I am sitting in my apartment. Right now. I am sitting at my kitchen table and I am writing this. And this whole scene is completely unlikely.
The table. The computer. What I’ve learned so I can write this. The plant in the corner. The light above my head. They are all products of thousands of variables. The wood for the table was grown.The lightbulb is burning because of electricity. The seed was planted in soil. The aluminum for the computer was mined. The plant was watered. And all of these things came together tonight. Right now.
I am about to write about something I learned. And the series of moments that taught me that are each made up of thousands of elements. Thousands of variables.
I read some books. Because I found teachers. Because I walked in to a yoga studio. Because my friend loved it there. Because I made a friend. Because we made a very short, very silly, film. Because I moved to Washington. Because I was heartbroken. Because my son was here. Because my ex wife got a job. Because my son was born. Because I loved her. Because I met her. Because we both worked at a Jewish camp. Because I loved Judaism. Because I studied Torah. Because I loved the people there. Because I was born into my family. Because my mother wanted another child. Because my parents met. Because they walked into the same room. Because they lived in the city where they lived. Because their parents came for jobs. Because they were in America. Because their parents wanted a better life. Because they were born….
And I skipped a lot. I skipped some very important steps. But I only have so much time to write. And there are only so many atoms in the Universe. But every moment and every moment that moved toward that moment was equally filled with complexity. And chance. And miracles.
This week we read Parashat Vayakhel (Shemot [Exodus] 31:5-38:20).
Shabbat and then another shopping list. Really a list of things people brought for the building of the Mishkan. And Bezalel. He’s back with the same job. He’s still called out by name. He still has within him The Divine Spirit, Wisdom, Understanding, and The Deepest Knowledge. Which is cool. I like Bezalel.
וְהַמְּלָאכָה, הָיְתָה דַיָּם לְכָל-הַמְּלָאכָה–לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתָהּ; וְהוֹתֵר.
And their efforts (at donating the items needed) were enough to do the work. More than enough. (36:7)
So we had a shopping list last week. And this week everyone brought in the items on the list. More than they even needed to. And then they finished designing and building the Mishkan.
But a couple of things happened last week that I didn’t mention. Interesting things.
The first is when Moshe and Joshua are heading down from the mountain. Joshua hears what he thinks is a battle. And Moshe listens and he says something weird.
.וַיֹּאמֶר, אֵין קוֹל עֲנוֹת גְּבוּרָה, וְאֵין קוֹל, עֲנוֹת חֲלוּשָׁה; קוֹל עַנּוֹת, אָנֹכִי שֹׁמֵעַ
He said: It’s not the voice of heroism, and it’s not the voice of weakness. I only hear the voice of singing. (32:18)
That’s not all that weird, really. What he hears is the Israelites and their party with the עֵגֶל מַסֵּכָה, the molten calf they started to worship out of fear when Moshe took so long on the mountain.
Then there’s this:
.וַיִּקַּח אֶת-הָעֵגֶל אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ, וַיִּשְׂרֹף בָּאֵשׁ, וַיִּטְחַן, עַד אֲשֶׁר-דָּק; וַיִּזֶר עַל-פְּנֵי הַמַּיִם, וַיַּשְׁקְ אֶת-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל
And [Moshe] took the calf that they made and burnt it in the fire until it was dust. And he threw it into the water so that the Israelites would drink it. (32:20)
Okay, so that’s weird, right? I understand getting rid of the calf. But why the whole water thing? Why did he want them to drink it?
Rashi cites the Talmud and says Moshe wanted to test them. If they were completely guilty and they drank the gold water their stomachs would swell up and they would die. Others would die in different ways based on their level of guilt.
But then, very soon after that, the Israelites bring more than enough material to complete the work on the Mishkan.
It doesn’t make sense to me. If so many people had been involved that Joshua and Moshe could hear their singing from so far away, how was it that there were enough who escaped punishment (and who would be willing to give up so much) to complete the Mishkan? Were they scared into it by seeing all the punishing happening? I refuse to believe the Mishkan, the Place of Presence would have been created out of fear.
In Taoist thought there are five elements: wood, fire, earth, metal, and water. Each one has different properties, different, seasons, organs, and different emotions with which it is associated, and each one interacts both positively and negatively with another.
Fire weakens metal, so it makes sense to burn something made of gold when you want to get rid of it.
But metal strengthens water. Metal gives water its properties. So mixing gold with water underscores the water’s wateriness. Water is the element associated with calm, wisdom, and flexibility. Maybe it’s the water that calms them. Water opposes fire. The angry fire that Moshe uses to destroy the calf would have been put out by water. Maybe the calming water gives the Israelites the courage to access those gifts within them: The Divine Spirit. Wisdom. Understanding. The Deepest Knowledge. Maybe that’s what happened. I don’t know for sure.
Here’s what I do know: I know that we all have those elements within us. We all have wood, fire, earth, metal, and water aspects. We all contain The Divine Spirit, Wisdom, Understanding, and The Deepest Knowledge. I’ve seen it at work and it’s just true.
And I know the זמרת יה, the Divine Song, the sound made by all those elements and molecules and moments that came together to bring us to where we are—me writing, you reading—I know that Song is not a song of heroism and it’s not a song of weakness, it’s just the Song singing each moment into the next.
And I know listening for that Song makes it impossible not to realize that we have more than enough material within us to create a place for the Present.
Look back and think about what got you to this moment. The incredible set of circumstances that had to happen to get you here. It seems impossible. This moment seems impossible. But here you are. Here we are. Me writing, you reading. All that that impossibility bewilders me and it makes me so grateful.