Vaykhel-Pekudei: Stones of Remembrance

In this week’s double parshios, Vaykhel-Pekudei, the Mishkan is built under the direction of the master craftsmen, Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur from the tribe of Yehuda, and Ohaliav ben Achisamach from the tribe of Dan.

After all the plans, instructions and blueprints have been laid out in Terumah, Tetzaveh and Ki Sisa, the building of the Mishkan now takes place.

In the courtyard of the Mishkan stood the Copper Altar for animal sacrifices, and the Kiyyor (Laver), from where the kohanim washed their hands and feet before performing the service in the Mishkan.  Inside the Kodesh itself, stood three golden keilim: the Golden Altar for the daily incense offerings, the Menorah, and the Golden Table which housed the twelve loaves of the lechem ha’panim (bread of surfaces).  Separating the Kodesh from the Kodesh Kodashim (the Holy of Holies) was the woven paroches, partition.  Inside the Holy of Holies stood the Aaron Kodesh (the Holy Ark), which housed the Luchos (Stone Tablets of Testimony) in its interior.  Atop the Ark were two Keruvim (golden cherubs), with faces of children, whose wings were spread upward and faces one to another.  It was between these two keruvim that the Shechinah rested, keviyachol, and from here the voice of G-d emanated outward to speak to Moshe.

Atop the Mishkan were three coverings: the Mishkan covering (which was the lowest covering), the Ohel covering (the middle covering), and the Mich’seh covering (the uppermost covering made of ram skins dyed red and techashim skins).  Surrounding the Mishkan space were wooden beams, covered in gold, which stood in silver sockets.

It was in this holy “sanctuary in space” (cf. Rav Soloveitchik zt’l) that the Kohahim would perform their daily avodah.  They washed their hands and feet, they brought many animal sacrifices, they offered the incense twice daily, and they prepared, cleaned and lit the menorah.

The kohanim officiated in special priestly vestments, the bigdei kehunah.  The Kohen Gadol (K”G) wore eight special garments and the Kohen Hedyot wore four.

One of the garments worn by the K”G was the Choshen, the Breastplate, which had upon it, set in golden settings, twelve stones – each one corresponding to a different shevet (tribe), engraved with the name of that tribe.  It was attached to the shoulder straps of the K”G from above and to the apron (eiphod) of the K”G from below.  In regard to the breastplate, the pasukim tell us: “And they prepared the shoham stones, enclosed in gold settings, engraved like the engraving of a seal, with the names of the tribes of Israel; וַיָּשֶׂם אֹתָם, עַל כִּתְפֹת הָאֵפֹד–אַבְנֵי זִכָּרוֹן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּה האֶתמֹשֶׁהand he put them upon the shoulder straps of the eiphod as stones of remembrance for the children of Israel, as Hashem had commanded Moshe (Shemos 39:6-7).

The Torah identifies these beautiful stones as: אַבְנֵי זִכָּרוֹן, stones of remembrance.  Who is supposed to remember and what are we supposed to remember from these stones?

Rabbi Shalom Rosner teaches that one can infer that Hashem remembers Am Yisrael and that the K”G, who is representative of the Jewish people and performing the service in the Temple on their behalf, is acting so Hashem can remember them favorably.

The Meshech Chochmah, however, offers an alternative suggestion, which suggests that the stones of remembrance are for the Bnei Yisrael themselves to remember!  Bnei Yisrael should be reminded of having the name of their tribe engraved on the K”G’s choshen as he performs his daily service, and this remembrance should serve as a means of deterring them from engaging in any form of sin (Shalom Rav, v.I, p.485-486).

Rabbi Rosner quotes a famous teaching of Chazal.  The Sages teach that when Yosef ha’Tzaddik was very close to sinning with Eishes Potiphar (Bereishis Ch.39):

בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה בָּאתָה דְּיוֹקְנוֹ שֶׁל אָבִיו וְנִרְאֲתָה לוֹ בַּחַלּוֹן אָמַר לוֹ יוֹסֵף עֲתִידִין אַחֶיךָ שֶׁיִּכָּתְבוּ עַל אַבְנֵי אֵפוֹד וְאַתָּה בֵּינֵיהֶם רְצוֹנְךָ שֶׁיִּמָּחֶה שִׁמְךָ מִבֵּינֵיהֶם וְתִקָּרֵא רוֹעֶה זוֹנוֹתat that moment, the image of his father came and appeared to him in the window, and (his father) said to him: Yosef!  In the future, your brothers will have their names engraved on the stones of the breastplate of the K”G, and your name will be amongst them.  Do you want your name to be erased and (instead you will be) called companion of harlots? (Sotah 36b).  Upon hearing this, immediately, the Gemara teaches, he was able to withstand her temptation and seduction, and he fled outside.

R’ Rosner continues and notes that it is interesting that Yaakov, who could have said so many things to encourage Yosef to refrain from sinning, refers to the fact that his name would be engraved on the breastplate of the K”G, and it is this engraving that should give Yosef the courage to make the right choice, to overcome his urges and protect his reputation.  In this way, he would be worthy of having his name remain engraved alongside those of his brothers, on the stones of the Breastplate.

These stones, upon which the names of the shevatim were engraved, are there to serve as a reminder for all of us to conduct our lives in a moral and ethical manner, in accordance with halacha, so that we merit to be listed adjacent to our brethren.  Yosef was saved because he foresaw what his destiny would be: that his name would be on the holy stones of the bigdei kehunah.  We must always remember – אַבְנֵי זִכָּרוֹן, stones of remembrance – our past, and the generations who came before us, and look ahead to the future: our potential, our children, and the destiny of our nation (Shalom Rav, v.I, p.486).

In this way the stones will truly serve as a remembrance for all of us: to remember the past, stay focused on our mission in the present, and continue with dignity, courage, fortitude and grace, to build for the future of Am Yisrael.

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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