Is our life all smoke and mirrors?

This section of the Torah deals with the Mishkan, the Sanctuary in the desert that the Creator asked Moshe to build. Remember these portions are not chronological e.g., here Aaron, his four children and Nadav and Abihu offering stranger fire comes before their inauguration.  As your rabbi, I want you to understand that instead of getting caught up in analyzing the priest’s vestments, let’s ask ourselves, what is the Creator trying to tell us that we can apply to our lives today? Being esoteric and mystical is fine but we are at a time in our history when the Torah needs to reach all humanity. Humanism has enthroned man and is trying to get rid of the Creator.  Instead of Israel being the example, the light of the world, they too are struggling with their relationship with the Creator. It looks like the Creator is pitting man against man, but it is the opposite, we get closer to each other when we follow our God.

When Yeshua was asked to sum up the Ten Commandments, he responded, “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul and everything else and love your neighbor as yourself.”  He is telling us that God placed us, not Him, at the center of His creation, giving us the role of being its supervisor. If, however, we don’t begin with ourselves, we can’t help anyone else. When we are strong, we can be strong with others; when we are clear with ourselves, we can be clear with others and when we don’t have the desire to serve, how can we expect others to serve us? It always begins with us. That means that we have a clear understanding of who we are. Currently, the world is in a state of confusion; no one knows who they are. We have all been given a gift but how many of us know our area of giftedness, in which we excel?  We are looking for what we can get instead of what we can give. With that attitude, we are lost, and we end up doing what does not satisfy us.

The Creator gave us free will so that we can choose how to behave. If we care for ourselves, then we can care about our neighbor. How can we love God if we hate our neighbor? How can we love our neighbor, if we hate ourselves? Being humble doesn’t mean that we can’t be special. Many years ago, I had a friend who loved martial arts and for years, he won many medals in various competitions. When you saw him, you would think that this man couldn’t break a branch; he appeared to be very timid and humble. I have seen him being insulted, but he never reacted except to defend someone who could not defend himself. Although he could beat up anyone, he never started a fight.  He knew what he had inside and didn’t need to show off like those bullies who are insecure.

In this portion Tetzaveh (You shall command), I’d like to talk about the oil that brought light inside the Mishkan and the vestments of the priests which were meant to attract our attention. They need to be seen. The special oil made by the priests had to burn constantly (it was called ner tamid) and this oil had to be completely pure. The Mishkan had no windows so when the menorah was lit, there would be no smoke, otherwise, we know what would happen to those inside. The oil dispelled the darkness of the Tent of Meeting.

The principle for us here is that pure light brings clarity and alludes to those people who are all smoke and mirrors. We all have our ways of performing for others. This portion reminds us to be ourselves but to be clear and direct. It doesn’t mean that we need to be rude or insulting when addressing others, rather we need to be kind while being honest. The Torah wants to have us understand that clarity is very important; we need to speak with transparency and be the same no matter who we are with. When we do wrong, we need to acknowledge it. The support of our friends is important especially when they let us know the areas we need to improve. Instead, hypocrisy has become the rule of the day. Here the Creator is teaching us to keep our light going and to be light to others. We cannot be light to others if we are not honest. We may think that if we tell people the truth, we might hurt them, but it all depends upon how we deliver that truth. Are your intentions to build up the person or to bring them down? Remember, kindness goes a long way.

Next, the cohanim (priests) had to wear royal, ornamental garments not meant for their benefit or the Creator’s. It was for the people to focus on. The cohen was the representative of the people to the Creator, signifying how we are to present ourselves before Him. Many of us wear costumes to hide who we are, i.e. we put on a façade for others, more concerned about our appearance than who we are inside. The Creator was not impressed with the garment of the priests. The Cohen HaGadol (High Priest) had to be the first to acknowledge that he was a sinful person. He first had to present offerings for himself before he could represent the people. The vestments signified that the Creator was saying, “Because you have “come clean” to Me, I’ll dress you up in the best clothes to cover your sins.” Some of us are always acting and not being ourselves. We need to come across honestly, be direct and say things for what they are with kindness.

I have always been interested in politics and listen to a lot of politicians however, many people talk because they have a mouth, not because they have something to say. Today the worst thing for us to believe is the news. Almost all the new agencies are corrupt and report things that destroy people through innuendoes and inventing their sources. The Torah wants to make us understand the importance of clarity; to speak with transparency. People need to see who we really are. The way you see me is the way I am…sometimes happy, sometimes in a bad mood. I am human and want to be accepted the way I am. When I do something wrong, I need to acknowledge it.  We need the support of our friends who need to tell me when I am wrong because they love me, not to put me down but to help me.  Most of us do not practice that because diplomacy and hypocrisy seem to be the better way. This portion teaches us to be light to others. We can’t bring light if we are not transparent. We may be worried that if we tell people the truth, we will hurt them. It’s important to learn how to speak the truth with kindness without damaging the other person and because we love them, we want to help them grow.

In my many years of counselling, I have found that the people who benefit more are those who come seeking advice and want to improve. Those who have more problems changing cannot acknowledge that they have done anything wrong. They think they are always right and that others are the problem. Today’s attitude is victimization. The various movements, like the Me-Too Women’s movement, etc., all claim to be victims. There have indeed been a lot of mistakes in the past but before we can solve a problem, let’s see what lies at the root. It is easy to point a finger at someone but remember that three fingers are pointing back to us. It is always easier to blame others than to take responsibility for our part in any situation. We must constantly check ourselves. Am I taking responsibility for my actions and dealing with them or am I blaming others for what I’ve done? This may work in a religious setting, but the Creator has given us the tools to deal with injustice instead of thinking that we are victims and powerless. My father was a man of character teaching me Tzedek Tzedek, Tirdof, Justice, Justice you must pursue. Sometimes he would get in trouble because he would speak up against injustice wherever he saw it. Today as followers of the Torah, we too need to speak up against the immorality that defies the standards in the Torah. We are singled out and attacked to the point that we become afraid to speak out.

The book of Proverbs 31:8 -9 ח פְּתַח-פִּיךָ לְאִלֵּם; אֶל-דִּין, כָּל-בְּנֵי חֲלוֹף. ט  פְּתַח-פִּיךָ שְׁפָט-צֶדֶק;    וְדִין, עָנִי וְאֶבְיוֹן.   8. Open your mouth for the dumb, for the cause of all who are appointed to destruction.  9. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy”. This is telling us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. I thought of the abortion issue where the baby in the womb of the mother has no voice and no vote. Even in religious circles today, they dilute the message by calling it a fetus or just tissue, even though the Scriptures say that life begins at conception. We have disassociated the baby from being a human being to soothe our conscience. Women say, it’s my body and I have a right to do what I want to do with my body. Men raise their hands and step back and just agree with them. But who will speak out for that baby?  We will.  We can commit a crime, but it doesn’t absolve us.  For too long, we have been quiet.  The Creator is calling us to be light to the world not to be those who shut their mouth and close their eyes to all the injustices in this world. Others do crazy things and are so loud, while we are quiet about what is good and right. It is time to cry out for the principles of the Creator which teach justice, mercy and caring for those who cannot take care of themselves – the widow, the orphan and the foreigner.

The vestments that the Creator gave the High Priests were meant to get us to focus on Him. When we would look at them, we are directed to the principles of the Creator. When we saw the light of the Mishkan, the menorah lit with pure oil, it was to remind us that we have the responsibility of being light to the world, first to be clear with ourselves and then with others. It was a weaning process and still is for each of us who have been affected by the darkness of our past and are being brought into the light of His Presence. It’s not easy to believe and do what is right.  It would be easier to say, it’s your opinion and we can both agree to disagree, but that doesn’t make you right.  Just because you believe something doesn’t make it true or right. Isaiah 42:6 says “I the LORD have called you in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light to the nations;” and 49:6 says, “ And He says: ‘It is too light a thing that you should be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the offspring of Israel; I will also give you for a light to the nations, that My salvation may be to the ends of the earth.” That is our calling – we have the responsibility of being light to the world. Always be one face and one person.

Shabbat Shalom