Friday, February 28, 2014

Creation and Creativity

This week’s Torah portion, Pekudei, (Ex. 38:21 – 40:38) is the last portion in the book of Exodus.  It gives a detailed accounting of the materials used in the building of the Tabernacle, and describes its assembling.  In the final verses of the book of Exodus, we are told that God’s presence, in the form of a pillar of cloud, comes to dwell in the sanctuary.  This monumental event is described as follows, “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (Ex. 40:33-34).  

The Hebrew reads, “Va’y’chal  Moshe et ha’m’lacha”.  Its words are reminiscent of Genesis 2:1, in which God finished the work of Creation just before Shabbat: “Va’y’chal Elohim…m’lachto” – “And God finished His work”.

There are many ways in which the Israelites’ construction of the Tabernacle is analogous to God’s creation of the world. Here is one to consider on this Shabbat eve: What does it mean to be created in God’s image?  I believe it means that we are like God in that we have been given the power to create.  We are able to envision and build works of great beauty and meaning.  These former slaves, whose previous building experience had been hard labor in constructing cities for the glory of a Pharaoh, have now, of their own free will and spirit, created a place where they may worship the indwelling presence of God.  As they did, so may our own work reflect God’s glory, and may God’s presence dwell within our body of work as it dwelt in the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

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.