The Exodus:5 Project
and place the gold altar of incense before the Ark of the Pact. Then put up the screen for the entrance of the Tabernacle. Exodus 40:5
It is not the first time I have been weary to my bone with America. Paul Simon captured the national fatigue in “American Tune” in 1973. I was in college, having barely escaped the draft (lottery number 19) and facing the worst economy in my lifetime just as I needed to look for a job. Richard Nixon was president, irreparably sullied but not yet certain to be impeached. We thought we had reached the end of the dream. High up above my eyes could clearly see the Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea.
A few more years of frustration were followed by Ronald Reagan. I won’t enter the debate about his political philosophy, but there is no denying he brought back the American dream. Maybe it didn’t dawn on me until the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics, when Lionel Richie presided over the Church of Unbridled Joy and the athletes danced arm in arm all night long, but the spirit of America had been restored. It took ten years, but we could be enthused about our country again, enjoying the vibrant debates among people of divergent opinions and convergent values.
And where are we now? It is nearly thirty-five years later and once again when I think of the road we’re traveling on I wonder what’s gone wrong. No one is happy; even the people who believe they are in charge and making decisions can’t go out for sushi without being accosted. People who gather for inspiration in middle America wind up laughing at cruel jokes about yesterday’s heroes. And I think that if it were really possible for the Statue of Liberty to sail away to sea, she would be encouraged to do so.
Is it over? Not by a long shot. When you are as old as I am (OMG, I cannot believe I wrote those words) you have a point of reference for despair. No story worth telling ends in the middle.
The Book of Exodus powers through an inspiring and challenging time in the early history of the Jewish people. The titanic struggle between the adopted prince of Egypt and his oppressive adoptive brother is filled with high drama and great promise. The Israelite people, muted by slavery, find their voice and then use it to complain. Small kindnesses and great miracles populate the narrative. A profound set of instructions on how to live the good life emerges from a barren wilderness. Betrayal, forgiveness, betrayal again and forgiveness again. Heaven and earth touch.
And then, the action stops. The book is overtaken by the excruciating detail of the construction of the Tabernacle. Commentators have spilled oceans of ink finding meaning in hooks and curtains and the counting of cubits but face it – unless you are an architect or a fashion designer, this is really boring stuff. Has the power of the story come to an end?
It sure seems like it. Wading patiently through ephods and fire-pans, we finally come to the denouement of the book: put up a screen at the entrance. The end. Strength, strength and more strength.
Is it over? Not by a long shot. The tone of the Torah changes in each of the three books ahead, the drama returns, and what seemed like a comprehensive moral code in Exodus is expanded to a global mandate of peace and righteousness in upcoming sections of the upcoming books.
That screen sure feels like an anticlimax. It is not much of a payoff, kind of like the shambles our government was in during the 1970s or 2018. I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered, don’t have a friend that feels at ease. Who will lead us out of this morass and lift the dreamers from their knees?
I can feel 65-year-old Jack Moline shouting back across an adult lifetime to 21-year-old Jack Moline not to give up. What lies behind the screen is fulfillment, good times, renewal and inspiration. Right now, tomorrow’s just another working day and I’m trying to get some rest. But soon, we will rejoice. All night long.
This column concludes the Exodus:5 Project. Thanks for sticking with me. I am taking a few weeks off before I start these weekly columns again, but it doesn’t mean you won’t hear from me. Meanwhile, look ahead to the Leviticus:8 Project, coming soon to an inbox and Facebook page near you.