The Torah portion this week takes us to the end of the book of Exodus and, wow, it’s been a journey (pun intended). The Israelites started off as a band of lost folks just setting out into the wilderness, led by a guy they had basically never seen before and the God he was repping. Now, well, they’re still lost in the wilderness, led by the same guy. But now they’re a free people and that’s a heckuva difference.
Over the course of the book, they’ve had the chance to get to know the powers of this God, to test out the leadership capabilities of Moses and his brother Aaron, and to come into their own as a nation. The people who will receive the many commandments we’ll read about in the book of Leviticus are not the same as those who received the tablets at Mount Sinai. They have opinions. They have chutzpah. They have a sense of who they are.
Reading the biblical text this week was confusing for me, since it’s almost exactly the same as the text we read a few weeks ago, when we read Tetzaveh. I literally checked twice to make sure I hadn’t made an embarrassing mistake when I was writing about Exodus 18–20. Could I have somehow read the wrong verses? If not, why was the biblical author telling me something I already know?
We get it, we get it, I thought, the Priests have to be wearing special garb, inlaid with gold, copper, silver, and precious gemstones. Do I really need to read it again? One interpretation of this repetition suggests that the text is underlining the difference between the divine instructions and the mundane, physical actions that us humans undertake to realize them. In Tetzaveh, we hear the details from God’s lips, as it were, whereas this week we hear how the silversmiths and craftspeople who hammer the metals and shine the gemstones bring the vision into the material world.
I like that interpretation. But there’s another element of this portion that left me confused, and that has to do with the sheer amount of stuff that’s described. And not just the layers upon layers of Priestly clothing — the decor is pretty involved, too.
“[Moses] took the [tablets] and placed it in the ark; he fixed the poles to the ark, placed the cover on top of the ark, and brought the ark inside the Tabernacle. Then he put up the curtain for screening, and screened off the Ark of the…