Adrian A. Durlester

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Random Musings Before Shabbat
Pekude 5765-Pronouns (from 5760)

Do you sit through the credits at the end of a movie or a TV show? Do you read your program to identify the actors, designers and crew? Are you bothered when TV networks squeeze the "crawl" at the end of a movie or show into a small area so they can run self-promotional advertisements at the same time, always louder, bigger and more distracting? Do you ever find yourself referring to the ubiquitous "they" ? Do you ever find yourself asking that familiar phrase "just who are the they you are referring to" ?

Have you ever remarked to someone "gee, [such and such a person] sure uses a 'I' a lot in [his/her] speech" ? Ever heard a self-proclaimed analyst suggest that using "I" statements is the best way to express how one feels?

I did this. You did thus. He did that. She did something else. They did another thing. Y'all (the only true 2nd person plural in American English I could think of that was distinguishable from the 2nd person singular you) did that again. (You'll notice I left a pronoun out. You'll see why.)

We use pronouns regularly, continually, often without even being aware of them. Yet they have a significant impact on us, on how we think. And I have a thesis about all this. There's a pronoun we don't use as often as we should. The lack of use of this pronoun is why some people don't watch or read the credits. After all, the people who made this movie are "them." We've been taught to say "I feel x when you say or do y."

What has all this to do with parashat Pekude? Take a look at the text. It dawned on me as I read it that paying attention to the pronouns (or implied pronouns, in the Hebrew-indicated by the verb forms.) The first part of the parasha seems to use the pronoun he predominantly, though there aren't that many pronouns used. It's not entirely clear who the "he" is - Moshe, Betzalel, or even Oholiab. It might be safe to assume the "he" is Moshe, but the parasha talks about "he made hooks for the posts..." which might lead one to believe it was the artisan Betzalel (or his assistant Oholiab) for, after all, they were the artisans, and not Moshe.

But then a sudden switch in Chapter 39, and the pronouns become "they." They who? Betzalel and Oholiab? The people? All the artisans? 31 verses of "they" did this and "they" did that. Verse 32 may provide a clue: it says "b'nei Yisrael", they did these things for the preparation and erection of the tabernacle.

Another switch in pronouns comes with Chapter 40, as Gd addresses Moshe. The dominant pronoun becomes "you" (singular) A private conversation that wraps up at verse 16, where we get another pronoun switch. The balance of the parasha speaks of what Moshe did. What "he" did to prepare the tabernacle for use. Thru to verse 33.

Finally, the last few verses are a mix of pronouns, rather sparingly, a few "its" referring to the cloud (of course, the "it" concept is a little vague in the Hebrew) and one "they" clearly referring to the people of Israel, and the last verse contained verbal "theys."

What does this juxtaposition of pronouns tell us? That I leave to each of us to exegete for him or herself. But I do wish to call attention to the missing pronoun. The same one that explains why people don't watch the credits, why greed and selfishness persist in our world, in or "me" society.

Where is the WE? It wasn't just Moshe, or Gd, or Betzalel or Oholiab that accomplished these things. WE, the people of Israel, WE accomplished these things. Together. Gd, the people, the leadership, the artisans all working together. WE. There is WE in watching a movie or a TV show or a play or concert. The audience is as much a part of the experience (though some might argue it is more so in a live presentation-I'm not convinced this is so except in how the response dynamic may affect the performance-but audience involvement to a fixed form-painting, film, etc. is still part of the artwork.) So the people listed in the crawl, the credits, are not just "they" but a part of WE. We who experienced this thing.

The book of Sh'mot (Exodus) ends with a "they" thought. With that in mind, I'd like to offer this slight alternative to the traditional remarks made when reaching the end of a book of the Torah: Chazak, Chazak, vayitchazaknu. Be strong, be strong, and we will strengthen ourselves.

This Shabbat, may WE all be strengthened, and may WE all try to remember theimportance of the WE.

Shabbat Shalom,


©  2000, 2005  by Adrian A. Durlester

Some previous musings on the same parasha:

Vayakhel 5765-The Wisdom of the Heart
Vayakhel/Pekude 5764-Comma or Construct?
Vayakhel 5763-Dayam V'hoteir
Vayakhel/Pekude 5762-Sacred Work
Vayakhel/Pekude 5761-Craftsman. Artisan. Artist.

Vayakhel 5760-The Lost Episodes: Too Much of a Good Thing

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