Parshat Pekudi: Building the Tabernacle and Repairing Relations – by Ayala Emmett

Parshat Pekudei: Building the Tabernacle and Repairing Relations
(Exodus 38:21-40:38)
Ayala Emmett

“For over the Tabernacle, the cloud of God rested by day, and a fire would appear on it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys” [Exodus 40:36]

“Communal prayer: Is it better to ask ‘Give us peace?’
with cries of woe, or to ask calmly, quietly?
But if we ask calmly, God will think
we don’t really need peace and quiet” [Yehuda Amichai, 2000]

At first glance Parshat Pekudei is about the countless details of building the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. The reader’s mind could easily wander away from the sea of information and wonder, as many commentators have asked: Why the long meticulous attention to size, quantity, quality of many kinds of materials, when many significant moments in Torah are short on description? Why the careful account of how Moses chose the artists and how all the pieces of their magnificent art would be tied together and connected to make a whole and holy space?

Thinking about the fact that the account is about creating a sacred place makes it easier to see that Torah gives a most detailed account of the Mishkan to underscore that a sacred place requires attention and intention, communal attention to details and a collective conscious presence, a kavanah, intention.

The building of the Tabernacle is situated in at least three parashiyot. The previous parsha, Vayakhel, emphasized the collective, the whole community, the whole adat Bnei Yisrael, women and men contributed to building the Tabernacle. The one before that, parshat Ki Tissa offered a context for readers to see that the building of the Mishkan was not only to build a holy space, but an effort to repair the Israelites broken relationships with God, with Moses and among the people.

In the sequential order in which we read Torah, building the Tabernacle follows relationships that were gravely damaged in making the Golden Calf. The making of the Golden Calf was a moment of communal doubt, anxiety and self-indulgence. In the making of the Golden Calf the Israelites distanced themselves from Moses who they called, “that man Moses,” and as they distanced from Moses they have already distanced from God. [Exodus 32:1]

The Golden Calf was followed by God’s wrath, and saying to Moses, “Let me destroy them and make you into a nation.” Moses reminded God of the Covenant and God renounced the terrible plan. Yet, when Moses actually saw the people dancing around the calf, he broke and smashed the two tablets that he had just received.

There was more sorrow and violence, the Levites killed friends and brothers, God brought a plague and the Israelites went into mourning. Moses went back to Mount Sinai to carve two new tablets; when he returned with the new tablets the Israelites begin a communal double project: to build the Mishkan and repair broken relations.

Repairing these damaged relations was woven into building the Mishkan; repairing included having all the Israelites make contributions, including women’s contributions, recruiting wise and talented people, and taking time to craft everything right. All this time of a humming focused communal activity allowed for the time needed to repair relations within the community, between the people and Moses, and between the Israelites and God, restoring Sinai’s commitment of Naaseh V’nishma, we will do and we will hear.

At the end of the Parsha we read, “And Moses finished the work and the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of God, K’vod Adonai filled the Tabernacle and Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud and K’vod Adonai filled the Tabernacle” [Exodus 40:33-35]. At the completion of the Mishkan, Moses was able to have a less intense relation with God; God would now lead the Israelites in all their journeys. The Israelites’ repaired relations with God is manifest in God’s cloud that would guide them again, “When the cloud lifted from the Mishkan, the Israelites could set out on all their journeys.”

Pekudei is a precursor to many more damaged relations in TANACH, other breakups that would require new and different repair efforts. It has a message for contemporary damaged relations. It connects us to global peace and reconciliation efforts, and to the need for repairs here at home, and the list is long; it includes the still in repair civil rights and the very recent efforts to raise the shamefully low minimum wage and the shameless discriminatory Arizona SB 1062 targeting the LGBT community.

Pekudei is calling on us to respond to urgent needs of repairing damaged relations here at home, to do it with attention and intention, kavanah and to give meaning to the sacredness ????? of human rights.