By Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
Torah Reading: PEKUDEY Exodus 38:21-40:38.
Special Selection: Shabbat Shekalim Exodus 30:11-16. II Kings 12:1-17 (Sephardi ritual: II Kings 11:17-12:17). Rosh Chodesh: Numbers. 28.9-15.
A LESSON IN GOOD GOVERNMENT
The parshah of PEKUDEY brings the second book of the Torah, Exodus, to an end, concluding the subject of the construction of the Sanctuary, which occupies the last five of its eleven parshahs — almost half the book.
“These are the ACCOUNTS (PEKUDEY) of the Sanctuary.” (Ex. 35:21). Following the detailed explanation we have had in the previous four parshahs about the form of the Sanctuary and its vessels, we are now given a full “breakdown” of the “budget” of this national project — how much gold, silver and bronze, etc.– together with an exact account of what they were used for.
Much of the silver came from a “head-tax” on the entire nation, while the other materials were contributed by many different people, some wealthy, some poor. All were entitled to know what was done with their contributions. The Torah sets everything forth clearly for all to see.
This Torah lesson about “transparency” in good government is particularly timely today, when corruption is rife in business and government all over the world, and literally billions of dollars of tax-payers’ money find their way into private pockets.
When Moses was later accused of bad government (Numbers 16:13-14), he could stand up and pray: “Do not turn to their offering: not a single donkey have I taken from them and I have not harmed one of them”.
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THE CENTRAL IMPORTANCE OF THE TZADDIK
The “accounts” of the Sanctuary project include blue, purple and scarlet dyes, one of the most important uses of which was in the garments of the High Priest. This leads us into the detailed account contained in our parshah of how these garments were actually made by Betzalel and his fellow craftsmen. This description of the making of the priestly garments in ACTUALITY, on the level of ASIYAH, parallels the description in parshas TETZAVEH of the form of the garments when they were in POTENTIAL, in the Divine Will. [Similarly, the description of the actual making of the Sanctuary and its vessels in the previous parshah, VAYAKHEL, parallels the description of their form in TERUMAH.]
The world of ASIYAH attains its perfection when we take its best materials — gold, precious stones, rich, colorful fabrics — and use them to make the Sanctuary and priestly garments, which give expression to eternal truths about G-d’s relationship to the Creation, and how man draws close to G-d. The description of the making of the priestly garments puts the spotlight on Aaron. It is the Cohen-priest, the archetypal Tzaddik, who secures atonement through the Sanctuary services and through his very garments.
Yet the central figure in our parshah as a whole is in fact Moses, the Lawgiver, who established the Sanctuary and the entire system of atonement within which the Cohen functions. Only Moses had the power to take all the different component parts of the Sanctuary, put them together and make them into one.
Our parshah lists in great detail all the component parts of the Sanctuary that were brought to Moses on their completion. The work had been done at great speed. The command to bring the materials was given on 11th Tishri, the day after Moses’ third descent from Sinai, while everything was ready only seventy-five days later, on 25th Kislev. Nevertheless, all the component parts lay there for three months until the appointed time came for the seven-day induction of the priests, followed by the consecration of the Sanctuary for regular services on 1st Nissan.
When the appointed time came, Moses alone was instructed to erect the Sanctuary, place all the vessels in position, and conduct the very first services. (Moses officiated as the Priest during the seven-day induction of Aaron and his sons.) Our parshah tells how Moses performed the superhuman task of erecting the Sanctuary all by himself. The detailed account of Moses’ induction of Aaron and his sons into the priesthood and the Consecration of the Sanctuary is taken up by the Torah in Leviticus (in parshas TZAV and SHEMINI).
Moses’ unique role in putting everything together and erecting one Sanctuary is a second lesson in good government besides that of the need for transparent cleanliness, as discussed above. The very foundation of good government and organization is that it should be in the hands of a true Sage, whose only purpose is to serve G-d, as exemplified by Moses (who single-handedly erected the Sanctuary) and King David (who designed and collected all the materials for the Temple). Our generation is waiting for this true Sage to be revealed.
It is hopefully a sign of the imminence of Melech HaMashiach that today, the temporal government has been taken over by unbelievers, as predicted in the Talmud (Sotah 49b): “In the ‘footprint’ period before Mashiach. government will turn into atheism”. Nevertheless, even in this time of exile, as we dream of the building the physical Temple, we are daily engaged in building a spiritual Sanctuary: G-d’s House of Prayer. This is our true national project, and it is accomplished even today when we all contribute our prayers.
In the words of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov:
“Every single prayer that each one prays is a ‘limb’ of the Shechinah (Divine Presence). All of the ‘limbs’ and component parts of the Sanctuary are ‘limbs’ of the Shechinah. And not one Israelite has the power to put all the limbs and parts together, each one in its proper place, except for Moses alone. For this reason, it is necessary to bind all our prayers to the Tzaddik of the generation, as it is written, ‘And they brought the Sanctuary to MOSES’ (Ex. 39:33). And the Tzaddik knows how to put the parts together to make a complete structure, as it says there, ‘And MOSES erected the Sanctuary’ (Ex. 40:18). It seems as if every day we are crying out to G-d yet we are not saved, and some of our people, the Children of Israel, err in their hearts thinking that all the prayers are in vain. But in truth the Tzaddikim in every generation take all the prayers and lift them up, putting each component and each limb into its proper place, building the structure of the Shechinah little by little, until finally the entire structure will be complete, and then Mashiach will come and finish everything.” (Likutey Moharan Vol. 1, Lesson 2).
Rabbi Nachman’s above teaching draws out the Messianic allusions contained in the conclusion of this week’s parshah of PEKUDEY, when Moses FINISHED the work. This was on the 1st of Nissan, when “the Cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Glory of G-d filled the Sanctuary.” (Ex. 40:33-4).
The month of Nissan — in the spring, time of rebirth — has always and will always be a time of redemption for us. As we now conclude our study of the second book of the Torah, the “Book of Names” — SHEMOS, Exodus, the Torah focuses our minds on the redemptive quality of the month of Nissan. This is signified by the fact that it was on 1st Nissan that the Shechinah came to dwell among the Children of Israel with the inauguration of the Sanctuary.
The book of Exodus started in a state of exile: “These are the names of the Children of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his house.” (Ex. 1:1). After their grueling servitude followed by the plagues that afflicted the Egyptians, the light of redemption truly began to shine on the 1st of Nissan: “And G-d spoke to Moses and to Aaron in the land of Egypt, saying: This month is for you the first of the months.” (Exodus 12:1-2). After narrating the drama of leaving Egypt, the Splitting of the Sea, the Giving of the Torah and the loss of innocence with the sin of the calf, Exodus concludes with the structure of the World of Repair as exemplified in the form of the Sanctuary.
It was when the Shechinah came to dwell in the completed Sanctuary on 1st Nissan that “He called to Moses and G-d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting.” These are the opening words of the third book of the Torah, Leviticus, which introduce the commandments relating to the sacrifices that were to be offered in the Sanctuary. These portions were revealed to Moses on 1st Nissan.
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In the merit of completing this cycle in the study of SHEMOS and entering the book of VAYIKRA, may we see the true Sage and Leader of the Children of Israel revealed quickly in our times. Amen.
CHAZAK! CHAZAK! VE-NIS-CHAZEK!
“Be strong! Be strong — and we’ll get strong!”
Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum