Coercion – in the Parasha and at the Protests (7)
This is my seventh post on a connection between the parasha and the protests. No time to read it? Scroll down for photos.
Coercion in the parasha. Where’s the coercion in this week’s parasha, you might be asking yourself? And that’s exactly my point. There’s no coercion in Terumah (Exodus 25:1-27:19), a remarkable omission that’s emphasized in the parasha itself, and, in case we miss it, underlined in the haftarah, 1 Kings 5:26-6:13.
Terumah is about building the Mishkan (Tabernacle), the portable structure in which God will dwell (Exod 25:8) while the Israelites move from place to place during their forty years in the wilderness.
God showed the blueprint for the Mishkan to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exod 26:30), and now the precise instructions are elaborated (Exod 25:9). In the circumstances – a band of recently released slaves wandering in the desert – we might have expected a modest structure, simple to make, and easy to assemble and disassemble.
But Ikea had not yet conquered the Middle East. Building the Mishkan required an abundance of highly skilled labor and a wealth of materials, some of them exotic and expensive. Surely the Israelites would need to be coerced into giving up the valuable personal belongings they’d managed to bring out of Egypt?
Amazingly, the Israelites did not need to be forced to part with their valuables. The parasha opens with an extraordinarily moving and unexpected statement, words that seem to run counter to the Torah’s usual emphasis on commandment.
Exodus 25:1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him.
The Mishkan will be built from voluntary donations drawn from the entire community. As we’ll read in a few weeks, God’s appeal was so successful that the Israelites keep bringing materials long after the builders had all they needed. Moses had to issue a proclamation through the camp telling them to stop donating (Exod 36:2-7).
As for the work force, we’ll learn that God will endow the master builders, Bezalel and Oholiav, with ‘a divine spirit of skill [hochmah], ability, and knowledge in every kind of craft (Exod 35:31)’. The regular workers will be endowed with skill (hochmah) by God, and moved by their own hearts to dedicate it to the work of building the Mishkan (Exod 36:2).
What a contrast between the Mishkan and Solomon’s Temple, whose construction is described in this week’s haftarah.
The haftarah opens with the fulfilment of God’s promise to give Solomon wisdom, as Solomon had requested (1 Kings 5:26). The Hebrew word translated here as ‘wisdom’ is hochmah, the same word that in the parasha was translated as ‘skill’. In the parasha, this quality, deemed essential for building the Mishkan, was distributed between many, many people, including, as we learn later, women (Exod 35:25), the skilled weavers. In the haftarah, Solomon alone has this essential quality. All that wisdom, or skill, is concentrated in a single man.
Just before the haftarah, we hear that the wood required to build Solomon’s Temple will come from the Lebanon, cut by servants of Hiram, King of Tyre. Solomon will pay them for their work, and supply Hiram with annual shipments of wheat and oil (1 Kings 5:20-25). The haftarah describes a treaty, or covenant, between Solomon and Hiram, presumably sealing the deal (v. 26).
And what of the Israelite workers who will build Solomon’s Temple? Gone is the divine inspiration, the skill, the willingness of heart from the days of the Mishkan. They will be forced laborers. No salary is mentioned; they may not even get paid.
1 Kings 5:27 King Solomon imposed forced labor on all Israel; the levy came to thirty thousand men. 28 He sent them to the Lebanon, in shifts of ten thousand a month: they would spend one month in the Lebanon and two months at home.
There will be many of them – 183,300 in all.
1 Kings 5:29 Solomon also had seventy thousand laborers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, 30 besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work.
And the labor, shared with Hiram’s workers, will be brutal – quarrying, cutting, and carrying massive building blocks.
1 Kings 5:31 The king’s ordered huge blocks of choice stone to be quarried, so that the foundations of the house might be laid with hewn stones. 32 Solomon’s masons, Hiram’s masons, and men of Gebal shaped them. Thus the timber and the stones for building the house were made ready.
As the building progresses, the workers disappear. It’s all about Solomon: ‘The House which King Solomon built for the LORD was 60 cubits long… (1 Kings 6:2)’; ‘He made windows for the House (v. 4); ‘He built a storied structure; and he made side chambers all around (v. 5)’; and ‘he finished building the House (v. 9)’.
Unlike Moses with the Mishkan, Solomon received no divine plan for the Temple, and if he employed skilled overseers equivalent to Bezalel and Oholiav, they are overlooked. Other than King Hiram of Tyre, the only person named is Adoniram, not a skilled craftsman, but the man in charge of forced labor (v. 28).
The haftarah closes with God’s promise that he will live forever in Solomon’s Temple provided Solomon follows his law, observes his rules, and faithfully keeps his commandments. Note the contrast between God’s conditional promise to Solomon (1 Kings 5:11-13) and his unconditional statement to Moses that he will dwell among the Israelites in the Mishkan (Exod 25:8).
What explains all these differences, especially the contrast between the intensely collaborative process for building the Mishkan – involving God, Moses, the highly skilled Bezalel and Oholiav, and a host of skilled male and female Israelites who donated their services – and the process for building the Temple, featuring Solomon, the King of Tyre and his hired workers, and 183,300 Israelite forced laborers?
One explanation is that the differences help us to identify seeds of the eventual destruction of Solomon’s Temple: lack of divine input; too much focus on Solomon; and, above all, dependence on forced labor, in other words, coercion.
This past Monday, about 100,000 men, women, and children – including, quite visibly, war veterans who fought for this country – came to Jerusalem of their own free will to demonstrate outside the Knesset. No-one coerced them to come. They wanted to be there, and in some cases made huge efforts and went far out of their way. It would be misleading to say they were all of one mind. Clear differences of both emphasis and ideology were evident. Yet a sense of unity and shared purpose prevailed.
Meanwhile, inside our fractious Knesset, members were preparing to vote on a set of judicial reforms which, if they pass their third reading, will have been imposed upon most citizens of this country against their will. The fact that many Israelis who oppose the reforms voted for a coalition party is irrelevant. Even they, and even those who want judicial reform, utterly reject the coercive power grab underway, not to mention the future types of coercion the reforms will inevitably spawn.
If the reforms pass, the majority of Israelis will have been forced to accept what they see as a rejection of their values and a threat to their way of life, even in some cases to their ability to remain in this country. All too many have no viable alternative.
You don’t need to be a prophet to see that, as Bibi and his government persist in pushing their despotic agenda, ignoring both the desperate protests of their own people (emphatically not just the Left!) and the dire warnings of friends from all around the world (has anyone heard a serious voice outside the country supporting the reforms?), they are sowing the seeds of destruction. Barring a miracle, it will remain to be seen only how long it takes for this country to crumble.
But that miracle could still happen. It’s not too late to resist.
If your heart is so inclined, join a post-Shabbat demonstration, at 19.00 in Tel Aviv (Eliezer Kaplan); 20.00 in Jerusalem (outside Beit HaNasi); or somewhere near you around the country. And look out for information about the next demonstration outside the Knesset.
Until then, here are some photos from demonstrations last motzei Shabbat in Jerusalem and Monday outside the Knesset.