Wednesday, February 01, 2006

268. Jewels

Today I splurged and bought a most amazing book, The Miqra'ot Gedolot (loosely translated, "The Really Big Bible"). It's a collection of Medieval commentaries on Exodus and enough words to study, without interruption, for a lifetime. As a graphic designer, it's also cool to see pages laid out--in English--in classic Talmud style, primary text at the top, surrounding comments radiating like the rungs of a tree. Even at a glance, the explanations look like jewels adorning their centerpiece.

I've had jewels on my mind this week. As I mentioned before, I've been trying to write a short d'var Torah (commentary) on Parashat Tetzaveh, the section about the jewels on the High Priest's breastplate and the various furnishings, offerings and sacrifices of the tabernacle. Since I need about a dozen more years to understand all the relevant exegeses, and my head spins whenever I read Rashi, I'm trying to come up with a personal connection to the text. Unfortunately, my first and repeated reaction to Tetzaveh is: when does it end? Too much information. The universe was created in one line; why so many to talk about some guy's robe?

So I think I need to write about detail. I suspect I'm not the only reader with this problem. (Just the beginnings of an idea; I have a week or two yet to flesh it out. All feedback welcome.) I spend my days moving bits of type by the millimeter, my weekends singing passages that require accuracy in every syllable. But if I get lost in the esthetics of punctuation, I'll forget the overall message my client wants to tell the world through her brochure. And my chanted section will sound hollow, just a pretty tune, if I concentrate on individual notes without keeping the meaning of the text at the forefront of my mind.

"God is in the details," said architect Mies van der Rohe. But "Less is more," he also wrote. After learning from pages sprinkled with tiny dots and lines, we chant Torah from a scroll bereft of vowels and notes, a sea of words flowing into each other. Maybe this is the message of Tetzaveh--challenging us to see the bigger picture while living in a universe of Talmud pages, of sensory overload.

1 comment:

alto artist said...

Thank you! It means a great deal to me that someone who knows what they're talking about thinks the idea makes sense! (I've never written a d'var before; I'm more than a little unsure of what I'm doing.)

I had never heard of Miqra'ot Gedolot until a friend brought it to a study session; it was only just published in November. (We then spent the next three hours trying to figure out what all the commentators had to say about one pasuk of Parashat Shemot.) It is a way cool book.