PARSHAT VAYAKHEL- PEKUDAI
“Thus was completed all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, the Israelites did so, just as the Lord had commanded the Israelites did.” (Exodus 39:32)
A few months ago, I did something I rarely do. An hour into a movie at a local theater, I walked out. The movie was getting a lot of hype so I decided to see it. It was called Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. I found it strange and confusing and not worth my time.
Last Sunday I sat with my son Ben in his apartment in Los Angeles watching the Academy Awards. As expected, one movie was running away with the honors, including Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Actress, Best Director, and the highest award, Best Picture. That movie – Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. My son said he wanted to see it. So the next night, together with my son, I decided to give the movie a second chance.
I still found it strange and confusing, but this time I sat through until the end trying to make sense of it. For those who do not know, it is the story of a middle-age Chinese immigrant (brilliantly played by Michelle Yeoh), who faces multiple problems. She has an overbearing father, a weak husband, a rebellious daughter, a struggling laundromat business, and to top it off, is facing an IRS audit. Suddenly she learns that she lives simultaneously in multiple universes. (The idea of multiple universes grows out of one interpretation of quantum mechanics.) Our choices cause the universe to divide into two possibilities. And the choices she makes in other universes affects what happens in this universe.
Yes, it was confusing and unless one is living in a psychedelic world, somewhat exhausting. Her character jumps from universe to universe. My son loved it. Obviously so did the critics and the film community. One of the themes is that we have second chances in these various universes. I am glad I gave the movie a second chance.
In a sense, this week’s portion is also about a second chance. God had commanded Moses to build a portable tabernacle to carry through the wilderness. It was to be a symbol of God’s presence during their wanderings. But as we read last week, the people had committed a serious sin. They built their own symbol to carry through the wilderness, a golden calf. God almost destroyed the people for this transgression. But thanks to Moses’ intervention, God gave the people a second chance. In this week’s portion they build the portable tabernacle, board by board and piece by piece. In the end, God’s presence comes to rest among the people.
This portable tabernacle became a vital symbol of God’s presence among his people. When Jerusalem became the capital of the Jewish kingdom, King Solomon built the Temple patterned after the tabernacle. That Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, expanded by King Herod, then destroyed again by the Romans. But synagogues throughout the world are patterned after that Temple, which was patterned after the ancient tabernacle. Our synagogues, and some would say our people, exist because God gave us a second chance.
I suppose there is a lesson that is quite deep here. People deserve a second chance. They do things wrong, make mistakes, go astray. But few decisions are ever final, with no chance for redemption. If God could give the people Israel a second chance after the golden calf, then we can certainly give each other a second chance – or even a third or fourth.
I do not know if we live simultaneously in multiple universes. I do not know if our decisions in this universe can affect our lives in other universes. But I know that throughout lives we make choices. Those choices can make a difference. As the poet Robert Frost famously wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . . I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.” We all make choices. But often we can go back and make another choice, take a different road. That too can make all the difference.