Having a brain means that you not only know how things are, but you also understand how things ought to be. Which means that you're constantly being made aware that things are not as they ought to be.

Human beings (most of whom have brains) deal with this frustration in a variety of ways. Some become "academics", which means that they concentrate on the way things ought to be and make believe that that's the way things are. Those who for some reason (usually job-related) are compelled to deal with the way things are, try not to think about the way things ought to be. Since neither approach can be maintained 100% of the time, human beings enjoy a higher stress level than cows, for example.

This has led humans to invent all sorts of salves and balms for stress, on the one hand, and all sorts of devices to do away with (or at least numb) the brain, on the other. Which is a shame, since it's great having a brain, and it's healthy to experience stress.

(Obviously, there are certain types of stress that are quite sick and disabling, but we're talking about the healthy, productive kind that's part and parcel of what being human is all about).


The Torah is very mincing with words. Laws whose details cover many pages in the Talmud are expressed by the Torah in a single sentence, a single word, or even a single extra letter. Little wonder: the "Written Torah" (as the Five Books of Moses are called) has less than 80,000 words (about the quantity of a good-sized novel) in which to encapsulate the whole of the Divine communication to man.

But when it comes to the Sanctuary made by the people of Israel in the Sinai Desert, the Torah does a very unusual thing: it elaborates. And then it elaborates some more. First we get a description of every one of the Sanctuary's components as spelled out in G‑d's instructions to Moses. And then we get all the details a second time, in the account of the Sanctuary's actual construction. The most amazing thing is that these two descriptions are virtually identical! The only real difference is that in the first account, the description of each item begins, "And they shall make...", and in the second account it begins, "And they made..."

The Sanctuary is the prototype of the "dwelling for G‑d in the physical world" whose construction constitutes our mission in life. That's why the details are so important. But why do they have to be related twice? Couldn't the Torah simply say, "And the Children of Israel built it exactly as G‑d had commanded"?

But the Torah wants to emphasize that there will always be two versions of G‑d's home on earth: the ideal version, as G‑d envisions it and describes it to Moses, and the real version, as it is actually built in and out of our physical lives.

Does this means that G‑d is making allowances? That His vision can be compromised by "the way things are" down here? But both versions are exactly the same in the Torah's account! In other words, we are empowered—and expected—to recreate the divine ideal in its entirety, down to every last peg, clasp and carrying pole, within the material world. Recreate—not duplicate. G‑d does not want us to transform physical matter into substanceless spirit; He wants us to make the physical world hospitable to His presence.

Being human means never ceasing the effort to translate the ideal into the real. Not that we can eliminate the gap between matter and spirit. We can do better: we can make our lives a physical version of the divine vision. Human life is an attempt to achieve the impossible—an attempt that fails, and in failing, achieves something even greater.

If you're experiencing stress, you're doing something right.