Creating a Spectacular Mishkan
by Jhos Singer
Shabbat Shalom, Chaverim—
Fair warning: this is going to be a Biblically-inspired pitch!
Following another long description of what will be needed to create a spectacular mishkan, or community ritual space, this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11 – 34:35) provides two conflicting examples of soliciting and gathering community support for this project.
In the first instance, God says to Moses:
“Look! I’ve proclaimed the name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah—and I have filled him with Divine spirit—in wisdom and in understanding, and in knowledge and in every skill set—to devise skillful works; to work in gold, and in sliver, and in brass, and in stone cutting and stone setting, and in wood carving, to make everything with skill. And behold, I have given with him, Oholiab…and in all of the wise hearted, I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded you.” (Exodus 31:2-5)
The second situation arises from the famous incident of the Golden Calf. A quick recap: Moses, early in his leadership, has gone up Mt. Sinai in the midst of thunder, lightening, and a cacophonous din, ostensibly to have a conference with the newfangled Israelite God. He doesn’t come down for days, which turn into weeks, which turns into more than a month. The people, reasonably, figure he is toast and start devising a Plan B. They call to Moses’ brother Aaron, saying:
“ ‘Arise! Make for us a deity that will lead us! Because this guy Moses, the man that brought us up out of Egypt, well, we don’t know what has become of him.’ And Aaron said to them, ‘Tear the golden rings out of the ears of your wives, sons, and daughters and bring them to me.’ And all the people tore the golden rings out of their ears and brought them to Aaron.” (Exodus 32:1-3)
The Torah insightfully describes two archetypes of philanthropy—giving out of excitement and giving out of fear.
Bezalel, Oholiab and kol chacham lev, all of the wise-hearted folks, use creative, generative, and visionary skills to contribute to something fabulous, dazzling and unabashedly new. These folks have faith in a marvelous, but as yet unknown, future. Meanwhile, the people panicking at the foot of Mount Sinai are shot through with fear—their faith is in the past, they contribute to a familiar formula, and instinctively lean back on their history, however traumatic and bruising.
The results speak for themselves. The mishkan is built—it is amazing and survives in one form or another for a couple thousand years. And when the Temple was finally reduced to rubble, and the Jewish people were unceremoniously sent into exile, another group of creative folks threw their talents into laying the groundwork for an unrecognizable future. (By the way, that project is still going strong, and is called Talmud.)
The incident of the golden calf, on the other hand, was an epic fail.
Here’s the thing: sometimes we find ourselves facing a situation that is both exciting and terrifying. Like walking a tightrope, we need balance and skill, artistry and a healthy respect for heights to make it across a financial chasm. Chochmat HaLev, our Chochmat HaLev is at one such crossroads. On the one hand, we need a significant uptick in financial support, lest we face an existential crisis. On the other hand, the future is hopeful, exciting, and bright!! I am energized, inspired, and totally psyched about the music, meaning, meditation, and magic that are happening here. I feel our community getting stronger and more connected, our kids are learning, and we are welcoming in more new folks every week.
Let’s live up to our name—speedily and soon, let all the wise-hearted among us bring forth exactly what we need to ensure an amazing future.