Lego Land

06/03/2017 at 11:23 Leave a comment

“Lego Land”


Parashat Terumah

Neil F. Blumofe

4 March 2017


Earlier this week, as part of our 10,000 Faces of Torah initiative, I was leading a Torah study on this week’s Torah portion in a house filled with wonderfully engaged participants.  Most folks there had not really studied in a concerted way – and as we spoke together, introducing the topic of building the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, out of very rich materials gained in Egypt as the Israelites were leaving slavery – the people assembled were now in the desert learning how to relate to each other in their newly discovered freedom.


As we learned about the ancient rabbinic concept of — ein haKadosh Baruch Hu makeh et Yisrael eleh im kein borei lahem refuah techilah – or in other words, threats and danger do not appear to Israel unless God has set up a remedy for them first.  This is a concept central to our understanding of Purim – where the machinations of the villain Haman have already been mitigated by the presence of Esther, who has previously been chosen to be the queen to King Achashverosh – and this concept is also relevant to our Torah portion, as understood by the great medieval sage, Rashi – the Tabernacle exists — it is already in place to neutralize the damage of the orgiastic insurgency of the Golden Calf.  While the episode of the Golden Calf is yet to come in our linear reading of the Torah – according to our teaching, this difficult episode of impatience and betrayal was already anticipated in the scheme of things and the antidote to its potential harm – the building of the Mishkan — has already been injected into the world.


While we were studying, the realization that the Jews are often their own worst enemies, surfaced.  Very often, our tendency not to give our neighbor the benefit of the doubt degrades our relationships – and our tendency to be unduly influenced by antagonism and disapproval coarsens the fabric of our delicate community.  We were speaking about this a few days ago as we were all affected by the grim, ironic realization that over the past several weeks, over 100 Jewish community centers, schools, synagogues, and cemeteries have been threatened by bomb threats, vandalism, and violence.  We have seen picture after picture of the gravestones of our loved ones toppled over and we have seen our most vulnerable – children and seniors — being evacuated from places that are meant to serve as places of refuge – that are meant to serve as sanctuaries from the ever-present, creeping indignities of everyday life – the places that are currently threatened are the very places build by Jews as buttresses against such insidious antisemitism.


These baleful events exacerbate the apprehension that many feel as we all struggle to recalibrate and respond to a whirlwind of new national leadership and a perceived breakdown of the previously organized signposts of our media and of our culture.  The boundaries between fact and fiction are more porous than ever – and our ability to customize our own worldview while at the same time being manipulated by the viewpoints of others, seems to be unprecedented.


And here we are, in the specter of this disquiet, finding the common thread of our own difficulties with each other.  It seems, that in reaction to the difficulties of this world, we take out our stress by struggling against those with whom we are meant to find common ground and shared experiences.  As Jews, we attack each other – as the easiest, softest targets.  This congregation is not immune from this affliction.  As we find ourselves in a clash of ideals, we discover perhaps to our surprise, our own inherent trigger warnings attached to our staked-out political positions – and we compensate for our unease by disengaging from each other, and even boycotting or badmouthing this community, sacrificing it to our so-called higher ideals or prevailing priorities.  I think that this is a grave mistake.


In a time such as this, such behavior underscores that many of us are truly alone – unwilling to invest in a Jewish community that at times may cause some turbulence and friction – and at the same time knowing that out in the larger world, there are those who have already dehumanized us and who don’t think twice about threatening our children and grandparents.


And however difficult it may be to affirm, we do have the principle that even in the darkening hours, there are remedies already in place that provide a cure.  I welcome all of us to cultivate the gifts of perseverance and resilience as we move in this community – allowing for civil disagreement without turning everything into a zero-sum game.  I ask us to make our synagogue life a higher priority, knowing that our potential disbeliefs and distrusts – and certainly the ills of this world will not be solved by our disengagement.  I am confident that this community will long outlast current political alliances and will thrive beyond specific administrations.


Also this week, we were privileged to have in Austin a world-renowned scholar of Jewish Mysticism and Zohar, which is the foundational work of the Kabbalah.  As Melila was visiting, she taught that this world is linked together in a unified oneness, as the Kabbalah states – [our lives] constitute a chain linking everything from the highest to the lowest, extending from the upper pool to the edge of the universe.  There is nothing – not even the tiniest thing – that is not fastened to the link of this chain…Down to the last link, everything is linked with everything else – so divine essence is below as well as above – in heaven and on earth.  There is nothing else. 


According to our Torah, this is the way that we fix our Golden Calf moments.  As we construct our Mishkan, we make kerashim – vertical planks that were held flush by two tenons that inserted into two mortises and were made strong by their mutual support – like legos.  We realize that in our study of the Mishkan we can frame our perspective, and realize that ultimately, we gain support from being in relationship with each other – also like legos.  In learning about this sacred architecture of the Torah, and in our hopes of bringing meaning into our world, we can recast our hardening perspectives with a modicum of gentleness.  The world will not readily offer inherent safety and security – we must forge those bonds of kinship and commonality in the hard work that we do by finding common ground all around us, and linking ourselves to the circumstances of our neighbors – this kind of work begins within this sacred structure – if we are finding our motivations and rationale beyond these sacred kerashim, then we are failing each other and absconding from our responsibility – we are then unwittingly allowing the ascendancy of those who wish us harm.


In response, we are to give each other the benefit of the doubt – as we try mightily to make sense of what is around us.  We must do so with generosity and an increased tolerance that none of us really know what we are doing and none of us knows what is coming – and that we must not operate from exclusive self-interest.  We know and we take solace that there are remedies awaiting our discovery – already built into our world – so, let us not fixate on the ailments themselves and the deliberate misdirection of our politicians – but rather let us concentrate on these positive, powerful countermeasures of blessing, grace, and mercy that are previously God-given – and let these be the ways — the tenons — that hold us together.


Shabbat Shalom.


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