Archive for the '2.1 VaYakel/Pikkudei' Category



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.

Transitional Leadership

With the close of 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 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 Moses 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. Moses spent his formative years as a shepherd for a Midianite priest. While Moses is homeless and caught between many cultures, his charge is to bring the Israelites back home to the land of Canaan. Here we see a paradigm of Jewish history oscillating between survival and sovereignty. We struggle in the galut, exile,without a home. But, it is in the exile itself that Moses 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. Moses’s exile from the tent of meeting when it is stationary foreshadows his not joining his people in the Promised Land. Ironically, Moses, the leader, will not be able to join them when he has accomplished his/their mission. The text challenges our understanding of leadership. Leadership does not always mean being out in front. Good leaders know when to back off and let others take center stage. Moses is a leader in transition.

Housing our IP

In VaYakel, this week’s Torah portion, we learn of Bezalel the master artist behind the creation of the Tabernacle and all of the accouterments. There we read ,” And God has put in his heart that he may teach..” ( Exodus 35:14). On this Ibn Ezra comments that some scholars have a great deal of wisdom but do not always want to or have the ability to share what they know with others. It is noteworthy that the Torah tells us that Bezalel was given a knowing heart coupled with the ability and desire to teach. This project of the community would not have come together without a leader like Bezalel.

I am struck but how much brilliance of our community is locked up in  intellectual property issues. While people should be rewarded for their efforts, it seems strange that we limit ourselves to antiquated rules of who owns Torah. We need to find ways to get our teachers to realize their God given gifts to teach and to incentivize them to share it on any and every platform.

I encourage you to watch this TED talk.

Larry Lessig’s points seem to ask the right questions.  How do we reward the innovators while not hampering innovation itself? How do we build for the future?

When discussing children in his Prophet, Kahlil Gibran wrote:

Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts.

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

I have to ask, do we own our ideas any more or less then we own our children? Bezalel asks us to reconsider the house that me might build. This could be a house for God, our children, or for ideas themselves. What are we doing to insure that we creating an environment in which we are all driven to share the overflow of these wonderful ideas? They are clearly the key to our sustained happiness if not our collective survival.

I encourage you to read up on Aharon Varady’s  Open Siddur Project. This represents an interesting venture that is asking us all to teach from an open heart.

Shabbat or Death

At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Vayakel Pekudey we read,” And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto 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.” (Exodus 35:1-2) While the idea of the Sabbath is critical to the Jewish world-view, the Torah’s prescription of death for violating the Sabbath seems a bit harsh. Why is breaking Shabbat a capital offense?

It is interesting to note the context in which we read about this law. It is sandwiched in between to two descriptions of the construction of the tabernacle. In the context of our building a home for God we are told that if we act in certain way we will die. There is an interesting parallel here to the story about God’s building us a home, the Garden of Eden. In Genesis we read, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying: ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat of it; for in the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die.'(Genesis 2:16-17) Similarly, in Genesis if Adam did something the consequence was death. While they are connected by their punishments, what is the meaning of the connection between eating of the tree of Knowledge and working on Shabbat?

In both cases, God is charging humankind to be more then just creatures of habit. We are not just animals that eat and build. Our true humanity is in our capacity to reflect. We cannot let ourselves be just a derivative of our work lives. We have to seek meaning in our lives both through and beyond the physical. So too in our lives, we cannot be satisfied without taking a break from the everyday experience. We need to strive to be more then what we do for a living. If we do not remember that fact, we are already dead.


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