PONDERING THE PARASHA: PARASHAT PEKUDEI

פרשת פקודי

By Bet Midrash Member Doris Cohen

Parashat Pekudei

Parashat Pekudei

All humans are endowed with the gift of discernment. This ability is one that throughout our lifetimes, we develop, enhance, test, and re-calibrate. Discernment allows us to make judgments about our world, and to differentiate between unlike things. Bene Yisrael in particular are commanded time and time again to create distinctions: between true and false, bad and good, allowed and prohibited, holy and mundane. We are charged with misvot that require constant discernment: to make sure our language is apropriate and not gossip-like, to determine if the moon has in fact emerged and is marking a new month, to judge the intentions of a potential murder suspect. We must separate between ourselves and Amalek, between foreign gods and our One and Only, between the banal days of the week and the transcendent Shabbat. Our perasha, Pekudei, in conjunction with the previous one, Vayakhel, highlights one of the key motifs of Torah living—the sanctification of space and time.

Vayakhel centered around the commandment of Shabbat—a day that objectively, should look just like any other day of the week. The Jewish people, however, must take this 25 hour block and create with it a unique and sublime experience. Many everyday actions suddenly become prohibited at the cost of physical or spiritual death. Nothing actually changes about this day except for the way we treat it. The power of the distinction is on us. Similarly, our perasha summarizes the details of the building of the mishkan—a portable sanctuary, a designated, conveyable place of worship. Objectively, the building is just that—an assembly of materials that have no intrinsic meaning. The kedusha emerges from how we relate to the mishkan—what we do in it, and what we beckon there, namely, God’s shekhina. The power of sanctification is ours, and relies upon our discernment of the particular place and time. What is the relationship between Shabbat, the sanctification of time, and the Mishkan, the sanctification of place?

Upon seeing the conclusion of the construction by the wise and skilled Ithamar, son of Aharon HaKohen, Besalel of the tribe of Judah, and Ohaliab of the tribe of Dan, the torah states:

וַיַּרְא מֹשֶׁה אֶת כל הַמְּלָאכָה וְהִנֵּה עָשׂוּ אֹתָהּ כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְקוָק כֵּן עָשׂוּ וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם מֹשֶׁה:

Moshe saw all the work, and behold, they had done it as Hashem had commanded, so had they done it; and Moshe blessed them. (Shemot 39:43)

Moshe sees the Melacha, the creative labor processes that were used to design and construct the mishkan—and he sees they had performed it according to God’s will—and he blesses them. This pasuk echoes another one, from bereshit:

וַיְבָרֶךְ אֱלֹקים אֶת יוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי וַיְקַדֵּשׁ אֹתוֹ כִּי בוֹ שָׁבַת מִכל מְלַאכְתּוֹ אֲשֶׁר בָּרָא אֱלֹקים לַעֲשׂוֹת:

God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He ceased from all His work that God had created and made. (Bereshit 2:3)

Similarly, God blesses the day in which he stops Melacha, which he used during the entirety of Maaseh Bereshit. During maaseh Bereshit, God used Melacha to create a world for us. With the building of the Mishkan, we used Melacha to create a world for Him. The building of the Mishkan was the exemplification of man’s creative ability on Earth. The highest form of production, the most important and noteworthy piece of architecture: a home for God. On Shabbat, God ceased his melacha, his process, to reside among us, and so we must do the same. We halt in our process, namely, in all the actions that were required in the erection of the Mishkan, to reside with Him. Time and Space become a sanctuary in which we, as Bene Yisrael, can reside with God. 

Shabbat Shalom!

Doris Cohen holds a Creative Writing Degree from Hunter College, and an MA in English Literature from Brooklyn College. She graduated from the Allegra Franco Teacher’s College, and is a Herzog College Tanach Scholar. She currently teaches Mishnah and Halacha in Barkai Yeshivah to middle school girls and teaches in SCA programming. Doris loves to learn Torah and is currently pursuing a dual masters in Special Education and Jewish Education from Touro College.