Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 – 40:38)

Rabbi David Stav 

Vayakhel and Pekudei, this week’s double Torah portion, contain an elaborate depiction of the Mishkan [Sanctuary] and its vessels, instructions for how we are to obtain the funds needed for building the structure, the production blueprints, and a detailed description of the service to be performed there.

Considering the fact that the Mishkan was a temporary structure – the people would eventually need to replace the Mishkan with the Holy Temple – our Sages, wondering why the Torah commands such intricate instructions for this impermanent entity, provide a glimpse of what had transpired “behind the scenes”:

“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 erect the Mishkan yourselves, and the Divine Presence will among us.’ They wanted to erect it, but didn’t know how to do so, and they weren’t capable of doing so. When they tried to erect it, it would collapse. They immediately went to Betzalel and Ohaliav, and said to them: ‘Please come and erect the Mishkan, which you built. Surely, it should stand on your merit!’ They immediately tried to prop it up, and were unable to do so. They started to gossip, saying: ‘Look at what the son of Amram [this is what Moshe was called by those who wanted to denigrate him] has done to us. He spent our money on this Mishkan, and put 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…’”

This account is tremendously powerful. Moshe had asked the people to volunteer and contribute money to build the Mishkan. An entire nation offered their contributions so that they could help build the Mishkan. But alas, as we see, the Mishkan could not be built. Something was not right. The walls wouldn’t hold, and there were no signs that the Divine Presence had come to dwell there. It was basically a catastrophe. Had one of the contractors stolen the money earmarked for the Mishkan? Or maybe it was all just a scam?

People have a tendency to rant and rave. Details of protracted investigations are publicized all over the media, along with countless flashy pictures. It is as if the world has never changed. How does this bizarre story end? The Midrash continues:

“And why weren’t they able to put up the walls? Because Moshe was distraught that he had not personally participated in the work of the Mishkan. How so? The donations were given by the people, and the handicraft was done by Betzalel, Ohaliav, and those with wisdom in their hearts. Since Moshe was distraught, the Holy One, Blessed Be He, did not dwell among them, and they were not able to put it up [the Mishkan].”

Everyone except for Moshe had a part to play in the building of the Mishkan. Seeing how distraught Moshe was, Hashem could not stand by. He delayed the building of the Mishkan so that Moshe could take part in some way. What are our Sages attempting to convey in this Midrash? Why weren’t the builders able to prop up the Mishkan?

It turns out that building materials and the good intentions of a large group of people aren’t enough to build a home, or a Mishkan. The Mishkan – the place in which the Divine Presence would dwell – would be a place where anyone could feel at home, precisely because each and every one of those people had played some kind of role in its construction.

If a person is distressed for not having been involved in the construction of this structure, Hashem will say that He is not interested in the structure being built.

The lesson is that we must not disenfranchise a person. If we truly want the Divine Presence to dwell among us, within a place we have created with our own hands, we must want everyone to take part in its construction. This may also be the reason for why the Torah goes into so much detail with regard to the construction of the Mishkan. We can make all of the necessary preparations and follow all of the instructions, but if we fail to give each person their unique ability to be involved, we won’t experience the joy of whatever we are striving to build, and all of the efforts that went into construction will be meaningless.

We are indeed fortunate to live at a time when we have a Jewish state. We have the privilege of shaping the path our country will take, and being partners in formulating its vision for the future. Generations could only dream of what we have the ability to do: to bring this vision to fruition with our own two hands. Let us remember, however, to build this future together.

[Translated from the Hebrew by Ilan Yavor]

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