The Book of Exodus is completed. The Tabernacle is finished. Our portion begins with an accounting of the Tabernacle’s construction. The “records” (p’kuday) are detailed in the portion as if to say that everything in this project can be accounted for, everything was as it should have been. A Midrash from Exodus Rabbah, cited in Etz Haiim, states that “A person should strive to please people as strenuously as one strives to please God” (p.564).
Think about that little saying for a while. It reminded me of those times when I was much younger and was complaining or discussing a troubling encounter with my mother, who, many times would then remind me that if I could not say something nice about someone, then best to say nothing. These two little “sayings” have particular meaning now. As we get older and come to see things in a larger context, and measure things against a more historical or transcendent scale, we come to realize that in life’s encounters, how we speak to, approach and meet other people says more about us than them. Thus, the Midrashic saying gains greater importance as we age.
What would it be like if we could actualize this ideal? What would it be like in our daily encounters if we met people as if we were meeting God? What would it mean to really create a society of civility? The Midrash does not insist on everyone agreeing. Rather it simply states that we meet people as if we were encountering the sacred. We are a LONG way from achieving this. In fact, human history seems to indicate that we have never even approached this level of civility on a grand scale.
But maybe another lesson from this portion can be gleaned. The portion goes to great lengths to detail the construction. Maybe we are being reminded that the path to blessing and civility is not through grandiose plans or programs, but in the every day details of every day relationships; one relationship at a time. Not a bad idea, and it is never too late to begin. In that hope we conclude Exodus and wish everyone chazak chazak v’nit’chazeik be strong and be strengthened.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.