Posted on March 23, 2011
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.