It’s All in the Details

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein  |  March 10, 2017

Torah scroll laying on a wooden table.

“These are the measurements of the altar in long cubits, that cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth: Its gutter is a cubit deep and a cubit wide, with a rim of one span around the edge. And this is the height of the altar: From the gutter on the ground up to the lower ledge that goes around the altar it is two cubits high, and the ledge is a cubit wide. From this lower ledge to the upper ledge that goes around the altar it is four cubits high, and that ledge is also a cubit wide.” — Ezekiel 43:13–14

The Torah portion for this week is Tetzaveh, which means “command” or “connect,” from Exodus 27:20–30:10, and the Haftorah is from Ezekiel 43:10–27.

This week’s Haftorah reading is taken from the book of Ezekiel where the prophet describes the Third Temple that, according to Jewish tradition, will be built in the messianic era. While the Torah portion described the First Temple, Ezekiel describes the Temple at the end of time.

When you read both texts from Exodus and Ezekiel, we can’t help but notice the plethora of details that must be taken into account. God left very little room for interpretation, specifying the exact dimension, materials, and placement of the Temple furnishings. In fact, tradition teaches that when God showed Moses the divine blueprint for the Temple menorah, Moses had to go back for clarification several times in order to get every detail right!

Why all the details? Couldn’t God have given us more general instructions without bogging us down with so many nuances and specifications?

This reminds me of an exchange I once read about between a teacher and a student. The student emailed his teacher in order to get something off his chest. He wanted to understand why there are so many rules and details when it comes to Jewish worship of God. “Does God really care about all of these small details?” he wondered. Then he added, “I already sent you this email once before. Could it be that I have stumped you?”

The teacher’s reply began like this: “Yes, I did get your first email, and no, you have not stumped me. You see, when I replied to you, I left out the ‘dot’ in the ‘dot com’ part of your address. It’s just a small detail, so I figured it wouldn’t matter much.”

The teacher was telling his student in a very practical way that, yes, details do matter. Whether they are tiny computer chips or ingredients in a recipe, small details often determine the whole outcome of things. Any detail given to us by God may not always be understandable to us, but that does not diminish its importance. So as we read these verses in Scriptures, we are to cherish and value them no less than the verses that move us deeply.

Attention to detail is something that often gets overlooked in our fast-paced, productivity-focused society. But slow down a bit – at least when it comes to serving God. Say the words of your prayers thoughtfully and slowly. In helping a stranger, go the extra mile and add that special touch. The slightest addition on our part may have the largest impact on God.


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