Pekude 5784 – Checklists

D'var Torah | Exodus

The pattern is unmistakable. Following each description of the fashioning of the items included in the Tabernacle, the text confirms that the instructions were dutifully followed. With regard to the priestly garments, they made them “just as God commanded Moses” (Exodus 39:1). With regard to the ephod, it, too, was made “just as God commanded Moses” (Exodus 39:7). With regard to the breastplate, it was likewise made “just as God commanded Moses” (Exodus 39:21). And the same applies to the priestly robes (Exodus 39:26), the priestly tunics (Exodus 39:29), the front-piece (Exodus 39:32), the tabernacle coverings and furnishings (Exodus 39:43). The reader is left thinking that all the work could have been summarized in one verse rather than in an entire chapter: ‘The Tabernacle was completed in accordance with the instructions given by God to Moses.’ The steady refrain is unnecessary, particularly because the instructions were already mentioned in chapters 26 – 28.

Before indicting the Torah and labeling it unnecessarily repetitive, consider the insight of Professor Steven N. Austad in his collection of essays entitled To Err Is Human, To Admit It Is Not. Professor Austad is not a biblical scholar. He was a former taxi driver and lion tamer, but, more importantly, a renowned biologist and expert in the process of aging. What makes his views both interesting and pertinent is not his special knowledge of Bible, but of human nature.

Admittedly, it is human nature to make mistakes. But mistakes can be reduced – even eliminated. When safety became the airline industry’s chief concern, fatalities have all but been eliminated. In 1959 airline crashes occurred about once per hundred thousand flights. By 2016, that number was reduced to one fatality per ten million flights. In U.S. domestic air travel there have been no accident fatalities between 2009 and 2019! Airlines succeeded by adopting a simple procedure: checklists. People are likely to make mistakes in completing complex tasks when they are either bored or under stress. Checklists ensure that all workers stay on task.

What Exodus 39 illustrates is the application of a checklist. It reads as if the craftsmen were comparing the tasks performed with the instructions given. As each task is ticked off, the entire enterprise moved closer to successful and error-free completion. For readers of the text, the crucial message is that important operations benefit by checklists in order to ensure that each step is accounted for and none is overlooked. That is the surest way to succeed.

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– Ralph Waldo Emerson

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