Category Archives: Pekudai

Inherited Sensitivity (Vayakel-Pekudai)

Inherited Sensitivity (Vayakel-Pekudai)

You don’t raise heroes, you raise sons. And if you treat them like sons, they’ll turn out to be heroes, even if it’s just in your own eyes. -Walter Schirra Sr.

Before Moses ascends Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, he tells the people of Israel that he’s leaving Aaron and Hur in charge. However, we never hear about Hur ever again. The Midrash says that Hur rejected the people’s request to construct the Golden Calf, and in their rage, they killed him. Aaron, understanding that he would be the next victim, and in an effort to prevent more bloodshed (his own), gave in to the request and made them the infamous Golden Calf.

When things eventually calm down, God chooses Hur’s grandson, Betzalel, as the main architect and designer of the Tabernacle, with the exclusive task of personally making the holiest piece, the Ark of the Covenant.

What is highly unusual about the Ark, and which likely raised eyebrows initially as it does in a sense to this day, is that God ordered that the Ark cover would have not only one but two figures, two little idols of cherubs facing each other.

How could it be that the same God who shows such abhorrence to graven images, who was ready to wipe out the entire nation of Israel because of their worship of the Golden Calf, could command the construction of figures to be placed on the holiest object, an object which symbolizes his most concentrated presence on earth?

There are multiple answers the rabbinic commentators provide to the question and I’ve given some of their answers in previous years (see Vayakel archive). However, according to the Meshech Chochma on Exodus 37:1, whatever the rationale, that Ark and those cherubs needed to be fashioned with the utmost purity of purpose, without any hint whatsoever of idolatrous intention.

That, according to him, is one of the reasons why Betzalel was such a perfect choice for the job. His grandfather, Hur, had fought, resisted and gave his life in the struggle against idolatry. By his upbringing and nature, Betzalel would have an abhorrence to idolatry. He would bring a complete purity of purpose in the creation of the Ark and its accompanying images, without a sliver of thought, without a notion of idolatry.

Hur’s heroic sacrifice helped form his grandson’s character. That grandson becomes a partner with God in the creation of the holiest items on earth.

May we see them returned, to the rebuilt Temple, speedily and in our days.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all those on the front line of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

God is shadowing us (Pekudei)

God is shadowing us (Pekudei)

Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences. -Robert Louis Stevenson

The main architect, the main builder of the Tabernacle was a young man by the name of Betzalel. The name Betzalel literally means “in the shadow of God.” The Midrash tells the tale of Betzalel’s extreme insightfulness as to the meaning behind God’s instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle. He was so insightful that Moses asks of him in wonder “were you in the shadow of God, that you know all of this?”

The Berdichever flips the wordplay around and explains that it is God that is in our shadow. Just as whatever act we do, our shadow mimics, so too with God. Any act that we do, God will mimic upon us. If we are kind to others, God will be kind to us. If we are cruel or indifferent to others, God will likewise be cruel or indifferent to us.

The Berdichever advises us further of the need to think well before we speak or act, for God does take note. We should never think that what we say or do has no meaning. The words we use, the actions we take are significant, they are impactful, they can heal or hurt, build or destroy. And whichever path we choose, God will make sure that we will reap the consequences of our actions.

It will be a natural reaction that we will be rewarded in kind for the good that we do, and that likewise, we will be punished measure for measure for the evil that we commit. God is shadowing us. He is watching and replicating our every word and act upon us. It may not be obvious to us, but it is as unmistakable and as undeniable as our very shadow copying our every move.

May we be cognizant of the words we use and the things that we do. May they be worthy of God’s “shadowing” and may we be the beneficiaries of only goodness and kindness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To my travel buddy, Marc L. Always great to shadow you whenever possible.

What goes up must not come down (Vayakel-Pekudei)

What goes up must not come down (Vayakel-Pekudei)

For one who has been honored, dishonor is worse than death. -Bhagavad Gita

In the course of my career, I’ve had occasion to advise CEOs and directors of organizations as to personnel issues. Many of us are familiar with the “Peter Principle” which explains that often people are promoted to their level of incompetence. For example, just because someone is an excellent engineer doesn’t mean they’ll make a good engineering manager. However, a hopeful management will promote the individual, who will not perform, and the hapless engineer will be stuck at that level of the organization. They will not be moved further up the chain because of poor performance at their new level, nor will they be demoted, because, that’s just not done.

However, more enlightened organizations, realizing their mistake, may indeed return the unfortunate engineer to their former position. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Exodus 40:18 (Pekudei) explains why that may also be a mistake.

There is a principle in the Talmud (Tractate Menachot 99a) that states that “we raise things up (in holiness), but we don’t bring them back down.” We learn the “raise” part from the utensils that were used by Korach’s rebellious group when challenging Moses’ leadership. Even though their challenge was ill-considered, it seems there was some desire on their part for greater involvement in divine service. God struck them down, but their utensils survived and were “raised” to serve as the coating for the Tabernacle’s altar.

We learn “don’t bring them back down” from this week’s Torah reading. It states that Moses “raised” the Tabernacle. However, while it is clear that Moses raised and took down the Tabernacle multiple times, it never says that Moses “took down” the Tabernacle.

We learn from this the extreme sensitivity of not bringing down even objects, let alone people, once they’ve been raised to a certain position.

May we always be rising and raising others, and finding creative solutions for those that may be stuck.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the Yeshiva guys entering the army this week. May you have a safe and successful service.

Masters of Time

Masters of Time

Time stays long enough for those who use it. -Leonardo DaVinci

The Jewish people are extremely conscious of the passage of time, of the change in seasons, of the hour of sunrise and of sunset, of the ascendance of the full moon, of both the celestial and man-calculated markers that differentiate between one moment and other.

Jewish law and the Jewish calendar are particularly sensitive to the movement of the moon. The new moon signifies the start of the Hebrew month. Some of our major holidays (Passover, Sukot and Purim) coincide with the full moon, and the monthly blessing of the moon also must be done as the moon waxes.

The Sfar Emet in 5636 (1876) explains that the Jewish affinity to the ever-changing moon mirrors a deeper connection with a fluid time stream. It is common to imagine time as the uniform ticking of the clock. The seconds, minutes, hours and days rush by with regimented, unstoppable force. It neither slows down nor speeds up when we would want it to. Time marches on its inexorable path, giving no heed to mortal desires.

However, the Sfat Emet hints that we indeed can exert some control over time. He states that in the merit of the Jewish people submitting themselves to God’s will, God in turn allows us a certain malleability of time. Perhaps those sweet moments last longer than they would otherwise. Perhaps the painful times are shorted and their memories dulled faster. Perhaps time respects the special moments and allows us to capture them well in our minds and in our hearts, making them eternal.

In short, there is some divine allowance that in essence makes us masters of time.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Manuel Tenenbaum z”l, one of the greatest teachers and community leaders of Uruguay, who constantly promoted and defended our eternal traditions.

To the memory of David Fremd hy”d, brutally slain in Paysandu just for being Jewish. May his memory be a timeless blessing and may his family and the entire community be consoled amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Blessed Intuition

 First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/pekudai-blessed-intuition/

Netziv Exodus: Pekudai

Blessed Intuition

“Intuition comes very close to clairvoyance; it appears to be the extrasensory perception of reality.”  -Alexis Carrel

There is a space in any creative work where one finds oneself “in the zone”. The “zone” is an almost mythological place for creators, a location in time and space where ones mind, hands and heart are unified and focused in a blissful moment of purpose and concentration of such ease and effortlessness that one becomes unified with the universe at that moment. There is a rightness about such an instant that is heavenly, and affirms our place in the cosmos, if only for a few fleeting minutes.

Bezalel, the head architect of the desert Tabernacle, is credited with having received divine wisdom which allowed him the insights necessary to construct the unique and complex Tabernacle with its multiplicity of parts, components and utensils. At the end of the Book of Exodus, during the description of the completed structure, there is an unusual repetition of the fact that the Tabernacle was constructed according to divine instructions.

The Netziv comments on Exodus 39:43 that the reason for the repetition was because of a sense of surprise. Moses is surprised that Bezalel got all the details right, without having received the minute instructions and subsequent corrections that Moses thought he would have to convey. The Netziv further explains that Bezalel was able to figure out the correct details by looking within himself and having pure intentions. That combination gave him the insight and the intuition to know exactly what to do.

May we learn to tap into our own blessed intuitions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Ryan and Jordan Brenner and their new art business: La Sombra Gallery

In memory of famed Uruguayan artist, Carlos Páez Vilaró.

Hazy Clarity

Kli Yakar Exodus: Pekudai

Hazy Clarity

The man who insists on seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides.” Henri-Frédéric Amiel

The modern world is fond of absolutes (and I am not referring to the vodka brand by that name). People like to be absolutely sure that the course of action they are engaging will turn out as promised. Hence the success of both fast food establishments and processed food, amongst a host of modern developments. A certain consistency, predictability, is built into a processed chicken part that looks eerily like the next and the next and the next.

Thankfully, in our inefficient world, there are daily reminders of the vagrancy and fickleness of those that attempt to provide us with goods or services. A service man who promises to come in half an hour arrives four hours later, or four days later, or not at all. If we would hold all and everyone around us to the standard of perfection, human endeavor would come to a screeching halt.

There is little in life, whether relationships, efforts or dreams that we can see with absolute clarity. And apparently that is by design.

The Kli Yakar makes an interesting observation at the end of the Book of Exodus (40:34). The Divine Presence descends onto the newly constructed Tabernacle. It is surrounded by a cloud. According to the Kli Yakar, the cloud is there to enable us to see God. It is impossible for mortals to see the clear, unobstructed vision of God. Hence, a haze is required in order to enable our perceiving the Divine Presence.

May we enjoy the haze of our reality, which enables us to experience it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the occurrences of haze and heavy fog of Gush Etzion. It reminds me that sometimes you don’t know what’s right around the corner…