The Torah emphasized in last week’s reading, Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), that the Tabernacle in the desert was to be held up by planks of acacia, or shittim, wood. Hasidic tradition notes that the verbal root on which that Hebrew word is built appears also in the word for foolishness, shtut. The Talmud has it that sin is committed through foolishness. But more benignly, a willingness to be found foolish is an essential ingredient of religious life. We like to think we have rational grounds for belief, and I think we do up to a point, certainly more than evangelists for secularism would have you think.
He who says, “Better go without belief forever than believe a lie!” merely shows his own preponderant private horror of becoming a dupe. He may be critical of many of his desires and fears, but this fear he slavishly obeys…..I can believe that worse things than being duped may happen to a man in this world….Our errors are surely not such awfully solemn things. In a world where we are so certain to incur them in spite of all our caution, a certain lightness of heart seems healthier than this excessive nervousness on their behalf.
Back when my first book came out, there was another memoir also about a Jew returning to Judaism that was published around the same time. It was Turbulent Souls by Stephen J. Dubner, who has since gone from strength to strength as co-author of the Freakonomics books. The title of his earlier book is apropos of my previous post on Glenn Beck and all Beck’s noisy talk about alcoholism and recovery. I don’t mean that unkindly. Spiritual journeys of return and repentance are often turbulent, noisy.
It shall be on Aaron when he performs the service, and its sound shall be heard when he enters the Holy before the Lord and when he leaves, so that he will not die [Exodus 28:35].
The week’s Torah portion poses a serious challenge, I think, to secular scholars of the Hebrew Bible and other skeptics who maintain that the Pentateuch was composed no earlier than about 500 BCE. Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19) begins the Torah’s overwhelmingly, sometimes mind-numbingly detailed description of God’s instructions to Moses on how to build the Tabernacle, a tent that the Jews employed as their place of worship from just after the Exodus from Egypt until King Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem. It came in particularly handy during their 40 years of wandering in the desert before entering Canaan.