Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another (Ernest Hemmingway).
Judaism is focused on the details. From how we tie our shoes to how we conduct our lives, our Torah provides us a framework. Yet, when it comes to the Mishkan (Tabernacle), we cannot help but ponder, why so many details? And although the details are important, why the need to repeat them? The Torah portions of Terumah and Titzaveh provide an exhaustive study into the finer details of the construction of the Mishkan, the utensils, and Kohanic vestments. And yet, all of these details are repeated again in the portions of Vayakhel and Pikudei. In this week’s Parsha, the Torah could have simply said, “Va’yaasu Bnai Yisroel k’chol asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe, And the Jewish people did as all God commanded Moshe” – done. Why the need to repeat all of the same details just articulated a few sections ago?
The Lubavitcher Rebbe provides a beautiful insight. (I apologize for the bit of poetic license with the Rebbe’s idea.) The entire purpose of the Mishkan was to provide a dwelling place for God in our midst. Hashem wants to be with us. He wants a relationship. As physical beings it is helpful for us to have a material address at which we can connect with the Divine. Another thought: We value the power of words. The Talmud is filled with teachings urging us to measure our words, avoid slander and needless chatter. Speech is a gift and as such it should be used wisely. When we interact with others we must always think before we speak. Will my words help or hurt? Is what I am about to say necessary and positive, or will it be construed in a negative or harmful way? And if I live this way (which is an absolute struggle and uphill battle), I speak less but yet more effectively. This is all true when we interact with one another. But when I interact with someone who I love and feel very close to, we can “just talk.” About what do we speak? It doesn’t really matter because I am just so happy to be with my loved one that the subject matter doesn’t matter as much as the fact that we are together, interacting, and bonding. As was stated above, the Mishkan represented the Divine desire to be with us, to live with us. Hashem orders Moshe to repeat the details of the Mishkan because He just enjoyed conversing with the people. Hashem loves us more than we can even imagine. He yearns to be in our company. He desires a real and meaningful relationship. There are times when He talks to us in a serious measured way, conveying details and important information. And there are times when information is repeated because it is just a way of spending more time together.
The parshios of Vayakhel and Pikudei contain very little new information, but they convey to us a most beautiful lesson – Hashem loves us. He loves us more than we can even imagine. He wants a relationship and is willing to put in the effort to make it meaningful. May we find the courage and wisdom to reciprocate this Divine overture and merit to create this loving, sustaining, and nurturing relationship with our Father.
The effort had yielded a magnificent result. The combined efforts of Klal Yisroel were manifest in the Mishkan, the incredible utensils, and the beautiful priestly garments. Men, women, skilled artisans, and simple laborers worked together to build a home for God and the Jewish nation. Moshe was given the privilege to oversee the “finishing touches.”
He took and placed the testimony into the ark, put the poles upon the ark, and placed the ark cover on the ark from above (Exodus 40:20).
The Aron (ark) which represented the throne of God contained the “testimony”, the luchos (tablets) brought down by Moshe with the word of God inscribed upon them. The Targum Yonason (Yonasan ben Uziel) adds an additional insight: “V’tavrei luchaya ba’arona, the broken tablets were placed inside the ark.” Not only were the whole (second set) tablets placed inside the Aron, the first (broken) set of tablets were placed inside the Aron as well.
But why not state this explicitly? The Torah goes into such detail regarding every last cubit of the Mishkan, no detail is spared, why omit this one? After all, the Talmud and Midrash spend much time speaking about the holiness of the first set of tablets. “Had the first tablets not been smashed, Torah would have never been forgotten.” “The first tablets were written by the hand of God.” And many other statements speaking to the holiness and awesomeness of the first tablets. Why doesn’t the verse tell us that they were placed in the ark alongside the whole set of (second) tablets?
The Ibn Ezra (1089-1157) makes an amazing statement. “The second set of tablets were superior to the first.” He then goes on to enumerate seven ways in which the second luchos were superior. Perhaps, the Ibn Ezra with this simple statement was teaching us a profound concept. The second luchos were superior – because they are what we had. In life, one can focus on what could have, should have and would have been, or one can focus on what is. One can lament missed opportunities, major mistakes, and
It is true the first set of luchos were incredible – but the second luchos were even better – because they are the luchos we had. The Torah does not mention the first luchos as Hashem did not want us focusing on them. The Torah only makes mention of the second luchos as they were what we had and where we had to put our energy and thoughts.
We each carry around the broken tablets of missed opportunities, unrealized goals, and shattered dreams. We must keep them in our personal ark so that we can learn and grow from them, but they must be pushed to the side of the ark. The ark’s primary space must be occupied by the whole tablets of our present, and it is those tablets that we must focus on and build from.
Numerous Parshios are devoted to the creation and fabrication of the Mishkan and its utensils. The details contained in these Torah portions are not simply the architectural framework for this sacred space and its vessels; these details contain the roadmap for successful, enriched and meaningful living.
“Betzalel made the ark of acacia wood, two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. And he overlaid it with pure gold from inside and from outside, and he made for it a golden crown all around (Exodus 37:1-2).”
The Talmud (Yerushalmi Shekalim 6:1) explains that the Ark was unique in its construction. It was comprised of three separate boxes. The innermost box was made of gold, the larger one which held it was made of wood, and the largest exterior box (which held the smaller two) was made of gold. This construction was quite unique. There were utensils made of solid gold and others made of wood coated with gold. Why did the Aron (Ark) have this unique construction of wood enveloped by gold?
The Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) explains that the Aron was supposed to represent paradigmatic man. Every aspect and detail of the Ark teaches us how to self-actualize and live a meaningful and successful life. The male and female Cherubim (angelic figures perched on the lid of the ark) teach us to be passionate in our relationship with each other and with God. Their upstretched wings teach us that we must aspire to climb higher and accomplish more. The Luchos (tablets), resting in the center, remind us that the Torah and its values must be the foundation, core and center of the decisions we make and things we do. The poles that remained inserted, even when the Aron was at rest, teach us that the Torah and its values are transplantable and must follow us and inform the way we live – wherever we may go.
While both wood and gold can be used for construction their properties are fundamentally different. Gold is inanimate; it is mined from the earth and can be manipulated but cannot grow and cannot change. Wood is alive. The tree takes in nutrients; its branches grow and bear fruit. The tree changes with the seasons and through the years. The Aron contains both of these materials to teach another very important lesson.
Man must be gold and he must be wood.
I must possess golden principles that I will stand by and stand up for no matter what. I must possess a sense of right and good and be able to maintain them no matter how much external pressure I face. I must be rigid in my adherence to the tenets of my faith and the principles of my people. I must have gold-like, immutable resolve to uphold the ideas and ideals I hold sacred.
Yet, man must also learn to be a tree, to be wood-like in his approach to life and others.
I must learn the art of change and recognize that just because I have been a certain way until now does not mean I must continue to be that same person going forward. I must learn to adapt to new circumstances. Life doesn’t always go the way I planned or hoped – I can be wood, I can grow, I can change, I can adapt. Wood is pliable. I must learn that when dealing with others I cannot always stand my ground, I must learn when to yield for the sake of shalom (peace).
Man must be gold on his inside and his outside.
I must have the principles, ideas and ideals that I will live and die for. I must know what I believe and stand ready to defend those beliefs no matter how fierce the opposition may be. But I must possess an inner layer of wood and learn the art of compromise, change, accommodation and collaboration.
The Ark is only fit for service in the Temple if it has these multiple layers. Man can only be successful if he possesses them as well.
No detail is left out, nothing is left to the imagination, the intricacies of the Mishkan are explicit in the text. But why? Why spend so much time describing a structure that was to serve the spiritual needs of our people for a relatively short amount of time? The Mishkan accompanied us in the desert and was to be replaced by the Beis HaMikdash (Temple). Why does the text devote so much time to every last detail? Why must we know about each and every cubit? Why must we know the final collection amounts of gold, silver and jewels? God is exceptionally measured in what He decides to include in His sacred text. What are we to learn from the inclusion and repetition of the Mishkan details?
When describing the craftsmen who would work with the precious metals, stones and fine fabrics the Torah states, “Every man whose heart uplifted him came, and everyone whose spirit inspired him to, generosity brought the offering of the Lord for the work of the Tent of Meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments.” (Exodus 35:21) What is the meaning of this phrase “N’sao Libo, whose heart uplifted him”?
The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, 1194-1270) writes: “There was no one among them (the people) who learned these skills from a teacher. They received no formal training. Rather, they found within themselves the ability to perform these tasks and they came before Moshe and said, ‘We will do whatever the master requires’.”
The creation of the Mishkan and fabrication of the utensils required great skill. An individual would have had to fully devote himself for years; apprenticing with a master teacher to learn proper techniques. The Ramban explains that our ancestors did not possess any of the requisite skills to build the Mishkan. For two-hundred and ten years they were slave laborers and beasts of burden. They never apprenticed nor were they trained to perform these specialized tasks. But when the call came, they answered it. When Moshe said he needed people to build the Mishkan, these “craftsmen” stepped forward. What training did they have? None. What skills did they bring to the table? None. But deep down they felt they could do it. They felt that if they reached inward they would find the necessary abilities to accomplish the required tasks. This is the meaning of “N’sao Libo, (whose heart uplifted him)” – their hearts lifted them above their current realities and allowed them to believe they could do and be more.
Perhaps, this is why the Torah goes into such great detail regarding the Mishkan. When we see the intricacies and details associated with this temporary structure we are amazed. When we try to imagine a huge block of gold being hewn into an Aron (Ark of the Covenant) or Kohanic vestments where each thread was made of twenty-four smaller threads, we are overwhelmed by the talent required to produce such magnificent results. Only a team of experienced artisans could have undertaken such a task. Yet we know that this Mishkan was produced by our ancestors, men and women forged in the pit of Egyptian slavery. Men and women who knew they had to answer the call when they were needed. Men and women who believed they could be more. When Moshe needed their help, they stepped forward and believed that someway, somehow, they would rise to the occasion and meet the challenge.
There are times when we find ourselves in circumstances which seem daunting and overwhelming. We feel that we are in over our head and we stand ready to throw our hands up and admit defeat. Sometimes, God places us in challenging circumstances because He wants us to step forward, dig deep and find the tools, abilities and talents that, until now, have remained unknown and dormant. Those very circumstances, which we often find difficult and challenging, are often the very circumstances which allow us to understand ourselves and our true God-given abilities. If we find ourselves in the midst of a particular challenge, not only do we have the ability to meet it, but there is something precious and beautiful we will discover and learn about ourselves. We each must find the strength to be an Ish Asher N’Sao Libo; we must believe in ourselves, believe in our abilities and answer the call of life.
Life Lessons from the Weekly Parsha – A Women’s Shiur.