At Touro Synagogue, January 28, 2017
The Big Mysteries of the Parsha
by Aaron Ginsburg
Over shabbat, the Hebrew High School of New England (HHNE) came to Newport for a shabbaton. They added at least 30 people to the crowd and it almost seemed like July and August.
When Mike Josephson entered shul and looked to his right, he quipped, “What have we got here, the basketball team?” About 10 students were sitting on the banquettes, including one wearing a numbered jersey.
At Rabbi Mandel’s request, Aharon Skoglund davened shacharit. Since it was Rosh Hodosh Sh’vat, hallel was included. It was a good choice. Aharon Skoglund teaches Judaics and music at HHNE.
In Parashat Vaera, Exodus 6:2 - 9:35, Moses and Aaron speak to Pharaoh. In a parody of magic and miracles, they dueled with Pharaoh’s necromancers to impress. Their words and accompanying tricks did not impress Pharaoh, who hardened his heart.
Rabbi Mandel usually describes each aliyah before it is read. He said that Pharaoh's stubbornness seemed like he had lost his free will. Since Judaism believes in free will, he said that, "This is one of the big mysteries of the Parsha." I lit up when I heard that. I thought, “What are the other big mysteries of the parsha?” When I asked the Rabbi, he demurred. I think he may regret that.
Working with my friends, I came up with a short list of additional parsha mysteries.
- Why didn’t God just hand Moses the written Torah?
- Why did it take forty years to go through Sinai?
- Why doesn’t a levi get called up for the first aliyah rather than the second?
- What did God give Moses when he was sick?
Rabbi Mandel welcomed HHNE,
“We are delighted to welcome the HHNE to Touro Synagogue. A few years ago the HHNE visited Touro Synagogue. Jackie, Carmi, and I met the school for the first time. We were so impressed that we felt this was the right school for Carmi. Thank you to Rabbi Bruce, to Dr. Nabel, the rabbis and the faculty, Stu, and the students for all you have done in making this an outstanding school. Thank you to past-President Gerry Goldberg and his wife Karen for all their dedication to HHNE.
“A few weeks ago HHNE had their annual gala event and they had videos from some former students. These individuals are now outstanding professionals in medicine, law, and government. Hebrew High School is doing very good job. Day school education is important.
“We are now reading about the Jews living in Egypt. Before they arrived in Egypt, they sent Yehuda ahead of everyone, to set up a day school. This is part of our culture and we are so grateful to all of you for supporting the school and making it so great. Carmi loves HHNE and all the activities there: he cares about the school so much and now he will say a short d’var Torah.”
Carmi said, "I'm so happy that my school, the Hebrew High School of New England, is spending a Shabbat in Newport RI. My family first found out about this school when they came to Touro 3 years ago. I'm so excited that we are all together as a school coming together as one united people.
“When the school came here 3 years ago, we were taken in immediately as they were so welcoming and reached out to us. This has been a great Shabbat and I'm looking forward to having lots of ruach (spirit) and continuing to be very active in my school.”
“In the Parsha this week, Paroh, the leader of Egypt, did not allow the Jews religious freedom, or any freedom. But Moshe said, "Let my people go" and the rest as they say, is history. Today, thanks to George Washington, and this synagogue, all Americans are free. We should not take our freedom for granted.
“Let us pray for continued freedom and prosperity, Shabbat Shalom.”
I know you were all wondering about the Big Mysteries of the Parsha. The suspense is over:
- What did God give Moses when he was sick? Answer: This is an oldie but goodie. He was given two tablets!
- Why didn’t God just hand Moses the written Torah? Why all fuss? Couldn't the Almighty just hand Moses the Torah or a memory card with the text? Answer: Moses lost his glasses, and couldn’t read it, so with God’s help, he had to memorize it.
- Why did it take forty years go through Sinai? Its really not that far, so something must have been slowing them down. Answer: The mishkan, the tabernacle, was a portable Temple, and must have been very large and heavy. How fast can you go when you have to carry a mishkan?
- Why doesn’t a levi get called up for the first aliyah rather than the second? Answer: At the aliyah auction, Aaron, who was a cohen, outbid Levi. The Levis have never gotten over it.
And that’s the end of this week’s mysteries. Shabbat Shalom!