Vayakhel–Pekudei -- Exodus 35:1 – 40:38

The genius of every design by Steve Jobs (1955-2011) was an ability to understand what his community of users really wanted. Jobs was single-minded, and at times ruthless, in directing his designers to respond to community, to "have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

Community is founded upon shared values and built upon shared practice. The team of wise-hearted artisans who create the Tabernacle and its furnishings as detailed in the previous reading of Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) are truly inspired and devoted. The co-operative nature of this communal art project is inspiring on many levels. The instructions Moses conveys regarding the construction of the Tabernacle require materials in abundance. Once asked, the response is immediate and the materials arrive in abundance: from gold, silver, and copper, to blue-, purple-, and red-dyed wool, as well as goat hair, spun linen, animal skins, wood, olive oil, herbs, and precious stones. It is likely one of the only capital campaigns in Jewish history where its leader had to ask the members to stop giving!

"My favorite things in life don’t cost any money," Jobs’ once remarked. Jobs had clarity on the design of life, namely "that the most precious resource we all have it time." With that in mind, the strange opening of this week’s reading now falls into place — Moses' assembly of the Israelites begins with reiterating the importance of observing the Sabbath.

Making time sacred is the purpose of the Sabbath. The map of the soul’s journey, as Rabbi Lew (1945- 2009), z”l, taught, " the journey from isolation to a sense of our intimate connection to all being." That journey, unique to each soul, happens regularly in spiritual community. It is only when we are dedicated to a spiritual practice as central as the Sabbath that we can truly build communal institutions of lasting value.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's illustration is a depiction of a grape vine trained into the shape of menorah. The picture is inspired by theologian Rachel Adler's commentary on the Mishkan's menorah. She writes, "The menorah is not just any lamp, however. It is a giant lamp of unusual design.... We cannot sustain our presence at the original moment when a startled shepherd sees a terrible and wonderful sight: a tree on fire, unconsumed. We can only make a memory-tree to remind us of that moment, an artifice-tree of hammered gold, which we set afire, not abruptly, but with the choreography of ritual. Our reenactment distorts the story as it enriches it. The memory-tree is no humble wild thornbush, but the richly bearing fruit tree of the promised land, or the utterly stylized tree of modern ritual art." Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Kezayit: Tu B'Shevat In A Nutshell

With Tu B'Shevat less than a week away, we're sharing another Kezayit feature here. What's this Kezayit thing? Read here.

This coming Monday, January 25, is Tu B'Shevat (literally translating as "the 15th of Shevat").

Prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (in 70 C.E.), Tu B'Shevat was a fiscal and agricultural year turnover, the date on which Israelite farmers calculated what tree and fruit crop tithes they owed the Temple.

Once Jews were living in diaspora, however, the rabbis reconceived Tu B'Shevat as a minor holiday during which Jews recalled and celebrated their ties to the Holy Land. For 1,500 years, Tu B'Shevat was a relative blip on the Jewish holiday calendar. That began to change in the 16th century, when the date became a spiritual locus for Jewish mystics. Rabbi Isaac Luria and his Safed disciples created a Kabbalistic Tu B'Shevat seder that emphasizes spiritual nourishment of the Tree of Life. The language of the seder roughly maps the sephirot, the ten Divine Emanations of G-d according to Kabbalah, as a tree -- roots, trunk, branches, and leaves.

Fast forward another 300 years or so, and Tu B'Shevat was given yet another makeover. The Jewish National Fund began celebrating the holiday as a kind of Israeli Arbor Day, a way to raise public awareness of and international support for their afforestation campaign. Because of this new association, many Jewish Americans would come to think of Tu B'Shevat as a "Jewish Earth Day."

Today, Tu B'Shevat is growing in popular observance, and is flavored with a little bit of mysticism, a little bit of environmentalism, and a lot of nuts, olives, figs, and other tasty treats.

Oh, and apparently the holiday precipitated a rap song and video that's so embarrassing it's almost endearing. Click the screenshot below to subject yourself to three minutes of incredulity and aural vexation. Do it for the trees.

Lead image credit: "South lake view; Angora Lakes Resort; South Lake Tahoe, CA; September 2015," Christopher Orev Reiger