May 21, 2014
This morning I watched as carpenters opened up all the walls in the back room of our home, as we begin a renovation project that we’ve been planning for about a year. I imagine that this kind of sight fills some people with fear and loathing – for me, it is more like a giddy joy. I know the fear and loathing might come later, when we’re over-budget, or find dry rot, or can’t move back in as early as we thought. But for now – what spring fever to gaze upon the old framing, to see the notes that other builders and homeowners scribbled for themselves in previously hidden places, to find old newspapers stuffed away, to smell the sawdust again. There’s joy in any deconstruction, perhaps, partially because we imagine the reconstruction that it will make possible – but there’s also some cathartic happiness in the deconstruction itself. It brings in fresh hope, and gets some imaginative facility working again. It’s nice to work with a fine mallet and chisel, but a little sawzalling is good for the soul, too.
This week in our parasha, we begin the book of Numbers – the epic Israelite wandering in the wilderness. It’s a time of deconstruction for the people. Before they can build something new in the promised land, they need to let go of who they’ve been – in this case, slaves for 400 years. Of course, it’s not a perfect metaphor. The Israelites are not out in the desert destroying old vestiges of themselves; they are slowly and painstakingly growing, shedding, and leaving behind. Still, it’s Torah to sawzall to.