Torah Weekly - Parshat Vayakhel/Pekudei
Parshat Vayakhel/Pekudei (Hachodesh)
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Moshe Rabbeinu exhorts Bnei Yisrael to keep Shabbat, and requests donations for the materials for making the Mishkan. He collects gold, silver, precious stones, skins and yarn, as well as incense and olive oil for the menorah and for anointing. The princes of each tribe bring the precious stones for the kohen gadol's breastplate and ephod. Hashem appoints Betzalel and Oholiav as the master craftsmen. Bnei Yisrael contribute so much that Moshe begins to refuse donations. Special curtains with two different covers were designed for the Mishkan's roof and door. Gold-covered boards in silver bases were connected, forming the Mishkan's walls. Betzalel made the holy ark (which contained the Tablets) from wood covered with gold. On the ark's cover were two figures facing each other. The menorah and the table with the showbreads were also of gold. Two altars were made: A small incense altar of wood overlaid with gold, and a larger altar for sacrifices made of wood covered with copper.
The Book of Shemot concludes with this Parsha. After finishing the different parts, vessels and garments used in the Mishkan, Moshe gives an accounting and enumeration of the contributions and of the clothing and vessels which had been fashioned. Bnei Yisrael bring everything to Moshe. He inspects the handiwork and notes that everything was made according to Hashem's specifications. Moshe blesses the people. Hashem speaks to Moshe and tells him that the Mishkan should be set up on the first day of Nissan. He also tells Moshe the order of assembly for the Mishkan and its vessels. Moshe does everything in the prescribed manner. When the Mishkan is finally complete with every vessel in its place, a cloud descends upon it, indicating that Hashem's glory was there. Whenever the cloud moved away from the Mishkan, Bnei Yisrael would follow it. At night the cloud was replaced by a pillar of fire.
THE INSIDE OF THE OUTSIDE
"See, Hashem has proclaimed by name Betzalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Yehuda.
He has filled him with G-dly spirit, wisdom, insight, and knowledge and with every craft. (35:30-33)
Judaism has always had an uneasy relationship with art and artists. The Greeks made temples of great beauty to their gods. The Vatican heads a mighty throng of churches from Venice to Sienna to Notre Dame to Florence bespeaking the artist's striving to express his connection with that which is beyond.
If you look at the average synagogue, seemingly Jewish art has never attained the level of its non-Jewish counterparts, and in many cases has merely aped the non-Jewish world.
But it wasn't always that way.
The Talmud (Bava Batra 4a) tells us that if you never saw the Second Beit Hamikdash (Holy Temple) which Herod built, you never saw a beautiful building in your life. Its walls were constructed from blue-green marble and white Marmara marble. One layer was indented and the next protruded so that the plaster would have a "key" to adhere to. Herod thought to cover the whole edifice with gold plate. The Rabbis told him to leave it as it was -- unplastered and ungilded -- for it looked better in its natural state -- the different levels of blue-green and white resembling the waves of the sea.
When was the last time you saw a Rabbi called in as an interior decorator? Did you you ever hear of a Rabbi invited to give his hallowed opinion on a building by Frank Lloyd Wright? What do Rabbis have to do with architecture?
Herod wanted to impose an external beauty on an intrinsic beauty. He wanted to cover the natural beauty with a painted beauty. He wanted to cover the sea with gold. Herod was gilding the lily.
In Jewish thought, only that which reveals the inside is beautiful. The word in Hebrew for "inside" is p'nim. The letters of p'nim are identical to the word panim, which means "face." The face is the only part of a person where flesh radiates the internal life, the soul. By looking at the face you can see what is inside.
The Hebrew word for "ugly" is achur which also means "opaque." Ugliness is defined as that which covers up the inside -- however beautiful that surface might be.
In this week's Parsha the Torah speaks at length about the Mishkan, the Tent of Meeting. The Mishkan was like a portable Beit Hamikdash. Both were places where Heaven meets Earth, where the spiritual meets the physical, where G-d's presence was manifest and overwhelming.
The true beauty of the Beit Hamikdash was that it revealed the "inside" of this world. By showing the world's "face," it revealed its spiritual dimension. The Beit Hamikdash portrayed that existence is not bound by the physical constraints of space and time. It demonstrated that the world has a soul, that the world is connected to that which is.
The eye is a physical organ but it receives light. Light is as about as non-physical as you can get. The eye is the gateway to a non-physical existence called light. The Beit Hamikdash was called "the eye of the world" because it was a physical entity that was the portal for the light -- for the spiritual dimension, for the worlds beyond.
- Bava Batra 4a
- Maharal Chidushei Aggadot
The haftara of Parshat Hachodesh prophetically narrates the consecration of the third and everlasting Beit Hamikdash. As this will occur on the first of Nissan, we thus read this haftara on the Shabbat preceding the first of Nissan.
The haftara begins with the entire Jewish nation contributing towards the Temple's consecration by raising the funds of the festive inaugural offerings conducted by the prince mashiach. This festivity will be celebrated on Passover. The haftara ends with official regulations regarding the prince's authority in grant-ing estates to his subjects, stating that he will not use his power to confiscate lands from their rightful owners, as some of the corrupt kings had done.
THE CHODESH FESTIVAL
The haftara refers to Rosh Chodesh as a festival (46:1-3). This festive nature is evident also from the obligation to bring a musaf offering on Rosh Chodesh (Bamidbar 28:11).
The Tur (Orach Chaim 417) states that Rosh Chodesh was in fact intended to be a holy day like a Yom Tov, with a prohibition of creative activity, but unfortunately we lost this opportunity subsequent to the sin of the Golden Calf. We were commanded to observe the three regalim festivals -- Pesach, Shavuot and Succot -- in the merit of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov; and the twelve Rosh Chodesh festivals were to have been observed in the merit of the twelve tribes. However, when the twelve tribes sinned, Rosh Chodesh lost an element of its holiness and became a day when toil is permitted. The custom for women to abstain from unnecessary work on Rosh Chodesh is because they did not participate in the sin of the Golden Calf. Thus, for them it retains an air of its original grandeur.
Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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