My wife and I often speak about how we live in what is commonly referred to as an “instantaneous culture”;
The vast majority of our products have moved from craftsmanship to bulk produced in the last century. Our discussions range from plastic cutlery to mindsets concerning marriage, education, work, and religious observance.
It is without question that as our society has progressed towards its own technological genius. We as individuals are placed in a fascinating dichotomy: the knowledge of many skills, crafts, processes, and techniques are readily available, but the average individual lacks skills that would have been essential for lifefor most of history – things such as making fires, weatherproof structures, agricultural skills and even orientation and navigation are to a point absent in the lives of many western people.
Our Parsha begins a new Book of the Torah, following the cataclysmic and miraculous fall of Egypt and liberation from slavery. Our Torah goes on to describe the various items and practices of the Tabernacle and the requirements of its sacrificial service.
The details of the skills needed to produce the workings of the Mishkan range from sewing, goldsmithing, metalwork, spice blending and gem setting to woodworking and carving and a great many other specialized skills.
To a certain extent, the expression of freedom from any given society is judged by our ability to live without the material and cultural comforts it provides for us.
My wife and I like to think about living off-grid a great deal. After living in South India and other locations we think about cobbing and how to have a maintainable home with water, heat, and enough food. To a certain extent it remains a fun topic and has powered many experiments and learning experiences that have brought us as a family to activities such as cheese- and winemaking, crocheting and stitching, jewelry making and other skills that have allowed us to have a fairly normative Halachic lifestyle despite choosing to live and visit some remote locations.
It is once you attempt these kinds of things that true slavery is realized – the difference between the instant purchase of a ready-made item and thedays/weeks/years of work and knowledge needed to construct them in terms of effort and desire is a hard thing to overcome and in a fair few instances an impossible one to surmount.
This Book of the Torah begins the descriptions of the ritualistic slaughter of animals for various ordinances and offerings. It is an area that many people find difficult to connect with from a modern perspective. When we think of it in its historical context of the style of worship of the time, it becomes more understandable. The livestock represented what currency is today – assets and wealth were given up to a ceremonial cultural event, taxes, and donations in the form of religious ordinances.
The subject of how to view the sacrificial system in Rabbinical literature is complex. Views expressed in the Guide to the Perplexed by the Rambam lead us to understand that the Israelites were led away from their practices in incremental stages. Nonetheless a conclusion is reached that in the final rebuilt temple, animal sacrifices will once again take place. Other mystical writers such as Rav Kook use the platform to discuss vegetarianism and understand that the “need” of mankind to eat meat must be dealt with symbolically to facilitate the deeper process of refining the animalistic tendencies within us.
The deeper need to see texts within their historical and cultural contexts is perhaps nowhere more presently observed than within the descriptions of the Cohanim and their services, the removal of organs, and a sprinkling of blood on the altar. Regardless of our religious positions or denominations, none of us live in the times when these texts were written. Our cultural experience in no way reflects the authors or the paradigm that they experienced.
Our purpose is not to recreate the past, an impossible task, but rather to be connected with our people through their entire journey – a people that has its roots in the Iron Age, a people who experienced various exiles, eras and cultures:
We are invested in the ongoing quest into our people’s history and specifically the Tanach is a record of each time the Israelites deviated from the path that Hashem had set for them, not a long list of accolades and awards as one might expect.
The overwhelming feature of success in things is the learning from mistakes and the remembering of the difficult lessons therein, remaining focused on the goal and not giving up.
In a society such as ours where we exchange that which doesn’t work as quickly as possible for the newest model, it is more difficult to appreciate the years it takes to learn a skill, the decades it takes to form a marriage and the centuries that it takes to become a people.
Rabbi Jonathan Goldschmidt 2021 ©