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  • Writer's pictureEve Was Right

23. Anticipating the "Unknown Unknowns"

Updated: Apr 8

The only way for us to learn from history is to remember it.

Parshah Pekudei

TL;DR of the Text

Major Themes

  • We remember our history to learn its lessons

  • Guarding against unintended consequences

  • How rituals connect to our mental health

*Important attribution note: All quotes listed in this article are credited to the Artscroll Stone Edition Chumash. Here is an Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash: the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.

Exodus 39:6-7*

“They made the shoham stones, encircled with gold settings, engraved like the engraving of a signet ring, according to the names of the sons of Israel. He placed them on the shoulder straps of the Ephod as remembrance stones for the sons of Israel, as Hashem had commanded Moses.” 

As a prominent reminder of Israel’s lineage, God commanded Moses to include twelve stones on the High Priest’s breastplate, one stone for each of the tribal patriarchs. Jews have adhered strongly to the commandment to remember Israel’s hereditary lineage, and even today, a surprisingly large portion of Judaism is rooted in the physical lives of the tribal ancestors. 

Why? Part of the answer lies in preserving the community over millennia of diaspora, but there’s also a deeper reason. 

As I’ve said before, Jews believe the Torah is a microcosm of all human existence. I believe this, too, but in a very different sense. Every component of human nature is displayed  in the Torah, and it’s our task to separate right from wrong. 

God wanted Israel to have a constant reminder of the tribal ancestors and the Patriarchs because their actions contained so many lessons. Judaism believes these lessons are good and exemplary; I believe they’re cautionary tales. 

Remembering the negatives is just as important, if not more important, than enshrining the positives. For example, the United States’ failure to recognize and account for its sins makes it impossible for Americans to adequately learn the lessons from those sins. 

The act of remembering Israel’s ancestors operates on a much smaller scale because, at the time, Israel was composed of a single extended family. We can see the Patriarchs as archetypal humans intended to showcase a wide spectrum of character traits. God wanted Israel to look back on them continually so it would learn the lessons from their behavior, most of which centered on what not to do. 

Exodus 39:23*

“They made the Robe of the Ephod of a weaver’s craft, entirely of turquoise wool. Its head-opening was folded over within, like the opening of a coat of mail; its opening had a border all around, so that it would not tear.”

Hidden inside this short verse is a profound insight: we have an obligation to seek out and understand the potential for unintended consequences for major things. Make a garment in such a way as to minimize the chances of it accidentally tearing. Be proactive; plan for the future.

Exodus 40:1-2*

“Hashem spoke to Moses, saying: ‘On the day of the first new moon, on the first of the month, you shall erect the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting.’”

The instructions go on for quite a while. While the level of detail might seem ridiculous to us, it also serves as a reminder of our innate need for rituals. Rituals ground us in our lives, worlds, and bodies. They make a huge difference in our mental health and stability. If you’re throwing a population into the utter chaos of 40 years spent wandering a desert, you must give them rituals to keep the chaos at bay. 

Exodus 40:33*

“He erected the Courtyard all around the Tabernacle and the Altar, and he emplaced the curtain of the gate of the Courtyard. So Moses completed the work.” 

GIF of Jimmy from South Park saying, "How do you take credit for something you didn't do?"

I wonder why God told Moses that he had to be the one to erect the Tabernacle and dress the priests. The people were the ones who created it! Why couldn’t they complete the finishing touches?  

Perhaps, in the interest of preserving stability, God wanted a symbolic act to establish Moses’ leadership. But it feels a lot like Moses taking credit for other people’s work. A great leader would tell God, “No, they built it; they should be the ones to finish it.”

*Again with the Extremely Clear Citation so I don’t get in trouble: Nosson Scherman, Hersh Goldwurm, Avie Gold, & Meir Zlotowitz. (2015). The Chumash : the Torah, Haftaros and Five Megillos. Mesorah Publications, Ltd.



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