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Brit Chadashah

Feb. 24, 2018
Adar 9, 5778



Exod. 27:20-30:10
Deut. 25:17-19 (m)

1 Sam. 15:2-34
(Shabbat Zakhor)

Heb. 13:10-17


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Audio Summary (mp3; soundcloud here

Ordination of the Priesthood

Last week's Torah portion (Terumah) explained that God had asked for a "donation" (i.e., terumah) from the people for the sake of creating a portable, tent-like sanctuary called the Tabernacle. God then showed Moses the pattern according to which the Tabernacle and its furnishings were to be made. First the Ark of the Covenant (and its cover called the kapporet) would occupy an inner chamber called the Holy of Holies. Within an adjoining chamber (called the Holy place) a Table would hold twelve loaves of matzah and a seven-branched Menorah would illuminate the tent. God gave precise dimensions of the tent with the added instruction to separate the Holy of Holies by a veil called the parochet. The entire tent was to have a wooden frame covered by colored fabric and the hide of rams and goats. Outside the tent an outer court was defined that would include a copper sacrificial altar and water basin. The outer court was to be enclosed by a fence made with fine linen on silver poles with hooks of silver and sockets of brass.

This week's Torah portion (Tetzaveh) continues the description of the Tabernacle, though the focus shifts to those who will serve within it, namely the kohanim (i.e., priests of Israel). First Moses was instructed to tell the Israelites to bring pure olive oil for the lamps of the Menorah, which the High Priest was to light every evening in the Holy Place. Next God commanded Moses to ordain Aaron and his sons as priests and described the priestly garments they would wear while serving in the Tabernacle.

All priests were to wear four garments linen breeches, tunics, sashes, and turbans, but in addition to these the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) was to wear a blue robe that was decorated with pomegranates and golden bells. Over this robe, an ephod an "apron" woven of gold, blue, purple, and crimson was to be worn, and upon the ephod was attached a breastplate (choshen) inlaid with precious stones inscribed with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. Finally, the High Priest would wear a golden plate engraved with the words "Holy to the LORD" upon the front of his turban.

The priests were to be ordained in a seven-day consecration ceremony that involved washing, dressing, and anointing them with oil and blood, followed by the offering of sacrifices. The priests were further instructed to present burnt offerings twice a day upon the copper altar. The portion ends with a description of the Golden Altar (i.e., Altar of Incense) upon which incense was offered twice a day by the priests when the Menorah lamps were serviced. In addition, the blood of atonement was to be placed on its corners once a year, during the Yom Kippur ritual.

Shabbat Zakhor - The Sabbath before Purim

The Shabbat that immediately precedes Purim is called Shabbat Zakhor - the "Sabbath of Remembrance." The Maftir (additional reading) commands us to remember (זָכוֹר) how the nation of Amalek functioned as Satan's emissary by attacking the Israelites at Rephidim, immediately following the Exodus from Egypt (see Exod. 17:8-16). After Israel routed the attack, God told Moses, "Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (Exod. 17:14). Moses later explained that Amalek did not fight using conventional methods of war but rather attacked and killed the weakest members of Israel, "those who were lagging behind" in the camp (Deut. 25:17-19). This cowardly approach represented the first attack of God's newly redeemed people, a Satanic assault that God vowed never to forget.... Amalek therefore embodies satanic forces arrayed against the people of God.


Note that the name "Amalek" (עֲמָלֵק) begins with the letter Ayin (symbolizing the eye) and equals 240 in gematria -- the same value for safek (סָפֵק), the Hebrew word for doubt. Amalek therefore suggests "the eye of doubt," or even "the severed eye" (the Hebrew verb מָלָק means "to chop" or "sever" in reference to the "eye" of Ayin). Amalek therefore represents spiritual blindness as it acts in the world...

The additional Haftarah portion (1 Sam. 15:2-34) speaks of how King Saul later failed to "devote to destruction" the evil tribe of Amalek -- a mistake which cost him the kingship of Israel.  Samuel's rebuke of Saul's compromise is always timely: "Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.... Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."

These two readings were selected before Purim because Haman was an Agagite (Esther 3:1), i.e., a direct descendant of Agag, the wicked king of Amalek (whom Saul nearly spared, see 1 Sam. 15:32-33), and we should therefore link the 'wiping-out' of Haman with the 'wiping-out' of Amalek.  The spiritual war between the light and the darkness admits of no compromise.  For more about this Sabbath, click here.

The Holiday of Purim - Wed. Feb. 28th

The Holiday of Purim (פּוּרִים) celebrates the victory of the Jewish people over the dark forces of anti-Semitism in the world.  In a sense, the entire holiday is a spoof or joke made at the expense of those who senselessly hate the Jewish people (and who therefore hate the God of Israel). Purim is therefore both a time of irony and a time to celebrate how God secretly acts on behalf of His people so that they will eventually triumph over their enemies.

Throughout the centuries and in various places, many have tried to destroy the Jewish people, but none has succeeded. עַם יִשְׂרָאֵל חַי / am Yisrael chai: "The people of Israel live!" Israel is God's "super sign" that He is faithful to His covenant promises (Jer. 31:35-37). Christians likewise can trust that God's sovereign hand works all things together for good -- even if at times things appear bleak and desperate (Rom. 8:28).

Megillat Esther, dating from the 1700's

This year Purim is celebrated Wednesday February 28th (at sundown), that is, on the 14th of the month of Adar, the day after Haman's roll of the dice indicated that the 13th of Adar was most "propitious" date to exterminate the Jews of Persia.  Note that Purim is celebrated the day after since it was at that time that the Jews experienced the joy of their deliverance (in Israel, Purim is observed a day later still (i.e., on Adar 15th) and is called Shushan Purim).

פּוּרִים שָׂמֵחַ / Purim Sameach: "Happy Purim!"

Anticipating Passover....

Four special Sabbaths occur just before the start of spring: two before Purim and two before Passover. Collectively, these Sabbaths are called "The Four Shabbatot" and additional Torah readings are read on each of these respective Sabbaths in preparation for the holidays. The names of these Sabbaths are Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zakhor (this week), Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat HaChodesh, respectively.

On the Biblical calendar, the month of Adar (אֲדָר‎) is the last month of the year counting from Nisan (during a leap year it is called Adar II). Adar is the month of Purim, a festive holiday which is always celebrated exactly a month before Passover (Megillah 1:4). During both Purim and Passover we celebrate God's deliverance of His people, and therefore Adar is considered one of the happiest of the months of the Jewish year: "When Adar comes, joy is increased" (Ta'anit 29a). This year the month of Adar began on Wed. Feb. 14th, and therefore Purim will begin two weeks later, under the full moon (i.e., Wed. Feb. 28th). That means that Passover will begin one lunar month later: Friday, March 30th (at sundown).


The month of Adar also marks a season of teshuvah (repentance) for us, since it is the last month of the Biblical year, and Adar 7th is the traditional anniversary of the death of Moses. Indeed, just as the month of Elul (i.e., the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the New Year in the fall [Exod. 23:16]), so the month of Adar is a time set apart to reexamine the quality our spiritual life before the start of the new year of spring. In other words, the month of Adar is set apart to help us begin preparing for the holiday of Passover.

Blessing before Torah Study:

Click for the blessing

Some terms:

  • Parashah is the weekly Scripture portion taken from the Torah. Each parashah is given a name and is usually referred to as "parashat - name" (e.g., parashat Noach). For more information about weekly readings, click here.
  • Aliyot refer to a smaller sections of the weekly parashah that are assigned to people of the congregation for public reading during the Torah Reading service. In most congregations it is customary for the person "called up" to recite a blessing for the Torah before and after the assigned section is recited by the cantor. For Shabbat services, there are seven aliyot (and a concluding portion called a maftir). The person who is called to make aliyah is referred to as an oleh (olah, if female).
  • Maftir refers to the last Torah aliyah of the Torah chanting service (normally a brief repetition of the 7th aliyah, though on holidays the Maftir portion usually focuses on the Holiday as described in the Torah).  The person who recites the Maftir blessing also recites the blessing over the Haftarah portion.
  • Haftarah refers to an additional portion from the Nevi'im (Prophets) read after the weekly Torah portion. The person who made the maftir blessing also recites the blessing for the Haftarah, and may even read the Haftarah before the congregation.
  • Brit Chadashah refers to New Testament readings which are added to the traditional Torah Reading cycle. Often blessings over the Brit Chadashah are recited before and after the readings.
  • Mei Ketuvim refers to a portion read from the Ketuvim, or writings in the Tanakh. Readings from the Ketuvim are usually reserved for Jewish holidays at the synagogue.
  • Perek Yomi Tehillim refers to the daily portion of psalms (mizmorim) recited so that the entire book of Psalms (Tehillim) is read through in a month. For a schedule, of daily Psalm readings, click here.
  • Gelilah refers to the tying up and covering the Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll) as an honor in the synagogue.
  • Divrei Torah ("words of Torah") refers to a commentary, a sermon, or devotional on the Torah portion of the week.

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