Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bringing a craftsman into the Huppah

A week ago past Sunday, I had the great joy of becoming married. But – as is so often true at times if joy – thoughts of those who could not be there arose as well, especially of my father, Bernard Abrams of blessed memory, and his sister, Bryna Krakow of blessed memory, both of whom we lost to cancer too young.

The Torah portion the day before included a description of the construction of elements of the Mishkan (or Tabernacle) – the great portable shelter the Israelites had for their worship during their time in the desert. As I prepared to speak, I looked up at the talit in the air that had been made above us into another form of portable shelter – a wedding huppah – by wooden poles and the four friends we had holding them. Inspired by the holiness of this special, yet temporary, shelter, I talked of the Mishkan's menorah, beaten of a single piece of gold by the quintesential craftsman of the Jewish tradition, Bezalel.

My father had also been a craftsman, although of a different sort than Bezalel. He was trained as a mechanical engineer (at RPI and MIT), but worked most of his career as a software engineer. He was fascinated by how things work, and was especially curious about systems of human cooperation and interaction. He loved technology, a love he has passed onto me.

He would have been fascinated to watch Bezalel work on the Menorah, the great candelabra of the Mishkan. The Torah (Ex. 25:31) tells us that, while it was made of a single piece of gold, it had many elements – including its base, its seven branches, its cups, its knobs and its blossoms. That is, while it was made from a block of one thing, it looked like it had many separate things.

Issac Luria, the great kabbalist, wrote about the Menorah in a text I was recently studying with Minna (and that was assigned in a class I'm taking with Elliot Wolfson). Luria understands Bezalel's means of constructing the Menorah as a metaphor for how God constructed the world: That, while the world appears to be constructed of many separate things – and this indeed is true! – it is also true that everything in the world is not only connected, but is, in fact, constructed of one thing.

My father would have loved this beautiful metaphor. He loved to try and break down the things we see in the world into their component pieces so he could better understand how they worked and fit together. He loved the technology that gives us the modern life we enjoy. But there's another thing he passed down to me – that it is also true that there is a higher truth. A truth that involves the holiness that God has given us. A truth that helps direct us to the things that are truly of most importance.

Certainly, under that huppah with Minna as I spoke, I was reminded of how she is the most important thing in my life and that the bond between us is connected to that higher reality of which we are all part. And I was reminded of how I miss my father.

May it be the will of the Blessed Holy One that you should find love – and wholeness – wherever you go.


PS If you want to try and learn the Luria text (challenging!) see the arrow on pg. 257 .

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