The article below is from Rabbi Riskin’s book Shemot: Defining a Nation, part of his Torah Lights series of commentaries on the weekly parsha, published by Maggid and available for purchase here.

Parshat Pekudei: The Importance of Function

Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Riskin is the Founder and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone

RSR Head Shot Gershon Ellinson credit

“And Moses erected the sanctuary, and he fastened its sockets, and he placed its boards, and he inserted its bars, and he installed its pillars.” (Exodus 40:18)

We have often queried the significance of the five Torah portions which conclude the book of Exodus, and especially the repetitions which we find in the detailed descriptions of the accoutrements of the Sanctuary. Even if we concede the very profound theological message of Ki Tisa and the unique prescription of the priestly garments in Tetzave, we are still left with the initial delineation of the furnishings of the Sanctuary in Teruma and the seeming repetitions thereof in Vayakhel and Pekudei. Why not a general statement to the effect that “And Moses did as he was instructed in the construction of the Sanctuary”!?

Rabbi Elhanan Samet, in his groundbreaking study of the portions of the Bible from a structural-narrative perspective, explains as follows: The commandment to make the various furnishings of the Sanctuary is given by God in the Torah portion of Teruma. The precise performance of the Israelites of every detail of the divine command is detailed in the Torah portion of Vayakhel; this is perhaps to emphasize the fact that we must serve the Almighty in precisely the manner which He commands, no more and no less, in order to protect Judaism from religious fanaticism and zealotry. The actual completion, the final hammer blow of the construction of each sacred object, is presented in the Torah portion of Pekudei.

From an Israeli perspective, I might explain the importance of emphasizing the finish in a separate Torah portion by bringing to your attention a typical phenomenon of Israeli construction: Ninety percent of the work generally gets done efficiently and even almost miraculously, but the last ten percent requires cajoling, entreating and sometimes (even usually) never gets done at all. And it goes without saying that the last ten percent is quite critical, especially during a rainy winter season!

But in a more serious vein, let us investigate the construction of the sanctuary table (shulĥan) in order to understand the true reason for the order of description. The divine command to make a sanctuary table is presented in the portion of Teruma in eight verses (Ex. 25:23–30), beginning with “You shall make a Table of acacia wood, two hand-breadths long, a hand-breadth wide, and a hand-breadth and one-half in height,” and the description of the actual execution or making of the Table is detailed in the portion of Vayakhel almost precisely paralleling the command in Teruma, in only seven verses (Ex. 37:10–16).

What is missing in the execution? In the portion of Teruma, the last verse of the commandment regarding the construction of the Table tells us: “And you shall place upon the Table the shewbread before Me always” (Ex. 25:30); and then, towards the end of the portion of Teruma, we find: “And you shall situate the Table outside the curtain on the northern side of the Sanctuary” (Ex. 26:35). These two features, the function of the Table (for the shewbread), and the placement of the Table, while commanded in Teruma, are not included in the actual construction of the Table in the portion of Vayakhel; but these two features are specifically mentioned in the portion of Pekudei: “And he [Moses] placed the Table in the Tent of Meeting on the side of the Sanctuary northwards just outside the curtain, and he arranged the arrangement of the bread before the Lord as the Lord had commanded Moses” (Ex. 40:22, 23).

Why do we need the separate portion of Pekudei to tell us that the function and placement of the sacred Table of the Sanctuary were carried out? One might suggest a logical, technical reason: The specific placement of the Table as well as its function as repository of the shew- bread could only be effectuated once the entire Sanctuary had been completed. Placement is a matter of relative space, each sacred object placed in relationship to the other sacred objects, and the various Sanctuary placement and functions could not take place unless the Sanctuary had reached its final stage of construction. This final completion occurs only in Pekudei, and therefore it is only in this Torah portion that we find the phrase “just as the Lord commanded Moses” (Ex. 40:17–32) appearing, not only once but actually seven times.

I would like to suggest another reason for the significance of Pekudei as the portion of the “finish,” the portion which emphasizes the placement and function of the sacred object.

Each of us must see ourselves as sacred vessels, placed upon this world-Sanctuary in order to fulfill a specific task which is crucial if human society is to be perfected under the kingship of the divine. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, ushers in the introspective period known as the Ten Days of Repentance. It also is called the Day of Remembrance. One of the most stirring prayers on this Day of Remembrance begins: “You [God] remember the deeds of the historic world, and are po-ked all the creatures from the earliest time.” The Hebrew word “po-ked” is usually translated as “taking notice of,” a synonym for remembering. However, the late Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, Dean of Yeshiva Torah Vadaas maintained that the verb comes from the noun “tafkid,” or function, and therefore the phrase ought to be translated, “You give a specific function to every creature from the earliest time.”

The most proper and penetrating question of repentance that an individual ought to ask him or herself is, “Am I in the right country, doing the right thing? In the one chance at life which God grants me, am I pursuing the proper path in the proper locality?”

The Hebrew word “pekudei” can also be translated as the plural “functions,” for each vessel – whether a sacred physical object or a sacred human subject – completes its reason for being only when its unique function is actually performed. Only then can a vessel be considered as fully formed, can a life be assessed as having been truly lived. We can only pray that we are utilizing the unique gifts which the Almighty has imbued within us to perform the right function in the proper place; only then will the divine orchestra play its completed symphony, and only then will the perfected world-Sanctuary provide a home for God to dwell in our midst.

Shabbat Shalom


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