Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei – Erev Shabbat 17 March 2023 (5783)
Week of 10-17 March 2023
Torah portion: Exodus 35:1-40:38 Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46 :18
Theme: God’s Dwelling.
One of our Bat Kol study tours took us to see a model of the tabernacle in the Judean desert. It was a valuable lesson about the hard work and the expense that even nowadays is required to build such a construction. However, it was also a lesson about a religious site that is not used for its purpose. The beautiful replica of the tabernacle was just that, a replica, a shell of what the original building would have been. This visit reminded me that a religious site does not work without people serving in it, without a community living around it, without God’s living presence dwelling in it. I was reflecting on it reading the following verse near the end of Parashat Pekudei: “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.” (Ex. 40:34)
This is the last parashah of the book of Exodus. Next week we will start the book of Leviticus with more elaborate religious rules, many of them connected with this same tabernacle. This is an ending, worthy of a pause to look back at how far the people of Israel have come.
At the end of the book of Exodus the people of God are still wandering in the desert, they still have not reached the Promised Land. However, they have made a home, they have constructed a dwelling where the most precious that they have, God himself, dwells among them. Looking back we can see that they have come a long way from the oppressed servant nation in Egypt.
The journey from slaves to a people housing God’s presence was not an easy one and took some time. God worked in stages. Firstly, the LORD led them away from their homes of slavery and their servant way of life. Then he closed their return to Egypt by drowning their slave masters in the Sea. It was followed by feeding his children and giving them peace from the peoples around them. Israel organized itself by setting up a system of governance. At that stage, they were finally ready to hear God’s law on how to live their daily lives with one another. And only then did the worship laws follow.
The people had to be free, fed, in peace from the outside, and organized inside. Then they were ready to set up religious services and a sacred place. And when we read today’s parashah, it is clear why it was important: to set up the tabernacle and all the service that it involves, takes the highest degree of organization, teamwork, accumulation of wealth, and wealth distribution. A scared crowd of slaves would not have been able to do it.
At the end of the book of Exodus, the Israelites are still not in the Promised Land. But they have arrived home nevertheless: they have arrived at home with God. A Jewish story expresses it in this way when it explains how the tabernacle reflects God’s dwelling in heaven: “God has His hosts above, and likewise below, His people Israel, “the hosts of the Lord;”… God has Cherubim, and likewise below in the sanctuary of Israel; God has His dwelling above, and likewise below; and, lastly, God has stretched out the heavens above like a curtain, and below, in the sanctuary, were curtains of goats’ hair.” (Legends of the Jews, vol. 3:3)
The slaves of Egypt have arrived home, they have arrived in heaven.
For Reflection and Discussion: Reflect on God’s dwelling in your life, in your community, in this world.
Bibliography: The Legends of the Jews, https://www.sefaria.org/Legends_of_the_Jews
This week’s Parashah Commentary was prepared by
Rota Stone, New Zealand, Bat Kol Alumna: 2002, 2003
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