Parshat Pekudei: When the Students Surpass the Teacher

Rabbanit Sally Mayer is the Rosh Midrasha of Midreshet Lindenbaum’s Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program

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In Parshat Pekudei, the Mishkan finally comes together. The Jewish people invested greatly in this holy project, donating precious gems and materials, fashioning the beautiful vessels and curtains, carving beams and forming connectors, and putting it all together into the grand resting place for Hashem’s Presence in the camp. In the final pesukim of our parsha and of Sefer Shemot, we hear that the cloud symbolizing God’s presence filled the Mishkan. However, there is a discordant pasuk inserted just before the end of the parsha (40:35): “And Moshe was not able to enter the Tent of Meeting, for the cloud had rested upon it, and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan.” Why mention again that the cloud filled the Mishkan, and point out that Moshe could not go inside? It seems strange—the point of the Mishkan was for Moshe and the Kohanim to go inside, to speak to God and serve Him; isn’t it disappointing that Moshe, who invested his soul in the project, cannot enter right at the climax of the dedication?

Upon reflection, however, the fact that Moshe cannot enter the Mishkan is actually the symbol of its success. Imagine an architect who designs a couple’s dream house, and the builder who takes the plans and brings them to fruition. The greatest success of those experts is when the couple takes the keys and begins to live there—and by necessity, then, those who designed and built it are locked out! Our greatest joy is when our children grow up and lead independent, successful lives separate from us, not when we have access to every detail of what is happening with them as we did when they were small.

This idea is also reflected in a famous story about the giving of the Torah at Har Sinai. The Talmud in Menachot 29b relates that when Moshe went up to receive the Torah, he asks Hashem why He is “tying crowns” atop some of the letters in the Torah, and hears that in the future, there will be a sage named Akiva ben Yosef who will interpret these crowns. Moshe asks to see this incredible scholar, and finds himself transported many centuries into the future, into Rabbi Akiva’s beit midrash. However, Moshe finds that he does not understand the discussion and feels despondent—how can he be the one receiving the Torah and be a stranger in the beit midrash of the future? When a student asks Rabbi Akiva the source of a certain halacha and Rabbi Akiva responds, “This is a law that was given to Moshe at Sinai,” Moshe is mollified. But why does this make Moshe feel better? The answer is the same as we discussed above: he knows he has succeeded when his work, his creation, surpasses him. When the Torah Moshe taught is taken further, to places he didn’t dream of. When the Mishkan he built is off-limits because Hashem’s presence has moved in.

Here in Israel during the war, we have been watching with pride as our children bravely defend the country, standing shoulder to shoulder with other young Israelis of all backgrounds and ideologies, willing to sacrifice together for the good of the nation. We also watch as our children and students use their free time to volunteer on farms, cook dinners for soldiers’ families, and run activities for children who were torn from their homes. We are so proud of them and consider whether we will continue to learn from them about caring, courage and unity, even after the war. What Am Yisrael has built has surpassed us, Baruch Hashem.


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