What Moses Teaches Us About Blessing People’s Accomplishments
Do you think our religious communities do enough to honor and encourage artistic contributions? What examples does the Torah have for us on how to respond to people’s creativity?
We are going to discuss creative artistry again this week. Are you proud of your craft and trade? Are you a person who takes pride in the beautiful and goodly things which you have helped create?
This week we are completing Shemot (The Book of Exodus), with the reading of Parshat Pekudei. We are also going to begin to look at our parsha from the point in which the people have just completed their work on the Mishkan – the Tabernacle sanctuary.
In the fourth aliya we read that after the people made everything, “now they brought the Mishkan to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings…” (Exodus 39:33) Everything, all the items, including the items to be housed inside. They are all accounted for as they are brought before Moses in this fourth Torah reading.
Now that these items are completed, the objects and the people are blessed, as our text reads:
“Moses saw all the work
and behold, they done it;
just as the L-rd commanded,
so they had done it.
So Moses blessed them.”
| vehineh asu otah
| ka’asher tzivah Hashem
| ken asu
| vayevarech otam Moshe
How notice it might appear that Moses was blessing the items. The people had made them just so, and now he blessed them – the items of the Mishkan. However, many of our rabbis contend that the final blessing is primarily for the people, and not necessarily for the items themselves. The people made good in actualizing the vision of the Mishkan as delivered through Moses, so he blessed them.
Their reason for seeing it this way is because this type of application of “vayevarech” is quite often used for people. From the beginning of the Torah, the phrase “vayevarech otam” is used in relation to people and living things; otam means them, them people. After man and woman were created, we see that G-d blessed the people. Our Torah reads, “vayevarech otam elohim vayomer lachem elohim peru urevu umil’u et-haretz / And G-d blessed them; and G-d said unto them: ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…” (Genesis 1:28) The “them” is the people, not the objects.
As students of the rabbinic tradition, we choose to see it this way because we are aware that we have a living Torah. When we look into the lessons of Torah, they are not just existent for one distant point in history. We are able to, and indeed we must find, an application for our lives today. In a post-Temple reality, the true focus is the building up of people and not shrines.
However, in all honestly I must point out that we do actually see the term vayevarech used to mean a blessing for people, as well as conveying a blessing upon their possessions by extension. We see this was even true already in the time of the Judges, and even in the presence of the Tabernacle items themselves: “And the Ark of G-d remained with the family of Obed-edom in his house three months; and Hashem blessed (vayevarech Hashem) the household of Obed-edom, and all that he had.” Because of their act of hospitality to the Ark they were blessed, along with their possessions.
Now just for a second, I want to hit on that topic of sacred space. Making space for G-d in our lives. In fact that is what the whole point of this Mishkan is for, in order that people make a dwelling place for G-d. As commanded, “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them (veshachan’ti betocham).” (Exodus 25:8)
When we consider it, our understanding of the Divine is that G-d is beyond any understanding or representation. Nothing created, in fact not even all of creation, would be able to contain G-d’s type of raw energy. G-d is just that awesome and transcendent.
So why are they doing this? We actually don’t need to ponder too much. We act like what the Israelites were doing here is so strange and weird, making this Mishkan. When in reality they were just doing what we also do today, taking ordinary things of a mundane nature, then making something holy and extra-ordinary out of them. By taking what they had and making a mitzvah out of it, the Israelites elevated their possessions and raw materials to a level of sacredness that wasn’t there for them before.
The Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks calls our attention to the human element over the physical relics even more so:
“’Let them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell in them’ – not ‘in it’ but ‘in them‘ — not in the building but its builders, not in wood and metal, bricks or stone, but in those who build and those who worship. It is not objects, buildings, or places that are holy-in-themselves. Only acts of heart and mind can endow them with holiness.” [emphasis added; to show how the Rabbi is directing our attention to his understanding of the ב in this phrase]
G-d does not just ask us to make Him a place to dwell with us, but to dwell within us. G-d is not One to merely dwell in objects, He is manifesting in us through the creative acts which we dedicate to His service. In our handiwork we are able to create things of holiness and sanctity. We are able to make sacred space in ourselves, and through toil actualize it as a physical reality as well. The more we create, the more presence of the Divine we have in our lives.
Through our skills and creativity, we make a space for the Presence of G-d to dwell with and with-in us.
Now to bring us back to the blessing itself. As the people finish bringing forward all the fixtures, now Moses blesses the people and the items they have made for the Mishkan. Let us take notice of how Moses responded to their handiwork. He didn’t just give them a “thank you,” nor did he merely praise them. No instead, “vayevarech otam Moshe / Moses blessed them.”
Now what is the difference? And why does he bless them here at this point, after they created everything? This is actually a curious question, because as we know, in nearly all cases we bless before we perform a mitzvah. (Mishneh Torah, Hilichot Berachot 11:9; §7) One ought to bless first, but here we have their blessing last.
It’s even more curious to many of us Sephardim and Chassidm, as we are most often used to asking our Rav and Rebbe (our personal rabbi) for a blessing before we embark on any big venture or task. Seeking a sign of approval from our Rav, which also comes with a blessing to help us along in whatever our pursuits are. But this is something different here, when Moses blesses them last. So why is this?
First off, we should take notice of how G-d Himself blesses. As we spoke of in Genesis chapter 1 with the creation of people and animals, they are worthy of blessing upon their completion. Humans being blessed after their creation was complete. After they were completely formed, “vayevarech otam / [He] blessed them.” Moses likewise blessed upon the completion of the Mishkan items. Something is especially worth of a blessing once it is completed.
Actually, if we consider it. The fact that we accomplish something is a reason in itself to bless. Many people, myself included, have put their hand at many projects. But few of them actually get completed in the end. Be it circumstance or just a matter of our own waning enthusiasm, completing a project is not as easy as starting. Many of us can look back over the years and see numerous half-built and incomplete endeavors along our journey. For this reason it is even more appropriate that we should also bless after a completed project. To start a great task is honorable, but to complete a task is really worthy of blessing.
As a community, we should recognize and receive the creative and artistic works of the people in our communities with our blessings. Taking notice of skill and complexity of people’s contributions. Embracing their imaginative forms of Jewish expression, especially through the arts. Honoring the dedication and skill that went into producing them. Blessing the items, but also blessing the people as well. But how should we then bless?
Though the Torah does not tell us how Moses blessed, Rashi tells what the rabbis believed he said. The commentary surrounding this reads:
“So Moses blessed them: He said to them:
“May it be His will that the Shechinah should rest in the work of your hands.
“And may the pleasantness of Hashem our G-d be upon us and establish the work of our hands for us, and the work of our hands establish it.” (Ps. 90:17)
This is one of the eleven psalms in “A prayer of Moses” (Ps. 90:1).”
ויברך אותם משה: אמר להם
יְהִי רָצוֹן שֶׁתִּשְׁרֶה שְׁכִינָה בְּמַעֲשֶֹה יְדֵיכֶם:
וִיהִי נֹעַם אֲדֹנָי אֱלֹהֵינוּ עָלֵינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנָה עָלֵינוּ וּמַעֲשֵׂה יָדֵינוּ כּוֹנְנֵהוּ: (תהלים צ יז)
והוא אחד מאחד עשר מזמורים שבתפלה למשה:
Rashi to Exodus 39:43, from Num. Rabbah 12:9
As we look at these blessings we are presented with one phrase which was handed down through our rabbinic tradition, and we also have another verse from one of the eleven Psalms attributed to Moses.
Now what do we notice about these blessings? As I have asserted, they do also seem to apply to when one blesses actual items; mere objects. This is obvious from the use of the phrases “bema’aseh yadechem / in the works of your hands” and “uma’aseh yaddeinu / the works of our hands.”
But its is also completely logical for the rabbis to make the assertion that we are talking about a blessing primarily for the people right now, as later on the items are actually consecrated themselves. By looking at it this way, the tone of the statement changes. So that we are asking G-d to bless others and ourselves in our ma’aseh yadeinu – in the works (ma’aseh; the actions, the deeds; the positive actions) of our hands.
In such a blessing as this one it is asking for a person’s creative abilities and actions to be blessed, so that we will see many more good deeds to come in the future. From Moses’ example we learn that we should spring forward to bless people for the works of your hands. This is more than just a mere thank-you, and acknowledgement that one did a good job. When we bless a person we are doing so much more. We bless them with the hopes that G-d gives them the strength to continue to be a blessing to the whole congregation of Israel.
So now as we complete the book of Exodus, and move into the next book of the Torah, we say, “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik / Be strong! Be strong! And let us strengthen!” May we take strength is our completion of this book of Torah and be strengthened with blessings for the journey yet ahead!
Things to Consider: Can you say that you truly take pride in the things which you have completed? Can you identify some projects and goals that you have not yet fully actualized yet? How do you keep momentum up while working on long projects? What helps you keep focus, so that you follow through until the end?
One of the reason it is important to complete our goals, and not just shy away from them because of distraction or even boredom, is because as we fulfill our goals our confidence increases. The feedback from our accomplishments and the pride we have in the final deeds, this nurtures our self-confidence. Just by virtue of completing what we start, we reinforce in ourselves that we have what it takes to complete our goals in the future. However, leaving incomplete goals scattered about can be demoralizing,