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  • Writer's pictureAyelet HaShachar

The Mishkan - Jews, God and consent

This Dvar Torah was delivered on 8 March 2019, International Women’s Day by Seri Feldman-Gubbay at Ayelet HaShachar’s Kabbalat Shabbat service, responding to the themes and content of Parshat Pekudei.

Content warning: This Dvar Torah contains mention of assault and violence against women and non-males by men.

In this week’s parsha, Pekudei, there is a counting of all the gold, silver and copper donated by the people for the making of the Mishkan or the Tabernacle. There are eight priestly garments all made according to specifications communicated to Moses earlier on. The Tabernacle is completed, and all of its components are brought to Moses, who erects it and then anoints it with holy oil, and then initiates Aaron and his four sons into the priesthood. A cloud then appears over the Mishkan, signifying the Divine Presence that has come to dwell within it.

This week’s parsha appears to be a little boring I’ll admit it, but I’ll do my best to bring it to life.

For over a hundred verses or so, the Tabernacle and its construction is detailed over and over again in the Torah. For comparison, the creation of the entire universe only took God 31 verses. There are a few ways to read into this. Firstly, perhaps, God was very humble and didn’t want to go on and on about how Earth was created so as to stop hundreds of millions of unnecessary lives and dollars to be sacrificed in his name. Or perhaps God didn’t want to go on and detail how he created a universe so as to stop any imitators from trying to create their own universe, hence stealing his well-deserved thunder.

Okay, bear with me as I go on a slight tangent, towards possibly a better explanation to the length and importance given to this Tabernacle.

When the Jews were offered the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, it was an ecstatic revelation. They accepted, and they were totally over the moon to do so. They basically signed an invisible contract and agreed that they were God’s chosen people and it was a pretty big moment for the Jews. However, what you’ll note is that before the Jews accepted into this agreement, Hashem did not send down a little angel lawyer with a drawn up contract of what this relationship would entail, what he could do, what they could do, what was and wasn’t allowed. They didn’t get to read the Ten Commandments and amend them slightly. I mean, why didn’t they just get rid of the term which stipulated they couldn’t have any other Gods? Then we’d be fine, no Golden Calf situation, no having to build this Tabernacle and waste so many versus on it!

What I’m getting at is a question: Did the Jews truly consent to their relationship with God if they were not aware of the terms? They didn’t know what they agreed to, which as far as the law is concerned, doesn’t equal consent; even we need to click accept when we see terms and conditions online, and I know full well each and every one of you reads those t&c’s with a fine tooth comb.

So there is this relationship which exists non-consensually, with an imbalance of power, and then there is this Golden Calf incident, and people were surprised! But, of course there was going to be a Golden calf! The relationship was doomed to fail. The Golden Calf, for me is not here a symbol of a huge wrongdoing, but rather it is merely proof that no relationship can succeed under false pretenses, under unknown terms, with unfair power imbalances, and we Jews, and our very special relationship to God are no different.

So we’ve made it to our Parsha now, and we have finally built this legit Tabernacle, and its only taken us bloody ages to do so, but I think it’s because we have finally taken the time to bring out the magnifying glass to the screen and actually see what is going to happen to my phone if I upgrade it, or rather what happen to the Jews’ relationship to God if they upgrade from IOS Golden Calf to IOS Tabernacle. There is a lesson taught in menial tasks, in building things with your hands, and in taking the time to understand what the terms of a relationship are. And I believe it was imperative for this Tabernacle to be built, so as to equal out the power imbalance in the relationship. Now, it isn’t just God who has gifted humanity a home, but humans who too have gifted him one.

Love can manifest in many ways; it can be fiery, passionate, kind, slow, fast. Lots of things. But it can also be unsafe. Love is this crazy thing that we are taught to ascertain, and sometimes we mistake unsafe love for safe love, unclear terms for clear terms. Sometimes it isn’t even love in the first place. Today is International Women’s Day, and in light of that I want to pay tribute to the 11 women and 3 children who have been killed so far at the hands of domestic violence in Australia since the 1st of January 2019. It is important that every person is taught from a young age what the difference between safe and unsafe love is, between love and a want to love, between how you treat people you love and how you don’t. God didn’t explain the terms of the relationship to the Jews, he didn’t allow them to properly consent, he had more knowledge and more power, and still agreed to the relationship; the Golden calf details God’s greatest and most disappointing failure, not our own.

I cannot believe it is March, and already so many women have died. I cannot believe even talking about this I get the feeling that I’m harping on about a topic we are all sick of, but the important thing is that we mustn’t stop talking about this until it has stopped happening. We need to use our privilege to speak up and educate young boys, teenagers, young men, grown men and old men the ways they ought to and ought not to treat women, trans and non-binary members of our society. We need to educate non-men on how they deserve to be treated, and we need to push our governments to stop funding coal and start funding safe houses, treatment and shelters for victims of abuse.

Not in this portion, but in one of the other 300 which talk about the Tabernacle, God says, “Asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham”, which means, “make for me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in them”. The statement appears to be grammatically incorrect, make him one sanctuary and he will dwell in them. On a second reading it can be understood that if we make this tabernacle, and in doing so, if we forge this relationship which is true, equal, respectful and safe with God, then this Sanctuary and this safety will reside in each of us. So basically, if you have a safe relationship, you have a sanctuary.

I have three Shabbat wishes moving forward in my week and in my life, which I hope you will share with me.

  1. 1. I wish each of you has or will have a Sanctuary within you, that your relationships are safe and that you are safe.

  2. 2. I hope this congregation, the Jewish community, Australian society, and particularly the men in these communities, will fight for and push for every person to have a sanctuary and to have safety in their relationships.

  3. 3. My final wish, is one I fear could be dispelled even tonight, but with the utterance of this wish, I place a responsibility on each of you to try and fulfill it as well. My final wish is that no more women die at the hands of violent men.

Shabbat shalom

Seri is a law student, musician, and Ayelet HaShachar team member.

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