I’ll admit it – I’m not the best when it comes to delegating. Oh, to be like Moshe Rabbeinu, and have at my disposal talented craftspeople and artisans upon whom I can always depend. Often, I have people to help at my disposal, though, as is often the case with volunteers, one often has to invest a great deal of time in providing instructions and assistance to them. That’s not a bad thing at all. Many theaters and synagogues where I have worked are truly dependent on volunteer assistance, sweat equity, etc. I am always grateful for their help, regardless of the effort it sometimes takes on my part to fully utilize and engage volunteers, and allowing them to have a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Anyone who works regularly with volunteers knows that they can disappoint. Often, people mean well and offer assistance, but never show up, or have last-minute conflicts. Sometimes they have some experience or understanding of what they are being asked to to, and other times, they have little or none.
Thus, there are those times when I’d rather have Moshe’s initial problem, as brought to him by Betzalel – that the people were being too generous with their contributions. To be crude about it, sometimes having more generous giving can mean less dependence on volunteers, and I’d be dissembling to say that there are times I;d find the preferable.
There are tools and techniques for working with volunteers. I suspect there is much that can be learned from our double parashiyot about that, though not all of them are applicable all the time. G"d has given rather specific instructions for the construction of the mishkan on the one hand. One the other hand, even those detailed instructions require some interpretation and expertise in fabricating them into reality. This seems quite useful, as it works for those who need to be given very explicit directions as well as those who need some room to have some ownership of their work and creativity in the process.
In the end, though many volunteers have helped to create the parts for the mishkan, the task of setting it up for the first time is left to only one person-Moshe. Yet Moshe appears in this case to be just a "doer," an automaton, assembling the pieces. Seems hardly fitting for the assembly of such a sacred thing. However (and you knew this was coming) I sometimes envy Moshe that reality – all he had to do was exactly what he had been told. Put tab A into slot A1. Place the table here, the lamp there. I imagine stage crews or props crews diligently going about changing the scene between acts. I’ve done that work myself, and though it can be incredibly mundane, there can also be a certain excitement all around (though even that can wear thing over a long run.)
Yet there is a lesson I learned from these parashiyot long ago-though I don’t think I realized then what the source was. It started with my work in the theater, when I would do things like completely walk through by myself scene changes, or set decoration placement-sometimes virtually in the process of designing/planning, sometimes during a trail setup in a shop, sometimes as the show is being set up the first time on stage, and later on, each day of the run of a show – even though at that point I totally trusted in those who had done, or were going to be doing. I did it for a number of reasons. I wanted to be sure the instructions were clear. I wanted to be sure it worked and it was right for the show. I wanted to be sure there was logic and efficiency (and sometimes a little artistry) in how the work was done, sequenced, etc. And yes, I admit it, sometimes just to be sure for myself, because trust is an often tenuous thing to maintain. (I can also tell you this is true in volunteer/amateur and professional settings.)
It’s no different for me in other work I have learned to do – including Jewish Education. I like to try things myself, to work through the things I may be asking others to do. That is why it can be so frustrating to be in situations where time constraints don’t always offer the luxury of sufficient planning, preparation, etc – especially when it involves volunteers. I need the freedom that Moshe had to step by step go through the assembly and setup of the mishkan.
We can assign all sort of deeper meanings to this work by Moshe, and the commentators have not shied away from this. However, on a simple pshat, practical level, I can see Moshe doing this for the same sort of reasons-to be sure those who would be responsible for assembling and transporting the mishkan would be able to do it as conceived. Now, had this been Moshe’s idea alone, one might perceive it as a certain lack of faith or mistrust-for either the work of the craftspeople, or (warning-danger Wil Robinson) for G"d’s exact plans.
Setting aside for a moment the idea that the mishkan, and all the attached ritual, are really for humanity’s sake and not for G"d, I find myself wondering if G"d might not have chosen to do what was asked of Moshe? They were G"d’s plans, after all. I’d rarely be absolutely certain my plans would all work out perfectly. G"d by then had had enough experience with human beings to know that even G"d’s plans don’t always work out perfectly.
I can just see the movie version now, of this alternate history, in which the Israelites create all the pieces for the mishkan, and then G"d does the assembling. To we mere humans, it appears magical. How it appears to G"d we can only speculate.
Perhaps G"d was showing great trust in Moshe and the Israelites, or perhaps G"d didn’t know any better and was naively trusting that the plans were executed within tolerances. Being somewhat the control freak I am, I think I know which way I’d lean. How foolish of me. Perhaps (though I’m not sure) G"d knows better, that when you give the things you create or control free will, you have to be prepared for the consequences. There’s that popular 12-step saying "let go and let G"d." Can we ask or expect G"d to do the same, to "let go, and let us?" Something to ponder this Shabbat.
©2009 by Adrian A. Durlester