24 Mar 2017

Haftara for HaHodesh (Vayakhel-Pekude) 5777: Domain and Dominion

Haftara for HaHodesh (Vayakhel-Pekude) 5777: Domain and Dominion

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‘Place is the first of all beings,
since everything
that exists is in a place and cannot exist without a place’.

— Archytas[1], Commentary on Aristotle’s Categories.

‘In this convulsive age of uprooted populations and extensive diasporas, holding onto places — and sensing fully the goodness contained therein — has become increasingly difficult’.

— Keith H. Basso, Wisdom Sits in Places: Landscape and Language Among the Western Apache[2]

Ezekiel 45:18 – 46:15


In Yehezkel’s prophecy he speaks of the inaugural proceedings of the rebuilt Bet Hamikdash (Holy Temple). We are told that it is the obligation of the Nasi (sovereign) to offer the requisite offerings. These are to be brought for the New Moon, Shabbat and festivals. Included in the service are purgation procedures that are to performed on the first and seventh days of the first month of the year. Included in this is the application of the blood of a sin offering to the doorposts of the Mikdash.

Rules are set out for the proper movement within the Mikdash, including the various entrances that are and are not to be used as well as the times when these entrances are to be opened. The Nasi has a special entrance that only he will use.

The overt connection between the haftara to the parasha is its discussion of the offering of the Korban Pesah and the offerings brought for the festival of Pesah (45:21-22).


On a recent visit to southern Spain, my family and I visited the city of Cordoba. I wanted to see the city knowing that Maimonides, who has influenced my life and thought more than any other scholar, grew up there for the first twenty years of his life.

Although there was practically nothing left from the time in which he lived, there were still streets, and some buildings and structures that stood that he undoubtedly saw and knew. Just to be in the environment and area in which Rambam lived the formative years of his life gave me a deeper feeling of connection and awareness to him and his teachings. Cordoba was his seminal domain — his first home.

Smelling the citrus and jasmine, feeling the warm air and the sun, seeing the ancient mosque, and Roman bridge that crosses the Guadalquivir river touched my soul knowing that he had done the same and was familiar with all of it from his childhood and adolescence. I connected not just to his thought, but to his experiences. Visiting Cordoba I came a bit closer to his inner world.

One might say that such feelings are no more than romantic illusions. But I would argue that a place is much more than just its topography, climate and structures. A place is also profoundly defined by the people who live in it and the events that take place there. There is no city in which I have lived[1] that brings this out more clearly than London.

Moving through the streets of London, one may notice round, blue plaques built into the facades of various homes and buildings. Pay attention to these, because each one tells a story of the unique and diverse people who have lived in the capital over the centuries. In my neighbourhood of Maida Vale David Ben Gurion, Alan Touring and Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz, all lived within 5 minutes from my house. The Beatles recorded at Abbey Road Studios just around the corner.

There are other markers that tell us a special story about the city and its significance. Many structures and buildings bear the emblem of the monarchs who reigned here. On the post box at the corner of my road are the raised letters VR – which stand for Victoria Regina. Over the entrance of the building of flats[2] just across from it are the letters G VI R. And one can barely move a mile in London without seeing E II R on posts, signs, telephone booths etc. The sovereign’s insignia is everywhere.

Place and sovereignty are intimately linked. Place gives us a sense of physical existence and beyond that, freedom. We define place both in terms of the physical coordinates that we inhabit and in terms of ‘areas’ of thought, skill, expertise and perception. We will talk about being in a good or bad ‘place’ when referring to the nature of our thoughts, emotions and feelings.

Sovereignty comes with being aware of the quality and breadth of the space one inhabits, both physically and mentally, and the liberty one has to move, choose and act within it.

This link between space and authority is recognised both in Hebrew and English in the relationship between the words for authority/liberty and place. In English there is dominion and domain. One has dominance over one’s dominion. So too in Hebrew, the one word רשות – reshut is used for authority, license and domain. Place itself is used in Hebrew for the ultimate authority – God. He is simply called המקום – ‘The Place’[3].

The issues of domain and dominance are prominent in our readings as we open the month of Nissan — the month in which our nation became free and left Egypt. First we read of the Mishkan’s completion — the place in which we communed with God. In the special reading for Perashat HaHodesh, we read of the first Pesah that was observed by the Children of Israel during their last days in Egypt in which each house was commanded to make a lamb offering and eat it in the house together with the household.

They are to take a lamb, according to their Father’s House, a lamb per household. (Exodus, 12:3)

The house is the central context for the offering. As part of the offering the doorposts of the house are to be marked with the blood of the lamb. The mark of blood serves as a ‘signal’ to God that this household chooses freedom by recognising itself as unique and having specific coordinates, thus choosing life. It acknowledges its domain and subsequently its capacity for dominion in order to live an examined and independent life. Therefore, ironically, on this night of their freedom, they are forbidden to leave the house.

Touch the lintel and the two posts with some of the blood…now you are not to go out, any man from the entrance of his house until daybreak. (ibid., 12:22)

To leave the house on that night would be to walk out into ‘no man’s land’ — a life-threatening choice.

To further emphasise these themes each aspect of the special reading for HaHodesh in the Torah is included in the reading of the haftara. The difference is that in the haftara, it is national rather than familial.

Yehezkel speaks in prophecy of the inaugural service of the yet-to-be-built third Bet HaMikdash (Holy Temple) in Jerusalem. He outlines the procedures for its inaugural services which span a six month period from Pesah to Succot. It begins on Pesah with one lamb. The offering is brought by the king[4] on behalf of the nation. However, the term ‘king’ is not used even once in the reading. Rather, the rarer term נשיא – Nasi is used repeatedly. The literal translation of Nasi is the one who is ‘lifted’ or ‘raised above’; the true meaning of the english word, sovereign.

sovereign |ˈsɒvrɪn|

ORIGIN – Middle English: from Old French soverain, based on Latin super ‘above’[5].

The Nasi, in essence is the one who not only embodies the nation but also its majesty and sovereignty. It represents the authority of the nation to itself, to others and before God. This position is so important that the Torah prohibits even cursing the Nasi.

A sovereign (Nasi) among your people you are not to curse. (ibid., 22:27)

Who is considered a Nasi in Torah?…One above whom there is no one reigning other than God. (Rambam[6])

To curse the sovereign is not only to wish ill to the individual who wields power, but to curse the freedom and authority of the people. One who demeans this has lost their sense of place. They are, essentially, lost.

For this reason the Nasi brings an offering to atone for those who have forgotten their boundaries and lost their place!

You shall…purge the Temple from uncleanness caused
by those who have gone astray….(45:20)

The sovereign’s place, however, is well-defined.  A special entrance is designated for him and he enters through it to inaugurate the Mikdash.

The sovereign shall enter by way of the vestibule outside the gate, and shall attend at the gatepost while the priests sacrifice his burnt offering and his offering of well-being; he shall then bow low at the threshold of the gate and depart. The gate, however, shall not be closed until evening. (46:2)

He sets the environment in which the people will find their place before God[7].

The burnt offerings, the meal offerings, and the libations on festivals, new moons, sabbaths—all fixed occasions—of the House of Israel shall be the obligation of the sovereign…to make expiation for the House of Israel. (45:17)

Our sovereignty as a nation is intrinsically tied to our homeland. One can lead a life almost anywhere, but one cannot be truly free unless they are masters of their own domain — unless they are at home.

This week, the very seat of Britain’s sovereignty, the Houses of Parliament in London, were attacked. A terrorist, Khalid Masood, in his hatred of the nation’s freedom, sought to undermine it. He murdered and injured multiple people who were walking freely in the streets. He ‘cursed the Nasi‘ not only in word but in action.

Terror aims to restrict freedom and sovereignty by threatening the safety and liberty available to a people in their own domain. Terror cannot be allowed to breach the borders of one’s home — national or otherwise. The lives that are lived and creativity that flourish in free society are otherwise destroyed.

London has been home for centuries to some of the world’s greatest contributors to science, literature, art, music, philosophy, diplomacy and most importantly, Western freedom. If we do not secure our freedom we will have failed them all — along with our fellow citizens. Freedom must itself be our sovereign value above all others, lest we allow humanity to be overridden by those who would drive us back into the grips of a dark age, where slavery and ignorance reign supreme.

Freedom, therefore, must triumph. As we seek to protect and cultivate the potential and beauty of the human spirit, we must ensure its dominion within its domain.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Joseph Dweck


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Archytas

[2] https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Wisdom-Sits-Places-Landscape-Language-Western-Apache/0826317243


[1] I have lived in Los Angeles, New York and Jerusalem.

[2] Originally the building that housed the telephone company.

[3] This is true in Latin as well. Lord is Dominus as in ‘anno domini’.

[4] Cf Rashi, Ezek., 45:17

[5] https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/sovereign

[6] Mishne Torah, Hilkhot Shegagot, 15:6

[7] Similarly, in London, at the Palace of Westminster there are many entrances. There is one, however, that is only used by the Sovereign whenever entering the Palace to open Parliament or for other state occasions. At the base of the majestic Victoria Tower at the south-west corner of the palace is the Sovereign’s entrance.

Parasha Perspectives

X    Vayakhel – Pekude

58                Moshe calls an assembly.  ‘Work’ for six days, rest on Shabbat (35:1-3)
59                Mishkan donations are requested and given wholeheartedly (35:4-29)
60a              The craftsmen (35:30-36:7)
60b              Construction of the outer curtains (36:8-13)
61a              Construction of the inner curtains (36:14-19)
61b              Construction of the boards (36:20-38)
62                Bezalel constructs the Ark (37:1-9)
63                Construction of Table and its vessels (37:10-16)
64                Construction of Menorah and accessories (37:17-24)
65a              Construction of incense altar, anointing oil and aromatic incense (37:25-29)
65b              Construction of the Burnt offering Altar and its accessories (38:1-7)
65c               Copper Laver is constructed from mirrors of women (38:8)
65d              Construction of the Court of the Mishkan (38:9-20)
65e              The accounts  (38:21-23)
65f               Weights of metals used Mishkan construction (38:24-39:1)
66a              Construction of the cape, ephod  (39:2-5)
66b              Shoham stones for the shoulder connection of ephod and choshen  (39:6-7)
67                Construction of the breastplate, choshen; and its attachment to the ephod (39:8-21)
68a              Construction of the long robe of the cape, me’il ha’ephod  (39:22-26)
68b              Construction of regular Kohanim’s clothes (39:27-29)
68c               Construction of the golden head plate, tzitz zahav (39:30-31)
68d              The construction of Mishkan components is now complete (39:32)
69                All the various components are brought to Moshe (39:33-43)
70a              Moshe is instructed how to construct and dedicate Mishkan containing Ohel Moed  (40:1-16)
70b              Moshe constructs the Mishkan on the appointed day  (40:17-19)
70c               Ark, aron: testimony, edut, in it; poles, badim, on it; lid, kaporet, on it  (40:20-21)
70d              Table, shulchan: bread is put before God on it (40:22-23)
70e              Menorah is placed facing the shulchan, set up with lamps, nerot  (40:24-25)
70f               Golden altar, mizbeyach zahav: placed in front of parochet and incense burnt on it  (40:26-27)
70g              Screen, masach, placed at entrance: offering altar, mizbeyach haOlah placed there too  (40:28-29)
70h              Washbasin, kiyor, is placed between Ohel Moed and mizbeyach  (40:30-32)
70i               Court, chatzer, set up around Mishkan and mizbeyach, with gate. Moshe’s work is done  (40:33)
71                Cloud comes down and God’s ‘glory’, kavod fills the Mishkan  (40:34-38)

17d              The First Pesach  (12:1-20)
18a              Moshe tells the people about Pesach (12:21-28)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS