In this week’s parsha (Pikudei) the building of the tabernacle is complete and so we are given instructions on how to set up those things which are to be placed inside. — Calling all interior decorators!
Towards the end of the parsha we read, “He placed the table in the Tent of Meeting…upon it he laid out the setting of bread before the Lord.” (Ex. 40:22-23)
One could read this verse as telling us that placing the ritual bread on the table happens immediately after the table is set down inside the sanctuary. Nahmanides (Ramban), however, points out that we learn earlier that ritual items or offerings can not be laid out until after the space is anointed and sanctified. Therefore the verse is telling us that the table is placed down in order for the setting of the bread to take place once the space is anointed.
This may seem like a small clarification, but it is important because of the context and because of what it can teach us on another level. First of all sacred worship is serious business and things have to be done in the proper order. Spaces have to be ritually sanctified before acts of worship can happen there. You have impure alters and worship tables and the results of conducting services there could be disastrous.
As Miracle Max says in The Princess Bride, “You rush the miracle maker, you get rotten miracles.”
But in truth, I have to say this commentary brings an important lesson. Simply put I am outraged both by Rep. Ilhan Omar’s words, and by the extent to which she has been willing to put her bread on the table (make statements on controversial topics) without anointing the place where her table stands (owning up to her beliefs, opinions, or biases). While being angry about what she has said, I do want to try and understand her words, mostly by pinpointing what is behind them.
Anti-semetic statements can be identified in two ways:
- Statements that express hatred of Jews, not for what they do but for what or who they are.
- Statements that, whether intending to or not, contain what is being referred to as, “Well-worn anti-Semitic tropes.”
I don’t think Rep. Ilhan Omar hates Jewish people, but the anti-Semitism is quite clear. I dsee is someone who is, either out of maliciousness, ignorance, or incompetence, using those well-worn anti-Semitic tropes. As a teacher of mine once said, “Never attribute to maliciousness, that which can otherwise be attributed to incompetence,” and in this case I want to believe we are seeing an example of the later not the former. Yet, I am not sure.
A friend of mine reminded me of a saying that I am going to amend a bit for this context. We are not judged by how or how many times we fall down, it is by if, how often, and how we get back up.
For me the, “How we get back up,” is essential here because while I feel unable to judge or explain her intentions by her words alone, I feel compelled to call her out on her intentions based on her responses after the fact. Her responses are not seemingly like ones made by someone who innocently used language he/she did not understand.
As we have entered the month of Adar and are now thinking about who are enemies are, I am calling on Rep. Ilhan Omar to more clearly state where she stands visa vie Jews in this country before putting her words on the table.
As Ramban teaches us, it is crucial to make clear our intentions so that our words can be understood properly. There is too much at stake to have any misunderstanding and we as a Jewish minority in this country need to know where the dangers lie.
May our sacred spaces be anointed by truth, honesty, understanding, and love of one another. When this happens, we can all break bread together.
Rabbi Daniel Victor
Reb Victor has been the Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth-El since 2015. He received his rabbinic ordination and a Master’s in Jewish Education from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.