Thoughts on Shabbat Pekudeh
By Tamar F. Levin, Pekudeh 2022, March 5, 2022
Chazak, Chaza! We have completed the journey through the Book of Shemot, It has been a momentous journey. We recall Yitziat Mitzrayim not only when we read Shemot, but each time we hear or say Kiddush , recite Hallel, or the Birkat HaMazon, and several times when davening Shacharit each day. Yitziat Mitzrayim is the story that defines us and tells us who and what we are. And in a little more than a month…b’chol dor v’dor, we will rejoice in retelling it this story yet again our Seder tables. It’s a story with powerful resonance for all who value freedom; the sound track of my childhood includes unforgettable recordings by Paul Robeson and Marion Anderson singing “Go Down Moses”…As Rabbi Kligfield reminded us, we don’t have to look hard to find examples of bullies and tyrants in the history of mankind.
Our freedom was granted with a purpose and our spiritual destiny was sealed at Sinai: Israel was to be inextricably bound in covenant with the Almighty . Norms of conduct both individual and societal were to be regarded as expressions of divine will. Just as the
Almighty showed compassion to us when we were strangers in Mitzrayim, we are commanded to show concern for the poor, the outsider, the stranger, the refugee among us. Some members of our kehillah are doing that right now.
In Shemot our ancestors are were transformed from slaves building cities for Pharaoh into free people building a sanctuary so that the Almighty might “dwell” among them. Contributions were sought and obtained and individuals lent their skill, ability and knowledge. Laborers, craftsmen and women, workers in metal, wood, fiber, jewels, embroidery, all participated. Finally, in today’s parsha, contributions accounted for, the beautiful eight part vestments for the priests, the numerous tabernacle components and furnishings are completed and brought to Moshe for inspection.
“In accordance with all that God had commanded Moshe, so did the Israelites accomplish all the work that had been set for them. Moshe saw the entire work and lo! they accomplished it as God had commanded, so they had done; and Moshe blessed them.
Among midrashim that supply the words to the tfillah are these :
“And Moshe said: May Thy work be seen by Thy servants and may Thy glory remain with their children! May it be the will of God that the Shekhinah may rest upon the work of your hands, and may the bliss of God, our God be upon us.”
Just two weeks short of the anniversary of leaving Mitzrayim, and nine months after arriving at Mt. Sinai, a new sense of community has been formed. God instructs Moshe to set up the Mishkan, anoint and consecrate it and all its furnishings, so that it shall be holy. Then Aharon and his sons dressed in their vestments of “kavod v’tiferet,” are anointed and consecrated introducing the institution of a hereditary priesthood.
Rabbi Heschel described Shabbat as creating sanctity in time, and now the Mishkan brought sanctity in space. A “home” for the infinite God within finite space was established. The Eytz Chayim calls it a place of “encounter and Presence – a portable Sinai” and adds “ After much dedicated eﬀort – taking up four and a half parshiyyot, God’s Presence has a dwelling place among His people.”
Israel had agreed to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation at Sinai, but this did not prevent them from acting like a mob and worshiping the golden calf. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and others have written that this was the crisis to which the Mishkan and the Kohanim were the answer. As Rabbi Kligfield noted “The Mishkan was in the center of the camp, and while building it, workers focused on one another, on shared purpose and holy, intimate work that kept them focused on God.” They became a kehillah.
Even after the destruction of the 2nd Temple, Jews found substitutes that performed the functions of the MIshkan and the Kohanim. Rabbi Sacks writes “ We learned a choreography of holiness and respect that helped Jews walk and dance together as a nation. We needed to learn about reverence, loyalty, and humility . We needed to learn to build a community that would allow the sacred to enter. “ We needed to to acknowledge that the sacred is beyond human control, or ownership.
The Vilna Goan taught that the pillars of cloud and fire that first appeared to guide us as we fled the Egyptians disappeared with the arrival of the golden calf. They only returned when the Mishkan was built. (Closeness to the Almighty needs to start from below, with us.) The return of the pillars of cloud and fire confirmed that the bond with God was re-established.
In the Zohar Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai explains that the pillars of cloud represent Chessed, and the fire, Gevurah. Both would now be with us in our journey towards Canaan.
We gather this Shabbat in our communal tent to daven together, to find joy, solace and strength in community, to humbly pray that the spirit of the Almighty will continue to hover over us, as the cloud hovered over the first Mishkan, to guide us and bring the harmony and blessing of shalom.