Sunday, February 23, 2014

Wiki-Tabernacle / Parshat Pikuei

Just as the economic disaster of 2008 hit, in which sub-prime loans fueled an inflated real estate bubble that subsequently exploded, giving way to unprecedented numbers of foreclosures and thousands upon thousands losing their homes, Alistair Parvin graduated from architecture school. Not surprisingly, the demand for architects plummeted, ironically planting the seed ideas for the Wikihouse, Parvin’s open-source project for Build-Your-Own homes. With Wikihouse, people can design their own homes using a free library of 3D models and blueprints, and use a "printer" to cut out the pieces from plywood. The printer even produces mallets to facilitate the wedge and peg construction. With pieces and tools in hand, you engage the “social economy” (that means call your friends to come help) and— well, if you grew up with lego, tinker toys, erector sets or more recently have put together an Ikea bookcase, you get the picture—a 21st century barn-raising.

Parshat Pikudei—indeed much of the Book of Exodus—describes the Israelites’ barn-raising, or rather Mishkan-raising. The Mishkan (Wilderness Tabernacle) is a home, a dwelling place for God, and the Israelites build it much as a Wikihouse comes into being: it is the democratization of production. How so? First, the entire community provides the materials and labor. Pikudei opens with a materials list. Here are a few snatches:

All the gold that was used for the work… came to 29 talents and 730 shekels by the sanctuary weight. The silver… came to 100 talents and 1,775 shekels by the sanctuary weight… The copper… came to 70 talents and 2,500 shekels…

The ephod was made of gold, blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and fine twisted linen. They hammered out sheets of gold and cut threads to be worked into designs among the blue, the purple, and the crimson yarns, and fine linen…

The breastpiece…was square… They set in it four rows of stones. The first row was a row of carnelian, chrysolite, and emerald; the second row: a turquoise, a sapphire, and an amethyst; the third row: a jacinth, an agate, and a crystal; and the fourth row: a beryl, a lapis lazuli, and a jasper….

(Exodus 38:24-29, 39:2-3, 8-13)

Next, Torah tells us that the people brought all the components of the Tabernacle to Moses:

…with the Tent and all the furnishings: its clasps, its planks, its bars, its posts, and its sockets; the covering of tanned ram skin, the covering of dolphin skins, and the curtain for the screen; the Ark the Pact and its poles, and the cover; the table and all its utensils, and the bread of display; the pure lampstand, its lamps—lamps in due order—and all its fittings, and the oil for lighting; the altar of gold, the oil for anointing, the aromatic incense, and the screen for the entrance of the Tent; the copper altar with its copper grating, its poles and all its utensils, and the laver and its stand; the hanging of the enclosure, its posts and its sockets, the screen for the gate of the enclosure, its cords and its pegs—all the furnishings for the service of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting… (Exodus 39:33-40)

And finally, it’s barn-raising day: On the first day of the tenth month, the Israelites gathered together as a community to set up the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40:2).

The S’fat Emet (Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, 1847–1905) sees a lovely connection between this account of the Mishkan barn-raising and the account of Creation. Torah tells us that after completing the work of Creation, God blessed the world and declared it holy (Genesis 2:2-3). The same language—of work, of completion, of blessing—is here in Parshat Pikudei, as well.

All the labor of the Tabernacle was completed; the Israelites did just as God had commanded Moses; such did they do…
When Moses saw that they had performed all the work—as Adonai had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them. (Exodus 39:32, 43)

The S’fat Emet notes that God had already blessed all of creation (in the second chapter of Genesis) so there was no need to bless Israel separately. This Moses does when they close the circle of creation by constructing the Tabernacle.

But it seems to me that there is also a fundamental difference between the two blessings. God blesses creation as a natural, self-sustaining order; that is, for its existence and for its potential. Moses, in contrast, blesses the people for what they do as God’s partners in the on-going enterprise of Creation. These distinctive blessings come together here: As God created a home for people—this world—so the people create a dwelling place for God, drawing God’s Presence into their lives.

The building of homes is sacred work, be it a dwelling place for the divine or a house for people to shelter from the elements, raise a family, and find refuge from the hurricanes of life, real and metaphorical. Homes are incubators for loving and nurturing relationships, and for learning values that send us out into the world to help others and make the world a better place for our having lived. Homes are the places we return to when we are weary, disillusioned, grieving, or in search of support. Just as the Tabernacle is a place where the Israelites can come home to God, we hope that our homes are all that for us, as well. We hope that our homes are places of blessing.

But what of those who lack a roof over their head? The scourge of homelessness in our country continues unabated because we, as a society, have failed to affirm the democratization of living with a roof over one’s head. The status quo is morally, religiously, and socially unacceptable, and groups like Habitat for Humanity have taught us that where there is good will, there is a way. There are other creative solutions. Here are a few:

The Carver Apartments, Los Ageles (here and here)

In addition to involving ourselves in spreading the blessing of home so more have roofs over their heads, those of us who have a permanent or even temporary address (after all, the Mishkan moved around as the people journeyed through the wilderness) face the challenge of turning our house or apartment or room into a home. Gratitude is a good start, as is being a blessing to those who live under the same roof with us.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

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