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A Taste of Torah: Weekly Commentary from the JTS Community

Parashat T'tzavveh 5766
Shabbat Zachor
Exodus 27:20–30:10
March 11, 2006     11 Adar 5766

This week's commentary was written by Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz, Senior Rabbinic Fellow, JTS

Ten years ago this week, the world lost two precious souls in what would become the beginning of a string of suicide bombings that has plagued Israel and the world. Matthew Eisenfeld, then a classmate of mine at The Rabbinical School, and Sara Duker, graduate of Barnard and passionate environmentalist, were en route to the Central Bus Station in downtown Jerusalem when a terrorist boarded their bus at the intersection of Rashi and Jaffa Streets.

Both Matthew and Sara were intensely devoted to Jewish learning. Appropriately, the Beit Midrash at The Jewish Theological Seminary, a room that is continually filled with words of Torah, bears their names. This week, Len and Vicki Eisenfeld, Matthew's parents, along with Arlene Duker, Sara's mother, will be addressing the JTS community on all that they have been doing to fight terrorism over the past nine years. Their battle remains our battle, and the memories of Matthew Eisenfeld and Sara Duker continue to illuminate us all. Indeed, Proverbs 20:27 teaches, "The candle of God is the soul of a human being."

It is fitting that their yortsayt falls this week in parashat T'tzavveh . The Torah reading opens with light: "And you will command the children of Israel to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly" (Exodus 27:20). On this verse the great medieval commentator Rashi quotes the Talmud, Tractate Shabbat 12a: "One must kindle the flame until it radiates and ascends upward by itself." Kindling a lamp, then, is a mindful, deliberate action that requires patience and nurturing. The lamp is truly lit when it keeps burning after the kindler has stepped away.

Matthew and Sara noticed and kindled the image of God in their fellow human beings. Their moral and ethical compass led them to nurture the flame of God in others, even as they nourished their own spiritual flames.

Vayiqra Rabbah 31:7 teaches, "Rabi Berekhiah said, 'the eye enables vision through its black part [the pupil] and not the white.'" Out of darkness one is often able to see light. May the darkness of the tragic loss of these two special souls help to guide us on a path toward affirmation of God's presence in the world. May their memories continually be an inspiration to us all.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz


The publication and distribution of "A Taste of Torah" commentary have been made possible by a generous gift from Sam and Marilee Susi.