Slowing Down and Building the Mishkan

In this week’s parsha, we talk about the actual building of the Mishkan, the moveable tabernacle that the Hebrews carried around with them in the desert wanderings.  Up to this point, we’ve talked about why there needed to be a Mishkan and we even had a rather long parsha that explained in great detail all the tapestries and hangings and fasteners.  This parsha, though, talks about the actual building of the Mishkan, from all the donations that the Jews poured out until Moses had to tell them to stop giving, to the actual work that was done by all different kinds of craftsmen and women to build it.  It’s from this list that we get all the prohibitions for different kinds of work that we’re not allowed to do on the Sabbath because we know that all these workers paused from their work on the Sabbath.

There were spinners and weavers of cloth, bakers of bread, metalworkers, and carpenters.  It’s even said that each craftsperson was divinely inspired in their work.

What it doesn’t say is that they met certain metrics or deadlines.  In the parsha, even though the artisans are praised for their handiwork, no mention is made of how quickly they built the Mishkan.  In fact, when Hashem tells Moses to build the Mishkan, He only states a starting date…no deadline at all.

My life revolves around deadlines it seems.  Projects have “benchmarks” that must be met in an orderly fashion to reach an arbitrarily decided endpoint.  Tickets, which really are just electronic and not even written on paper, have SLA’s or “Service Level Agreements” for responses.  I work in a world where an outage of a minute is like a lifetime, where everything happens in an instant and, so too must I move quickly.  At home, I watch over all the deadlines for my children’s homework and also, deadlines for my own work at home.  Meals must be ready before lighting Shabbos candles.  Different projects must be completed before our move.

Time feels like each year it speeds up and I scramble to keep up with it all.

Perhaps that’s why, when I want to relax, I turn to hobbies that are slow.  I spin my own yarn, delighting in the slow process of turning a ball of fluff into something useful, something that can be made into a hat or sock.  I enjoy that this is a process that I can touch and feel and that exists wholly in this world.  Then, I enjoy knitting, which is so much less efficient a way to make a hat than driving to the closest store and buying one.  Still, I enjoy the process almost more than the hat itself.  I can lose track of time in the stitches and feel a sense of comfort in the repetitive nature of the act.  I also love baking homemade bread and feeling the dough in my fingers and the smell of yeast rising in the home.

All of this helps me to escape the frantic pace of life and pretend I live in a simpler time that perhaps never really existed.

I wonder if the people spinning yarn for the weavers to use to weave the tapestries of the Mishkan worried about falling behind.  After all, if they failed to spin quickly enough, the weavers would be left with nothing to weave until they caught up.  Did they feel stressed?  Did they sneak glances at the weaver’s progress or ask for updates?  Did the weavers feel pressured to weave all their tapestries quickly so that the builders could put them up?  Or, did everyone just try to do their job to the very best of their abilities?  Was Moses tapping his foot, urging them to spin faster to meet some date he had hoped to dedicate the Mishkan on or, did he urge them to slow down and do their best work.

Did a spinner stop for a moment, just savoring the fact that he or she was doing this sacred work?  Did they want to make the project last just a little longer, knowing that never again in their lives would they be doing something so momentous?

We only know that when it all was completed, Moses saw that every piece of it had been done exactly to Hashem’s specifications and that Moses blessed the workers.  The text sounds like all the work was inspected at once and all the workers blessed together at the same time, the great project completed.  Was a project plan, a timeframe, part of Hashem’s specifications?  I’m left to wonder.

As I reluctantly turn from my hobbies, where I am content to work through a slow process, and back to my work where all too often, I must simply do “good enough” in order to meet deadlines, I wonder at how I might bring deeper meaning to my work and blessing to me as the worker.

In the meantime, my ticket queue calls…

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