It is said of the great second century sage, Rabbi Akiva, that he could derive lessons from the untranslatable Hebrew et that precedes a sentence’s direct object or that he could even spin stories upon the calligraphy crowns affixed atop other letters. It is said as well that he could derive sermons from an unexpected Hebrew letter.
This week’s portion concludes: “Vay’khal Moshe—When Moses finished the work [of the tabernacle]…” (Exodus 40:33) The creation story concludes similarly: “Vay’khulu hashamayim—The heaven and the earth were finished…” (Genesis 2:1) In both instances the same Hebrew verb is used. Yet in the creation account the plural form is used, while in this week’s portion the singular is written. In Genesis again it is the passive voice and in Exodus the active. The differences are but found in the Hebrew letter vav. This letter is present in Genesis but not in this week’s chapter.
Is there meaning to be discerned from even this smallest of differences? In this week’s portion human beings are the authors of creation. It is Moses and the Israelites who construct the tabernacle and all its furnishings. The Torah lavishes many chapters on this construction project. By contrast God created the world in six days, the details of which are but contained in one single chapter. The similar verb draws these two acts together. Yet the creations made by humans differ from God’s. Only God’s contain the fullness that the vav represents.
For human beings creating requires great effort and sacrifice. We expend enormous energy to create. Sometimes I think that many of our creations are mere repackaging of old ideas. How many new ideas and new creations have we truly fashioned? Is the iPad2 really new? Its advertisers would like us to believe so. The iPad does of course offer many wonderful conveniences but is it new creation?
Is the iPod a new? Is the car? Such technological marvels certainly make our lives more convenient and even fun, but I believe that a creation must serve a higher cause. Is the synagogue a new creation? JCC’s (or Lifetime Fitness)? The modern university? The thriving democracies of the United States and the State of Israel? I believe that a new creation must change the way we think. Or it must alter the way we act. It must make us better. It must make the world more holy. Such are my criteria. Such are my goals.
God creates by uttering a single word. And a single additional letter suggests the majesty of God’s creations. Nature will soon reveal the grandeur of God’s creation when Spring flowers again bloom. We may plant the flowers, but God makes them bloom.
For human beings to create is to imitate the divine. This is why the building of the tabernacle is connected to the creation of the world. And so as much as we create and as many things as we create, they are only glimmers of God’s first creation. What we make are only glimpses of the Eternal. Albert Einstein once said: “I only trace the lines that flow from God.” (By the way he also said, “I thought of that while riding a bicycle.”) And thus every creative act is indeed repackaging. Every such act merely traces the arc of the world’s creation.
And all of this can be found in one letter.