We are finishing up the book of Shmot (Exodus). Chazak chazak v'nitchazek -- Be strong, be strong, may we strengthen each other! Shmot began with bursting-out and disorder. The Children of Israel expanding at an expontential rate, then the beginning of slavery. As the book ends, Moshe is guiding the assembly of the Mishkan, which has been so carefully laid out. Eight times the Torah notes that Moshe carried out the work "as the Lord commanded." The language echoes the days of creation, when God's word translated immediately into reality. The number eight in Jewish thought represents nature-plus-one -- the perfection we add to the world we find, through our covenant with God.
That's the completion. Then we take the second Torah out and read the instructions for Pesach MItzrayim, the night of the first Pesach in Egypt. This Shabbat is called Shabbat "Hachodesh" after the first words of the maftir reading: Hachodesh hazeh lachem rosh chodashim, "This new-moon shall mark for you the first of the months" (Exodus 12:2). This is the Shabbat right before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the beginning of the month of Pesach. We read about the roasted lamb, the meal eaten dressed for departure, the blood on the doorposts. The preparations for the launch of everything.
Reading these two sections together, I feel like both are about both -- completion and preparation. The reading for Shabbat Hachodesh is obviously about the completion of slavery, and the beginning of the march forward toward freedom and Torah. The end of the book of Exodus is certainly a completion. The completion of the Mishkan also represents the complete transformation of the Israelites, from Pharaoh's world to God's.
But the transformation is really only beginning. When the Mishkan was completed, God's presence immediately entered it. Even before Aharon and his sons began their rituals for becoming priests and starting up the sacrifices, the "standard" way for summoning God's presence! God couldn't wait for one thing to end, so that the relationship could begin. The building project was just the start.
In many workplaces and towns, as we've been reading, it's budget time -- time to start thinking about next year. In schools at this time of year, it feels like the end is in sight and soon we'll be winding down. It's tempting for any of us to look out past Pesach and say -- June will be here soon, the world shifts into lower gear, put this year in the books. Whatever got built up to now, it's finished.
No! The year is just beginning. Only two of the five books of the Torah are behind us. If we've built something, in our lives or in our work -- now it's spring, time for new energy. Now we're dressed for the march, now our designs are filled with God's presence. Preparing for Pesach will keep us moving. Not to tire us out, but to get us a running start for the warm and rich months ahead.