The Triumph of Hope over Experience

on Wednesday, 22 March 2017. Posted in Torah Talks

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Torah Talk on Vayakhel-Pekudei 5777

Hope is a tangible, unstated presence in our Torah portion this week, Vayakhel-Pekudei, the double sedrah at the end of the book of Exodus.  On the surface, this parashah is nothing more than a listing of how the Tabernacle in the Wilderness was constructed by our ancestors, lists of materials used, processes employed, structures and implements assembled.  So many pieces of wood or gold or skins of animals used to make this item; these artisans employed on that project; Moses asked for these materials and they were graciously donated.  And so on and so forth.

But in another sense, this is an incredibly hopeful Torah portion, a section that truly represents the triumph of hope over experience.  For in last week’s Torah portion of Ki Tisa the people of Israel dramatically failed both God and Moses: they made a Golden Calf, and worshipped it, and bowed before it, and insisted that it was their god.  Just 40 days after receiving the Ten Commandments at Sinai they forgot the Revelation and abandoned monotheism and morality and everything they had just been taught, including the Second Commandment prohibiting the worship of idols.  It was a devastating moment for Moses.  It must have been a fundamentally depressing time for God, too. 

Yet just a few passages later we find God instructing Moses to build a Tabernacle, a permanent home for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence, right in the midst of this same rotten people.  Those people, the Israelites, our ancestors, have just proven they are not worthy, and yet God immediately gives them a place—no, insists they create a space—that will be a constant and permanent reminder God will always be with them and never abandon them.  It seems like a sort of reward for treachery.

Actually, it’s a promise of hope.  For if God will dwell among them—asu li mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham we were told in the earlier Torah portion of Terumah, build Me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you—that’s a pledge that things can always be made good, that losses can be, in some sense replaced, that we are always able to come into grace and blessing.

That juxtapositioning is important.  This portion’s placement between the betrayal of the Golden Calf and the blessing of the brand spanking new Tabernacle, the model for every temple in Jewish history, is a promise and a pledge of hope.  

You know the Hebrew word for hope, tikvah, from the national anthem of Israel, Hatikvah.  But for me, tikvah is a promise from God that even after our worst moments, even in our depths of despair or failure, we can return to holiness and goodness.  And God will be present for us and among us.

So may it always be.

Please join us for Friday night Shabbat Services at 7:30 PM this week, and come with me on the Wasson Peak Wandering Jews’ Shabbat Morning Hike and Service leaving at 8 AM from the trailhead opposite the AZ Desert Museum. 

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