Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Pekudi: Exodus 38:21 - 40:38

Born in Philadelphia in 1962, Jonathan Mandell is now one of the nation's leading mosaic artists. This mosaic was made for the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Horsham, Pennsylvania. It is positioned in a room separating the main social space and the synagogue. The frame is made with ceramic tile, glass gems, lepidolite, and citrine. Jerusalem stone is used to depict the wall and the ground. The plant growth emanating from the wall is made with a green and white agate. The figures at the wall are divided with a fence, as in life, with the men on the left and the women on the right. The figures are decorated with various stones, including turquoise, red jasper, galena, pyrite, snowflake obsidian, tigereye, blue lace agate, unakite, amethyst, abalone, white iridescent shell, rhodochrosite, maraposite, yellow dendrite, green dendrite, picture jasper, white quartz, rhodonite, steel wire, and mirror. The grout joints have been left open at the wall, thus adding an interactive quality to the mosaic. Residents and guests of the Center can insert notes in between the stones of the wall. These notes will then be sent to Israel on a regular basis.

The Torah reading of Pikudei, marks the close of the remarkable book of Exodus. The initial experiences of the people of Israel vividly demonstrate the growing pains which a nation of former slaves must undergo in order to first achieve emotional stability and ultimately fulfill the lofty task of serving as a moral and spiritual light unto all nations.

Several Torah readings earlier in Exodus, prior to the divine uttering of the Ten Commandments, God needs to repeatedly drive home to Moses the importance of warning the people against breaking through the barriers at the base of Mt. Sinai. Although Moses certainly understands the need to protect the people from committing a transgression punishable by death, he seems to feel that the people's spoken commitment to fulfill the word of God can be taken at face value. Moses apparently does not fully realize the limitations of good intentions in the absence of emotional stability until the sin of the Golden Calf. Beholding the people in the aftermath of this unfortunate incident, Moses realizes that the people were "broken loose", and needs no instructions from God in order to literally administer the people "bitter medicine" towards rectifying their lack of emotional and spiritual balance.

In closing Exodus, however, we find a people who while fulfilling God's instructions to the letter, still have a problem striking a proper balance in dedicating themselves to His service. Whereas the materials for the construction of the Tabernacle were meant to be donated voluntarily, the people's offerings of valuables actually came to be something of an obsession to the point where the people had to be "restrained" from making additional donations (Exodus 36).

Although they had been materially excessive, Moses sees that it is fitting to bestow a spiritual blessing upon the people's dutiful fulfillment of God's will. While this blessing does not merit explicit mention in our Torah reading, it was recorded as the closing verse of Psalm 90, "A Prayer for Moses". This verse, which calls for the Divine Presence to abide in the work of our hands, greets us in our prayer liturgy as we make our transition from the holy Sabbath to the resumption of the six days of work. However mundane some of our weekday tasks may sometimes seem, we should strive to see their proper fulfillment as carrying importance commensurate to that of the work which went into the construction of the holy Tabernacle. From

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