A ‘Bissel’ of Torah: PEKUDEI (EXODUS 38:21-40-38)

By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant


Pekudei is the last chapter in the Book of Exodus. For the fourth time, as in parshiot Tetzaveh, Terumah and Vayakhel, we again read a tedious repetition of the inventory of all the equipment used in the building and decorating of the Sanctuary: “These are the records of the Tabernacle” (1). Then, again, follows a long list of the materials: how much gold, silver and copper was used; the kinds of fabrics and their specific functions; all of the royal attire for Aaron and his sons; the customized breastplates for the Kohanim; every utensil and vessel and their purposes. These lists are punctuated through parsha Pekudei, with phrases similar to: “The Israelites did so; just as the Eternal had commanded Moses” (2).

Rashi quotes the Midrash (3) in an attempt to rationalize the multiple descriptions of the Mishkan (i.e. Sanctuary). He explains that multiple, identical Tabernacles were built, because God believed that at future junctions in history, the Israelites would sin so badly that one or more Sanctuaries would be destroyed, as punishment for their sins. This theory seems both disingenuous and illogical.

The primary rationale for the building of the first ‘Tent of Meeting’, was a result of God’s realization that the frightened former slaves of Egypt required some tangible dwelling, to believe that God was ‘in their midst’. Absent some sign of their God watching over them would likely lead to another creation of a false idol to worship, similar to the ‘Golden Calf’. God had a secondary motive in the building of the Sanctuary, which was to punish the Israelites for the sin of the ‘Golden Calf’. The Israelites were commanded the responsibility of the laborious tasks to bring the itemized elements to build the Tabernacle up to the mountain. This enabled God to perform two necessary tasks, simultaneously.

A more logical explanation of the repetition of items to be brought to the Sanctuary, might be that different  biblical writers, perhaps centuries apart, used the Hebrew translation of the exact description of the Tabernacle, as a means to express different lessons of the Torah. These lessons were not only for the Israelites, but also for their descendants, for hundreds of future generations.

In last week’s parsha Vayakhel, the commandment to observe Shabbat was prominent throughout the reading, including punishment by death, for any Israelite who did not observe this commandment. Also, the value of teamwork, comprised of a group of enthusiastic people with both common values and goals was paramount.

In parsha Pekudei, there is no mention of Shabbat or the consequences for those who performed any labor on this Holy day of rest. Instead, the major theme is about how each individual stepped forward to work on the Mishkan, unaware that they were capable of performing such skilled crafts. These formerly hidden powers of the Israelites emerged as a result of their deep desire to fulfill God’s will. It is a well-known principle that God grants each of us a unique set of skills and abilities. It is our responsibility, in both the material and the spiritual spheres, to live up to our full potential, as our ancestors proved that it was capable for them to accomplish.

“Moses saw the entire work, and lo! They had completed it as the Lord had commanded. So, Moses blessed them” (4).


(1) EXODUS (38:21)

(2) EXODUS (39:32)


(4) EXODUS (39:43)