A ‘Bissel’ of Torah: VAYAKHEL-PEKUDEI (EXODUS 3:51-40:38)

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By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant

This week we read two Parshiot (VAYKHEL) followed by Parsha (PEKUDEI). Each of these Parshiot are replete with multiple, and frequently contradictory interpretations. The logical rationale for the perplexity of the sages is a remarkable concurrence of events, without apparent connection. In effect, with the exception of a few modifications, these two Parshiot are virtually exact duplicates of Parsha (TERUMAH); and, Parsha (TETZVEH), which we read just a few weeks ago. The first of the Parshiot provided punctilious details, to build the ’MISHKAN’ (Tabernacle), which would serve as a symbol of God’s presence. The second Parsha (TETZVEH) emulated the first, describing the meticulous items required to be created as apparel for each of the Kohanim.

Based on the ‘midrash’ of the middle ages, the exacting features ,described in the first two Parshiot (i.e. TERUMAH, TETZVEH) were merely a ‘model’ or a ‘blueprint’ of the eventual building of the ‘MISHKAN’; and, the elaborate garments to be worn by the Kohanim(1). However, a careful reading of each Parsha suggests that this theory is untenable. In effect, each of these Parshiot, describes in detail, the extensive work required by each Israelite, to ensure completion of these vastly complicated projects. Rashi suggested that, indeed, multiple, identical Tabernacles were built, lest one be destroyed by God, as a punishment for anticipated sins of the Israelites (2). Although, few credible interpretations were proposed by Rashi’s peers, his theory was considered both disingenuous, and illogical (3). For centuries, a diverse group of rabbinical scholars attempted to address this Torah abnormality, to no avail.

The primary misconception of the earlier sages, was discounting the intervening event in Parsha (KI TISA), which separated the duplicate Parshiot. This horrific, idolatrous incident of the golden calf had a dramatic impact on Moses’ perception and understanding of the Israelites. When Moses came down from the mountain, he witnessed a group of people, who were “unruly, disorderly, chaotic, and tumultuous”(4). Each individual was acting with a singular, selfish interest. These people were not a community; they were a ’Mob’.

More modern rabbinical scholars have come to believe that the repetition of the building of the Tabernacle, had a specific objective:; to reinforce the concept of the ‘MISHKAN”, not only as place to enhance one’s sense of spirituality; but, also as a “haven for familial solidarity” (5). Moses became aware that “the optimal way to convert a diverse, disconnected group into a team is to emphasize the ideals and values, which the individuals share, as well as what they celebrate together” (6).

From biblical times onward, the preservation of Jewish life, can be understood to be a matter of familial solidarity, who are linked by a shared destiny. “This is typically manifested by the obligation to care for each other, as well as to share in other members’ delight, either of good fortune, or celebration”(7). As Hillel said: “Do not separate yourself from the pleasures of involvement with your community(8).

FOOTNOTES:

  1. NUMBERS, Rabbah (12:13)
  2. RASHI: ON EXODUS
  3. IBID
  4. BAR ILAN UNIVERSITY, TORAH CENTER: RAMAT,ISRAEL
  5. JERUSALEM CENTER FOR PUBLIC AFFAIRS: JERUSALEM,ISRAEL
  6. MAIMONIDES
  7. HILLEL: ETHICS OF THE FATHERS