Friday, March 11, 2016

Parashat Pekudei

            Shabbat Shalom! A few years ago, I compared the building of the Mishkan to the process of creating a perfect home in the computer game, the Sims. I still to this day enjoy playing the Sims in my downtime, and I still feel this is an apt comparison. As I said for this week’s Torah portion of Parashat Pekudei when it came around two years, the process of creating is an integral part of the gameplay. More than getting to control tiny avatars, it is the ability to create them in our image and build them homes in which we will watch them dwell, that allows our imaginations to run and is really the fun of the game for many people.
The ability to create, to truly make something with intention, is a uniquely human trait. The ancient mystic rabbis, the precursors to Kabbalah, felt that this was what it meant to be “in the image of God”: that, like God, we can create things in our own image, too, something other animals really can’t do. What distinguishes our creations from God’s, is that God has the power to create with words. God spoke and the world came into being. We have to make things with our hands. We have to think a little harder, plan a little better, be a little more careful, because as humans, we are prone to mistakes in a way that God is not. I think this is why The Torah spends 40 verses describing the construction of the universe, and something like 4,000 verses describing the construction of the Tabernacle. God’s creation is on a plane of existence we can only speculate, but we create in this world. We have human words to describe our creation, but that doesn’t make our creations any less beautiful or astounding. Our God-given abilities to build and form and shape and invent and draw and paint and sculpt are almost as miraculous as God’s ability to speak the world into being, and since we have the words to explain it, we will. We’ll talk about our creations with pride, and we’ll complement each other’s and we’ll learn from each other’s creative geniuses.
 The second verse of the portion says, “And Betzalel, the son of Ur…made all that God had commanded Moses,” which Rashi expands upon by pointing out that the text doesn’t say, “And as Moses commanded him.” Betzalel was such a wise-hearted man, a skilled craftsman, and a creative builder, that even the details which Moses did not pass on to him, he was able to build in accordance with the blueprints that Moses had been shown on Mount Sinai. Rashi uses a play on Betzalel’s name to say that he must have been “B’” (in) “tzel” (shadow) “El” (God), for it was as though Betzalel had been in the shadow of God, knowing exactly how to create the Tabernacle even with only basic instructions. The Chasidic master R. Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev recalls that the instruction earlier in Exodus, in Parashat Terumah, from God to Moses was to make the Mishkan “exactly as I show you,” but since Betzalel was able to make it according to his own prophetic vision and built it beautifully even without all the exact instructions, we learn that each of us is able make a dwelling place for God according to the visions of our own time and place.

Whether that time and place is a moment of quiet meditation for you, or in this sanctuary, or at your Shabbat dinner table at home, or while you paint or write or read, or when you create idealized versions of yourself and your dream-house in life simulation games, every act of creation is a connection with God, and every created moment of peace a prophetic vision. May we find our prophetic visions. May we take more time to create and to appreciate the creations of others. May we feel a little closer to our community in which Divine presence dwells. Amen and Shabbat Shalom. 

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