Parshat Pekudei (38:21-40:38)
(Translated from the Hebrew original)
Parshat Pekudei, which marks the conclusion of Sefer Shemot (Exodus), summarizes the steps involved in constructing a veritable megaproject – the Mishkan (Sanctuary). The parsha begins with a detailed account of the amounts of gold, silver and copper that were collected, as well as a list of textiles that had been contributed. Next, it describes how the priestly vestments were prepared, down to the finest details. Several verses later, the text underscores that everything was done in accordance with Hashem’s commands to Moshe.
One final verse summarizes the entire project, as well as the parsha itself and the previous parashot:
“All the work of the Mishkan and the Tent of Meeting was completed, and all that Hashem had commanded Moshe that the Children of Israel do, so did they do.” (Shemot / Exodus 39:32)
It is at this point that the People of Israel present the Mishkan to Moshe, including its planks, its silver bases for the side beams, and its curtains. Additionally, there are the vessels of the Mishkan, with their accessories, the priestly vestments, the oil for lighting, the showbread and the incense. All of these are listed within one long and detailed verse, followed by a summary:
“All that everything that Hashem had commanded Moshe, so did the Children of Israel do, all the labor. Moshe saw all the work, and behold! They had done it as Hashem had commanded, so had they done, and Moshe blessed them.” (ibid., v. 42-43)
Moshe examines the objects he had been presented and certifies that everything was done as instructed, and he therefore blesses the People. And then, the long-awaited day arrives: the day the Mishkan is to be dedicated. Hashem tells Moshe that the designated date is the first day of the month of Nissan of that year.
Everything seems “fine and dandy”, but our sages, reading between the lines, sensed a dramatic and suspenseful event transpiring. Why on earth would the vessels of the Mishkan need to be brought before Moshe? Was he a quality assurance engineer? Didn’t he trust Betzalel, who had been appointed chief Mishkan artisan by none other than Hashem Himself? And why did Moshe bless the people?
The verse that describes the actual construction of the Mishkan is curious, as well. On the one hand, the text reads, “… and it was in the first month… the Mishkan was established” (40:17), and on the other hand, just one verse later, it reads “and Moshe established the Mishkan.” So, which is it? Did Moshe establish the Mishkan, or did it establish itself?
The Midrash attempts to complete the information that is only hinted at in the text of the Chumash:
“Once they had completed the work of the Mishkan, the people sat and waited for the time when the Divine Presence would dwell within, and all had lamented, for the Divine Presence did not dwell there. What did they do? They went to those with wisdom in their hearts, who said to them: ‘Why are you sitting? Go and establish the Mishkan yourselves, and the Divine Presence will dwell among us.’
“The people wanted to establish it, but were neither knowledgeable nor capable of doing so. When they tried to establish it, it would collapse. They immediately went to Betzalel and Ohaliav, and said to them: ‘Please come and establish the Mishkan, which you built. Surely, it should stand on your merit!’
“They immediately tried to prop it up, but were unable to do so. They started to gossip, saying: ‘Look at what the son of Amram [the name that Moshe was called by those who would denigrate him] has done to us! He spent our money on this Mishkan, putting us through all of this, and said to us that the Holy One, Blessed Be He would descend from the heavens and dwell within goatskin curtains, as it says [in Shemot / Exodus 25:8): ‘and I shall dwell among them.’ (Tanchuma Pekudei, Chapter 11)
Our sages teach that all the great efforts invested in the construction of the Mishkan were of no avail: the Divine Presence did not dwell in the Mishkan. All of it seems to have been a trick: if not, why wouldn’t anything work as expected?
Indeed, the following question could be posed: why didn’t Hashem agree to make the Divine Presence dwell in the Mishkan immediately after it was completed? The same Midrash quoted above answers this question with the following:
“And why could they not establish [the Mishkan]? The truth is that Moshe felt dejected for not having participated with them in the construction of the Mishkan. How so? The contributions were made by the People of Israel, and the work was performed by Betzalel, Ohaliav and those with wisdom in their hearts. It was because Moshe felt dejected that the Holy One Blessed Be He did not dwell among them, and they could not establish it.” (Tanchuma, ibid.)
Moshe wanted to participate in the work of the Mishkan, but was not given the opportunity to do so. Hashem sensed Moshe’s sense of dejection, and wanted the people to see that Moshe, too, had a role to play in the construction of the Mishkan – thus, he was the one who was able to establish it.
Hashem holds back the Divine Presence whenever a member of the People of Israel is prevented from participating. Anyone who wishes to participate in the construction of the Mishkan is invited to do so, but as long as people are missing, the joint venture remains incomplete. It is only after Moshe is allowed to take part in this project that Hashem would allow the Divine Presence to dwell there.
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