By Rabbi Aron Tendler
In this week's and next week's Parshios, there is a somewhat repetitive
expression of our relationship with G-d. In the beginning of Vayakhel,
35:29, the Torah states that all the donations were given to the Mishkan.
"…for all the work that G-d had ordered through Moshe." Starting in Parshas
Pikudei, 39:1, the Torah states 16 times, in one form or another, "As G-d had
commanded Moshe." In Pasuk 39:43 the Torah states that Moshe reviewed all
the work that had been done for the construction of the Mishkan, and it was
constructed as G-d had commanded him. Then, Moshe "blessed all the workers."
What is the importance of emphasizing time and time again the concept of,
"As G-d commanded Moshe;" and why did Moshe bless the workers?
According to Rabbi Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, the general theme of Sefer Shemos
is the history of the Jewish nation and the giving of the Torah. The first
four Parshios detail the years of enslavement, persecution and eventual
redemption. The fifth Parsha, Yisro, describes Revelation. The sixth
Parsha, Mishpatim, presents the judicial structure of society.
At first glance Mishpatim appears to be out of place. Why is the Torah
presenting the detailed laws of social justice and interaction in the book
that presents the history of the nation and the giving of the Torah? If you
consider what our responsibilities are in relation to the other nations, (as
"A Kingdom of priests and a holy nation"), the placement of Mishpatim becomes
clear. We were intended to model for the rest of the world the meaning of
having been created "in G-d's image". In order for us to do so, the other
nations must perceive our Torah society as just and fair. Therefore, G-d
first instructed us in the laws governing our social interactions before
commanding us in the laws of religious observance.
The seventh and eighth Parshios describe the construction of the Mishkan, and
the ninth Parsha, last week's reading, relates the sin of the Golden Calf
with its consequences. The final two Parshios of Shemos repeat the details
of the construction of the Mishkan.
Each book of the Torah has its own distinct theme, and each of the themes
follows the other in a logical sequence. Bereshis focuses on the theme of
separation and speciation as intrinsic an integral to all of creation.
Therefore, it is natural and expected that the Jew be separated from the
non-Jew. Therefore, the main story line of the Book of Genesis is the
development of the family of Avraham.
Shemos focuses on the reason for the Jews having been chosen and separated
from the rest of the other nations. It is the story of the development of
Avraham's family into a nation within the foreign society of Egypt. Once
they had become a separate and distinct nation among other nations, they were
freed and given the Torah. The reason for their being separated from the
other nations was in order for them to receive the Torah.
Vayikra focuses on presenting the goal of a nation that was chosen and
commanded to live a lifestyle structured by Mitzvos and Halacha. What should
a lifestyle of purity and sanctity look like? Therefore, Vayikra details the
laws of the Bais Hamikdash and the responsibilities of the Kohanim and
Bamidbar focuses on the actual challenges, failures and successes, that the
Jews underwent in attempting to integrate into daily life the ideals of being
separate and apart.
Divarim focuses on the laws and instructions that were needed to facilitate
the transition of the Jews from the desert into Eretz Yisroel. A continuous
theme in Divarim is the difficulties the Jews would confront in maintaining
their separation and identity. Moshe forewarned the Jews against the dangers
of intermarriage and assimilation.
In Shemos, the history of our nationality and Revelation is detailed.
However, Revelation was not as simple and straightforward as G-d might have
hoped. Soon after receiving the word of G-d at Mt. Sinai, the Jews sinned
with the Golden Calf. As a result, the relationship between G-d and His
chosen people underwent a fundamental change. Before the sin G-d's presence
was evident in every aspect of their lives. After the sin, G-d confined His
manifest presence within the walls of the Tabernacle. The laws of the Torah
remained the same, but our relationship with G-d was irrevocably altered.
As most of the commentaries agree, the building of the Mishkan was in direct
response to the sin of the Golden Calf. Whatever we were intended to
accomplish in relation to the other nations without the Mishkan, (before we
sinned) we can now only accomplish with the Mishkan. Therefore, it makes
sense that the story of the Golden Calf and the construction of the Mishkan
would be recorded in the Book of Shemos. In essence, the Mishkan, which
manifested G-d's presence within the Jewish people ("And they should make for
me a Mishkan so that I can dwell in their midst"), was a reformulation of
Revelation. Just as our actions were supposed to manifest G-d's presence to
the rest of the world, so too was the Mishkan supposed to manifest G-d's
presence within the Jewish people.
What does it mean to be G-d's "Kingdom of priests and holy nation?" The
overview of the Book of Shemos and the placement of Parshas Mishpatim
indicates that our service and devotion must permeate every aspect of our
lives. Human relationships are as directed by Halacha as were the workings
of the Mishkan. Our behavior should reflect our awareness of G-d whether
within the confines of the synagogue, kitchen, or bedroom.
As G-d's kingdom of priests we were enjoined to sanctify the mundane through
our devotion to G-d. Sanctity is the recognition of G-d in all that exists
and the commitment to use His world to further His reputation. However,
following the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d secreted His presence within nature
and only remained revealed within the confines of the Mishkan. This made the
job of sanctifying the world much more difficult than it would have otherwise
been if we had not sinned with the Golden Calf.
In order to sanctify the mundane, we must learn how to reveal G-d's presence
in everything that is, and everything that happens. Therefore, we must
develop an attitude that directs our motives and actions toward serving G-d.
With the proper attitude we are able to acknowledge G-d's ever present
presence and sanctify every activity by directing them toward serving G-d.
The Mishkan was to be the one place where G-d's presence remained overt and
in evidence. Therefore, it was essential that every aspect of the Mishkan's
construction be directed toward serving G-d and being aware of His presence.
The Torah in this week's Parshios emphasizes that from the moment the
materials were donated to the final assembling of the Mishkan everything was
done, "as commanded by G-d to Moshe."
In Divarim 28:10 Moshe told the Jews that if they sanctify themselves by
following the commandments of G-d, "The other nations of the world will see
that the name of G-d is upon you and they will be in awe of you!" Our
success in influencing the other nations to recognize G-d and sanctify their
own lives is in direct proportion to the degree that G-d is evident within
our own lives. To the extent that "G-d dwells in our midst," is the extent
to which we accomplish the reason for our separation from the rest of the
nations and why we were given the Torah.
When the Bnai Yisroel finished creating the Mishkan in accordance with G-d's
exact instructions, Moshe blessed all the workers. Moshe's blessing is
recorded in Tehillim 90 that is said on Shabbos and Yom Tov mornings. It
starts with the words Tefilah L'Moshe - A prayer of Moshe, and concludes with
his prayer to G-d that G-d's presence be evident in everything the nation
Following the building of the Mishkan, the Jews were once again ready to do
the work of being G-d's priests and sanctifying His world. Therefore, it
made sense that Moshe would highlight their ability with a blessing that the
nation continue to sanctify the mundane through all of their actions.
The Four Parshios
Practically speaking, Shabbos was the one-day during the week when the
community gathered. Therefore, the Rabbis chose Shabbos as the most opportune
time to make timely Halachic and communal announcements. Associating these
announcements with a Torah portion is indicative of the focus that each of us
is supposed to have in regards to integrating Hashem (G-d) into our lives.
These announcements were not simply relegated to a public pronouncement or a
few lines on a sheet, but were associated with the reading and the study of
There are four special Shabbosim preceding Pesach when additional portions
from the Torah are read. Set rules determine when each of these additional
Parshios is to be read.
Parshas Shekalim, the first of the special Shabbosim preceding Pesach, is
read on the Shabbos that precedes the month of Adar, or the Shabbos of Rosh
Chodesh Adar (when Rosh Chodesh and Shabbos coincide). Parshas Zachor is
read on the Shabbos before Purim. Parshas Parah is read on the Shabbos before
the Shabbos of Parshas Hachodesh. Parshas Hachodesh is read on the Shabbos
before the month of Nissan or the Shabbos of Rosh Chodesh Nissan (when Rosh
Chodesh and Shabbos coincide).
A key function of the Bais Hamikdash was the offerings of the daily, Korban
Tzibur - communal offerings. The designation of "communal" was because every
male adult, 20 years and older, donated a ˝ shekel toward the purchase of the
daily communal offerings. (Inherent in the concept of the ˝ shekel and the
communal offerings was the importance of family units, not individuals.)
These monies were gathered and used to purchase the daily sacrifices.
The law requires that all offerings must be purchased from monies collected
for that year. The fiscal year for public offerings was from Nissan to
Nissan. Therefore, the Rabbi's ordained that the portion of the Torah (Ki
Tisa) describing the first collection of the ˝ shekel be read on the Shabbos
of or before Rosh Chodesh Adar, one month before the ˝ shekel was due, as a
reminder that everyone should send in their money.
Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Aron Tendler and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation, Valley Village, CA.