Archive for the '2.1 VaYakel/Pikkudei' Category

Merry π Day

Amidst the continued downward spiral and ongoing severity of world events, I needed a break to connect to something stable, constant, even if irrational. On the occasion of March 14th, we celebrate π Day on 3.14. Here is a very informative TED talk on the topic:

While we need to claim that we had it first, I was fascinated to find out recently how long ago our people engaged with this idea of Pi. Way back when in the book of Kings we learn about the Molten Sea or Brazen Sea. This was a large basin in the Temple in Jerusalem made by Solomon (990- 931 BCE)  for ablution of the priests. It stood in the south-eastern corner of the inner court. We read:

The structure of the laver stands was as follows: They had insets; and on the insets within the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Above the frames was a stand; and both above and below the lions and the oxen were spirals of hammered metal. Each laver stand had four bronze wheels and [two] bronze axletrees. Its four legs had brackets; the brackets were under the laver, cast. Its funnel, within the crown, rose a cubit above it; this funnel was round, in the fashion of a stand, a cubit and a half in diameter. On the funnel too there were carvings. But the insets were square, not round. And below the insets were the four wheels. The axletrees of the wheels were [fixed] in the laver stand, and the height of each wheel was a cubit and a half. The structure of the wheels was like the structure of chariot wheels; and their axletrees, their rims, their spokes, and their hubs were all of cast metal. Four brackets ran to the four corners of each laver stand; the brackets were of a piece with the laver stand. At the top of the laver stand was a round band half a cubit high, and together with the top of the laver stand; its sides and its insets were of one piece with it. On its surface—on its sides—and on its insets [Hiram] engraved cherubim, lions, and palms, as the clear space on each allowed,-d with spirals round about.

I Kings 7: 28- 36

Here is an artistic representation of what it might have looked like:

An artist’s rendition of the Molten Sea

The biblical description that the bowl has a diameter of 10 cubits and a circumference of 30 cubits suggest that in the construction of the basin, π was approximated with the integer value 3. This is consistent with the practice in Babylonian mathematics at the time (6th century BC), but it has given rise to debate within rabbinical Judaism from an early period due to the concern that the biblical text might here be inaccurate. Rabbi Nehemiah in the 2nd century argued that the text is not claiming that π equals 3, but that instead the Israelites measured the diameter from the outside edge of the rim of the bowl. After accounting for the width of the brim—”about an hand breadth”—this results in a ratio closer to the true value of π.

The Vilna Gaon pointed to the fact that the word for measuring line in the respective verses (1 Kings 7:23, 2 Chronicles 4:2) is written in two different ways, as קוה and קו. That hints to two different measures. If the Hebrew letters are read as numbers, the first form of the word for measuring line adds to 111 and the second form to 106. The relation i.e. the quotient of these two measuring tapes is 1.0472. And if this number, the relation of these two measuring tapes, is multiplied with Solomon’s simple π of 3, the result reads: 3.1416, much closer to the exact value of π.

It is easy to dispute all of these apologies for π, but sometimes amidst the chaos it is comforting to find meaning in things that are predictably irrational.

Facing Out: Dr Paul Farmer z’l and the Cherubim

Yadid, our oldest, is turning 18 this week. It seems that just yesterday he had the cherubic face at the top of this blog.

All of my children all still my little angels, even if they are bigger than me. Where did the time go?

Despite or because Yadid has to shave more regularly I got to thinking about the Cherubim that we read about in VaYakel, this week’s Torah portion. Amidst a description of the construction of the Aron, Holy Ark, we learn about the top of it. There we read:

He made two cherubim of gold; he made them of hammered work, at the two ends of the cover: one cherub at one end and the other cherub at the other end; he made the cherubim of one piece with the cover, at its two ends. The cherubim had their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other; the faces of the cherubim were turned toward the cover.

Exodus 37:7-9

This is at once our most holy image and one which is just too hard to understand. Why are they facing each other? On this the Talmud says:

Rabbi Kattina said: Whenever Israel came up to the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the Cherubim were shown to them, whose bodies were inter-twisted with one another, and they would be thus addressed: Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman.

Yoma 54.

It must have been amazing for those three times a year for the Cherubim to touch, but what of the rest of the year? It must have seemed like the Cherubim are perpetually caught in a state of yearning for each other. Rabbi Kattina’s Cherubim spent much of the year frozen, facing inward, and reaching out to each other.

I was thinking about this image as it juxtaposes an image we see in this week’s haftarah, had we read if it was not Shabbat Shekalim. There we learn about the Molten Sea or Brazen Sea. This was a large basin in the Temple in Jerusalem made by Solomon for ablution of the priests. It stood in the south-eastern corner of the inner court. We read in the haftrah:

The structure of the laver stands was as follows: They had insets; and on the insets within the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Above the frames was a stand; and both above and below the lions and the oxen were spirals of hammered metal. Each laver stand had four bronze wheels and [two] bronze axletrees. Its four legs had brackets; the brackets were under the laver, cast. Its funnel, within the crown, rose a cubit above it; this funnel was round, in the fashion of a stand, a cubit and a half in diameter. On the funnel too there were carvings. But the insets were square, not round. And below the insets were the four wheels. The axletrees of the wheels were [fixed] in the laver stand, and the height of each wheel was a cubit and a half. The structure of the wheels was like the structure of chariot wheels; and their axletrees, their rims, their spokes, and their hubs were all of cast metal. Four brackets ran to the four corners of each laver stand; the brackets were of a piece with the laver stand. At the top of the laver stand was a round band half a cubit high, and together with the top of the laver stand; its sides and its insets were of one piece with it. On its surface—on its sides—and on its insets [Hiram] engraved cherubim, lions, and palms, as the clear space on each allowed,-d with spirals round about.

I Kings 7: 28- 36

Here is an artistic representation of what it might have looked like:

The Molten Sea being a big laver. Beyond the connection between this and the ark both being instruments of the Mishkan/Temple, they both have cherubim. That is an interesting connection. What is more interesting to me is their differences. While on the Ark the cherubim are inward facing, here on the Molten Sea they and and the rest of the menagerie are facing out. What do we make of this difference?

I was thinking about this difference this last week when I heard of the passing of Dr Paul Farmer z’l. Farmer a pioneer in global health died this week at the age of 62. In is the award-winning book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Pulitzer-prize-winning author Tracy Kidder he described Farmer as “the man who would cure the world”. In reading this book it was impossible not to be moved by Farmer’s heroic effort to bring health care to rural Haiti. There Kidder writes:

And I can imagine Farmer saying he doesn’t care if no one else is willing to follow their example. He’s still going to make these hikes, he’d insist, because if you say that seven hours is too long to walk for two families of patients, you’re saying that their lives matter less than some others’, and the idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that’s wrong with the world.

Mountains Beyond Mountains

The book’s title comes from a Haitian proverb, which is usually translated as: “Beyond the mountains, more mountains.” According to Farmer, a better translation is: “Beyond mountains there are mountains.” The phrase expresses something fundamental about the spirit and the scale and the difficulty of Farmer’s work. The Haitian proverb, by the way, is also a pretty accurate description of the topography of a lot of Haiti.

The life and legacy of Dr. Paul Farmer is to look over the next mountain to that next life to save. The cherubim on the ark were facing inward. While this is tender, sweet, intimate, and needed, it is not enough. We also need to balance that with the Molten Sea facing outward and pushing us to heal a broken world. We are not meant to wash our hands of the problems of the world, but rather be inspired by the memory of Dr Paul Farmer to be ever vigilant and expend every effort to traverse the next mountain to meet those needs.

As my little angel prepares to leave home, I see him turning his attention from the world within to his role in the larger world. I am excited to see his impact on the world.

No Soap Radio : Being on the Inside of Learning

No soap radio” is a form of practical joke and an example of surreal comedy. The joke is a prank whereby the punch line has no relation to the body of the joke; but participants in the prank pretend otherwise. The effect is to either trick someone into laughing along as if they “get it” or to ridicule them for not understanding. While I never found these jokes particularly funny, they do bring to light the nature of humor is that is creates or defines a group. Does a joke define a group by including or excluding people?

I was thinking about this question when reading the start of parshat Ki Tisa, this week’s Torah portion. There we see the Israelites are told to contribute exactly half a shekel of silver to the Sanctuary. Instructions are also given regarding the making of the Sanctuary’s water basin, anointing oil and incense. “Wise-hearted” artisans Betzalel and Aholiav are placed in charge of the Sanctuary’s construction. There we read:

The Lord spoke to Moshe: See, I have singled out by name Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Yehudah. I have endowed him with a divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft

Exodus 31:1-3

What was this quality of being “wise-hearted” or having a “divine spirit”? At some level this speaks to a notion of intuition or artistic imagination that they had. About Betzalel we learn later when explaining how Betzalel understood something that God told Moshe better than Moshe. Rashi quotes the Gemara in Berachot:

Moshe said to him [Beztalel], “You were in the shadow of God [בְּצֵל אֵל, which is the meaning of Bezalel’s name. I.e., you are right], for surely that is what the Holy One, blessed be God, commanded me.” [from Ber. 55a]

Rashi on Exodus 38:22

Betzalel’s artistic wisdom came from his being in the “shadow of God”. In an interesting way Moshe admits that Betzalel is on the inside of the joke in a way that Moshe himself is on the outside.

I was thinking about the origin of Betzalel’s name in contrast to the famous story of Hillel. Hillel was very poor in his younger days. He would earn only half a dinar for an entire day’s work, some of which he spent to gain admittance into the study hall. The entrance fee was one quarter of a dinar, leaving him with a daily allowance of one quarter of a dinar to live on. Yet, even in such poverty, Hillel the Elder never considered using the money on anything other than the study of Torah. One Friday, he found no work. Unable to pay the entrance fee, he was denied admittance into the study hall of Shemaya and Avtalyon. Hillel was so determined to continue learning that he climbed on to the roof and listened to the lecture through a skylight. It was the depths of winter, and snow began to fall. Hillel remained on the roof all night, and was buried in snow. The next morning, Shemaya realized that there was a figure blocking the sunlight. The students retrieved him from the roof, and even though it was Shabbat, lit a fire to warm him. Although it is forbidden to light a flame on Shabbat, one is commanded to do so in the case of saving a life. There we read:

The Sages continued and said: That day was Shabbat eve and it was the winter season of Tevet, and snow fell upon him from the sky. When it was dawn, Shemaya said to Avtalyon: Avtalyon, my brother, every day at this hour the study hall is already bright from the sunlight streaming through the skylight, and today it is dark; is it perhaps a cloudy day? They focused their eyes and saw the image of a man in the skylight. They ascended and found him covered with snow three cubits high. They extricated him from the snow, and they washed him and smeared oil on him, and they sat him opposite the bonfire to warm him. They said: This man is worthy for us to desecrate Shabbat for him. Saving a life overrides Shabbat in any case; however, this great man is especially deserving. Clearly, poverty is no excuse for the failure to attempt to study Torah.

Yoma 35b

Hillel is not on the inside crowd, but he desperately wants to have access to Torah. So much so, that he put his health at risk. The next day when they come in there is a pall on the Beyt Midrash. In this moment the older generation of scholars are being literally eclipsed by the next generations leading light. Just as Betzalel was in the shade of God, the Beyt Midrash is in Hillel’s shadow. In this case, the spot light is on how exclusive they were being.

It is always better feeling the warmth of being on the inside of a joke and a group. What is the nature of Jewish learning that makes so many people feel like they just do not get the joke?

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?

Assembling Big and Small

As we come to the close of the book of Exodus with Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei we come together to  assemble. At the start of this week’s Torah portion we learn:

וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל  

Moshe then assembled the whole Israelite community… (Exodus 35:1)

On a related note Rav Nachman of Breslov the 18th Century Chasidic Master taught:

The essence of Teshuva– return is in the month of Elul because it is during these days of favor, when Moshe ascended Mt Sinai to receive the second set of Tablets and opened an yet-charted path in which to go. Now, the path which Moshe made is this: Moshe bound himself with even the smallest Jew, and gave of himself for them, as it is written, “But if not, please blot me out!” (Exodus 32:32). This is also the meaning of: “And Moshe assembled…” (Exodus 35:1)—that Moshe would gather, unite and bind himself with all of Israel, even with the smallest of the least. This is the meaning of “They have entirely withdrawn; together” (Psalms 53:4). Even when I see a Jew who has totally withdrawn from God, I nevertheless need us to be “together”—I must unite and bind with him, just as Moshe did. (Likutei Moharan, Part II 82:3:1)

I was thinking about this Torah from Rav Nachman this last week.  This last week was supposed to be FJC’s Leader’s Assembly. In this biennial conference we bring together 800 Jewish camp professionals, lay leaders, and supporters of the field of Jewish summer camp Sunday- Tuesday in Baltimore. In addition I was planning to spend last Shabbat with over 40 camp directors from outside of North America.  Alas with the onset of COVID-19 – this did not happen. A week prior we called it off and then within 48 hours the team turned it around and produced an amazing virtual conference.

It was an amazing experience to get together with that many people in the cloud when so many of us were quarantined at home. The FJC team did an amazing job helping the field of Jewish camp chart a new path to assemble and connect with each other. While we know that the coming weeks and months we find ourselves in uncharted territories, together we must keep our eyes on the future of the field, its continued growth and the important, life-long community that camps build. Despite the mandate for social distancing we know that we still need to assemble.

Amidst these tumultuous times it is clear to me that camp leadership are acting as Moshe did giving of themselves and doing whatever it takes to draw our community together no matter the barriers or challenges.  Like the days of Elul- in coming to Jewish camp we return to a utopian vision of the world and do Teshuva to return to better versions of ourselves. Camp is the opposite of social distancing. Camp is the place of belonging. From the smallest camper to our teens, to new staff members, to year round professionals, to their families, to board members, to all of our supporters Jewish camp brings them “together”. It is at camp that any Jew big or small can connect to Jewish Life, develop a passion for Israel, feel like a part of a vibrant Jewish community, or even discover God.

This Leaders Assembly was proof that people really just wanted to assemble. I am in awe of these leaders’ capacity to give of themselves. Right now the world needs Jewish camp more than ever. We all seek belonging and they are playing a critical role. Together we need to “unite and bind” us and assemble all of Israel.

Shabbat in Person: Present of Presence

In Vayekel Pikkudei, this week’s Torah portion,we read that Moshe  assembles the people of Israel and tells them the details of what is needed to build the Tabernacle. The rest of the portion discusses all of the giving and the artisans who set out to build the tabernacle. But before Moshe talks about the Tabernacle he reiterates the commandment to observe the Shabbat. There we read:

And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said to them: ‘These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whosoever does any work therein shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.’  ( Exodus 35:1-3)

In the Gemara in Shabbat this juxtaposition of the laws of Shabbat and the Tabernacle is the root of 39 types of work used in making the tabernacle are categories of prohibited behavior on Shabbat. On another level , what is the connection between building the Tabernacle, Shabbat, and assembling people?

We also learn in the Talmud:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sees his friend after thirty days have passed since last seeing him recites: Blessed…Who has given us life, sustained us and brought us to this time. One who sees his friend after twelve months recites: Blessed…Who revives the dead. (Berakhot 58b)

In that the absence of a friend is tantamount to their death there is a clear value of connecting with people in person. In many ways Tabernacle was a place for us to connect “in person” with God. Likewise Shabbat is a chance for us to be in God’s presence.  That might be too hard to really connect with for most of us, so at least Shabbat should be a time for us to connect face to face with each other. In an era in which most of our relationships are filtered though electronic screens Shabbat is a real present of presence.

-Similar message in Technology Shabbat by Tiffany Shlain

 

The Sound of Color

Artist Neil Harbisson was born completely color blind, but these days a device attached to his head turns color into audible frequencies. Instead of seeing a world in grayscale, Harbisson can hear a symphony of color — and yes, even listen to faces and paintings. Check out this TED talk.

I was thinking about Neil Harbisson this week when reading VaYakelPikkudei, this week’s Torah portion. 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 Judah. God 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)

Neil really helps us understand Bezalel’s and Oholiab’s “divine spirit of skill, ability, and knowledge” in the context of all of the colors. You can only imagine what the Tabernacle sounded like.

The Present of Presence: Coming Together for Shabbat

In Vayekel, this week’s Torah portion,we read that Moshe  assembles the people of Israel and tells them the details of what is needed to build the tabernacle. The rest of the portion discusses all of the giving and the artisans who set out to build the tabernacle. But before Moshe talks about the tabernacle he reiterates the commandment to observe the Shabbat. There we read:

And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said to them: ‘These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to the Lord; whosoever does any work therein shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day.’  ( Exodus 35:1-3)

In the Gemara in Shabbat this juxtaposition of the laws of Shabbat and the tabernacle is the root of 39 types of work used in making the tabernacle are categories of prohibited behavior on Shabbat. On another level , what is the connection between building the tabernacle, Shabbat, and assembling people?

In thinking about this question I recall one of favorite camp Shabbat stories.

As the story goes, there was an old age home by Machaneh Yehudah, the famous outdoor Shuk (market) in Jerusalem. In this facility there was one specific ward for bedridden men. In this room there was Dr. Davidoff the retired editor of a local Newspaper, Mr. Goldstein a retired music producer, Mr. Cohen who used to work in Machaneh Yehudah as street sweeper, Dr. Schaffzin who had been the doctor in a teaching hospital, Mr. Schwartz who was a well-regarded tailor in his day and Rabbi Weiss an extremely old local Rabbi. All of the men were old, incapacitated and had no visitors. Their loving wives had passed and their children lived far away. They were isolated and had only each other.

In their room, they had only one window and the way the beds were configured, there was only one bed that could see out of this window. In this bed was the revered Rabbi Weiss. Every day the good Rabbi would regale his roommates with stories of what he saw from his bed. As much as he loved to tell them of the weather and all of the comings and goings of the outside world, they would love to listen. And as much as they enjoyed his daily updates, they all longed for Friday. Every Friday Rabbi Weiss would tell them about the children running to get Marzipan, the couples buying their Challah, the busy Hummus Guy making special Shabbat deals, the people buying different seasonal Fresh fruit, husbands getting bottles of grape juice, wives getting chicken, and grandparents getting special candy for Shabbat. All of the men were so excited by the rabbi’s description of Shabbat preparation that they hardly noticed the fact that he basically had nothing to say on Saturday itself, due to the shuk being closed for Shabbat.

Sadly as most old people do, Rabbi Weiss passed away on a Saturday night.  On the following Sunday the group mourned the loss of their friend and rabbi. But by nightfall they had already started to discuss who was going to get his coveted bed. A debate ensued and each person made their argument for why they should get the bed with the view of the Shuk. Mr. Davidoff said, I was the editor of the local Newspaper and I know how to tell stories, I should get the bed. He was followed by Mr. Goldstein who had a successful career in music production. He argued that he knew how to compose beautiful moments, he should get the bed. In response, Mr. Cohen said, “ I used to work in Machaneh Yehuda as street sweeper and I know all the ins and outs of what happens on Friday, I should get the bed.”  As a matter of fact, Dr. Schaffzin made his claim for the bed. The doctor said, “I should have the bed because I spent my career teaching people how to see the intricacies of the human body, surely I can handle the shuk.” And finally Mr. Schwartz said, “ Others might know the Shuk better than me but their vision is limited. While I cannot walk or sow anymore I still can see as clear as on my Bar Mitzvah day, I should get the bed.”

After each person got through saying why he should be the one, they decided that it would only made sense to vote and Mr. Schwartz, the local tailor, won the bed with the coveted view. With the help of the staff Mr. Schwartz moved into Rabbi Weiss’s bed on Monday. After all of the debates the other men assumed that he would start telling stories right away, but on his first day in the new bed Mr. Schwartz was silent. Just like Monday, on Tuesday he stayed quiet, simply staring out the window. No one said anything as they assumed that like themselves, Mr. Schwartz was still mourning the death of Rabbi Weiss.  When he was still quiet on Wednesday the other men started to get grumpy and finally on Thursday they started yelling at Mr. Schwartz. Do your job! Why did you want the bed so much? Let me have the bed if you will not talk! And then it happened. On Friday, Mr. Schwartz started to talk. And just like the rabbi before him, he reported on children running to get Marzipan, the couples buying their Challah, the busy Hummus Guy making special Shabbat deals, the people buying different seasonal fresh fruit, husbands getting bottles of grape juice, wives getting chicken, and grandparents getting special candy for Shabbat. But seeing that his vision was so much better then Rabbi Weiss, he shared even more details. The men were thrilled with their choice of Mr. Schwartz. And Mr. Schwartz, for his part, was satisfied and confident in his fulfilling the duty he inherited from his dear rabbi. None of Mr. Schwatz’s roommates, he was now sure, would ever find out that this coveted bed did not actually overlook Machaneh Yehudah but only a brick wall.

With the passing of Rabbi Weiss, Mr. Schwartz was charged with making Shabbat for his friends. I realize for most people it is not so black and white, but what would it mean to feel an obligation to make the Sabbath holy for yourself and others? Untethered by the virtual “connections” of social media Shabbat in the 21st Century is a unique present of  presence. There is no meaning like the meaning we make for each other when we come together.

– Thank you Simmy Cohen for the help and inspiration.

Multiple ID in Exile

With the close of VaYakel Pikkudei this week’s Torah portion we read about the completion and consecration of the Tabernacle and conclude reading the book of Exodus. We read:

So Moses finished the work. Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of God filled the tabernacle. And Moshe was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud was present, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And whenever the cloud was taken up from over the Tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward, throughout all their journeys. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and there was fire therein by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.(Exodus 40:33-38)

Why does the book end with this image? What is the meaning behind Moshe not being able to enter the sacred space when the cloud is present?

To understand these questions we need to look at the whole book of Exodus. The protagonist of most of the book of Exodus is a Levite who is raised in the house of the Egyptians. Moshe spent his formative years as a shepherd for a Midianite priest. While Moshe is homeless and caught between many cultures, his charge is to bring the Israelites back home to the land of Canaan. Here we see the paradigm of Jewish history oscillating between survival and sovereignty. We struggle in the galut, exile, yearning to be at home in the Land of Israel. But, it is in the exile itself that Moshe is at home as a leader.

In our portion, at the end of Exodus, God periodically settles in their midst giving the Israelites a sense of what it will be like when they have a homeland and permanent residence for God in the Temple. Moshe’s exile from the tent of meeting when it is stationary foreshadows his not joining his people in the Promised Land. Ironically, Moshe, the leader, will not be able to join them when he has accomplished his/their mission. The text challenges our understanding of leadership. Is a good leader in center stage or does s/he know when s/he has to back off and let others take center stage.

The text also challenges the notions previous generations of Jews have had regarding their Jewish identity. For example a previous generation assumed that intermarriage meant leaving Jewish life behind. Today when everyone has multiple identities who you marry add complexity, but it does not necessarily mean the end of Jewish expression. We can all relate to Moshe finding a special role in exile in as much as this state of being in between things leaves room for our multiple identities.

Bezalel Design Thinking

As of late there has been a lot of talk of using Design Thinking in reforming Jewish Education. What is design thinking? Design Thinking has come to be defined as combining empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to the problem context. The premise of teaching Design Thinking is that by knowing about how designers approach problems and the methods which they use to ideate, select and execute solutions, individuals and businesses will be better able to improve their own problem solving processes and take innovation to a higher level.

It seems that knowing your students and the context in which they exist is important to design optimal educational experiences for them. But is this a new idea?

Recently I was talking with Alon Meltzer who had some really interesting insights into the development of the character of Bezalel. In the Talmud we learn that Bezalel must have been sitting in the tzel- shadow, listening in on the divine plan, and that is where he got his name (Berachot 55a). In his nature he was an observer.

In Ki Sisa we were introduced to Bezalel. We read:

See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah,and I have imbued him with the spirit of God, with wisdom, with insight, with knowledge, and with [talent for] all manner of craftsmanship ( Exodus 31:2)

Bezalel was filled the ruach, Holy Spirit. Rashi quotes the Sifrei to explain:

With his intellect he understands other things based on what he learned. With his intellect he understands other things based on what he learned

According to Rashi, the Holy spirit was his intellectual capacity to take an idea and make it into reality.

In Vayakhel we repeat the building of the Mishkan. There we are reintroduced to Bezalel and his God-given talents.  There we read:

Bezalel and Oholiav and every wise hearted man into whom God had imbued wisdom and insight to know how to do, shall do all the work of the service of the Holy, according to all that the Lord has commanded. ’With his intellect he understands other things based on what he learned’( Exodus 36:1)

This  seems to echo what Rashi was explaining that he knew how to brainstorm real life solutions.

And then in Pekuday, this week’s Torah portion we read:

Bezalel, son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, had made all that the Lord had commanded Moses.  (Exodus 38:22)

Here Rashi explains Bezalel’s ingenuity. He was able to realize that while Moshe was shown the utensils of the Mishkan first, it would be impractical to build them first, so he reversed the order and first built the house, and then the utensils.

Bezalel has insight and wisdom bestowed upon him from God. Then Bezalel takes these designs and prototypes them, constructing things according to plan and everything is ‘as God commanded him’. And finally this week Bezalel goes beyond and reimagines the project, and introduces his own vision in the implementation of the design. Bezalel seems to move seamlessly from observing to brainstorming, to prototyping, and finally to implementing. Bezalel seems to manifest this Design Thinking process. Maybe he can inspire us to rethink Jewish Education. 


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