1. Exodus: Ki Tissa

wow…big week.  And yes, I know I’m late again.  It’s been a big few weeks in a lot of ways.  I’ve made a major life decision.  I’m leaving my job and going to work for myself.  It’s a crazy time to be doing this, what with our insane economy and the extreme lack of work in architecture, but it’s the right time just the same.

It was an even bigger week in Moses world.  He got to meet God and chat.  He even got to talk God out of killing all of the Israelites because of the golden calf.  That’s huge…Moses, the little human guy, was heard by God, the big god guy.  Being heard by the big guy is huge in anyone’s world.

So I was reading one of the ever so many Jew-mails that I get.  I have to copy and paste a bit here.  I read it while I was waiting for my lunch at the cafe that I usually go to near my office (my nearly ex-office).  I was reading it on my phone and got so excited I was tempted to show it to someone, anyone, even though there was no one that I knew in the place.  Really crazy….stuff happens the way it’s supposed to happen if you live with intention.  So here’s a bit of what Rabbi Naftali Reich has to say on this week’s portion:

In our own lives, it is important to recognize the enormous power we hold in our own hands. We are capable of attaining any goals we pursue with true single-minded perseverance, but sometimes we would do well to stop and consider where we are going. Only if we channel our energies correctly and pursue goals of enduring value can we truly enrich our lives and find true happiness and fulfillment.

So, in the spirit of choosing the right path, I am choosing to : 

  1. leave my job but not my career
  2. spend more time doing the work that fulfills me but doesn’t drain me
  3. volunteer to help the organizations that I am well equipped to help without emptying myself
  4. be available to my children and my family without feeling someone else is being cheated
  5. be happy to be where I am

So go check your map and make sure you’re on the path you want to be on, mean to be on.

1. Exodus: Tetsavyeh

The faster I go, the behinder I get.  My dad used to say that.  It seems to fit my pattern right now, but it will change.  I know that I can tell you my little not-so-secret.  I am leaving my job.  I’m sad, nervous, relieved, sad.  I know I said sad twice.  But I do love my job and all of the people that I work with.  So I’ll be sad to leave them, but they need me and a half.  And all I have to give is me.  So it’s time to step away and find a way to do what I love to do in the amount of time that I have to do it.  I’m sad, yes, but also excited to set out on a new adventure.  And I’ll have to dress properly.

Not a very graceful segue, but it’s late and I’m behind (er).  Tetsavyeh is all about fashion.  Appropriate fashion.  Aaron and his progeny’s priestly fashion to be exact.  And God was extremely exact about how the priests should dress.  Colors, materials, how they were used and what they stood for are all covered here.

Fashion is a gift and a curse.  In our society so many are slaves to the fashion gods (you know, the beautiful people in all of those advertisements).  I once had a plan to take the label out of every piece of clothing I owned and put them all on a single shirt.  That would be my “label”.  When my kids were young I told them that I wouldn’t buy them clothes with the name of the manufacturer brazenly displayed (unless of course the company wanted to pay me to use my children as billboards).  That is the cursed aspect of fashion.

But there’s another side to fashion.  As a society we set up visual rules and customs that help us to organize.  Every society does this.  Remember when Nixon flashed his two finger peace sign (in China perhaps?) and deeply offended the locals?  They didn’t read his two finger gesture as a compliment….I think it had a similar meaning to our middle finger gesture.  Well our clothes carry messages as well.  When I walk into a business meeting, I don’t wear jeans and a t-shirt.  I wear clothing that tells the people in the room that I have style and taste.  I’m an interior designer for heaven’s sake!  My visual presence is part of my story.  It’s not ALL of my story, but it definitely carries a message.

How many times have you connected someone that you did not know well with what they looked like?  “Remember that guy who had the funny tie and that yellow shirt?”  We hired a sculptor once to work on a hotel project that we were involved in.  He showed up at the meeting in pants that exposed much too much of his nether region, a t-shirt that was a few sizes too small, and an odor that was memorable.  When discussing him later, he was always described as the slob.

We cast judgment before we have a chance to know people.  It’s not a terrible thing, so long as we remain open to our judgment being wrong.  But you save a whole step by dressing in synch with the message you wish to send.  So it seems right that God made a big deal about the fashion associated with the people who were representing him.  If someone were representing me, I’d have an opinion on the subject as well.

1. Exodus: T’rumah

Gifts.  That’s what t’rumah means.  God tells Moses to tell the Israelites to bring gifts, specific gifts, but only if they are moved to do so.  Then God gives very specific instructions for building the tabernacle with these gifts.  Being in the business that I am, one day I will build a model of this tabernacle.  It’s just too tempting to not do it.  My son explained that a cubit is the distance from your elbow to your fingertips.  So I’ll scale a cubit down to maybe an inch or so and see if I can lay out this tabernacle.  Maybe I’ll just draw it in CAD.  That would be fabulous.  Then I can model it in 3D and add all of the colors and textures God requires.  One day, when I have a lot of free time.

The thing that struck me in reading this parsha is the portability of so many of the pieces described.  Plus the whole thing is a tent which is pretty portable in itself.  I think this is significant.  I know that everything is significant in the Torah, but I think this is especially significant.  I think God wants us to be able to carry our beliefs with us easily and always.  I think God wants us to carry Him with us.  I don’t think that God wants us to go to Him.  He wants to come to us.  He wants us to have a place to receive Him.

When I look at some churches I see magnificence, hugeness, greatness beyond man.  I see a place that one goes to experience the holy.  Or to try to find the holy.  But what I feel is small and insignificant.  Certainly not worthy of a meeting with God.  I don’t see God.  I don’t feel God when I am in a place bigger and more fancy that the greatest palace. 

I feel God in small quiet places.  I see God in the faces of my children, in the loving look in my husband’s eyes.  I feel God when my Jewish community comes together to take care of one another.  The tabernacle that God describes is filled with precious metals and stones, but it does not seem magnificent.  It is not bigger than a neighborhhood.  It is based on the length between a man’s elbow and his fingertip.  It is human scale…a place for us to receive God.

I seem to remember Howard Roark building his “temple to the human spirit” on a scale smaller than the churches of the day and being condemned for doing so.  Maybe it’s time to re-read that book….

1. Exodus: Mishpatim

Mishpatim means laws.  One of my friends’ sons has never wanted to learn about his Jewishness because he doesn’t want anyone to tell him how he should relate to his spiritual beliefs.  How he should believe in his god.  He doesn’t want religious rules.  At least that is the way that she has explained it to me.

I’ve always wanted to be an independent thinker.  A trailblazer.  The leader rather than the follower.  But really I might not be.  I do like rules.  I do feel more comfortable with boundaries.  Sometimes I want to know the rules just so that I can break them.  Judiciously.  But the rules make me feel safe.  And the rules are like the lines on the freeway.  They keep us all organized and moving in the same direction without too much chaos.  So long as people use thier blinkers, things move along pretty smoothly.  Occasionally I don’t use my turn signal when I change lanes.  Rarely, but when it happens, I feel like such a rebel!  That is my free thinker stepping up.

I’m glad that there are rules to follow and rules to break.  It shapes us as a community…as a people.

1. Exodus: Yitro

Do not take God’s name in vain.  That’s one of the ten commandments that God gave to the Israelites this week.  When I was growing up people said that this means you can’t say “oh my god” because it means “oh my God” and that is taking God’s name in vain.  So for a long time I taught my kids that it was not okay to say “oh my g/God”.  It might offend people.  Of course, when I’m pleasantly surprised, or suddenly frightened, I always say “oh my god” and for years felt just a twinge of guilt.  Because of course I would not want to take God’s name in vain.

Then I was listening to someone speak.  It was a woman that I have very little respect for, so I was not expecting to hear anything of great value.  But she surprised me.  Pleasantly.  She said that a rabbi explained what it means to take God’s name in vain.  It has nothing to do with an innocent “oh my god”.  Taking God’s name in vain means doing something with intention and doing it with the understanding that it is being done for God.  Doing it with the belief and understanding that God would want it done.  Like flying airplanes into buildings because it’s what God wants.  That is taking God’s name in vain.  That is clearly not what my God wants.

So now I say “oh my god” and barely feel any guilt at all.  And I don’t stop my kids when they say it (most of the time).  I do cringe just a bit and worry about offending someone.  But then I try to remind myself that “oh my god” can sometimes be “oh my God”….since maybe the cool and surprising things in my life are not a complete coincidence.  Maybe God had a little something to do with it and I’m just noticing and celebrating the attention.

1. Exodus: Bo

Five years ago right now (my portion was Bo) I became a bat mitzvah.  Kind of in a born again way.  It’s been decades since I was thirteen, so officially I became a bat mitzvah in the seventies, but I learned the Hebrew, wrote a drash, went up on the bimah, and got my very own sisterhood kiddush cup five years ago.  So today I’m going to cheat just a little and post the drash that I wrote five years ago.  I’m quite certain that I’ll have more to say though, so stay tuned….the whole thinking around freedom and belief is so intriguing, just sets me all a tingling….hope you like this.  It made me cry (everything makes me cry).

Exodus 10:21-23

On my refrigerator is an ugly little bedraggled piece of paper.  The edges are torn and the paper has faded to a very unattractive yellow.  It’s been on my refrigerator, and several prior refrigerators for about 15 years.   This ugly little piece of paper has received much comment over the years, and has given me comfort on more occasions than I can count.  It says:

When you have come to the edge

of all the light you know,

and are about to step off

into the darkness of the unknown,

faith is knowing

one of two things will happen:

There will be something solid to stand on

Or you will be taught how to fly.

Darkness is every child’s earliest fear.  And as parents, it is our job to teach our children not to fear the darkness, the unknown.  But so many adults fear darkness.  Where does the fear lie?  In the lack of control, the lack of power?  The ninth plague visited by God on the Egyptians was to create darkness in the land, “a darkness that can be touched”.  In Genesis 1:3, God’s first act was to create light.  In Genesis 1:4, “God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.”  So, in God’s act against Pharoah and the Egyptians, God took away his first greatest gift.  Like the mother who says to her mis-behaving child, “I gave you life and I can take it away”.  Yet the Jews still had light in their dwellings.  They had faith.  After 400 years of enslavement by the Egyptians, they still had their faith.  But what about the Jews who did not have faith?  Were there none?  According to Rashi, nearly 80% of the Jews enslaved in Egypt chose to remain enslaved.  They did not want to leave Egypt, and slavery, into the unknown.  Perhaps these Jews didn’t have faith.  Rashi suggests that, during the 3day plague of darkness, these Jews died and were buried.  The Egyptians were not aware of these deaths.  Otherwise they might have ignored the impact of the plague, noting that it was happening also to the Jews.


Today, too, there are Jews, and others, who do not have faith.  And not merely religious faith.  But faith in themselves, in their fellow man, in a greater good.  How do these people teach their children not to fear the darkness?  God does not want us to fear darkness; God wants us to look up, to have faith.  In Genesis, God tells Abraham several times to look up, to look toward heaven.  To see.  If Abraham had not heeded God’s words, he would not have seen the land God promised him.  If Abraham had not heeded God’s words, he would not have known that his wife, Sarah would finally have children.  If Abraham had not heeded God’s words, he would not have known to prepare his favored son Isaac for sacrifice to God.  Most importantly, if Abraham had not heeded God’s words he would not have known that preparing Isaac for sacrifice was God’s test of his love.  Abraham would not have heard the angels telling him not to sacrifice Isaac.  He would not have looked up and seen the ram that God provided instead for the burnt offering.


God gave us free will.  God wants us to make choices, hopefully good and righteous choices.  But how often do we make the choice to live in darkness?  Why would we want to choose darkness?  Think about this.  When you’re driving, do you always slow down to let the person next to you, whose blinker has been on for 3 miles, move into your lane?  If you’re waiting in line at the supermarket with a huge cart full of groceries, and someone walks up behind you with a carton of milk, do you pretend not to notice so you won’t feel obligated to let them go ahead of you?  What do we gain by this chosen blindness?


Nearly ten years ago, when I was nearly 6 months pregnant with my oldest child, my daughter Emily, I lived in San Francisco.  With a broken down car in the shop, I had to take the bus to work.  I waddled onto a commuter bus, nearly 40 pounds overweight.  The bus was crowded, so I moved into the aisle and stood, stomach at attention, next to a man sitting down reading the paper.  That man’s eyes were glued to his newspaper.  He was not going to look up no matter what happened, because that might require him to see, and be seen seeing, that I was standing there with my still innie belly button nearly resting on his nose.  We rode all the way downtown this way.  The next morning, when I got on the same bus, now at least 41 pounds overweight, at least 3 people jumped out of their seats to give one up to me.   They had seen me the day before, standing on my swollen ankles, from 27th Avenue all the way down to Kearny Street.  I had seen their scowls directed at the man with the newspaper.  I gratefully made my way to one of these kind souls and sat.  The man with the newspaper was nowhere to be seen.  What had his blindness, his chosen darkness, gained him? 


What does darkness, or not seeing, gain any of us?  It isolates us, it removes community.  We gain nothing, except perhaps the illusion that our needs are the most important needs and should be met first.  As a result, we become lonely slaves to our self-created darkness.  God doesn’t want us to choose darkness.  Like the Jews of Moses’ time, God wants us to have light in our dwellings.  The choice to have faith in ourselves, in people, in God, belongs to each of us.  That faith is our light.  When we slow down to let the bedraggled driver next to us into our lane, he smiles a thank you.  When we step aside to allow the mother with the crying baby to pay for her groceries ahead of us, she thanks us apologetically.  When we give up a seat on the bus for the elderly person with the cane, perhaps our action isn’t even noticed.  It doesn’t matter.  Each of us has the power to shine a little light into the life of another.  And no matter what, that light is reflected back to us.  It is the nature of light.  It is the nature of faith.

1. Exodus: Va’era

They found some bones in the desert  near the Pyramids of Egypt.  I heard the archeologist interviewed last night.  He said their discovery is the biggest of the 21st century and that it proves that the pyramid builders were not slaves.

I took an incorrect leap and thought that this meant that the Israelites were not slaves, but actually it just means that they were not pyramid builders.  Apparently the belief is that Egyptians built the pyramids because of their love of Pharaoh.  The Israelite slaves apparently built Ramses.

But anyway, I was enjoying the path my incorrect thinking sent me down.  If in fact the Israelites were not slaves of the Egyptians, why did they not leave Egypt?  Why did they act like slaves?  And I think my thoughts apply even if they were actual slaves of the Egyptians.

You can be a slave with or without a slavemaster.  The Israelites had been taken in by the Pharaoh of Joseph’s time and fed during the famine.  Once Joseph was dead, they really didn’t have a leader, anyone to look up to.  And no one had told them yet how to worship their God.  So I wonder why they would have done anything other than whatever was right in front of them?  Even if it wasn’t pleasant, it was really all they knew.  And the Egyptians had all the power anyway.

So maybe Moses was the first leader, speaking through his brother Aaron, who stood before the Israelites and even suggested that their lives could change.  And maybe the actual reason for the plagues was to prove to the Israelites that the God of their forebears was the only God and was really their God.  Maybe that’s why God hardened Pharaoh’s heart….the plagues had to happen so that the Israelites would believe.  In Him.  And in a better life, a self-directed life rather than a life directed by Pharaoh.