MARCH 15, 2019 – WEEKLY MESSAGE RABBI ARNOW
Dear Kol Rinah Family,
Our hearts are breaking for the Muslim community of New Zealand in the wake of the massacre that occurred at two mosques in Christchurch. Forty-nine human beings are dead. Forty-nine images of God removed from our world.
Unlike the tragic plane crash that took one hundred and fifty-seven souls in Ethiopia on Sunday, which was, by all accounts, an accident, this attack was no accident. It was an act of terrorism, an act of hate, a desecration of God’s name in spaces that were meant to be sanctuaries, not slaughter houses.
I ask us all to respond to this act of terrorism and hate with support and love. What does that look like? If you know any Muslims, call them, e-mail them, text them, Facebook them. Tell them you care about them. Tell them you are concerned about them. Tell them you are crying with them. And tell them they are not alone. And then, figure out some ways of showing that care, that concern, crying with them, and of making sure they are not alone.
There will be a gathering today at 3pm at the Islamic Foundation Greater St. Louis (517 Weidman Road, Ballwin, MO 63011) co-sponsored by the Islamic Foundation and the Interfaith Partnership of St. Louis. I’ll be there, as will many people from across the St. Louis community. I invite you to come and join me, and many others to show the Muslim community of St. Louis that they are not alone.
This Shabbat, we’ll gather at 6pm in the chapel. Candle lighting is at 6:50pm.
Tomorrow morning services will be in the lower auditorium. I’ll be leading a quick Torah Talk at 10:10am, so that we can all be back in shul in time for maftir, which is the only section of Torah that one is commanded (i.e. it’s a mitzvah) to hear-the few verses of Deuteronomy 25 that reminds us to remember what Amalek did to us. We’ll probably read it at approximately 10:45am-but come a little earlier to make sure you don’t miss it.
To be reading about how we are to extirpate the memory of Amalek, because Amalek, unprovoked, attacked our weakest people seems sadly and uncannily appropriate this week.
Mincha tomorrow afternoon will be at 5:50pm and Shabbat ends at 7:49pm.
Much is happening for Purim. Details are here. Early next week I’ll send a separate e-mail devoted to Purim, but I’m just not feeling so much in the Purim spirit this morning.
If you are looking to be hosted for either a first or second seder, please give the office a call (314-727-1747) and we’ll help find a host for you. And if you’re able to host some folks looking for a seder, please give us a call as well!
Rabbi Shafrin and I are excited about our mini-course on Love, God and Passover, three Tuesday evenings beginning March 26 at 7pm. RSVP to the office. Details here.
Minyan on Thursday and Sunday evenings continues to be a struggle. Please sign up here for minyanim.
Also as a reminder, please refrain from wearing perfume or cologne to Kol Rinah. We have people who are have sensitivities to scents, and your help is appreciated in making Kol Rinah accessible to them.
My sermon from last week, about smell, is below.
Shabbat shalom, and see you in shul.
Rabbi Noah Arnow
We read this week about the completion of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which was an intensely physical place filled with things, all meant to help us make God’s presence physically manifest in that particular time and place.
Each of the things in the Tabernacle-all the furnishings, the altar, the laver, Aaron and his sons-are all to be anointed with shemen hamishcha, שמן המשחה-anointing oil, whose formula is given in Exodus 30, in Parashat Ki Tissa. It’s made from myrrh, cinnamon, aromatic cane, cassia, and olive oil, blended in a particular, expert way. And no, we don’t know what aromatic cane or cassia really are.
These products did not all grow near and in the land of Israel; some grew quite far away, and were hugely expensive. Things from far away, with no obvious connection to holiness, can be brought in and used in ways that create unexpected and important dimensions of holiness, suggests Rabbi Eli Munk in his commentary on the Torah, Kol Dodi. Munk was the leader of the Paris Jewish community before the 2nd World War. Further, perfume, which we usually think of as something people use to beautify themselves-can have a holy purpose as well. And Munk, in Paris, probably knew something about this!
How was this anointing oil used? Some say it was smeared on, implying messily, and in large quantities, but actually, it was just a drop here and a drop there-suggests Umberto Cassuto, Italian Israeli biblical exegete of the 1950s and 1960s. It was much more like perfume than lotion.
The goal, as I imagine it, was to create a unique, positive identifiable scent of the Mishkan, of those who officiate in it, and thus, of Israelite worship. You can read articles about creating customized hotel lobby scents, and scent marketing nowadays, and perhaps this was the same thing.
It needn’t be overpowering; subtle is to the way to go here-just a subtle fragrance of holiness. For many of us, there was a particular combination of scents and odors that we remember from our parents’ or grandparents’ homes, or from particular rooms in their homes. These scents are amazingly evocative and transporting. There are also scents that conjure less positive memories-many of us can still remember the smell of a school cafeteria, for instance.
Another interesting detail about the anointing oil is that the Torah also prohibits making anything like this anointing oil for any other purpose. And Jewish tradition suggests based on the fact that the anointing oil is supposed to be sacred to God l’doroteichem, לדרתיכם-for all your generations-that it was actually only ever made once, by Moses, and that it miraculously never ran out, even though it was used to anoint priests and kings for many, many generations to come.
At some point though, along with the Ark of the Covenant, the anointing oil was lost. Perhaps Indiana Jones found it and it’s resting in a government warehouse.
To me, this about the power of something very strong smelling, very concentrated, to require only the most minute quantities to be used-enough so that it can last forever. And that that smell was so good and so strong that there was never need to make it again. A few drops being used every few years could enable it to last, and our smell memory is good enough for that to be enough. The smell of holiness need not overpower-just a hint is enough!
The difference, however, between anointing oil and perfume, cologne, and other smells that we have today is that we understand that God created the shemen ha-mishcha, and presumably, everyone liked it. But we know that we have different reactions to different scents. Some of preference, some of allergy. So as a reminder, please leave perfume and cologne at home, and don’t wear it to shul, unless you have some of the anointing oil from the mishkan. Although we’re not allowed to wear that unless we’re kings or priests!
One could construct an entire theology of smell, and I’m interested enough in the idea to imagine teaching a class someday on “smell in Judaism.”
But for now, I want to offer just one theological, olfactory reflection. Smell is perhaps our least necessary sense for survival. Maybe it’s tied with taste. But we know how bland food is when we can’t smell. And smell often is one of the consistent yet small pleasures in life. Smell also helps us recognize which things that are disgusting, and creates the contrast between the good-smelling and putrid. God enjoys the reiyach nichoach, ריח ניחוח, the good smells of sacrifice, and of the ketoret, קטורת, the incense that was used. God can smell, and we, created in God’s image, can smell too. Smell is in fact the one thing we can create for God that God apparently can enjoy; we can’t cook for God; God doesn’t need our clothing or jewelry or poetry. But God does love good smells. And so can we!