Skip to content

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei 5772 – 03/12/2012

Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei

Submitted by Robert Rabinoff

According to all that Hashem commanded Moshe, so they [the Israelites] did [ken asu]. (39:42)

And Moshe did according to all that Hashem commanded him, so he did [ken asah]. (40:16)

But the man Moshe was extremely humble, more than any person on the face of the earth. (Bamidbar 12:3)

When I moved to St. Louis and joined an Orthodox synagogue in 1996, I began going to the daily prayer services every day.  I dutifully dug out my tallit and t’fillin and after practicing once or twice at home to make sure I still knew what to do with them, brought them along with me.  I carefully watched what everyone else was doing so I wouldn’t feel like too much of a geek.  I was, at first, astounded that even the Rabbi put on his tallit and t’fillin the same way I was doing it.  He was a lot better at it of course from his decades more of practice, as he was (and is) a lot better than me in everything Jewish, but in essence, we were doing the same thing each morning.  Of course, with a little reflection, it became obvious that despite the great differences in piety and erudition between us, we are both Jews and both subject to the same commandments: Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine arm and they shall be for frontlets between thine eyes.  Before the infinite Gd, on some level, we were the same.


Our Parashah describes the same kind of phenomenon writ large, for it uses identical language to describe both Moshe Rabbeinu’s doing Gd’s Will and the Israelites’ doing Gd’s Will.  Moshe Rabbeinu presumably had a tremendous advantage in insight into what Gd wanted to have accomplished in the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), for it is he who was given a vision of the final product, and it was he who taught everyone else Gd’s commandments.  Nevertheless, in his simplicity and humility, he did as he was commanded.  He didn’t engage in complicated calculations or rationalizations, he simply did the best he could to fulfill Gd’s Will as he understood it.


Ramban, in his Iggeret haRamban (Artscroll edition, translated by R. Avrohom Chaim Feuer) writes:

Thus, all men stand as equals before their Creator.  In His fury He casts down the lofty; in His goodwill He elevates the downtrodden.  Therefore, humble yourself for Hashem will lift you.


In his commentary on the letter (page 46) R. Feuer writes:

The Telshe Rav, Rav Yosef Leib Bloch, explained that one can soar to the pinnacles of success and still remain humble: Humility depends, more than anything else, upon the personal yardstick one chooses.  If a six-foot man measures himself against one who stands at five feet, he can boast of his height.  However if he measures himself against the height of the sun, ninety-three million miles above him, his height seems negligible.


This commentary explains why Moshe Rabbeinu was in fact more humble than anyone on the face of the earth.  Moshe Rabbeinu was closer to Gd, and had a clearer vision of Gd’s greatness, Gd’s infinite majesty, than anyone else on the face of the earth.  This very closeness allowed him to evaluate his status vis-à-vis Gd with the greatest accuracy.  And compared to the infinite, anything finite is nothing.  Perhaps we can say that after the Revelation at Mt. Sinai, all Israel had had enough of an experience of Gd that they too were able to rise to the same level of simple obedience to Gd’s commands as Moshe Rabbeinu – in other words their experience of the infinite was enough to lead to true humility, if not completely at the level of Moshe Rabbeinu, then at a good enough level that Torah compares them.


Now it is all very well and good for the Israelites who came out of Egypt and walked across the Sea on dry land, that their experience of Gd was so real and immediate that they were genuinely humbled by it.  What about us?  We have to exert ourselves and train ourselves to see the world in a different light.  Ramban gives us some hints:

Let your words be spoken gently; Let your head be bowed…

Let all men seem greater than you in your eyes: If another is more wise or wealthy than yourself, you must show him respect.  And if he is poor, and you are richer or wiser than he, consider that he may be more righteous than yourself, for if he sins it is the result of error, while your transgression is deliberate.

In all your words, actions and thoughts – at all times – imagine in your heart that you are standing in the presence of the Holy One, Blessed is He, and that His Presence rests upon you.


I do not believe that Ramban is recommending that one lose oneself in a fantasy world, or that one try to convince himself that he is at a level of consciousness that he has in fact not reached.  This is a technique that, I believe, accustoms us to accept the ultimate basis of all existence, as real and as present with us at every moment of every day.  I can testify from my own experience that as I allow myself to contemplate this reality more and more, I do begin to see hints of it in the world external to my own individuality.  Even if only intellectually, having the awareness that Gd exists, that He created and continually supervises all aspects of creation, including our own lives, allows us to contextualize everything that we experience in terms of infinity and our place in it.  And this constant impinging, as it were, of the infinite into our finite awareness, gives us great equanimity and allows us to focus on the tasks at hand, whatever they may be.  Perhaps, if we follow this program, we can eventually approach the level where everything that Gd commands us, that is what we do!