This parsha is the last reading in the Book of Shemot also known as the Book of Exodus. The book begins with a description of the Israelites who suffered under Egyptian slavery and ends with the construction of the “Ohel Moed”, the Tent of Meeting, where God would “reside”, where the holy priests would carry out their duties, and where Moses would communicate with the God of Israel.
It is quite a stunning progression of events. It was only a year from crossing the Red Sea to the dedication of the “Ohel Moed”. The Israelites had lived enslaved for 430 years. By some counts over 2 million Israelite slaves escaped after witnessing miraculous yet terrifying events in nature. They followed Moses through the inhospitable desert. They experienced the overwhelming thunder, lightning and smoke at Mount Sinai. They were convinced to accept a new philosophy and set of laws in the form of the Ten Commandments. A mere nine months later, in the time it takes to carry a child, the Israelites had accepted the Commandments and crafted an exquisite collection of sacred vessels, furniture and structures.
It was a stunning accomplishment and transformation.
The people were longing for order and for higher leadership. When Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights a minority of the Israelites were frightened that Moses wouldn’t return. They took their gold to Aaron to be fashioned into a golden calf. However the majority of the nation didn’t participate in building the idol.
These people had lived in poverty in Egypt. They had taken precious gifts from their neighbours as they left. It is a testament to their desire for God’s leadership that the rest of the Israelites willingly brought their newly acquired riches to fulfill God and Moses’ instructions. They brought so much gold, silver , gems and other materials they had to be told to stop.
God understands the thirst for and comfort of beauty. The wise hearted and generous of heart were invited to participate in the creation of a beautiful space. The master craftsman, Bezalel, had the appropriate name meaning “in the shadow of God”. He directed and created while the Israelites wove and sewed and built and crafted precious vessels. They dedicated that beautiful space to the values of justice, respect and integrity – the attributes inherent to the Judaism that God demands from us.
The Book of Shemot charts the journey out of the depths of slavery in Egypt, a land that had everything except respect for humanity. The Israelites followed God’s chosen tour guide into the desert and up into the mountains. There they accepted the leadership of God. They embraced concepts of perfection and beauty through Torah values, and they unfurled those values with the building of beautiful clothing and vessels to elevate the values. These readings illustrate how people find beauty elevating. The roots of “Hiddur Mitzvah”, beautifying the laws, are here.
Shabbat Shalom- and חזק חזק ונתחזק