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Vayakel/Pekudei 5773 (Drones Beget Drones)

This week I am wondering why I am not so outraged that Rand Paul will not shut up … Senator Paul is engaging in a ‘Mr. Smith Goes To Washington’ kind of filibuster, protesting President Obama’s nomination to head the CIA. The point that Senator Paul keeps returning to is his grave concern that the President holds the power to order a drone strike on American citizens under ‘extreme circumstances’. I have never found myself on the same side of a political issue as Senator Rand. Nor I as I try to understand the reasons behind his filibuster, do I see a lot symmetry in this case between our political ideologies. And as outrageous as his claim and fear of drones striking Americans on American soil may be, I have studied too much history to blithely discount such a concern.

It is not at all an uncommon historical occurrence for those in power (or those who seek power) to consider their fellow human beings an impediment or threat. Such situations occur when those in positions of authority or influence stop seeing the humanity of the other human beings who inhabit the same state or community. (i.e when governments see their citizens as drones, then it is easier to send drones to deal with them – (seeing) drones beget (using) drones). Instead of seeing human beings – who contain and emanate sparks of Divinity and the Sacred, they see obstacles and threats. And then they act accordingly.

In this week’s Torah portion – Vayakel/Pekudei – we (again) have an accounting of the structure, elements and various details of the portable Tabernacle that traveled with the Israelites in the wilderness. One would hope for a more dramatic and fitting end to the book of Exodus — the book that begins in slavery in Egypt, then sees the dramatic redemption of the Israelites and then their revelatory encounter with God at Sinai. Instead, we get a rehashing (It is the second or third time already!) of the pieces, parts and instructions for the Israelites wilderness DIY project.

Within this rehashing is a subtle, yet helpful perspective as we consider the ways that – when at our worst – we human beings tend to regard one another. The book of Exodus begins in Egypt — in slavery. Slavery exemplifies the worst of this inability to see the divinity in the other. It is the ultimate in seeing others as things to be used or to be disregarded when their utility ends. We end Exodus in Pekudei — which derives from the Hebrew root that has to do with ‘taking a count’ or ‘taking note of’. We end Exodus with a laborious counting and noting of each and every element of the Tabernacle.

Here I turn to Ovadiah Sforno (15th century Italian commentator) who had something to say about this counting and noting:

“ …each one of them (the articles counted) was worthy to be considered as important and to       be called by its private (individual) name, not only as part of a generic group (category). This is certainly justified (regarding) each one of the holy vessels …”  (Sforno on Exodus 38:21, translation from Sforno: Commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Raphael Pelcovitz)
Sforno speaks of the act of counting the vessels as a way of remembering and acknowledging their inherent worth and value. If such an approach is true of the articles of the Tabernacle, how much the more so is this concept is true for living beings? The counting of these mere vessels is an interesting contrast to the way that our ancestors were ‘counted’ at the beginning of Exodus.

… and an important reminder for us, as well. This tendency toward having trouble remembering, counting or taking note of the humanity in others is embedded deep within our psyche. We find its roots within responding to the needs and demands of surviving in the world. Living only in that perception of reality is akin to being slaves in Egypt. Expecting that our leaders and our institutions seek to honor the sparks of divinity in all human beings liberates us from that bondage. Seeking to cultivate that spark within one another enables us make the entire world a Tabernacle (just like what is described in Exodus) and to encounter the divine in each and every moment and place in our world.

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