Repetition Has Its Uses – Vayakhel 5779

D'var Torah | Exodus

Television has often been the target of social critics, and for good reason. In a medium that puts sound and sight over substance, important issues tend to be trivialized and trivial issues tend to be exaggerated. As early as January 2, 1977, in an article written by Frank Mankiewicz and published in the Washington Post, Sir Thomas Gresham’s observation of sixteenth century economics was reworked to become “Gresham’s TV Law.” This rule states that “in a medium in which a News Piece takes a minute and an ‘In-depth Piece’ takes two minutes, the Simple will drive out the Complex.” No doubt Marvin Kitman had the same idea in mind in his 1967 book entitled You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover in which he wrote: “Pure drivel tends to drive ordinary drivel off the TV screen.” What is worse: pure drivel is often repeated in re-runs and then repeated again in syndication. Little has changed over the last half-century. In fact, the problem has worsened.


Yet repetition – a failing of television – is an asset in Torah. For example, the scriptural narrative is quite detailed when it describes events that led up to the selection of Rebecca as a wife for Isaac by Abraham’s trusted servant Eliezer. But the Torah then virtually repeats the same details when Eliezer recounts his actions to Rebecca’s family (Genesis 24). To the Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 60:8) the repetition is neither redundant nor unnecessary: it is instructive. It teaches that the conversation of the servants of the patriarchs is more precious to God than the Torah of their descendants. God cherishes the words of those who loyally fulfill their obligations and perform their mission with dedication. Therefore, God includes the words of Eliezer a second time.


Similarly, in his commentary on the Torah, Nahmanides on Exodus 36:8 suggests that the Torah repeats all the details regarding the items in the Tabernacle mentioned in Chapter 36 that were already described in Chapters 25-27 because “God takes pleasure, as it were, from the labors of his servants.” That the Israelites dutifully followed all of God’s instructions and set themselves to the task of building the Tabernacle with enthusiasm is worthy of being repeated. This is not an unnecessary repetition or an editorial duplication. It is a message of praise for those who act in good faith.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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