Vayakhel -- Exodus 35:1-38:20

CoverDesign_VayakhelCharles (1907–78) and Ray Eames (1912–88) gave shape to America's twentieth century. Their lives and work represent the nation's defining movements: the West Coast's coming-of-age, the economy's shift from making goods to producing information, and the global expansion of American culture.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Charles Eames grew up in America's industrial heartland. As a young man, he worked for engineers and manufacturers, anticipating his lifelong interest in mechanics and the complex working of things. Ray Kaiser, born in Sacramento, California, demonstrated her fascination with the abstract qualities of ordinary objects early on. She spent her formative years in the orbit of New York's modern art movements and participated in the first wave of American-born abstract artists. The genius of every Eames design was summed up by Charles as follows: “The details are not the details. They make the design.” Eames designs took pride in contemplating the intricacy of all details and how they inter-relate to a larger whole.

That "larger whole" can also be community. 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!

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, “…is 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.

Just as the Eameses embraced their era's visionary concept of modern design as an agent of social change, so too might we elevate our spiritual practice as the highest agenda, bringing together our boundless passions and talents so we might overlap with our interests with those of our place in America and Israel.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note from Christopher Orev: This week's illustration shows the basic layout of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) within its constructed courtyard. Instead of a rectangle denoting the location of the Tent of Meeting, the silhouette of an Eames chair appears, a nod to Rabbi Glazer's Torah Byte. Additionally, the simple external wall of the Mishkan's courtyard here appears as the interior lines of a Necker Cube, an optical illusion created by Swiss crystallographer Louis Necker. I regard the Necker Cube as a symbol of life's push-pull ambivalence and the impossibility of ever perceiving capital-T Truth. It is, therefore, a reminder to walk with wonder and humility -- a fitting way to approach the Holy of Holies. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.