Dedicated to Kol HaBirah Publisher Hillel Goldschein on the anniversary of his Bar Mitzvah.
Starting with Shemot 25, the Torah provides more than six chapters of extremely detailed instructions on constructing the Mishkan. After a brief interlude, largely focused on the episode of the Golden Calf, the Torah returns to its previous topic with six more chapters repeating the precise instructions for constructing the Mishkan. Every commentator asks why the Torah, which normally is very terse, presents the construction in such minute detail and then repeats the entire six chapters. Are we studying Torah or building trades?
When Moshe was a day later than the people expected in returning from meeting with G-d on Har Sinai, the Torah states that the people gathered around Aharon and asked him to find a replacement for Moshe to lead the people. The verb the Torah uses is “Vayakhel” (32:1). What resulted was the disaster of Egel Zahav (the Golden Calf). The Torah uses the same verb in 35:1, where Moshe gathered the entire assembly for a tikkun for the Egel Zahav, the actual construction of the Mishkan, which became the locus for G-d’s presence among Bnei Yisrael.
For me, the primary theme of Vayakhel and Pekudei is that some mitzvot require that we obey G-d’s commandments exactly. Innovation and flexibility are acceptable in some situations. For example, the Avot and Imahot davened to Hashem in their own words on numerous occasions—think of all the prayers for a child when various Matriarchs had trouble becoming pregnant. Many inspired authors have constructed and added prayers and poems to our liturgy over the years. Countless responsa over the years have found ways around strict halachic interpretations—to avoid death penalties and to find compassionate solutions consistent with G-d’s attribute of Divine Mercy (Hashem) rather than His attribute of Divine Justice (Elokim). In some situations, however (and constructing the Mishkan is one), G-d insists that we Jews follow His mitzvot exactly.
The Torah has numerous examples of situations with extreme penalties for not following mitzvot exactly. Nadav and Avihu received immediate punishment for bringing a “strange fire” before G-d (Vayikra 10). Moshe and Aharon lost their roles as leaders of Bnei Yisrael, and lost the privilege of entering the land, because they did not follow G-d’s exact instructions on bringing water from a rock (Bamidbar 20). The instructions for the Kohen Gadol making atonement for Bnei Yisrael on Yom Kippur are also precise and leave no room for innovation (Vayikra 16). After the sin of Egel Zahav, when G-d’s presence moved outside the camp, Bnei Yisrael had to follow His instructions precisely to perform an adequate tikkun. To show that Bnei Yisrael, under Moshe’s leadership and Bezalel’s supervision, followed the instructions exactly, the Torah states more than 20 times, “ka’asher tziva Hashem et Moshe,” precisely as Hashem commanded to Moshe. The tikkun (rectification) worked. The people regained their lofty spiritual level, and G-d returned His presence to the Mishkan, in the midst of the people.
The end of Pekudei points back to Sefer Bereishit and forward to both Vayikra and Bamidbar. The keruvim (cherubim) of the covering of the Aron have the faces of children. This representation of a human face is highly unusual, because Judaism strictly forbids representing a human figure. The keruvim harken back to the keruvim in Gan Eden guarding the Etz HaChaim (Tree of Life) and thereby represent the closest that humans could approach to Gan Eden, to a personal relationship with our Maker.
The dedication of the Mishkan, the final event in Sefer Shemot, took place on the eighth day of the dedication— yom hashemini. The dedication is the subject of Naso, the gifts of the leaders of the tribes (Bamidbar 4-7). We read about the eighth day again in Shemini (Vayikra 9-10) and the consequences in Acharei Mot (Vayikra 16).
At the end of Pekudei, we read that the anan (cloud indicating G-d’s presence) covered the Ohel Moed and the shechina filled the Mishkan. Moshe could not enter the Ohel Moed because of the anan (40:34-35). Turn the page, however, and we read that Hashem called to Moshe from the Ohel Moed, so all was well (Vayikra 1:1). Pekudei ends with a summary of how the cloud signaled when Bnei Yisrael were to move and when to stay (40:36-38). The Torah repeats this message in Bamidbar 10:35-36, as Bnei Yisrael set off from the base of Har Sinai on their unfortunately much-delayed journey to the Land. In short, the continuation of Pekudei is both Sefer Vayikra and Sefer Bamidbar. Read on!
Alan A. Fisher, a retired economist with a government agency, is the membership chairman of the American Dahlia Society. He produces and shares a weekly compilation of divrei Torah (Potomac Torah Study Center) and davens most often at Beth Sholom in Potomac, Maryland.