Fuller House: Pekudei 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Leadoff Questions: What are the best ways to reconcile with a friend with whom we have argued? How can we show that we have put aside our bad feelings? How can we be sure that our gestures are understood as sincere?

The book of Exodus closes with the completion of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle, and God’s response provides a sense of closure after the destructive Golden Calf incident.

The Pitch: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of Adonai filled the Tabernacle. When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out, on their various journeys; but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift. For over the Tabernacle a cloud of Adonai rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.” (Exodus 40:34-38)

First Swing: “The Midrash shows that with Adam’s sin the Shekhina receded in stages, until Abraham came along and by virtue of his good deeds began that tikkun or correction which lasted for generations, reaching its apex with Moshe. Moshe erected the Sanctuary and enabled the Shekhina to once again ‘come down’ and reside in the lower spheres: ‘The cloud covered the tent of Meeting and Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle’. The book of Exodus brought about the necessary correction, which is why Nachmanides in his introduction to this book calls it Sefer ha-Galut ve-ha-Geula, the book of Exile and Redemption, the full expression of redemption being the building of the Sanctuary.” – Rabbi Dr. Yaakov H. Jacob Charlap, “Completion of the Sanctuary and Tikkun Olam,” from A Divinely Given Torah for Our Day and Age, Volume II

Second Swing: Nothing in nature looks like cloud by day and fire by night except a volcano. The depth of the Lord God’s compelling but contradictory power is well evoked by the extraordinary image of a volcano brought into a tent. The concern of the last, so-called priestly editors of the Book of Exodus for liturgical punctilio ends by heightening this very contrast. The power of a being who, by all that is personally and characterologically right, should be sweeping all law aside like the irresistible force of nature that he is has somehow been harnessed for the enforcement of law. And it is a personal relationship with one man that has brought this about. The volcano has come to live in the tent because the tent was built by the volcano’s friend.” – Jack Miles, God: A Biography

Third Swing: “When the Israelites saw the pillar of cloud resting on the Mishkan, they rejoiced, saying: ‘Now God has been reconciled with us.’ But when night came, the pillar of fire descended and surrounded the Mishkan. Everyone saw it as one flame of fire and began to sorrow and weep, saying, ‘Woe to us! For nothing (literally, emptiness) we have laboured! All our great work has been burnt up in a moment!’ They rose early next morning and saw the pillar of cloud encompassing the Mishkan. Immediately, they rejoiced with an inordinate joy, saying, ‘This is testimony to the world that if they wanted to make such a thing they could not. Why? Because of God’s great love for Israel.’ That is why it says: ‘His shade I desired and sat in it, and his fruit was sweet to my palate’ (Song of Songs 2:3). – Midrash HaGadol

Late-Inning Questions: The commentaries above consider the emotional shift at the end of our Torah portion; when God’s presence fills the Mishkan, it is considered a warm embrace, as opposed to the brutal punishment God delivers in the immediate aftermath of the Golden Calf. God’s action at the end of Exodus consists of a step closer to the Israelites, rather than a step backward.What does this teach us about reconciliation? What kinds of emotions typically prevent us from embracing our friends after a falling-out? How do we overcome them?

On Deck at Emanu-El: We have our own version of March Madness here. Between our fabulous program for Marilyn Hoffman on Saturday, March 19th; our amazing Megillah reading Purim celebration on Wednesday, March 23rd (featuring live stand-up comedy with Last Comic Standing‘s Noah Gardenswartz); and a new prayer experience with Shir Hadash on the weekend of April 1st-2nd (click here to listen to some of the music we will sing at those services),  our month will be, as they say in basketball terms, “nothing but net”. But before I talk too much about another sport …

The Big Inning at the End: George Steinbrenner, the late New York Yankees owner, was famous for both embracing and reconciling; he was legendary for firing his managers almost on a whim, and in many cases, rehiring them soon afterward. The most famous example was that of Billy Martin, the brilliant yet temperamental field general who was hired and fired by Steinbrenner five different times before his sudden death in 1989. Should we see this more as a fine example of reconciliation, or more as impulsiveness to the extreme?

Shabbat Shalom!