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 are willing to struggle to understand how we feel and how we see – than we are in believing that they will actually accomplish their goal. Struggling to understand, thinking hard, sends a strongly positive message. After all, you wouldn’t invest that kind of energy in a relationship that you didn’t care about. So arriving at the point of saying “I understand just how you feel” is not the only outcome that registers powerfully with us. Effort counts.
Curiously, in the final chapter of the Book of Exodus Moses never speaks. Instead, his deeds eloquently 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 theTorah’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. The shift from God’s creating a world to make space for humans, to our making a Tabernacle to make space for God is noteworthy.
Even more nuanced, however, 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.
Behavioral psychologist Dan Arielly writes about the “IKEA effect,” which suggests we care more for something we’ve worked to assemble. It works for ideas too. Try discussing a text together with somebody, and note how differently you feel about the fresh ideas that you helped to create. Perhaps it also works for effort exertion in struggling relationships. As we complete tabernacle furnishings in this week’s Sedra, try a different kind of furnishing work this weekend. May sincere efforts at empathy be recognized and rewarded.