The following is d’var tikkun (words of justice) was given my Mimi Micner, Spirituality Chair, at our annual Membership Meeting on Sunday, March 10, 2013:
Each year, we gather as a community in this moment to do several things. We gather to celebrate — to celebrate the community that we’ve built together and the work that we’ve been able to do as that community. We gather to decide — to make decisions based on our values that furthers our growth and work as a community. We also gather to notice, and that’s what I want to spend a few minutes talking about — to notice in a larger sense where we are as a community, with its many opportunities and challenges, and where we want to be going together.
So when we look at ourselves in this particular moment in time, what do we notice?
This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel-Pekudei, has been helpful to me in answering this question. This week, we read the story of the building of the Mishkan, the Jewish people’s portable sanctuary in the wilderness that they built en route to the land of Canaan from Egypt, and G-d says something very interesting about Betzalel, the head contractor of the Mishkan. G-d says:
Va’yimale oto ruach Elohim bechochma u’v’tevuna, u’vedea, u’vechol melachah.
Divine inspiration filled him with wisdom and with understanding and with knowledge and with every craft. (Ex. 35:31)
This verse lifts up three specific qualities that Betzalel became endowed with that were necessary for him to successfully build a dwelling place for G-d: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. But what strikes me is that these qualities don’t immediately seem all that distinct from each other: what’s so different about wisdom, understanding, and knowledge that they’re made into distinct characteristics, and if they are distinct, what about their difference is meaningful? AND, perhaps, is there meaning in the the order of the words as they’re written?
I’m going to go ahead and write down each of these qualities because I want to be pretty specific here:
Chochma – wisdom
Tevuna – understanding
Dea – with knowledge
Midrash Tanchuma, which is a 9th century commentary, has an interesting take on what the differences among these characteristics might be. It talks about how these three characteristics appear in Proverbs. Here, we see the following:
With wisdom God founded the earth
With understanding God lastingly established the heavens
With divine knowledge depths were split
And the skies distilled dew
So here are the subtle differences that I think are being thought about here:
Wisdom is related to getting started on a task.
Understanding is about sustaining, about the cultivation of the ability to sustain what has been built.
And knowledge is then about distinguishing, helping us make distinctions between situations, so that we can apply our understanding.
The differences here seem meaningful to me, as is their order in this verse of Torah, to help me understand what I’m noticing about this community.
This community was born based on specific wisdom. It was born on the hypothesis that a Jewish community rooted in values of social justice and driven by its participants would be exciting and generative for young Jews. I think that all of us in this room and the work that we have been able to do can attest to this hypothesis being true and alive.
But that’s not where we’re at anymore. Certainly we still hold the wisdom that gave birth to our community, but I think at this moment in time we’re living in the next two stages, that of understanding and knowledge, of sustaining what we have built and of figuring out how to move forward strategically.
So at this stage we have to start asking ourselves new kinds of questions: What does it look like for us to have the tools we need to sustain what we have built and what we are building, which is growing in number of members/participants, in programming, spiritual richness, and political clout? And what does it look like for us to create a culture of distinguishing or discernment, where we’re intentional about what we take on programmatically, spiritually, and politically. The membership meeting is our time to check in on our own Moishe Kavod House Mishkan-building project. Guided by the model of Betzalel, let’s push ourselves to be “filled with wisdom, with understanding, and with knowledge.”