Skip to content

Parashat Pekudei 5776 — 03/12/2016

Parashat Pekudei 5776 — 03/12/2016

In honor of the birth of Theodore Marcel Rabinoff Wickelgren, 3/6/2016

Shemot 38:21-40:38

Ramban states that the reason Sefer Shemot ends with the dedication of the Mishkan is that building and dedicating the Mishkan was the culmination of the process of Redemption. It was the culmination of the process of nation-building that began with the Israelites’ leaving Egypt “in their legions” (meaning, in organized groups), and the culmination of that nation’s becoming Gd’s legions, with the special task of enlightening the world. But why did we need a Mishkan at all?

When a person is moved to do something for Gd’s glory, the best and most straightforward way for him to do this would seem to be on his own, in the manner that befits him. Indeed, that is precisely what was done before the Temple was built, even when the Tabernacle was already in existence, when the use of bamot (ritual platforms or altars) was permitted.

The truth is that a bama is less complicated than the Tabernacle in every respect, and is also much more accessible and personal; anyone can use it. In a reality where bamot are permitted, one who wants to bring a korban [offering] to Gd – and not just to worship Him through prayer and the observance of His commandments – does not need to rely on the Priests, nor does he need to travel a great distance. He himself can build an earthen altar or a stone altar anywhere, even in his own yard, and then he can bring korban to and draw himself closer to Gd. Such service of Gd is direct and simple.

[Note: the word korban, offering, is from the root that means “to come close.”]

Once the Temple was built, bamot became prohibited for Jews for all time, even when the Temple was no longer standing (like now). While we “modern” people might not miss out on sacrificing animals, we can certainly relate to the idea that worship of Gd is no longer to be an individual matter. Worship must be performed at certain times and certain places, and in certain prescribed ways. Of course, during Temple times people could pray anywhere and at any time, but formalized worship could only be in the Temple. We still have the same basic dichotomy between individual prayer and formal worship – certain prayers (including kaddish) may only be said with a minyan and the Torah may only be read in public with a minyan present, and with a kosher Torah scroll.

R. Steinsaltz points out that there are two basic ways of serving Gd. As individuals, we can attempt to raise ourselves up to Gd, and we can certainly succeed to a certain extent. But we remain bound by our limitations as individuals. Not only do I, as an individual, have only my own power behind me, but I naturally have some areas where I am strong and other areas where I’m not as strong. My upward striving will therefore never be completely balanced.

The other way of serving Gd – the way that is unique to the Jewish people – is based on the principle that the individual does not remain where he is but, rather, is encouraged to transcend the limits and dimensions of his personality. … The Temple is not merely an instrument to enable man to approach Gd; it is also a two-way portal, a pasage between the world and Gd. To be sure, there is the aspect of man turning upward to Gd from below in the Temple as well; but there is also the aspect of Gd turning downward from above.

R. Steinsaltz goes on to point out that one way in which the Mishkan allows one to transcend his individuality is that the Mishkan is a communal endeavor. We have already alluded to one advantage of a communal endeavor above – while any individual will have areas of strength and weakness, the community as a whole will contain individuals with different, complementary characteristics, and therefore a level of wholeness can be achieved that is only possible on the communal level. There are places where this is alluded to in our tradition. For example, one of the components of the incense that was burned every day in the Temple was galbanum, which has a foul smell by itself, and is taken to represent the sinners of Israel. Yet if it is not included in the incense, the incense is invalid and offering it incurs the Heavenly death penalty. Similarly, the 4 species in the lulav bundle (palm branch, myrtle, willow and etrog) are taken to represent four basic types of Jews; to perform the mitzvah of lulav and etrog one must take all 4 at once. The people of Israel is often called K’lal Yisrael – the everyone-must-be-included-in-the-community of Israel. Our Sages tell us that if even one Jew is lost or missing, there is an impairment in the functioning of the nation that prevents it from fulfilling its mission in an ideal manner.

There is another aspect of community, and communal worship in general that I would like to discuss. There is a power in large numbers of people acting together, coherently, towards a common goal, and this power grows at a much greater rate than the number of individuals involved. In Lev 26:8 we read: Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred will chase ten thousand… The ratio for 5 people is 1:20, but the ratio for 100 people is 1:100! Why is the larger number so much more powerful even relatively speaking?

We can get an insight from the physics of lasers. In ordinary light, many atoms emit light, but in an incoherent manner – the emission of light from atom A is not correlated in any way with the emission of light from atom B. If there are N atoms, the total intensity of the light is N x the intensity of the light from any one atom.

In a laser, on the other hand, the waves of light from each atom line up with each other. The amplitude of the resulting light wave is N x the amplitude of each individual wave. Since the intensity of a wave is proportional to the square of the amplitude, the intensity of the coherent laser beam is N² x the intensity of a single atom’s light. Doubling the number of atoms increases the intensity by a factor of 4. Multiplying the number of atoms by 10 (as in a minyan) multiplies the intensity of the light (or prayer?) by a factor of 100. Anyone who has davened with and without a minyan can attest to this effect. Imagine the effect of thousands of worshipers in the Temple, say on Yom Kippur, all their hearts directed Heavenward! The entire world would be uplifted.

Unfortunately, we no longer have a Temple, and it is harder to create the same level of coherence. But there are steps we can take to increase the coherence of the community. Davenning with a minyan is an obvious one. Supporting one another, morally, physically, psychologically is another, and certainly refraining from negative thoughts or speech about other members of the community is vital to maintaining communal coherence. In the words of the old cliché, one can disagree without being disagreeable. We must recognize that each one of us is an indispensible part of one organic whole. When we do that, we have a chance fulfilling our Gd-given mission.

Chazak! Chazak! v’Nitchazeik!

Haftarah: I Kings 7:51-8:21

Just as our parashah describes the dedication of the Mishkan, our Haftarah describes the dedication of King Solomon’s Temple. It is actually a continuation of the regular Haftarah for the previous parashah, which this year was pre-empted by Parashat Shekalim. In both cases, the entire community was present – millions of people, all dedicating their hearts and minds to connecting with Gd. And in both cases, the Glory of Gd, represented by a thick cloud, covered and filled the sacred space. When we reach up to Gd, Gd reaches down to us. When we all do the reaching together, we can all reach that much farther.