The book Difficult Conversations points out something fascinating about how we appraise effort. We are more interested in knowing that another person is trying to empathize with us – that they struggle to understand how we feel – than we are in their demonstrating actual empathy. Struggling to understand sends a positive message. After all, you wouldn’t invest that kind of energy in a relationship that you didn’t care about. Effort counts.
In the final chapter of the Book of Exodus Moses never speaks. Instead, his deeds depict the completion of the Tabernacle. “And Moses did it. According to everything that God commanded him, he did so” (Ex. 40:16). This particular verse takes us all the way back to a virtually identical verse in Noah’s construction of the ark (Gen.6:22). There are several parallels between Noah and Moses, the Bible’s only two figures identified with floating in arks (Gen. 6:14; Ex. 2:3).
Why the subtle comparison between Moses and Noah at the conclusion of the Torah’s second book? Perhaps the contrast between them enables us to measure biblical progress since the antediluvian, nonverbal obedience of Noah. Much has changed since then for God and for God’s representatives. There is a shift from God’s creating a world to make space for humans, to our making a Tabernacle to make space for God.
Even more nuanced is the shift in approach to deeds. Simplistic labor has given way to maasei hoshev designer’s work. Indeed, maasei hoshev may mean more than designer’s work. Perhaps it is also alludes to “thoughts as deeds” (literally maasei hoshev). The work of thinking hard, careful consideration, can be tantamount to a concrete deed.
Rabbi William Hamilton, Congregation Kehillath Israel, Schechter Alumni Parent