The sidra opens with the words,
“When you count the heads of the Children of Israel” (Ex. 30:12).
Metaphorically the verse could be read as saying, “When you get inside the head of a Jew”.
What does one find inside a Jewish person’s head?
The range of answers has many ideas and priorities and there is no guarantee that God has a place.
Nonetheless more people believe in God than tell you so. Though they reject the “God as grandfather” concept which features a benign old man who smiles and tells you tales of the past, God cannot be pinned down to a stereotype.
God is unique (“Ehyeh asher ehyeh” – “I am what I am”) and His presence is often suddenly revealed.
The beauty of Nature, the grandeur of the human spirit, the impulse toward truth, justice and peace, the sense of comfort and confidence – all burst upon us as signs of the Divine Presence.
God of my mind, I reason You exist.
God of my heart, Your presence comforts me.
God of my memory, I recall how often You inspired me.
God of my books, I read the testimony of others.
God of my eyes, I see Your works.
God of my ears, I hear Your call.
God of my feet, I go where You send me.
God of my hand, I seek my brothers.
God of my guts, I sense You everywhere.
God of my people, Your wings protect us.
God of my land, Your holiness is in every cranny.
God of my nerve, my courage comes from You.
God of my life, I am overwhelmed by Your grandeur.
God of my being, I am upheld by Your greatness.
God of my music, I sing Your song.
God of my mouth, I speak Your praise.
THREE MARKS OF AN ARTIST.
This week and next the Torah reading depicts the craftsmen who created and decorated the Tabernacle.
The team leaders were B’tzalel, son of Uri and grandson of Chur, and Oholiav, son of Achisamach (Ex. 31:1-11; 35:20-36:2).
B’tzalel happens to have been my paternal grandfather’s name, which in turn I inherited.
My Biblical namesake was the grandson of one of the two great supporters who upheld Moses’ arms during the battle with the Amalekites (Ex. 17) and the great-grandson of Miriam, the sister who made Moses’ career possible (Ex. 2).
Not that this distinguished lineage by itself assured B’tzalel of being appointed as chief artist and artisan. It was not who but what he knew. He and Oholiav were versatile workers in a range of media.
According to the sages, they were also special in that they did not keep their secret arts to themselves but shared them, unlike some experts who prefer to hold on to their secret formulae.
They were also distinguished in that they worked alongside their team members, not just standing by whilst others toiled.
The Torah praises them for three skills: wisdom, understanding and knowledge (Ex. 31:3, 35:31).
All three are qualities of the Divine Artist Himself:
“The Lord by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the earth; by His knowledge the depths were broken up and the skies dropped down the dew” (Prov. 3:19-20).
B’tzalel’s name means “in the shadow of God”. The true artist has a spark of the Divine genius.
MARKING OR MAKING SHABBAT?
There is a famous verse that begins, “V’sham’ru v’nei Yisra’el et haShabbat”, “The Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath” (Ex. 31:16).
We know the words by heart because they figure in the Shabbat prayers and especially in the Shabbat morning Kiddush.
But we need to be reminded of how the verse continues:
“la’asot et haShabbat l’dorotam b’rit olam”,
“To observe the Sabbath throughout their generations for an eternal covenant”.
The way we ensure that Shabbat will continue throughout the generations is to observe it, to carry out its practices and observances – not just to mark it as a date in the calendar but to commit ourselves to it in every way. In that fashion Shabbat will survive and so will we.
The point is actually made in the Hebrew but generally missed in the English. The text says, “la’asot et haShabbat” – literally, “to make the Sabbath”.
And making Shabbat does not begin on Friday night at sunset but in mid-week when we start to plan, shop and prepare for the day.
Nor does it end on Saturday night when it gets dark; it lingers until the cusp of the week when the countdown from this Shabbat gives way to the lead-in to next Shabbat. In this way we make Shabbat, and Shabbat makes the week.
Sometimes the word Shabbat actually means “week” (e.g. Lev. 23:16), and in the sense in which we have been describing the day, the whole week is a Sabbath observance and no day is without its thoughts of Shabbat.
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