This Shabbat is a time of passage: an ending and a beginning. Normally, when we read this week's portion, Pikudey, we are "on the verge" of the Month of Nisan, the time of the new year of sovereignty in the Jewish tradition, as we read in Exodus 12:2, "This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you." This year, though, we have a leap year -- and hence we are a month away from Nisan. So, as Winston Churchil said, "this is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end -- but it may be the end of the beginning." It is that -- the end of the Beginning -- the book of Exodus, whose last portion we read this week. In the text read this week we find the completion of the building of the Tabernacle, which is called in Hebrew "Mishkan," which means dwelling place. When Moshe saw that it had indeed been done "as the Lord had commanded," he blessed all those who had done the work. The text tells us: "and Moshe blessed them" (Exodus 39:43) -- but it does not tell us how, or what the text was. Our great teacher and commentator, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzkhaki, known as "Rashi," based on a Midrashic source, provides the wording of the blessing Moshe recited: "Let Your work be visible to Your servants, and Your glory to their children. And let the delightfulness of the Lord our God be upon us; and establish the work of our hands upon us; O prosper it, the work of our hands." [Psalms 90:16-17]
There are two elements in this blessing: first -- that Gods 'work' -- which means his presence in all that he created, be visible to us, his servants -- which means that we shall be aware of it always -- so that we shall consecrate every aspect of our life to measure up to God's 'work.' As a result of our behavior, the example we set will make possible "and Your glory to their children" -- that our progeny will reflect our dedication to God. This will lead to the second element, that the "delightfulness of the Lord ... be upon us."
Rashis commentary to Psalms 90:17 teaches us that the words "the delightfulness of the Lord" also refer to the Shekhinah, Gods presence. Thus, Moshe blesses the people saying that now that the Mishkan is finished, the Shekhinah will descend upon us. How can it be that the Holy Shekhinah would rest upon us and not in its own abode -- the mishkan?
At the beginning of Parashat Terumah, God said to Moses: "And let them make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell among them". (Ex. 25:8). The Torah does not say "And I will dwell in it" - in the Mishkan, but rather "among them" - among the People of Israel. The existence of the Mishkan, its ritual, and its appropriate customs causes the Shekhinah to settle among the People of Israel.
Our great teachers and Sages explained that the 'Mishkan' was actually "Mishkan Ha-Edut," [Ex.38:21] -- "Tabernacle of testimony," because the Mishkan testifies to the fact that the Shekhinah dwells in the midst of Israel." Still another comment suggests that when Israel left Egypt God travelled with them -- but His Presence was in front and behind them, in the column of smoke by day and fire by night. However, the Lord did not make His Presence rest upon them until they performed the work, for it is written "and let them make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell among them".
When they did built the Mishkan, the Shekhinah dwelled amongst them. The connection between the Presence of God in the Mishkan and among the Children of Israel is established.
There is a profound connection and mutual relationship between the People of Israel and their God -- this, I am sure, no one will argue with. The Jewish people are different and unique because they are 'the people of the covenant' -- and we are dealing with the Covenant with God. Take your pick: you can go all the way back to the covenant with Abraham, or your can jump ahead to Sinai and the revelation of God's glory; you can speak of the covenant of the dedication of the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, or you can draw your roots to the Rivers of Babylon, where the exiles pledged 'If I forget thee, oh Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning..." Many a people had been born, and many had lived a glorious life, only to be overrun and disappear into the pages of history. Only Israel alone survived -- and it did so because of its unique relationship with God, in the spiritual connection with his Mishkan, in its permanent place on Mount Moriah, in its faithful adherence to His teachings in the Torah, in its never ending love for the message of His servants, the prophets, and their tool of communication, the Hebrew language. Through all these elements is Shekhinah present with Israel. As one is sanctified so is the other, when one collapses so will the other. The blessing of Moses upon completion of the Tabernacle was twofold: that the Shekhinah will come to rest in the Mishkan, and simultaneously among the people who build it and serve in it faithfully.
Va'yak'hel- Pikudey 5758
Torah portion is Vayakhel - Pikudey, a combined portion which is the last
reading in the Book of Shemot, Exodus. The reading begins with, And
Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and
said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded, that ye should
do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall
be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein
shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon
the sabbath day. Last year when we came to this portion, the
issue of the day was the Israeli building project at Har Khoma.
You see how much life
imitates art... Like T.V. soap opera, you can leave it for a year, and when you come back they are still in the same point in time. So,also, with current events. Just this past week, Britains foreign minister, Mr. Cook, saw fit to slap Israels face by making a gesture in shaking hands with a Palestinian Authority functionary at Har Khoma... The more things change, the more they are the same. Last year I stated that we are the People of Israel, celebrating the Shabbat of the Lord as
we did from the time when we first settled in the Land of the Promise. I stated that we are tired of making excuses for our actions in the Land of Israel, for it is our land. I said that the land was taken from us by force by enemies great and mighty in days of antiquity. We suffered persecution and privation at the hands of all the nations in the midst of whom we lived for a period of two thousand years knowing some grace and much ill-will from Christians, Moslems, and heathens. I reminded
you of the history of our reclaiming of the land, and how we faced Arab enmity in riots in 1920, 1922, 1925, 1929, 1932, and the so calledgreat uprising of 1936 to 39. I spoke of land bought at inflated
prices from absentee landlords, and of the Mufti (religious head) of Jerusalem, Amin Husseini, who was one of the chief wanted criminals on the list of the Nuremberg War Crimes court!
I also reminded you of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, favoring the creation of a Jewish national home which was made a resolution passed and approved by the U.S. Congress and the League of Nations. British perfidy prevented the state from coming into being in the time when the Jews needed it most but on November 29, 1947, the U.N. approved the Partition plan, and Israel became a state on May 14, 1948. In its Declaration of Independence Israel called on its Arabs neighbors to cooperate in a peaceful manner with Israel in maintaining harmony and peace in the region. The Arab nations answered with war, attacking Israel on the day of its birth and fighting it in six wars. And while theres a lot of talk about peace peace in not at hand, yet, by any means. As long as one nation or one people threaten another with war, with violence, with a possible annihilation peace is not the real
issue on the negotiating table. Why is this so? Why is peace so illusive?
In the second segment of the Torah, Pikudey, we read These are the records of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the covenant, which were drawn up at the commandment of Moses, the work of the Levites being under the direction of Ithamar son of the priest Aaron. Why should Moshe, the servant of God, give an accounting of the building of the Tabernacle? To show responsibility and accountability! This man, Moses, was surely above reproach. This man, who took the children of
Israel out of bondage and brought them to the gates of the Promised land, made sure that every penny of the public trust was accounted for. Why? Precisely because he was Moses and as such he knew that he had to set an example to his people, to his book, and to posterity. But look around you today, and see what is happening in our country. Politicians are the most despised profession in the land. No, Im not talking of Mr. Clinton, for am I talking of Newt Gingrich. I am talking of politicians the world over from India to Indonesia, from Britain to Bahrein. I am referring to butchers from Bagdad to Belgrade, and criminals from Chechnia to China. How can you have peace when these
tyrants and despots sell the wares of deaths to any and all comers? How will there be peace in Gaza with a madman in Benghazi? Who will keep a covenant in Jerusalem when there is no safety in Damascus?
And what is the solution to our problem? The words of the Torah ring in my ears, as they should in the ears of all who seek peace, Justice, only justice shall you pursue, that you may live, tzedek tzedek tirdof lemaan tikhye... [Deu. 16:20] In todays global village, much more than in the days of Moshe and the Israelites in the desert, only the Universal Law of God, teaching the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man can avail us. On spaceship earth we shall all prosper of perish together. Let us hope and pray, and let us enlist all our efforts to the battle to persevere and prosper.
This week we read the last portion in the book called Shmot in the original, which means names. The book began with the words, "Veele shmot Bney Yisrael... And these are the names of the sons of Israel, who came to Egypt, with Jacob, every man with his household." [Ex. 1:1] Todays portion begins with the words, "This is the sum of the things of the tabernacle, of the tabernacle of Testimony, as it was counted," [Ex. 38:21] It is not very well known, but the book of Exodus does have different names in the Jewish tradition. Nakhmanades called it "Sefer Hageulah" - the book of redemption. In this book, the seventy souls that came down to Egypt to sojourn in the time of the great famine become a multitude, are enslaved and set free by our God and are counted and "summed" in this weeks portion, the last in this book, and found to number, "A bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one who went to be counted, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty men." [Ex. 38:26] Another great sage suggested that this book is the second half of the book of Beresheet telling the story from creation of the world to the creation and inauguration of Gods dwelling place - the "Mishkan."
This weeks text informs us that the first "Jewish sanctuary" was established on the first day of the second year of the freedom of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. The people were so excited and willing to contribute to the building of this sanctuary that we read, "And they spoke to Moses, saying, The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work, which the Lord commanded to make. And Moses gave commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary. So the people were restrained from bringing." [Ex. 36:5,6] This enthusiasm to create a place of worship is also evident in the repeated passage in this weeks text, "Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting finished; and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they." [Ex.39:32] and again, "According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the people of Israel made all the work. And Moses looked upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it; and Moses blessed them." [Ex. 39:42,43] Three times we read the testimony that the Israelites "had done it as the Lord had commanded," and the comment is given that the people were inspired to do the work over and above Moshes expectation and possibly it was Divine inspiration that Moshe inspected and found to be "as the Lord had commanded" even though he had not instructed the people in all the details of it!
And possibly because of the devotion and zeal with which the work was done, the Tent of Testimony, "Ohel Haedut," was a unique and amazing place. The text tells us, in the very last verses of the book, "Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys." [Ex. 40:34-38] This is a mysterious passage that is very hard to understand. Moshe could not enter the tent because "the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." Why is that? In Hebrew "the glory of the Lord" is "Kvod Adonay." The root of "kvod" is "k," "v" and "d" - from whose letters is formed the word "kaved" meaning heavy. Glory is a weight that is difficult to bear. Ask any public figure, who basks in a fraction of the glory that is ascribed to God - and they will tell you! God has no physical presence, why couldnt Moshe go through the cloud into the tent? The sages tell us that the Presence of God, Shekhinah, was a metaphysical light that could not be shared by human presence. It is not a body, and yet, when it is concentrated in one small place, it has an intensity that cannot be borne by mere mortals. When it settled in the tent, the Israelites would remain in one place, and when it lifted off the tent, it hovered over all Israel and indeed over the whole world, and the people continued with their journey. May it be Gods will to make His glory descend upon us and inspire us to do his will, to bring forth speedily His kingdom and His glory to dwell among us permanently.
Vayakhel Pikudey 5761
This Shabbat is quite unique and different from other Shabbatot. First, it in the last day of the month of Adar. Sunday is Rosh Khodesh Nisan. What significance does this have? Well, today in the last day of the first half of the year in our calendar. On Sunday we begin the Month of Spring, the time of our national birth, the time of the Leaving of Egypt. That is an important event. Add to this the fact that the double portion we read this Shabbat, Vayakhel Pikudey, is the last portion in the book of Exodus... Now, this is becoming ever more interesting.
Our text begins with an affirmation of the basic teaching of God to the people who went out of Egypt: "And Moses gathered all the congregation of the people of Israel together, and said to them, These are the words which the Lord has commanded, that you should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord; whoever does work in it shall be put to death. You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day." [Ex. 35:1-3] The portion ends with a strange report, "So Moses finished the work. Then a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter into the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud abode on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And when the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the children of Israel went onward in all their journeys; But if the cloud was not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was on it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys." [Ex.40:33-38]
The opening words in Hebrew are "Vayakhel Moshe et kol adat bney-Yisrael vażomer aleyhem ele hadvarim asher tzivah adonaż laįsot otam." This verse translates different from the English text I gave you above. You can use the word "Vayakhel to mean made into a congregation. Thus Moshe formed Bney Yisrael into a congregation, and told them "ele hadvarim" even as it said at Sinai, in reverse order "And God Spoke "hadvarim haele " - these words. Moshe founded the congregation of the people of Yisrael even as we have founded the Congregation of the House of God - "Beyt El" - here at the beach. How did we do it? By means of the celebration of Shabbat and the message of "hadvarim haele" - the Torah.
At the end of the fifth book of the Torah we read, "Torah Tzivah lanu moshe morasha kehilat yaįkov - Moses instructed us by means of Torah - it is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." [Deu. 33:4] We must celebrate, instruct, participate in and live a life of Torah through the "kahal" - the congregation, even as Moshe did not us at the time of the completion of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the desert. There is a direct connection between the worship of God and the creation of a congregation and the covenant that God made with Israel. The portion says in all when it mentions in this weeks text "kol adat bney-Yisrael" which is the entire congregation of the children of Israel. The choice of words that the text uses is most instructive - gather - vayakhel from the root kahal which is the people who gather for services; congregation - adat from the root ed which is witness, the purpose of coming together, in a congregation, to declare the sovereignty of God and promote His reign upon this world that he created. This is the time of preparing for redemption and liberation. It is a time of renewal of hope, the time of spring - renewal in nature and in the nature of man.
This week we read
a portion that more often than not is doubled up with last week's Va'yak'hel.
Yet, because of the leap year and other reasons, we read it alone this week
- the last portion in the book of Sh'mot - Exodus. The portion announces three
times the completion of the work of building the first Sanctuary to God the
Most High, Master of Heaven and Earth.
"Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting finished; and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they." [Ex. 39:32]; "According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the people of Israel made all the work." [ibid. 39:42] and "And Moses looked upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it; and Moses blessed them." [ibid. 39:42] The sages teach us that there is a great significance to the triple announcement of the completion, as well to the whole matter of building a sanctuary. It parallels the threefold benediction which the Cohanim, God's anointed priests would utter to bless Israel.
God commanded Israel "And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them." [ibid. 25:8] This exhortation is for the whole people to come together for the purpose of making for themselves a sanctuary, a place that will be the focal point of their interest, a shared experience of the invisible God who "dwells in their midst" because they were willing to come together, share their wealth and their energy to create a mishkan - a place where God's presence can dwell. God's presence dwells in the midst of the people because they have banded together, because they have given of themselves, in goods and services, and because they have done that which God instructed them to do.
Our text says, "and Moses blessed them." The sages asked, "what was the blessing?" Rabbi Meir, a great sage, said, "May it be His will that God's Presence [Shekhinah] will permeate the work of your hands." This blessing is based on the teaching of the sages that God's Presence can only dwell "in the midst of the congregation." This is an elementary and basic lesson of Judaism. God relates one-on-one with each and every human being. His Glory, however, dwells in the community, in the "kahal" - which is to say the congregation. As we read in Moshe's final discourse, Deuteronomy, "Torah tzivah lanu Moshe, morasha kehilat ya'akov The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob." [Deu. 33:4]
I am so pleased that we have this shabbat at this time a shabbat dedicated to the reading of this particular portion and this very lesson - because we are at a distinct moment in the life of our own congregation. Next Monday we shall sign the bank note, and by Wednesday we hope to have the preparatory work begin for our permanent building. The dream is about to turn into a reality. We have planned for it for so long, we have worked so hard and suffered so many set-backs that it often seemed that it was not meant to happen. We have had our prophets of doom, we have had our moments of doubts but now it is over. We have the plans, we have the craftsmen, and we are about to launch. What is more, we are ready for it, really, palpably ready for it. Every week we have a very fine group of people who come to services; most weeks we have one or two or even three meetings in our temporary quarters. We have close to fifty students in our school and as soon as the physical plant allows it, more students will join us and their parents, too.
Some sixty years ago, at the end of the second world war, we were in the nadir of our communal existence in the world. The Nazis had killed one third of our people, another third was condemned to extinction and assimilation in the Communist world behind the Iron curtain, and the remaining few saw very little to buoy their hopes. Yet within three years of the low-water mark we had changed our fate and our destiny: the State of Israel came into being, Jews in America were united for the common effort to help their suffering brethren to reach a safe haven, and the world shrunk back in horror at the recognition of the evil consequence of anti-Semitism. When Israel came into being, when it was first accepted as a member of the United Nations we firmly believed that "the days of the Messiah" were at hand.
Yet here we are, two generations later, sixty years after the end of the holocaust and the creation of Israel and all that had changed and disappeared is back at our throats. Anti-Semitism is alive and well (abnd kicking), and not only in France! Holland just passed a law forbidding Kosher slaughter as cruelty to animals. Israeli academicians are shunned by British universities, Swedes are boycotting the products of Israel, the Swiss won't give an accounting of Jewish money left in their vaults by victims of the Nazi murderers, and the Arabs... Well, all they wish is to see an end to "occupation" meaning no more Jews living in "their land." The only problem is one of definition... By "their land" they mean the whole eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
We need to come together. We must set aside some of our time, and some of our wealth, and some of our energies to dedicate to God and to one another. Only in this way will we be able to bring the Shekhinah to dwell in our midst, as it did with our forefathers when Moshe blessed them at the end of the labor of the building of the Tabernacle.
We shall soon be in the midst of our own labor of construction. I pray that we join together as one, to see to it that the job is done, and done well. Then we shall have pride of ownership. Then we shall know that this sanctuary we are venturing to built is our communal home. Then we shall make this our focal point of pride and identity. And God shall find favor and bless us, one and all.
Vayakhel Pikudey 5764
This week's Torah
portion is Vayakhel - Pikudey, a combined portion which begins in the thirty
fifth chapter of the book of Shmot, Exodus, and goes to the end of the book.
Thus it is the last reading in the second Book. The reading begins with, "And
Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and
said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded, that ye should
do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be
to you an holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein
shall be put to death. Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon
the Sabbath day." The second "half" of the portion announces
three times the completion of the work of building the tabernacle, ohel mo'ed,
the first Sanctuary to God the Most High, Master of Heaven and Earth.
We read, "Thus was all the work of the tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting finished; and the people of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they." [Ex. 39:32]; "According to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so the people of Israel made all the work." [ibid. 39:42] and "And Moses looked upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it; and Moses blessed them." [ibid. 39:42] The sages teach us that there is a great significance to the triple announcement of the completion of construction. It parallels the threefold benediction which the Cohanim, God's anointed priests who were commanded to speak the three verses to bless Israel.
Last year at this time of year - the time of reading the last portion, I mentioned that we read Pikudey by itself, which usually happens during a leap year, and I found a great significance in reading about the completion of building the tabernacle at the time when our own building was just starting. There were quite a few who doubted that we would carry on our "project" to its conclusion as I am sure there were many who doubted that Moshe could "pull off" the removal of the slaves from Egypt and their metamorphosis into the messangers of God Almighty upon this earth, going all the way to conquer the Land of Promise and establish a Torah based kingdom that brought the message of His sovereignty and His grace and love to the majority of humankind.
Here we are, a year later and not a leap year so that we read at one and the same time Vayakhel and Pikudey. Again, I see a great symbolism in the sequence of the reading of the Torah. We are at the concluding days of building our Beth-El, the House of God and we need must know, and comprehend quite well, that a sanctuary that does not serve for worshiping God in the celebration of Shabbat and khagim, the prescribed holidays of our God is merely an empty edifice, devoid of meaning or significance. This Shabbat we read an additional portion from Shmot, chapter 12. It is the beginning of the story of the departure from Egypt, when Moshe is informed by God, "This month shall be to you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year to you." [Exodus 12:2] And while Rosh Hashanah comes in the fall these days, to us here in our congregation, this is a new beginning. Any Shabbat now, you may be surprised in arriving to park your car to see this temporary sanctuary dark until you comprehend that we are now in our new home, celebrating the seasons of our God, without fanfare or pomp, but with all due reverence and joy. As is inscribed in the Torah.
Two more Shabatot, and we shall sit together to celebrate the time of redemption and how very glorious it shall be, to sit together and celebrate the great miracles wrought by our God the plagues in Egypt, the breaking of the sea, and the establishment of God's sanctuary by the seashore in Ponte Vedra Beach Florida. We can all sing "Da'yeynu!" Amen
This week we read
in the Torah the last portion in the book of Shmot, which means ‘”names.”
Today’s portion begins with the words, “ This is the sum [or accounting]
of the things of the tabernacle, of the tabernacle of Testimony, as it was counted,
according to the commandment of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the
hand of Ithamar, son to Aaron the priest.” [Ex. 38:21] It is interesting
to note that the book of Shemot begins with a review or accounting – of
the names of the original group that came down to Egypt at the invitation of
Joseph, and end with a review or accounting of the details of the building of
the first sanctuary of God Almighty, whose completion is also the completion
of the book.
There are similarities between the beginning and the end of the book. The opening reads,“Ve’ele shmot Bney Yisrael... And these are the names of the sons of Israel, who came to Egypt, with Jacob, every man with his household... And all the souls who came from the loins of Jacob were seventy souls.” [Ibid.1:1...5] The last portion, just before closing, reads, “And the silver of those who were counted of the congregation was a hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and seventy five shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary; A bekah for every man, that is, half a shekel, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for every one who went to be counted, from twenty years old and upward, for six hundred and three thousand five hundred and fifty men.” [Ibid.38:25,26]
So the book begins with Jacob and his sons, and ends with 603,550 decedents of Jacob, “beney Yisra’el,” who are dedicating their first sanctuary. Their “childhood” is done, and they are ready for the life of a nation, with a constitution and a 613 mitzvot to guide them on their way.
There is an interesting writing style in this week’s portion that is different from what we normally find in the Torah. We read the second verse in our portion, “And Bezalel, the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded Moses.” [Ibid. 38:22] As we continue to read we shall come across the words “made all that the Lord commanded Moses” another eighteen times!
Our sages asked why did the Torah repeat itself so many times, where it would have sufficed to give a single “made all that the Lord commanded Moses” at the end of the report? And, of course, they had an answer ready: doing God’s will is recognized in the details. There is a common saying, “the devil is in the details.” It refers to the fact that sometimes a concept looks good, but the way to make the concept work takes doing something that is not “right.” The Torah, it this, last portion of the book of Exodus, as we complete the telling of the great events of our liberation, wishes to impress upon us that the details of our emancipation and consecration were gone in accord with the highest order, by design of the Most High, for the purpose of dedicating us to serve the Creator by serving humanity.
The book of Shemot recounts the history of Israel, touching briefly on the ancient time, when they were no more than a large family, touching just a little more in details on their time of servitude in Egypt, and becoming much more expansive as it tells the events that led to the exodus. Then the book continues and details the experiences of the Children of Israel in the first year of their journey through the desert on their way to the land God had promised their forefathers.
The last chapter begins with the words, “And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, On the first day of the first month shall you set up the tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting.” [Ibid. 40:1,2] The first month is the month of spring, the month when the departure from Egypt took place. So, the day of the establishment of the Tabernacle was actually two weeks before the celebration of the first holiday of Passover and the week-long Feast of Unleavened Bread. What an inspiring and challenging year it had been - from the hasty leaving of the land where they had lived for four hundred years, where they grew mighty and numerous, where they were once proud and later humbled – to go into the desert; cross the sea in the dry and see their enemies submerged in the returning waters; march on through the wilderness to the foot of Mount Sinai, the Mountain of the Lord - to fulfill the promise made to Moshe at the burning bush, “and this shall be a sign to you, that I have sent you; When you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.” [Ibid 3:12]
The revelation of the Glory of God, and his Torah – which took place at Sinai, was followed by the golden calf incident, Moshe’s two times in God’s presence on the mountain, receiving the Tablets, which he broke, and the second set, which he brought back as a sign that God will not forsake His people in spite of their transgressions; finally, there was the time of the building of the sanctuary of God, the appointed Tent, the Tabercale. Moshe hoped that the Israelites will grow to understand what God wishes of them – that they live by His light, by His spoken Word, the Torah. Israel, again and again, promised to do so. Moshe knew that they would stray again, and he tried to leave them a text that would help them to correct the errors of their ways when they did. He began with our next volume, the Teaching of the Priests – Torat Cohanim (Va’yikra) – Leviticus.
Ah, but that is something we will have to leave for next week.
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