Pekudei 5758

by Jenny R. Labendz

Towards the middle of Parshat P’kudei, we come to an extraordinary point in the history of B’nei Yisrael: the completion of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The verse states “Thus was finished all the work of the Tabernacle of the tent of meeting; and the children of Israel did according to all that the Lord commanded Moses, so did they.” A question now arises about the wording. The commandment referred to in the verse is, naturally, the building of the Mishkan. But we know from the text that it was Bezalel that led the actual construction, and that every person could not possibly have participated in the actual building. So why do we have both statements? Would it not have been enough to say that the Mishkan was completed? The text seems to include an extra few words to tell us that in finishing the task, B’nei Yisrael fufilled their commandment. The”mitzvah points,” so to speak, are granted to all the people, while only some actually did the mitzvah. Nechama Leibowitz provides an answer to this problem by telling us that it was absolutely intentional, that we learn from this that B’nei Yisrael was more than just a group of individuals. Together we look out for each other. We know that there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, but no one person is obligated to perform all of them. For example, a person living in America can’t perform mitzvot that are only for people living in Israel. A girl can’t have a circumcision, and a Kohen can’t perform the rites of a Levite. Nechama Leibowitz writes, “The Torah can only be realized in practice by the nation as a whole.” We each have a place within the larger unit, and when Bezalel and the builders of the Mishkan completed the task, it was as if the entire people had done it as one.

This lesson is infinitely important. It goes even beyond the strength of community. When we look around at our own Jewish communities, it’s very easy for active members to be bitter toward those who do very little in the community, and for those who lack the means, time, or education to be very active to be jealous of those who find it easy to be. Perhaps these were some of the same feelings that abounded during the building of the Mishkan.

Often, members of synagogues feel overshadowed by synagogue board members or by the member who donates large amounts of money to the synagogue. But the wording in this verse in P’kudei teaches us that an individual can’t do everything, that each person has a place and has responsibilities all his or her own.

The same holds true for USY. Who would run programs if it weren’t for boards? Who would participate in the programs if it weren’t for members? We have teachers, learners, leaders, and followers, and none is more important than another. When we come together as a unit, the important thing is that mitzvot are done, that Torah is taught, and that the holiness of it all is recognized and safeguarded.

Pekudei 5760

by Mike Knopf

In parashat Pekudei (Shemot 38:21-40:38), the three-parasha long construction of the Mishkan is completed, and the text says “The cloud [of God] covered the Ohel Moed [Mishkan], and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan. And Moses was not able to enter the Ohel Moed, because the cloud abode thereon, and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.”

This is interesting because here, Moshe is not allowed in the presence of God; but in only a few Parashiot before-hand, he is said to have been in the presence of God for forty days and forty nights. How can this be? What’s with the double standard?

The issue, here, was apparently that when Moshe wanted to enter the Mishkan with God’s presence upon it, it was at the eye-level of public view, whereas when Moshe ascended Mt. Sinai (which also had God’s presence), it was out of the people’s sight. Meaning to say that Moshe entering the Mishkan was a great deal more visible to the people than his reaching the top of Mt. Sinai. In this sense, we can derive that Moshe’s connection with God is not intended to be a publicly witnessed event–that the actual encounter is meant only for him as a personal experience, and only when he is outside of the direct presence of God may he relay God’s messages to the B’nai Yisrael. When all of B’nai Yisrel is watching Moshe enter the Mishkan, and can essentially see what is going on inside of the Mishkan, it detracts from the privacy of Moshe’s meeting with God. Therefore, God denies Moshe entrance to the Mishkan while God’s cloud is upon it.

With this in mind, this seemingly insignificant piece of Torah actually has profound significance upon one of our important activities as Jews: T’filot. While it is extremely important in Judaism to pray with a Minyan, or in a congregation, Judaism also stresses the importance of personal reflection in prayer and a personal and private relationship with God; this is why at certain times in T’filot, when we daven silently (most notably in the Amidah, parts of the Shema, etc), it is equally important for every individual Jew to establish a personal relationship with God through davening as it is to daven in a minyan, or out loud. We can enter the cloud of God when we are not publicly davening (or even when we are davening silently in a minyan), but we can’t enter the cloud when we daven out loud–just as Moshe was unable to at the dedication of the Mishkan.

This is not to detract from the importance of davening out loud or in a Minyan, only to point out the separate significance of both. However, sometimes when prayers are conducted in a service, or said out loud, they become routine or lacking in kavanah, but one is free to express however much kavanah he or she wants when they are davening to themselves. So the next time you have the opportunity to daven silently, do not just sit back and eye the words–this is when you are in the cloud of God.

Chazak Chazak V’nitchazek
Shabbat Shalom

Pekudei 5763

by Josh Nason

In Parshat Pekudei, the Israelites finally complete this project of building the Mishkan. The Israelites have donated gold, silver, and copper for this Dwelling Place. The Levites are placed in charge of building all the parts of the Mishkan. Once finished, the Mishkan wil hold the two tablets of the Ten Commandments and form a Dwelling Place for God. After the Levites finish this task, Moses is given a degree of divinely inspired strength, and raises the entire structure by himself.

God gives detailed descriptions of what each part should look like, and even more detailed descriptions of what each of the High Priests should be wearing. Upon reading this, one might wonder why God would need this to be recorded? Why would the Torah contain chapter after chapter of description on how the Mishkan was built? To top it all off, the Torah had already spend two Parashiot describing how it was meant to be built, before recounting all this in the story of how it is actually built. We may never know the answer. Perhaps it is to show how truly important it is for God to have a place on Earth. Perhaps it is to show the significance of the Jewish people working together as a community to build such a monumental and important structure.

In the last part of the Parshah God actually comes to dwell in the Mishkan. A cloud hovers over the Mishkan, symbolizing that God is dwelling there. When he dwells there, the Israelites are not to travel. When he rises from there, the Isaelites can journey. God clearly wanted the Israelites to know that he was there to protect them, and to give them a sense of guidance on their journey. This Parshah ends the book of Shemoth, and prepares us for Vayikra (Leviticus) where the majority of the Laws and customs of the Jewish people will be given to the Israelites.

Pekudei 5771

by Jordan Bailey Brandt

In this week’s parasha, Pekudei, B’nei Yisrael reach a milestone, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) is completed. This is a momentous occasion for it is this structure that the Israelites will carry around with them in the desert and eventually place in the Temple. However, this event is not what stood out to me while reading through the parasha. What stood out the most was the Kohanim (priests) receiving their garments.

The text is very specific about every piece of Aaron’s – the High Priest (Kohen Gadol), also Moshe’s brother – dress. It repeats, almost exactly, what we learned in Parashat Tzav: which color of yarn should be used for every section, the order of the twelve stones on the breastplate, even an exact amount of gold rings that will be used and precisely where they should be placed in order to link the metal pieces together.

After reading all of the detailed descriptions, all I could think about was the importance and focus that the Torah places on appearance of the Kohanim. While it does stand out, though, I wasn’t really that surprised. Today, we give tremendous attention to appearance – in many cases for the wrong reasons. However, the reasons why we put such pressure on appearance are so that we represent ourselves well and, in some cases, so that we may publicly stand for what we believe. So, in reality, all of the highly specified information about garments ensures that the Priests represent themselves and our religion well: both to G-d and to the community-at-large.

Just as the priests were looked towards to represent our religion thousands of years ago, so to do is USY currently looked at to represent the Conservative movement and USY well. While it is true that not all of us are Kohanim and we may not wear the priestly garb (though many of us would consider our regalia holy), we are still expected to be role models in all of our actions.

Vayakhel 5756

by Cody Dydek

This week’s parsha, Vayakhel-Pekudei, concludes the Torah’s description of the construction of the Mishkan. Since Parshat Terumah, we have been reading the details involved with the Mishkan: the dimensions of the building itself and all of the utensils destined to be used in it. The Torah concludes its description of these things by describing three vessels of the Mishkan: the Ark, the Table and the Menorah. According to our sages, these three vessels together represent the mission of the Jewish people.

Central to the life mission of the Jew are the divine teachings contained in the Torah. These teachings are represented by the Ark which contained the Luchot Habrit, the Tablets of the Covenant. As the focal point of the Mishkan, the Ark represents the purpose of the building as a dwelling-place for God. As the Ark is central to the Mishkan, so too are the teachings of the Torah central to our lives as Jews.

However, the teachings of the Torah are not only directed to us individually; we must be able to spread the light of Torah to all those around us. This idea is symbolized by the menorah. The menorah is the logical extension of the Ark; it shows us that Torah is not a stationary concept, that the light of our tradition can be spread to all the people of this world.

Finally, the Table with the lechem panim, or show-bread, represents another key element in the spiritual mission of the Jews. In our quest to follow the Torah’s teachings and spread them to those around us, we must still strive for prosperity by earning our “daily bread.” Only when we are successful in the material world can we attain true success in the world of our spiritual goals. As we sing every Shabbat in L’cha Dodi, Sof ma’aseh, b’machashavah t’chilah — Last in deed, but first in thought. The Ark, the Menorah and the Table, although they occur last in the Torah’s description of the Mishkan, represent the essence of the Mishkan’s function. The Mishkan, as the spiritual center of the Jewish people, is culminated by the construction of these vessels, which represent the spiritual goals of the Jewish people.

Vayakhel 5758

by Daniel Greenspan

In today’s modern society we see it all too often. Mr. X, the president of a large charitable organization, is accused of a crime. However, this is not just any crime. Money that was donated is missing and funds were misused. The president just bought a new house, a new car and some very expensive tefilin. People are now asking how he could afford such costly items on his salary.

This scandal is one that we see all too often today and this week’s parsha, Vayyakhel, also deals with this issue. Just a few weeks ago we read about the specifications for the tabernacle and other such things. This parsha repeats them. Why? Well way back in the day of the Rabbis the same question was asked and once again they came up with an interesting answer. The Rabbis said that the reason the Torah repeats the list is to show that Moses did not misappropriate any of these funds. A Midrash from Tanhuma gives an example of this. It states, “Eyeing him [Moses] with contempt from behind, one [Israelite] would say to the other: Look at his [beefy] neck! Look at his [fat] thighs! He stuffs himself with what belongs to us and guzzles what is ours. And the other would reply: Stupid! A man appointed over the work of the tabernacle, over the talents of silver and talents of gold whose weight and number are too great to measure – what do you expect? That he would not enrich himself?” This is why Moses repeats the inventory of the materials used to build the tabernacle. From this we learn an important lesson: that those in charge of charitable organizations must hold themselves to the highest standards and be above all doubt.

Parshat Vayyakhel also deals with another issue of tzedaka. Moses says at the beginning of the sedra. “Take from among you gifts to the Lord, everyone whose heart so moves him shall bring them-gifts for the Lord. . .” (Exodus: Chapter 35, Verse 5) Later in the parsha in chapter 35, Verse 21 a similar line is repeated. What makes these lines so interesting is that today we as Jews take tzedaka as an obligation and responsibility upon ourselves, in terms of the world as a whole and our Synagogues. When Moses says “everyone whose heart so moves him” he implies that this mitzvah is not mandatory. Or maybe he means not mandatory for a house of worship. Could this week’s sedra be implying that there is a difference between helping others and helping our Synagogues? You decide.

Vayakhel 5762

by Avi Buchbinder

This week’s parsha describes the building of the tabernacle, or mishkan, a portable temple used by the Israelites in the desert in which they conducted the temple services. The structure of the description of the building of the mishkan is quite interesting. The account is essentially given twice. The plans for the mishkan are outlined in parshiot Trumah, Titzaveh, and the beginning of Ki Tissa. The mishkan is then described again, almost verbatim, in Vayekhel and Pekudei this week.

So why does the Torah repeat the account of the building of the mishkan? To understand we must look at the differences between the two accounts. In particular, the differences in the description of the ark are very insightful. The ark is the holiest part of the mishkan. It was made of gold, and in it were placed the set of tablets on which were written the ten commandments. On the lid of the ark were to cherubs, statues of sorts, which some say borderline on idolatry. They were a combination of angels and birds, and above them God supposedly spoke to Moses.

There are two interesting differenced between the account of the ark given in parshat trumah when the plan is given and in parshat vayakhel when the plan is implemented. The difference between the two accounts is a lack of information in this weeks’s parsha. In the building of the mishkan, the Torah fails to mention that 1) The ten commandments should be placed in the ark, and 2) That God will speak to Moses from above the cherubs.

Logically, to understand this difference we should look at what intercedes between the two accounts. It just so happens that pretty much the only thing which comes between the instructions for the mishkan and the building of the mishkan is the story of the golden calf. In that narrative the Israelites blatantly violate the very pact which they are to place within the ark. In fact, they replace God with a golden idol, not too different from the cherubs placed on top of the ark.

Because of the incident with the golden calf God’s attitude changed. He no longer says he will speak from above the cherubs – that would look too much like the Israelites were correct in worshiping golden idols. Furthermore, in order to insure that the Jews do not think that the commandments were given by an idol, they are placed in the ark later where there is no mention of the cherubs. In fact, special significance can be found in the fact that it is Aaron who actually puts the tablets in the ark (40:20), as it was Aaron who led the nation to idol worship.

The restatement of the instructions for the mishkan essentially is a restatement of the God’s covenant with the people. Even though they sinned, God still will dwell among the people in the mishkan. However, it is made very clear that it is actually God who the people are to worship. The cherubs of ark are downplayed and even Aaron shows that God’s covenant is still binding. This week’s description of the mishkan reiterates that our faith in God and God’s dedication to the Jewish people is always attainable, even after the hardest times.

Shabbat Shalom

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