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The Struggle to Build

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Abba Wagensberg

Moving forward, during the light and the darkness.

Greetings from the holy city of Jerusalem!

This week's Torah portion concludes the Book of Exodus by describing the construction of the Tabernacle, its vessels, and the priestly garments. The Midrash (Tanchuma 11) states two opinions regarding the seven-day inauguration of the Tabernacle. According to Rebbe Chiya ben Yosef, Moses dissembled and reassembled the Tabernacle twice a day during the inauguration. This is deduced from the repetition of the word "to erect," which appears in the forms "takim" (Exodus 40:2) and "hukam" (Exodus 40:17). How could the Tabernacle be erected again once it was already built? According to Rebbe Chiya, the repetition of this word implies that Moses took the Tabernacle apart and then rebuilt it.

Rebbe Chanina adds to Rebbe Chiya's opinion by noting the word "vayakem" (Exodus 40:18), which is from the same root word "to erect." Rebbe Chanina therefore claims that Moses dissembled and reassembled the Tabernacle three times a day! By now, the question is obvious: why was it necessary for Moses to continually take apart and rebuild the Tabernacle?

The Slonimer Rebbe uses this Midrash to teach us a vital lesson. Although we spend our lives toiling and struggling to build ourselves into sanctuaries - vessels worthy for the Divine Presence to rest within - there still may be times that we stumble and fall. Despite these low periods, however, we must never give up hope. Rather, we must rouse ourselves immediately and continue to strengthen and build ourselves, because it is forbidden for a Jew to fall into despair.


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We see this lesson expressed in Rebbe Chiya ben Yosef's opinion that Moses dismantled and rebuilt the Tabernacle twice a day. These two times correspond to morning and evening: the bright time and the dark time of the day. We could suggest that the message being conveyed here is to move forward not only during the bright, easy times of life, but also when circumstances are dark and difficult. No matter what the situation, our task is to build ourselves and continue to grow.

Rebbe Chanina's opinion - that Moses rebuilt the Tabernacle three times a day - also hints to this idea. If the Tabernacle was dismantled three times a day for all seven days of the inauguration, then it was taken apart and put back together a total of 21 times. Twenty-one is the numerical value of the word "ehyeh," which means, "I will be." When God revealed Himself to Moses at the Burning Bush, this is the Name that He asked Moses to tell the Jewish people.

God's description of Himself as "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" - literally, "I will be what I will be" (Exodus 3:14) - can be interpreted to mean, "I will be with a person who says I will be." Even after we stumble and fall, God is with us when we choose to continue on the path of growth rather than sinking into hopelessness.

The statement "Ehyeh asher ehyeh" also hints to the value of the word "ehyeh" (21) multiplied by itself, resulting in 441. This is the same numerical value as the word "emet," which means "truth." We can suggest that a person who cultivates an attitude of continual growth, even during difficult times, will eventually come to truth.

May we be blessed to never give up, even after falling two or three or 21 times, by having confidence in ourselves and realizing that the fall is part of the climb. By doing so, may we build ourselves into a sanctuary, and merit to witness the rebuilding of the ultimate sanctuary, our Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

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