Living Life at the First Level

The book of Exodus is not written in the proper order. We would expect it to follow chronological sequence, but in one extraordinary case, it is completely out of sequence. According to some commentaries, the commandment to build the Tabernacle was given as a reaction to the sin of the Golden calf. If so, the section called Terumah, which outlines all of these laws, should be written after the section of Ki Tisa, where the tragedy of the Golden Calf is retold. And yet it is written before. Why?

One explanation is that the commandment was, indeed, given before the Golden Calf sin, but Moses did not tell it to the people until afterwards. The Torah is written according to when God spoke to Moses, and not when Moses spoke to the people. By this explanation, everything is in proper sequence.

But another explanation occurs to me. If the command to build the Tabernacle was, as stated, a reaction to the sin of the Golden calf, for the Tabernacle would forever be compromised. If God gave the people the Tabernacle as an atonement and correction for the sin of the calf, the Tabernacle becomes a permanent reminder of that sin.

This is why it is not written after the story of the Golden calf. A powerful life message is delivered to us through this positioning of the chapters. By writing the section of Terumah before the Golden calf, the Torah is treating it as if this is life as it should be lived. The Tabernacle is not a compromise, is the fulfilled center of the Jewish people. True, had they not sinned it would not have been necessary to build a Tabernacle. Nonetheless, now that they sinned, THIS IS THE IDEAL WAY OF LIFE.

In other words, we are where we are, and yesterday cannot be erased. Whatever life choices we make become the completely fulfilled life. Regrets must be thrown out the door.

In a similar vein, there is a Medrash, a rabbinical commentary which embellishes this thought. When God said to Moses, "build me a sanctuary that I may dwell therein," Moses wondered how human beings could ever build such a large structure. After all, "even the heavens cannot contain" God's Glory. God responds to Moses, I am only asking you to construct a structure with 20 boards on the north, 20 boards on the south, and eight boards on the west.

The commentary continues, when God asked Moses to bring a sacrifice there, Moses wondered how humans could ever bring an adequate sacrifice? God answers that all they need to bring is the daily offering in the morning, and the daily offering of the afternoon.

The great Chofetz Chaim explains the underlying message here. God wants man do the best he can with the limitations that he has. The athlete who was injured must find a new way of life that will allow him to be the best that he can, and he must never look back. The people need to accept that the world changed when they worshiped the Golden calf, and do the most glorious thing that they can: build a beautiful Tabernacle.

So instead of looking back at our promising youth, and regretting that the dreams we had then have become impossible, we should discover what new, glorious Tabernacle we can each create in our lives. Only look forward, only find the most fulfilling new dreams to guide us in our lives.

Theft and Jewish Slavery

A slave becomes so by either selling himself or being sold by the court. In all cases, it is an economic necessity that forces the sale. Once enslaved, the person has many rights, and the owner has many responsibilities. He may not maltreat his slave, and he is held responsible to fully provide for him and his family.

Without going into detail, I will allow the following Talmudic quote to suffice: He who buys a slave has acquired a master for himself.

And yet, the Torah indicates that this institution, even in the humane and relatively dignified form of the Bible, is a negative one. Where do we see this? With regard to the ear-piercing ceremony.

The what?

You see, by Biblical law, all slaves are freed at the Sabbatical year. A slave may choose to NOT go free, and remain a slave. This makes sense, after all, since Bible slavery isn't a bad deal. The only responsibilities are to work for the master, and then he has to provide food, health, everything. Some may prefer that kind of life, especially if the master is a nice guy.

So when a slave chooses to remain so, he is taken to the court and they then pierce his ear. What is the meaning of this strange ceremony? Rashi, the Midieval Bible commentator, sees a rebuke to the slave in this: "The ear which heard 'You are all slaves to Me - God' yet has chosen a human master, deserves to be pierced."

In other words, God does not want us to be slaves. He wants us to be independent, responsible human beings. We must take care of our own world.

In stronger terms, what Rashi is telling us is that we are working for the Divine Master, at his business. What is his business? Fixing the world. He doesn't want us working for anyone with a lesser mission than that.