Are we transparent before God and man?

With this double Parashah Vayakhel-Pikudei, we complete the book of Exodus, HaSefer Shemot. It speaks of how Moshe gathered (vayakhel) the people of Israel to hand them ordinances about the sanctuary and once again emphasizes the importance of keeping the Shabbat. Even the very work of building the Mishkan stopped during Shabbat.

When the children of Israel were asked to contribute to the building fund of the Mishkan, they responded very generously. They were so generous indeed that the master builders asked Moshe to stop collecting, since they had much more than they needed. Moshe received gold, silver, precious stones, animal hides and textiles for the various parts of the Tabernacle, as well as incense and olive oil for the menorah and for the anointings. The princes of each of the twelve tribes of Israel brought precious stones for the breastplate and the ephod of the Kohen HaGadol.

 A group of craftsmen led by Betzalel, with “Chochmat lev” (“Wisdom of the heart”) were appointed for the construction of the tabernacle. What characteristics did Betzalel have that made him the master builder? The Torah tells us that God had filled him with intelligence, ability, and knowledge. He had the knowledge acquired from others, personal experiences that helped him grow in ability, and the inspiration from the Creator to know how to behave properly, correctly. These characteristics cover the various areas of our life. As human beings, we are continuously building, both physically and spiritually. How important it is, then, to build up these characteristics by constantly learning from those around us, treasuring the vital experiences that we live through and generating ideas that help us grow as human beings while incorporating the presence and inspiration of the Creator in all that we do.

At the end of the construction, Moshe rendered a detailed account (Pikudei) on which resources, what were their quantities, and how the resources were to be used. The Sanctuary would accompany the people throughout their journey in the desert right to the entrance of the Promised Land. It was made up of several parts each with a specific name. The first part, the Mizbe’ach was like an anteroom where the people would go to prepare themselves to present their offering. It was the area where we would first connect with the divine and depicts discovering our need from within to offer something special to Him.

Next, the Mishkan appears as the main “residence”. This is when we are ready to deliver our offering and we make this place our own. It is the place to find ourselves. And finally, the Tent of Meeting (the Ochel Moed) which Moses took outside the camp teaches us the importance of meeting with one another to present a better offering together.  In this way, by building the temple, the people could find something to offer, a place to reside and learn companionship while doing the work of its construction. 

In the most concealed part of the Mishkan was the Ark of the Testimony, which contained the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Why should the Ark of the Testimony have to be ‘hidden’, hidden by a curtain in the Kadosh Kedoshim, the Holy of Holies, to which only the Cohen HaGadol had access once a year? Wouldn’t it have been preferable for it to be visible to all of Israel so that they could remember that man was created to dedicate himself to the Torah?

It is for man to search out the truth every day of his life until he finally finds it. The Torah is available to everyone, it is close to everyone, but “hidden by a veil, a curtain” which teaches us that we must strive to study it and find the wonder of its contents, especially in our day, when we do not have the Beit Hamikdash. Man has to strive to “attain” it in order to awaken in himself the consciousness of his purpose in the world, and this would lead him to action, to live in the light of the Torah. The Torah is married to the people of Israel and the people of Israel are married to the Torah. We maintain a covenant relationship with both God and his Torah, and we make a commitment to them. Each of us is capable of discovering the treasures of the Torah as long as we turn our hearts toward Heaven. When we look up, the Creator “looks down” and illuminates our eyes with the light of His Torah.

At the end of Parashat Pikudei, after completing the Mishkan, the utensils and the clothing of the priests, Moshe made an exhaustive and precise enumeration of all the contributions made. He inspected the work, noticed that everything was done according to God’s order, and blessed the people. God spoke to Moses and told him that the Mishkan should be inaugurated on the first day of the first month (Nisan) and explained the order in which it was to be assembled.

Moshe Rabenu felt the need to teach the people that examining our conscience is essential because it has the ability to make us understand the mistakes that we have made and leads us to find a way to correct them. Moses wanted to teach us that throughout our lives we should analyze our actions and review our inner temple, check if we are going the way of the Torah or if we have strayed from it. When we examine our conscience as Moshe Rabenu did, by presenting a detailed analysis of all the donations he received, we have the merit of being elevated, like the Mishkan.

When the Mishkan was ready, with each element in its proper place, a cloud descended as a sign that the Divine Presence had settled upon it. At night the cloud was replaced by a column of fire. In our day, this cloud and/or column appears above us through our work that is done well and performed with honesty. By his accounting that his work was done well, Moses demonstrated his integrity. This is very important because not only do others have an obligation to judge us fairly and favorably regarding by what is collected and the work that goes with it, but at the same time, it is our responsibility to avoid a situation where others might draw a wrong conclusion. As it says in Proverbs 3: 4: “We must find favor and understanding in the eyes of God and men.” In the case of Moses, there was a particular need for transparency. He knew that everyone’s eyes were upon him. While we must all act this way, even more is expected of our leaders. Rabbi Percy used to say, “the more that is given, the more is required.”

The Tabernacle and its utensils allude to each of us and to the Divine service that falls upon us. We are each considered to be a small sanctuary. When we live according to the Torah, the Presence of the Creator rests upon us. May our Creator allow each of us to become a “Sacred Ark” that contains the Torah within, so that we may walk along a path of light and thus be light to all those who come into our lives. In this way, we would be fulfilling our mission to be a part of Tikkun Olam, the healing of  the world.

Shabbat Shalom!!

by Alejandro Alvarado narrated by Peggy Pardo