The last two segments of Exodus are devoted to the construction of a Tabernacle. Its materials are gifts from the Israelites. These people who recently were slaves seem to have accumulated a stash of valuables of both great variety and worth during a very brief span. They even had dolphin skins. How these were acquired is not specified. They gave so freely that Moses, who served as the contractor for the project, told them to cease their offerings. Even more remarkable was that no one seemed to require that any gift have the name of a donor attached to it. A tradition that seems to have been lost in the interval between then and now.
Having gathered the necessary materials, Moses announced that God had appointed Bezalel as the project’s Architect and Oholiab as its Engineer. They, along with those skilled in the crafts needed for the construction of the project, were to undertake the task and lead it to completion. The construction of the Tabernacle is described in such detail that it could be rebuilt solely from the specifications in Exodus.
Before one could say “environmental impact statement” the project was finished, seemingly under budget. The exact cost of the project is given as is the number of men taxed to provide the shekels needed for the project. These shekels were not spent as there were no stores or businesses of any kind in the vicinity of the construction site. Rather, they were used as construction materiel.
A few words about the two supervisors of the project. Bezalel was the son of Uri the son of Hur of the tribe of Judah. Oholiab was the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. They were chosen by God because they had been endowed with the skill required for the successful execution of the great task they had been assigned. None of the other Israelites, regardless of tribe, seems to have been envious of their choice. Those who worked on the project did so because they had the skill necessary for its completion. In the simplest term, the tabernacle project was purely a meritocracy. There was no requirement for each of the 12 tribes to be represented in proportion to their number.
Of the thousands of people whose efforts resulted in the completion of the Tabernacle, only the above two are named. In one sense, this limited allotment of credit seems unfair to the multitude who did the work. On the other hand, credit is typically assigned to those who create rather than those who build according to the instructions of another.
Buildings dedicated to God are found throughout the world. The great Gothic cathedrals, Saint Peter’s, the mosques that fill the Islamic world are supreme examples of man’s desire to express his faith through architecture. But the Tabernacle was the first. It housed the Lord and the Israelites could continue their journey only when His cloud had lifted from the Tabernacle.
As mentioned above, skill was the only requirement for participation in the erection of the Tent of Meeting. The two artistic leaders of the project are the recipients of loving attention. They are the symbols of a people who value artistic excellence.
Excellence has acquired a rough patina in the deranged epoch that has crept upon us like a melancholy miasma. We currently live in an unmoored realm of magical ideation detached from reality. Justice is insufficient for the needs of many who see the world as if it consisted solely of Highland Clans. Each clan, no matter how rough or aggressive, demanding its portion of the light almost in inverse proportion to its just share. Identity is all. Merit is discarded in the remote desert.
Justice itself now needs a modifier to be operative. Irrelevant is that justice vanishes when placed after a modifier. Science is replaced by wizardry. Language is debased into contradictory deformities. Sexual monstrosities are conjured out of nightmares and spread over society as if they were soothing balm rather than affronts to reason. Biology is now a cult among those who have refashioned it into a tool to remake the world that would seem weird even to a pre-Hellenic society.
Sex is not negotiable. Truth is approached only by vigorous debate. Name calling belongs to children who with adequate education and care will outgrow it. Education instead of civilizing and resolving complex issues now is either propaganda or a mere credential – often booth.
Let me be as blunt as possible. Social justice is the antithesis of justice They are contradictory terms. As religion has receded in the West, a tattered remnant of it has pledged fealty to a strange species of social engineering. A baroque vocabulary steadily impinges on a cool view of a world that is both stark and beautiful.
To the ancient Greeks the worst human failing was hubris. Tragedy was cast on man because even the noblest acts and intentions come at a cost. But centuries before them, the forebearers of Bezalel and Oholiab had eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, built the Tower of Babel, barely survived the deluge, and fled Sodom and Gomorrah. Those who think they have discovered the path of righteousness previously hidden from their ancestors would do well to regard history with wonder and awe. They might realize they lack the measure of those who preceded them no matter their ancient failings.
One day of atonement does not release us from the constraints of pride and the audacious conviction that an ideal world can be constructed by men. Humans are neither perfect nor perfectible. We live in a world of perpetual difficulty that requires modesty, dignity, and careful purpose to keep it from chaos and us from license.
When Moses had completed setting up the Tabernacle, when every last joint and lamp was in place “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter.”