Parshas Pekduei: Mishkan, Lessons in Unity

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Pekudei, an accounting is given of all the materials collected for the Mishkan.  Hashem commands Moshe regarding the ha’kamas ha”Mishkan, which is to take place on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, in the second year from the Exodus from Egypt.  The Torah then describes the creation and building of the Mishkan, in all its glory and beauty.   Sefer Shemos ends by telling us that the goal of the Bnei Yisrael – building a Sanctuary for G-d to dwell in their midst – has been reached:

וַיְכַס הֶעָנָן, אֶתאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד; וּכְבוֹד המָלֵא אֶתהַמִּשְׁכָּןand the Cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan כִּי עֲנַן ה עַלהַמִּשְׁכָּן, יוֹמָם, וְאֵשׁ, תִּהְיֶה לַיְלָה בּוֹ לְעֵינֵי כָלבֵּיתיִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּכָלמַסְעֵיהֶם, for the Cloud of Hashem was upon the Mishkan by day, and a Fire upon it by night, before the eyes of the entire House of Israel, in all their journeys (Shemos 40:34, 38).

The pasukim delineate the making of the bigdei Kehunah (priestly garments).  In regard to the shoulder straps worn by the Kohen Gadol, two stones, set in golden settings, were upon the shoulder straps.  These stones were engraved with the names of the tribes; six tribal names engraved upon each stone.  וַיַּעֲשׂוּ אֶתאַבְנֵי הַשֹּׁהַם, מֻסַבֹּת מִשְׁבְּצֹת זָהָב, מְפֻתָּחֹת פִּתּוּחֵי חוֹתָם, עַלשְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵלAnd they made the shoham stones, enclosed in gold settings, engraved like the engravings of a seal, with the names of the Bnei Yisrael (Shemos 39:6).

And in regard to the breastplate worn by the Kohen Gadol, which he donned over his apron, it was decorated with twelve precious gems, each stone set in a golden setting, and each stone was engraved with the names of one of the tribes of Israel.  וְהָאֲבָנִים עַלשְׁמֹת בְּנֵייִשְׂרָאֵל הֵנָּה, שְׁתֵּים עֶשְׂרֵהעַלשְׁמֹתָםפִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם אִישׁ עַלשְׁמוֹ, לִשְׁנֵים עָשָׂר שָׁבֶטAnd the stones were for the names of the Bnei Yisrael twelve, corresponding to their names; like the engravings of a seal, every one according to his name, for the twelve tribes (39:14).

An integral part of the construction of the Mishkan was the lesson that all of Am Yisrael is one.  We must be a united and loving people in order to properly serve Hashem, and in order to merit Divine benevolence (Yoma 9b, was the second Temple destroyed?).  Hence, each one of the names of the twelve tribes, despite how different each tribe was from each other, was engraved upon the stones of the bigdei Kehunah.  If one stone, or one name, was theoretically missing, the garments were incomplete and the service would be invalidated.  For only when we come together as one, can we come before G-d, and only then will our service be pleasing to Him.

Furthermore, in regard to the ketores spice mixture (eleven spices offered twice daily on the Golden Altar), the pasuk commands that the spice of חֶלְבְּנָ֔ה be included in the ketores.  Since this was a foul smelling spice, Chazal question why it was included at all.  Rashi explains: לְלַמְּדֵנוּ שֶׁלֹּא יֵקַל בְּעֵינֵינוּ לְצָרֵף עִמָּנוּ בַּאֲגֻדַּת תַּעֲנִיּוֹתֵינוּ וּתְפִלּוֹתֵנוּ אֶת פּוֹשְׁעֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל שֶׁיִּהְיוּ נִמְנִין עִמָּנוּto teach us that it should not be light in our eyes to include in our fast days and prayers the sinners of Israel, that they should be included with us (Rashi to Shemos 30:34).  Once again, we see that HKB”H wants all of His children to come together as one.

And in regard to the keruvim that graced the kapores (the cover) of the aron kodesh, the Torah describes their position, not as ‘one facing another’, but rather, פְנֵיהֶם, אִישׁ אֶלאָחִיו, and their faces, one man to his brother (37:9).  If we want to be a vessel where the Shechina dwells, as was the aron kodesh, we must always be facing, and reaching towards, one Jew to his brother.

In a recent Mishpacha magazine, Gedalia Guttentag wrote, “Twice in the last few weeks, I’ve walked down the ramp in Ben-Gurion Airport leading to departures, and twice the same sad thought has occurred to me. In place of the sunny images of Israeli life that the country normally displays to its departing visitors, travelers now walk past photos of the Gaza captives. It’s a depressing reminder that the country’s national story is now one of war and tragedy.

“But while that’s certainly true, a perceptive visitor will see another storyline. Like the proverbial non-Jew who puts on a yarmulke when he has a flat tire, knowing that some Jew will stop to help, outsiders know that when the chips are down, Jewish unity asserts itself.

“And here’s the amazing thing. It’s been decades since the Jewish body politic has done anything to give meaning to the term “Klal Yisrael.” In what substantive way are we really an am, or klal?  When two million religious Jews celebrate the daf yomi mega-Siyum every seven years, secular Jews are simply oblivious. When they in turn celebrate a Jewish Hollywood actor or Olympian, the reverse is true. So when do we all collectively feel or experience the same thing at the same time?

“That was all pre-October 7. Ask any Jew anywhere how he is, and there will be a hint of reserve. “Given the situation, okay,” will be the answer — a hesitation that only Jews will truly understand.  For the first time in many decades, there is now one Jewish world, a certain minimal sense of Jewish consciousness. “Behold, a people that dwells alone,” said Bilaam, looking at the serried ranks of tents in the desert.  From the tents of Beit Shemesh and the battlegrounds of Gaza, to anywhere that Jews are saying Tehillim after Shacharis, a hazy, faint outline of that people is now on display” (Mishpacha Issue 1002, March 6, 2024, p.54).

May we merit to come together as one, with loving kindness and a warm embrace, one man to his brother.  לֵךְ כְּנוֹס אֶתכָּלהַיְּהוּדִים הַנִּמְצְאִים בְּשׁוּשָׁן – as the Jews in Shushan gathered together to pray for Divine salvation (Esther 4:16), and in that merit, they were saved, may we too band together as one, which will surely elicit Divine mercy and compassion in our favor, b’karov mamash.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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