One of the most sensually satisfying things I’ve ever done was building a seventeen-foot sailing boat out of oak and spruce, plywood and glue, bronze screws and canvas. If I close my eyes, I can still smell the aromatic sawdust. After eight months of part-time, loving labor, launch day was almost an anticlimax. It floated, I climbed aboard, hoisted sail, and glided off across the lake.
No surprise there; I had purchased plans from an accomplished New Zealand naval architect, Richard Hartley, and followed them diligently. What is more surprising is that I later built another boat which also floated. This one was nearly forty feet long and was constructed from steel and cement. Yes, you read that correctly. Its hull was a one-inch thick sandwich of steel and cement. I was not at all surprised when, on launch day, it not only floated but floated exactly to its waterline which I had already painted in bright red on the hull.
Why wasn’t I surprised? Because I had purchased plans from a designer in Vancouver who was a recognized expert in ferro-cement boats and I had followed all details diligently. What percentage of the boats and ships that are built by large shipyards or by serious amateurs float? Actually, about one hundred percent.
We have friends in Nevada who are constructing a small airplane in their garage. They are among the thousands of ultra-light aircraft enthusiasts around America who have built their own small airplanes. What percentage of these airplanes fly? Actually, about the same as the percentage of airplanes built by Boeing that fly—one hundred percent.
The same goes for houses and skyscrapers. Just like boats and planes, one can construct a house or a skyscraper knowing that if directions are followed, the building will stand. One hundred percent of buildings constructed according to currently understood engineering principles stand. We’ve been constructing boats and buildings for a long time. We know what works and why.
However, although we have been getting married and building businesses for thousands of years, neither of these two enterprises offer anything near the same likelihood of success. This is puzzling. After all, there are countless books on starting a business and getting married just as there are entire libraries providing guidance on building boats, planes, and houses. We ought to be able to absorb the necessary data and embark on life as an entrepreneur or as a spouse with as much chance of success as ship builders, airplane builders, and home builders. Yet we all know that the percentage of new businesses and new marriages that succeed long term is well below the figure for ships, planes, and skyscrapers. Why would that be?
As usual, ancient Jewish wisdom leads us to the Scriptural solution. God directed Moses how to build the Ark of the Covenant and then told him to place inside it “…the testimony which I shall give you.” (Exodus 25:16)
God directed Moses to build the Table and then told him, “And you shall set the bread of display upon the table…(Exodus 25:30)
God directed Moses to build the Menorah and then told him, “…and they shall light its lamps…(Exodus 25:37)
However, when God directed Moses to build the altar (Exodus 27:1-8) the construction details were not followed by what to do with the altar as was the case with the Ark, the Table and the Menorah.
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the entire purpose of building the Ark was to place inside it the Tablets; the Table, to place upon it the bread; and the Menorah to light it. But building the altar had purpose and meaning in itself.
In our attempts to replicate the Tabernacle in our own homes by making them suitable dwelling places for God, the altar symbolizes the marital bedroom and also the source of sustenance. In other words, the altar is linked to both marriage and our means of earning a living—our businesses.
The Ark, the Table and the Menorah were physical objects and building them resembled building boats, planes, and homes. However, the altar was a spiritual entity and building it was meaningful in itself.
A ship is built for the purpose of launching it; an airplane is built for the purpose of flying it; a building is constructed for the purpose of occupying it.
However, a marriage needs no other purpose to exist. Its very existence provides meaning. Certainly, it is the best place to raise children and adds to the health and income of the spouses, but even without those things it has meaning. And a business, though obviously needing to provide goods and services and make a profit, often gives its owners and operators significant meaning and purpose in life even during the start-up years when it may well not yet be profitable.
If I spot someone erecting a building, I might well ask, “What’s it for?” But if someone tells me they’re getting married, I wouldn’t ask, “What for?”
Yes, there are libraries of information on how to build physical objects like boats, planes, and houses. And you will only fail by ignoring those physical directions. Happily for successfully building spiritual entities like marriages and businesses, there is also information available but it is naturally spiritual information. It is as reckless to start a marriage or launch a new money-making enterprise without consulting and following the spiritual blueprints.