Pekudei 5784

As we conclude the book of Exodus, we recall it began with the ominous story of “a new king did not know Joseph”, and the tale of our slavery and oppression.  From this agony we eventually gained our freedom, received Torah at Sinai, and the second half of the book of Exodus focuses for many weeks and chapters on the construction of the Tabernacle, the place in which God will dwell among us.  In Pekudei we learn that the construction is completed at the end of that first year, “on the first day of the first month”, the new moon of Nisan, the month in which we celebrate Pesach and our freedom.  It truly is a moment of great completion and fulfilment. 

Many commentators have noticed that the description of the construction mirrors the opening of the Torah itself.  Just as God creates the universe and then this beautiful planet, the work being completed with the creation of humanity to guard over the earth and its creatures, so too we create the Tabernacle, finished when God will dwells among us and watches over us “When Moses had finished the work..the Presence of God filled the Tabernacle.” (Exodus 40: 33-34).  We contemporaries note that sicne God is ever present, permeating all time and space, God does not need a tabernacle, Temple or synagogue – it is we that do.  Why?

A suggestion of the purpose of creating holy space can be found in this verse, “Just as God had commanded Moses, so the Israelites did all the work.” (Exodus 39:42).  But in reality, the Israelites did not do all the work.  Betzalel had made all that God had commanded Moses and at his side was Oholiab, carver and designer and embroider. (Exodus 38: 22-23).  And the material was brought by the Israelites “all the men and women whose hearts moved them to bring anything for the work that God through Moses had commanded to be done.” (Exodus 35:29).  Did all the Israelites really contribute? This prompts the 18th century Moroccan Kabbalist, Rabbi Chayim ben Moshe Ibn Attar, whose commentary is known as the Ohr HaChayim, to write that that each individual among our people is part of a mutual, interlocking whole.   He notes that the Torah itself was given collectively to our people at Sinai to be observed as a whole; not any individual could fulfill each of the mitzvot, and certainly not in the same way, but together each person did their part and together the whole Torah is observed.  Some laws apply only to the priests, some to the land, some focus on ritual, others on ethics. 

From this we can learn something about the concept of “every Jew is responsible for every other one” – each of us has our role to play.  Solidarity does not mean each of us should agree with each other, or that dominant voices are necessarily authoritative or absolute.  Rather, as one of Israel’s former ambassadors to Australia said, “unity does not mean uniformity”.  Just as God’s creation thrives with biodiversity, with diversity, so too the places we create for God to dwell among us.  Sacred space must be multivocal and multi perspectival. Now more than ever we must ensure that we enable the variety of voices among our people to be heard, our individual insights to manifest as collective wisdom. The whole will be even greater than the sum of the parts; and then, shalem, wholeness, will manifest as shalom, peace.  

Rabbi Jeffrey B Kamins 

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