These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

[PEP Student] Closing Time

Posted on March 7, 2011 by Tamara Frankel

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Dear Friends,

As some of you may know, this was my last Shabbat in Israel before – what I like to call – my “North American Tour”. I’ll be traveling to New York this Tuesday, to student-teach in a day school in Manhattan and hopefully squeeze in some interviews for teaching positions next year in either the US or CANADA. (Hence the “North American Tour” nickname.) Naturally I am both excited and nervous about this experience; there is a lot to prepare before and do while I’m there. But please God, everything will go well.

In some weird way, my “North American Tour” marks the end of an era: the bulk of my Masters program is behind me and I am heading into the real world of teaching AND life outside of Israel. Funnily enough, this week’s parsha, Parshat Pekudei, also describes the end of era for the Jewish People in the desert: the complete construction and dedication of the Tabernacle.

Imagine you’ve suffered with your family under Egyptian tyranny (for who knows how many years), you witness God’s might in the Ten Plagues and the Splitting of the Sea as you flee Pharaoh and his oppressive rule. Then you finally make it into the desert, and with a few hiccups along the way, you find yourself standing at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive the word of God (whatever that might mean!) via Moses. In anticipation of Moses’ return from his ascension on Mount Sinai, you fear that Moses will never return and desire a strong immanent spiritual connection. With the help of your community, you build a Golden Calf. And then, when Moses finds you at the bottom of the mountain rejoicing with this idolatrous means of spiritual expression, Moses breaks the Tablets and begs God for mercy, so God will not destroy the Jewish People for this terrible act. And at the end of it all, Moses commands you to build a sanctuary for God, the Tabernacle, but it must be built according to God’s provisions. You have survived–with some scratches and maybe a scar or two–this spiritual roller coaster known as “The Book of Exodus”.

Now what?

Before we answer this question, let us examine the ending of the book as described in Parshat Pekudei. I must admit that I’m not much of an ‘amusement park’ person but I remember that feeling when I get off a ride and I think to myself: “What the heck just happened?!” That’s kind of how I feel when I finish reading the book of Exodus. And I think the Torah anticipates this somewhat abrupt touchdown from the “Exodus” roller coaster. HOW does the Torah address this abrupt ending of Exodus and particularly the building of the Tabernacle?

Many of the Rabbis, especially those of the Midrash (homiletic readings of the Torah), pick up on the linguistic patterns common to this past week’s parsha and the Creation of the world in Genesis. Much of the book of Exodus and Parshat Pekudei in specific continuously employ the verbs “and he made” (ויעש), in recounting the construction of ritual objects within and the actual structure of the Tabernacle. This verb is found the Creation of the world regarding God’s creation of the sky, its luminaries and the animals. The most striking linguistic parallel between the Creation in Genesis and the end of Exodus, in my opinion, is the use of the verb “and he finished” (ותכל, ויכלו). Once God has created the infrastructure and creations of the world, the Torah tells us that:

א)  וַיְכֻלּוּ הַשָּׁמַיִם וְהָאָרֶץ, וְכָל-צְבָאָם

1) And the heaven and the earth were finished, and all the host of them.

ב)  וַיְכַל אֱלֹהִים בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה; וַיִּשְׁבֹּת בַּיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי, מִכָּל-מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה

2) And on the seventh day God finished God’s work which God had made; and God rested on the seventh day from all God’s work which God had made. (Genesis 2:1-2)

Similarly, toward the end of Parshat Pekudei the Torah states:

לב)  וַתֵּכֶל–כָּל-עֲבֹדַת, מִשְׁכַּן אֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וַיַּעֲשׂוּ, בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל–כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהוָה אֶת-מֹשֶׁה, כֵּן עָשׂוּ

32) Thus was finished all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting; and the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did they.  (Exodus 39:32)

And finally:

לג)  וַיָּקֶם אֶת-הֶחָצֵר, סָבִיב לַמִּשְׁכָּן וְלַמִּזְבֵּחַ, וַיִּתֵּן, אֶת-מָסַךְ שַׁעַר הֶחָצֵר; וַיְכַל מֹשֶׁה, אֶת-הַמְּלָאכָה

33) And he reared up the court round about the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. (Exodus 40: 33)

The linguistic parallel is amplified not only in terms of the common verb of “to finish” but particularly HOW they are used. First, the Torah describes a general state of completion (“and it was finished”): in the case of Genesis, “the heaven and the earth” AND in the case of Exodus, “the work of the Tabernacle of the tent of meeting”. Then the Torah tells of a character who completed (“and he finished”): in the case of Genesis, “And on the seventh day God finished all of God’s work” AND in the case of Exodus, “Moses finished the work“.

What is the significance of this parallel? Why does the Torah use the same language in Genesis, in which God creates the entire universe, as is used in Exodus, to describe Moses and the People form the Tabernacle? It seems a bit absurd and maybe even chutzpadik (audacious) to claim that human construction of a sanctuary for God could be anything close to God’s grand formation of the world!

If you’ll permit me, I’d like to suggest that God wants us to use our divine abilities to create in the world. Human beings were fashioned in God’s image; and in many ways this means that God has bestowed upon us a creative ability like that of God. But we must employ it with caution and purpose. If our hands lead us to acts of justice and sanctification of God’s name in the world, God supports our ‘project’. If not, we are chastised and stripped of our creative capacity. But more than that, I think the end of the book of Exodus reminds us that once we have created something (and I use the term “create” loosely here), we must also know when to stop. Just as God “finished” on the seventh day and rested, so too we must “finish” our work (or at least take a pause) and consider the impact of our creation on ourselves and those around us. How has this creative act influenced my life? What have I learned in the process of “creation”? What will be my next creative act?

As I leave for my “North American Tour”, I hope that the next few days will allow take stock of my creative acts thus far in my studies at Pardes and my time in Israel. I encourage all of us to do the same, whatever stages we are at in our lives, and reflect upon our “creations” and ask:

  • How has this (most recent or significant) creative act influenced my life? those around me?
  • What have I learned in this process of “creation”?
  • What will be my next creative act?

I will end with a line from a song, “Closing Time”, by Green Day:

“Closing time – every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

Shavua tov,