Archive for the '2.1 VaYakel/Pikkudei' Category

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. 

Different Ways to Connect

The Rabbis had a robust imagination as to the nature of different angels. One of these was the Chayot Hakodesh. This creature had six wings. Each day of the week the Chayot Hakodesh would use a different wing to sing praises to God. The first time the creature reached Shabbat it asked God for a seventh wing to use on that day to praise God. “You don’t need a wing today,” answered God. “There is a wing down on earth which sings for me today as it says:
M’knaf ha’aretz zemiros shamanu – from the edge of the earth we have heard songs.(Isaiah  24:16)
On Shabbat, God tells the angels that God does not need songs and praises, as God has our song and praises. To this end we add many more praises and songs on Shabbat, to fulfill our special job of being the 7th wing. What a beautiful imagination? But,where in the world did the Rabbis get this image?
I was thinking about this when I was reading VaYakel, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:
And he made the candlestick of pure gold: of beaten work made he the candlestick, even its base, and its shaft; its cups, its knobs, and its flowers, were of one piece with it. And there were six branches going out of the sides thereof: three branches of the candlestick out of the one side thereof, and three branches of the candlestick out of the other side thereof; three cups made like almond-blossoms in one branch, a knob and a flower; and three cups made like almond-blossoms in the other branch, a knob and a flower. So for the six branches going out of the candlestick. And in the candlestick were four cups made like almond-blossoms, the knobs thereof, and the flowers thereof; and a knob under two branches of one piece with it, and a knob under two branches of one piece with it, and a knob under two branches of one piece with it, for the six branches going out of it. Their knobs and their branches were of one piece with it; the whole of it was one beaten work of pure gold. And he made the lamps thereof, seven, and the tongs thereof, and the snuffdishes thereof, of pure gold. (Exodus 37: 17- 23)
We are so used to seeing the image of the Menorah that we stopped seeing it as unique. Yes it was a 7 branched candelabra then helped them count the days of the week, but it also was a flaming instrument that has 6 wings like our Chayot Hakodesh. Is it possible that the Menorah is the inspiration for this image?
Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah  Yesodei ha-Torah, counts ten ranks of angels in the Jewish angelic hierarchy, beginning from the highest being our Chayot Hakodesh to one of the lowest levels being the Cheruvim which sit on top of the Ark of the Covenant which we also learn about in our portion. It is noteworthy that the Cheruvim is hard for us as moderns to connect with, but the Menorah is everywhere ( insert your pick of many Modern Israel and Jewish Organizations here).
In his Sacred Fragments Rabbi Neil Gillman points out that the broken first tablets and the second tablets are both in the Ark of the Covenant. This means we accept that the myths we held as truth in the first naïveté are in fact myths, but having passed through the critical distance, we begin to re-engage these concepts at a different level. We no longer accept them at face value, as presented by religious authorities, but rather interpret them for ourselves, in the light of having assumed personal responsibility for our beliefs.  Both are held sacred in the Ark. It is similarly interesting that in the center of the Mishkan we find both the Cheruvim ( the most accessible) and the Menorah (representing the Chayot Hakodesh the least accessible.) Might this express how we should think about building communities of faith. Different people connect differently.  We need to hold at our center different ways to connect in order to create a meaningful and enduring community.

For the Love of Meetings

At the outset of Vayakel Pekudey, this week’s Torah portion, we read:

And Moses 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” (Exodus 35:1)

Why does Moses have to assemble the people to deliver God’s message? Moses learned from Yitro his father-in-law at that there is at least one other to communicate to the masses. There we read:

And Moses’ father-in-law said unto him: ‘The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear away, both you, and this people who is with you; for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it yourself alone. Hearken now to my voice, I will give you counsel, and God be with you: you should be for the people before God, and you should bring the causes to God. And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and shall show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover you shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating unjust gain; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. (Exodus 18:17- 21)

I am sure that I am not the only one who feels that we just spend too much of our time in meetings. Going from meeting to meeting can really wear you down. I  just wish that there were other more effective ways of getting groups of people to work together besides just having more meetings. So why did Moses need to assemble the people to deliver this message?

There is no doubt that there is a value to meetings. As Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I feel invigorated and much more creative when in the presence of others. But I need to remember that just because we have a meeting it does not mean that people outside of that meeting will benefit. We always need to work on making meetings more efficient to maximize our impact on the world beyond the meeting. And yes that means we all need more action items and time to do those actions items.

 

Leading in Absence

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 Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, 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 journeyed not 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 Moses not being able to enter the sacred space when the cloud is present?

The protagonist of most of the book of Exodus is a Levite who was raised in the house of the Egyptians and then spends his formative years as a shepherd for a Midianite priest. While Moses is homeless and caught between 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, struggling in the galut, exile. But, it is in the exile itself that Moses is at home as a leader.

Here, 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. Moses’s exile from the Tabernacle when it is stationary foreshadows his not joining his people in the Promised Land. The leader will not be able to join them when he has accomplished his mission. This points to a valuable lesson on the nature of leadership. It is the temptation of leaders to create systems around themselves that are completely dependent on them. Here it seems that Moses needs to be taught that  just the opposite is true. A good leader knows when to back off and let others take the lead.


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