D’var Torah for March 24, 2017

This week’s Torah portion is Vayak’heil. It is the second to last parasha of the book of Exodus. During non-leap years, Vayak’heil is joined with Pekudei. Both of these portions are focused on the building of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle in the wilderness.

As the Plaut Torah commentary teaches, “in assembling the materials for the Tabernacle, the people are given an opportunity to show by their generosity and active participation that they deserve the divine mercy (for the golden calf)” (Plaut Torah Commentary, pg. 611).

But what this does not address is the seemingly redundant nature of Vayak’heil and Pekudei. Why do we have two explanations on the building of the Tabernacle? And in addition, why so much focus and attention on the Tabernacle we wonder? One possibility is that because this was to be the holy abode for God, it needed to be very specific in detail. Also, because the Mishkan would serve as the model for the Beit HaMikdash, the two Temples that would stand in Jerusalem, how much the more so we need to be exact.

But this is an unfulfilling explanation. Perhaps we can also learn a spiritual truth from Vayak’heil as well. The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains that the Torah wants to emphasize that there will always be two versions of God’s home on earth. The first is the ideal version. This is the version that God envisions and describes to Moses. We might describe this as the world as it ought to be, versus the real version. This is the version that is actually built. This is the version that is available and tangible in our physical lives.

However, we are not being asked to duplicate God’s vision. Instead we are being asked to interpret the vision and make it real. One of the core elements to being Jewish is that our tradition was never intended to be idealized. It has always been a pragmatic tradition, warts and all, but always with an eye towards heaven.

The buildings we build and the lives we lead may be imperfect, but that should never mean that we cannot aspire for more. The Mishkan was a symbol for God’s presence to dwell among us. Each and every day we should aspire to build a Mishkan in our hearts. The way we can do this is by living to make God’s sanctuary here on earth both as God envisions it as well as how we envision it.

It is a holy and spiritual construction and rebuilding of the soul, if you will. Through sacred deeds and sacred actions, we can bridge the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be. And at that intersection we have the potential to encounter the Divine.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff