Thursday, March 18, 2010


Fortunate is the Generation

By Rabbi Gustavo Surazski

Parashat Vayikra opens with the subject of the Korbanot (offerings). One of the offerings mentioned is that of the ruler, the king and the governor.

“When a ruler sins, and does through error any one of all the things which the Lord his G-d has commanded not to be done, and is guilty: if his sin, wherein he has sinned, be know to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male without blemish. And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt-offering before the Lord; it is a sin-offering.” (Leviticus 4, 22-24)

In Rashi’s commentaries on the Torah, he says the following regarding these verses:

"When (Asher) a ruler sins" is an expression of "good fortune" (Ashrei). [Implying that] fortunate is the generation whose leader is concerned to bring an atonement for his inadvertent sins, all the more so would he regret his intentional sins".

If we read over the previous verses, we can well understand the motive of Rashi's commentary. Regarding the priest (cohen), the Torah says: "If the anointed priest shall sin" (Vayikra 4, 3). Concerning the congregation, it is written: "And if the whole congregation of Israel shall err” (Vayikra 4, 13). When speaking of an offering from an individual, it is written: “And if any one of the common people sin” (Vayikra 4, 27).

But in regard to the ruler the phrasing is different, and Rashi was sensitive to this fact. “When a ruler sins” it says in this case, and Rashi interprets the word “when” as coming from the root “fortunate” (asher/ashrei).

On the other hand, Professor Y. Leibovitz Z"L has a less optimistic interpretation of the verse.

He also sees that the language concerning the ruler is different….

"In all of the other instances it is stated “If the priest shall sin”, “and if the whole congregation shall err” – but for the ruler it is said “when a ruler sins”.

And so we find in our sources something extremely. Every soul in Israel, and even the anointed priest, might sin, but neither reality nor logic requires that they will. Hence it says "If"

But it is certain that a ruler will sin. Why? Because he is a ruler, and the power of rule has the power to spoil and corrupt the man. Therefore the Torah doesn’t speak of the event as a possibility (if a ruler sins), rather states from the beginning “when a ruler sins” because it is certain that he will sin. It is not possible that there will be a government that will not falter and err or trespass. And that is the Torah’s general attitude towards government: it recognizes it and its authority, but warily".

I don’t know which of these two interpretations is correct… possibly both of them and a word to the wise is sufficient…

May we have the privilege of having leadership with the ability to guide us along the correct path and to also have the ability to admit its mistakes and failures for the common good and in order that we might be able to say “Fortunate is the generation…”.

Previous Drashot

Vayikra 5766 – The Steps of Moses

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Vayakhel - Pekudei

Builders and Inheritors

By Rabbi Gustavo Suraszki

Torah Portion Vayakhel deals with the building of the Tabernacle while the Haftarah, in Kings 2, deals with the maintenance of the Temple (except in those years when on that Shabbat we read Parashat Ha-Chodesh).

More than once have I thought that the Tabernacle is preferable to the Temple. The Tabernacle gave the people of Israel a constant feeling of building. The Tabernacle moved from place to place and it was necessary to dismantle and reconstruct it tens of times in the course of the years.

As soon as the Temple was built, the work was done. There was no more building, only maintenance.

While it is true that the Shechinah received a permanent place with the building of the Temple, we as a people lost something along the way. We stopped being builders and became inheritors, the opposite.

We lost the courage, the creative thought and the initiative that characterize generations of builders. We became inheritors and took the building for granted.

This always happens, not only with the Temple and the Tabernacle. We can see this situation on the national level and on the congregational level.

We too can ask ourselves whether we are the builders of the country or simply the inheritors. The same question is relevant today if we speak about our congregation.
Do we take it for granted or do we see it as something that needs us as builders and not just as inheritors?

Some time ago, when I spoke to our Bar-Mitzvah group about the building of the Tabernacle, one of the boys asked me a brilliant question: Where did the people of Israel find the wood for the building of the Tabernacle?

The source of the gold for the Tabernacle was clear to all. It is written in the Torah that Israel left Egypt "with great property" (Genesis: 15, 14).

The source of the material for the curtain of the Ark was also clear. The Torah tells us that we left Egypt "with flocks and herds, very much cattle" (Exodus 12, 38).

But wood? Where are there trees in the desert?

The midrash (Tanhuma, Truma) tells us that our patriarch Jacob planted them.

When he went down to Egypt, he said to his sons: "My sons, in the future you are destined to be delivered from there, and when you are redeemed, the Lord will tell you to build Him the Tabernacle! Then rise up and plant cedars now so that when you are told to build the Tabernacle, the cedars will be ready immediately." They raised up and planted trees as they were told to do.

That is a wonderful midrash. Jacob knew that neither he himself nor his sons would ever see the Tabernacle, but to build, from the Jewish viewpoint, is not only a matter of sand and plaster, stones and bricks.

To build is an enterprise that links the generations. To build is not just an action. To build is a view of life, an onward vision.

We might say that at first glance the portion Vayakhel is a general description of the architecture and interior design of the Tabernacle. But to define the Tabernacle as an arrangement of wood, metal and curtains is as absurd as to say that a Torah scroll is a hundred metres of parchment and a litre and a half of ink.

The portion Vayakhel is a call to all generations of the people of Israel to enable us to distinguish between building and vision, and simple inheritance.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Ki Tissa

Decisions with many consequences
Rabbi Gustavo Surazski
If we take a look at the Ki Tissa portion in every Chumash, we will notice quite quickly that there is a very un-proportional division of the Aliyot. The first two Aliyot cover approx. 60% of the reading, and the other five Aliyot are relatively short. The impression left after the reading is that the Babylonian Sages who divided the Torah in Aliyot put a lot of thought into the division of this particular portion and within this division is a very deep message.


The idea is that they wanted only the Levites to read the second Aliyah which talks about the sin of the Golden Calf, simply because they are most deserving of this. Thousands of years ago, when Moshe came down from the mountain and saw the Golden Calf, he yelled "Whoever is for G-d, join me!" (Exodus 32, 26). That day, the great great grandfather of the Levite who stands up to read this Aliyah heard him and stood by him. My great great grandfather didn't hear Moshe and continued dancing around the Golden Calf.

The son's of the Levi tribe made a principal decision thousands of years ago to stand by Moshe as a sign of their trust in G-D. And today, hundreds of generations later the consequences of that decision still live on when we read this portion. Only a Levite will read from the Torah about the Golden Calf.

In life there are no random decisions. Every decision, every initiative, each choice may be of great consequence even in generations to come. And I do not speak only of Kohanim (Priests) and Levites. I speak of us.

I remember one of the saddest days of my life. I was 12 years old when my parents decided that the high school I chose to attend along with all of my friends was "not for me".

From the age of 8 I wanted to be an architect and that school had an architectural department. My father, for reasons that still remain unknown, decided that my future lay in a Jewish School in the center of Buenos Aires where 90% of the students were girls.

I cried all night. I had no friends there, my friends made fun of me saying I was going to a girl's school. But most importantly I cried because I wanted to be an architect, not to study Judaism!

Only today, at the age of 39, do I understand how justified my parents' decision was and just how many implications it had on my life. If not for this decision today I would probably be just another (unemployed) architect driving a cab through the streets of Buenos Aires like my "to be colleagues". If not for my parents' decision on next Shabbat at 5 in the morning I would be finishing the night shift in my cab. But as you know things did not work out that way. Instead, due to my parents' choice of that Jewish School for me, on Shabbat I will stand in my synagogue in Israel along with my family and congregation and I will speak of the Torah portion Ki Tissa..

Simply because every decision has consequences.