Have you looked to the sky today? הסתכלת לשמים היום? Tractate Shabbat 98-99

The Talmud as a painter; or photographer; seeing images and speaking in pictures… so often the discussion is legalistic and detailed, hard to follow and tedious, then suddenly, an a gentle portrait.

We’re talking about carrying between one domain and another. Again. Which quickly takes us back to the mishkan, the mobile temple we had in the desert: how was it carried? How were the cart and the wood arranged? Once there, we’re now talking about the details of constructions which we need, in order to understand the carrying-procedure, and just when we’re all lost in cloth length and precise measurements, beams and folds, it says (Shabbat 98:b):

תָּנָא דְּבֵי רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל: לְמָה מִשְׁכָּן דּוֹמֶה — לְאִשָּׁה שֶׁמְהַלֶּכֶת בַּשּׁוּק וְשִׁפּוּלֶיהָ מְהַלְּכִין אַחֲרֶיהָ.

the school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: To what is the Tabernacle similar? It is similar to a woman walking in the marketplace with her skirts following after her.

And that’s it. That’s all we need. Now it’s easy to see the mishkan “walking” down the center of the camp, throughout the journey in the desert, respectfully, confident, head straight, eyes forward, as if maybe carrying a jug on top, and behind, the dress, sort of like a bride in our days, trailing along…

The mishkan is a favorite throughout this tractate. It is an inseparable part of Shabbat. From here we learn the do’s and don’ts of the day, and through it, we’re  And reminded of us as builders, as partners, as the one’s responsible for Hashem’s presence in this world, even in small acts. In case we thought the menora, table, ark and even colors of the cloth had meaning but the “clasps in the loops” maybe not, comes another image, right after (98:b-99:a):

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן: חֲרוּצִים הָיוּ קְרָשִׁים וַחֲלוּלִים הָיוּ אֲדָנִים וְנִרְאִין קְרָסִין בַּלּוּלָאוֹת כְּכוֹכָבִים בָּרָקִיעַ.

The Sages taught with regard to the construction of the Tabernacle: The bottoms of the beams were grooved and the sockets were hollow, and the grooves were inserted into the sockets to support the beams. Additionally, the clasps in the loops, which connected the curtains to one another, looked like stars in the sky.

So the mishkan was something like a sukkah: you could look up and imagine the stars twinkling, and be reminded… in one of the Tel Aviv train stations, someone wrote on the wall opposite the platform: הסתכלת לשמים היום?  have you looked up to the heavens today? And maybe that’s the feeling the mishkan wanted to create: don’t forget to look up. It has not been easy to look up recently, but that’s exactly why we need to. I remember a conversation long ago with a dear colleague when he was in some (stupid) hot water at work. While I thought to comfort, offer some “slogans”, tell him how ‘they don’t get it’ and ‘it will be ok’, etc etc, he said to me, “You know, a pianist, at home, is great on the piano, but the question is, how will he do in the concert?? We always talk about how to be and what to do when we’re challenged, but we never get to actually “practice” in real time, and here, now, I can! I’m grateful!”

I was not about to start dancing for joy then or now; things are “complicated” at best, but I think about this exchange often. I think about this “practice” in real time, about remembering to look up; to do what we must to notice, even squint, that the little clasps in the loops, look like stars in the sky.

Shabbat Shalom.

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1 Response to Have you looked to the sky today? הסתכלת לשמים היום? Tractate Shabbat 98-99

  1. Or Taylor says:

    Hey ima,

    Thanks for sending these. I enjoy them when I take the time to read them.

    Love you,


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