Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 13 March 2021 / 29 Adar 5781

Parashat Vayakhel

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Sanctuary, Sin, Sanctuary

The order of events in the second half of the book of Shemot has much to teach. The sin of the golden calf is flanked on each end by a commandment to build a dwelling place for G-d. First, the people are commanded to build a Tabernable, a place where the Divine Presence will rest among them. Then, the nation committed what remains the gravest sin in our national history. Upon forgiveness, and re-giving of the Tablets, Moshe again instructs the people in the name of G-d, regarding the construction of that Dwelling Place.

The great betrayal had jeopardized the relation of the command to erect a Dwelling Place, but in the end, these events were of the most far-reaching significance for the command itself, and for the purpose of the Dwelling Place.

Now, the Mishkan would have to be constructed under the impact of this experience. The people had come to realize how weak and imperfect they still were, and how much they needed to improve themselves — how much they needed the uplifting and atonement that the Mishkan could provide. They had also come to experience G-d in the severity of His judgment and rejection, and then, in the fullness of his grace when they regained His favor.

The renewed command to build the Mishkan, then, carried a significant message: The Mishkan would be a place where, at any stage of error and weakness, the Jewish People could find renewed strength to work their way up again on high, find the strength of will to persevere on the lofty heights of their calling, and find G-d’s help and blessing. The recording of the sin of the golden calf at a point in time, between the command to build the Mishkan and the instruction regarding execution of that command, stands as testimony that it is possible at any stage of error to return to and regain G-d’s grace.

There is another critical lesson to be learned from the forgiveness granted before the building of the Sanctuary. The greatest national crime was committed, and the highest grace was attained from G-dwithout the Sanctuary and without offerings. Thus, we learn that the Sanctuary and the offerings do not themselves secure G‑d’s favor, but are intended only as guides in the process.

  • Sources: Commentary, Shemot 35:2

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