East is East?
“From every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion.” (25:7)
As a '49er (1949 not 1849) I had the privilege of being able to visit Iran when I was a young man, and Eastern Europe in my middle age. By the time the Iron Curtain was being drawn back and you could visit Prague, Lodj, Kovno and Vilna, a similar curtain was being drawn across Iran.
At university I had a friend whose father worked for British Petroleum in Iran. They lived in the lap of luxury with many servants and two resident gardeners. When you undressed at night your clothes would vanish and before you awoke the following morning they would reappear, freshly laundered and pressed.
One day we went for a stroll around the shuk,the Persian market of Teheran. It was about as far from Hampstead Garden Suburb as you could get. We walked from one small shop to another, the scent of various spices wafting through the air. We walked into one shop and my eye was drawn to a beautiful taar, a traditional Persian string instrument with a sound board covered with vellum. The body was divided into two heart-shaped sections. The back was decorated with the most exquisite Persian miniatures of hunting scenes. Seeing that I was interested in this piece, the owner reached up, brought it down from the wall, and placed it in my hands. It was even more beautiful close up. I asked my friend to ask him in Farsi how much it was. He wanted a king's ransom. Being aware that in the Middle East nothing has a price tag, I countered with the closest thing to a reasonable offer that my American Express travel checks would allow.
He looked at me as though the cat had just brought me in, removing the taar from my hands and returning it to
the wall. I shrugged my shoulders, gave a small sigh and browsed around the shop. In a corner was a small ceramic plate with a Hebrew inscription on it. “Hey!” I said to my friend, “I can read this. It says: Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad.” Before I had finished the sentence, the owner of the shop had spun round and said to my friend in Farsi, “Are you Jewish?” “No,” he said pointing at me, “but he is.” “Shalom Aleichem!” he said, extending his hand to me. “Aleichem Hashalom!” I replied. And there we stood, our hands locked in an ancient kindred spirit, not being able to utter even one word in the language of the other. I looked at him and he looked at me. It seems to me that we stood that way for a long time. Finally he took down the taar and gave it to me for the price I offered. I thanked him profusely for his generosity, but he just nodded his head from side to side a bit.
Two Jews from the ends of the earth. I doubt that two Protestants, two Catholics, two Muslims or two Hindus would have had that atavistic moment of contact that I shared in Teheran with that storekeeper.
“From every man whose heart motivates him, you shall take My portion.”
The Mishkan was the expression of the motivation of the heart of the Jewish People. “For