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The Greatest Miracle

The overall theme of the Book of Exodus is the physical and spiritual transformation of our ancestors from being slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, the land of oppression, to being servants of God in the free and open wilderness. The book opens with our Israelite ancestors building fortresses and warehouses for the king of Egypt and closes with them erecting the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, the holy shrine for the Sovereign of All.

Throughout our history our people relived this miraculous metamorphosis each year as we read the Book of Exodus in our synagogue and as we retell the stories as we celebrated the great festivals of Pesach - the celebration of Freedom, Shavuot - the holiday of Revelation, and Sukkot - the feast of the Tabernacle.

The Book of Exodus' powerful accounts of the miracles and wonders that God performed in the course of our journey from slavery to freedom - the Ten Plagues, the Splitting of the Red Sea, the Pillar of Fire, the Thundering Voice from Sinai - often takes our focus away from the quieter, but no less miraculous changes in the hearts and minds of our ancestors. Yet, in the few months between the flight out of Egypt and the construction of the Tabernacle, our ancestors changed from being mindless slaves to wise and skilled artisans. This is the greatest miracle of the Book of Exodus.

The book opens with Pharaoh enslaving the ancestors, imposing upon them the mindless task of making bricks from mud and straw and dragging these bricks to construction sites where they were required to lay them down, one by one, in endless rows as they built the walls of fortresses and warehouses. They labored under the whip of hard-hearted overseers and taskmasters who beat their bodies and crippled their spirits.

By the end of Exodus, we witness the miraculous transformation. Our ancestors were no longer slaves who were frustrated by the lack of straw needed for bricks. They had become creative, talented, and wise artisans. The work on the Tabernacle was done by people whose hearts were wise and hands skilled (Exodus 35:10). Their work was supported not by the Pharaoh's forced extractions of material from their fellow Israelites, but by the lavish donations of our now generous and open-hearted ancestors (Exodus 35:4). Their efforts were no longer directed by faceless and heartless officials and bureaucrats, but by their fellow Israelites, who were endowed by God's spirit with the blessings they needed to complete the project. (35:30).

The description of the two men chosen by God to direct the building, Bezalel of the tribe of Judah and Oholiab of the tribe of Dan, illustrates the changed nature of our people. Having experienced freedom, they acquired the blessings of wisdom, understanding and knowledge. In part, these blessings included the technical skills and experience all good artisans have of their tools and materials and their ability to envision the project even before work has begun. But to a greater extent, these blessings included the knowledge and understanding of the human spirit, that enabled them to inspire creativity in others (35:3-34).

No longer were our people working with mud and straw. Now they were creating works of art out of rare gems, precious metals, exotic woods, and fine fabrics. The yoke of slavery had been lifted from their shoulders and hearts, and as free men and women their innate creativity was released. As we come to the end of the Book of Exodus, we are always confronted by the lengthy and detailed description of the Tabernacle so lovingly and carefully built.

Why does the Torah cast so much attention on this one project? I believe it is because the building of the Tabernacle is the greatest of all the miracles. It is the miracle of the freeing of the human spirit and the joy of seeing how high our liberated souls can soar.
Topics: Divrei Torah
Type: Dvar Torah

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