This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks.
Two strikingly similar phrases appear in back-to-back chapters of the book of Exodus regarding the construction of the Mishkan, the desert Tabernacle, the portable spiritual home of the Israelites. First, a pair of cherubim (winged angelic beings) are commissioned to sit atop the Ark, facing each other, which the text describes as “ish el achiv,” “a man to his brother.” Then in the following chapter, we learn about how the Mishkan structure itself is to be assembled, with planks of wood whose tenons and sockets fit together “isha el achotah,” “a woman to her sister.”
These two phrases are identical, save for the one (notable) difference of gender. The reasons for the difference is straightforward: k’ruvim (cherubim) is a masculine noun in Hebrew and yadot (tenons) a feminine noun. However, the visual pictures the two verses paint are quite different: the cherubim’s orientation dictates that they face in toward each other, whereas the planks must be laid in parallel, side-by-side.
In a place of privilege, the cherubim reside in the center of the Tabernacle, inside the Holy of Holies, on top of the Ark that contains the tablets of the commandments. And yet their face-to-face orientation exists only within the confines of the side-by-side planks, which form the very structure of the Tabernacle.
This configuration rings true to me today. I picture volunteers in my community working shoulder-to-shoulder in the kitchen preparing meals for homeless “tent city” residents or a multigenerational group marching for justice and equality arm-in-arm, like a wall of planks. This shoulder-to-shoulder framework — with directional alignment toward a common goal, and through inter-group partnerships and alliances — allows us to build the Tabernacles of today: communities and societies capable of housing the most intimate face-to-face encounters.
The Torah is usually terse and concise, but this week's parasha, Chayei Sarah, centers around a long story that is anything but! All 67 verses of Genesis chapter 24 are devoted to a single narrative: the tale of Abraham sending his servant on a journey to find a wife for his son Isaac, and returning with Rebecca, a woman of great agency, strength and generosity.
We Jews know how to wait. That is, we deeply understand humanity's imperfections, and that the presence of injustice or cruelty in our world cannot undermine our steadfast focus on trying to achieve our vision of a more perfect, more just future. We have lots of historical experience to draw on, and much language for this kind of spiritual resilience. One line that's been swimming through my head this week is from the prayer "Ani Maamin": "v'af al pi she-yitmameah, im kol zeh achakeh lo." Translating loosely here (and transposing what we're waiting for from a messianic figure to a time characterized by messianic ideals), this means: despite the fact that it's taking a long time for the world to change in the ways we believe it should, still, we are undeterred; we will wait - and work - until we arrive at an era of peace and justice.
Yesterday was the second anniversary of the violent attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Its memory casts a long shadow for me, and this year, the anniversary feels like a powerful reminder of the very high stakes of next week’s election.