Friday, March 16, 2012

Vayakhel- Pekudei 5772: Is Craft a Holy Thing?

This week’s double portion we have the building of the Mishkan, starting with Moses telling the people the last instruction told to him on Sinai: to be sure to observe the Sabbath. Then, like God first instruction, Moses asks for donations to the building of the Mishkan. Then he give directions for the components starting with the tent and working his way to the Ark, even though God started with the Ark. After Moses’ appeal the donations are overflowing from both men and women, and the men and women who are “wise of heart” began the work of constructing from these raw materials. Betzalel leads the project, and he and his crews get all the components made. Two years into their journey, Moses puts together the components for the first time, with the results that the cloud was over the tent and the glory of God filled the tent.
I haven’t been writing lately. I was otherwise occupied. Last year  I wrote I still had my teenage  dream to be a software artist. I put Shlomo's Drash in Haitus trying to figure out how to do exactly that. I wrote in that B’midbar drash about change. I’ve learned that change requires building, but I still wonder where this building comes from.
For several weeks, we have had the plans to the Mishkan. These two parshiot are the action. There is a lot of difference between thought and action, as much of Exodus shows us. Moses gets the Mishkan’s specifications solely and the people end up building a golden calf. In contrast, Betzalel coordinates and builds the Mishkan and everyone either wants to donate or help build. I have really spent decades planning and doing nothing. Maybe that was not idol worship, but it certainly was idle worship. So I decided to actually do something. On the suggestion of a classmate of mine, I put some software together, an app for the iPhone and got it into the App Store.
Like the Mishkan, the app, Rashi Decoder, is to help people get closer to God. Unlike the Mishkan, it is a marvel of high tech consumer electronics, written on the most sophisticated platform existing: iOS5. But it started with planning, and then building the individual parts, and finally putting together and testing. If the Mishkan was put together right, God would dwell there. If my app worked it would do as advertised.
The app is actually rather simple in purpose: a calculator-like program to convert Rashi script to block Hebrew. It started with a complaint from a fellow student of mine that he was having problems reading commentaries given the odd 16th century Italian script that commentaries are often written in. Like Betzal’s craftsmen and women I built this program, component by component. Unlike Betzalel, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing – I learned as I wrote each component. I didn’t think there was a voice from God helping. All the references books and videos often didn’t help much. I had to play with the code to get it to work. I had to make four different sets of buttons until I found one I liked the look of.
I’m one person, not an army of craftsmen and crafts women. I had two groups I needed to please, not God. My app needed to pass the Apple vetting process to make it into the App Store. Once posted in the App Store, it has to please and delight customers, so more people will buy it. It is the only app of its kind in the app store, not to mention the code the colors and fonts and the programing style is unique to me. This app getting sold is a very creative act. It seems like the building of the Mishkan was more a manufactured process – an exact specification like the specs for the circuit boards in my iPhone, than the artistic, creative flourishes of my programming and app interface.
The wise of heart as mentioned at the beginning of the portion might mean those who are creative and skilled at their craft. But no two craftsmen are alike. My programming is not like any other artist or app developer. How could all those separate elements come together so flawlessly that Moses pops the tent together? How can my creative work be as much of a wonder as that?
Rashi points out something about Betzalel, the man responsible for getting every specification of the Mishkan exactly right. Exodus 38:22 states that Betzalel did everything that God commanded Moses. Rashi notes that the text does not say that Betzalel was commanded by Moses but what was commanded of Moses. While God in Terumah gives one order to put the Mishkan’s components together when talking to Moses, Moses transposes them at the beginning of Vayakhel. Betzalel put them together in the order God said, not what Moses said.
To have Hochmat Ha Lev, wisdom of the heart, means that you are aware that your personally creative act is also an act of God. Even if you have strict specifications, if you give yourself over to that creative act, it will be a work of God. The Temple had three versions. Betzalel’s and Moses’ Mishkan version 1.0 in Exodus is very different than King Solomon’s and Hiram’s version 2.0 in I Kings or Ezekiel’s vision of version 3.0 in the time to come. The three Temples still all fit the requirements – all are holy.
There is parable in Mishnah Sanhedrin about a king who mints a coin with his face on it. Every coin has his face on it. The wonder is that the king of all kings mints a coin in the image of the first man, who is in the image of God. Those coins have a different image every time, but it is still an image of the God. Sanhedrin is trying to point out that we are all are in the image of God. I think this just does not apply to humans being made in God’s image, but all of our work when done with wisdom of the heart, when done congruent to the source of all, will be holy. Our own style may be there, but it will shine through as divine influence.
That holiness is in my apps. It is also in my paintings and in this D’var Torah blog. I cannot ignore it and be wise of heart. So once again, I’m back to write these weekly.

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