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Parashat 03/02/2011

Parashat Pekudei

by Robert Rabinoff

There is a famous Midrash which Rashi quotes at the beginning of our Parashah.  When Moshe is instructing his general contractor, Betzalel, on the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), he first tells him to construct the Aron (Ark), which will hold the two tablets that Moshe received from Gd.  Betzalel remonstrates, saying that it is the way of the world that one first constructs a house and only then builds its furnishings.  Moshe exclaims, “That is indeed the order in which Gd commanded me – you must have been in Gd’s shadow (b’tzel el) when He was speaking with me!”  The commentators ask the obvious question: If Gd told Moshe to build the housing first, and that was the logical way to do it, why did Moshe change the order.  The answer that is generally given goes right to the heart of the whole purpose of the Mishkan.

When Moshe was instructing Betzalel on the construction of the Mishkan and its appurtenances, he was not actually specifying the order in which they were to be created; rather he was teaching them a lesson in priorities.  The top priority in the Mishkan was in fact the Aron, for the Aron was the resting place of the luchot (Tablets), which represented Gd’s communication with Israel, and through Israel, all of humanity.  Besides being the center from which Gd’s Holiness radiates outwards, the Aron itself symbolizes the relatedness of Gd to the world.  Gd may be transcendental to the Creation, but Gd is also intimately involved with Creation as well.

I think it is significant that atop the Aron are two Cheruvim, facing one another.  There is a familiar Midrash that Adam and Eve were created in one body, as it says, “Male and female He created them” (Bereishit 1:27).  It was only later that Gd split the two, specifically so that Eve could be k’neged Adam – a phrase that can be rendered opposite to Adam, in the sense of being face-to-face.  In other words, Adam and Eve needed to be in a relationship to one another for both to thrive and prosper, as it says, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Bereishit 2:18).  In the same way the two Cheruvim, who are, according to some commentators symbolic of Gd and Israel, must face each other, must be in a dynamic relationship with one another.

I believe the need for relationship is structured into the very finest mechanics of creation.  Gd, the Creator, is an absolute Unity, not made up of parts (see Rambam’s 2nd Principle of our Faith at  Creation, on the other hand, is the realm of difference, of multiplicity.  To get from Unity to multiplicity, one first has to make the transition from one to two.  Perhaps we can locate that transition in our own ability to be conscious of ourselves.  If we can have self-consciousness, then surely Gd can as well.  Perhaps Gd, in His capacity as both the Subject and the Object of His Self-Consciousness, creates a kind of virtual relationship, a virtual Subject-Object duality within Himself.  At that point Gd’s Unity, while remaining totally unchanged, projects an aspect of duality, and this projection is the beginning of the multiplicity we call Creation.

It is of course impossible for any human being to understand Gd’s inner nature.  Gd’s Unity is beyond comprehension or definition.  This is why Gd has revealed to us, among other things, how to construct the Mishkan and the objects in them; according to our tradition the function of the Mishkan is to model the structure of creation for us.  As we noted some weeks ago, the Cheruvim were hammered out of one piece of gold along with the kaporet (Ark-Cover).  That is, duality, and therefore the relationship that duality represents, are really not distinct from the original Unity from which they emerge (or appear to emerge).

Once we have multiplicity, we see a tendency for that multiplicity to become more and more integrated into more elaborate levels of structure.  Once again, this integration is a function of relationships, this time relationships between parts.  On the level of duality we see a reflection of the dynamics of Unity.  It is our task as members of the Jewish people to create the ultimate level of integration, where the entire creation is a harmoniously functioning whole, with ideal relationships between the parts, and the whole participating in an ideal relationship with Gd.  I believe this is what Gd meant when He commanded us “Let them build me a holy place and I will dwell among them” (Shemot 25:8).  In other words, at least for starters, Gd will show us how to construct a small part of the universe according to perfect, ideal standards, and then he will grace us by coming into a close relationship with us.  With Gd’s help, we will see this holy space rebuilt in our day, and see that ideal expand to encompass all of Gd’s Creation.