Torah Ecology: Vayikra 2017 (Lev 1:1-5:26)

The Phillip Medhurst Picture Torah 535. Purification of women. Leviticus cap 12 vv 2-5.


The first chapters of Genesis tell a story about the creation of the world.  It’s easy to read the story as a fanciful tale of a world without death, a world in which all of nature lives together in beautiful harmony. All needs are satisfied until something goes wrong.

It’s also possible to read the story on other levels and to find other messages. It is a theology and an anthropology, telling us something about the nature of G-d and the nature of human beings.

There are two trees in the Garden, one the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and one the Tree of Life and Death. Adam and Eve eat of the first and gain moral judgment and with it the responsibility for making moral decisions. They are cast from the Garden with keruvim (cherubs) barring the gate so they cannot reenter:

“And the Lord God said, ‘Now that man (ha-Adam) has become like one of us, knowing good and bad, what if he should stretch out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever!”  So the Lord God banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the soil from which he was taken.  He drove the man out, and stationed east of the garden of Eden the keruvim and the fiery ever-turning sword, to guard the way to the tree of life.'” Genesis 3:22 – 24

We learn that human beings are like G-d in having moral judgment, but they are unlike G-d in being part of nature, subject, like everything in creation, to death.  What an amazing statement! Human beings differ from other creatures in just one way, the one way in which they are like G-d: they have the potential for moral reasoning and decision-making, for acting in the world on the basis of morality.


Just as we can read Genesis on more than one level, so we can read the Book of Leviticus, which gives concrete form to the theology and anthropology presented in Genesis. Leviticus appears to be a mere “how-to” manual for offering sacrifices, a natural next-step in the narrative we began in Exodus with building the tabernacle and ordaining the priests. More than that, though, it deepens our understanding of our nature as human beings and how we stand in relationship to G-d and nature. It is a treatise on conscious moral choice.

Leviticus is also a “how-to”manual for “drawing close” to G-d, connecting the finite and infinity.  The root of the Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, means “come close.”

The Israelite comes close to G-d in two ways that reflect the Genesis narrative: by being holy and pure.  Leviticus as a whole defines through ethical and ritual practice the relationship described in Genesis between God, human beings and nature.  This definition centers around the idea that God is both holy (makes the right moral choices) and pure (does not have a body and consequently is not subject to death and organic processes).

Conversely, the human being, like God, knows right from wrong and freely chooses; but the human being, unlike God, has a body that is subject to death and decay.  Holiness is essentially a moral category and a representation of similarity.  Impurity represents difference.

In approaching G-d, an Israelite should be “holy” as G-d is holy. This means they should make those moral choices that the Torah describes as holy. But how can a person become “pure” like G-d in order to come close, karov? And this is one important function of sacrifice, to remove ritual impurity, making the worshiper temporarily both holy and pure in the ritual space, ready to come close to G-d.

This portion shows us the close and inextricable link between body and soul, keva (routine) and kevannah (intention). We approach G-d as whole people, body and soul, both pure and holy, through the routine of ritual and through our intentional action in the world.

The portion deals with both voluntary sacrifices (burnt, meal and peace offerings) and required sacrifices. Required sacrifices occur in response to sins of two kinds, intentional and unintentional.

Intentional sin, making a conscious choice to sin, requires a conscious process of the mind and soul to rectify the relationship between G-d and human beings or between human beings and other human beings. One heals a relationship damaged by intentional sin with intention (kevannah) as well as a “routine” or ritual (keva).

But how do we understand unintentional sin? Why would we be held morally accountable simply because we were careless or unaware or forgot or didn’t know something? Of seven types of sins listed, the fourth and fifth are unintentional sins:

Lev 5:4 – “or if any one swear clearly with his lips to do evil, or to do good, whatsoever it be that a man shall utter clearly with an oath, and it be hid from him; and, when he knoweth of it, be guilty in one of these things…” (אוֹ נֶפֶשׁ כִּי תִשָּׁבַע לְבַטֵּא בִשְׂפָתַיִם לְהָרַע אוֹ לְהֵיטִיב, לְכֹל אֲשֶׁר יְבַטֵּא הָאָדָם בִּשְׁבֻעָה–וְנֶעְלַם מִמֶּנּוּ; וְהוּא-יָדַע וְאָשֵׁם, לְאַחַת מֵאֵלֶּה).

Lev 5:17 – “And if any one sin, and do any of the things which the LORD hath commanded not to be done, though he know it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquity.” (וְאִם-נֶפֶשׁ, כִּי תֶחֱטָא, וְעָשְׂתָה אַחַת מִכָּל-מִצְו‍ֹת יְהוָה, אֲשֶׁר לֹא תֵעָשֶׂינָה; וְלֹא-יָדַע וְאָשֵׁם, וְנָשָׂא עֲו‍ֹנוֹ).

In the first case, a person makes an oath carelessly, then because of his/her lack of intention, forgets the oath and fails to fulfill a promise. The second case is a restatement of a well-known principle of law, that ignorance of the law is not an excuse for failing to follow it.

As Rabbi Jonathan Saks points out in The Dimensions of Sin, “Regardless of guilt and responsibility, if we commit a sin we have objectively transgressed a boundary. The word chet (Hebrew for “sin”) means to miss the mark, to stray, to deviate from the proper path. We have committed an act that somehow disturbs the moral balance of the world.”

In the case of unintentional sins, carelessness and forgetfulness, lack of mindfulness we might say, and ignorance of the law do not change the fact that a deviation occurred, and it has consequences. The unintentional sin, too, must be addressed. The unintentional sin is treated in the ritual frame with just as much weight as the intentional sins against one’s neighbor in Lev 5:21-22: keeping a deposit, failing to keep a pledge, robbery, oppression, keeping a lost item instead of returning it. The sacrificial routine is the same for both sets of sins, unintentional and intentional.

What an amazing thought, that carelessness and ignorance are as sinful as robbery, that not only intentional sins but unintentional sins, lack of mindfulness, disturb the moral balance of the world. Our lack of conscious intention in any moment has an impact! There are consequences, and we must do something to address our carelessness before we can acquire the wholeness of mind and body required to approach transcendence.


The structure of this portion provides a path for the Israelite, bound by his/her own finite nature, to connect to transcendence, a path by which the Israelite becomes both holy and pure, becomes like divinity for a space in time, in order to “draw close.”

The portion reminds us of our potential as human beings for moral consciousness and of our responsibility to make moral decisions. Even when we fail to exercise our unique characteristic for viewing the world through a moral prism and living responsibly in that dimension, we are responsible for the tears in the fabric of creation and in our relationship with G-d and must set it right.

Finally, we learn again that only in our capacity for moral consciousness and our responsibility to make moral decisions are we different from other life in creation. To be human, we must be morally aware, making moral decisions. That is our defining characteristic, the one thing that makes us G-d-like. In every moment that we fail to exercise our moral judgment, make fully aware conscious choices, we are animals, sentient beings experiencing a desire to live, love and feel compassion, fear and anger.

Nowhere is our failure more apparent than at the table when we eat without full awareness of the source of our food. Meals are a constant reminder of inadvertent sin, the sin of inattention that tears a hole in the fabric of creation as we carelessly take life. The details of the sacrificial “meal” demanded attention and awareness, and that full awareness had the potential to jolt a person into full awareness, to bring about repair.


There are some themes I’d like to follow-up on in this portion but won’t in this post. I’ll share the structure here and point to some things that take my attention, though:

Speech #1 (Lev 1:1)
Burnt Offerings (Olah) How-To

  • Herd
  • Flock
  • Fowl

Meal Offering (Minchah) How-To

  • Uncooked
  • Oven
  • Griddled
  • Stew
  • No Honey or Leaven (offer as First Fruits)
  • Yes Salt (Salt of the “Covenant”)
  • First Fruits – Parched Corn ) with Honey & Leaven)

Peace Offering (Shlemah) How-To

  • Herd
  • Flock: Lamb
  • Flock: Goat
  • (Note: Lev 3:17 – Eat neither fat nor blood)

Speech #2 (Lev 4:1)

Sins by class

  • Priest – Bullock – blood sprinkled 7x
  • Congregation of Israel – Bullock – blood sprinkled 7x
  • Ruler/Nasi – Goat
  • Common People – Goat/Lamb – female

Sins by type

1. If begged not to report something witnessed and don’t
2. If touch something unclean
3. If touch an unclean human being
4. If make a careless oath and forget about it

Speech #3 (Lev 4:5-14)
5. Touch or use the Holy Things of the Lord inadvertently
6. Break a law you don’t know – certainly guilty

Speech #4 (Lev 5:20)
7. Deal falsely with neighbor (transgress against the Lord) with regard to:

  • Deposit
  • Pledge
  • Robbery
  • Oppression
  • Keeping a lost thing

These things take my attention, and I’d like to explore them more fully:

  • The number 7, which in the context of the Bible refers to creation. Blood is sprinkled against the altar seven times in the course of a required sin offering for a priest who sins or when the whole Congregation of Israel sins. In addition, the inadvertent sins enumerated through Speeches 2, 3 and 4 number seven.
  • Certain sacrifices require a male animal and others a female animal.
  • The owner of the sacrificial animal performs smicha, laying on of hands, in four instances, Lev 1:4, 3:2, 3:8 and 3:13.  These passages augment the idea that the sacrifice is a stand-in for the owner or sinner.
  • The location and use of the phrase, “sweet savor to the Lord” (אִשֵּׁה רֵיחַ-נִיחוֹחַ לַיהוָה) – Lev 1:9, 13, 17; 2:2; 3:5, 11, 16.
  • The location and use of the phrase, “and the priest shall make atonement for him as concerning his sin, and he shall be forgiven”(וְכִפֶּר עָלָיו הַכֹּהֵן מֵחַטָּאתוֹ, וְנִסְלַח לו)  – Lev 4:26, 31, 35; 5:6, 10, 13, 16, 18, 26.
  • Why salt in particular is associated with “covenant,” why salt and honey are not part of regular voluntary offerings, only First Fruits, and I’d like to fill in the significance of reserving the fat and blood for G-d (in addition the biblical statement that “the life is in the blood.”)

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Torah Ecology: Vayakhel-Pekudei 2017 (Ex 35:1-40:38)

Sometimes it’s more about what’s not said than what is. That is the case in the coming week’s Torah portion, a double, Vayahkel-Pekudei.


If the first half of Tetzaveh represented the apex of Aaron’s power and authority as high priest, and the second half represented his foolishness and weakness as a leader, Vayahkel-Pekudei represents the nadir of his power.  Aaron’s dramatic fall from grace shows up in what’s not said.

In Tetzaveh, in Ex 28:35-29:44, the sacral vestments are made for Aaron. Aaron carries the names of the twelve sons of Jacob on his person, and Aaron enters the sanctuary. The frontlet of gold that says “Holy to the Lord” is for Aaron’s forehead. Aaron and his sons go to the entrance of the Ohel Moed and are washed and anointed there. Aaron and his sons conduct the sacrifices and prepare and eat their share at the entrance to the Ohel. Only Aaron and his sons are consecrated to service.

In Vayahkel-Pekudei, we have what seems at first glance to be an instant replay of those passages from Tetzaveh, except this week’s portion focuses on the time after the Golden Calf episode and after Moses removed the Ohel Moed from the Tabernacle precinct to meet with G-d alone, only Joshua sharing his encampment. Aaron is mentioned only seven times during this double portion, in Ex 35:19, 38:23, 39:1, 33:42, 40:12, 40:13 and 40:31.  One of those seven mentions is of Aaron’s sons, not Aaron himself.

More startling is that Aaron is not included with the community in bringing offerings for the tabernacle or in preparing any part of this home for G-d. Contrast this with the fact that the participation of the women, otherwise not cultic leaders, is mentioned in relation to the offerings, in making parts of the tabernacle and in service “at the door of the tent.”

Finally, when the tabernacle is raised, in the 1st month, the second year, the first day of the month, Moses is the one who raises it, who lays the sockets, sets up boards, puts in bars, rears up pillars, and spreads a tent over the Tabernacle. It is Moses who puts a table in the Tent of Meeting and sets a row of bread, places the candlestick and lights the lamps before the Lord “as commanded by the Lord.” Wait, wasn’t Aaron supposed to do that, also by command of the Lord? And didn’t he in fact do it in an earlier process?

There’s more yet. Moses puts the golden altar of incense in the Tent of Meeting and burns incense, also “as the Lord commanded Moses.” He puts up the screen door of the tent to the Tabernacle, the altar of burnt offering at the door of the Tabernacle — and offers the burnt offering and meal offering, “as the Lord commanded Moses.” He set the laver between the Tent of Meeting and the altar for water to wash — so Moses and Aaron and his sons could wash their hands and feet, “when they went into the tent of meeting, and when they came near unto the altar, they should wash; as the LORD commanded Moses” (בְּבֹאָם אֶל-אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד, וּבְקָרְבָתָם אֶל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ–יִרְחָצוּ:  כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה),

Aaron’s demotion from leadership and meeting with G-d, even through the sacrificial worship which is his area of responsibility, is signified by the silence of the text in regard to him. He simply disappears while Moses takes over all functions, judge, prophet, priest and master builder.

Certainly Moses could never have raised the giant structure by himself — but the text means to tell us that Moses, and Moses alone, is responsible for raising and overseeing the desert Tabernacle, G-d’s home among the Israelites, “as the Lord commanded Moses” (כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה). Leadership of the community cannot again be entrusted to Aaron, even in Aaron’s own realm of responsibility.


As Aaron recedes from view while Moses grows bigger than life, making everything happen just as G-d requires, we see a more inclusive community emerging.  Moses assembles and speaks to “all the congregation of the Children of Israel” (וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-כָּל-עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם).

And all the congregation of the Children of Israel is involved in the great work of building the desert tabernacle, from the offerings of the raw materials that make it up to the hand work required. As we have seen, Aaron and his sons are mentioned in this process only in the most peripheral, passive way, in relation to their garments, serving as an envelope around the story of the Israelites work:

Ex 35:19 – “the plaited garments, for ministering in the holy place, the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and the garments of his sons, to minister in the priest’s office” (אֶת-בִּגְדֵי הַשְּׂרָד, לְשָׁרֵת בַּקֹּדֶשׁ:  אֶת-בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, וְאֶת-בִּגְדֵי בָנָיו לְכַהֵן).

Ex 39:1- 31 – “And of the blue, and purple, and scarlet, they made plaited garments, for ministering in the holy place, and made the holy garments for Aaron, as the LORD commanded Moses” (וּמִן-הַתְּכֵלֶת וְהָאַרְגָּמָן וְתוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי, עָשׂוּ בִגְדֵי-שְׂרָד לְשָׁרֵת בַּקֹּדֶשׁ; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת-בִּגְדֵי הַקֹּדֶשׁ, אֲשֶׁר לְאַהֲרֹן, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה)…”And they made the plate of the holy crown of pure gold, and wrote upon it a writing, like the engravings of a signet: HOLY TO THE LORD. And they tied unto it a thread of blue, to fasten it upon the mitre above; as the LORD commanded Moses. Thus was finished all the work…” (וַיַּעֲשׂוּ אֶת-צִיץ נֵזֶר-הַקֹּדֶשׁ, זָהָב טָהוֹר; וַיִּכְתְּבוּ עָלָיו, מִכְתַּב פִּתּוּחֵי חוֹתָם–קֹדֶשׁ, לַיהוָה. וַיִּתְּנוּ עָלָיו פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת, לָתֵת עַל-הַמִּצְנֶפֶת מִלְמָעְלָה, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, אֶת-מֹשֶׁה. וַתֵּכֶל–כָּל-עֲבֹדַת, מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד).

Within that envelope, we see the Israelites industriously engaged both in contributing and in working, all the Israelites, those who are “wise-hearted” (חֲכַם-לֵב), who have a “willing heart” (נְדִיב לֵב), who “devise skillful works” (לַחְשֹׁב, מַחֲשָׁבֹת), whose “heart stirred them with wisdom” ( נְשָׂאוֹ לִבּוֹ בְּחָכְמָה), who are filled with the spirit of G-d in “wisdom, knowledge and understanding” (בְּחָכְמָה בִּתְבוּנָה וּבְדַעַת).  In a text that can often be so sparse as to be cryptic, these phrases occur at least 22 times, serving as a refrain.

The Israelites come and they come, bringing their gifts and their skills, pouring out their great love for G-d.  They bring so much that Bezalel and Oholiab, the chief artisans, must finally speak to Moses, telling him the people have brought much more than enough: “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the LORD commanded to make” (וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר, מַרְבִּים הָעָם לְהָבִיא, מִדֵּי הָעֲבֹדָה לַמְּלָאכָה, אֲשֶׁר-צִוָּה יְהוָה לַעֲשֹׂת אֹתָהּ).

In case we miss the point that every Israelite is involved, that every Israelite’s heart is stirred to this great task, that every Israelite is filled with wisdom and has skills to offer, and that every Israelite is asked to stop bringing, the text details it for us:

Ex 35:22 – “And they came, both men and women” (וַיָּבֹאוּ הָאֲנָשִׁים, עַל-הַנָּשִׁים)

Ex 35:25-26 – “And all the women that were wise-hearted did spin with their hands, and brought that which they had spun, the blue, and the purple, the scarlet, and the fine linen. And all the women whose heart stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats’ hair” (וְכָל-אִשָּׁה חַכְמַת-לֵב, בְּיָדֶיהָ טָווּ; וַיָּבִיאוּ מַטְוֶה, אֶת-הַתְּכֵלֶת וְאֶת-הָאַרְגָּמָן, אֶת-תּוֹלַעַת הַשָּׁנִי, וְאֶת-הַשֵּׁשׁ. וְכָל-הַנָּשִׁים–אֲשֶׁר נָשָׂא לִבָּן אֹתָנָה, בְּחָכְמָה:  טָווּ, אֶת-הָעִזִּים).

Ex 35:27 – “And the rulers brought the onyx stones, and the stones to be set, for the ephod, and for the breastplate; and the spice, and the oil, for the light, and for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense” (וְהַנְּשִׂאִם הֵבִיאוּ–אֵת אַבְנֵי הַשֹּׁהַם, וְאֵת אַבְנֵי הַמִּלֻּאִים:  לָאֵפוֹד, וְלַחֹשֶׁן. וְאֶת-הַבֹּשֶׂם, וְאֶת-הַשָּׁמֶן:  לְמָאוֹר–וּלְשֶׁמֶן הַמִּשְׁחָה, וְלִקְטֹרֶת הַסַּמִּים).

Ex 35:29 – “The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto the LORD; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses to be made” (כָּל-אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה, אֲשֶׁר נָדַב לִבָּם אֹתָם, לְהָבִיא לְכָל-הַמְּלָאכָה, אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה לַעֲשׂוֹת בְּיַד-מֹשֶׁה–הֵבִיאוּ בְנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל נְדָבָה, לַיהוָה),

Ex 35:30-34 – “the LORD hath called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah…both he, and Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan” (קָרָא יְהוָה בְּשֵׁם, בְּצַלְאֵל בֶּן-אוּרִי בֶן-חוּר, לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה…הוּא, וְאָהֳלִיאָב בֶּן-אֲחִיסָמָךְ לְמַטֵּה-דָן). – the artisans

Ex 36:6 – “‘Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing” (אִישׁ וְאִשָּׁה אַל-יַעֲשׂוּ-עוֹד מְלָאכָה, לִתְרוּמַת הַקֹּדֶשׁ; וַיִּכָּלֵא הָעָם, מֵהָבִיא).

When the people complete their joy-filled work, inspired by love and devotion, and before Moses begins his work of erecting the tabernacle, Moses blesses them: “And Moses saw all the work, and, behold, they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, even so had they done it. And Moses blessed them” (וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת-כָּל-הַמְּלָאכָה, וְהִנֵּה עָשׂוּ אֹתָהּ–כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה, כֵּן עָשׂוּ; וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם, מֹשֶׁה).

The sacrificial cult, so prominent in the first story of the building of the Tabernacle, recedes along with Aaron and his sons, the priests — and the people, in such a poignant and heartfelt way, under the leadership of Moses, express their profound and overflowing love through the gifts they bring, both goods and skills.

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I broke my small mortar and pestle a few months back. This week they had some nice granite ones at Costco, larger than what I had before. Thinking longingly of my three very ripe avocados at home, I decided to get one and enjoy guacamole for lunch. When I got home, I took it out of the box to get started right away and found, much to my dismay (being an instant gratification type), the mortar and pestle require seasoning, and the process takes several days. Oh well.

By Sunday I was up and running, though, and those avocados were just as good today, probably even better. Here’s how I made it, quick, basic and very easy:



  • Avocado, 3 very ripe
  • Jalapeno, 1
  • Tomato, 2 very small
  • Green onion, 2-3
  • Cilantro, a few sprigs, chopped (should make about 2 TB)
  • Lime, juice from half of one juicy lime, more to taste
  • Salt, 1 tsp.


  1. Mince green onion, jalapeno (you can start with 1/2 jalapeno if you’re heat sensitive), chops cilantro and petite dice tomato.
  2. Cut around avocado, take out seed, scoop flesh into a seasoned mortar with a spoon. Add lime juice and salt.
  3. While holding the mortar on a slight tilt, mash the avocado/salt/lime juice mixture into the sides of the mortar with a swooping motion. Push avocado to side of mortar.
  4. Add the minced green onion and jalapeno to the other side of the mortar, and press a bit with the pestle, then stir into the avocado using the same swooping motion up the sides of the mortar.
  5. Taste, and adjust seasoning if needed. Add diced tomatoes and mix in fairly gently. Do not mash the tomatoes. If you’re not serving right away, hold out the tomatoes ’til serving time.
  6. The best way to store avocado and prevent browning is to spread onion across the top of it, and cover with plastic wrap. When ready to serve, remove the wrap and pit, stir gently, check again for seasoning, and fold in tomatoes.

I took the picture out in back on the first sunny, slightly warmer day than we’ve had. As we were eating, I was reminded of picking avocados off the trees in the back yard in Arizona and in Israel for breakfast. Even on our best days, we can’t grow avocado around here.

For more, visit my blog,, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

It’s Time For A Recipe! Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup

Andy needs smoothies and smooth soups these days and likes broccoli, so I thought I might try a Vegan Cream of Broccoli Soup. I figured I would use coconut milk as the “cream,” but since it’s much thinner than milk and certainly than cream, I decided to add some potato to thicken it. This is a really easy soup to make, simple ingredients, and it was delicious. Andy was very happy.



  • Broccoli, two large bunches, lots of stem included
  • Onion, Spanish, one large
  • Idaho potato, 2 small or 1 large
  • Coconut milk, 5 cups
  • Water, 5 cups
  • Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
  • Salt, 1 TB
  • Hot paprika, 1/4 tsp.


  1. Prepare the veggies: wash all, then peel and petite dice the potato, petite dice the onion (chunks are ok too since this part of the soup will be blended anyway), and remove all stems from the broccoli and chunk, setting the florets aside.
  2. Add the extra virgin olive oil to a soup pot, add the onion and broccoli and saute briefly.
  3. Add the potato to the pot, and add 2-1/2 cups of water and 2-1/2 cups of coconut milk and stir. Turn down heat, cover and simmer until all is cooked and soft.
  4. Cook the broccoli florets in the remaining 2-1/2 cups of water and 2-1/2 cups of coconut milk in a separate covered pot until soft.
  5. Add the potato, broccoli stems and onion mixture to a high-powered blender (regular blender will work as well). Blend until very smooth, at least 1 full minute. Remove from blender to soup pot. This might take a few loads.
  6. Add the cooked florets with their liquid to the blender (might require a couple of loads). Pulse 5 or 6 times so all is regularly processed but you can still see the green buds.
  7. Add the blended florets to the stem/onion/potato puree in the soup pot.
  8. Season to taste. I usually use 1 TB of salt for a gallon of soup, which is about what this makes. I also used 1/4 tsp of hot paprika.

This soup is along the lines of comfort food, nothing complicated here to make or to eat. It’s very creamy, and the potatoes make it just the right consistency. Enjoy!

For more, visit my blog,, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Ki Tissa 2017 (Ex 30:11-34:35)

Worshiping the golden calf, as in Exodus 32:1-35, illustration from a Bible card published 1901 by the Providence Lithograph Company

Ki Tissa, “When you take a sum…,” is filled with things to contemplate! It fascinates me that these stories consistently reveal narrative structures, a scaffolding of sorts, that supports meaning. I’m not always sure what the meaning is — that might be next year’s part of my project, to go back and edit all of these entries, exploring certain themes and ideas in greater depth once I have the perspective of the whole. This year my project is devoted to exploration of internal structures and to a particular set of themes, food/agriculture/ecology, captured in the title, Torah Ecology, relationships.


This large portion divides into two narratives of seven sections each with a bridge in the middle:

  1. Ex 30:11-16 – Census and ransom
  2. Ex 30:17-21 – Laver and washing
  3. Ex 30:22-30 – Spices/perfume to anoint sacred objects & priests
  4. Ex 30:31-33 – Anointing oil
  5. Ex 30:34-38 – Spices to put before Testimony
  6. Ex 31:1-11 – Artisans
  7. Ex 31:12-17 – Sabbath

Ex 31:18 – Bridge: G-d gives Moses the two tables of stone, inscribed by G-d’s own hand.

  1. Ex 32:1-6 – Golden Calf Episode with an abortive sacrifice
  2. Ex 32:7-15 – G-d tells Moses to go back down to his people, who “acted corruptly.”
  3. Ex 32:16-29 – Aaron discredited, death and blessing
  4. Ex 32:30-33:6 – Moses returns to G-d to plead on behalf of people
  5. Ex 33:7-23 – Moses removes with Tent, converses with G-d
  6. Ex 34:1-28 – The new/2nd set of Tablets
  7. Ex 34:29 – Moses returns to camp with new Tablets

At first glance, any vegetarian or vegan would be horrified by these three portions in Exodus that deal with setting up sacrificial worship, Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Tissa. A deeper look shows threads of meaning in the sacrificial cult that have to do with the boundaries between transcendence and creation, life and death, and the point of intersection, where infinity enters a finite world and death preserves life.

This point of intersection is filled with danger, and it is literally by the grace of G-d that the Israelites live while others around them die. They owe a debt of gratitude for their lives, paid through the exchange that occurs in the sacrifice, their redemption.

At the same time, this week’s portion casts doubt on any single understanding of the meaning and status of sacrificial worship in ancient Israel as it discredits Aaron and the priesthood. It virtually rejects sacrificial worship when Moses moves the Tent of Meeting outside the camp, where he meets to converse with G-d, leaving the larger structure, the Tabernacle with its sacrificial cult, behind.


The structure of the first section of seven is in seven speeches from G-d, each on a different topic. There is an ominous feeling to the passages, projected with references to death and “cutting off” (כְרַת), which occur in sections 1, 2, 4, 5 and 7.

1. Ex 30:12 – “they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.” (וְנָתְנוּ אִישׁ כֹּפֶר נַפְשׁוֹ לַיהוָה, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם; וְלֹא-יִהְיֶה בָהֶם נֶגֶף, בִּפְקֹד אֹתָם)

2. Ex 30:21 – “so they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not” (וְרָחֲצוּ יְדֵיהֶם וְרַגְלֵיהֶם, וְלֹא יָמֻתוּ)

4. Ex 30:33 – “Whosoever compoundeth any like it, or whosoever putteth any of it upon a stranger, he shall be cut off from his people.” (אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר יִרְקַח כָּמֹהוּ, וַאֲשֶׁר יִתֵּן מִמֶּנּוּ עַל-זָר–וְנִכְרַת, מֵעַמָּיו)

5. Ex 30:38 – “Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereof, he shall be cut off from his people.” (אִישׁ אֲשֶׁר-יַעֲשֶׂה כָמוֹהָ, לְהָרִיחַ בָּהּ–וְנִכְרַת, מֵעַמָּיו)

7. Ex 31:14 – “every one that profaneth it shall surely be put to death; for whosoever doeth any work therein, that soul shall be cut off from among his people.” (כִּי קֹדֶשׁ הִוא, לָכֶם; מְחַלְלֶיהָ, מוֹת יוּמָת–כִּי כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה בָהּ מְלָאכָה, וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִקֶּרֶב עַמֶּיהָ) – and Ex 31:15 – “whosoever doeth any work in the sabbath day, he shall surely be put to death” (כָּל-הָעֹשֶׂה מְלָאכָה בְּיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת, מוֹת יוּמָת)

Clearly life at the boundary is dangerous. I read the ominous tone, though, as compassion. As a parent with more experience and knowledge of the world may sound harsh when protecting a child not aware of its dangerous elements, so G-d wants to protect these people from destruction.


These first tablets are unequivocally written with the finger of G-d: “And He gave unto Moses, when He had made an end of speaking with him upon mount Sinai, the two tables of the testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” (וַיִּתֵּן אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אִתּוֹ בְּהַר סִינַי, שְׁנֵי, לֻחֹת הָעֵדֻת–לֻחֹת אֶבֶן, כְּתֻבִים בְּאֶצְבַּע אֱלֹהִים)

More than Sinai, the tablets are a sign of deep love, a concrete representation of transcendence in a finite world. In light of the passages that follow, the tablets are like a ring of betrothal, a sign of a relationship based on love and commitment.


Meanwhile, back in the camp, as Moses meets with G-d on their behalf and prepares to return with this precious gift, this concrete sign of love and commitment, Israel, led by Aaron, betrays G-d — in G-d’s own home that they built. This betrayal reaches its apex at a meal, a feast Aaron proclaims, celebrating the god he made on behalf of and for the Israelites, the Golden Calf. This god is credited with the great saving act of bringing the Israelites out of Egypt.

Anyone who has ever suffered betrayal from a beloved partner can understand the depth and power of the emotions described in the succeeding passages as G-d reacts to the corruption below. The deeper the love, the more powerful the sense of betrayal. G-d’s anger is directed specifically toward a sacrifice/meal attributing to this molten calf god the saving action that G-d performed. We can see G-d working through stages of grief, wanting to be alone, referring to the Israelites as Moses’ people, not G-d’s own: “And the LORD spoke unto Moses: ‘Depart, go up hence, thou and the people that thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt‘” (וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, לֵךְ עֲלֵה מִזֶּה–אַתָּה וְהָעָם, אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלִיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם) – Ex 33:1.

Prophetic books, notably Hosea, pick up this deep sense of betrayal as they use the imagery in their own narratives: “She shall run after her lovers, but she shall not overtake them, And she shall seek them, but shall not find them; then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband; For then was it better with me than now.’ For she did not know that it was I that gave her the corn, and the wine, and the oil, And multiplied unto her silver and gold, Which they used for Baal.” (Hosea 2:9-10)


Aaron is fully discredited as he attempts to wiggle out of his responsibility in the terrible betrayal. Despite that he instructed the Israelites what to do and personally fashioned the Golden Calf with a “graving tool,” then proclaimed a feast, when confronted with his failure of leadership, he says of the gold, “I cast it into the fire, and there came out this calf.” (וָאַשְׁלִכֵהוּ בָאֵשׁ, וַיֵּצֵא הָעֵגֶל הַזֶּה)

After one parting shot at Aaron, Moses orders the Levites to kill their brothers, companions and neighbors who did not “come” to the Lord at the gate. 3000 people fell that day: “And when Moses saw that the people were broken loose–for Aaron had let them loose for a derision among their enemies–then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said: ‘Whoso is on the LORD’S side, let him come unto me.’ And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto them: ‘Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel: Put ye every man his sword upon his thigh, and go to and fro from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbour.’ And the sons of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.” Ex 32:26-28

Since Moses remains deeply loyal to the Israelites despite their corruption and despite his own anger and dismay, we can understand this action as preemptive, meant to save a remnant by removing corruption from the community. He then returns to G-d to continue pleading on behalf of his community. He carries on this intimate conversation, though, without reference to Aaron or to the sacrificial cult.

Moses removes the Tent of Meeting from the Tabernacle, carrying it to a place in the desert outside the camp. Back in the camp, in a poignant image, the remaining Israelites stand outside the doors of their tents, watching after Moses until he enters the Tent of Meeting, then watching the pillar of cloud standing at the door of that Tent.

There, in that place, at the Tent, “The LORD spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (וְדִבֶּר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה פָּנִים אֶל-פָּנִים, כַּאֲשֶׁר יְדַבֵּר אִישׁ אֶל-רֵעֵהוּ).  Now the narrative continues in the form of a conversation, not speeches. Moses and G-d alternate speaking to each other.

In the course of this conversation, Moses begs G-d to continue G-d’s relationship with the people, not Moses’ people but G-d’s people. “If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence…For wherein now shall it be known that I have found grace in Thy sight, I and Thy people? Is it not in that Thou goest with us, so that we are distinguished, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth?”

Finally, after a scene about which much could be said, when Moses sees G-d’s presence, Moses returns with new tablets, which G-d says G-d will write on like the first: “And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first; and I will write upon the tables the words that were on the first tables, which thou didst break.'” (וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, פְּסָל-לְךָ שְׁנֵי-לֻחֹת אֲבָנִים כָּרִאשֹׁנִים; וְכָתַבְתִּי, עַל-הַלֻּחֹת, אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר הָיוּ עַל-הַלֻּחֹת הָרִאשֹׁנִים אֲשֶׁר שִׁבַּרְתָּ) – Ex 34:1

But actually, G-d doesn’t write on the tablets — Moses does, serving once again as a buffer between G-d and the Israelites: “And the LORD said unto Moses: ‘Write thou these words, for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.’ And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten words” (וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל-מֹשֶׁה, כְּתָב-לְךָ אֶת-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה:  כִּי עַל-פִּי הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה, כָּרַתִּי אִתְּךָ בְּרִית–וְאֶת-יִשְׂרָאֵל. וַיְהִי-שָׁם עִם-יְהוָה, אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה–לֶחֶם לֹא אָכַל, וּמַיִם לֹא שָׁתָה; וַיִּכְתֹּב עַל-הַלֻּחֹת, אֵת דִּבְרֵי הַבְּרִית–עֲשֶׂרֶת, הַדְּבָרִים). Ex 34:27-28


As ominous mentions of death and “cutting off” permeate the first seven narrative sections before the bridge, meals and consumption permeate the second seven sections following the bridge.

The first of these meals is one in which the Israelites eat and drink and make merry before the Golden Calf in G-d’s own home, sacrificing to this god they credit with bringing them out of Egypt: “And when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said: ‘To-morrow shall be a feast to the LORD.’ And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt-offerings, and brought peace-offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to make merry” ( וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן, וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו; וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמַר, חַג לַיהוָה מָחָר. וַיַּשְׁכִּימוּ, מִמָּחֳרָת, וַיַּעֲלוּ עֹלֹת, וַיַּגִּשׁוּ שְׁלָמִים; וַיֵּשֶׁב הָעָם לֶאֱכֹל וְשָׁתוֹ, וַיָּקֻמוּ לְצַחֵק). Ex 32:5-6

Reciprocally G-d in anger speaks of “consuming” the people: “Now therefore let Me alone, that My wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them” (וְעַתָּה הַנִּיחָה לִּי, וְיִחַר-אַפִּי בָהֶם וַאֲכַלֵּם; וְאֶעֱשֶׂה אוֹתְךָ, לְגוֹי גָּדוֹל). Ex 32:10 – In similar imagery, G-d consumes the sacrifice: “And there came forth fire from before the LORD, and consumed upon the altar the burnt-offering and the fat” (וַתֵּצֵא אֵשׁ, מִלִּפְנֵי יְהוָה, וַתֹּאכַל עַל-הַמִּזְבֵּחַ, אֶת-הָעֹלָה וְאֶת-הַחֲלָבִים). Lev 19:24

The Golden Calf episode represents an abortive exchange. In the required course of events an exchange occurs in the sacrificial meal, when the priests consume their portion as representatives of the Israelites and G-d consumes G-d’s portion, suggesting that the sacrifice stands in for the Israelites. Since the betrayal in G-d’s home among the Israelites when the sacrifice was given to the Golden Calf, there is no stand-in. 3000 Israelites die to preserve those who remain.

During G-d’s conversations with Moses, G-d tells Moses to remind the people that they are to bow to no other god because G-d is jealous, specifically around the meal G-d shares with them, the sacrifice: “For thou shalt bow down to no other god; for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God; lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go astray after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and they call thee, and thou eat of their sacrifice” (כִּי לֹא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה, לְאֵל אַחֵר:  כִּי יְהוָה קַנָּא שְׁמוֹ, אֵל קַנָּא הוּא. פֶּן-תִּכְרֹת בְּרִית, לְיוֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ; וְזָנוּ אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהֵיהֶם, וְזָבְחוּ לֵאלֹהֵיהֶם, וְקָרָא לְךָ, וְאָכַלְתָּ מִזִּבְחוֹ). Ex 34: 14-15

The specific commandments which follow all have to do with sacrificial feasts: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, the Feast of Ingathering. If this isn’t enough to signify the profound importance of these ritual meals in the lives of the Israelites, the ritual that points to the deepest paradox of life, the exchange between life and death, four more commandments follow: not to offer the blood of the sacrifice with leavened bread, not to leave any part of the Passover feast until morning, to bring the choicest first fruits to the “house,” and not to seethe a kid in its mother’s milk.

Finally we read that Moses “was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water” (וַיְהִי-שָׁם עִם-יְהוָה, אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה–לֶחֶם לֹא אָכַל, וּמַיִם לֹא שָׁתָה). Ex 34:28 This verse describes Moses as the bridge between the finite world of creation and the infinite world of G-d. This seamless relationship involves no sacrifice (“meals” for G-d) and neither meals nor water for Moses.

From the time of the abortive sacrifice of betrayal at the Golden Calf when G-d’s “meal” goes to another through the rest of Ki Tissa, there are no sacrifices and no priests, nor does Moses eat. The Ohel Moed, the Tent of Meeting is removed from the newly constructed Tabernacle, and Moses meets there with G-d, and neither priests nor elders of the people are invited to the meeting. Moses crosses the dangerous boundary between creation and transcendence, his face shining so brightly when he comes back out to the Israelites that he must wear a veil before them so they would not be afraid.


When Moses returns to the camp to find the Israelites making merry following an illegitimate sacrificial meal and betrayal, he smashes the first tablets then takes the Golden Calf, burns it with fire, grinds it to powder, strews it on the water and makes the people drink the water. This passage is strangely reminiscent of the ritual performed on behalf of a “jealous” husband: “he shall pour no oil upon it, nor put frankincense thereon; for it is a meal-offering of jealousy, a meal-offering of memorial, bringing iniquity to remembrance” (לֹא-יִצֹק עָלָיו שֶׁמֶן, וְלֹא-יִתֵּן עָלָיו לְבֹנָה–כִּי-מִנְחַת קְנָאֹת הוּא, מִנְחַת זִכָּרוֹן מַזְכֶּרֶת עָו‍ֹן). Num 5:15

In this ritual, the priest takes holy water in an earthen vessel and adds to it dust from the floor of the Tabernacle. The priest then compels the woman to swear to her innocence or guilt, writes curses in a scroll, blots them out in the “water of bitterness,” and causes the woman to drink the mixture. If she does not become ill, she is innocent.

The parallel augments the theme of betrayal and jealousy, the deep wound in G-d that results from Israelite infidelity, a statement of the the profound interdependence of the Israelites not only on the rest of their world and on each other but on G-d — and G-d on the Israelites. It also suggests that the act determines who is guilty.

In “consuming” the sins, the Israelites, like the “sotah,” a woman accused of straying, take responsibility for their actions, literally own them as they become part of them. This action begins a process of restoration of a relationship.

In this extraordinary story of the Golden Calf, we understand not only the depth of a betrayal but the depth of a love relationship. We learn once again the danger that is at the boundary of life and death, creation and transcendence and the choices people make that threaten everything.

For more, visit my blog,, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Our Not-So-Intimate Connection To The Earth

My grandfather in his back “yard” in front of the chicken house. He was also a community college founder and president.

The biggest change the Industrial Revolution brought was opening the flood gates to a disconnect between human beings and the rest of creation.

We approach a time when we will experience the devastation that results from that disastrous disconnect, when we will experience what happens when our attitude toward creation is one of colonization instead of interdependence.

I believe the primary element in the education of every child in school today must be learning of our intimate connection to the land, other life on the planet and the food that sustains us.

Until we reestablish that connection, solutions to the many problems that face us will remain elusive. Reestablishing that connection for every child, no child left behind, can restructure our moral perspective as a society from the ground up. Solutions will begin to emerge on that restored foundation.

I’ve thought a lot about my own political engagement or comparative lack of it. I always come back to the same thing. I feel overwhelmed by the flood engulfing us. For me, slowing down that flood means engaging with its cause.

I believe its cause is the failure, on a massive scale, of our ethical foundation. When money and power drive our decision-making process rather than working cooperatively and respectfully with each other, our fellow creatures and the planet, any solutions are patches.

Slowing down the flood requires me to do what I can to deepen and enrich my connection to our planet, our fellow creatures and our food and where I can, help others to do the same.

For more, visit my blog,, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.

Torah Ecology: Tetzaveh 2017 (Exodus 27:20 – 30:10)

High Priest garments – Public Domain

Tetzaveh (Ex 27:20-28:43) continues the narrative that began in Yitro describing the structure of a local community, Israel, and relationships within it and with other “domains,” transcendence and creation. As in Terumah, which describes construction of the Tabernacle and Tent of Meeting, Terumah unfolds in seven tasks centered on preparing the priests to offer sacrifices on behalf of the Israelites:

  • Ex 28:1-5        Raw materials given to artisans with instructions
  • Ex 28:6-14     Ephod with 12 names of sons of Israel on lapis
  • Ex 28:15-30  Breast plate / Urim & Thumim with 12 names of                                         sons of Israel on precious gems
  • Ex 28:31-39  Clothing
  • Ex 29:1-25     Sacrifices – portions for G-d (burned on the altar)
  • Ex 29:26-46  Sacrifices – portions for priests (eaten outside Tent)
  • Ex 30:1-10     Incense altar (in Tent)

The first three sections deal with preparing the high priest to act as a representative on behalf of Israel. The stones on the lapis lazuli on Aaron’s shoulders and the gemstones on his breast plate are a reminder “before the Lord” (לְזִכָּרֹן לִפְנֵי-יְהוָה) of whom Aaron represents.

The last three sections deal with different points of interaction between the priests and G-d.  The middle section, Ex 28:31-39, deals with preparing the high priest for this interaction.

Most significant in this middle section is the protective gear, including a military reference when discussing the preparation of the “hole” for the head in the blue robe of the ephod, “as if it were a coat of mail” (כְּפִי תַחְרָא יִהְיֶה-לּוֹ). This same robe has a woven pomegranate design alternating with bells of gold which Aaron wears when he goes into the holy place and when he comes out so he “will not die” (וְלֹא יָמוּת). Who would kill him? Apparently G-d, if G-d were surprised. Finally, Aaron wears a mitre or head dress with a band of gold which rests on his forehead displaying the words, “Holy to the Lord” (קֹדֶשׁ לַיהוָה).

The word “holy” (קֹדֶשׁ) is interesting and multi-valenced. Other translations for it include sanctified, consecrated, devoted, forbidden. It is the word used to refer to (cult) prostitutes in the worship of Baal and Astarte. The implication of the word in this context seems to be that the priest is consecrated to G-d, a powerful and dangerous position, interacting with G-d on behalf of G-d’s people, the Israelites. Only protective gear and cautious, well-prepared entry to the Tent of Meeting save the priest from death and allow him to accomplish his task.

While donning military gear to meet with transcendence might seem strange to us today, consider for a moment how strange the complete absence of awe and even fear in our interaction with transcendence must seem to others.

To imagine that transcendent reality is cozy and loving fails to account for death, decay and evil in the world. It fails to account for the the fact that for so many innocent creatures, human and non-human, life is brutal. Blood and death are taboo topics in the western secular world, and we generally make certain bloodshed and violence occur outside of our line of vision.  We are blissfully unaware of the violence and brutality behind what is on our plate at each meal, our most basic and constant interaction with the rest of creation and with transcendence.

It is only this separation from the process of life and death, from evil and brutality and bloodshed that allows us to imagine meetings with a transcendent reality that has no element of shock and awe, no element of that which is unknowable and incomprehensible, no aura of danger alongside caring and compassion.

Ancient Israelites were no strangers to organic decay, death and brutality. As with other peoples throughout history, religion was a critical tool for confronting and understanding the meaning of their lives in the context of these realities.  At its most basic level, the sacrificial cult magnified the exchange between life and death involved in every meal.


In Tetzaveh, there are two rounds of sacrifices, the first including a bull and two rams along with bread, oil and wine, each day for seven days, and the second, a bull and two yearling lambs perpetually, one in the morning, the second at twilight. These lamb sacrifices are also accompanied by bread, oil and wine offerings.

Although the priesthood is hereditary, any son of Aaron’s who inherits the high priesthood must engage in the seven day ceremony, which includes several parts: ablution, investiture, anointing with oil and sacrifices. All sacrifices occur in the Tabernacle at the altar.

The narrative of the sacrifices involves two distinct parts, the first relating what and how to sacrifice to G-d. This section is permeated with blood imagery. The blood of the bullock for the sin offering is put on the altar, the rest poured out at its base. The bullock is burned outside the camp. The first ram is burned in its entirety on the altar as a burnt offering. The blood from the second ram is put on Aaron’s right ear and his sons’ right ears, on their right thumbs and right big toes. The rest is dashed on the altar, then sprinkled, with the anointing oil, on Aaron’s and his sons’ vestments.

The second narrative section of the sacrifices relates what the priests consume as their portion and how they should consume it. In Exodus 29:26-27, Aaron and his sons receive the right breast and thigh of the ram of ordination, the second ram, the sacrifice of well-being. They boil the flesh in the sacred precinct, at the door of the Tent of Meeting. The blood narrative remains with the sacrifice on the altar — here, at the door to the Tent, we have the priests consuming boiled (and presumably bloodless) meat.

Going forward, they are to sacrifice a bullock each day as a sin offering, burning it outside the camp, and two yearling lambs, one in the morning and one at twilight, each with flour, oil and wine, as a regular burnt offering.

In this latter part, the narration of the priestly portion, the number seven repeats three times in seven verses, Ex 29:30-37. In addition, there are two references to the Passover event, or in the first instance, to an idea which the sacrifice has in common with the Passover event. The first reference is the manner of eating — the priestly portion cannot be left until morning, and if some remains, it must be burned. The second is explicit in Ex 29:46 when G-d says G-d will consecrate Aaron and his sons and the altar so the Israelites will know G-d is their G-d, the one who brought them from Egypt.


This seventh narrative section concerns the incense altar, 1-1/2 feet square and 3 feet tall, built of acacia wood and overlaid with gold. Its placement (Ex 30:6) is noteworthy: “before the veil that is by the ark of the testimony, before the ark-cover that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee” (לִפְנֵי הַפָּרֹכֶת, אֲשֶׁר עַל-אֲרֹן הָעֵדֻת–לִפְנֵי הַכַּפֹּרֶת, אֲשֶׁר עַל-הָעֵדֻת, אֲשֶׁר אִוָּעֵד לְךָ, שָׁמָּה.).

The incense altar, in case we are uncertain, is very near the ark of the testimony, where G-d meets with the Israelites through their intermediary, the high priest, in the holiest place. Here Aaron burns incense in the morning and at twilight when he tends and lights the lamps.

The altar, like Aaron, is “most holy to the Lord” (קֹדֶשׁ-קָדָשִׁים הוּא, לַיהוָה),  perhaps even holier since Aaron is marked simply, “holy to the Lord” (קֹדֶשׁ לַיהוָה). In contrast with the brutal scene at the altar, there is no blood here except once during the year (Yom Kippur) when Aaron purifies the incense altar with blood on its horns.

In case we miss the point, the text (Ex 30:9) confirms, “Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt-offering, nor meal-offering; and ye shall pour no drink-offering thereon” (לֹא-תַעֲלוּ עָלָיו קְטֹרֶת זָרָה, וְעֹלָה וּמִנְחָה; וְנֵסֶךְ, לֹא תִסְּכוּ עָלָיו).


In Terumah, which details the structure of the Tabernacle and within it the Tent of Meeting, we learned that “the placement of the altar with its flesh-hooks and the structure of the narrative tell us of a space in worship that hangs precariously between creation and transcendence, life and death, a space in which every moment requires our consciousness that we are part of a divine transaction.”

In Tetzaveh, we learn that the sacrifice on the altar occurs in that same intermediary space, through the offices of an intermediary, the priest, at the boundary moments between light and dark. The sacrifice, at the dangerous and brutal boundary of life and death, occurs in the outer areas of the Tabernacle.

In the Ohel, the Tent of Meeting, there is no animal sacrifice, no blood, just the words and the incense, perhaps masking the stench from the outer area. The high priest enters with awe and trembling for a meeting, bearing on his shoulders and at his heart reminders that he represents the sons of Israel. He wears bells to alert G-d of his movements, a head band proclaiming he is consecrated to G-d and a mail-like garment for protection. Nonetheless he is completely vulnerable to the overwhelming power of transcendence.

Like the leper cleansed in Lev 14:14-18, the blood of a sacrifice placed on the right ears, thumbs and toes of the priests serves as part of their purification for the priesthood. Blood, like food, signifies the boundary between transcendence and the world of creation. Blood represents life and death; it makes impure and it purifies. It serves an intermediary function, and the ears, thumbs and toes represent the boundaries of a body, echoing themes prominent in sacrifice.

As a ritual, the sacrifice enhances an every day occurrence, a meal. It includes meat and meal and oil and wine and involves an exchange between the transcendent and the human. In this, G-d receives certain portions of the sacrifice and the priests receive certain portions for acting on behalf of Israel. Death and brutality, love and compassion intermingle at the boundary in a transaction mediated by the priest.

These chapters are a statement about how an infinite G-d can enter finite space, how human beings relate to the rest of creation and to transcendence. It is a powerful statement of intimacy, fear, life, death, vulnerability and compassion.

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Torah Ecology: Terumah 2017 (Ex 25:1-27:19)

Desert Tabernacle – one version: By Hult, Adolf, 1869-1943; Augustana synod. [from old catalog] – book page:, No restrictions,
Terumah (Ex 25:1-27:19) relates G-d’s instructions to the Israelites for building the Tabernacle, the portable structure that serves as G-d’s “home” during the desert wandering. I’m going to include the rest of chapter 27 (Ex 27:20-21) in my discussion since it relates more to building the Tabernacle than to the next section, which discusses the priests’ garments.

The structural elements of the story leap off the page, highlighting once again so many parallels to the creation story in Genesis. First we have the content of the story itself, building a structure that serves to organize space in a hierarchy or perhaps crescendo of holiness which reaches its apex between the keruvim, the cherubs whose wings stretch across the ark cover in the holiest place. Then we have the number 7, woven throughout the story in so many ways.

In a first read-through, I was caught up with, on the one hand, the grandeur of this Tabernacle, built from the contributions of the Israelites, gold and silver and brass and the finest linens, beautiful designs by the best artisans. On the other hand, I noticed the minute details, the measurements, and found myself getting lost in trying to measure or imagine what this portable edifice looked like. Fortunately others have done that work for me and produced architectural drawings to scale.


But most of all, I was struck by this directive in Ex 27:3: “And thou shalt make its pots to take away its ashes, and its shovels, and its basins, and its flesh-hooks, and its fire-pans; all the vessels thereof thou shalt make of brass.

So here is this beautiful structure, created from the finest the Israelites had to offer, a portable home for G-d, a place where these wanderers met with transcendence, and within this structure, the tools of animal sacrifice, flesh-hooks and shovels and pots to take up and carry away the ashes that remained from a living creature. I found myself somewhat against my will dwelling on that phrase, imagining the creature brought, surely unwillingly, to that place, bound, crying with fear, killed, hung and finally burned.

It is difficult to reconcile this image with the image of that beautiful tabernacle, that space where transcendence and humanity meet. I think the structure of these chapters reveals the meaning of these passages for the Israelites, and while I may recoil from the image, it jolts me into a deeper awareness of the meaning of life in a world that includes death and of the human relationship to transcendence and the rest of creation.

So I ask readers to suspend horror and disgust with me for a few moments to explore deeper meanings in the text. Consider, for a moment, that in our contemporary world we breed billions of animals just to make them unwilling victims serving our own appetites  — and we do this out of sight. Although brutal on a scale unimaginable to the Israelites, this contemporary slaughter teaches us no lesson, connects us to no transcendent meaning. Most of us don’t even pause for a blessing over the flesh of a formerly living creature.


An introductory section in Ex 25:1-9 directs the Israelites to provide contributions so they can build a sanctuary for G-d to “dwell among them.” (וְעָשׂוּ לִי, מִקְדָּשׁ; וְשָׁכַנְתִּי, בְּתוֹכָם)

Seven major building tasks follow with rearing up the tabernacle at the center point of these tasks:

  • Ex 25:10-25:22          Ark
  • Ex 25:23-30                 Table & Utensils
  • Ex 25:31                         Menorah
  •  Ex 26:1-35                   Tabernacle  – with “rear up Tabernacle”                                                            (וַהֲקֵמֹתָ, אֶת-הַמִּשְׁכָּן) in Ex 26:30
  • Ex 26:36                         Screen for door of the “Tent”
  • Ex 27:1-8                       Altar
  • Ex 27:9-19                    Court of the Tabernacle

Finally the section on the building of the Tabernacle concludes with Ex 27:20-21, directing the Israelites to provide a light that the priests will place outside the “Tent” and tend.

In addition to seven major tasks, there are seven branches in the menorah and seven kinds of substances used in its creation (Professor Carol Meyers of Duke University): metals, yarn, skins, wood, oil, spices, and gemstones.

As making (וְעָשִׂיתָ) tasks are completed, items are put (וְנָתַתָּ) into place, echoing the creation story in which G-d makes (וַיַּעַשׂ) an environment, then creates (וַיִּבְרָא) creatures for the environment.

Several, including Martin Buber, note that parallel vocabulary enhances the echo effect between the creation story and the story of building the Tabernacle: the words for accomplish or make (וְעָשִׂיתָ – וַיַּעַשׂ) as each item is made; the words for complete (וַיְכֻלּוּ‎ – וַתֵּכֶל‎) as each item is completed; the words for saw and behold as G-d and Moses in reflection review completed work (וַיַּרְא‎ – וַיַּרְא and וְהִנֵּה‎ – וְהִנֵּה‎); and finally, the verb blessed when G-d blesses G-d’s creation and when Moses blesses the congregation for the work they completed (וַיְבָרֶךְ‎ – וַיְבָרֶךְ‎).

And so we have a story that reflects the creation of the world in the creation of the Tabernacle. G-d makes a dwelling place for humanity, and the Israelites in their turn make a dwelling place for G-d according to G-d’s instructions. G-d’s relationship with the Israelites is transactional.

Consider for a moment the features of that dwelling, that home on earth: a space set off from the wilderness but also with differentiation within. At the entry to the holy space, the light of the seven-branched candelabra with a natural design like a flowering tree and a table with utensils and bread, a welcoming entry for G-d. Inside the holiest space, the Holy of Holies, is an Ark with the tablets inside and a cover with keruvim with their wings spread across it.


Just as the tabernacle structures space, the tasks in building it structure the narrative, echoing the creation story, the foundation of any understanding of the Torah.

At the center of the narrative space is the construction and raising of the Tabernacle and the Tent (הָאֹהֶל – ha-ohel) within it:

  • Ex 26:1-6 Making the textiles that will set off the Tabernacle space from its surroundings
  • Ex 26:7-14 Making the Tent within the Tabernacle
  • Ex 26:15-29 Making the planks that will support the Tabernacle
  • Ex 26: 30 Rearing up the Tabernacle
  • Ex 26:31-34 Making a curtain for the holiest space within the Tabernacle, a further refinement of space and placing the ark with its cover within it
  • Ex 26:35 Moving outward, furnishing the Tabernacle outside the holiest space by placing the table and lamp stand/menorah outside the curtain by the south and north walls of the Tabernacle
  • Ex 26:36-27:20 Making a screen for the entrance to the Tabernacle, separating the Tabernacle from space beyond it, enclosing the remainder of the Tabernacle and furnishing the Tabernacle (outside the holiest space) with an altar and its appurtenances

The three tasks which precede this center section relate to creating space. The three tasks which follow this center section relate to further defining that space (the screen at the door of the Tent) and furnishing space from the center outward, the holy of holies, the area just outside the holy of holies, and the open area of the Tabernacle (the altar).

The narrative and the structure of the space tell us that G-d is in the Ohel, the Tent of Meeting and the holiest space within that space. The Israelites live outside the Tabernacle but come into it for the purpose of sacrificial worship — but not into G-d’s home space, set off in the Ohel.

The altar is in the wider area of the Tabernacle, its court, suggesting the point of contact between the wider Israelite community and G-d or transcendence. In Ex 24:17, we read: “And the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.” This suggests the significance of the sacrifice on the altar, placed in the Tabernacle, outside the Ohel, where the glory of the Lord appears to them like a devouring fire on the altar.

The most intimate connection with transcendence occurs inside the Ohel, in the most holy section, the section that contains only the words of Torah in the Ark of the Testimony. This transcendent power, as we know from other biblical narratives, is overwhelming to the point of death. What happens on the altar substitutes for that dangerous direct contact.

This brutal act, the sacrifice of a living creature, is an act of compassion for the Israelites even as it reminds them of the supreme paradox of their existence. Their very survival requires taking life, but even so, they are not the ultimate authority over life and death.  They owe a debt of gratitude for their existence, their survival — and they have a moral obligation, expressed in guilt offerings, for the life they take to live.

As G-d makes creation, a home for humanity, the Israelites make a Tabernacle, a home for G-d. The sacrifice represents this transactional relationship at another level, in the space where humanity and transcendence meet, at the altar in the wider space of the Tabernacle, between earth and heaven, so to speak. It is here that a multi-valenced action, a sacrifice, occurs, a transaction which resists any simple one-to-one equivalencies.

This exchange is represented in other biblical passages, memorably in Isaiah 25:6-8, which turns the transaction on its head:

6 And in this mountain will the LORD of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.

7 And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that is cast over all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations.

8 He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of His people will He take away from off all the earth; for the LORD hath spoken it.

In this transaction, instead of the people preparing a feast for G-d in the sacrifice, G-d prepares a feast for the people. While they eat the fat things of the land, wines on the lees, fat things full of marrow…G-d swallows up death for ever, wiping away tears from off “all faces.”


In this way, the placement of the altar with its flesh-hooks and the structure of the narrative tell us of a space in worship that hangs precariously between creation and transcendence, life and death, a space in which every moment requires our consciousness that we are part of a divine transaction. In that space, we have heightened awareness of our debt of gratitude and our moral responsibility in the world.

For more, visit my blog,, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.