(Exodus 38:21 – 40:38)
There is much to be said for spending night after night in a cramped synagogue storage cupboard. For a start, it puts you in touch with our ancestors living in the wilderness of Sinai. Like them, I’m bloody uncomfortable. And the dreams aren’t much fun either. The other night I dreamt I was being force-fed 12 dozen long-haired poodles only to wake up and find that a box had fallen open on one of the shelves above me and dumped a whole load of taleysim onto my face. That was two days ago and I’m still picking fringes out from between my teeth.
But the simplicity of life in a store cupboard can lift us up. It allows us to purify ourselves, to think more openly, to break into the synagogue office in the middle of the night and prize open the drawer marked “accounts” and find some interesting receipts with two dice and a roulette wheel printed on the back of them filed under “miscellaneous”. The sort of thing which could be very awkward for some of the honorary officers deciding my fate if they were aired at a synagogue AGM.
How appropriate then that this week’s parsha begins with Moses submitting a complete accounting of all the precious metals used to build the Sanctuary. But the Sages tell us we shouldn’t limit our accounting to our financial ins and outs and trips to Edgware Members-Only Private Casino. Far more important is that we conduct a regular cheshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul.
Take a man who might be a bit of a bigshot. Maybe he’s the editor of a national Anglo-Jewish newspaper called the Jewish Chronicle. Maybe not. This guy’s full of witty putdowns like: “No, we can’t pay you in cash!”; “You want to know what I think of you? I’ve met more likeable war criminals. I’ve met breaded haddock with greater insight”; and “what are you doing in my back garden?”. On a whim and for no reason at all, he’s about to remove a popular columnist from his paper when – what a surprise! His “beautiful” daughter (in inverted commas), the apple of his eye despite her buck teeth which, on a sunny day, would provide ample shade for an average-sized family sat at her feet – this girl’s now going out with the son of said columnist and she doesn’t want Daddy to sack him in case it puts the boy off her and the orthodontic tsunami at the front of her mouth. So cheshbon-hanefesh that, my dear editor in your fancy-shmancy suit!
Of course this isn’t going to please my wife. For once her precious boychik has actually done something to help his dad. Hard to believe, I know. We’re talking about a boy who, thanks to her smothering, developed a stammer which added so much time to his barmitsvah portion that the caterers managed to burn all the food, go out, buy some more, then cook and burn that lot as well before he’d even started the haftorah.
And I know people say it’s normal when a child’s nervous or upset for them to come through and spend the night in their parents’ bed. But surely not the night before their A Levels? And before my wife’s lover the builder who’s a woman says anything, I did show him physical affection when he was growing up where appropriate – like most normal Jewish fathers I held him at his circumcision and then once again when he got into Oxford.
She’d do better to stick to what she knows. My area of expertise is spiritual well-being, hers is replastering and making good walls. How would she like it if I turned up early at a house she was redecorating, pretended I was one of her team and proceeded to sabotage the plumbing and wreck all the paintwork? She didn’t. And whilst we’re at it she can tell her immigrant workers that their angry gestures were in very poor taste. History has sadly lost count of the number of terrible incidents started by a bunch of Poles threatening a Rabbi with a retractable tape measure and a box of Polyfilla.
This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle.