Parshat Va-Yakhel - Pekudei: Exodus 35:1 - 38:20                                                        
Va-Yakhel Summary 

The portion begins: “And Moses congregated (va-yakhel) the entire community of Israel” to remind them again to observe Shabbat – that is, not to do any work or to light any fires on that day. He also asked the people to bring gifts of beautiful yarns and fabric, jewelry and gem stones, animal skins, spicd oils for the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). In addition, he invited everyone with an artisitc skill to help build and decorate the Mishkan under the direction of Bezalel of the tribe of Judah and Oholiab of the tribe of Dan. Moses then repeated the words which God had commanded him (back in Exodus 25!) concerning the materials needed for the Mishkan and its furnishings. Moses then related all of God’s instructions to Bezalel and Oholiav (although he changed the order of the items). Bezalel and Oholiav then set aboout making all of the commanded items. Meanwhile, Moses is informed that the people are bringing “more than is sufficient” for all the needed items, so  he orders everyone to stop bringing donations (a Building Fund Chairperson’'s dream!), and the people obey. The Torah then describes in detail how the skilled workers made the Tabernacle, and how Bezalel made all of the furnishings. The Torah does not mention what Oholiav did. 

Commentary 

Most this week’'s Torah portion deals with the building of the Tabernacle. Vayakhel begins, however, with the reminder to observe the Shabbat, implying that the Shabbat is more important even than the Tabernacle. According to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Mishkan represented holiness in space; Shabbat represents holiness in time. And, he continues, Judaism is more concerned with holiness in time than with holy buildings. Because the prohibition against work on Shabbat is sandwiched between descriptions of the making of the Mishkan and its furnishings, our rabbis declared that all the types of creative “work” that were associated with building the Mishkan are “forbidden labors” on Shabbat. Accordingly, the Mishnah lists 39 types of labor that are prohibited on Shabbat. Esentially, these labors are  the various tasks required to create something new for the Mishkan or to modify an existing product from one form to another so that it could be used in the Mishkan. Ploughing and sowing are also forbidden Shabbat labors. How did our sages include these functions in the building of the Mishkan

Some Thoughts and Questions 

1.     Va-yakhel has the meaning “to convoke,” or “to assemble.” (Indeed, from this word we get  the Hebrew term for a Jewish community: a kehillah.) In his commentary, Rabbi Gunther Plaut notes that the word is also used in Exodus 32:1 where the people “assemble” to build the Golden Calf. What are the similarities and the differences between the community that built the calf and the one that built the Mishkan?

2.     The normal translation for Exodus 35:26 is “The women, in whose hearts was raised wisdom, spun the goats’ hair.” The actual words state, “the women … spun the goats.” What image does this bring to mind, and what extraordinary skill did the rabbis therefore attribute to the women? 

3.     Exodus 37:17-24 gives the details of the seven-branched menorah that Bezalel made of pure gold. If you read these verses, you’ll find that the branches, cups and petals of the menorah are compared to those of an almond tree. Almond trees are the first trees to flower in Israel. They are unusual because their flowers appear before any leaves sprout on their branches. The almond is a symbol of hope and beauty. Why would God want a menorah in the tabernacle that resembled of a flowering tree? Can you think of any other references to trees in our Jewish tradition? Why do you think that the Torah is called the “Tree of Life”? 

 

Pekudei Summary 

This week’s parashaPekudei, begins: “And these are the records (pekudei) of the mishkan …” It gives a very careful accounting of how much gold, silver and copper were used in the construction of the mishkanand its furnishings. Chapter 39 provides us with some added details about how the gold was worked into the embroidered fabrics, how Aaron’'s ephod, the breastplate, and the robe were made. Everyone brought all of the completed work to Moses, who saw that everything was exactly as God had commanded him. In chapter 40, “on the first day of the first month,” Moses, following God’s command, sets everything up. He anoints everything. He offers incense, lights the lamps, places the showbreads on the table, and then offers burnt offerings. He sets up the laver; from it Moses and Aaron and his sons wash their hands and feet. The portion and the Book of Exodus ends with the Glory of God filling the Tabernacle. After the dedication, the people know that God is dwelling inside the mishkan whenever a cloud hovers above the Tent of Meeting. If the cloud lifts, it is a sign that the Israelites should follow it and continue on their journey towards Eretz Yisrael

Commentary 

In most years, Pekudei is read as a double portion with Va-yakhel. The Jewish calendar, is based on a lunar cycle of 354 days, or 50 weeks a year. Since there are 54 weekly Torah readings, plus special readings for major holidays that fall on Shabbat, it is necessary to double seven weekly portions so that the whole cycle of Torah readings is completed in a year. In a leap year, when an extra month is added to the Jewish calendar, there are four more Shabbatot; in such years, Va-yakhel and Pekudei are read as separate portions. 

Some Thoughts and Questions 

1.     Which ritual objects described as part of the Mishkan can you find in a contemporary synagogue?

2.     The Midrash tells us that with the completion of the Mishkan, God forgave the Israelites for the sin of the Golden Calf. In his commentary, Nahum Sarna suggests that the cloud allowed the Israelites to constantly feel “a visible, tangible symbol of God’s ever-abiding Presence in their midst.” Do you agree that the Mishkan was created as a counterbalance to the incident of the Golden Calf? How might the cloud of the Shechinah have been a source of reassurance to our ancestors? Is there any symbol or ritual that makes you feel that way today? Is it important to you to have miraculous evidence of God’s existence in order to believe in a Higher Power? What “evidence” is there for you of God’s existence? Where can we teach our children to look for God’s presence?

3.     Rashi explains that the “records” of this parasha provide an accounting of the metals used in the construction of the mishkan. A midrash suggests out that Moses overheard some people speculate that he had derived financial benefit from the donations by misusing his role as treasurer. Moses called for the accounting to prove that he had not profitted from the people’s contributions. Based on this midrash, our rabbis derived that we must not appoint fewer than two people with control over the finances of a city or a community.

4.     In Pesikta Rabbati 5 and 9 we read that when the Israelites grumbled, God asked them to build the mishkan. Thus, they would be too busy to complain. When it was done, the rabbis imagined God’'s exclaiming: “Woe is Me! It is finished!” What does this midrash tell us about human nature? What happens to you on a rainy day when you have to stay indoors? How do you use your spare time?