The Process Is the Product
This week’s parsha has me thinking about a certain saying from the corporate world: The process is the product. The idea behind this tagline is that to be successful, you can’t simply think about your intended outcome. Instead, you should focus on the actual day-to-day process of chasing your dreams, because falling in love with that daily grind of slow but steady forward movement will actually empower you to create better outcomes. Besides, if all we really have is the present moment, we need to enjoy the “not-quite-there-yet” days that populate so much of our lives. Leaning into those in-between times, we can start to see possibilities that we would otherwise miss when we are so laser-focused on faraway future goals.
In this week’s parsha, two moments remind me that the process is the product. The first occurs in the beginning of the parsha, when we read about the various rituals that the Jewish people and their leaders need to perform before they interact with HaShem. We learn about the half-shekel requirement from each of the Israelites, regardless of their ability to pay more or less (Shemot 30: 14-15). We then learn about an intricate hand-washing ritual required of Aaron and his sons, and we read about the ingredients for anointing the Tent of Meeting as well as human persons and objects.
I don’t know about you, but when I read excerpts like these in the Torah, my eyes tend to glaze over. Like the construction plans for the Ark of the Covenant in cubits, or the more intricate mitzvot–and who could forget the infamous censuses and genealogies–these sections of the Torah have me wondering at times why I should pay attention. Like many readers, I would rather flip to a more action-filled section of the Torah. This parsha in particular is famous for its Golden Calf story, for instance.
But what if we paused for a moment to appreciate this parsha’s beautiful attention to these processes? What if we slowed down and really sat with the descriptions of hand-washing and oil-making? After all, when dealing with God–and in life we are always dealing with God–we should care, I mean really care, about the process. We should treat God with the intentionality and care and slowness that this relationship-building process deserves. Since the process is the product, what if the Torah is saying that the slow, seemingly boring steps we perform every day to move our spiritual lives forward are what actually matter? What if we could all figure out a way to try and be at least a little more present in the daily aspects of living our Jewish lives today?
I already mentioned the story of the Golden Calf that occurs in this parsha. Now that is a more glaring example of a group of people who have collectively forgotten that the process is the product. While Moses is on Har Sinai with God, the Jewish people–who are literally in the wilderness, bamidbar, both physically and psychologically–are thinking more about the product than the process.
We have all been there, so perhaps we can empathize with the Israelites in this anxious moment of waiting for the thing they really want. Time is passing, and they have made a risky choice by leaving Egypt. They want to feel certain that all of this work leads to a good outcome. Eventually the Israelites give up when they feel they have been waiting too long for their product, and they build a Golden Calf. Not even all the signs and daily sustenance from HaShem can convince them to continue that process of painstaking, steady forward movement.
Today, in our own uncertain lives, we can make different choices. We can sit with the discomfort of uncertain situations and focus on daily processes of forward momentum, no matter how slow. We can breathe, and lean into the uncertainty. We can let go of our intended outcomes for a moment, and instead become curious about what life is offering us instead.
So in our lives today, even if the things we really want aren’t physically showing up yet, we have the option to focus on the daily rituals, Jewish and otherwise, that allow us to build solid foundations in our lives. The process can feel dull, but it is also hugely important. We can also be open to what we are receiving–even if it’s not what we initially had in mind. We can surrender to this moment, be receptive to its wisdom, and glide into the next chapter when the time is right.