Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat March 12 - 13

Torah Reading:  VaYakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1 - 40:38)  
Candle Lighting Time 5:41 PM
Shabbat ends 6:41 PM

Parshat Hachodesh - Shabbat Chazzak - Shabbat Mevarchim 

What's the Big Deal?

This week we read the twin parshas of Vayakhel-Pikudei. The second parsha entitled Pikudei begins with the following verse: “These are the accounts of the Mishkan (the portable Sanctuary)… which were counted by Moses’ command.” The text then continues to provide a detailed accounting of all the materials that went into the construction of the Sanctuary.

Rashi, in earlier comments, provided us with a ground rule concerning the word “Eileh-these are.” If the Torah places the letter vav before the word Eileh (“V’eileh-And these are”) it indicates that what follows is a continuation of the preceding section. If, however, the opening word of the parsha is “Eileh-these are” without the conjunctive letter vav, it means that the new paragraph is detached from, and even negates, the content of the preceding section.

This leads us to an obvious question: How is the content of Pikudei—which discusses the accounting for all of the materials used in the Mishkan—a negation of the preceding parsha which discusses, at length, the contributions made for the Mishkan and the instructions for its construction? These two parshiyot appear quite complementary (for which reason they were apparently chosen as twin readings, as opposed to most other parshiyot that do not enjoy such uniformity).

To answer this question, we must preface another question about the need to put so much emphasis on the attention to detail we find here as is exemplified by the precise accounting of the materials of the Mishkan.

The Mishkan was not just a physical structure. It was a place where Jews would come to get close to G‑d. So why was there such concern about every detail of its construction? Why was it so crucial that a very precise accounting of each and every bit of metal be made? Did it really matter if the boards of the Mishkan were one millimeter longer or shorter than the prescribed dimensions given in the Torah? Would it have mattered if they would have used one gram less silver?

In truth, the same question has been asked concerning the details inherent in every Mitzvah. Why the obsession with the details? 

The answer to this question will provide us with an important lesson in how we should deal with the needs of others, whether the “other” is G‑d or another person. And because this lesson often goes contrary to the way society functions, it is imperative for the Torah to underscore this point.

As humans we are endowed by our Creator with two opposite attitudes. At times we are awfully rigid and demanding. And at other times we are extremely reasonable, flexible and willing to forego demands that we may have on ourselves or others. The challenge of life is to know when to apply these qualities. When should I be rigid and unrelenting and when should I be soft and flexible?

When it comes to our own possessions, we can be rigid and unforgiving in demanding that everything conform to our preference and taste. Every detail becomes important – to the point of getting bent out of shape over insignificant matters.

But, when it comes to the needs and requests of others we discover that we have another side to our personality. We are far less rigid. Indeed, we cannot comprehend why the other cares so much about the minor details. Why are they so petty and pedantic? Can’t they be more flexible?

In truth, Jewish ethics asks us to reverse our attitudes. When it comes to our own needs and interests we should be much more flexible and forgiving. It should be no big deal if things do not work out exactly the way we wanted them to. Looking at life’s bigger picture, does it really make a difference what color our couch, car or house is?

To be sure, there is nothing wrong with external and physical beauty. There is nothing evil about appreciating the finer things in life, even if they are of an ephemeral nature. But that is because it is an expression of an inner spiritual and ethereal beauty. How beautiful can something be if in the pursuit of external perfection we degrade the inner beauty of our souls? How beautiful are we when we explode in anger because someone was not sensitive to our aesthetic sensibilities? By getting angry we destroy the inner beauty of our souls while ostensibly being zealous about some superficial notion of beauty and perfection.

However, when we deal with the needs and wants of others we have to change our nonchalant attitude. We must respect and care for the needs and wants of others (provided, of course, they are not detrimental to them physically or spiritually) as if they were our own spiritual needs. In the words of the Alter Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, “The other’s physical needs are your spiritual needs.” Every detail and nuance of the other person’s needs should be sacred to us while the details of our own needs can be safely compromised.

The ultimate demonstration of respect for the other is when we respect their needs and choices even when they seem petty to us. In fact, whether our respect for the other is really only a social nicety or it is genuine is determined by the degree we go to fully accommodate the other, and not oneself.

To illustrate this point further:

When we give someone a gift, how much value is there when the choice of gift is what we like and not what the recipient of the gift likes? To send flowers to someone who does not care for them might be a nice gesture, but it is that much more meaningful when we research what the other person would like—no matter how idiosyncratic it may be—and give them that particular item. The former approach might actually be an expression of one’s own ego, the latter is an expression of one’s sincere respect and concern for the other.

If this is true with regard to the temporal needs and wants of other people, it is surely true with respect to the “wants” (read: commandments) of G‑d. (G‑d, obviously has no needs, unless He chooses to have them). We cannot argue that the details of the Mitzvahs do not matter because it’s not about what we think about the details; it’s what G‑d thinks about them. Doing a Mitzvah or building a Sanctuary for G‑d is not about us; it’s about bringing G‑d into our lives. And only G‑d can determine how He will enter our lives. If we truly respect G‑d we will respect His preferences as well, even if we do not comprehend their deeper meaning. 

We can now understand why this week’s parsha begins with the exclusionary word “Eileh-these are”, without the conjunctive letter vav, which generally means that what follows is at variance with that which we have read elsewhere. Only here—with regard to the construction of G‑d’s Sanctuary—are the details so important. Only with respect to G‑d’s “home” do we have to be so rigid and scrupulous in the way we build it.

By contrast, when dealing with material matters that affect our bodies and homes we should not be so obsessed with detail. There is no law that one must eat their dinner at a given time or that one must dress in accordance with the latest style or that one’s home must conform to a certain pattern. And while being organized, neat and looking good is a positive thing; it should not be etched in stone. There are times when we have to be flexible with our time and external needs and preferences and override the emphasis on the particulars of our lives for the benefit of our souls’ interests, which include taking care of the needs of others or building G‑d’s Sanctuary.

One of the reasons we get our priorities confused is because we live in the period known as Galut-exile which has been likened to a dream. Just as in a dream our perception of reality can be blurred and confused, so too in exile we confuse night for day and day for night. We confuse the times when being rigid is called for, for the times that we ought to be flexible.

However, in the Age of Redemption (which we are poised to enter into imminently), we will be redeemed not only from the forces of evil that are responsible for war and hatred, but also from those conditions that take away clarity from our lives. In the Messianic Age we will have our priorities in order.

Moshiach Matters  

Just as the Jews in the desert counted the days from the Exodus until they received the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and looked forward to that event with baited breath - so too must we count the years and centuries that we have been in exile and call out to G‑d to bring Moshiach. (The Rebbe, 25 Iyar, 1990)  

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