The Hebrew word for “teaching” is “torah”. It is also the name that is given to the most sacred of Jewish texts, what is known as the five books of Moses, the Bible, or the old testament. The inference is that all wisdom about living in the world is to be found in the dramatic and often strange stories of the Torah.
Jewish ritual includes the wonderful practice of studying a section – a portion, or in Hebrew “parashah” – of the Torah each week. We take it in the order that it is read, beginning with Genesis 1:1 when we find the world being created in its entirety in 6 days – and ending with Deuteronomy 34 as Moses looks over the promised land from the heights of Mount Nebo, but is unable to enter.
Part of the tradition is an offering of commentary on the portion of the week. Last week was the portion that concerns the building of the Tabernacle, the holy sanctuary that in Hebrew is called the Mishkan. The long story – covering a total of 15 chapters of the Torah – includes a detailed description that God delivers to Moses of the design of the Mishkan that is to be a sacred place where God can dwell amongh their people. So detailed that drawings have been made and models constructed with remarkable similarity regardless of when it was done or by whom.
I was given the honor of making this offering at my community service, which through Covid has been happening via Zoom. It was the perfect account to draw out the “torah of design” – what the Torah has to teach us. To reach that teaching, I looked at it through the lens of design consciousness – our awareness that the world of material culture is a world of our own making, and so we are learning how to make every kind of artifact in it by design; with clear intention and with exacting skill. By design we make things work the way they’re supposed to and beautiful so we can live with them.
(continue to see the 14 minute video of my “drash”)
We’re learning that everything we make is potentially an object of design – from the architecture of the Temple to the ritual of interaction that we have over a Zoom call between a “darshan” – one who offers a commentary – and a congregation of a hundred and fifty people.