Questions and Concepts for Parsha Vayakhal-Pekudi
(Exodus 35:1-40:38)

The book of Exodus ends with the details of the construction of the Tabernacle. This is actually one of the "deepest" portions of Scripture, as the layout of this structure (as well as Solomon's Temple) and its implements, and the systematic building of the structure, holds a key to understanding God and His creation. The Hebrew sages teach that study of the Ezekiel's Temple (the Millennial Temple) is considered to be the same as performing the mitzvoth associated with the Temple if it were standing.

Everything connected to the Tabernacle/Temple alludes to the mystery of God's unity (which is the theme of the revelation on Mount Sinai) as well as to the rectification of our souls and the world. The Aramaic word for this process is "tikkun" which also means "warfare." This is something to consider when reading such passages in the New Testament as Ephesians chapter 6. The "weapons of war" that Paul writes of are not those of a soldier (as is usually depicted) but those of a Priest.

Here again in this Parsha, we see the Sabbath in a central role, leading into the construction of the Tabernacle. In 35:5 we hear God telling Moses to instruct those "whose heart motivates them" - thus showing us that what God wants is not so much our possessions, but our desire to be one with Him.

The existence of the Tabernacle (and later Temple) has both positive and negative connotations to it. The fact that Israel was able to construct a "dwelling place" for the God of the universe to "reside" in the physical realm is certainly an awesome achievement, but also a sad reminder that we lack the intimate relationship we once had at the time of the Garden of Eden. Not only did God have to "reside" in the limited space of the Tabernacle, He would also only make "appearance" at certain times. (The Tabernacle was also called the "tent of the times of meeting.") As we see in the book of Revelation, following the millennial Kingdom of Messiah (a time of further rectification) there comes the Olam Haba (World to Come) where there is no longer a need for a "meeting place" or "meeting time."

The Ark of the Covenant has a number of mysterious aspects to it. One is obvious (with the help of a few calculations). The rings used to pass the staves through would not be able to support the weight of the objects contained within the Ark -- they should have snapped off immediately. Another, more fascinating mystery, comes from tradition. The distance between the walls of the Holy of Holies was equal to the sum of the distance between each wall and the side of the Ark. In other words, the Ark took up no physical space. Another mystical aspect was what happened if any Hebrew directly touched the ark - they would die. However when the Philistines later captured and touched it, they would not die. Then again, their possession of the Ark (which they placed in their temple of Dagon) brought nothing but curses upon them.

The presence of God that would cover the Tent of Meeting and fill the Tabernacle was known as the Shekinah in Hebraic literature. In second Temple times (the days of Yeshua) the term Ruach haKodesh (Holy Spirit) was often used to describe the same thing (as found in the New Testament).

The Shekinah would come and go at "random" intervals - remaining at a given spot anywhere from days to months at a time. (These intervals also have a mystical meaning to them.) The number of journeys made from the time of the initial construction to the arrival in the Land of Israel was forty-two. This is a number with deep mystical significance, regarding the "coming together" of heaven and earth and "unification of the Name of God, i.e., Zechariah 14:9. (See our notes on the two sets of 42 months mentioned in the book of Revelation.)

Here is a teaching on this subject from an Orthodox source:

The commentators explain that the number 42 alludes to the mystical 42-letter name of G-d. This indicates that the Jewish People acquired a greater spiritual awareness as they traveled through the desert. The Chasam Sofer, a great 19th century sage, offers some examples: At Kivrot Hataiva (literally "burial of desire"), they learned to confront their desires. At Chatzerot (literally "courtyards"), they understood the concept that "this world is a courtyard to the next world." Thus, the entire desert experience was a journey of growth, incorporating new elements of insight into the collective Jewish consciousness.The Sfas Emes, a great 19th century Chassidic master, explains that each of these 42 places offered a unique challenge to the Jewish People. In each place, the Jews were to accomplish a specific tikkun, a "spiritual repair." Just as the Israelites' leaving Egypt had eternal significance, so too the Jewish People met challenges at their 42 encampments! The Sfas Emes explains that we all have various stations - good and bad - as we travel through the "journey of life." Each has its unique purpose and challenge. And each can help us achieve the repairs we must accomplish on our souls. As we embark on the various journeys that create the tapestry of our lives, it is important to remain focused on the exciting goals we are moving towards. In that way, with G-d's help, we will find the strength and courage to stand up to the myriad of challenges life may present.

These concepts are reflected in this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Masei. Masei means “journeys,” and the reading enumerates the 42 different stages in the journey of the newborn Jewish nation from the land of Egypt until its entry into Eretz Yisrael. The Baal Shem Tov explains that these 42 stages in our people’s journey are mirrored in the life of every individual as he proceeds from birth — his personal “exodus from Egypt” — until his entry into “the Land of Life” — the spiritual counterpart of Eretz Yisrael. This entire journey through the wilderness (and through life) is intended to reflect continual spiritual growth. Even those stages which are associated with negative events have a positive impetus at their source. For example, one of the campings of the Jewish people was called Kivros HaTaaveh, “the Graves of [those possessed by] Craving,” where the Jews buried the people who were punished as a result of their lust for meat. The name Kivros HaTaaveh, literally means “the Graves of Craving,” i.e., in this place, the Jews were to reach such a high level of connection to G-d that they would “bury” all material cravings. Nevertheless, since G-d desires that the Jews’ spiritual attainments be achieved by their own efforts, the people were given free choice, and in this instance they failed. Despite their failure, the impetus associated with this place — and the corresponding potential that can be realized by every Jew — is positive. Moreover, even when a person does not at first realize the positive potential at a particular stage of his life, and falters in the face of a spiritual challenge, he must know that his “journey” is not over. This is only one phase, and a temporary descent can ultimately lead to an ascent, if corrected through the service of teshuvah.

The Torah is eternal. And it is clearly so where it concerns the exodus, about which the Jew is explicitly obliged “to see himself as if he had traveled out of Egypt that very day.” The 42 journeys therefore have a special perpetual significance. There are many Egypts through which the individual has to pass. At one level it may be the confinement of the secular world, which seeks to hold him captive. At another, it may be the narrow scope of the human mind, as it filters his Judaism through the dark lens of rationalization. But even if he has traveled beyond these, and his faith is no longer confined to his understanding, he has always to strain towards new plateaus of expansiveness, compared to which his present state is a confinement.

Exodus begins with "disunity" - God is distanced from His people who are in Egypt, called "Mitzrayim" in Hebrew, meaning "a place of confinement." There is no opportunity to serve God in Egypt, to draw close to Him, to unify His Name, or to bring tikkun. The end of Exodus has God's presence among His people who are now free to serve Him and accomplish their destiny. Their is a higher degree of "unification" of the Name of God, but still far short of what will occur at the time of Messiah.

Exodus may be read at many levels - from a simple story to one with many hidden aspects linked to verses and ideas throughout the Tenakh. This may help to explain why Jewish children begin their Torah learning with Leviticus and end with Exodus.