D’var Torah: Day of the Big Wheel

Text of Vayak’hel and Pekudei, via chabad.org

This post is dedicated to the memory of Steve Miller, one of our community’s Torah study leaders, who passed away unexpectedly this week. May his memory comfort all who knew him and learned from him as we did.

I Couldn’t Have Been More Than Five Years Old.

An extraordinarily well-behaved little boy, so frightened of losing love and approval that I rarely stepped out of line. When I did, it was almost always just stupid kid stuff.

Like the time I rode my Big Wheel out onto a busy road.

My mother, of blessed memory, must have wanted me to understand the gravity of the risk I had taken. She raised her voice. She sent me to my room. She told me that when my father got home, he would spank me.

For lots of kids, this might have been just a token punishment. For me, it was the end of the freaking world. My mother had never raised her voice, and my father had never laid a hand on me, never had reason to. Alone in my room, I didn’t just cry, I wailed. I gnashed my teeth and gnawed on my fingertips.

I think my mother was listening the whole time, and when I had finally let it all out and gone quiet, she opened the door and invited me into the kitchen. She poured me kool-aid, fed me peanut butter and Wonderbread sandwiches cut up into little squares.

I can still feel my sense of relief at the familiar smell and taste. I can still see those little squares, laid out just the way I remembered them from before the Big Wheel.

The guilt and shame, the anger still hung in the air. But love had returned.

This Is Where We’re Coming From

For three straight weeks, we read in lavish detail the plans for the mishkan, the dwelling place of G-d, that we would create with our own hands out of our finest stuff, our offerings of love (25:2). Instead of plain old Moses, we would have Aaron and his priests, whole generations of our kin and neighbors, to help us communicate with G-d (28:1).

Verse after verse, not a single detail was overlooked. It was going to be beautiful.

But then the episode with Golden Calf happened (32:1-35). It was only days ago, and the memory is still raw. Moses, our one connection to our formless G-d had been up on a freaking mountain for days on end. They seemed to have all the time in the world, but only for each other.

So what did we do? We turned to something we could touch, something bright and golden, crafted out of love and dire need from our own gold rings. We partied, and  we danced. Oh, how we danced. It felt good to take our minds off of everything for a while, to believe in something we could understand.

Everyone Knows How That Ended.

The dancers’ blood dripped from the swords of Moses’s tribesmen, thousands dead at their feet (32:27-28). G-d, as distant and frightening as ever, did nothing to stop them, unleashing a plague on us instead (32:35).

Our cheeks were still wet with tears when we started the building of the mishkan, the work of our hands that would bring G-d’s presence down from the mountain and into our very midst.

Verse after verse of lavish detail assuring us, in spite of the worst thing we possibly could have done, that G-d still loved us and wanted us close. Each of us brought the offerings of our wounded hearts — gold, fine threads and fabrics — until Moses had to say, “Enough” (36:6).

The hurt is still there. The blood is still on the ground.

But love has returned. Look, there’s the proof, right over there. (40:38)

This entry was posted in d'var torah, Observations, torah and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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