This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10)

I discuss the weekly Torah portion with Rabbi Rabbs Mondays at 7:00 pm PST on my cam and on YouTube. Facebook Fan Page.

This week we study Parashat Tetzaveh (Exodus 27:20-30:10).

* Is the Jewish soul different from the non-Jewish soul? If so, is a Jewish life more valuable?

* I walked a few blocks with a friend the other day and the blocks passed by so much more quickly than when I walk them by myself. It made me sad to think about how much of life I’ve walked on my own.

* When you pray next to people you like, davening goes by much quicker. Church and religious services at Reform temples are much more solemn than going to an Orthodox shul. Much of what goes on at a purported “religious service” or “prayers” at an Orthodox shul is socializing. Because Orthodox Jews frequently pray at shul every day, it is much more informal than services at a church, where people typically gather for “religious services” just once a week.

I think converts to Judaism take varying amounts of time adjusting to peoplehood. They might be like those “strivers” at work who don’t take time to talk to people and to make friends. They’re just working. Sometimes you’ll find converts and penitents (baalei teshuva) primarily using prayer time for prayer rather than catching up.

It’s not uncommon for “prayer” time at an Orthodox shul be used to make a business deal, to get a job, to find a match for marriage, to find a new apartment, and the like. These mundane matters of life are just as holy and just as important as “prayer”.

My lack of social skills has caused me at least as much trouble in Orthodox Judaism as my lack of morals and holiness and knowledge of Torah. If you’re socially skilled but religiously lazy, you’re likely to have much more success in Orthodox Judaism or Jewish life generally than if you have the opposite tendencies (religiously skilled but socially inept).

Much of the conversion program is simply about weeding out those who are not socially skilled.

* Is it wrong to download movies illegally on places such as if you were never going to buy them or rent them in the first place? Or if you don’t reduce your buying/renting movie habits but only supplement those habits with illegally downloaded entertainment? If nobody is hurt, what’s the big deal?

* I got asked on Shabbos if I was married, and if not, was I looking? I am looking. It made me happy to be asked and to be sought after. You’re not really part of a community unless people try to set you up for marriage. You’re not really part of a community unless people talk about you behind your back. What are other signs of belonging?

* I don’t like bar mitzvahs where certain tables are reserved for family. We should all be family. It’s like those parties where there are two tiers. The elites stay behind the ropes in their own section.

* I had a friend in shul say to me on Shabbos, “I never see you pray.”

We’ve been davening together for years but yeah, I do prefer to study Torah than to pray.

* In this week’s parasha, you have the Urim V’tumim (breast plate). Do you think most people face a greater challenge in detecting right from wrong or doing right from wrong? Converting to Judaism has helped me clarify right from wrong but my biggest trouble is doing right from wrong, not knowing right from wrong.

* I just did my taxes. Complicated tax codes with lots of deductions and high marginal rates just encourage cheating, just as the movie industry’s lack of easy ways to watch movies online encourages piracy. I’m not happy with any of the tax plans of the Republican candidates for president. None of these plans are bold calls for a flat rate with no deductions.

* Rick Santorum is tired of the press always asking him about birth control. So what does a politician do when he doesn’t like the questions he gets?

* Rabbi Wein writes: “The light of Torah is dependent upon the moral purity of its source. Just as dregs and pulp contaminate the oil and prevent a steady light from emerging, so, too, grave imperfections of character and behavior weaken the teachings of Torah to students and to the masses of Israel.”

When I know that a rabbi has had some scandal, particularly a sexual scandal, it’s hard for me to take seriously any of his Torah teaching, even if he’s brilliant.

If you’re a rabbi and you’ve been caught with bad stuff on your computer or you’ve plooked a sibling or a congregant or somebody’s wife, you should sell insurance or do some other job. You’re sunk as far as teaching Torah in my eyes.

I guess I advocate a zero tolerance standard for rabbis for sexual sins and anything else that gets people talking. Sexual sins may not be worse than other sins, but they cause people to talk more than other sins usually do.

Dennis Prager said he did not become a rabbi because people expect rabbis to say certain things and he wanted the freedom to say what he wanted. That’s the same reason I did not become a rabbi. I’d rather write about my sins than urge people to righteousness.

Years ago, somebody offered to tell me about some shanda my rabbi of the time had committed in exchange for my telling him all about the shanda of another rabbi. I told him to keep quiet. I didn’t want to know anything bad about my rabbi. This is remarkable because normally I want to know all the gossip.

When I was first plooking, I wanted to know all about the past of my partner in this respect. Has she ever been abused or raped or an adulteress or a ho or that sort of stuff. After my third partner, I realized this was a bad idea because I could not get those images out of my head, and after number three, I stopped wanting to know things in this department. As I’ve aged, I’ve realized there are many things I don’t want to know.

When I learned about Andrew Sullivan’s gay cruising and personal ad placing, it pretty much killed him for me as a commentator. I no longer was interested in his views on politics or anything.

As New York wrote wrote: “In Sullivan’s case, he was exposed for something that he discusses freely. He cruises. He’s proud of being well known in gay bars across Washington. Before you know it, when you’re with him, he’ll be talking about leather stuff. He’s written, too, about unprotected sex between HIV-positive partners — he’s in favor of it and has a strenuous point of view about its relative safety. He’s not keeping many secrets. Of course, his enemies argue that he’s intellectually dishonest — but that’s different from being actually dishonest.

Still, the in flagrante delicto Web pages, which were enterprisingly saved and reposted by his detractors, are a fleshy corpus: “killer muscle ass that loves to milk loads with my power glutes.”

* I have no expectations for the moral behavior of politicians. I don’t care much. All in all, I’d prefer to be represented by somebody who acts honorably rather than dishonorably, but it is not important to me.

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: Clothing plays a great role in current Jewish society. Certain sectors of our society identify their closeness to God and tradition in terms of the clothing that they wear. There is no doubt that clothing makes an impression upon those who see us and upon those who wear it. Research has shown that schools that have a dress uniform have an ability to deal with problems of student discipline more easily than the free and open schools of casual, whatever you like type of dress.

But there is a responsibility that comes with wearing special clothing. And that responsibility is to be people of “honor and glory.” The Talmud states almost ironically that he who wishes to sin should travel to a place where he is unknown and to wear “black clothing” so that his behavior will not reflect on the whole of Israel.

There are differing interpretations of what “black clothing” means in this context. But it is clear that it means a type of anonymous and casual clothing that will not reflect upon the Torah community and Judaism generally. One cannot wear the garments of “honor and glory” and behave in a fashion that contradicts those values. Wearing garments is something that should never be taken lightly. For with the garments come the responsibilities and challenges as well.

* Rabbi Wein writes: …from the time of Moshe onwards, Jews attempted to dress distinctively, albeit always within the confines and influences of the surrounding general population.

“Jewish clothing” was always meant to be modest, neat and clean. It was to be an “honor and glory” to the wearer and the Jewish society. The Talmud speaks very strongly against Torah scholars who are somehow slovenly in the appearance of their clothing. Poverty was never allowed to be an excuse for stains or dirt on one’s garments.

* I notice that the way Reform and Conservative Jews dress, including their clergy, is indistinguishable from the goyim. I’ve seen LA’s most important Conservative rabbis walk around Pico-Robertson in jeans.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “…the tzitz became a statement of the Jewish dedication to the service of God and man and the pursuit of holiness in human life. But again, a tzitz worn by a person who is otherwise improperly clothed is of little value.” I guess when I go around in shorts or a mankini or sweats with my tzitzit out, what the heck am I thinking?

* Rabbi Wein writes: “Clothes that are provocative, that are vulgar and insulting to others, that are physically immodest and meant to attract anti-social response, are all frowned upon by Jewish tradition.” That’s why I didn’t want the t-shirt that read, “Stay in yeshiva and stay off the crack.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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