That’s a long aliya!

Last week I blogged about how long the Megilla is. This week it’s about how long the first two aliyot are!

Torah_ScrollIf you looked in this week’s Torah portion (Ki Tisa), you’ll have notice that the first two aliyot go on forever! If not, then be warned, the first two aliyot are extremely long. Is the Torah portion long this week? Well, yes, but that’s not the answer, the first two aliyot cover over two thirds of the entire Torah reading.

This seems like some kind of deliberate way of putting those who are not a Kohen or Levi on the sidelines, giving the lion-share of the Torah reading to the Kohen and Levi. Is that fair?

Let’s analyse the content of these two aliyot.
Though the first one is as long as the second, it is not so interesting. It is ‘only’ about creating things for the Tabernacle. The excitement only really begins in the second aliya. It is here that we read about the Golden Calf. We read how the Jews gave up on Moses returning from Sinai, creating and worshipping an idol. We read what happened when Moses came back down mountain, how he called all those who had been faithful to punish those who had not. The second aliyah ends when the shame and embarrassment of the Jews is over, and Moses is asking G-d to forgive the Jews. It seems that we are deliberately avoiding allowing an Israelite to be called up to this piece about the Golden Calf. This is especially apparent, as the aliyah ends as soon as the sin of the Golden Calf is over.

This is in fact exactly what is happening. We are avoiding giving an Israelite (myself included) an aliyah that contains the Golden Calf saga. Why should we do this?

Imagine you knew somebody who regularly committed certain crimes. He has since renounced such a lifestyle, and is living as a fine upstanding citizen. One day there is a major news story of somebody who has been caught, doing exactly what this person did. Would you feel comfortable discussing the events with them? How about if this person himself was a news sensation for their crime. Would you leave any information about that story lying around when you knew this person was going to visit? Surely you would hide away any reminder of this person’s previous crime.

When we read this week’s Torah portion, we are reading of a terrible sin committed by the Jewish people. A mere forty days after receiving the Torah, they turn to idol worship. What could have done worse?! After renouncing such actions and returning to where they were previously, do you think any Jew wants to hear about this story again?

Golden_CalfWell, it is in the Torah, it is something for us to learn from, and we read it every year. It is not the most pleasant piece to read, and we do not really want to call up someone who might be offended by this misdeed.

Who can we turn to if all the Jews participated in this misdeed? When Moses came down from Sinai, what was his call to arms? ‘Those who were true to G-d, those who did not commit idol worship, should join with me.’ Who stepped forward? The entire tribe of Levi. Not one Levite committed this misdeed, they all remained true to their faith. If so, it is only fitting that a Levite be given the story of the Golden Calf, so as not to remind those who failed in the past of their failings.

This is absolutely amazing! We worry about the shame of the descendants of something that happened over three thousand years ago! This shows just how far we must go to protect the feelings of others.

A free answer to bored crowds at Megilla readings!

Ever had trouble keeping the crowd involved during Megilla reading?

Well here is your answer!

A free PowerPoint presentation that you can tailor to your specific needs.

To download, click here.

Please feel free to use it, share it and spread the word. All I do ask for is that my info stays on the front page.

You will need the free font SBL Hebrew, which you can get at

The page numbers are not in, pick the version most commonly used in your congregation (or all of them) and put them in, so that people can find the place when they lose it!

Please note the English is UK spelling.


P.S. Slides 52 and 53 may need a PG warning!

Why such a lengthy megilla reading on Purim?

Purim_greetingsPurim, what a wonderful festival, we eat, drink and make merry. But why do we spend so long on the services?

It is not simply a longer service than usual, there is in fact a regular service. The extra time is spent on the megilla reading. We spend between half an hour to an hour, in both the night and the morning over reading the megilla. Why do we need to spend so long over a historical overview of the festival, something that we don’t do on any other festival?

The only way of understanding this is by digging into the roots of the Purim festival, understanding where it comes from and what we are supposed to be doing on Purim.

Believe it or not, Purim is not simply about physical merriment! There is a deep spiritual side to this seemingly solely physical day. If we don’t just read the megilla, but take some time out on this busy day to actually read the megilla in a language we understand, we would see not only how fascinating the story is, but with a little thought, how it is so full of coincidences that just so happen to fall into place in perfect timing to make such an unbelievable story.

Anyone who sees Purim as simply a fun merry day, is unfortunately missing the most exciting past of the day. Compare two people who show us at the bar. They both order the same drinks, they both get drunk. They both do the same merry dances. It looks like they are both having as good a time as each other. Afterwards you find out that one of them is celebrating winning the lottery, and the other is drowning his misery of bankruptcy. Which one had a better time? Obviously the one who won the lottery. The same would hold true even if the second one is not miserable, but has no reason to celebrate.

Megillas EstherThe lengthy reading of the megilla is there for us to remember and appreciate why we are merry on this wonderful day. We are not simply eating drinking and making merry, we are celebrating winning the lottery, the lottery that the evil Haman drew turned against him, and we were the winners. This is truly an event to celebrate. The megilla reading is there as an anchor, reminding us of those long ago events so that we can enjoy the Purim spirit even more.

So on Purim, when sitting through the megilla reading, try to use the time to connect to the joy that Purim gives, the joy of salvation and then we can truly enjoy the physical merriment.