Posts Tagged ‘Vayakhel’

A deep mystery…

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Vayakhel - A deep mystery...
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
Visit her gallery
Contact her at shoshbm@gmail.com – originals from this series are available.

Parashah Vayakhel: Exodus 35:1-38:20

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

The Sages use an obscure device to get to a critical problem: what is the Eternal One’s role in human suffering? Let me explain the device first, then we’ll move on to the midrash, and my thoughts on what it can mean for us.

The device is the word shittim, which in Hebrew means both a place ("Shittim") and the word for acacia wood. The place Shittim is one of the many where we Israelites got into trouble, which creates an opportunity for interpretation: why should the Ark of the Covenant be made from wood that reminds us of our rebellion against G!d’s laws?

I have abridged the midrash somewhat, as the Sages give many examples of the thesis they are promoting, namely: G!d heals us by wounding us. An astounding paradox! Listen:

It is written, For I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds (Jer. 30:17). The ways of G!d are unlike those of man; for a man inflicts a wound with a knife, and heals with a plaster, but G!d heals with the very thing with which He wounds, as it says, And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah. Why? For they were bitter (Ex. 15:23). R. Levi said: That generation was bitter in its deeds.

And he cried unto the Lord; and the Lord showed him a tree (ib. 25). What kind of tree was it? Some say that it was an olive-tree, others that it was a willow-tree. Some think that it was an laurel, and still others say that it was the roots of fig and pomegranate trees. But whatever it was, it was bitter; and this he took and cast into the waters, And the waters were made sweet (ib.). A clear illustration of I will heal thee through thy very wounds.

You will similarly find it written of the days of Elisha: But the water is bad, and the land miscarries (II Kings 2:19). And Elisha said [unto the men of the city]: Bring me a new cruse, and put salt therein. And they brought it to him (ib. 20), and then we read: So the waters were healed unto this day, according to the word of Elisha which he spoke (ib. 22).

In like manner, it was in Shittim that Israel sinned, for it says, And Israel abode in Shittim, and the people began to commit harlotry with the daughters of Moab (Num. 25:1); but it was also through shittim (acacia-wood) that they were healed, for it says, And Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood.

Midrash Rabbah – Exodus L:3

Now, the problem of theodicy – the presence of evil in a G!d-created world – is perhaps the greatest challenge that any theology must face, especially if it says that G!d is all-knowing, all-powerful, and loving. As Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests, you can only have two of the three, unless you’re willing to say that there are "higher purposes," unknown to mere humans, which are served by (for example) the deaths of innocent babies.

However, most of these problems exist at the "boundaries" of our experience: those disturbing extremes that create huge challenges for every religion. For me, this notion – that we are healed by the wound that G!d inflicts upon us – is a paradox that can strengthen us in that broad middle of the road, even if it doesn’t satisfactorily answer the problems at the extremes.

Do you know how we build up our muscles, and therefore become stronger? We do it by breaking down muscles, tearing them apart in exercise. Then when they heal, they come back not merely repaired, but with more volume, and more power.

Do you know how we keep our intellects sharp, our brains healthy (and, as it turns out, as a result our bodies)? By taking on challenges that stump us; by exercising our cognitive skills in much the same way as we do our physical bodies.

I believe that the challenges that we encounter are opportunities to engage with G!d and thereby become healed – and strengthened. Am I ready to say that the Holy One, Kadosh Baruch Hu, sends us pain and suffering to improve us? No, I am not.

I am, however, ready to say that the Eternal One is a healing force that is always available to us, and that the quality of the challenge we find most difficult to face is often the one that will lead us to the most growth if we can encounter it in a spiritually positive manner.

But allow me to take this a step further. I do not believe that we can successfully have a full encounter with G!d’s healing power as individuals. I believe that we must heal each other as agents of the Eternal One, in community. All too often we forget that the brit, the covenant we have with G!d is between G!d and people, not G!d and individuals.

So, we are obligated as creatures not only made in the image of the Divine, but as sparks of the Divine in this world, to reach out to each other and help heal the wounds that have been inflicted, by whatever means.

Then, I believe, it will be true that G!d will heal us – the Divine in each of us can and will heal each of us.


Why the second post for this portion? The last one contained thoughts on a midrash, but the illustration was only peripherally related to those thoughts. Now, it happens that the midrash M’ Shoshannah and I each wanted to share is one that happens to be one of my favorites. I am pleased to say that she found it also to be quite compelling! So, now that we have overcome the technical difficulties that prevented us from delivering the "full package" earlier, please treat yourself to a second portion of midrash – in words and colors – with our distinct pleasure.

The chicken or the egg?

Monday, March 8th, 2010

Vayakhel - The chicken or the egg?
Art by Maggidah Shoshannah Brombacher, Ph.D.
Visit her gallery
Contact her at shoshbm@gmail.com – originals from this series are available.

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!