When I was a boy in the 60’s my two favorite cartoons were the popular Flintstones and Jetsons. While Hanna-Barbera Studios produced both, the Flintstones was “the modern stone-age family” while the Jetsons was the “space-age” family of the future. Ironically though, both families were really tongue in cheek reflections of 1960’s lifestyle and values.
The Flintstones had all of the 60’s lifestyle expectations, with Stone Age veneers. Their stone wheel cars would roll up to the drive-in restaurant so they could order a “bronto-burger.” Their humble abode in the Town of Bedrock resembled the low cost post WWII housing which accompanied the suburban sprawl or the 50’s and 60’s. Even their appliances such as garbage disposals and hairdryers ran on the power of prehistoric looking animals. The Jetsons on the other hand had flying cars, excessive gadgetry and robotic servants to help ease their life in cloud scraping hi-rise apartments. Almost prophetically every time saving convenience had a screen accompanied by robotic voices that sounded like alien invaders in 60’s sci-fi movies.
Just like the Flintstones, the Jetsons sported 60’s style hairdos and reflected the aspirations and mores of the decade. The women did not work and the men did everything possible to avoid work. Though the Flintstones represented the blue-collar family and the Jetsons the white-collar family, their mode of operation and goals were identical. So is there a lesson that can be gleaned by observing the relationship between the Flintstones and the Jetsons? I think there is, and I believe it to be profound. When we speak of what was or what can be, we can only reflect what we have already known and have experienced. We reconstruct the past and reframe the future based upon our experience of the present.
Could this be the reason that Hashem asked Israel to erect the Mishkan in the wilderness? Did the Creator Israel to understand what it meant to be truly creative? Is it just possible that He was teaching them precisely what it meant to be co-creators, junior partners in the slow and arduous process of completing the design of creation? Is this why the better part of the second half of Shemot contains instruction and narrative related to the building of the Mishkan? Well, let’s consider this voluminous material.
First I think it is worth exploring the heptadic structure (structures based upon matrixes of sevens) of the Mishkan accounts. This structure is indicative of the connection between the Mishkan and the order and process by which Hashem created the world. After six days of preparation Moses enters the cloud that contains the divine presence on Sinai (Exodus 24:16). Moses is then given the instructions from the Creator concerning the specifics of the Mishkan construction in seven separate speeches, each distinguished by the formulaic introduction “The Hashem spoke to Moses”, or “The Hashem said to Moshe” (Ex. 25:1; 30:11; 17; 22; 34; 31:1; 12). The seventh speech culminates with God’s instructions for Shabbat observance (31:12-17), punctuated by the divine decree of death for those who violate it. The seventh speech is then followed by the account of the Golden Calf and the ensuing chaos in Israel’s camp, which brings death and division in the ranks. After Moses pleads with God for the people (Ch. 33), the tablets of the covenant are reissued (Ch. 34). The actual building of the Mishkan begins in Exodus 35, initiated by a restatement of the Shabbat commands (2-3). The account of the Mishkan building continues through Exodus 40, with continual references to the work being done, “as Hashem had commanded Moshe”. This phrase is most prominent in the last chapter of the account where it is repeated seven times. The heptadic structure is not only a literary cue that the Mishkan belongs to a covenant of re-creation, it is part of a sacred drama that Israel performs each day therefore making God’s purposes for them part of their DNA. By acting out a new present reality, Israel begins the process of reconstructing the perfect past and reshaping a bright future. A future where they see themselves as a Kingdom of Priests committed to recapturing Hashem’s design for creation.
If failed reliance upon the Creator allowed chaos to ensue and wreak havoc upon the fragile creative order, then obedience to the Creator will inevitably restore the creation to its intended well-being and Shalom. When Israel builds the Mishkan according to the covenantal design of God, the glory of Hashem, which resided in a cloud outside of Israel’s camp, takes residence in the Mishkan following its completion. So we learn that when we participate in Gemmar Tikkun, the final repair, the Light of Hashem will fill all of the earth.
He built his sanctuary like the heights,
like the earth that he established forever. (Psalm 78:69)
The Mishkan does more than complete the cosmic design; it effectively reclaims creational intentions from the disruptive forces of chaos and human sin and re-establishes the Creator’s primordial hopes. Isn’t it amazing what you can learn from cartoons!