Friday, February 28, 2014

"As HaShem had commanded, so had they done"

(Exodus 39:43)
1 Adar 28, 5774/February 28, 2014

Parashat Pekudei, the final reading of the book of Exodus, is a parasha of stock-taking. The reading begins with a detailed listing of all the materials, (gold, silver, copper, techelet blue, argaman purple and shanired fabrics, semi-precious stones, etc.), used in the making of the Tabernacle and its vessels. The precise weight of all the gold and silver and copper is accounted for, even the specific use to which every ounce was made, is accounted for. Our sages attribute the reckoning as an example-setting precedent by Moshe, to teach the people of the need for responsible, and what we call today, "transparent," leadership. It also surely comes to teach us that in performing a commandment from HaShem there is no waste or dross or spare change. Every ounce of spiritual and material investment in the performance of a commandment goes to the purpose of fulfilling and perfecting the commandment.

At the conclusion of Pekudei, in the closing verses of the book of Exodus, we also witness Moshe taking account of the completed Tabernacle and of the nation of Israel who together, working as one man with one heart, donated the raw materials, and forged, shaped and assembled all the various parts and sacred vessels for the Tabernacle: "Moshe saw the entire work, and lo! they had done it - as HaShem had commanded, so had they done. So Moshe blessed them." (Exodus 39:43) The closing verses of Exodus are so reminiscent of the closing verses of the Genesis account of the six days of creation, that we can't help but take notice that Torah regards the completion of the Tabernacle as no less essential a component of the work of creation than the heavens or the earth themselves. All are worthy of G-d's blessing as they have all achieved the perfection that G-d sought. In short, a job well done!

As we read the final words of Exodus we too can take the opportunity to look back on all that has transpired since we first began our yearly reading of Exodus some months ago. As we recall, the book of Genesis concluded on a very dark and ominous note. Our forefather Israel died in a foreign land, the result of a disastrous and near deadly feud between his twelve sons. Yosef, the second-in-command to Pharaoh in Egypt is already beginning to see his powers slip away, and finally, as he dies and is buried in his sarcophagus, (in Hebrew, aron, from the Hebrew word for light), it is as if the light in G-d's world has also died and been buried in the rocks. A dark and desperate time is about to begin.

Indeed, as Exodus opens, our fearful premonitions are proven true: The Israelite exile turns to infanticide, genocide and brutal servitude. Yet, somehow, even in the midst of this most hopeless darkness, hope is yet kept alive, G-d remembers His word to the patriarchs of Israel, and soon the process of redemption begins to unfold. The "shortness of spirit" (ibid 6:9) that so oppressed the Israelites that they begged Moshe to desist from his G-d directed efforts to liberate them from Pharaoh's hell, has been transformed in less than a year from the moment of their release from bondage, into the spirit of wisdom and understanding and knowledge (ibid 31:18) required by the people of Israel to fashion the sundry elements of the Tabernacle, and required of every individual to create for G-d a place on earth for Him to dwell. The "shortness of spirit"which was a result of the Egyptian oppression but became also an internalized instrument of self-oppression and self-imposed exile, has given way to the expanded spirit and consciousness, (wisdom, understanding and knowledge), opening the gate to true liberation in the knowledge of G-d and true freedom felt only in proximity to His sanctuary, the Holy Temple.

The book of Leviticus will take us one step further and teach us how to conduct ourselves in the intimate presence of G-d via the sacred service of the Kohanim in the Holy Temple, and thereby maintain and tend to the infinite timeless moment of the experience of nearness to G-d on a day to day basis, ensuring our freedom forever. For now, let us ponder the awesome beauty contained in the final words of the book of Exodus:

"For the cloud of HaShem was upon the Tabernacle by day, and there was fire within it at night, before the eyes of the entire house of Israel in all their journeys." (ibid 40:38) May we so be blessed!

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