The Tabernacle and Us
Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38 )
There are many levels on which we can perceive the construction of the Tabernacle. In a sense, we are all sanctuaries in microcosm, for within each of us there is a spark of God. Therefore, we must study every aspect of the construction of the Tabernacle so that we may realize our spiritual potential.
It is written, "And Moses erected the Tabernacle."1 Our Sages teach that the dedication of the Tabernacle lasted seven days, during which time, Moses erected and dismantled the Tabernacle every day. It was only on the eighth day that he allowed it to stand. At first glance, the reason for this may be difficult to understand, but therein is to be found a life-transforming teaching. Every time Moses went through the process of erecting and dismantling, he invested us with the strength to rebuild ourselves: to learn from our failures and reinvent ourselves so that we might reach our spiritual potential. Moshe Rabbeinu imparted to us a most powerful lesson: Failures can be converted into growth and weaknesses can be transformed into strengths, and that's what life's challenges are all about.
Further study of the building of the Tabernacle calls our attention to the fact that every time an activity was carried out for the Tabernacle, it is followed by the phrase, "As Hashem commanded Moses."2 If we truly desire to live as Jews, we must commit ourselves to do that which God commanded Moses. Our Torah is a perfect instruction manual which addresses every detail of our lives, and if we follow it, we will be insulated from the corrosive influences of our society and culture. It's very much like finding an oasis in a hostile desert or discovering an island in a turbulent sea. Building a Tabernacle within ourselves assures our Jewish survival and fulfillment.
WE NEED NEVER FEAR
We live in a menacing and uncertain world, a world which our Sages foretold and described as Ikvesa D'Meshicha – the Footsteps of Messiah (the period preceding the Messianic period). Our Sages predicted that during this time, all our cherished icons would fail us and our world would crumble before our very eyes. Nationally and internationally, we will be plagued by political and economic chaos. Internally, our families will become fragmented and, in place of serenity and love, turbulence and factionalism will prevail. But if we build a sanctuary within ourselves, we will be insulated from these plagues.
Thus, the concluding passage of the parashah teaches us that "the cloud of God would be on the Tabernacle by day and fire would be on it by night...."3 This teaching reminds us that if we make our lives into sanctuaries, the cloud of God will always protect us by day, and the fire of God – the light of Torah – will illuminate our darkness ... so we need never fear.
NEVER TAKE ANYTHING FOR GRANTED
It is written that when the Jewish people completed their work, Moses blessed the nation.4 Here again, we witness the eternity of Moses' words, for the blessing that he proclaimed is familiar to us from Psalms 90:17 – a prayer that we say every night before we go to sleep, a prayer that is forever on our lips: "Vi'hi noam – May the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us...." We also learn from Moses' blessing that we must express hakaras hatov (appreciation), for a blessing is also an expression of gratitude.
We might ask, however, that since the Jewish people were only fulfilling God's commandments, carrying out their responsibilities, why was it necessary to thank them? Here, again, is a teaching to guide us for all time. We are not to take anything for granted. Every deed, every act must be acknowledged with thanks and blessing. So, for example, when the Kohen completes his blessing of the congregation, we say to him, "Yasher Koach – Thank you," although that is his responsibility and he is required to do it. Saying thank you enables us to develop a greater appreciation for life and to acknowledge the fact that we are indebted and must give back to the world.
This awareness is critical in our entitlement-oriented culture, in which we have come to believe that everything is coming to us. Our Torah's emphasis on indebtedness sensitizes us to our responsibility to give back. Indeed, the words modim and l'hodos, both meaning thanks in Hebrew, have a double meaning. They also connote "admission," for thanks is an admission, an acknowledgment of our dependence on the kindness of others. For many, it is difficult to concede their vulnerability. They convince themselves that they are "self-made" and not beholden to anyone. Such an attitude is self-destructive. It inhibits meaningful relationships, destroys marriages, and bars people from coming close to God.
- Ex. 40:18.
- Ibid. 39:1 et al.
- Ibid. 40:38
- Ibid. 39:43.