Jews read sections of the Torah each week, and these sections, known as parshiyot, inspire endless examination year after year. Each week we will bring you regular essays examining these portions from a queer perspective, drawn from the book Torah Queeries: Weekly Commentaries on the Hebrew Bible and the Torah Queeries online collection. This week, Rabbi Jill Hammer sees in the construction of the mishkan a model for a community where everyone, including and especially LGBT Jews, can contribute their own gifts.
In the traditional Jewish community, queer people are often asked “What is your justification for being a queer Jew?” as if queer Jews are a controversial idea rather than a life form. This question may in part stem from an internalization of the model of Sinai, in which ideas are set forth or decried based on covenantal aims. Yet in the parshiyot of Vayakhel-Pekudei, we find a different model for what it means to be a sacred community, one radically different than the model we see at Sinai, and one that tends toward acknowledging people as bodies as well as ideas.
Moses has been instructed to create a
, a dwelling place for the Divine. He asks the people to bring gifts of precious metal, colored yarn, tanned animals skins and jewels to beautify the shrine. The pattern for the mishkan has been set by heaven, yet it is human wisdom and physical activity that weaves the pattern into a multifaceted reality. We are told “all the women whose hearts stirred them up in wisdom spun the goats’ hair” (Exodus 35:26) and “Moses summoned Bezalel and Oholiav [the chief artists] and every man who was wise of heart.” This wise-heartedness allows the people to bring the plans for the sacred shrine to life. Unlike Sinai, when the role of the people is to receive, here the role of the people is to give, and for each to give a unique and personal gift. The design Moses has received cannot live except through the hands of the givers, workers, and artists who join together to weave, shape, build and forge all the necessary pieces of the mishkan-puzzle. When the mishkan is built, it holds something of each person in it.