Friday, February 21, 2014

Ideas and Actions

This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel (Ex. 35:1 - 38:20) once again takes up the theme of the building of the Tabernacle.  But what is left to tell?  God’s last words to Moses on Mount Sinai were that the people were to refrain from work on the seventh day and observe a Shabbat of rest.  The narrative then turns to the incident of the Golden Calf, and the re-establishment of the covenant between God and Israel. 

Vayakhel almost exactly the instructions for building the Tabernacle that were given in Torah portion Terumah, though the order varies somewhat.  This time, instead of God speaking the words to Moses, it is Moses speaking to the Israelites, and the verbs indicate completed actions rather than prescriptive directions.

The classical commentators are puzzled by this repetition.  The Torah is usually very terse; why repeat this long list of building information twice?  The Etz Chaim Torah Commentary says that one commentator suggests that God so loved the idea of a home to dwell among the Israelites that the details were repeated.  Another suggests that the first set of instructions shows God’s enthusiasm for the Tabernacle, and the second show the enthusiasm of the Israelites.  I suggest a third explanation.  There is a world of difference between the planning and the execution of any venture.  T.S. Eliot writes in his poem “The Hollow Men”, “Between the conception/And the creation/Between the emotion/And the response/Falls the Shadow”.    No matter how grand the concept and how ardent the response, the second telling affirms that the Tabernacle is no longer an idea, it is a building.  Judaism is often described as a religion of actions.  Ideas are necessary but they are incomplete without the follow-through.

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