Parshat Vayekhel-Pikudei/HaChodesh: Renewal and Repair

“All big things come from small beginnings.” – James Clear

Parshat Vayakhel-Pikudei coincides this year with Shabbat HaChodesh. These two Torah readings relate to the themes of renewal and repair.

The book of Shemot ends with a description of the kelim (vessels) used in the mishkan. The final object is the kiyor (basin), from which Moshe and Aaron are commanded to wash their hands and feet. This practice, referred to by the rabbis as “kedushat yadayim ve’raglayim” – sanctifying of hands and feet – was also done by kohanim each morning in Temple times as they prepared for their service. Some halachic authorities view this as the source of the mitzvah for all individuals to wash hands (netilat yadayim) every morning upon waking. Some of the holiness which was once only accessible by the kohanim in the mikdash, can be attained by all individuals, anywhere. This is also expressed by Talmud Berakhot which teaches that when a person washes hands and then says tefilla, it is as though s/he built an altar and made an offering to God. The small, physical ritual of washing hands daily can influence our inner state of being.

The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch explains that each morning we are likened to a “new creation.” Each day has new potential for holiness, to renew and repair. The mitzvah to sanctify the first new moon of Nisan – read on Shabbat HaChodesh – is also associated with the potential for renewal: “This month is for you…” The Mei Hashiloach comments: “The power of the month will be for you, that you should be able to renew yourselves in Torah and actions.” Numerous commentaries point out the connection between the word “chodesh” and “hitchadshut” (renewal) for the Jewish people.

The gradual renewal of the moon’s light and handwashing at the beginning of each new day highlights that small steps – individually, communally and nationally – have the potential for renewal and repair. Shabbat Shalom🌔🌷-Karen Miller Jackson

Parshat Tazria (& Hachodesh): Renewal

Is there such a thing as a spiritual ailment? Parshat Tazria suggests that perhaps there is. Tzara’at was a disease which affected not only a person’s body, but also can appear on one’s clothing and one’s home. The interpretations of the biblical description of tzara’at resonate and provide hope after a difficult week in Israel. 

While tzara’at of the skin has been interpreted by some as a physical ailment, the other 2 cases of tzara’at have no medical basis. Perhaps for this reason, Maimonides writes that they are not physical but rather supernatural. Rambam interprets the types of tzara’at as 3 levels of warning or distance from God: the lesion appears first on one’s house, then on one’s clothing and finally on the person him/herself. This view understands tzara’at as punishment or an indicator of a person’s spiritual state. 

However, tzara’at is also connected with goodness and renewal. The Torah teaches that when the people enter the land of Israel they will have tzara’at on their houses. Surprisingly, Rashi teaches that this was a “besora,” good tidings! This is a blessing since the previous owners of the houses hid their jewels in the walls which would be uncovered by Bnei Yisrael. In anticipation of hardship, God provided hidden glimmers of hope and blessings. Additionally, the kohen oversaw a process of renovation and purification which “attones for” and renews the home. 

The antidote to tzara’at provided the ability to emerge renewed and closer to Hashem. This highlights that there will be times of hardship and suffering, especially in the land of Israel, and there will also be renewal and blessings. This cycle – of darkness followed by light – is also reflected in the phases of the moon in parshat HaChodesh, read this Shabbat as well. As we mourn the recent immeasurable loss of life in Israel, we pray that it will be followed by good tidings, blessings and spiritual renewal. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson