“The Jewish Connection”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

With this week’s double parashiot, Vayakhel-Pekudei, the reading of the Book of Exodus is concluded.

The exacting architectural and design details found in these parashiot is striking, especially the interconnectedness that is found in the details of the design of the Tabernacle vessels and the manufacturing of the priestly vestments. Since religions generally attempt to connect their adherents to the Creator, it is not at all surprising that virtually everything in Judaism appears to be connected and connecting. However, Judaism in all its aspects, seems to be a far more connected and connecting religion than any of the others.

First and foremost, Judaism (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5) declares that all people are connected to one another, due to the fact that they all emerged from the same first human being. As a result, no person is entitled to boast, “My father was greater than your father,” or, “My blood is redder than yours.”

How far back does the original Jewish connection go? The earliest adherents to the Jewish religion were the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah. Even those who convert to Judaism, are entitled to regard themselves as descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Indeed, the Hebrew names given to converts assert that they are the children of Abraham and Sarah. Many believe that the souls of all converts, past, present and future, were present at Sinai and received the Torah together with all other Jews. It is assumed by many, that, over the centuries and millennia, the Jewish souls of the righteous converts were lost to Judaism through assimilation, but are now returning through the process of conversion. Modern science can now confirm Jewish origins through the presence of unique Jewish DNA, and even the DNA of a Jewish priest can now be authenticated.

Jewish connectedness appears to be everywhere. Anyone who sits at a Shabbat table engaging in casual conversation with strangers or newcomers, soon realizes that their dining partners are hardly strangers. They quickly identify the many people they know in common, and may even discover that they are related to one another, closely or distantly. Many even share common experiences, having attended the same schools, spent their childhood in the same summer camps, were on the same trips to Israel, or worshiped at the same synagogue.

The late Rabbi Shimshon Dovid Pincus, in his marvelous writings containing his insights on the weekly Torah portion, entitled Tiferet Shimshon, underscores how one particular verse in parashat Vayakhel, regarding the building of the Tabernacle, highlights Judaism’s ubiquitous connectedness.

In the Torah’s description of the structure of the Tabernacle courtyard, found at the end of parashat Vayakhel, the Torah states, in Exodus 38:10, “Ah’moo’day’hem ehs’reem, v’ahd’nay’hem ehs’reem n’choh’shet, vah’vay ha’ah’moo’dim vah’cha’shoo’kay’hem kah’sef,” Their pillars (upon which the curtains of the courtyard were hung), 20, and their sockets (which gave the pillars stability), 20, of copper; the hooks of the pillars and their bands [were] of silver.

The architectural plans of the Tabernacle call for multiple connections. The columns of gold-covered acacia wood are connected to silver bases, providing stability for the columns. The columns themselves are connected at their tops with square rings that lock the columns to each other. Several shafts were threaded through the columns of the “U” shaped structure of the Tabernacle, and outer rings served to hold the connecting poles, to provide additional stability to the walls of the Tabernacle.

The courtyard poles, upon which the courtyard curtains were hung, were all connected with guy wires, copper bases, and silver balls.

The vestments of the priest also reflected connectedness. Gold chains and blue ribbons connected the breastplate to the High Priest’s Ephod (apron). Pomegranates and bells were connected to the bottom of the M’eel, the High Priest’s coat of blue. A blue ribbon served to fasten the gold plate to the priest’s forehead. The different sections of roof curtains were also connected to each other with hooks and links.

Citing the expression in Exodus 38:10, “Vah’vay ha’ah’moo’dim,” hooks of the pillars, Rabbi Pincus explains that the Hebrew letter “vav,” which literally means hook, is shaped like a hook, and even looks like a hook. Rabbi Pincus argues that the entire Torah should be seen as one long “hooked” document, since virtually every single Torah column begins with the letter “vav,” the most frequently appearing letter in the entire Torah.

In contrast to many languages and cultures that consider beginning a sentence with the word “and,” as not only improper, but grammatically incorrect, most of the verses of the holy Torah begin with the letter vav, the connecting letter, e.g., “And he traveled,” “And he came,” “And he said.” The reason for this, says Rabbi Pincus, is that the entire Torah is to be seen as one long connected document.

This connecting chain, links each verse to the next, layer upon layer, note upon note. In fact, it seems as if the first verse melds into the second, creating the third, the fourth, and the fifth verses. Connectedness is found in the very first word of the Torah, “Bereshith” (in the beginning), and continues to the last three words, “L’ay’nay kohl Yisrael” (before the eyes of Israel). This connectedness accounts for the oft-repeated phrase, “Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob,” underscoring that from Abraham came Isaac, and from Isaac came Jacob, and so on, until the people are given the Torah, and enter into the land of Israel. The entire Torah is really one single connected document.

For people, connectedness serves a very important function, and explains many features of life. A young person may be able to comprehend the depths of Talmudic reasoning, and yet continue to play like a child, because every person’s later cerebral developments are related to earlier mental and emotional developments. As a child develops intellectually, the old playfulness within that child remains for many years.

Another connectedness may be found in the sanctity of the Sabbath. Not only is the Sabbath day sanctified, but so is the eve of Sabbath and the conclusion of Sabbath. Since both Shabbat eve and the Sabbath’s conclusion are linked to Shabbat, these three separate times connect as one. If there were no link easing the transformation from weekday to Shabbat and ultimately back to weekday, there would be much dissonance for Sabbath-observant Jews.

Rabbi Pincus further points out that the light of the Messianic Era is also impacted by the experiences of Israel’s long exile, and visa versa. The return of Jews to observance today is a result of the impact of the light of the Messiah on the experiences of the Diaspora. Similarly, before the Messiah can arrive, there will be the so-called “birth pangs” of the Messiah, that result from the impact of the Diaspora and the exile on the arrival of the Messiah.

Of course, the most important connectedness in life is the relationship that each human can establish with the Divine. Without the spiritual connection, humans are reduced to organisms that are but flesh and bones. Human values, bereft of inspiration, would become robotic. Rather than being a treasure-trove of Divinely implanted morals and ethics, disconnected humans would be reduced to being little more than a series of electrical impulses flowing through the human brain and nervous systems, basically transmitting amoral sets of impulses. It is the singular connection with the Divine, usually achieved through prayer, Torah and performance of Mitzvot, which ultimately renders the human a moral being.

Like the hooks of the Tabernacle that connect the curtains to the pillars that surrounded the courtyard of G-d’s Holy Tabernacle, our bodies and the Divine soul that has been implanted in us, must be firmly connected to the Ultimate source of inspiration–the Al-mighty and the Divine Spirit.

May you be blessed.

This Shabbat, also known as Shabbat HaChodesh, is the last of the four special Shabbatot that surround the holiday of Purim. On this Shabbat, a thematic Torah portion concerning the new month, Nissan, is read from Exodus 12:1-20.  This year, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, which marks the first day of the month of redemption, will take place on Monday evening and Tuesday, March 11 and 12, 2013.