The Grand Opening
The Grand Opening
In Parashat P’kudei, we see the Israelites complete the punch list for the Tabernacle. Carefully, the text recounts how Bezalel and Oholiab, under the direction of Aaron’s son Ithamar, fashioned the materials brought by their fellow Israelites into the structure, furnishings, and implements of the Tabernacle.
And now that the entire project has been developed, it is delivered to Moses. “Thus was completed all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting. The Israelites did so; just as the Eternal had commanded Moses, so they did” (Exodus 39:32).
What is interesting is that throughout the parashah, we are told that Bezalel and Oholiab were responsible for everything that was made. But the detailed description of each piece concludes with the same phrase: “as the Eternal had commanded Moses” (Exodus 39:1ff).
Bezalel, we are taught, melded his mind to what God had commanded. The text states that Bezalel “had made all that the Eternal had commanded Moses . . .” (Exodus 38:22). Rashi notes that:
“It does not say ‘all that Moses had commanded,’ but ‘all that the Eternal had commanded Moses.’ Betzalel even did things that his master had not told him to do, so completely had he conformed his thoughts to what was told to Moses on Sinai.”1
But how was Bezalel able to do this? How did he know what it was that God had commanded Moses? Rashi riffs on Bezalel’s name: “Perhaps you were be-tza-lel, “in the shadow of God,” when God spoke to me?”2
What gave Bezalel the insight and ability to make the vision of the Tabernacle a reality was his capacity to draw on his own closeness to God.
For so long, the Israelites had relied on someone else to access God for them. When they needed redemption from Egypt, when they were trapped at the shores of the Sea of Reeds, when they ran out of provisions along the way, each time they beseeched Moses to go get God for them. When God spoke directly to them, they chose instead for Moses to be their intermediary. And when they lost faith in God and Moses, they gathered against Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who shall go before us” (Exodus 32:1).
But in building the Tabernacle, it is the Israelites who sought to access God’s wisdom on their own. Led by Bezalel, who found his own place in God’s Presence, they studied Moses’s command, and through it intuited God’s desire. The text reminds us, yet again, that the work was done, “Just as the Eternal had commanded Moses, so the Israelites had done all the work” (Exodus 39:42). Nachmanides notes that the customary word for work, m’lachah, is not used here. Rather the word we find in the text is avodah, the word used for the service of God. “For that is why they made the Tabernacle, to follow the commandment, ‘You shall serve the Eternal your God (Exodus 23:25).’ ”3 The Israelites, in completing the work of the Tabernacle, have learned that it is not Moses alone whom God wants as a servant, but it is the Israelites together who have the power to build a house for God.
And so the people brought the Tabernacle to Moses, “with the Tent and all its furnishings: its clasps, its planks, its bars, its posts, and its sockets . . . ” (Exodus 39:33) all ready to go. When Moses saw how they had performed their work, “as the Eternal had commanded, so they had done—Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43).
Moses blessed them because they had finally become what God had intended them to be: “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). They had finally become servants of God on their own. And so Moses was given the final task of completing the Tabernacle. No longer is he the one to bring God to the people. Now, with the product of their passion and personal sacrifice, the people have brought God to Moses.
And so it is, because the people as one have tapped into their own divinity, each seeing the Bezalel inside, so when the Tabernacle was completed, God’s Presence filled the space. Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh of Radzimin said: “The entire Sanctuary was filled with Israel’s love and the longing for God . . . . As a result, the Shekhinah rested upon them.”4
Each of us can be Bezalel. Each of us can find our place in God’s shadow, and draw on that holy inspiration to see how God wants us to contribute to the master plan of God’s house. But a house for God is not built alone. It is only when each of us brings our unique gifts, in love and desire to serve the higher and holier purposes of our existence, that God’s Presence will fill the sanctuaries we build with our hands, and the sanctuaries we carry in our hearts.
1. The Commentators’ Bible: The JPS Miqra’ot Gedolot – Exodus, ed. Michael Carasik (Philadelphia: JPS, 2005), pp. 326?7
3. Ibid., p. 332
4. Iturei Torah: Torah Gems, vol. 2, compiled by Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, trans. by Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Himelstein (Tel Aviv: Chemed Books, 1998), p. 238
Rabbi Dan Levin is the senior rabbi at Temple Beth El of Boca Raton, Florida.
Rabbi Dan Levin's commentary calls to mind that all Western religious traditions emphasize humanity's need for a deity, our dependence upon the Divine. Just consider, the rabbi reminds us that Bezalel translates as, ”in the shadow of God.” The very notion of a shadow suggests a reflection, more precisely a connection to some other. After all, a shadow does not exist without a source—in this instance, without the Source. And Judaism doesn't just acknowledge that connection, it celebrates that connection.
However, and perhaps uniquely, our tradition includes another remarkable, even revolutionary insight. To wit, not only do we recognize our need for God (that our presence is dependent upon our being in and of that shadow), but also we assert—one could argue outrageously —that God needs us. So I find it fortuitous that the name of our Torah portion, P’kudei, may be translated/interpreted not only as “records” but also as “accounts,” as in keeping or—heaven forbid, with the IRS season approaching—for many, auditing the books. Rabbi Levin's discussion emphasizes one side, so to speak the income or accounts receivable portion of the ledger. I would remind us, while in this case, it does not balance out, there is the other side of any statement of accounts to consider as well.
As illustration, consider the Hebrew inscription so often included on yahrzeit boards and shivah candles. Found in the Book of Proverbs, the JPS translation tells us, “The lifebreath of man is the lamp of the Lord . . . ”(Proverbs 20:27). A more literal interpretation, “A person's soul is God's light,” leads to the suggestion that we are not just shadows or reflections hanging behind, but also we are called to be trailblazers, persons who illumine the path so that holiness may enter the world. Even as we are animated by the Divine, we also become the way for God, for a sacred dimension, to be experienced in this world.
In fact that may be an interpretation for the Shiva candle. In a moment of loss, of existential darkness, we light a candle to remind all, including the Source of all, that as long as the breath of life resides in us, we are God's light. We illumine the path. At least we can. We should. We must.
Rabbi Michael Zedek is the senior rabbi of Emanuel Congregation in Chicago, Illinois.
P’kudei, Exodus 38:21-40:38
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 680-690; Revised Edition, pp. 627-636;
The Torah: A Women's Commentary, pp. 545-566
Haftarah, II Kings 12:5-16
The Torah: A Modern Commentary, pp. 1,647-1,648; Revised Edition, pp. 1,451-1,452