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Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei 5777 — 03/25/2017

Parshiyot Vayakhel-Pekudei 5777 — 03/25/2017

Vayakhel: Shemot 35:1-38:20

Pekudei: Shemot 38:21-40:38

These are the accountings of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of Testimony, which were given by Moses (38:21)

We can understand Moshe’s accounting on a deeper level as well. The mishkan on earth was to mirror another mishkan in the spiritual realms. Because the spiritual mishkan is “built” with precise measurements representing the influence of each of the spiritual lights, Moshe made a calculation to teach the people that the earthly mishkan was built with specific measures and amounts paralleling the spiritual mishkan above. (Ramchal)

There is a similar idea regarding the Temple that stood in Jerusalem – There is (or was) the earthly Temple in the physical Jerusalem, and corresponding to it there is a heavenly Temple in the heavenly version of Jerusalem. When the final Redemption comes the heavenly Temple will descend and be (re)incarnated as the Third Temple in its rightful place on the Temple Mount. How exactly this will take place is left somewhat to the imagination. Nowadays, when there are two famous mosques on the site, one wonders what will happen to them.

What is behind this parallelism? What does it mean that there is a “spiritual mishkan” or a “Heavenly Jerusalem”? We have often discussed how the universe is structured in layers. In the case of the physical universe, we have the surface layer of the macroscopic objects we see, the molecular layer, the atomic layer, the subatomic layer, and eventually, at the source of it all, we believe there is one Unified Field which expresses itself in different ways to create all the diversity we see around us. Note that as we move from the surface to the depths, the layers become more abstract and more powerful. For example, atoms are more abstract than molecules. The vast variety of different molecules is made up of only a few different kinds of atoms. The atoms can assume different properties in different contexts, without losing their essential nature as, say, an oxygen atom or a carbon atom. All the properties of all the different molecules are contained in seed form in the few different kinds of atoms. We also know that the atomic level is more powerful than the molecular level (the realm of chemistry) – the energy and intelligence at atomic level are much more concentrated (and potentially dangerous) than the molecular level.

It appears that we have the same situation on the spiritual level. Behind the gross, surface, material level of creation with which we are all familiar, are levels of increasingly greater abstraction and power. These levels are variously referred to as the “4 worlds” or the “seven heavens” and the like, but the general idea is that they somehow contain the “essence” of the more surface levels. Thus, the “heavenly mishkan” is the ideal shape and size and form, and the earthly mishkan was a reflection of that, as precisely as we, mortal, material human beings, could make it.

Now this is related to a debate in the Talmud as to whether a human being can be absolutely precise. It is taken for granted that Gd can be, but what about us? In practical terms, we assume that we cannot be absolutely precise – we light the Shabbat candles early so that we don’t inadvertently violate the Shabbat. On the other hand, the Midrash tells us that Gd created right up to sunset on the eve of the first Shabbat. Gd can, in fact, be infinitely precise.

Now of course some of our inaccuracy comes from the fact that we are finite creatures. For example, our eyes have a finite sized lens and iris, and that limits our ability to make absolutely precise visual distinctions (“diffraction limited”). But some of these limitations are actually limitations of the physical world outside ourselves. For example, the ark was supposed to be 2½ cubits long. But where exactly do you measure from? Can we make the ark with exactly right-angle corners and perfectly smooth sides? Of course not – all the materials are made of molecules of various types, and the atoms in those molecules are in constant motion. On a fine enough scale, nothing is perfectly straight, or perfectly smooth, or at an exact angle.

If we go to the quantum-mechanical level, we find further limitations. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle states that it is impossible to specify both the position and the velocity of a particle to arbitrary accuracy. This is not a limitation of the process of measurement. Rather it is a fundamental limitation of nature, caused by the fact that the “particles” whose position and velocity we are trying to measure, are not really particles at all – they are waves, and waves are inherently not limited to one particular place at any one time. Now what about our exact 2½-cubit measurement? Not only are the atoms and molecules always moving about (even if just vibrating in a crystalline structure), their position is not well defined even theoretically! It seems that modern physics comes down on the side of those who say we cannot be absolutely precise.

One last item from physics. There is a principle, called the Correspondence Principle, that states that any non-classical theory (e.g. quantum mechanics for the very tiny realm, General Relativity for the astronomical realm) must look more and more like classical physics as we move closer and closer to classical scales. That is, the quantum mechanical laws of macroscopic objects are virtually indistinguishable from the old classical laws, and the General Relativistic laws for small, earth-sized and smaller objects, are virtually indistinguishable from Newton’s Laws of motion and gravity.

Now I would like to propose that the relationship between the spiritual levels and the concrete levels are governed by a kind of Correspondence Principle. On the spiritual levels, which are abstract, the ideal form of any object can reside. It is there that measurements can be “perfect,” because they are not measurements of concrete objects. When these idealized forms are projected into the concrete, “classical” world, they can be more or less perfect projections. How perfect depends on us. Just as our thoughts bubble up from the deepest, purest recesses of our souls, but sometimes get distorted as they pass through our layers of stress before they manifest as speech or action, I think the subtle, more ideal levels of the material world get distorted by the stresses and impurities in the atmosphere, in the collective consciousness of the world and its peoples. If we want to see the Heavenly mishkan come down to earth, we need to work on purifying ourselves, our families and our communities, so we don’t wind up with a monstrous distortion instead of a glorious reality.


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parshat Vayakhei – Pekudei

To be not just an individual but a member of a community, to be not just doing our own will but to be doing Gd’s, this is a lovely life.

To do as the Lrd commands, and yet with the special flair, the zest, that is expressive of our individual personality requires great purity, great innocence. We see that this was the case with the community of Israel at the time of the building of the Mishkan, the priestly garments, all about the Mishkan. When they brought the work to Moses:

43 Moses saw the entire work, and lo! they had done it-as the Lrd had commanded, so had they done. So Moses blessed them.

מג: וַיַּ֨רְא משֶׁ֜ה אֶת־כָּל־הַמְּלָאכָ֗ה וְהִנֵּה֙ עָשׂ֣וּ אֹתָ֔הּ כַּֽאֲשֶׁ֛ר צִוָּ֥ה יְהֹוָ֖ה כֵּ֣ן עָשׂ֑וּ וַיְבָ֥רֶךְ אֹתָ֖ם משֶֽׁה

So Moses blessed them: He said to them, “May it be His will that the Shechinah should rest in the work of your hands. And may the pleasantness of the Lrd our Gd be upon us…” (Ps. 90:17), and this is one of the eleven psalms in “A prayer of Moses” (Ps. 90:1). -[from Num. Rabbah 12:9] (Exodus 39:43, with Rashi’s commentary.)

ויברך אותם משה: אמר להם יהי רצון שתשרה שכינה במעשה ידיכם, (תהלים צ יז) ויהי נועם ה’ אלהינו עלינו ומעשה ידינו וגו’, והוא אחד מאחד עשר מזמורים שבתפלה למשה:

In these Parshahs we see great progress by the community of Israel: at the end of the last parshah, we learned that when Moses returned from his second 40 days with Gd, his face shone so brightly that he had to wear a veil because none could stand the light but by the end of these parshahs, the community of Israel had become wise enough, pure enough, to perceive Gd’s Presence – infinitely greater than the shine of Moses’ face.

In these two parshahs, we learn that there were many wise and skilled among the community, not just Betzalel and Obadiah, the chief craftsmen. And when they brought the Mishkan, the hangings, the priestly garments, the anointing oil, everything about the Mishkan, to Moses, Moses saw they had done it as the Lrd commanded. blessed the community that Gd’s Presence should be among us. And Gd responded to Moses’ prayer, Moses’ blessing and dwelt within the Mishkan.

Moses set up the Mishkan as Gd commanded – Torah says he did it by himself; Gd’s blessings were so powerfully in him, that he could lift heavy poles that no human could lift.

“34 And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the Lrd filled the Mishkan.”

Gd’s Presence was perceivable to the community of Israel.

There is a tradition that the Mishkan remains under the ruins of the Second Temple in Jerusalem because it is so perfect it cannot be destroyed.

We have the opportunity to align ourselves with Gd and Gd’s Torah and to have Gd’s Presence perceptible to us. We can become so pure that our body, personality, community, world are really, not just symbolically, Gd’s Temple, perfect and indestructible.

What a wonderful opportunity!

Let us continue to do our best to make it happen!

Baruch HaShem