Are we accountable to God for the gifts He has given to us?

Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek…be stronger and be strengthened.

Parashat Pikudei completes the book of Shemot, Exodus.  It is always a good idea to look back to see how far we have come and what we have learned.  My intention is not to delve into the details of the Torah, but rather that we learn how to apply its principles to our lives; that’s what I believe the Bore Olam wants. These principles are universal; they are for all humanity.  There are some, of course, that were only meant for the times in which they were given. It is important to take into account the history and context, the times in which they were living, to whom it was directed, and the reason they were given; these help us best understand how to apply them, like “essential oils” in our lives.

Shemot begins with the twelve brothers moving to Egypt due to the famine.  Although the eleven didn’t know, Joseph was already there, setting the stage for the future nation to be formed, flourish, and protected in Egypt until a new pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph; that was when their trouble began. We see the emergence of another leader, Moshe who was saved as a baby and grew up in the high court of the Egyptians where he was instructed as a blue blood, even though he was not. He eventually stood up for his people who were suffering at the hand of this Pharaoh. His own people turned against him, forcing him to flee into the desert, to Midian where he married, became a shepherd and lived for 40 years.  At the age of 80, the Creator called him back to Egypt to serve as the leader of Israel. I call him “the reluctant leader” because he was constantly struggling with his calling.

Why did the Creator choose Moshe?

We are all His creation, and we are all of equal value in His sight.  Most parents would agree that we love all our children equally, but we have to admit there may be one with whom we relate the most. That one is our favorite although we can’t say it because of the rivalry it creates, as we saw in the case of Joseph. This doesn’t mean that this child is better than the others. It’s simply a matter of how we relate, but each one has some special quality to bring to the rest.

Many of our rabbis say that Moshe was chosen because he had the best education in Egypt and was taught how to be a leader. I do not think that this is how God chooses us. Moses had two very special characteristics – “humility” and “obedience”. He never liked to draw attention to himself and although he never thought he could do the job, he was obedient to his calling.  One phrase is repeated 7 times in chapter 39… “They did everything exactly as the LORD had commanded Moshe.”  “Moshe inspected all the work; they had indeed done it as the LORD had ordered and Moshe blessed them.”  (Ex. 39:43) The people followed the direction of the Creator and at the end, Moshe would thank them for doing the work to build the Mishkan and blessed them.

The book of Exodus begins with a people who were crying out because they were oppressed. In all their complaints, however, we never hear them mentioning the name of the Creator. When Moshe asked Him “Who do I say sent me?” He replied, “Ehyeh asher Ehyeh, I am Who I am”. They already knew who their God was, but they had, over the years, been bombarded with the false gods of Egypt and had been slowly assimilating into that culture. Assimilation is very destructive because we lose our own identity. We accept without question what the other culture tells us because we want to be accepted.  I have seen people coming from Christianity who become more Jewish than rabbis. When they visited our community, they were so strict that they left saying that I was not orthodox enough, not Jewish enough, and that I didn’t practice the right religion.  This is sad because they want to be accepted by men instead of the Creator. There is a difference between having a relationship with the Creator and having a religion. I enjoy Jewish tradition but only if it has a meaning, one that serves and elevates the Creator.

This is the process that Moshe went through with the people, in which the Creator had to bring them out of the toxic environment and extract the idolatry, (adultery against God,) from their minds. It would be like taking a purgative to cleanse every toxic belief.  This can last throughout our whole life.  Shemot is helping us understand how much time the Creator spent purging His people. They had exchanged the Truth for what was false. After the people sinned with the Golden Calf, the Egel Zahav, the Creator ordered them to build the Mishkan in the desert where they could “refocus” their attention on Him. The Shabbat became the glue where the Creator would make us cohesive, able to come together as a community to the Mishkan.

This is the principal message of the Torah.

Today society has crossed the line going from morality to immorality and is now immersed in amorality. Everything that the majority says has become ok but if we, as a small group, speak up against what they say, we are persecuted. This is one of the greatest challenges we as believers have today.  Shemot is showing us that we need to be responsible for what the Creator has given to us.  Religion is big business today, selling their gods in a vast variety of packages. Religious mercenaries don’t care what they believe, only what they can get from the people. This is why it is more important than ever to know Whom we trust. The message in Pekudei is the opposite. Moshe was given a variety of materials: gold, silver, bronze, textiles, skins etc. all of which would be used to construct the Mishkan, and all were accounted for in great detail. They did not misuse anything.  They even told the people to stop bringing because they had exactly what they needed.

To put this all together, our sages say the Creator was not going to have the people build a Mishkan at first, for He would dwell among them, but after the sin of the golden calf, He used the Tent of Meeting to cover their sin and also to be a focal point for the redirection of their attention toward Him.  They would regain their perspective of the true God and leave the false gods of Egypt behind. We do not have a Mishkan today although some want to build a third Temple, as if it is essential. They have missed the most important teaching of the Torah – that you and I make up the Mishkan that God created. It says Ex. 25:8 – “build me a place where I will dwell IN THEM”.

How are you making an account of the materials in your personal Mishkan?  How are we putting into practice the gifts and talents that He has given to each of us?  If, however, you say, “What gifts has God given me, I am good for nothing”, you are saying He made a mistake creating you. You are almost cursing the Name of God.

Can we say that we are doing exactly what the LORD is asking us to do as we read seven times in this portion? … “They did everything exactly as the LORD had commanded Moshe.

I cannot repeat enough how important it is when studying the Torah, that we take into account the historical period, its context and to whom it was written. Then we step back to see how its “principles – its “essential oils” can be applied to our lives. Just as the Israelites had so much difficulty understanding the God of Israel, who they could not see, and were blinded by the grandiosity of the gods of Egypt, we too struggle to have a relationship with the Creator because the religions of the world are so much more attractive than an invisible GOD. These ancient people had been assimilated into the life of Egypt and to extract all the idolatry from their heads would be an extremely difficult and long process. Little by little the people would have to be purged. Like the ancient Israelites, religion and ideologies get stuck in our heads making it very difficult for us to get free from all the ideas that have been implanted in our brains.

To make an account of our lives means to be responsible and the first person to whom we need to be responsible is ourselves. But what do we do Instead? We usually pass the buck and blame others for our situation.  Do you blame your parents, teachers or anyone who stopped you from doing what you want? It is time to stop making excuses and get on with your life. We are experts at making excuses about why we don’t do something, but the Creator told Moshe at the end, “Well done, the people did it!”  At that moment the people of Israel realized that the Creator was merciful to them. After being confronted, they acknowledged their sin and were given a second chance. The building of the Mishkan with the Holy of Holies inside would contain the Aron, the Ark. The Ark would contain the two tablets of stone, the Ten Commandments. They are the solution for the ailments of this world and the important message for us today is that “Our God is the God of Beginning Again”.

Shabbat Shalom

Ranebi (Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan)