Taking Inventory

Double Mitzvah Jewrotica Parsha

Written by Sender Rozesz. Sender Rozesz is a practicing attorney with a background in Jewish pluralistic education for adults. Sender Rozesz is Jewrotica’s resident Double Mitzvah columnist. The views reflected in his writing represent his own personal views, and are not intended to reflect the views of any organizations, institutes or associations with whom he may be affiliated.

Rated PG

This week’s ParshahPekudei — primarily involves the taking of inventory of all of the materials and resources donated by the Israelites for the construction of the Tabernacle. It concludes with the erection of the Tabernacle, the gratification experienced by the Jews in witnessing the fruit of their labor, and G-d’s presence resting in the Tabernacle.

For purposes of this essay, the main word in the aforementioned paragraph is — not “erection,” but “inventory.”

Taking inventory is important in any relationship. Every project worth taking on must be planned; because nobody treats anything that they truly value with only haphazard, lackadaisical care. And, in order to plan properly, one must know and take inventory of the available resources, as the most appropriate tools cannot be effectively deployed without knowing what they are.

This is true of sexual relationships as well. In fact, here is an example of how taking inventory of the sexual health in a relationship may enhance your sex life.

However, it is particularly appropriate that Pekudei — which completes the Book of Exodus — should be about taking inventory and stock of what it is that we have, and what we have amassed; as, with the construction of the Tabernacle, we have completed a journey in our relationship with G-d — a journey that began with the very first verse of Genesis.

G-d’s creation of the world was a human experiment. Here was the challenge. Could G-d, somehow, create a being that was sufficiently “other” and separate from Himself that a relationship would be possible? After all, the relationship that G-d envisioned did not involve the natural, rapturous adulation of angels, who are so overwhelmed by G-d’s visible presence that they can perceive nothing else. Nor was G-d’s desire for a relationship satisfied by the reflexive and instinctive lives of the animal kingdom.

No, G-d needed to create a being that would not be overwhelmed by His presence — that would even perceive an alternative to His presence — and yet would nonetheless choose Him.

And isn’t this the model for our own ideal relationships? We take great pleasure in our connections with our children, even with our pets; but at the end of the day, the love and loyalty in these relationships is automatic and natural. Neither our children nor our pets have any real choice in the matter. To them, we are larger than life – and they treat us accordingly.

So, as gratifying as the relationship may be, we still feel a void. We still yearn for a relationship in which somebody chooses to be with us of his or her own free will; a relationship in which we are selected out of many possibilities and candidates, out of an appreciation for our unique qualities, and those things that distinguish us from others. We want someone who will make us feel special.

Fortunately for us, there is a whole world of strangers and potential relationships out there. “In the beginning,” however, there was only G-d. He had to create the kind of stranger that would not be compelled to adore Him. And He had to create a perceived competition, so that He could be chosen over any alternative. This was the Human Project.

His early attempts did not seem to fare very well. On their first day of existence, Adam and Eve chose the fruit over G-d’s desires. Cain chose murder over G-d’s peace. Then, the generation of the flood caused G-d to recognize that “the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time.” (Genesis, 6:5).

Human beings were too separate, too distinct, that they were overwhelmed — not by G-d, but by the alternative to G-d. They were the opposite of angels; and neither would do. So a certain balance was needed, perhaps. “And Noah found favor in G-d’s eyes.” (Id., 6:8). In Noah, G-d found the balance that He was seeking.

Yet, within generations, humanity was again united in rejecting G-d, as they built the Tower of Babel to wage war against Him.

And it was at that point that G-d recognized that His Human Project would require, not one body of of humanity, a mass of individuals, each left to his or her own devices — for of such a body He could not expect that the proper balance would ever be struck and maintained. Within humanity itself, however, G-d would install a guiding light, a human leader, with the appropriate balance of separateness-yet-holiness, to whom the rest of humanity would look to for guidance and inspiration.

But this could not be a single individual, no. Adam had proved to be an insufficient torchbearer. Even Noah could not stop the massive tides of humanity’s baser impulses. No, the new center of the Human Project would be first a family, and then a nation, cultivated over many generations, forged in adversity, and branded with moral and divine purpose, that would act as G-d’s human liaison with the rest of humankind.

Abraham and Sarah were the founding couple. Then, in each subsequent generation, G-d painstakingly selected the ones that would be the next link in the chain, the next step in forming His nation of lamplighters. When completed, they would be as a model home in a master planned community; a home into which others would look in order to see how they might fully maximize the potential of their own home.

When the Jewish people sinned at the site of the Golden Calf, G-d nearly terminated the experiment. However, through Moses’s intercession — and the actions of the Israelites themselves — G-d recognized that our mistake did not reflect the absence of a relationship; rather, it, and the manner in which we subsequently acknowledged and sought to rectify it, reflected the health of our relationship. Our actions were a mistake — an aberration — not an abandonment of G-d. For the first time in history, a single act of human indulgence did not snowball into a wholesale abdication of responsibility; nor did it signal a preference for a life of perpetual hedonistic abandon. Instead, the center of the Human Project turned its face back toward G-d, with a commitment to making it right.

The final touch, the Divine stamp of approval on His experiment – this nation that He had forged as the human medium by which He would illuminate the world – was the erection of the Tabernacle. Just as the Jews would channel G-d’s light to the rest of the world, so would the Tabernacle be the portal and medium by which G-d’s presence would dwell among the Jews. And with the final touches to this glorious edifice, the Human Project — begun 2,500 years earlier — was complete.

So, what’s the consensus — has the experiment been a success? Are we indeed “the light unto the nations” that we were meant to be? Are we in fact the ambassadors of the Divine?

This is not merely a question for the famous and most influential among us; it is not just for those who have enhanced our global luminescence, like the Rabbi Schneersons of the world, or for those who may have tainted our national image, like the Bernie Madoffs of the world. For after all, every person is a whole world, and the fabric of our collective destiny is woven by actions of each of us.

So we, each and every one us, must constantly take stock of our own contribution, and ask ourselves: Am I advancing the Divine mission, or am I hampering it? Am I illuminating the world, or am I dimming it?

What role do I play in the Human Project?

This is the inventory of Pekudei.