Sedra Shorts

Ideas and commentaries on the weekly Torah readings.

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Location: Bet Shemesh, Israel

I taught Tanach in Immanuel College, London and in Hartman, Jerusalem. I was also an ATID fellow for 2 years. At present, I work for the Lookstein Center for Jewish Education in the Diaspora, in Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The purpose of this blog is to provide "sedra-shorts", short interesting ideas on the weekly Torah reading. Please feel free to use them and to send me your comments.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Parshat VaYakhel-Pikudei

There are five Sedra Shorts for Parshat VaYakhel-Pikudei

  • The Mishkan's Dual Purpose
  • The People's Mishkan
  • The Cost of the Mishkan
  • Raising the Cash
  • The Mishkan Again


The Mishkan's Dual Purpose

God appointed two men to supervise the building of the Mishkan:

"The Lord has called by name Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Yehuda...and Oholiav, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan" (Shemot 35:30-34).

Both these names and the callings of these people have always fascinated me. I believe that their names and abilities are connected to the dual purpose of the Mishkan.

The Torah gives Mishkan two names: The Mishkan (Dwelling Place) and the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting). Each name represents a different aspect of the Mishkan: Mishkan - the place where God's spirit rests and lives amongst Israel; and Ohel Moed - the place where God meets with Moshe to proclaim His teachings.

Depending on the context, the Torah uses the relevant name. It generally does not use both names together, apart from in this week's parsha:

"All the work of the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting was completed; the children of Israel had done [it]; according to all that the Lord had commanded Moses, so they had done" (ibid 39:32).

In completing the Mishkan, the children of Israel had created a structure that served a dual purpose: To protect Israel (Mishkan) and to bring God to the world (Ohel Moed).

These ideas are echoed in the names of the master craftsmen:

Bezalel ben Uri ben Hur - The image of God, from light, from emptiness.

This name represents Creation and God proclaimimg His word when previously it had not been heard.

Bezalel would therefore, represent the name and purpose of Ohel Moed.

Oholiav ben Ahisamach -The Tent is my Father (i.e. "Protection"), my Brother is my Support.

This name represents the family of Israel and the presence of God dwelling in the Mishkan.

Therefore, Oholiav would represent the name and purpose of Mishkan.

Note also the tribes of both craftsmen. Bezalel is from Yehuda and Oholiav is from Dan. Yehuda means "thanks" or "graciousness" while Dan is "justice".

Perhaps this is hinting at God's traits of mercy and justice, the middot by which He runs the Universe, and thus indicates another aspect of the Mishkan/Ohel Moed in its totality.

The People's Mishkan

In this week's parsha, Israel begins building the Mishkan.

It begins with a call for donations and then proceeds with its construction.

While two people, Bezalel and Oholiav, with exceptional artistic and creative skills were selected to oversee the Mishkan's construction, it is clear that the whole nation felt a aprt of it and that it was not the reserve of the elite.

To begin with the call goes out to everybody:

"Moshe called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble" (Shemot 35:1).

Usually the Torah write: Moshe spoke to the children of Israel". However, in this case, everyone was to be present. Indeed, the Hebrew word: "VaYakhel" (he gathered) reminds us of the mitzvah of "hakhel" the gathering of all Israel every seven years.

Moshe asks for the people to be generous: "'Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous hearted person shall bring it" (ibid 5), but the extent of the people's munificence surprises him: "The people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do" (ibid 36:5).

Rashi observes that the community elite, the Nesi'im, are subtly criticized by the Torah for being the last people to donate, as they believed that they would have to complete the people's shortfall (see Rashi on ibid 35"27 where the Hebrew word nesi'sm is spelt without the Hebrew letter "yod"
נשאם).

Even the act of construction was open to the entire people. Again Rashi comments that the two supervisors came from the tribes Yehuda, a leading tribe, and Dan, a "minor" tribe. This was to indicate that all levels of Israel's society should be involved in the construction.

Furthermore, the construction was even open to women: "Every wise hearted woman spun with her hands, and they brought spun material: blue, purple, and crimson wool, and linen. All the women whose hearts uplifted them with wisdom, spun the goat hair" (ibid 35 25-26).

Additionally, the labor was not only done by the artists: "He made the laver of brass, and the base thereof of brass, of the mirrors of the serving women that did service at the door of the tent of meeting" (ibid 38:8).

Who were these women "that did service". The term used to describe their work is "lisvo tseva" (
לצבוא צבא). This term is used twice more in the Torah (Bemidbar 38:4 and 8:24).

In both instances, it refers to the menial tasks performed by the Levites in the Mishkan.

It seems that the women referred to here (and in I Shmuel 2:22), were menial laborers who worked in the Mishkan. Even women at the bottom of the occupational and special scale were involved in the building of the Mishkan.

God's house is not to be the preserve of the wealthy, but a sanctuary so that all Israel knows that God dwells amongst them.


The Cost of the Mishkan

"All the gold that had been used for the work in all the work of the Holy the gold of the waving was twenty nine talents, seven hundred and thirty shekels, according to the holy shekel" (Shemot 38:24).

In one of favorite all time comments, Chief Rabbi Hertz estimates that the Mishkan cost £170,000 – today one would have trouble finding accommodation in any western capital with that sum.

The Sephorno points out the beauty of the Mishkan was diminished in relation to the First Temple, which was even further diminished by Herod's Temple.

Indeed, we know that chef wood used to make the Mishkan was acacia wood, while Solomon's Temple was crafted with Lebanon's finest cedar wood. Those who have visited the Negev desert, will note that the acacia tree is not an exceptionally fine tree. Nevertheless, that is what ancient Israel had available, so that as what they used.

Nonetheless, what the Mishkan lacked in wealth in splendor, it had spirituality and God's presence in abundance.

"For the cloud of the Lord was upon the Mishkan by day, and there was fire within it at night" (ibid 40:38). God's presence never left the Mishkan; His glory filled the Mishkan throughout.

This is in contradistinction to Solomon's Temple that fell into disrepair in Hezekiah's day and needed to be repaired and Herod's Temple that lacked the Aron HaKodesh (Holy Ark) and other important vessels.

Furthermore, while the Temples were both destroyed, the Mishkan never was.

What was it that made the Mishkan unique?

The answer lies in this week's parsha:

"These are the numbers of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moses' command (ibid 38:21)

"they made …..as the Lord had commanded Moshe" (ibid 39:1 + a further 9 times).

"Now they brought the Mishkan to Moshe…Moses saw the entire work, and lo! they had done it-as the Lord had commanded, so had they done. So Moses blessed them" (ibid 33-43).

There was complete transparency in everything that Moshe did. All the gold, silver, metals and other items were accounted for. All the work was inspected and checked to see that it was done correctly and lo and behold, everything was done to the letter according to the word of God.
Moshe did not hide any of riches that were collected nor did he feel that he did not need to account to the people for all the resources they spent.

Moshe understood that he was dealing with public money. Therefore, he had a duty to ensure that all of it was used correctly, and that the workers had abused their position. He therefore, made an inventory of every item used.

Raising the Cash

The children of Israel begin and complete the building of the Mishakan in this week's parsha.

However, before they built it, they needed the raw materials that would become the Mishkan. Therefore at the outset, Moshe makes a call for donations: "Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous hearted person shall bring it" (Shemot 35:5).

The people were so generous that Moshe was told that "the people are bringing very much, more than is enough for the labor of the articles which the Lord had commanded to do" (ibid 36:5) and so Moshe calls them to stop bringing things.

This type of donation is in contradistinction to what the Torah had called for in last week's parsha: "everyone who goes through the counting shall give half a shekel…The rich shall give no more, and the poor shall give no less than half a shekel (ibid 30:13-13).

In our parsha each person could give how much or how little they wanted to do, while in the previous parsha, there was no choice; each person was required to give the same amount.

We find a similar thing in the next two parshiyot. Sefer VaYikra begins by describing the different sacrifices a person could bring should they feel the urge to sacrifice – the whole parsha is described in a voluntary manner. While the following parsha, Tzav, describes obligatory sacrifices.

What is the Torah trying to teach by describing voluntary and obligatory features in the same aspects of worship?

These two features recognize the reality of the human spirit. There are times when we feel deep religious conviction and do not need any prompting in our worship or in our desire to give, while at other times we need prompting and direction, as we do not always feel the urge.

The same rules regulate our prayers. Jews are required to pray three times a day, whether or not they feel the urge to pray. At the same time one can pray at any time of any day for any reason.

We recognize that we need regulation in our lives. Our spiritual yearnings cause us to codify our religion, and yet that codification automatically stunts our desire and often even removes the spiritual urge.

The challenge is to find the medium, to somehow bring spirituality into our regulations, to treat our obligatory duties as if they were voluntary.


The Mishkan Again

We spent two weeks in Teruma and Tetzaveh, learning about the Mishkan. There the Torah discussed in detail, the precise measurements of its items.

This week we read another two parshiyot VaYakhel and Pekudei. It contains a repetition of the Mishkan – the difference being that the first two parshiyot are God's instructions to Moshe, while the second two is Moshe's instructions to the people and their fulfillment of that command.

These parshiyot are so repetitive that Rashi does not repeat his comments. So why are all the details repeated in such depth? This question is strengthened when we consider another issue.

The parsha begins with the commandment to keep the Shabbat. Now even though the commandment about Shabbat appears in a number of places throughout the Torah, the Torah does not actually provide many details as to what keeping the Shabbat entails. I does tell us that we must do any melacha, normally translated as work, however it does not actually define the term. In deed, it is left up to the Oral Law to describe in detail, the many different melachot that are forbidden on the Sabbath.

So, why does the Torah spend so much time describing the details of the Mishkan, when it would only ever be built once in history and which Judaism has survived for thousands of years without, while it is vague about Shabbat, which is kept week in week in week out?

Some commentaries have explained that the Torah wanted us to understand how much the building of the Mishkan was a labor of love for the whole people. However, surely the Sabbath is also a day of love and deserves its details.

The answer lies in the question itself. Judaism is passed on through the family. Most religious Jews know the laws of Shabbat, not because they have studied them in books, but because they keep them week in week out. The laws therefore, do not need to be recorded in detail. The Torah wants us to learn His ways through our parents and for us to pass it on to our children. And the Shabbat has survived.

Yet, the Mishkan is lost to us. No one has seen it since it was dismantled in Solomon's days. We even have no idea as to how Herod's Temple appeared from the inside.

Yet, that is not the case about the Mishkan. It has survived because it was so lovingly recorded in the Torah. Without all this detail, a major piece of ancient Israel would be lost for us; and when the time comes to re-build it, we would have no idea how to even begin.

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