All of Pure Heart

All of Pure Heart


It was a chilly morning in Encino, as we met together to continue our exploration of learning the ways our ancestors built their sacred community. We wrapped ourselves in blankets to stay warm, Oteh Or K’Salmah – wrapping light like a robe. There was a strong impulse to chant: Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkanotecha Yisrael. The chant shifted our study from Parashat BaMidbar to Parashat Vayakhel, and we began.

First was some confusion – are we reading Exodus Chapter 25 or 35? Chapter 25 describes God telling Moses how to build the Tabernacle. Chapter 35 describes Moses relaying this information to the people. It’s just like the process of building anything – the building exists fully in intent before any work ever begins. It is in line with the kabbalistic description of the 4 Worlds: Atzilut – inspiration, initial spark of an idea; B’riyah – Creation, the blueprint, the full building in intent, God telling Moses what to do; Yetzirah – Formation, the gathering of the supplies, mobilization of the forces to build, Moses telling the people what to do; and finally, Assiyah – Doing, physical reality, the construction of the actual physical building.

Exodus 35:1 Moses assembled the entire assembly

To put things in context, we first noted that in the immediately preceding chapter, Moses had just come back down from Mt Sinai with the second set of tablets, his face aglow from his elevated spirit, and what followed were the first instructions he would give the people from this new enlightened state.

If he gathered the whole assembly, some 600,000 men along with the women and children, how did they all hear what Moses had to say? Did they use “Stentorian speech”, a Roman technique of projecting one’s voice? Or did they use the “human microphone” method of the Occupy Wall Street movement, with waves of people repeating verbatim what the speaker says until all have heard? If the latter, can we imagine the captains of 1000s, and captains of 100s that were described in Parashat Yitro radiating out in semi-circles at different distances from Moshe, relaying the information? And what about the ability to listen? Perhaps by then the assembly had developed their listening skills, as we do through the practice of Council. Maybe there are traces of this remaining in the modern liturgical practice of responsive reading.

Exodus 35:2 Six days you will do work . . . you will not kindle a fire on the Shabbat day.

Before getting into the instructions to build the Tabernacle, Moses relates the prohibition to work on Shabbat. Why? As any builder or architect will tell you, before the physical work begins, the conditions are set. This way the workers know the parameters by which their work will be done.

Why is the word m’lachah used for work, rather than avodah or some other word? We note the root of the word is the same as for Malach, messenger or angel. Maybe then the type of work being described indicates specifically work that could be characterized as “messenger-like”, working as an agent for someone else. In this case working on things that are divinely decreed, meant to bring God’s presence actively into this world.

And why the prohibition specifically against kindling fire on Shabbat? Fire is the element associated with the North Wind, which comes from the place of mystery, or hiddenness. And fire begins with the letter Aleph, the silent letter that precedes all that happened in Torah (since Torah starts with the second letter, Bet). So the prohibition would seem to be against creating something from nothing, creating from the place of mystery. Just don’t create. There is a teaching that this also means don’t start a “fire”, as in an argument or conflict, with your husband or wife or anyone else close to you, on Shabbat.

Exodus 35:5: everyone whose heart motivates him shall bring it,

The description of the materials that will be used reads like a checklist to an upscale Home Depot. The materials required – gold, silver, copper, fabrics of turquoise, purple, and scarlet – are at the same time royally ornate and yet very mundane. These are materials that are known, that the people have with them, having left Egypt with gifts of jewelry and gold and all sorts of implements. Copper, a mineral symbolizing passion, was used to fashion mirrors. The scarlet was no doubt an earthy red dye. This was to be a tent for a chieftain, no ordinary tent. Still it was not magical and miraculous, but was to be built of known stuff, not beyond the grasp of common folk, of stuff they already had. This is in line with our overall tradition: elevate the worldly around you to its spiritual level. The people would turn this tent made of small bits of precious yet worldly items, into a sanctuary which would continuously recreate the experience of Mt Sinai, where HaShem will dialogue with us. Ma Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov . . .

Exodus 35:10: . . . every wise-hearted person among you shall come

This was not conscripted labor, this was not a command but an instruction. Only those whose heart was moved by wisdom, chochma, would come. Sefer Yetzirah teaches that the world was created from 32 paths of Wisdom, so it could only be those who were in this flow of the forces of creation who would join in the effort. The word for heart is Lev, Lamed Bet. This has the numerical meaning of 32, the 32 paths which were used to form the physical universe. Lamed Bet are also the first and last letters of the torah, teaching that the heart contains all the wisdom of Torah (or vice versa?). These are the people that would come to build the Tabernacle.

Exodus 35:21: Every man whose heart inspired him came; everyone whose spirit motivated him

Again, this was a labor of pure love and wholeness. Or was it? The Children of Israel had just experienced the incident of the Golden Calf, and thousands had been killed. Maybe they were coming out of fear? But if so, we would expect the Torah to use the word L’vav for heart, indicated a heart that was divided. The use of Lev implies that the people were truly of pure heart and intention.

This verse led to a discussion of how we can draw lessons directly to our experience of building community at Passover Village. We may put this verse on our invitation to come to PV this year, emulating the events described in Torah that only those attend who come from a fullness of heart. But what happens, and how do we deal with those who do not come, or at least do not act, from a place of full heart? Sometimes we have tasks to do, and we just need everyone on board to get it done – such as when we raise our big tent. Having structure, process, and, at times, sternness, is necessary to accomplish the tasks and is not inconsistent with the desire for working with people with hearts of wisdom. It may be likened to dealing with a kid who messed up and crashed your car – when he wants to drive again after being fully contrite and learning from his mistake, you may allow him to do so, but only under very specific rules or circumstances. Similarly, the Children of Israel are being instructed in building the Tabernacle shortly after the incident of the Golden Calf, the smashing of the divinely written set of tablets, and Moses’ return with the second set. Come with an inspired and motivated heart, which understands the need to work with others within a defined set of boundaries.

Next gathering: Saturday, December 3

· Location: To be determined

· Time: 10-2