Parashat Pekudei – Erev Shabbat 4 March 2022 – (5782)
Week of February 27-March 5, 2022
Torah portion: Exodus 38 :21-40 :38 Haftarah: I Kings 7 :51-8 :21
Theme : God’s dwelling among us
Parashat Pekudei (“records”) marks the end of the clusters of Torah portions pertaining to the construction of the Tabernacle. It narrates with the statistical survey of the materials used for the Tabernacle (38:21-39:1); the detailed account of producing the priestly garments (39:2-39:31); the erection and consecration of the Tabernacle (39:32- 40:27), and the entry of God’s Presence (40:28-38) when Moses has completed the creation of God’s earthly abode, which the climax of this portion, and the entire book of Exodus. The haftarah describes the completion of the first Temple under Solomon’s rule, and the transfer of the Ancient Ark, and the Tent of the Meeting and its holy vessels, to the Temple of Solomon. The same Ark – and the Presence of God – is central to both sanctuaries (Plaut, 693).
In the beginning of the parashah, the Sanctuary is called ‘mishkan ha-edut’: ‘mishkan’ from the verb root word sh-k-nwhich means “to dwell,tosettle” and ‘edut’ which means “covenant, pact, treaty”, thus accordingly the Sanctuary is called “The Dwelling place of the Covenant”, “The Tabernacle of the Pact” (38:21). This emphasizes that the Tabernacle is the repository for God’s covenant with Israel, as well as the place for God’s presence to abide (Eskenazi, 547).
Later in the parashah, the Sanctuary is called ‘mishkan ohel mo’ed’ (39:32; 40:2, 6, 29) “The Dwelling place of the Tent of Meeting” (ohel mo’ed). Together they express its dual function as a symbol of the indwelling of the divine Presence in the camp of the Israelites as the site of communication between God and Moses (Lieber, 568).
Interestingly, the Torah does not exactly describe God as dwelling in the Sanctuary. It is not God, but God’s glory that fills the Sanctuary (40:34). If God is omnipotent, not subject to space and time, and hence found everywhere at all times, why does He need the Israelites to make Him a dwelling place! The same Israelites who once sought to contain the divinity within the idol of the Golden Calf (Exo 32) now create a Mishkan (Ex. 35-40).
Suddenly I remembered Sr Maureena, in one of our engagements with Hebrew words, when she spoke about tzimtzum, meaning “to contract”, in the context of Sabbath, contraction of God’s presence in time. For God to allow His presence to dwell in the Sanctuary is perhaps some kind of tzimtzum, in space. For God to command the Israelites to build a mishkan is profoundly an act of kindness and mercy on the part of God. Having been given an explicit opportunity to fall again into the trap of deifying something material, having been handed the opportunity to make a cage for God, the Israelites instead create the Mishkan and regard it only as a space, not as a stand-in or container for God (Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, The Particulars of Rapture). Once this purpose is established, God’s presence dwells in the Mishkan, in their midst; the process of t’shuvah (repentance) is complete (Eskenazi, 562). The need is evidently not God’s but that of human beings.
At the end of the parashah, when the work was done “the cloud covered the Tent of the Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (40:34), making it clear that the Lord accepted the work of the human hands as a fit place for divine dwelling (Lieber, 579). God’s presence is manifested in not one but two different ways: as cloud serving as a signpost by day and fire as the illuminated guide by night. Both show the path of journey to follow in the wilderness. Accessible yet impenetrable, the cloud permits contacts with God without seeing Him face to face, the fatal vision (Exo 33:20), (Xavier Leon-Dufour, 84). In the fundamental experience of the people in the desert, fire expresses not the glory of God in the first place, but the holiness, which is both attractive and yet to be feared. There is a double significance of the symbol of fire: the revelation of the living God, and the demand for purity by the holy God (Xavier Leon-Dufour,181). Perhaps these manifestations exist primarily in order to teach the Israelites that an experience of God can exist within the visual and tangible realms, but the divine experience must transform our grasp of the seen object, our understanding of God, and by extension, the act of seeing and the seer (Eskenazi, 562).
The erection of the shrine was the symbolic conclusion of the Exodus tale that began with the “absent” God during years of enslavement, and now ends with the “present” God who will lead this people to the Promised Land (Plaut, 635).
The haftarah makes a connection between the ancient tabernacle, built by Moses, that served as a movable pavilion of service during the wilderness wandering and the great Temple in Jerusalem, built by Solomon, that marked the people’s settlement in space and the desire for God’s indwelling forever (Kings 8:12-13). Since neither would continue to serve as God’s dwelling place throughout history, the Rabbi, based on the word mishkan, created, “Shechinah”, a feminine name, a term used for the indwelling and intimately felt presence of God (Eskenazi, 468). What remains today of the Sinai experience and of the mishkan is the Shechinah, it is both a name and place, we can enable it to dwell anywhere and everywhere (Goldstein, 182).
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Can I recognize God’s presence in the natural, familiar forms, “spaces” around me? 2. Is there any particular intense encounter I experienced that transformed and strengthened my faith in God? 3. Do I make a conscious effort to create a “sacred space” to “see” and acknowledge God’s presence in my life?
Bibliography: Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary (The Jewish Publication Society, 1985) T Eskenazi, (ed), The Torah: A Women’s Commentary (New York, 2008), Goldstein, (ed), The Women’s Torah Commentary (Woodstock, Vermont, 2006) Plaut, The The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York, 1981), Xavier Leon-Dufour, (ed), Dictionary of Biblical Theology (Daughters of St. Paul, Philippines, 1988) Sr Maureena Fritz, Bat Kol Institute, Studies in the Book of Exodus (Jerusalem, November 2007)
This week’s Parasha Commentary was prepared by
Ruby A. Simon, M.D., Philippines, Bat Kol 2007, 2009