“Rabbi, I’m sorry to jump on you like this at the Kiddush, but I want you to know why I probably won’t come to shule next week.
“I more or less tolerated all those chapters a few weeks ago when the narrative was about the ‘begats and begones’, the genealogies of our early ancestors. I knew the story had to get better and to move to the dramatic bits about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Then of course came the exciting stuff about Moses and the slaves, Moses and the plagues, Moses and the Exodus, Moses and Mount Sinai. But from there it has gone steadily downhill.
“I suppose I could handle the laws about how to run a just society, but, for Heaven’s sake, all the chapters about the materials and measurements of the Tabernacle – boredom personified! – and I guess from next week there’s going to be a long section about priests and sacrifices. How can I not be bored when there doesn’t seem to be anything spiritual or meaningful in it all?”
“I see your point. Obviously you don’t blame me for the content of the readings. It wasn’t me that wrote the Torah and it’s clearly not my fault. But give me a minute to put the other side of the
“What we’ve got here is precisely what is needed when anyone has a project in mind. They call Israelis a start-up nation, but we Jews have been a start-up people forever. Any time we thought of a project we needed a vision, a plan, a survey, a set of supporters, a sound basis, materials to work with, constant checks and balances.
“Everything in life is like that – you can’t just dream wildly and forget to ask yourself if it is practical and do-able. You want a house? You need details. You want a business? Can’t be built without details. You want a marriage and family? Details. You want a better society? Details. That’s what the Torah readings are telling us. Theory, dreams, visions, hopes … and practical implementation.
“Boring? Not to me. Every day of my life I look at what I’m doing, and I apply to it the perspective of the Torah readings about the Tabernacle. So, please look at the sidra in this light, next week’s sidra too, and let’s see you in shule!”
SIX DAYS & SEVEN.
We already know that we should work for six days and rest on the seventh, so why does the Torah tell us (Ex. 35:2),
“Six days shall work be done and the seventh day shall be a holy Sabbath of Sabbaths”?
Note the difference. In one passage the emphasis is on the person (“You shall work, you shall rest”); in the second it is on the work (“Work shall be done”).
Both are important. The human being has to decide to use the six working days energetically, and to ensure they rest on Shabbat. The job itself also has to be wisely chosen and properly carried out for the benefit of the doer and their society.
EVEN THE ANIMALS.
We should never brush aside the Midrash as mere picturesque legends. There is a deep message to be found throughout midrashic material.
An example: the sidra speaks of God “placing wisdom and understanding in them” (“natan HaShem chochmah ut’vunah bahemah”: Ex. 36:1). The Midrash notices that the last word seems to have a superfluous letter at the end. “In them” should be “bahem”: so why does the verse read “bahemah”?
The spelling reminds us of the Hebrew “b’hemah”, an animal. The Midrash therefore comments, “afilu b’hemot hayu mit’chach’min” – “even the animals can become wise”. Such an animal was Bil’am’s ass, which protested at the way its master was treating it. Another was Rabbi Pinchas ben Ya’ir’s donkey, which refused to eat produce that had not been tithed.
Isaiah (ch. 1) attests that the ox knows its master, and the ass knows its master’s home. The sages say that the animals can speak, and each type of animal has its own language. Animal intelligence is not a modern discovery.
Rabbi Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He was Australia’s highest profile rabbi and held many public roles. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem. Rabbi Apple blogs at http://www.oztorah.com