[JOI Word of Torah] Big Tent Judaism: Masei
Kerry M. Olitzky
KOlitzky at joi.org
Thu Jul 31 15:23:03 GMT 2008
"Big Tent Judaism" Word of Torah
August 2, 2008 / 1 Av, 5768
Unlike a secular calendar that is empty when you receive it, the Jewish
calendar is already filled-even when it is theoretically new and unused.
This week's Torah portion represents the multiple calendars and crossroads
that a person must navigate in order to get into sync with the rhythm of
Jewish life. Let's look at the various elements that converge on this
1. It is Rosh Chodesh Av
2. It is the second Shabbat in the so-called three weeks (bein
ha-mitzarim) before Tisha B'av
3. It is one of the few shabbatot whose haftarah is related to the
theme of the calendar rather than the Torah portion. So it is designed to
elucidate the period of time in which we find ourselves, namely these three
weeks before we mark the destruction of the ancient Temples, rather than the
words of the weekly parasha.
4. It is the last portion of the book of Numbers. Thus, it concludes
the journey of the Israelites before the recap of the journey-and the law-by
Moses in the book of Deuteronomy.
5. And the designated Torah portion, for which this Shabbat is named,
As much as we might like to believe that Judaism is simple and can therefore
be accessed by many without an unobtrusive supportive environment, Masei
serves as a reality check. Entry points are not so easy, especially when we
want to open the doors to the Jewish community to those on the periphery.
That is why a supportive environment is so important. To help, this portion
offers a capsule summary of the journey of the ancient Israelites as they
made their way through the desert. This is detailed so that each person
could claim the journey as one's own. The details are also given prior to
entering-conquering-the land in order to fulfill the truism: you can't know
where you are going unless you know where you came from.
And then the Torah makes one more point. This literary device always
reminded me of a parent that, after offering guidance (or discipline) for a
child and the child is walking away, interjects one more thing-as if to say
"and furthermore." In the case of the Torah and this week's portion, it
describes the notion of a city of refuge, and tells the people to implement
them, important cities of sanctuary for those escaping the pursuit of a
I have always been intrigued by this last idea. Not just for safety from the
blood avengers but the notion of creating safe space for us all, especially
for those who want to explore the Jewish community and can't find the safe
space for doing so. Granted, this is a stretch from the Levitical cities of
refuge, but the idea of safe space is no less important for us all. We all
need a safe space in which we can expose our vulnerabilities and be
supported, in which we don't have to worry that we may be taken advantage of
and there is someone there-even the institution itself-that will protect us.
These broader ideas of creating supportive, safe environments are excellent
entry points for those on the edge of the community.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky is the author of many inspiring books that bring the
Jewish wisdom tradition into everyday life, and is, among other books, the
author of Introducing My Faith and My Community: The Jewish Outreach
Institute Guide for the Christian in a Jewish Interfaith Relationship
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You are welcome to use these ideas in your own work and writings as long as
you would be so kind as to credit Rabbi Kerry Olitzky and the Jewish
Outreach Institute, thank you.
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