Last night, our minyan was fortunate to meet Jude Rose and watch a film about their journey from being a rebbetzin to coming out as non-binary. What struck me most was hearing Jude’s clear voice of unassuming confidence and self-knowledge, which felt such a contrast to the pictures and story shown in the film of the earlier Jude, pushed into an early marriage and trapped in a life which felt conflicted and untrue to who Jude was and is. I felt thankful that Jude was able to grow into a person who feels comfortable in their skin and able to celebrate their full humanity. In my view, there is Godliness in this, and I’d like to explain why.
This week’s parasha, Pekudei, closes the book of Shemot. It is a climactic ending, as the Mishkan is completed and God’s presence fills the sanctuary in the form of a cloud. We can only imagine the elation for the community who have poured so much time, energy and resource into creating this beautiful portable home for God watch as God fulfils the promise “make me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you”.
However, until towards the end of the parasha, we still don’t know for sure whether God’s presence will come into the Mishkan. Rabbi Aviva Richman talks about “Moshe’s gamble” - after the golden calf there was a strong chance that the Mishkan deal was “off” - that the Israelites had lost their chance to build God a home. Moshe takes a gamble by building anyway, following God’s every instruction even though God’s voice has ceased to be present.
God’s voice and presence does, thankfully, follow the Mishkan’s completion. But just before this, something remarkable happens: “Just as the LORD had commanded Moses, so the Israelites had done all the work. And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks—as the LORD had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them.”
כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּה יְהֹוָה אֶת־מֹשֶׁה כֵּן עָשׂוּ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֵת כׇּל־הָעֲבֹדָה׃ וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת־כׇּל־הַמְּלָאכָה וְהִנֵּה עָשׂוּ אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהֹוָה כֵּן עָשׂוּ וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה׃
Moshe looks around at the stunning completed Mishkan, and blesses the people around him, blesses those who have done the work, the human beings who produced what God asked for.
What were the words that Moshe blessed with? The midrash supplies them:
“May it be the will of God that God’s Shechinah rest upon the work of your hands; ‘and let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us and establish the work of our hands upon us’” These words, which include an excerpt from Psalm 90, ask at multiple points for a connection between what we do in the world and God’s presence. The word here for “beauty” is נֹעַם “noam”. As many of you know, that’s our son’s name, and it’s a word which continues to generate beautiful meaning for us. Recently, Harris gave a dvar Torah in memory of his grandmother which explored how many instances of נֹעַם in our siddur and Tanakh are all about God’s beauty (or delightfulness) reflected or refracted in human beings. What message can we take from all this? In our world, we’re a bit like Moshe waiting for God’s Shechina (presence) to arrive. We might not yet know if or how God is going to live among us. Like Moshe, we gamble, doing the best we can. But what we do have is the beautiful human beings around us. Like Moshe, we can bless one another with נֹעַם - with seeing Godliness reflected in each and every human being. And we too can strive to embody נֹעַם - to reflect God by being as true to the selves God created as possible, and living our humanity to its fullest.