A few years ago, I got into electronic music production. I have what is known as a MIDI keyboard, a piano keyboard that plugs into my Mac via a USB chord. The keyboard itself is not a synthesizer; it makes no sounds on its own. But when paired with a program like Garage Band, or the more advanced Ableton Live, Cubase or Pro Tools, magical things can happen. Most modern music that we listen to is at least partially created through such tools.
People come into my music studio and ask me what I've created. It's a bit embarrassing, but after a few years of tinkering, purchasing and experimenting, I only have a few pieces that I would even deem to call songs. Recently I worked on a musical idea and was excited about the formation of my wonderful opus of creativity and expression. Upon presenting this nascent piece to my girlfriend, Emily, I was dismayed when she likened it to ... well ... a mastodon call. I'm not going to become Quincy Jones anytime soon.
There is a huge learning curve to this hobby. There are books, tutorial courses on the Internet, a constant influx of hobbyists posting tips and tricks on YouTube. And if that's not enough, there is a seeming limitless arsenal of new virtual instruments to demo and download, starting the process all over again.
And so, I spent a good amount of time watching the YouTube videos, reading reviews of new software ... and in the process, I'm learning a great deal. But I'm not making music.
Which brings me to our Torah portion.
In this double portion, Vayakhel/Pekudei, the Isrealites put the finishing touches on the tabernacle.
The Isrealites are still bringing things to the tabernacle, as they were commanded in T'rumah. They bring more embroideries, sculptures, and paintings. They donate gold, silver and bronze, bracelets, earrings, red skins of rams, goat skins, blue, purple and scarlet linens, onyx stones ... You get the idea. In that portion of T'rumah Moses commands the giving of gifts (trumah) to anyone whose heart so moves them. This is the result of Moses' exhortation.
In the throes of this generosity of sprit, in the midst of the trumah, Moses puts a screeching halt to the process.
And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, 'Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.' So the people were restrained from bringing. For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it.
It was time to stop. Even though the Israelites were still bringing valuable items to the Mishkan, the purpose was fulfilled. It was time to move on.
When we are fully engaged in something, it's very difficult to stop. Kal V'Chomer, all the more so for something that is worthy, or spiritual. The Israelites were building the Tabernacle; there aren't many more worthwhile endeavors than that! And yet, despite the Israelites generosity, despite their passion and spirit, Moses puts a halt to it.
Moses' action teaches two very important lessons. The first lesson is one Moses learned a few portions back. If we hearken back to when Moses fled Egypt, Moses had an interesting encounter with his father-in-law, Jethro, for whom the portion Yitro is named. Jethro gives Moses advice. Jethro saw that Moses was in a hamster wheel, going round and round in exhaustion. Once listening to Jethro, Moses was able to be a better leader. So the first lesson is this: We need people to shake us from what we think is the right thing to do, or the normal thing to do, or the routine thing to do. Moses' willingness to allow another to mentor him is a model for all of us. Moses learned the lesson because now he serves as the mentor to the Israelites.
The second lesson is simply this: We need to move on.
You may think, But in this portion, the Israelites are doing amazing things. They're giving of themselves and their hearts! Why should they stop?
We get so caught up in things that sometimes we need someone telling us it's time to stop. We have to think about what the overall purpose is. When God freed us from Egypt, the story does not end. In fact, our sages suggest that this is where our Torah really starts! In this portion, the achievement is not in the building the Mishkan. The goal is to pray together in the Mishkan.
Moses reminds us that there is some truth to having 'too much of a good thing.'
The tinkering that I do in my music studio brings to mind this lesson. Because even though I'm learning, I'm not fulfilling the real goal, which is to create music.
Moses ensures that the Israelites have a sense of perspective. The Mishkan is a means to an end. Regardless of how beautiful the tabernacle is, it is still a building. What matters most is the connections that happen inside the building - the connections between the Israelites, and the connection to God.
Here we are, like the Israelites, constructing a mishkan. It's a little different, of course. We're not building a building, brick by brick. We're not asked to measure cubits of thread, or donate precious jewels and metals. But we are building a community.
As each of us is participates in Temple life, Moses challenges us to remember our over-arching holy goal. This is as true for all of us: a Sisterhood member, an organizer of a Havdalah program, a bar or bat mitzvah student, a rabbi, a board member ... all of us can be like Moses in that we each are sometimes blind to what we should be doing, And, all of us can be like Moses in that we each can have perspective, helping to show others that whereas what we might be doing is good, it is nonetheless time to stop, look at what we've done, and move on.