Vayakhel: Putting God into a Box

Vayakhel: Putting God into a Box

by Rabbi David Hartley Mark

(Scene: An open, bare field in the middle of the Israelite Camp, blocked off from the rest of the camp by an elaborate fence, consisting of wooden pillars fitted into brass sockets, ringed and crowned with silver hooks. These hold white linen sheet-curtains, designed to conceal the construction activities within. There is also a half-built tent, covered with cloths of goats’ hair, wool dyed blue, scarlet, and purple, and the skins of both rams and dugongs. The foundation of an unfinished brass altar stands before the tent.

Sitting on the ground, taking a break, are the two builders: Bezalel ben Uri and Oholiav ben Achisamach. They are sipping at clay water-jugs, and mopping the sweat off their foreheads—it is thirsty work, indeed. But they are proud to gaze upon the median stage of their labors: this is soon to be the Mishkan, or the Shrine of their LORD GOD.)

Bezalel: Another day of successful planning, building, sawing and casting metal, hey, Oholiav?

Oholiav: Weren’t those Danites supposed to come help us, today? Why haven’t they shown up?

Bez: As much as the Zebulunites showed, yesterday.

Oho: ‘Tis clear, my comrade-in-architecture: these Israelites lack the skills and patience to build.

Bez: Ironic, isn’t it? What, after all, were they doing in Egypt for four hundred years, if not building?

Oho: Well, there’s a difference between building a Shrine to God, and being whipped into hauling great blocks of sun-dried mud, or sandstone.

Bez: Never mind: I will speak to the head of the Danites—what’s his name?

Oho: Oh—I must remember: Amiel ben—ben—

Bez: Gemali. Well, Mr. Amiel will have my temper and my strong right arm to answer to, he will.

Oho: Oh, what’s the use? The most one can expect of these Israelites is complaining, stuffing their faces with Manna, and bragging about how religious they are, or learned—not that I ever see any of them actually studying the Torah.

Bez (soothingly): Calm yourself, Avi. I will speak to the Prince of the Danites. I may even push  him around—just a little, for breaking his promise.

Oho: Only, don’t hurt him. We must not, as builders of the Tabernacle, permit innocent blood on our hands, even if the tribesman was supposed to be here, to help. And the truth is, we do better when it’s just you and me: these others tend to be bossy, especially when it’s something about which they know nothing. Really and truly, these Israelite men, by and large, know nothing about fixing things around their tents, let alone construction.

(There is a knock on the pillar nearest the two.)

Bez: What’s that? Who’s there?(Upon seeing who it is, he snaps to attention, as does Oho) Sir, yes Sir, Major Joshua!

Joshua: At ease, Holy Architects of the Lord God. Ahem. Pleasure to be here, in our soon-to-be dedicated Shrine. Well. May I enter?

Oho: If the Danite volunteers, had they shown up, were to be permitted to enter our Sacred Precincts, how much moreso may an Officer of the One True God?

Joshua (squeezing between the barrier-poles): Yes, yes. I was sent by Rabbi Moses to ask you when the Shrine will be ready for both sacrifice and worship. After that—um—unfortunate incident with the Golden Calf, Moses thinks a Shrine would be an excellent preventative to idolatry; it would give the People of Israel some focus.

Bez: Um—two weeks.

Oho: Or four. At most, five weeks.

Joshua (disappointedly): Can you not speed things up, a little?

Bez: Well, there are only the two of us. If the various work-parties promised to us on a daily basis were to actually show up to help, it would speed things up.

Joshua (frowning): Let me understand this. You have been building, crafting, smelting, and designing this entire complex—by yourselves?

Bez & Oho(proudly): Yes, Sir; so we did.

Joshua(shaking his head): That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, at all. Let me look into this. There must be a better way (Saluting, he exits by squeezing between the poles).

Oho (to Bez): Think that anything will change?

Bez: Doubt that. You know these bureaucrats: Promise much, but Deliver nothing.

Oho (sighs): Well, break’s over: let’s get back to work. Where is that brush and pot of golden paint that I was using before?

Bez: Wasn’t it—over by the south side of the Altar?

Oho: Can’t find it, now—and I really, really wanted to get that gold trim on the edges of the Altar by end of work, today.

Bez: Avi, look over there!

Oho: Where?

Bez: That same corner you just told me was wanting gold paint. There is a fresh coat, right where you were going to paint it!

Oho: Why, so there is! Did you paint it, Bezalel?

Bez: Not I.

Oho: Nor I.

Bez: Do you know what this means?

Oho: What?

Bez: There are Invisible Assistants helping us, that’s what. Angels. Spirits.

Oho: If that’s true—and I have never before witnessed such a miracle—it means that God Himself is eager to complete the work, and has sent Angelic Messengers to assist. A miracle! And you can—

Bez (finishing his sentence): Send to Major Joshua, and assure him that we will make that two-week window. Praise the Lord, from Whom all Builders benefit! (They fall to their knees and worship)


Rabbi David Hartley Mark is from New York City’s Lower East Side. He attended Yeshiva University, the City University of NY Graduate Center for English Literature, and received semicha at the Academy for Jewish Religion. He currently teaches English at Everglades University in Boca Raton, FL, and has a Shabbat pulpit at Temple Sholom of Pompano Beach. His literary tastes run to Isaac Bashevis Singer, Stephen King, King David, Kohelet, Christopher Marlowe, and the Harlem Renaissance.

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