By Rachel Bernstein, March 16, 2024

One of my very favorite Hemingway quotes – disregarding his antisemitism for half a second – is “write drunk, edit sober.” I wrote portions of this drash high above the Atlantic in a metal tube and more than a little bit exhausted, so I took it to heart and hopefully, this sort of experiment bodes well for me (and for you too).

I’ll be honest, when I first spoke to Rabbi Laemmle about giving my second (!!) Library Minyan drash, I said a silent prayer that my selection wouldn’t be one about the mishkan. For my entire time studying Torah, I always found the parshiot about the mishkan to sag, to suffer some second act problems, and too much telling and not enough showing. I didn’t love architecture enough and it didn’t have the design and drama of HGTV, so during my time at Pressman, I always grinned and bore it. However, I love a challenge, so we’ll chat a bit about Pekudei today.

When I first selected Pekudei, my initial reasoning for the choice was that it was the finality of finishing the mishkan. After enduring Egypt and reveling in the beauty of coats of many colors, it was finally complete. I chose it because of the joy in finishing this holy structure. That was what I was going to write about as I flew across the Atlantic and was a little bit Hemingway drunk on travel and Spanish churros and Scottish Indian food. But, then I came here a couple Shabbats ago for a big special Aufruf and a Rabbi gave a drash on infusing the divine and the human with Moshe’s ten commandments. And I said that’s a great idea and I’m going to build on it. So, because of Rabbi Ben (or Rabbi Buckets – depending on your persuasion), I kind of scrapped my entire drash. (I’ll bill him for my time later).

See, because when we talk about the Mishkan, we talk about a lot of things. We talk about attention to detail and dedication. We talk about history and Tevye’s kind of tradition. We talk about inviting G-D into our space and we talk about purification.

When Pekudei talks about the Mishkan, it also talks about a lot of things. It talks about how the covering of the ark and the menorah were made of gold. It talks about how the high priest had gold in his garments. (There was a lot of gold.) The twelve stones of the breastplate. The cloud above it. They brought the mishkan to Moshe and he was happy with it and Aaron works in the mishkan – something about the family business and nepotism (maybe).

And honestly, it was all incredibly interesting, but that is not what I want to talk to you about. See, when the Israelites create the mishkan, they are intentionally creating a holy space. They are literally creating a space to offer sacrifices and pray and for Aaron to be a high priest in service of G-D. In spite of their messy humanity – it, after all, was not long ago that they were dancing around a golden calf– they put painstaking work in to make sure that it was acceptable for G-D. Not all that easy to do!

Here I am, standing in a holy space. There’s a ner tamid here, an ark, several people here to do the important work of davening, and Torot. (Something about Tevye’s tradition, right?) Yes, this is a holy space, but what about those other traveling holy spaces? The ones that we create, but aren’t quite up to G-D’s standards? Ones that weren’t detailed in the Torah? When I was welcomed here and you were welcomed here and you were welcomed here at the kiddush table, wasn’t that a holy space? Welcoming the stranger? When we make new friends? When someone is in the delivery room bringing new life into the world? When a couple stands underneath the chuppah? Learning a new subject? Those too are all holy spaces, but is something only holy if we say a prayer, make a sacrifice, or say the shehecheyanu? What about the places that I think are beautiful and holy, but not really in the baruch atah sense? The places and memories that I would like to live in.

I don’t know if you are all familiar with the term “hot take” or something similar to playing the devil’s advocate, but I’ll take on that role. I would even go so far to argue that a debate is a holy space. Certainly not one that is a through-and-through argument that has no good end goal (a la reality television), but a debate – one as the rabbis say– is for the sake of heaven. The articles that change the world. When we look to actually better ourselves, to learn. The holiness in the blank page. The holiness in the words not said. The holiness in the words said.

The mishkan is a traveling holy space. One specifically made for the now-nomadic Israelites. When I was sitting in the classrooms at Pressman, I would wonder what was so special about this holy space that seemed to mainly be for the korbanot, the sacrifices. After all, we don’t do them anymore. What bearing does it have now? However, we can spin this. If we think about the divine and the human. If we are being emotionally vulnerable with someone, perhaps an old friend, a new friend, a new relationship, a family member. Isn’t that something of a sacrifice? Isn’t there something holy in sharing parts of yourself with someone? Something purifying? It’s an offering of ourselves. Something like hi, here’s this part of me that I haven’t shared with you yet. Hope that’s okay.

Since I am here surrounded by chachamim and like my first time giving a drash, I want to impress you all. I wanted to find a claim to back up my “hot take.” What is the holiness in relationships and I found this quote by Amos Oz, the Israeli writer: “No man is an island, but we are all peninsulas . . . we are all given our identities by other persons and other things. We are named by everything we ever knew and everything we ever did.” (For those of you that like homework, that is from Jews and Words.) Torah is everywhere and it could be easy to say that the mishkan is beautiful and G-D was happy with it and Moshe was happy with it and it is part of our Jewish history and happily ever after But, there are much smaller, a little less holy but still holy mishkans everywhere (without the sacrifices).

In the Torah, the mishkan is about building a connection with G-D and it was something between the high priest and G-D. It involved a sacrifice. In our day to day life, our small mishkan is still about relationships. It’s about small sacrifices. In the way that we care about people. In the way that we cultivate them and continue to grow. It’s about messing up and learning from it. We find holiness in talking and learning about others.

The thing is that we ourselves are not holy. We are messy and striving at best. But it’s the connections that we form that are actually holy. (At least if you consult me or Amos Oz.) Before that aforementioned transatlantic plane ride, I had been in Scotland and Spain and I was messy, at best. I was jet lagged and confused as to the flow of traffic in the UK. But it was the split second connections that I formed with the Scots and the Spaniards that made the trip feel special. It was making the docent in the Scottish Modern Art Museum laugh. It was the front desk clerk asking me and my sister if we’d be offended at an attraction making fun of Americans. It was the conversation in broken English and Spanish with my rideshare driver on the way to the airport. It’s when you realize that more often than not, it’s actually very easy to love people.

While researching this piece, I heard a theory that Sinai was the marriage of G-D and the Jewish people and that the mishkan was, in essence, the wedding party. Suddenly the attention to detail about the mishkan throughout this portion of the Torah made sense. Wouldn’t you talk off the ear of your friends about the party for this new relationship? Wouldn’t you be happy that your beloved loved you because of all of your messiness? It’s actually a very good theory when you think about Lekha Dodi.

Speaking of Torah being everywhere, I was reminded of one of my favorite bits of poetry: “Good Bones” by Maggie Smith. In it, Smith (as the narrator) plays the role of realtor pitching you (the reader) on a house. Some of my favorite lines: “The world is at leasy fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative estimate, though I keep this from my children” and “I am trying to sell them the world. . . any decent realtor walking you through a (really bad place) chirps on about good bones: this place could beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.” I subbed one word out there because it isn’t quite ready for primetime and little ears, but the

sentiment is still the same. We and the Israelites have many thing in common, but one stands out: we are not perfect. We worship golden calfs, we jaywalk, we swear, we zone out during the Amidah, and other things of varying levels of badness. But, just like the mishkan, we have good bones and goodintentions. We have this marriage with G-D and we are trying our absolute best to make it work. The world is awful/can be awful and we know that now as we are constantly inundated with news and we look at our phones first thing in the morning and see yet another breaking news headline that promises to bring tears, but there are good bones.

The mishkan was good intentions and a desire to be closer to G-D who just brought us out of Egypt and across the red sea. It was a home for the shabbos bride and a testament to love. We read Pekudei and see the world being made a little more beautiful with the finishing touches. The five seconds before the new homeowners walk through the door on HGTV.

Pekudei closes out the book of Shmot and the blueprints of the mishkan. It’s the end of Egypt and the beginning of quite literally a new chapter. But, it’s worth remembering that while the mishkan is a success, the Israelites still had to screw up a couple of times in order to reach that point. It’s the light at the end of the tunnel and even with this success, it still was not perfect and without spoiling anything, it will continue to not be perfect. Much like Rabbi Ben, I’ll encourage you to continue to not be perfect. To celebrate your mistakes. To seek out the holiness in your relationships and to create those holy spaces because of your own messiness and humanity and holiness. After all, like a true “Zillenial”, as Hannah Montana once said, “everybody makes mistakes.”

Shabbat Shalom.

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