Parshat Pekudei 2019
We have reached the end of the book of Shmot, the end of the building of the mishkan, the tabernacle, Moshe is giving an accounting of everything that was done, of all the materials collected and all the materials used. No loose threads, no slush funds.
In this accounting, one phrase keeps appearing: “As God commanded Moshe.” 19 times. Is that not excessive, considering how parsimonious the Torah is supposed to be with its use of words. “As God commanded Moshe” appears after almost every element of the work, including the High Priest’s garments and ornaments, the altars, the menorah, the tables, etc.
What does the Torah want to tell us by “planting” this phrase again and again?
Before answering this question, let’s remember one very basic assumption: that God does not need the tabernacle. It was the Israelites who demanded it. As mortals who found it difficult to absorb extreme abstracts, they felt something was missing in their relationship with God – something that at Mount Sinai led to the golden calf.
Thus, if the mishkan is for the Israelites and by the Israelites, by all logic they should erect it according to their own desires and emotional needs, so that it can fulfill their hearts’ inclinations and fill their spiritual vacuums. Let the best architects and contractors present Moshe with their best and most ambitious plans, giving the mishkan-to-be all the pomp, circumstance and honor that the service of God deserves – as was and is the case among just about all other nations of the world. After all, aren’t the Israelites in the best position to know what they need?
Not in this case. The moment God acceded to the people’s demands, He also instructed them, through Moshe, what and how to build. And the question is, of course, why?
Moshe Gorelik brings an explanation based on the Kuzari, the book by Yehuda Halevi, the great medieval poet:
To what can we compare this, asks the speaker in the Kuzari. To the fool who slips into the pharmaceutical storeroom of a physician known for his very useful medicines, when the physician was not there. Many people were milling around, asking for cures for their ills. Wanting to help, the fool began to dispense medicines from the containers without knowing anything about the nature of the ingredients or the doses needed for each of them. The result was that he killed many people using the same medications that could have been beneficial to them.
According to the Kuzari, we act in our world like the fool in the pharmacy. We use our logic to create the values we feel we need. Through these values we try to improve ourselves religiously and socially, nationally and even internationally. But this misuse of logic, like the pharmaceutical herbs, sometimes has tragic results. Haven’t we seen enough examples of the misuse of logic?
According to the Kuzari, the source of this problem is that real improvement, tikun, can come only from values outside ourselves. This is especially true when trying to answer questions pertaining to life and its meaning. It’s like the fool in the pharmacy who does not know the human body, or the nature of the potential cures, or the dosages that will be of benefit and those that will be harmful.
The Kuzari sums it up this way. We go around the overwhelming pharmacy of life and history just like that fool. We seek the meaning of life in terms of our own emotional despair, without the benefit of true knowledge of the essence of life itself. We create values in and for ourselves in order to save ourselves from the swamp in which we flounder, and in the end we do not understand why we don’t succeed in saving ourselves.
19 times this parsha emphasizes that Moshe built each and every piece the mishkan according to divine instructions, without relying on what we call our logic. 19 times, Moshe Gorelik says, we are told that to understand the full logic of what was done we have to go outside ourselves to find the inherent logic of the construction. In the medical analogy, the therapeutic qualities of the various herbs and drugs are inherent in them – it is the job of physicians and men of science to elicit the benefits that each plant can have for each body.
The individuals in charge of building the mishkan – Bezalel and Aholiav – were endowed with “wisdom of the heart” – the ability to combine the physical construction of the mishkan with the internal logic and meaning of the appliances they built.
This confluence of heart, mind, soul and body has equivalents in many areas of our lives. Athletes, writers, lecturers, chefs, masons – almost anyone – can find himself so in tune with his actions that they flow from him as though they were not in him.
When we reach this level of identification with our efforts – especially in our spiritual life – we are approaching Bezalel’s “wisdom of the heart.” And if we can apply it to our lives, we may transcend the limitations of our usual logic, and reach heights of clarity that will change us for the good and forever.