Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781: Assembling Klal Yisrael and Understanding the Message of the Mishkan, Basin and its Stand

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshiyot HaShevua, Vayakhel-Pikudei is being sponsored by Steven and Debra Glanz and family of Ramat Beit Shemesh dedicated for the success of their chldren. To the Glanz family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei5781: Assembling Klal Yisrael and Understanding the Message of the Mishkan, Basin and its Stand

by Moshe Burt

The word Vayakhel — Assembling together of Kol B’nai Yisrael, introduces the building of the Mishkan (Tent of Meeting), the forerunner of the Beit HaMikdash.

Those who read the Parshat HaShavua for Parshat Terumah will recall that this author discussed the various understandings regarding the purpose of the Mishkan, and later, the Beit Hamikdash and whether or not it would serve as a kappara (atonement) for the Eigel Zahav (Golden Calf).

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin summarizes the Parshat Vayakhel portion of the twin Parshiyot in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Shemos (page 299):

Parshat Vayakhel opens as Moshe gathers the nation in order to convey Hashem’s instructions. After a brief digression outlining the laws of Shabbos, Moshe commands the B’nei Yisrael to collect material for the construction of the Mishkan. The people, men and women, respond with great generosity and Moshe publicly appoints, as per Hashem’s prior directive, Betzalel and Oholiav to supervise the project.

Parshat Vayakhel begins by stating that “Moshe assembled the entire congregation of B’nei Yisrael…” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 35, Posuk 1).

The entire posuk reads:

“And Moshe assembled the entire congregation of B’nai Yisrael and said to them: ‘These are the things that Hashem commanded, to do them:'” (Sefer Shemos, Perek 35, Posuk 1 As rendered to English in “The Sapirstein Edition, The Torah with Rashi Commentary)

Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, in his sefer, “Torah Gems”, volume two, page 226 provides these citings explaining this posuk:

…The second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of senseless hatred. Division and disputes always serve to undermine the foundations of social order. Therefore, before erecting the Mishkan [the Sanctuary], Moshe gathered together all of the B’nei Yisrael. The completion of the Mishkan depends upon the unity of the people. (Or Penei Moshe)

“Moshe assembled…” On the day after Yom Kippur (citing Rashi). Moshe wanted to hint to the B’nei Yisrael that not only on Yom Kippur must people be filled with remorse and contrition, brotherly love and friendship, but that on the day after Yom Kippur one must continue in the same fashion. (R’ Moshe of Kobrin)

People differ in their understanding and appreciation of different commandments. But when it comes to performing them, there is no difference — all have to perform them in the same way. Thus, we see, “Moshe assembled the entire congregation… to do them.” When it came to performing the Commandments, Moshe was able to gather everyone together. ( R’ David of Chortkow)

A number of years ago, Rav Arye Gordon, z’l said on our Parsha;

Vayakhel, when used for Tov, is to actualize immense power and potential which is capable of being used for the most lofty, noble goals — building, growing and developing love for our fellow Jews, Kavod shel Shemayim V’Torah (man’s recognition of Hashem’s control of the world and Torah as Hashem’s blueprint for man’s service).

Vayakhel, when used for rah, is capable of being used, Heaven forbid, to undermine and destroy. Or if the vehicle, Vayakhel is not used at all, the reticence and inability of Am Yisrael to come together and even talk about unity is something for which we all would be held accountable.

Mida keneged Mida, Vayakhel of our Parsha, by Moshe Rabbeinu’s emphasis on the holiness of Shabbat and his appeal for funds and donations toward the building of the Mishkan, he serves to bring about rectification of the previous misuse both of gathering together and of the donations of gold which went into the making of the avodah zora. The message of Parsha Vayakhel seems meant to atone for the Chait HaEigel.

Much later on, as the B’nei Yisrael is finally about to enter the Land of Israel after their 40 years in Bamidbar, Moshe calls together the Kahal in parsha Vayeilich to give over his final discourse on Torah and Halacha before his passing.

We now return to Rabbi Goldin’s summary of the Parshat Pekudei portion of the twin Parshiyot in his sefer, “Unlocking the Torah Text,” Sefer Shemos (page 300):

In the opening section of Parshat Pekudei, a reckoning is given of the material collected for the construction of the Mishkan. The Torah then outlines the fashioning of the garments to be worn by Aaron in his role as Kohen Gadol.

Upon completion of the Mishkan’s components, Moshe blesses the Am Yisrael.

On the first day of the first month of the second year after the Yetziyot Mitzrayim [the liberation from Egypt], upon Hashem’s instructions, Moshe erects the Mishkan, places the various utensils in their proper locations and sanctifies the Mishkan and its components.

Just a note here regarding this reckoning which Rabbi Goldin mentions in his Parsha summary. Parshat Pekudei expresses Moshe’s paradigm lesson for both today’s secular Israeli governmental leaders and law enforcement/judicial systems, as well as for religious communal leaders in matters of honesty, intent, ethics, accountability and transparency.

Our Parshat Pekudei begins;

“These are the accounts of the Mishkan (the Sanctuary), the Mishkan of testimony, which were drawn up on Moshe’s orders …” (Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 21 — Metsudah Linear Chumash, page 579).

In short, Pekudei is the accountant’s parsha, the parsha of crunching the numbers.

The Sefer L’lmod U’Lamed on our parsha asks what the primary reason was for Moshe’s detailed accounting of the costs of the construction of the Mishkan:

The Sages tell that “there were apparently some who suspected that Moshe might have kept some … contributions for his own use.” (Parshat Pekudei, pages 97-98).

The Sefer “The Midrash Says” (pages 357-360) notes that Moshe Rabbeinu overheard mutterings among certain people, presumably sinful individuals such as Dasan and Aviram, who cast aspersions upon his (Moshe’s) honesty regarding the allocation of the people’s donations. According to “The Midrash Says”, comments were heard such as:

“Of late, Ben Amram’s neck is very fat! ….No wonder; he is in charge of all that money for the Mishkan!”

Moshe Rabbeinu, by his nature, was totally above board and above reproach. But he seemed to have realized that despite all that his leadership meant to Klal Yisrael, whether they realized it or not, there would still be jealousy, envy and doubt amongst some.

Therefore, Moshe committed himself, proactively, to account for the allocation and purpose of everything donated toward the construction of the Mishkan. “The Midrash Says” (page 357) then relates that not only did Moshe account for all donations, but he “… gave his calculations to a second person, Ithamar Ben Aharon, for verification.” Perhaps this was the first real paradigm of oversight: a Delloite-Touche CPA-like audit.

The irony here is that when the jewelry and gold were collected for making the Chait HaEigel, no accountability or transparency, no source and allocation of donations was demanded from those who compelled the Eigel. However, when the donations came in and the Mishkan was constructed, many demanded and expected such accountability and transparency from Moshe Rabbeinu.

Moshe Rabbeinu was the model of, and set the standard for accountability, oversight and transparency of Real Jewish leadership.

His apparent pro-activeness in accounting for the collection and use of all donated materials stands as a prototype for the type of material, financial and legal/judicial accountability and transparency which Am Yisrael should, must and have THE right to expect l’chatchilla (the way things ought to be) from its governance.

In searching through various s’forim while preparing this vort, this author stumbled upon an old National Council of Young Israel D’var Torah from twenty-five years ago, by, of all people, our own Rabbi Harry Greenspan, formerly of Ramat Beit Shemesh, who was then Rav of Young Israel of Long Beach, California.

Within his Drash, Rav Greenspan discusses the numerous recurrences in Parshat Pekudei of the phrase: “as Hashem commanded Moshe”:

These words reoccur many times, says the Beis HaLevi to emphasize that which was rectified upon completion of the Mishkan. Our sin in seeking to approach Hashem while ignoring Torah law [via the Egel Zahav] was forgiven by performing this Mitzvah with meticulous observance of every detail, and by completing the most perfect edifice ever built by man.

Midrash points out that the phrase, “as commanded” is repeated eighteen times, corresponding to the eighteen Brachot of Shemonah Esrei.

In the same way as Rav Greenspan cites the Beis HaLevi who reasons that Our sin [the Egel Zahav] was rectified by performing the construction of the Mishkan with meticulous observance of every detail of Hashem’s Commands, it would seem that the donations of funds and material — such as gold, and the copper mirrors which were then fashioned into the utensils of the Mishkan, could also serve as a kind of rectification?

“The Sapirstein Edition of the Chumash with Rashi Commentary” renders to English Sefer Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 8:

“He [Betzalel] made the Kiyyor [Basin] of copper and its pedestal [stand] of copper, with the mirrors of those… who congregated at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting [Ohel Mo’ed].”

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin, in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text” (Sefer Shemos, Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei, pages 316-318) asks questions and discusses the fashioning of the various utensils, the basin and its stand:

Why does the Torah single out the basin and stand… by specifying the origin of the copper used in the fashioning of these vessels? (as per “The Sapirstein Edition of the Chumash with Rashi Commentary” Rashi commentary on Sefer Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 8)

What is the significance of the fact that these items were created from the mirrors donated by the women?

Various scholars, including the Ibn Ezra and the Sforno, believe that the mirrors were suitable for use in the Beit Hamikdash [or Mishkan] specifically because their owners rejected these items’ usual usage. Mirrors are used, then and today, for vain purposes, to cultivate personal beauty and attractiveness. The women who donated these mirrors, as evidenced by their contribution, rejected physical vanity and showed a deep desire to cultivate and focus on a continuing relationship with Hashem.

…Evidencing an equally negative attitude toward personal vanity, the Chizkuni and a number of the Tosafists maintain that the strange passage concerning the basin and the stand refers, not to the origin of these items, but to their placement. The basin and stand were strategically placed, they say, between the Sanctuary [presumably – by this author – the Mishkan or Beit Hamikdash] and the Mizbeiyach so that they could be seen by the women regularly congregating at the Sanctuary.

The water from the basin was used in the Divine trial of a sota, a woman suspected of adultery. (Rabbi Goldin citing Talmud Bavli Sota 15b) The very sight of these utensils… would serve as a reminder of the dangers of licentious behavior. (Rabbi Goldin citing Chizkuni on Shemos Perek 38, posuk 8; Da’at Zekrinim Miba’alei Hatosfot on Shemos Perek 38, posuk 8)

At the opposite end of the spectrum are those commentaries, represented by Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, who not only maintain that the basin and its stand were fashioned out of mirrors, but that the mirrors’ normal usage actually recommended them for this purpose. The Mishkan, says Rav Hirsch, ultimately aims to influence the B’nei Yisrael towards the sanctification of their lives. How appropriate… that specifically the basin, used by the Kohanim for the sanctification of their hands and feet as they enter the Mishkan, should be fashioned out of mirrors. The physical… side of man is… not excluded… but is, instead, “the first and most essential object” of his sanctification. (Rabbi Goldin citing Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch on Shemos Perek 38, posuk 8) ….The very origin of the basin serves as a reminder that all aspects of our lives [including sanctified relationships of love and marriage], properly directed, are potential mediums for holiness.

During the period of Mitzri slavery, Pharaoh decreed that the B’nei Yisrael should not sleep at home or… [be] with their wives. Intent on perpetuating the nation in the face of this fearsome edict, the… women went down to the fields of labor, and looking into their mirrors together with their husbands, aroused the men’s desire. In this way, the women succeeded in ensuring that the nation would “be fruitful and multiply.”

…After the dramatic Yetziyot Mitzrayim and the powerful Revelation at Sinai, the… nation begins to build the Mishkan. The B’not Yisrael wonder: What can we contribute to the Mishkan?

As one, they congregate outside the Mishkan and present their mirrors to Moshe. Moshe’s reaction is swift and harsh: What use have we for such mirrors — for items created to satisfy the evil inclination?

Hashem, however, intercedes: These are dearer to Me than all else! Through these mirrors, the women raised up “countless hosts” in Mitzrayim. (Rabbi Goldin citing Midrash Tanchuma Pekudei 9; Rashi on Sefer Shemos, Perek 38, posuk 8)

The Midrash informs us, in the words of Nechama Leibowitz, “The same instinct or impulse which can lead man to perversions, filth and destruction, can also lead him to creativity, the building of a house and the continuity of the nation. (Rabbi Goldin citing Nechama Leibowitz in “Studies in Shemos”, page 694)

Rabbi Goldin concludes (ibid):

The basin and stand in the Mishkan serve as a reminder that Hashem grants us gifts. The value of these gifts, however is determined by how we use them.

To return to Rav Greenspan’s vort, the question is asked:

What do the Mishkan’s construction and Amidah have in common? Perhaps the answer is… as follows:

….The lesson of the Mishkan is…. if we sincerely desire to reach spiritual heights, to become true servants of The Holy One, we need to pray and perform all Mitzvot precisely according to the details recorded in the Shulchan Aruch. If we act in such a fashion, we can hope to receive (in our Shuls and homes) that which our ancestors experienced upon completion of the Mishkan: Hashem’s glorious presence [which] filled the Mishkan and thus was infused into Klal Yisrael.

To close this vort, all of us in Ramat Beit Shemesh wish Rabbi Harry Greenspan all of the best and many more years of good health and simcha to at least 120 years.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.