Archive for the '2 The Book of Exodus' Category

Simple But Not Simplistic: Yitro and the Revelation of Kindness

The truth rarely is ever nice and neat, but it can be sudden. It is often messy, but can be straightforward. This is best captured in the synthesis of senses in this week’s Torah portion, Yitro. At Sinai they saw the sound of thunder (Exodus 20:15). At Sinai the sublime beauty of God was revealed with a blending of sensory experiences. Synesthesia communicates something complex in a way that is simple but not simplistic.

If I was a slave, what would it mean to be freed? What would it mean to find myself meeting the Creator? It must have just been overwhelming. This blending is understandable. But is that it?

I could only imagine the Israelites profound sense of gratitude. This and the synesthesia at revelation is echoed by Mark Twain who said, “Kindness is a language that the blind can see and the deaf can hear.” Kindness in its essence is simple, but rarely simplistic. By our nature were are driven toward looking out for ourselves. In many ways were are enslaved by self-interest. Altruism, the practice of concern for happiness of others, is clear as day and so hard to actualize.

Amidst all of the darkness, hatred, bigotry, and anti-Semitism in the world right now we could use a little flash of revelation even if it not so clear.

– Links to other posts on synesthesia

Herd Immunity: Amalek and the Most Vulnerable

The last couple of years have felt like a roller coaster ride. We went from weeks of global fear due to a pandemic to moments of personal salvation and back to national challenges only to elation of the creation of a vaccine and all of this has been accented by precious family time in the safety of our home and longing to be with family and friends outside our bubble. We have gone from the highest of the highs to the lowest of the lows and back again.

This gives me a have a different insight into the life of the Israelites that we see in B’shalach, this week’s Torah portion. Recently having being freed from slavery in Egypt they find themselves about to die stuck between Pharaoh’s approaching chariots and the sea. And then just like that the sea splits, they escape, and they oppressors drown the bottom of the sea. Continuing the roller coaster ride we go from the high of the Songs by the Sea to the low of their complaining and questioning God about the Manna. If all of this was not enough the portion ends with the lowest of the low, their being routed by the Amalekites. There we read:

The place was named Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and because they tried the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord present among us or not?” And Amalek came and made war with Israel in Refidim.

Exodus 17:7-8

On this Rashi comments:

Scripture places this section immediately after this preceding verse (they said, “Is the Lord among us or not?”) to imply, “I am ever among you and ready at hand for every thing you may need, and yet you say, “Is the Lord among us or not?” By your lives, I swear that the hound (Amalek) shall come and bite you, and you will cry for Me and then you will know where I am!” A parable: it may be compared to a man who carried his son upon his shoulder, and went out on a journey. The son saw an article and said, “Father, pick up that thing and give it to me”. He gave it to him, and so a second time and so also a third time. They met a certain man to whom the son said, “Have you seen my father anywhere?” Whereupon his father said to him, “Don’t you know where I am?” — He, therefore, cast him off from himself and a hound came and bit him (Midrash Tanchuma, Yitro 3).

Rashi on Exodus 17:8

On one level this parable seems to align with the little boy who cried wolf. As if God is saying, “You complain, well I will give you something to complain about.” On another level it is interesting in that it evokes the image of a young child as the victim. This is a compelling dimension in the context of what we learn about this attack in Deuteronomy. There we read:

Remember what Amalek did to you on your journey, after you left Egypt— how, undeterred by fear of God, he surprised you on the march, when you were famished and weary, and cut down all the stragglers in your rear.

Deuteronomy 25:17-18

Amalek was particularly awful because they attacked us from the rear. They targeted the most vulnerable among us, the elderly and the children.

This idea was brought to life for me when I saw this extraordinary footage from a drone of a reindeer cyclone from above:

If you are a young, old, or weak reindeer, you will find yourself at the heart of the herd and it offers you protection. If you are strong you are on the outside protecting the weak. The reindeer protect their rear by creating this cyclone.

To only way to deal with the roller coaster is to circle up. In many ways this is the same thinking this is the rationale behind getting vaccinated. This is the very idea of the strong supporting the weak and creating a cyclone effect of herd immunity.

Mixed Multitudes and the Infinite Mindset

Amidst the narrative of our liberation from Egypt, we learn that the Israelites were not the only one’s to get redeemed from slavery. There in Bo, this week’s Torah portion we read:

Moreover, an Erev Rav – mixed multitude went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds.

Exodus12:38

Different commentaries explain this Erev Rav. Where they converts, freeloaders, refugees smuggling themselves out with the live stocks, or fellow travelers? In any case there was a great mixing between the Israelites and other freed slaves that were redeemed at the same time.

It is clear the in Genesis the emergent nation of Israel was a family, but in Exodus they are already a people and the lines of who is in and who is not is blurry. For most of our history those lines were more black and white. These divisions were clear because of a larger politics, more brazen anti-Semitism, or particularistic practices. With the advent of the enlightenment many of these lines became blurry. What does it mean to be Jewish? Over time the rates of intermarriage just keep rising? Again we find ourselves amidst these mixed multitudes. What do we make of our fellow travelers?

I was struck recently when I saw this picture of two popular culture icons.

Schitt's Creek's Dan Levy and Parks and Recreation's Rashida Jones Interview
Rashida Jones and Dan Levy

Both Rashida Jones and Dan Levy have a Jewish and a non-Jewish parents. How do we make sense of the Jewish people, nation, family?

I was thinking about the reality of our mixed multitudes recently when reading The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek.  Published in 2019, the book starts with comparing two mindsets for playing any game: Finite Game and the Infinite Game. The concept was heavily inspired by James Carse’s book Finite and Infinite Games as result, it initially summarizes Carse’s distinction between two different types of games. Simon Sinek explains that finite games (e.g. chess and football) are played for the purpose of ending play consistent with static rules. There are set rules, and every game has a beginning, middle and end, and a final winner is distinctly recognizable. Infinite games (e.g. business and politics) are played for the purpose of continuing play rather than to win. Sinek claims that leaders who embrace an infinite mindset, aligned with infinite play, will build stronger, more innovative, inspiring, resilient organizations, though these benefits may accrue over larger timescales than benefits associated with a finite mindset.

Sinek argues that business fits all the characteristics of an infinite game, notably that: there may be known as well as unknown players; new players can join at any time; each player has their own strategy; there is no set of fixed rules (though law may operate as semi-fixed rules); and there is no beginning or end. Further drawing on Carse’s work, Sinek extends the distinction between end states in finite games to claim that business, when viewed through an infinite mindset, do not have winners and losers, but rather players who simply drop out when they run out of the will, the desire, and/or the resources to continue play. According to Sinek, it follows that business leaders should stop thinking about who wins or who is the best and start thinking about how to build and sustain strong and healthy organizations. Simon Sinek considers Infinite Mindset as a necessity to be able to succeed in business for long term. The goal of winning is elusory, when we should be working toward resiliency. This Infinite Mindset allows companies to think better and survive infinitely. Simon Sinek lays down five essential practices necessary to have an Infinite Mindset.

This notion of an Infinite Mindset is not just relevant to a companies sustained success. It is also an interesting lens through which to explore these questions about our mixed multitudes. In the past we have framed intermarriage as a Finite Game. We were “winning” with endogamy and “losing” with marrying out. It seems more interesting to explore an Infinite Mindset. What is the long game? How might we keep playing? What role might these fellow travels have in helping us continue to play this game? Shimon Peres said, “It matters less if you parents are Jewish then if you kids will be. The Jewish future will be written by those who care.” Maybe we should be less focused on the mixed multitudes who came out of Egypt with us in the past, than where liberation might lead our future.

Oscillating History: The Design of Jewish History

In VaEra, this week’s Torah portion, we read about God’s plan to have Moshe liberate the Israelite slaves from Egypt. This theme is echoed in the the haftorah in Ezekiel (28:25-29:21). It begins with a mention of the ingathering of the exiles. There we read:

When I gather in the house of Israel from the peoples among whom they have been scattered, and I have been sanctified through them in the eyes of the nations, then shall they dwell on their land that I gave to My servant, to Yaakov. And they shall dwell upon it securely…

Ezekiel 28:25-26

This seems to be a recitation of the story of Yosef rejoining his brothers as we saw at the end of Genesis. In this context we an interesting pattern of Jewish history emerges. We seem to be going back and forth between dispersal, isolation, and sufferings and ingathering and feeling at home. While this might come to explain the elation around the realization of this prophetic vision in the founding of the State of Israel, it is not what is interesting to me at this moment.

When looking at this pattern from a distance we can see a similar outline of human-centered design. This is an approach to problem-solving commonly used in design and management frameworks that develops solutions to problems by involving the human perspective in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human involvement typically takes place in observing the problem within context, brainstorming, conceptualizing, developing, and implementing the solution.

An Introduction to Human-centered Design (HCD) Process

Just as Jewish history oscillates between our diaspora and homecoming, this design process asks us to move back and forth between divergent and convergent thinking. Together we experience the highest of highs because we are in touch with the user-experience of real pain points.

I was think about this as many of us have had to move back into 2020 Covid isolation. This could be seen as sad or needed Wintering that will eventually yield to the creative boons in spring. Maybe this is just my being hopeful or a belief in the Human-centered creative process.

The Shoes They Filled: NYT & Moshe’s Sandals

There is an incredibly poigniant moment in Shmot, last week’s Torah portion, when Moshe is told to remove is footwear. There we read:

And God said, “Do not come closer. Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.

 Exodus 3:5

Why is Moshe made to shuck shoe? There are many good answers to this question.

Sandals were made of leather. It is possible that God wanted him to remove the impurity of the dead flesh from his body before connecting with God. Another answer is that God was trying to communicate that Moshe need to give up ownership in the world to walk with God. Similarly on this question Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik said

The shoe is the symbol of vulgarity and uncouthness, of superficiality, of raw power… To understand holiness, to gain sensitivity, a person must remove his shoes.

Chumash Mesoras Ha-Rav, p. 24.

On this question Rabbi S.R. Hirsch said,

Taking off one’s shoes expresses giving oneself up entirely to the meaning of a place, to let your personality get its standing and take up its position entirely and directly on it without any intermediary.

Hirsch’s reading is asking Moshe if he is open to the world around him. Is he allowing himself to be vulnerable? As  Brené Brown, my vulnerability Rebbe, teaches:

Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

Daring Greatly

Anyone with kids with their Legos knows the pain of stepping on Lego barefoot. To parent means you have to be open to being hurt and being humble. You need to know as much as you might be a creator, you are not God. That it means to be open to being hurt. Unlike the traditional definition of humility, the Jewish definition of a person who has humility is someone who takes up just the right amount of space. A humble person is one who has a healthy sense of self-esteem and is hospitable to others. That means that he does not think he is better than others but also does not feel that he is worse. In many ways Moshe being told to take his shoes off is really just setting him up to put them back on. What space does he need to occupy to become the leader of this liberation movement?

I was thinking about this idea this week when looking at the the New York Times Magazine. Like every year this time the Times runs a spread on famous people who died the prior year. This year they ran a great story about the iconic shoes of people who made a huge impact on our world who passed away this past year. The paint splattered shoes of Eric Carle spoke to me.

Looking at their shoes gives us pause to consider what it would take for each of us to achieve our own potential. Like Moshe we need to take a moment to remove our shoes so that when we step into them we can take up the right amount of space in the world.

Why Return? Allegory of the Good

In Plato’s Republic Socrates presents the most beautiful and famous metaphor in Western philosophy: the allegory of the cave. This metaphor is meant to illustrate the effects of education on the human soul and what might ultimately brings him to the Form of the Good.

In the allegory Socrates describes a dark scene. A group of people have lived in a deep cave since birth, never seeing the light of day. These people are bound so that they cannot look to either side or behind them, but only straight ahead. Behind them is a fire, and behind the fire is a partial wall. On top of the wall are various statues, which are manipulated by another group of people, lying out of sight behind the partial wall. Because of the fire, the statues cast shadows across the wall that the prisoners are facing. The prisoners watch the stories that these shadows play out, and because these shadows are all they ever get to see, they believe them to be the most real things in the world. When they talk to one another about “men,” “women,” “trees,” or “horses,” they are referring to these two dimensional shadows. These prisoners represent the lowest stage on the line—imagination.

A prisoner is freed from his bonds, and is forced to look at the fire and at the statues themselves. After an initial period of pain and confusion because of direct exposure of his eyes to the light of the fire, the prisoner realizes that what he sees now are things more real than the shadows he has always taken to be reality. He grasps how the fire and the statues together cause the shadows, which are copies of these more real things. He accepts the statues and fire as the most real things in the world. This stage in the cave represents belief. He has made contact with real things—the statues—but he is not aware that there are things of greater reality—a world beyond his cave.

Next, this prisoner is dragged out of the cave into the world above. At first, he is so dazzled by the light up there that he can only look at shadows, then at reflections, then finally at the real objects—real trees, flowers, houses and so on. He sees that these are even more real than the statues were, and that those were only copies of these. He has now reached the cognitive stage of thought. He has caught his first glimpse of the most real things, the Forms.

When the prisoner’s eyes have fully adjusted to the brightness, he lifts his sight toward the heavens and looks at the sun. He understands that the sun is the cause of everything he sees around him—the light, his capacity for sight, the existence of flowers, trees, and other objects. The sun represents the Form of the Good, and the former prisoner has reached the stage of understanding.

The might have been the end of the allegory as it is the discovery of the Good, but something drives the enlightened free slave back into the cave to free his fellow slaves. Why does the philosopher return to the cave after seeing the Good?

One answer is that the philosopher returns to the cave to free the cave dwellers out of empathy and pity. Not so long ago he was one of one of them and understands their pain in ways they might not know. Another answer is they he goes back to rule over them. This reason might be for the good or the bad, but the philosopher has a calling to lead. And yet another answer is that he feels some compulsion in that he never really understood how he ended up free. Maybe he has to pay it forward in gratitude for his own experience of freedom. Another version of this answer is this act of freeing the other slaves is an act of resistance against the system that empoisoned him. So this would be less gratitude than vengeance.

I was thinking about this question as to why the philosopher return to the cave after seeing the Good this week when reading Shmot, this week’s Torah portion. There we read the story of Moshe. He was born to slaves. Through was seems like a miraculous story he is unshackled from a grueling life as a slave to be raised in Pharaoh’s house. From there he stands up to the slave masters and must evade them and leaves the cave of Egypt. There he finds shelter and employment with Yitro. One day when working as shepherd for Yitro he goes looking for a lost sheep when he discovers God. Here the Good is not revealed to him as the sun, but the Burning Bush.

And again we are left with the question, why would Moshe return to the cave after seeing the Good? Any of the answers given above for Plato’s philosopher might be accurate. An additional answer given in the Torah is beyond the compulsion of the Good, but the commandment of God.

Sitting to write this post I was listening to Yishai Ribo’s song LaShuv HaBayta and thought of another reason why Moshe and the philospher might have returned. If you have not, listen to this song:

There Ribo sings:

The time has come to wake up

To leave everything- to overcome

To return home

Not to search for any other place.

It is possible that Moshe and the philosopher just wanted to go home. Even if we cannot ultimately stay at home, there is something compelling about homecoming.

In all of these answers to this question there is a profoundness of our individual and collective obligation to serve others in need. At its core this is the foundation of education.

Passover: A Love Song

Over the last couple of years I have been completely absorbed by Yishai Ribo‘s music. Ribo is an Orthodox Israeli singer-songwriter who’s music reaches across the religious divide in Israel and beyond. For me it started with Seder HaAvodah in which he retells the story of the High Priest’s service in the Temple on Yom Kippur in a way that is completely touching and accessible. He has a way of taking tradition and making it relevant today. Ribo does not sacrifice depth to get his message to the masses. It is not shocking that I love his music.

I still love listening to Lev Sheli- My Heart. Here is a live version he performed with Omer Adam. Enjoy:

There is so much I have to say about the lyrics and music of this song. It seems appropriate on the occasion of the last days of Passover to share some more reflection of this song. In the middle of the song he sings:

My heart is split in two

Half of it is guilty, and half of it is for the sake of Heaven

Like a storm from the sea, it pounds

Like Miriam’s timbrel, it beats

And there is no cure in the world for the heart

Ribo masterfully weaves together language from BeShalach about the splitting of the Sea of Reeds to write a love song. The Israelites escape from Egyptians by walking through the sea on dry ground.  After this miracle the people sing the Song of the Sea and then Miriam leads them in her song with timbrels. Reading the lyrics in the context of Passover makes me ask a few questions. Is Lev Sheli a normal love song? Is it a song about someone expressing his/her love for a partner or an aspiration of divine love?

To explore these questions I wanted to share a Mishnah from Yadaim. There we learn about what is and is not in the canon of the Bible. Contact with a scroll of something in the canon would make your hands impure. There we learn:

Rabbi Shimon ben Azzai said, “I have a received tradition from the mouths of seventy-two elders, on the day they inducted Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria into his seat [as head] at the Academy, that The Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes render the hands impure.” Rabbi Akiva said, “Mercy forbid! No one in Israel ever disputed that The Song of Songs renders the hands impure, since nothing in the entire world is worthy but for that day on which The Song of Songs was given to Israel; for all the Scriptures are holy, but The Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies! And if they did dispute, there was only a dispute regarding Ecclesiastes.” (Mishnah Yadayim 3:5)

There was disagreement if Song of Songs was in the canon. Rabbi Akiva dismisses that debate. While some might think that Song of Songs is lascivious and a debase depiction of erotic love, Rabbi Akiva believes that it is the most holy.

Ribo’s Lev Sheli, like Song of Songs, celebrates human love giving a holy voice to the lovers yearning. In Lev Sheli Ribo describes that moment when he realizes that he has found his match. That moment is overwhelming. That moment was as rare as splitting the Sea of Reeds. Like Lev Sheli, Song of Songs is a love song associated with Passover. For Ribo and Rabbi Akiva human love is by nature half guilty and half for the sake of Heaven. Like Lev Sheli, Song of Songs also blurs the line between expressing love for one’s partner and an aspiration of divine love.

It is no mystery that Ribo is able to have a cross over hit between the religious and secular in that he has a cross over hit from the divine to the human. Now that is a popular love song. You might even say that Lev Sheli is a song of songs.  

Trust and Money: Harari on Giving to the Mishkan

In Yuval Harari‘s book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind he surveys the history of humankind from the evolution evolution of archaic human species in the Stone Age up to the twenty-first century. In this compelling book he explores the origin, features, and principles behind money, during hunter-gathering stage and then agricultural revolution. Indeed, money is an essential driving force for many phenomena in human society, it is necessarily to understand the role of it in order to make sense of our history.

In the hunter-gatherer era, the daily life need was satisfied by self producing and sharing through an economy of favors and obligations. This small scale barter economy was basically self sufficient and independent. However the sharing depended on obligation to give back the favors later on. This nature of reciprocity did not work when the scale of economy grew bigger along with the development of cities and kingdoms. Simply because the trust only worked on a scale of single neighborhoods.

During the agricultural revolution they realized that they should specialize and focus on producing goods, i.e. a lower cost and higher quality than others, in order to maximize what they can get. The more complex trading among people require a medium to ease the process of exchange. This gave rise to the concept of money.

According to Harari, money has two main uses, (1) medium of exchange; and (2) medium to store wealth. “Money is not coin and banknotes.” (pp.197), “Money is thus a universal medium of exchange that enables people to convert almost everything into almost anything else” (pp. 199). From this perspective, again, the concept of money is an imagined order, and does not physically exist. “… it is a psychological construct.” (pp.201). Money is a universal convertible construct that we use as a medium of exchange. It is the most universal and most efficient system of mutual trust ever devised.

In God We Trust' Biblical Origin & Meaning of Motto on Money

I was thinking about Harari’s explanation of money when reading Vayakhel-Pekudei, this week’s Torah portion. Near the start we read that the Israelites donate the required materials in abundance for the Mishkan and accruement. There is says:

Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make an elevation offering of gold to the Lord, came bringing brooches, earrings, rings, and pendants—gold objects of all kinds. And everyone who had in his possession blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, and dolphin skins, brought them; everyone who would make gifts of silver or copper brought them as gifts for the Lord; and everyone who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought that. And all the skilled women spun with their own hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen. And all the women who excelled in that skill spun the goats’ hair. And the chieftains brought lapis lazuli and other stones for setting, for the ephod and for the breastpiece; and spices and oil for lighting, for the anointing oil, and for the aromatic incense. Thus the Israelites, all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord, through Moses, had commanded to be done, brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. (Exodus 35:22–29)

Why did they give so freely? The simple reading is that the Israelites were moved in their hearts. The overflow of donations was an expression of their gratitude for being liberated from bondage. I wanted to offer other readings in the context of Harari’s understanding of money. It is possible that these things had no value to them in the desert? They were open to parting with medium which were no longer convertible. Another understanding might be that their experience of slavery made them distrustful of the universal mutual trust of money. There in the desert they could revert to a barter economy based on the trust of a neighborhood. While we have, ” In God We Trust” on our currency, for them in the desert this community who actually trusted in God did not need currency.

Money is so close to us in the 21st century, it affects our daily lives, from womb to tomb. Almost everything can be measured by money, but it is by design a neutral construct. It affects how we plan for our own life and family at personal level, and how we plan for our companies, communities, cities, and countries. We need to ask ourselves, do we decide the way we use money? When we think about the future of humankind, we must ask in what do we trust?

Let Our Own Light Shine: On Horns and Masks

The Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli is not easy to find. But a rich reward awaits those who navigate the back alleyways of Rome, enter its main chapel and stand before Michelangelo’s incomparable Moshe. In the heart of the Catholic world, the greatest Jewish prophet and teacher. His arms are cut, his beard is regal, and…

Are those actually horns on Moshe’s head? Yup. Perched on top of Moshe’s virile body are two unmistakable protrusions from his forehead. Why?

In Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion, we see the Golden Calf Incident. After the GCI Moshe shatters the first set of tablets. Moshe hangs out with God for 40 days and nights. When he descends with the second tablets it says:

So Moshe came down from Mount Sinai. And as Moshe came down from the mountain bearing the two tablets of the Covenant, lo yada ki karan or panav b’dabro ito — he did not know that the skin of his face was radiant/had become horned for having spoken with God. Aaron and all the Israelites saw that the skin of Moshe’s face was radiant; and they shrank from coming near him. But Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the chieftains in the assembly returned to him, and Moshe spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he instructed them concerning all that the Lord had imparted to him on Mount Sinai. And when Moshe had finished speaking with them, he put a mask over his face. Whenever Moshe went in before the Lord to speak with God, he would leave the veil off until he came out; and when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see how radiant the skin of Moshe’s face was. Moshe would then put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with God. (Exodus 34:29-35)

The word karan is the crux of the matter. Does this refer to horns or shining rays? The Vulgate, clearly chose “horns” to describe the change in Moshe’ face. It is more accurately “emitting light.” These horns incepted the pernicious and stubborn stereotypes of all Jews having horns. Jews are human beings, but our unique ways of dressing and head coverings have helped perpetual the grotesque and hateful nonsense.

I was thinking about this when looking at the end of this quote as well. What do we make of the mask? Moshe needed to cover his face to deal with their inability to deal with his diving glow. This reminds me of Marianne Williamson’s poem Our Deepest Fear. She writes:

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

If we were comfortable with other people shining could we put an end to jealousy and hatred? What would it look like if everyone could remove their masks and let their own light shine?

But until Covid is over- Please do keep your mask on.

The Plural of Ross: The Art of Education

In parshat Terumah  we learn about Betzalel the chief artisan of the Tabernacle and all of its accoutrements. He was said to be highly gifted as a workman, showing great skill and originality in engraving precious metals and stones and in wood-carving. He was also a master-workman, having many apprentices under him whom he instructed in the arts. There we read:

And Moshe said to the Israelites: See, the Lord has singled out by name Bezalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Yehudah. He has endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft and has inspired him to make designs for work in gold, silver, and copper, to cut stones for setting and to carve wood—to work in every kind of designer’s craft and to give directions.  He and Oholiab son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan have been endowed with the skill to do any work—of the carver, the designer, the embroiderer in blue, purple, crimson yarns, and in fine linen, and of the weaver—as workers in all crafts and as makers of designs.(Exodus 35:30–35)

Betzalel was not a consultant or a trained artist brought in by the contractor to do this work. Like the rest of the people building the Tabernacle with him, he was a recently escaped slave. I can only imagine what it meant to be in the company of such a natural master artist. What did it mean to work for him if you were not a master artist?  

Thinking of Betzalel makes me think of Bob Ross the American painter, art instructor, and television host. Ross was the creator and host of The Joy of Painting, an instructional television program that aired from 1983 to 1994 on PBS. Ross went from being a public television personality in the 1980s and 1990s to being an Internet celebrity in the 21st century, becoming popular with fans on YouTube, Twitch, and many other websites many years after his death.

It was one thing to be a master artist. It is another to lead non-artist step by step to create the Tabernacle. Being able to both is really extraordinary.

In my last 12 years working at the Foundation for Jewish Camp I have been blessed to meet some extraordinary Jewish educators. Thinking about Bob Ross, makes me think another Ross. Jon Adam Ross  has spent nearly 20 years making art with religious communities around the country as an actor, playwright, and teaching artist. Jon was a Spielberg Fellow in Jewish Theater Education with the Foundation for Jewish Camp and has spent many years on our Cornerstone Faculty. In 2015 Jon received a Fellowship from the Covenant Foundation to create the In[heir]itance Project.

As an actor, Jon has performed his solo shows in over 90 cities around the globe. Beyond his skill at performance, Jon is a master educator. It is uncanny how he draws people into theater, narrative, and self-discovery. Step by step he can take non-thespians and empower them to perform.

Like Betzelal before them, Bob and Jon Adam Ross give us a sense of divine spirit involved in being to ” give directions.” Being educators is another media of their artistic expression. 


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