D'var Torah, Tzav 5780/Sat 4th April 2020

by Robert Freudenthal

The writing is the opinion of the author and does not necessarly reflect that of Kehillah North London.

In this weeks parsha – Parsha Tzav – we learn about how the Tabernacle, or the Tent of Meeting, as it is referred to in this parsha, is to be used, and how its priests are to be initiated. 

We are now in the third book of the Torah, Vayikra or Leviticus, and much of this book discusses various laws and requirements for ways in which the Tabernacle can be used.  We have now left behind the big dramatic interventionist miracles of Genesis and the Exodus story, the Israelites have now experienced mass revelation at the foot of Mount Sinai, and the Israelites are now learning how the divine can stay with the Israelites day to day. The Tabernacle provides the Israelites with spiritual sustenance – indeed, there areKkabbalistic interpretations about how the creation of the Tabernacle mirrors the creation of the world and provides the wandering Israelites with the spiritual sustenance with which to continue their journey.

This imagery – of the beautiful Tabernacle, with its precious materials, stones and jewels, all of which the Israelites carried with them and assembled wherever they stopped – is quite remarkable – but it can be hard for us to relate to as contemporary Jews.  After all, we do not have a designated particular structure that we go to in order to pray – as we know, Jews meet in schools, halls, people’s homes, synagogues of all different descriptions, and online! – and we certainly don’t offer sacrifice.  It can, therefore, be hard to relate to the Tabernacle and what it might mean for us.

It is important to note that in this Parsha, the Tabernacle is referred to exclusively not as Mishkan (Hebrew word for Tabernacle), but as Ohel Moed – (which means Tent of Meeting).  And if we consider the Tabernacle as representing the core of the Israelites spirituality at this part of their journey, then I think this reference, of the Tabernacle as the ‘Tent of Meeting’ can teach us about how we view our own spirituality.

The core of the spirituality in the Tabernacle, as described by its name as the ‘Tent of Meeting’, is not in the giving of sacrifice, and not in the praying to God, but in ‘meeting’ – and it is this meeting that sustains the Israelities.

There is a story from the Talmud that illustrates the power of meeting well … The rabbis were talking about what to do when a common problem arises there are only nine people and you need to make a minyan.  This may feel familiar to us at Kehillah at our less well attended events – while we may not worry too much about the halachic requirements of a minyan – we are, or course, concerned with how do we create our joyful vibrant atmosphere when there are not many of us there.

Do you all stand close together to make it seem crowded and like more people than there actually are?  Would that count as a minyan, the Rabbis wondered?  Or should we separate out to take up more space, so that the space we occupy is more than the people we are?  Would that make us count as a minyan?  The rabbis agreed that none of these measures, which really don’t make any difference to the total number of people there would count …. However if two of the people present are scholars and engage in dialogue … then that dialogue in itself can count towards the minyan and then  the two scholars, and their dialogue are considered as three, and the minyan obligation is fulfilled.

It is clear from this story that the rabbis of the Talmud understood the power of two people meeting together, and the spiritual significance and creativity that arises from that, such that that very meeting becomes its own being.

Coming back to our parsha, this meeting at the Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting, is at the absolute spiritual core of the Israelites.  It is here that Moses meets with God face-to-face, and it doesn’t matter how many times the Israelites have to move, they never forget the power of the Tent of Meeting and assemble it each time they stop.

In our community, we don’t have a synagogue building .. and even if we did, we wouldn’t be able to go there at the moment.  But we do have the power to continue to meet – online, via zoom, by telephone, by video calls, and not only is it so important for our own community and sense of connectedness to keep in touch with one another, the very fact of our relationships with one another, our dialogue with each other – when we agree with one another, and when we disagree with one another, the very reality of our meeting this morning and on other Shabbatot represents our modern Tent of Meeting, it is our Tabernacle and this meeting can represent the very core of our spirituality.

Shabbat shalom!