You know the ‘random’ box? You’ve packed up your house, or Pesach kitchen, everything has fit perfectly into neatly organized, labeled boxes, and then…you realize you have a few (dozen) piles of things left, but you lack the strength to find where everything belongs. Thus is born the box labeled ‘random’.
Chapter 30 is the textual equivalent of the ‘random’ box. The Divine structure of the Mishkan has been mirrored by a magnificently orderly literary structure (read this piece by Rav Yoel bin Nun to appreciate to what extent this is true). It was all tied up neatly at the end of chapter 29, with phrases echoing chapter 25. And then along comes chapter 30, and ruins it all. 5 short paragraphs full of things which have already been assumed to exist previously, or which only begin to make sense later.
Let’s unpack the box.
The bookends of this section focus on the incense, which contains an interesting paradox. On the one hand, the incense has a precise formula which demands absolute conformity, on penalty of death. But on the other hand, that formula contains a variety of spices, symbolizing individual variety, even including smelly galbanum, symbolizing the sinner. A similar dynamic tension can be teased out of the verses speaking about the anointing oil, with its precise formula, which contrasts the paragraph about the washing basin, which is the first and only vessel with no measurements at all associated with it.
What is service of God all about? Is it about conforming and submitting ourselves to the demands of precise codes? Or is it about embracing and celebrating the path of each unique individual?
Perhaps the key lies in the most ‘random’ paragraph of all. The half shekel donation, which has no business being here at all, demands a uniform contribution from rich and poor alike. But in asking specifically for a half, the Torah ensures that in their conformity, each person also realizes the need for, and thus the value of, every other individual.
Creating a space for holiness does demand uniformity, and conformity, so that all can share a path, but it must be expressed in a way that embraces the unique contribution of each individual. If you want to see this brought to life, spend some time on the 929 website.
This is my own little insight about the 929 chapter of the day, in 300 words or so. I’d love to hear your comments and start a conversation
What’s 929? A near-impossible challenge of consistency. A song of Jewish unity. A beautiful project worth checking out. Learn more at 929.org.il