January 19, 2019

Architects – Thoughts on Torah Portion Ki Tisa

What qualities does it take to render an idea emanated from the divine and make it real in this world?  Creative artists know this question well. Painters, sculptors, musicians, writers, architects, composers, poets – in every realm of creative activity there are those who say that the ideas that come to them are ultimately not theirs. The source is mysterious; the work of the artist is to render.

The terms given in this week’s Torah portion, Ki Tisa, are “chokhmah, tevunah ve-da’at” – “wisdom, insight and knowledge.”  The Holy One reveals to Betzalel in Exodus chapter 30 an image of the tabernacle that the Israelites are to build. He is the visionary architect, rendering divine wisdom into reality.

The Sages used these words as the basis for the first blessing of the 13 weekday prayers (we say 19 in total every weekday, but only seven on the Sabbath. The weekday 13 are replaced by a special Sabbath prayer). The first of the 13 weekday blessings says, (in the Sefardic prayer book)  “You graciously bestow upon human beings knowledge, and teach to mortals insight. Graciously bestow upon us, from you, wisdom, insight and knowledge.”  In the prayer book, the unique quality of artists is now gifted to every human being.

This blessing in the prayer book is philosophic in nature, and reflects the power of the “wisdom tradition” in the Bible – mostly concentrated in Proverbs, parts of Psalms, the book of Job, and Ecclesiastes.  Like Socrates and Plato, and those in the Platonic school of thought, the Sages believed that there is an “upper wisdom”, a spiritual and moral blueprint of the inner universe. This upper wisdom, emanated from the Divine, seeks to be known and lived.

From this perspective, the Betzalel the visionary architect building the Tabernacle is a poetic archetype for each of us. The idea that in every moment we are building a Tabernacle, a structure that allows for meaning and purpose in life to be born, is one that can cause us to slow down and consider. Think of every aspect of your life as the material – your living space, your body, your relationships, your work, your conduct, and all the dimensions of your inner life.

We often forget that we are building a structure with our limited time here. As we hurl or plod through life, our focus can fall just to the next moment, the next problem to solve. Sometimes when we pause and step back, we realize that this structure we are building haphazardly has fallen, if not into a shambles, then into disarray.

This little blessing, “You graciously bestow upon human beings knowledge”, said 18 times a week by a traditional Jew, reminds us constantly that we are like Betzalel, rendering a Divine image into reality. Think that the Divine is imaging you, the whole version of you, into your soul.  We have to pause, to cease, for just a bit, and sink down into that image of the whole self revealed, but hidden, within.  Our holy work is to recover that knowledge, communicated to us in love.  There is a whole self to be rendered, in the constant work of self creation, into an ever renewing reality.