The plans that we read in parashat T’rumah for the construction of the mishkan are thorough and detailed. There’s some room left from individual artistry and craftsmanship, nevertheless, the basic structure of the mishkan and its individual components is clear.
I’ve wondered before in these musings about the level of detail, and what can be learned or gleaned from it. Why such specificity? If it for G"d’s sake, then that must be one picky G"d. Or perhaps G"d does not believe that the people of G"d’s creation and choosing are capable of getting it right. I am not sure any of us are in a position to even speculate on this, although sages have tried.
If the specificity is for the sake of humankind, and specifically the Israelites, it’s a little easier to comprehend and justify. We are, after all, stubborn, stiff-necked people. We are all also, whether we see it or not, creative and a bit individualistic-even when we work hard to put aside our own selves in favor of the greater community good.
Recently, though certainly not for the first time in my life, I have found myself in a situation where my predecessors did not provide adequate documentation to pass on their mantle of leadership. I also found myself yet again in a place where I had to pass on to another.
I have generally prided myself on the thoroughness of record-keeping I have left behind for my successors. I have also been surprised by the skeleton-like nature of what some have bequeathed to me as their replacement. Of course, what I consider skeleton-like may seem quite thorough to others, and what I consider thorough might be found lacking by yet others. Also, I have not always lived up to my own standards.
What complicates things is that I, by nature, tend to be more in the extemporaneous camp when it comes to planning and doing. It’s not always easy to put down in words what I am thinking in my head. In addition, I tend to adjust as a go along, responding to circumstances, the reactions of those around me, etc.
I am learning that, at those times, the best solution may be to find someone who can concretize things for me. They might not be able to quite glean the thought-processes and rationales behind my efforts, but they can surely record the actual physical results.
In a way, this is somewhat like the mishkan. We can try and understand the reasoning behind things, or simply follow instructions. There are those of us who can just follow instructions, and those of us who simply need to know what’s behind the decisions that led to these specific instruction. (I suppose one might view the varying ways in which Judaism is practiced as somewhat similar.)
Once again, we are left living in that liminal zone, trying to find the balance between our need to know and understand, and our need to just do it even if we may never get to understand it. Naaseh v’nishma, in a sense.
Now, after encountering this parasha year after year, some light is finally beginning to dawn. If, when I read it each year I have different understandings of it, how much more so that others will also have varying understandings. The instructions are there. It’s up to us how we use them. Some of us prefer to at times to thoroughly read the owners manual, while others just forge ahead. Yet, at times, our approach may change due to circumstances, maturation, or any number of factors.
Parashat T’rumah has just enough specificity to satisfy the need for specificity when it is wanted. Still, there is room to view the text as overly detailed (or even lacking enough detail.) Also, there is room to individually interpret the instructions. I pray that I might be able to craft the instructions and records I pass on to others, either to create a reality from them, or in passing the torch of leadership to another, in the amazing and gifted manner in which the words of T’rumah are crafted. If they are of human origin, I at least have a fighting chance to succeed. If they are, indeed, Divine, then the best I can do is aspire to come as close to them as I can.
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester