The Mishkan as Signifier

Linking representation & action.

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Souvenirs & Potential

Many of us have green Darfur bracelets on our wrists, justice banners in our synagogues, or divrei Torah such as this one in our in-boxes. These powerful and important representations are not justice any more than a picture is a vacation, or the Mishkan is the Divine. They are instruments of Jewish social justice culture, and they prompt our hearts to dream of justice and pursue it. They remind us of a Judaism that has justice concerns at its core, and provide a light so that we may see what might yet be, but isn't yet. They are souvenirs of potential.

The danger of representations, particularly those of a beautiful future or a glorious past, is that they will come to supplant the very thing which they represent. The Israelites ran the danger of replacing the glory of the Divine with the portable Mishkan, a danger they realized with the sin of the Golden Calf. They confused representation with the thing itself, and in the process, lost everything. We who long for justice in the world also run that risk, of replacing Divine Justice with social justice culture. Green bracelets will not save Darfur, and this document will not feed the hungry.

Yet our souvenirs of potential--whether they are posters for a cause or pictures of us volunteering--can remind us of work for justice that we have done or hope to do. Let these signifiers not lull us into self-satisfied complacency, but rather inspire us to actually volunteer, advocate, or give tzedakah, because it is in doing, not representing, that justice can be found.

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Rabbi Brent C. Spodek

Rabbi Brent Chaim Spodek is the rabbi-in-residence and director of Jewish communal relations at American Jewish World Service. He graduated from the Jewish Theological Seminary in 2007 with rabbinical ordination and a master's degree in Jewish Philosophy and then served as the Marshal T. Meyer Fellow at Congregation B'nai Jeshurun. He can be reached at