VAYAKEYL PEKUDEY 5778
This week I have been so preoccupied and distracted that I didn’t know what I would speak about this morning. But as I sat down to write, it struck me that there could be no more appropriate Torah portion for me to speak about today than this parsha—Vayakeyl Pekudey.
Some would say that this morning’s Torah reading is obsessive or compulsive. It’s filled with minute details describing the materials, dimensions and furnishings of the Mishkan—the Tabernacle, the portable Temple the Jews built to use in the desert till they got to the Holy Land. Unless you’re an architect or a builder, it probably doesn’t make for an exciting read. To add to the problem, we’ve already reviewed all these details in the last 3 Torah readings where we’re told that the children of Israel were commanded to build the Mishkan…then we’re told how they were to build it…then we learn that they finished building it…and if that isn’t enough, in today’s parsha we review all the materials that they used to build it.
Details, details and more details! Hundreds and hundreds of tiny details that at 1st glance do not seem important enough to repeat again and again! Why isn’t it enough to just tell us that Gd commanded the people to build the Mishkan and then they carried out the task, kaasher tziva Hashem, just as Gd had commanded them? We would have saved 45 minutes of Torah reading this morning!
Of course, there are many attempts to explain this obsession. Jewish mystics explain that the Mishkan was a microcosm of the cosmos. In a sense, the Israelites were recreating the Divine world here on earth in the Mishkan. Every detail was therefore significant and symbolic. After all, when you’re recreating the cosmos you can’t afford to leave anything out! But that doesn’t really comfort us when we have listen to, t’cheylet v’argaman v’tolaat shani v’sheysh mashzar (turquoise, and purple, and scarlet wool, and linen twisted) again and again and again. The obvious lesson is that details are important and can’t be ignored. Forgive me for paraphrasing the saying about the devil, but “Gd is present in the details.”
Again, it’s obvious to me that there’s no more appropriate parsha for me to speak about this morning than this one. Why? because Cheryl and I have just finished a major building project of a new home on Holly Lane in order to live closer to the shul. Unless you have built a home—our project was not new, but similar in that it was a major renovation—unless you’ve been through this, you would have no idea of the myriad details one must deal with…how many decisions one must make: the design, the materials, the colors, every door knob, every cabinet handle, every appliance, what kinds of flooring—wood, carpet, tiles—thousands of details. It’s all-consuming, and there were times when Cheryl and I didn’t quite know how we were going to get through it—especially since we’re both working.
The Midrash tells us that Moses felt the same way about the Mishkan building project. It points to the language used in the Torah to describe the erecting of the Mishkan. The Torah (Ex. 40:17) states: “On the 1st day of the 1st month of the 2nd year hukam haMishkan, the Tabernacle was erected.” In the very next verse we have: Vayakam Moshe et haMishkan (and Moses erected the Mishkan). The passive word hukam (was erected) implies that the Tabernacle miraculously erected itself. However, in the next verse it clearly states that Moses erected the Mishkan.
Rashi (Ex. 39:33) addresses this ambiguity in his commentary by citing the Midrash (Tanchuma: 11): No human being was able to erect the Mishkan because of the weight of the beams, as a human does not have the strength to set them upright. But Moses erected it. Moses said to the Holy One Blessed Be He, “How can erecting the Mishkan be accomplished by human beings?”
Gd said to him, “You [Moses], involve yourself in erecting it with your own hands and it will appear as if you were setting it up, but it will rise upright and stand by itself.” This is the why the Torah said it was erected [as if it were set up by itself].
In effect, the Midrash pictures Moses telling Gd: “Gd, you know that I’m not a young man anymore (he was over 80)! Maybe I could have done this back when I was in my 20s, but surely I can’t possibly lift this whole thing all by myself now.”
So Gd tells him: “Just try.” Moses bends down, takes hold of the boards, and lo and behold they rose, as if by themselves.
Like Moses, just when we think that a task we’re being asked to do is simply beyond our strength…just when we feel that it’s beyond our ability to accomplish…we sense that somehow Gd gives us new strength and new energy and new capacity for endurance. Just when the marathon runner feels that he can’t take another step, he/she somehow gets new stamina, from somewhere, and completes the race. As Isaiah (40:31) puts it: “Gd gives strength to the weary, and vigor to the exhausted; they run and do not grow tired, they march and do not grow faint.”
We have an expression for this ability to somehow muster new strength to finish a task when we have to. We call it: “Getting our 2nd wind,” or in Yiddish: mir zol nisht visen vifel mir ken deleyden (No one should ever find out how much he can endure).
I promise you, all of us have had the experience, that, if someone had asked us in advance: “Can you get through this?” We would surely have said “No.” And yet, we look back and see that we survived that ordeal. Somehow we got strength from somewhere that enabled us to do the heavy lifting.
Every so often we hear a story about a woman whose baby is trapped under a car and the mother somehow finds within herself the strength to lift the car and save her baby. She did it, not because she could, but because she had to! She did it because there was no alternative.
Perhaps that’s how Moses found the strength to lift the Mishkan. He knew that so much love and effort had gone into constructing all the parts of the Mishkan that it must not be in vain. He knew that Gd doesn’t give tasks that are beyond one’s strength. And so he bent down and heaved with all his might and the Mishkan arose.
My friends, all of us have to do some heavy lifting. Caring for a sick parent or spouse or child who is ill is heavy lifting. Struggling to make a living is heavy lifting. Getting a college degree or a graduate degree or passing the bar or CPA exam requires heavy lifting. Sometimes you fail, and you have to have the willpower that it takes to try again instead of giving up. It takes real courage and resilience to say: “I failed…but I’m not a failure!” It takes real courage to start over again and do the heavy lifting!
Life’s test is not whether we succeed or fail. The test is whether, when we fail—as we surely will more than once—do we consider ourselves failures or do we muster up the strength to try again, and again and again until we finally get there.
Today we completed the 2nd book of the Torah—Shemot or Exodus. As we always do when completing a book of the Torah we rise and sing out to each other: Chazak chazak v’nitchazeyk (May you be strong; may I be strong, and may we strengthen each other)! When we say this, what we are really saying is: “May we each give and get strength from each other as we do our heavy lifting.”
And therefore, let’s pray that when our turn comes—as it just did for Cheryl and I with our new home—may Gd help us as He helped Moses. A Jewish home is supposed to be a Beyt Mikdash M’at (a miniature Temple), a place like the Mishkan where Gd says, v’shachanti b’tocham—a place where the Shechina, the Presence of Gd will dwell among those inside. May Hashem so bless our new home. Amen!