There is a common misconception that art was not an historic part of the ancient Israelite, and indeed, Jewish worship tradition. Given the commandment prohibiting the worship of graven images, such a misconception is understandable. However, in this week’s Torah portion we read of the Israelites coming together to create what can only be called works of art in the construction of the Tabernacle that the Israelites carried with them throughout their wanderings in the wilderness.
In the Sefer Yetzirah, one of the earliest books of the Jewish esoteric, each of the Twelve Tribes is associated with a month of the Hebrew calendar. This month, Adar, belongs to the tribe of Naftali. Midrash further connects Naftali to those who, in this week’s parsha, were responsible for the work of weaving that went into the creation of the Tabernacle. The connection with Naftali, and indeed with the artists Bezalel and Oholiab, mentioned in this week’s parsha as the chief artisans of the Tabernacle, remind us that creativity is a sacred and essential part of our tradition.
Rabbi Jill Hammer writes, “The tribe of Naftali holds the secret of weaving the sacred into the works of human hands. Naftali shows us how the spirit and the natural world can be woven together into a single fabric.” (The Jewish Book of Days, JPS 2006). May our Torah continue to remind us of the varieties of ways in which we can express our yearnings to connect our lived experience with that-which-is-greater-than-us.
– Rabbi Callie Schulman