What goes up must not come down (Vayakel-Pekudei)

What goes up must not come down (Vayakel-Pekudei)

For one who has been honored, dishonor is worse than death. -Bhagavad Gita

In the course of my career, I’ve had occasion to advise CEOs and directors of organizations as to personnel issues. Many of us are familiar with the “Peter Principle” which explains that often people are promoted to their level of incompetence. For example, just because someone is an excellent engineer doesn’t mean they’ll make a good engineering manager. However, a hopeful management will promote the individual, who will not perform, and the hapless engineer will be stuck at that level of the organization. They will not be moved further up the chain because of poor performance at their new level, nor will they be demoted, because, that’s just not done.

However, more enlightened organizations, realizing their mistake, may indeed return the unfortunate engineer to their former position. Rabbeinu Bechaye on Exodus 40:18 (Pekudei) explains why that may also be a mistake.

There is a principle in the Talmud (Tractate Menachot 99a) that states that “we raise things up (in holiness), but we don’t bring them back down.” We learn the “raise” part from the utensils that were used by Korach’s rebellious group when challenging Moses’ leadership. Even though their challenge was ill-considered, it seems there was some desire on their part for greater involvement in divine service. God struck them down, but their utensils survived and were “raised” to serve as the coating for the Tabernacle’s altar.

We learn “don’t bring them back down” from this week’s Torah reading. It states that Moses “raised” the Tabernacle. However, while it is clear that Moses raised and took down the Tabernacle multiple times, it never says that Moses “took down” the Tabernacle.

We learn from this the extreme sensitivity of not bringing down even objects, let alone people, once they’ve been raised to a certain position.

May we always be rising and raising others, and finding creative solutions for those that may be stuck.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To all the Yeshiva guys entering the army this week. May you have a safe and successful service.

Masters of Time

Masters of Time

Time stays long enough for those who use it. -Leonardo DaVinci

The Jewish people are extremely conscious of the passage of time, of the change in seasons, of the hour of sunrise and of sunset, of the ascendance of the full moon, of both the celestial and man-calculated markers that differentiate between one moment and other.

Jewish law and the Jewish calendar are particularly sensitive to the movement of the moon. The new moon signifies the start of the Hebrew month. Some of our major holidays (Passover, Sukot and Purim) coincide with the full moon, and the monthly blessing of the moon also must be done as the moon waxes.

The Sfar Emet in 5636 (1876) explains that the Jewish affinity to the ever-changing moon mirrors a deeper connection with a fluid time stream. It is common to imagine time as the uniform ticking of the clock. The seconds, minutes, hours and days rush by with regimented, unstoppable force. It neither slows down nor speeds up when we would want it to. Time marches on its inexorable path, giving no heed to mortal desires.

However, the Sfat Emet hints that we indeed can exert some control over time. He states that in the merit of the Jewish people submitting themselves to God’s will, God in turn allows us a certain malleability of time. Perhaps those sweet moments last longer than they would otherwise. Perhaps the painful times are shorted and their memories dulled faster. Perhaps time respects the special moments and allows us to capture them well in our minds and in our hearts, making them eternal.

In short, there is some divine allowance that in essence makes us masters of time.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To the memory of Manuel Tenenbaum z”l, one of the greatest teachers and community leaders of Uruguay, who constantly promoted and defended our eternal traditions.

To the memory of David Fremd hy”d, brutally slain in Paysandu just for being Jewish. May his memory be a timeless blessing and may his family and the entire community be consoled amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Blessed Intuition

 First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/pekudai-blessed-intuition/

Netziv Exodus: Pekudai

Blessed Intuition

“Intuition comes very close to clairvoyance; it appears to be the extrasensory perception of reality.”  -Alexis Carrel

There is a space in any creative work where one finds oneself “in the zone”. The “zone” is an almost mythological place for creators, a location in time and space where ones mind, hands and heart are unified and focused in a blissful moment of purpose and concentration of such ease and effortlessness that one becomes unified with the universe at that moment. There is a rightness about such an instant that is heavenly, and affirms our place in the cosmos, if only for a few fleeting minutes.

Bezalel, the head architect of the desert Tabernacle, is credited with having received divine wisdom which allowed him the insights necessary to construct the unique and complex Tabernacle with its multiplicity of parts, components and utensils. At the end of the Book of Exodus, during the description of the completed structure, there is an unusual repetition of the fact that the Tabernacle was constructed according to divine instructions.

The Netziv comments on Exodus 39:43 that the reason for the repetition was because of a sense of surprise. Moses is surprised that Bezalel got all the details right, without having received the minute instructions and subsequent corrections that Moses thought he would have to convey. The Netziv further explains that Bezalel was able to figure out the correct details by looking within himself and having pure intentions. That combination gave him the insight and the intuition to know exactly what to do.

May we learn to tap into our own blessed intuitions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To Ryan and Jordan Brenner and their new art business: La Sombra Gallery

In memory of famed Uruguayan artist, Carlos Páez Vilaró.

Hazy Clarity

Kli Yakar Exodus: Pekudai

Hazy Clarity

The man who insists on seeing with perfect clearness before he decides, never decides.” Henri-Frédéric Amiel

The modern world is fond of absolutes (and I am not referring to the vodka brand by that name). People like to be absolutely sure that the course of action they are engaging will turn out as promised. Hence the success of both fast food establishments and processed food, amongst a host of modern developments. A certain consistency, predictability, is built into a processed chicken part that looks eerily like the next and the next and the next.

Thankfully, in our inefficient world, there are daily reminders of the vagrancy and fickleness of those that attempt to provide us with goods or services. A service man who promises to come in half an hour arrives four hours later, or four days later, or not at all. If we would hold all and everyone around us to the standard of perfection, human endeavor would come to a screeching halt.

There is little in life, whether relationships, efforts or dreams that we can see with absolute clarity. And apparently that is by design.

The Kli Yakar makes an interesting observation at the end of the Book of Exodus (40:34). The Divine Presence descends onto the newly constructed Tabernacle. It is surrounded by a cloud. According to the Kli Yakar, the cloud is there to enable us to see God. It is impossible for mortals to see the clear, unobstructed vision of God. Hence, a haze is required in order to enable our perceiving the Divine Presence.

May we enjoy the haze of our reality, which enables us to experience it.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To the occurrences of haze and heavy fog of Gush Etzion. It reminds me that sometimes you don’t know what’s right around the corner…

Overwhelming Force in Love and War

Hizkuni Exodus: Pekudai

Overwhelming Force in Love and War

Military doctrine dictates that overwhelming force provides a distinctive advantage in an armed engagement. But what about in matters of love?

For half of the book of Exodus, the Jewish people are getting directives, planning and constructing the holy Sanctuary. At the very end of the book when the arduous task is finally complete, God, via the physical apparition of a cloud, descends and encompasses the entire sanctuary. God’s presence, if you will, is so overwhelming, that even Moses cannot approach the sanctuary:

“Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the tent of meeting, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.” Exodus 40:34-35

Rabbi Hizkiyahu ben Manoach (Hizkuni) is troubled by the apparent contradiction between the cloud preventing Moses from approaching the tabernacle and other references of God speaking with Moses in the tabernacle.

Hizkuni explains that the overwhelming presence was none other than a one-time display of extreme love that God has for the children of Israel. The overpowering presence was in honor of the completion of their sacred work as well as for the initiation of the new vehicle that the Jewish people would use to connect with God. God was so excited (if we could attribute emotions to Him) that he needed to show his love in an exaggerated way.

Hizkuni finds a similar phenomenon during the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem.

“And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” Kings I 8:10-11

At such special events, God demonstrates His special attention and closeness. Thereafter He retreats and diminishes His obvious attention to levels more appropriate for daily interaction.

May we know how and when to demonstrate overwhelming love for those special occasions as well as knowing how to demonstrate love of the daily variety.

Shabbat Shalom,

Bentzi

Dedication

To my brand new nephew, Jacob Ari Tocker, named after his great-grandfather Jacob Tocker who passed away last year.