The Unraveller-Parashat Tetzaveh by Rabbi Rafi Cohen

March 2, 2012 / 8 Adar, 5772

Parashat Tetzaveh

Ezekiel 43:10-27

La-y’hudim hay’tah orah v’simhah v’sason kikar. Ken tih’yeh lanu.

Blessings of light, gladness, joy and honor.

Since attending and participating in a community wide Havdallah service months ago here in Dallas, I have a new found appreciation for and excitement over reciting Havdallah in our home with our 3 ½ year old son, Benjamin. I’ve always enjoyed Havdallah, but at the JCC that night, the children were given small, round, silver colorb’samin boxes. Benjamin received one, and we are diligent about Benjamin using his new spice box when we do Havdallah as a family. And, in addition to his desire to hold the box, he has even begun imitating my wife and me as we extend our hands toward to the candle, watching the reflection of the dancing flames on our hands and fingernails. This last part has me reflecting on some of the words of Havdallah and their appearance in this Shabbat’s haftarah.

We tend to talk about programming or thinking “outside the box”, a phrase that has become somewhat cliché over time. There is of course much going on outside (and inside) the box. The spaces outside of our synagogues and homes are deserving of our attention; the periphery is as important as the center. As a new rabbi in Dallas I endeavor to spend equal time on both so that our core can exist inside the building and elsewhere.

I view the construction of the mishkan and Ezekiel’s message this Shabbat in a similar fashion. While the tabernacle and the area around it was the intended space for God’s spirit to reside, the periphery was equally important and should not be neglected. Might God have also chosen to dwell in those spaces less centrally located? A lot happens on the outside. While the ner tamid reminds us of God’s everlasting presence and the increased sanctity inside the sanctuary, the ner tamid also relies upon human beings to ensure that it is never extinguished.

Further indicated by the words of Havdallah is our sacred role to create and sustain this light, any light. The word order in Havdallah, and what appears as a musical interlude in Megillat Esther as well, portrays our role in finding and demonstrating the sacred that is both inside and outside of the box, the light in the center and on the outside. “Light” appears first, and without that light, we struggle to achieve the other components of gladness, joy and honor.

Might we see the light within ourselves and our ability to strengthen not only our core – our center – but other spaces as well. Ezekiel challenges us to marry our ritual and ethical behavior, focusing on more than the symbolic light bulb above our heads in the sanctuary but on the flames we can ignite elsewhere. While we focus on an everlasting light and hope that people will join us as we gaze in the flame, may we find ways for the candles within us to burn stronger and brighter leading us to gladness, joy and honor.

This week’s Haftarah commentary was written by Rabbi Rafi Cohen, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Torah in Richardson, Texas. A native of Charleston, South Carolina, Rabbi Cohen is a second generation Conservative rabbi and has been at Congregation Beth Torah since the summer of 2011.

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