Table for Five
By Rabbi Lori Shapiro as featured in the Jewish Journal
Several times a year, I am invited into a roundtable discussion, either livestreamed, recorded, or in print for the Jewish Journal. This week, the Jewish Journal invited my voice into its “Table for Five” where five different POVs over one pasuk (verse) of the weekly Torah Portion create a harmony of interpretations. It’s like a modern day Mikraot Gedolot, substituting contemporary rabbinic as well as prominent Los Angeles Jewish voices as stand-ins for Rashi, Maimonides and Rashbam, and refracting tradition through their modern-day minds.
Torah portion Ki Tisa moves from the closing description of the artisans building the holy space of worship in the desert, the Mishkan, into a reversal of idol worship – the ultimate affront to the very God we have been assiduously learning to worship. A foreshadowing occurs when it reminds us to observe Shabbat – to take a mindful pause in our lives as a connection point between Judaism’s past, present and future. The verse reads:
“And you, speak to the children of Israel and say: ‘Only keep My Sabbaths! For it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I, the Lord, make you holy.’” –Exodus 31:13
Our pasuk begins with a curious conjunction; a short word, “ach,” meaning “above all,” “verily,” or most curiously, “nevertheless” — a seeming contradiction to its allied meanings. The preceding verses conclude a pericope spanning three Torah portions with detailed descriptions for the creation of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. As we come to the coda of God’s magnum opus, we meet this reversal: “Only/Above all/Verily/Nevertheless, keep my Sabbaths.” The invitation into Shabbat is unclear: Are we to continue the work of creation on Shabbat or not?
A choir of rabbinic voices rises up to tame the suggested contradiction. Torah is pliable enough that we can all agree, disagree or do both with their interpretations; as well as rigid enough to create a spectrum of incontrovertible convictions.
So what are we, seemingly “The Generations” mentioned in the verse, to do? Do we guard the Sabbath like sentries of an ancient palace? Or do we simply persist through the aisles of Target on a Saturday morning, wondering what davening would be like at that shul down on La Cienega?
Verily, there are those of us who might merely meditate on the letter vov at dawn as a part of a visual shiviti meditation. Whatever expression of hallowing its presence we choose, one thing is clear: A Temple has been built, its name is Shabbat, and it is, above all — from alef to taf with a vov in the middle — the sign upon which all of this hinges. Shabbat is ours to know and make our own.
Find a way to “Do” the empty space of Shabbat. Fill it with intention, curiosity, expansion of the inner-knower. And connect with those who walked before us and as a connector to those to come.