or just seemed like an ipad. Either way they weren't overly impressed. 

What impressed them was the project. Edible Choshen!
I put up the image of the Choshen for them to see the colors. They each got a plate, knife, and graham cracker.

Tova started on her graham cracker right away, while the girls and I discussed the color of each stone on the Choshen.  Then I took out the massive container of Jelly Bellys that are on sale at Costco this month.

We carefully sorted to make sure the color of each jelly bean was as close as possible to the color of each stone. And we counted to twelve, over and over. Ruti practiced her colors. Cohava did some addition and subtraction. 

Gabi tried to stick the jelly beans on the plain graham cracker but Cohava knew to wait. I gave each girl a plastic knife with white icing on and then they diligently got to work.

I thought these special treats would be gone in a second but the girls (the bigger two) were too enthusiastic to eat their art.

They put the edible Choshen in their lunchboxes to show off at school. 

 If we were home this week for Shabbat meals, we would make a bunch of these for dessert.

Shabbat Shalom!