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Torah Sparks

March 25, 2006 - 25 Adar 5766

Annual: Ex. 35:1 - 40:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 552; Hertz p. 373)
Triennial Cycle: Ex. 37:17 - 39:23 (Etz Hayim p.560; Hertz p. 379)
Maftir: Ex. 12:1-20 (Etz Hayim, p. 380; Hertz p. 253)
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16 - 46:18 (Etz Hayim, p. 1290; Hertz p. 1001)

Prepared by Rabbi Michael Gold
Congregation Beth Torah, Tamarac, FL

Department of Congregational Services
Rabbi Paul Drazen, Director


With this long double portion, the Torah describes in detail the manufacture of the portable tabernacle. Before the construction begins, Moses gathers the people together and tells them to keep the Sabbath. They shall burn no lights in their homes on the Sabbath day. The people begin to bring all the materials necessary for the making of the tabernacle. Betzalel is appointed to oversee the building because of his spirit of wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. The people bring so much material that Moses tells them to stop.

The Israelites build the tabernacle in all its detail and put together the clothing for the high priest. Much of this repeats almost word for word the material in parshi'ot Terumah and Tetzaveh. In describing the building, Moses starts from the inside out, from the holiest places to the less holy. But with the actual building, the description starts with the curtains and overall frame and works inward towards the holy places.

In the second portion, Pekudai, there is a careful accounting of the gold, silver, bronze and other materials used in making the tabernacle. The Torah seems to be saying that those in a position of leadership must be beyond reproach. The entire tabernacle is put together.

In the end, we read in the Torah, "And Moses looked upon all the work, and, behold, they had done it as the Lord had commanded, so had they done it; and Moses blessed them" (Exodus 39:43). The language of the Torah clearly reflects its language when God finished creating the universe and blessed the Sabbath day. The building of the tabernacle has become the paradigm for human creativity, paralleling God's creativity in creating the universe. In the end, a cloud covered the tent of meeting, reflecting God's glory. With the tabernacle complete, the second book of the Torah, Exodus, comes to an end.

Issue #1 - The Sabbath

"Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord; whoever does work in it shall be put to death" (Exodus 35:2)


  1. Moses gathers the people and tells them to do God's work building a tabernacle. But they are not to work on the Sabbath. Does this mean that even work for God is not permitted on the Sabbath? What does that tell us about the depth of the holiness of the Sabbath?
  2. The Hebrew word for forbidden work is melacha. The Torah uses the term melacha in three different contexts. First, melacha refers to God's work in creating the heavens and the earth. Second, melacha refers to the human tasks involved in building the mishkan, the portable tabernacle that the Israelites carried through the desert. These included most of the fundamental tasks we humans do to show our mastery of the universe: growing plants for both food and dyes, spinning and making cloth, building, metalwork, writing and drawing, and of course, using fire. Third, melacha refers to those acts forbidden on Sabbath, from sundown Friday night until nightfall Saturday night. What is the relationship between these three uses of the word melacha?
  3. The rabbis of the Talmud counted 39 categories of forbidden work. These were precisely the activities that were done in building the tabernacle. Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that by avoiding these creative activities on the Sabbath, we are building a tabernacle today -- a tabernacle in time. Is there any truth in this claim? In our modern world, are there additional activities that ought to be forbidden on the Sabbath to help us get a greater sense of inner peace?
  4. The Torah teaches, "You shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the Sabbath day" (Exodus 35:3). Not only do we light candles before the Sabbath day to burn on the Sabbath, we even recite a blessing that praises God "Who sanctified us with commands and commanded us to light the Sabbath lights". Where in the Torah is this commandment to light Sabbath lights? It is actually the rabbis of the Talmud who required the lighting of Sabbath lights. Why? (Hint - the Karaites, a group that interprets scripture literally, sit in the dark and cold on the Sabbath.) Is it chutzpah to bless God for a commandment that came from the rabbis?

Issue #2 - Between the Cherubim

"The cherubim had their wings spread out above, shielding the cover with their wings. They faced each other, the faces of the cherubim were turned toward the cover" (Exodus 37:9)


  1. Where does God actually show His presence in the tabernacle? You would think that God would be within the ark, in the Holy of Holies. To the contrary! God appears between the cherubim. What is the symbolism of this? Has this been a foundation of the way Jews deal with holiness?
  2. If we are to meet God anywhere, it is where human beings meet face to face. Martin Buber spoke of I-Thou relationships between two human beings. These relationships are encounters between people where each sees the other not as an object but as a subject. Buber wrote, "Each Thou is a glimpse through to the Eternal Thou." What did Buber mean by this?
  3. Rabbi Mordecai Gafni wrote, "There are 45 muscles in the face, most of them unnecessary for the biological functioning of the face. Their major purpose is to express emotional depth and nuance. They are the muscles of the soul" ("On the Erotic and the Ethical," Tikkun, March-April 2003). In other words, we humans have been biologically created to face one another and communicate. It is in such human interaction that God's presence dwells.
  4. Throughout the centuries, the cherubim have been seen as children, but there was another interpretation in the Talmud that was influential in Kaballah: "R. Kattina said, Whenever Israel came [to Jerusalem] for the Festival, the curtain would be removed for them and the cherubim were shown to them, whose bodies were intertwisted with one another. They would be addressed, Look! You are beloved before God as the love between man and woman" (Yoma 54a). What is R. Kattina's message? Is God present in a sexual encounter between a man and a woman?


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