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Torah Sparks

March 17, 2007 – 27 Adar 5767

Annual: Ex. 35:1 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim, p. 552; Hertz p. 373)
Triennial Cycle: Ex. 39:22 – 40:38 (Etz Hayim p.567; Hertz p. 387)
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 Avram Kogen

Summary of the Parashah

Vayakhel-Pekudei, a double parashah, tells primarily of the execution of the plans for the construction and outfitting of the mishkan, the portable sanctuary, in the desert. These detailed plans were laid out in previous weeks’ Torah readings, parshiot Terumah and Tetzaveh. The opening verses of Vayakhel underscore the sanctity of the Sabbath, implying that the work of constructing the mishkan was to be confined to six days each week, regardless of the level of the artisans’ enthusiasm for the project.

In the latter part of Pekudei, Moses is presented with the completed components of the mishkan. It is his responsibility to assemble these pieces in a coherent and appropriate manner.

Issue #1: An Impressive Capital Campaign

Moses had sent the word out among the Israelites that materials were needed for the construction of the mishkan; his wish list is given in Exodus 35:4-9. Anyone who ever has been involved in a capital campaign knows the importance of soliciting major gifts in advance, to inspire others to give as well. Somehow, this campaign followed a different set of rules; it was a grassroots campaign. The results speak for themselves:

All the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the mishkan came, each for the task in which he was engaged, and said to Moses: “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.” Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the mishkan!” So the people stopped bringing; their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done. (Exodus 36:4-7)

The massive response to the request for material was overwhelming. Yet there was a need even for someone as trusted as Moses to be able to account for all that was given:

This is the sum of the things of the tabernacle, of the tabernacle of Testimony, as it was counted, according to the commandment of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, son to Aaron the priest. (Exodus 38:21)

There is nothing known to us in Moses’ background that suggests that he had any skill or experience in inspiring donations. What factors contributed to the success of this campaign? Can you envision a set of circumstances under which a fund-raising campaign in our time might approach the level of success of Moses’ capital campaign for the mishkan?

Governmental agencies and public interest groups have gone to great lengths to create a system for checking and double checking to ensure that charitable groups use the monies given them appropriately. Why are such safeguards needed? Is it, perhaps, a waste of the money given to a charity to have to spend a rather sizeable amount proving that the money was spent appropriately?

A textual aside: In Exodus 38:21, the word “the tabernacle” is repeated. Grammatically and contextually the repetition is unnecessary. Rashi, the medieval commentator, suggested (ad loc) that the repetition was an allusion to the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, something that had not yet happened when the Torah text was written. What can we modern readers learn from this kind of sensitivity to the Torah text?

Issue #2: Prophecy Outside the Holy Land

Today’s maftir portion (the final aliyah), specially selected in anticipation of the start of the month of Nisan, opens with the following verse:

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: (Exodus 12:1)

This seemingly innocuous verse challenges a working theory of religion that was widely accepted in the ancient world. The regnant theory was that each land had its own god (or gods) who held sway in that location. Most ancient peoples could not conceive of a divine being whose power encompassed more than one locality.

A classic example of this thinking may be found in the story of the foreign population that the king of Assyria had transported to Samaria, in the northern part of the Holy Land, in the second half of the eighth century B.C.E.. They were meant to take the place of the Israelites whom he had exiled. A report came back to the king, complaining of a singularly poor absorption experience for the new population:

“The nations which you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know the rules of the God of the land; therefore He has let lions loose against them which are killing them – for they do not know the rules of the God of the land.”

The king of Assyria gave an order: “Send there one of the priests whom you have deported, let them go and dwell there, and let him teach them the practices of the God of the land.” (II Kings 17:26-27)

From the Assyrian king’s point of view (which was typical of religious thinking in the ancient world), it was obvious that the problem was that the new population was unfamiliar with the requirements for worshipping (or for pacifying) the local divinity.

Since God’s earliest communications with Moses had taken place at the burning bush in the wilderness, some might have inferred that the God of Israel had power in the religious vacuum of the desert as well as the land of Israel, but not in Egypt.

In our maftir portion, God clearly has no difficulty communicating with Moses and Aaron while they are in Egypt. Moreover, the content of God’ message involved the large-scale sacrifice of lambs, a practice that was repugnant to the Egyptians and their religion.

In recent years, we have heard that “America is a Christian country.” Is there any similarity between this slogan and the above-mentioned theory of local gods?


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