Pekudei 5782 – Rethinking Your Reasons to Celebrate

By: Elisa Miller

If leaders are to bring out the best in those they lead, they must give them the chance to show they are capable of great things, and then they must celebrate their achievements. That is what happens at a key moment toward the end of our parsha, one that brings the book of Exodus to a sublime conclusion after all the strife that has gone before.

The Israelites have finally completed the work of building the Tabernacle. We then read:

So all the work on the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was completed. The Israelites did everything just as the Lord commanded Moses … Moses inspected the work and saw that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded. So Moses blessed them.

Ex. 39:32, 43

The passage sounds simple enough, but to the practiced ear it recalls another biblical text, from the end of the Creation narrative in Genesis:

The heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. On the seventh day God finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done.

Gen. 2:1-3

Three key words appear in both passages: “work,” “completed” and “blessed.” These verbal echoes are not accidental. They are how the Torah signals intertextuality, hinting that one law or story is to be read in the context of another. In this case, the Torah is emphasizing that Exodus ends as Genesis began, with a work of creation. Note the difference as well as the similarity. Genesis began with an act of Divine creation. Exodus ends with an act of human creation.

These words were shared by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’il) from a D’var a few years ago. I loved the idea of celebrating an accomplishment, bringing the community together with joy.

But what happens when we fail? For many of us, we are afraid of failure. We don’t want to let down our friends, family, colleagues, by not achieving what we have set out to do. Unfortunately, this is particularly an adult preoccupation.

When we are children, we sing with great abandon, even when we sing off-key. We draw and paint, and our parents post our creations on the family refrigerator, even if they aren’t exactly works of fine art. We dance and twirl until we are dizzy and fall down… and then we get back up and do it again.

As adults, we’d never sing off-key outside of a shower and we’d probably not turn cartwheels in the yard, just to make ourselves happy.

What is this transformation from our childish experiments where we tested the waters of our thinking? Where does that spirit of experimentation go? Why does it leave? Some would say it is because we grow up, we learn judgment, we have a stronger sense of right and wrong, good and bad.

I’d like to propose a different kind of celebration—not just for the achievement, but for the effort and what it teaches us. We’ve probably heard the aphorism: Good judgment comes from experience; experience comes from bad judgment’ and I’d like to propose something radical: a failure cake.

I’m part of a group of wonderful facilitators who work with all kinds of teams at my company. These insightful folks created the concept of the failure cake: a cake meant to celebrate not the failure itself, but what we have learned from that failure. The idea is to get a cake big enough to share with the entire team or project. Serve the cake in an informal setting where everyone can discuss what the team learned in the process.

Celebrating failure changes the way we work and gets us to better and more innovative solutions, as it encourages us to experiment. It is the path to continuous learning. Even after the cake is gone, we remember.

In today’s Torah portion, after the construction of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle) has been completed, we are told that Moses “took the Tablets and placed it in the Ark.” The Rabbis of the Talmud note that the word for Tablets, “Edut,” is in the plural.

Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit Artson wrote, imagine their interest (and our surprise) to read elsewhere in the Bible, after the dedication of Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, that “there was nothing inside the Ark but the two tablets.” If the word “tablet” is already plural, then two of them must mean that Moses placed in two additional tablets beyond the two tablets containing the Ten Commandments! What else could Moses have dared to place beside the two tablets of the Commandments?

According to the Torah the answer is that “both the whole tablets and the fragments of the tablets were placed together in the Ark.” remember when Moses returned to the children of Israel, carrying the first tablets with the Ten Commandments? He was so outraged by the idolatry of the Golden Calf, that he shattered the tablets on the ground. After the people had repented of their sin, Moses returned to the peak of the Mountain, where God presented a second pair of tablets.

That is precisely our relationship to those first tablets. Moses saved them both, the shattered and the whole, to remind us that even when we make mistakes (and the Golden Calf certainly qualifies) that we can learn and move forward, perhaps humbled by our errors, but hopefully wiser.

The next time you or your team tries something that doesn’t work, celebrate the effort. Share the learning. However the failure occurred, the team should accept the failure together and everyone should share in the responsibility of growing a little bit wiser. It might be worth a cake.

Shabbat Shalom.

Artson, Rabbi Dr. Bradley Shavit (not dated) If it’s broken, why keep it?
My Jewish learning https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/if-its-broken-why-keep-it/

ITK Team, Failure Cake blog posts, https://itk.mitre.org/?s=failure+cake

Sacks, Lord Rabbi Jonathan (5781), Celebrate https://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation/pekudei/celebrate/