The Transcendent Mishkan, Run by Ordinary People

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by R. Gidon Rothstein

Parshat Vayakhel/Pekudei: Welcome to Double Parsha Land!

This year is not a leap year, so we will several times read two parashiyyot on a Shabbat, and this week, Vayakhel-Pekudei is our first one. In the name of space, I sought shorter comments than usual, so that the two parashiyyot can be discussed in about the same time as a usual one. In each, there is a comment of Kli Yakar, Chatam Sofer, and Ha’amek Davar, just less intricate and involved than usual.  Enjoy!


Parshat Vayakhel: Our Feelings While Donating to the Mishkan

Women Contribute, Leery of the Impact on Their Reputation

The Torah tells us the men came with the women, all those of generous heart, to bring the gold and other materials for the MishkanKli Yakar sees extra praise for their decision to come; the men had to bring gold as part of their atonement for the Golden Calf. The women, whom tradition thought had not willingly joined that incident, could have exempted themselves from these donations. Their love of sanctity pushed them to give anyway.

But they worried Moshe would think they had participated equally with the men, if they gave in the same exact way. [I pause over his assumption they cared about Moshe’s opinion of them, and also their assumption he would draw conclusions from who brought materials for the Mishkan.] The verse says kol nediv lev hevi’u, all the generous of heart brought, because the women did not bring materials, they donated them and left others to do the bringing.

Slightly differently, but along the same lines, he suggests the verse says the men came al ha-nashim, literally on the women (usually rendered ‘with,’ as he had said in the first interpretation we saw), because the men in fact forced the women to give all their gold. The women again feared such a large donation would imply a guilty conscience, wanted to give some but not all, and the men forced the issue. That’s why it’s the men who are described as having brought it.

In sharp contrast, for the weaving of materials, where there were no Golden Calf overtones, Kli Yakar points out the verse focuses more on women’s involvement than on men’s, because they joined fully and enthusiastically, with no worry about what it implied.

[If there were contemporary overtones to this comment, they were about social standing, how others take our actions, and how we act, and are restricted in our actions, to ensure we not give the wrong impression.]

Wanting to Give

The Jews respond to the call for materials generously enough to lead to Moshe sending word to stop; 36;6 tells us va-yikalei ha-am me-havi, the people were restrained (or, perhaps more exactly, imprisoned) from bringing (more). Chatam Sofer thinks the Torah is telling us the obeying and refraining, done only because Moshe said so, counted as as much of a mitzvah as the hearing and giving.

Then he adds that they weren’t happy the needs had been fulfilled and they could stop, were it not for Moshe’s command, they would gladly have brought more. They were dedicated to giving, to doing whatever they could for the Mishkan, not just to making sure there was enough. [I know there are events or causes I fully want to have a nice crowd or support, but have no deep interest in attending or contributing to myself. As long as I hear they had what they needed, I’m happy. On other occasions, I want to be part of it for the sake of being part of it, even if my presence/contribution is insignificant. Sometimes it’s about the cause, sometimes it’s about me.]

Chatam Sofer is saying the Jews treated the Mishkan the second way, wanted to give as a matter of what they wanted to do, not to be sure it had what it needed. When Moshe told them not to, it was truly only because of his command that they stopped, making it a mitzvah of equal religious value to the giving. [When commanded, they also serve who only stand and wait.]

Breaking the Pairings

35;21 led Ha’amek Davar to consider the Jews’ attitude when giving as well. The verse speaks of those whom nesa’o libo, their hearts lifted them, and/or nadeva rucho, their spirits led them to be generous. He says the first group gave to not lag behind their peers, keeping up with the Jones’s in a spiritual vein. It’s still giving, but not nadeva rucho, the independent personal recognition of value.

Verse 29 speaks only of nadeva rucho, leading Ha’amek Davar to understand the original  givers came around to see the inherent worth of giving. He does not say it this way, but it becomes a case of mi-tokh she-lo lishma, ba lishma, performing a mitzvah for a lesser (but not bad) reason helps the person grow to do it for the best reasons.

Kli Yakar thought the women gave carefully, to avoid the impression they had been part of the Egel, the Golden Calf. Chatam Sofer thought they gave devotedly, excited about the chance to give, and only stopped because they were so commanded. Ha’amek Davar saw growth in the idealism of the giving, with those who originally gave to avoid the embarrassment of not giving coming around to giving just because.

Parshat Pekudei: The Transcendent Mishkan, Run by Ordinary People

The Protective Cloud

After the Mishkan is dedicated, a Cloud covers Ohel Mo’ed, the Tent of Meeting (now a synonym for the Mishkan), and the kevod Hashem, the Glory of God, fills it, 40;34. Kli Yakar first notes the verse reveals that the cloud and the Glory are not the same, because the Cloud covers the Mishkan (from the outside, he assumes), and the Glory fills it. The Glory takes the form of fire and light, he is sure, with the Cloud there to allow people to be able to see the Glory without any untoward events.

Back in Mishpatim, the Cloud covered the mountain to let the people see more than they could otherwise and Moshe was able to enter it because of the protection it provided. When the Cloud stayed outside the Mishkan, the verse tells us Moshe was unable to enter, because it was filled with God’s Glory.

He seems to be saying that when Moshe entered the Cloud back in Mishpatim, to spend his forty days learning Torah, he always remained within the Cloud, because otherwise he would have had too close an experience of the Glory of God. He also does not address how it was that Aharon was able to enter the Mishkan on Yom Kippur, although I assume he would say the Yom Kippur service in some way mitigated the Presence such that the High Priest involved would not be hurt.

But underlying it all, he is saying the Presence in the Mishkan was more fully revealed than at Sinai, where the Cloud let the people “see” as much as they could. Here, ensconced in a structure that kept it away from prying eyes, the Presence was freer to appear in a fuller form, be “among” the people more openly, the Cloud outside protecting the people.

[A few weeks ago, we saw Chatam Sofer speak about human beings having flaws that stopped them from being able to see God fully; Kli Yakar seems to be taking the more usual view, our inability to see God is a function of our human limitations, which need the external Cloud to help see the Glory at all.]

Sinai or Mishkan?

When the Mishkan is finally put together permanently, 40;17, the Torah says it was on the first of the month, and that Moshe did it. Curious about the redundancy (the Torah could have said “on the first of the month, Moshe put up the Mishkan”), Chatam Sofer relates it to what he thinks was a continuing question for the people, whether this Mishkan was a step up or down from Sinai, in closeness with God.

Chatam Sofer argues the answer should have been obvious, because we have a principle of ma’alin ba-kodesh, we go up in sanctity, not down. [It’s not clear to me why he was so sure the principle applies here, to seemingly different phenomena. I think he is taking for granted that the Giving of the Torah at Sinai and Mishkan are both about God’s Presence among the nation, so ma’alin ba-kodesh applies.]

He pulls out Rashi to Megillah 26a, who saw the source for ma’alin in Betzalel’s having made the Mishkan, then Moshe constructing it. Our verse’s comment that the Mishkan was set up on the first of the month, and that Moshe did it, showed the principle and thus also showed that in fact the Mishkan was a higher stage of God’s Presence.

The Accountants of the Mishkan

The first verse of the parsha, 38;21, introduces the list of materials for the Mishkan, for what items, then says it was avodat ha-Levi’im,  the work of the Levi’imHa’amek Davar says there were many materials left over from past donations, and once the Mishkan was made, there were donations for upkeep of the structure and all it support items.

Keeping track of all of that was the job of the Levi’im, he said, similar to what we see later in Tanakh, when Ezra sets aside some kohanim to oversee the finances, the moneys coming in, where they were going, to what uses they were being put. Here, it was the Levi’im’s job, to weigh and count what came in, to measure it out carefully to those who were going to use it, and to be sure it reached its intended goal.

Someone has to keep track of a large operation; Ha’amek Davar thinks the Torah brings up the work of the Levi’im here because this was their work, too, knowing what came in, what went out, where it went, and what for.

From the most transcendent to the most mundane. Kli Yakar helped us consider where and how the Presence appeared in the MishkanChatam Sofer showed how the Jews would know it was an advance over what they experienced at Sinai, and Ha’amek Davar reminded us of the procedures needed to keep track of it all.

About Gidon Rothstein

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