The chicken or the egg?

Vayakhel - The chicken or the egg?
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
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Parashah Vayakhel: Exodus 35:1-38:20

"And Bezalel made the ark…" (Exodus 37:1)

The problem the Sages wrestle with this week is the matter of which should be built first: the Ark, or the Tabernacle in which it is found? While the answer is given (it is the Ark), they ponder, why?

In order to understand why, they begin by drawing an analogy to the Creation: which came first: the world, or the Light? On this matter, the two Rabbis named in the midrash (and pictured above) cannot agree; each makes an argument about why it should be one order or the other.

And that’s where the sweetness finds its way in. Instead of trying to resolve the question, they ask an even deeper question: how was light itself created? And in answering it, they come up with a beautiful image that forms the heart of the midrash, and my comments thereafter. Listen:

It is written, The opening of Thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple (Ps. 99:130). When God created the world it was full of water everywhere, for it says, And darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters (Gen. 1:2). This formed the subject of a discussion between R. Judah and R. Nehemiah. R. Judah said: He created the light first and then the world… R. Nehemiah, however, said: The world was created first…

R. Simeon b. Jehozadak once asked R. Samuel b. Nahman: ‘Since I have heard that you are a master of Aggadah, can you tell me how the light was created?’ He replied: ‘The Holy One, blessed be He, wrapped Himself in a garment, and the whole world from end to end became resplendent with His brightness, for it is written, Who coverest Thyself with light as with a garment; and this is followed by, Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain (Ps. 104:2). This is why it says: ‘The opening of Thy words giveth light.’ It is from God that the righteous learned that when they entered upon any work they should commence with light. Thus you will find that when God told Moses to build the Tabernacle, Bezalel inquired, "With what thing shall I begin first? I had better start with the Ark," as it says, And Bezalel made the ark.

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus L:1

Does this seem obscure? Sure – let it be. Instead, pay attention to the imagery, and the lesson. First, the visual: the fantastic image of a huge tallit (prayer shawl), which immediately bursts into light and becomes the physical universe. It is this same image (and verses) that we who pray in a tallit use to invite G!d’s blessing upon our prayers, and in truth I cannot imagine a more powerful, comforting image than being wrapped in a shawl of light – which is the Eternal One’s love.

And then on to the lesson: whenever we begin any endeavor, we should begin with light. Think of it; imagine it; try it! Any time you are about to embark on a new task, a chore, a conversation with someone else – start by taking a moment. Clear your mind – "begin with light." Clear your soul with a swift, cleansing breath, that same breath that was breathed into us at Creation. Wrap yourself in the clear, bright intention to be a reflection of that Divine Image in which we are all made. Perhaps even vocalize that intent, with the simple phrase "L’kavod Shabbas" (For the glory of Shabbat) or "LeShem Shamayim" (For the sake of Heaven).

See what a difference a little light can make!

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