Parshat VaYakel-Pekudei-HaHodesh

Summary: Parshiot VaYakel-Pekudei are the 10th & 11th in the Book of Exodus comprising Chapters 35:1-40:38. VaYakel begins with the command to observe Shabbat and includes a description of the materials donated by Bnei Yisrael and their tribal princes until it was necessary to call for the cessation of further gifts and volunteering.

VaYakel continues with building the Mishkan; beginning with its curtains and coverings, it describes the wood beams of the interior chamber. Then it turns to the vessels – the Ark and Kaporet, Showbread Table, Menorah, Incense and Sacrificial Altars, Washing Laver and, finally, the outer curtains.

Pekudei, after crediting the work to Betsalel and Aholiav, gives an accounting of the amount of gold, silver and copper that was collected and how it was used. Then it describes the making of the High Priest’s clothing; the Ephod, Precious Stones, Breastplate, Robe, Tunic, Turban and Forehead Plate.

Once completed, the entire work was brought before Moshe who assessed the results and blessed the people. G-d commanded Moshe to erect the Mishkan on the 1st day of the 1st month and to consecrate all of its parts with anointing oil; to wash and dress Aharon and his sons inducting them into the priestly service.

Finally, when all was set-up, the glory of G-d descended in a cloud and filled the Mishkan. When the cloud lifted it signalled time to travel but as long as the cloud remained they stayed encamped.

This week’s special Maftir, HaHodesh (Exodus 12:1-20), is the last of the 4 special weeks leading up to Passover. It describes the Biblical Pesah in Egypt and the command to observe an annual Festival of Matsot in perpetuity.

Please look here for an Aliyah-by-Aliyah summary.

Comment: Parshat VaYakel-Pekudei is a lesson in tangibly making space for G-d to dwell among Bnei Yisrael. Appearing at the end of the Book of Exodus, it demonstrates an essential life message. When we pause to consider both the larger picture and the more immediate one, we see the Mishkan as a physical space for G-d’s presence. Though G-d is not corporeal and has no need for a House of Worship, it was still necessary for humanity to reach out physically to engage with the Divine, perhaps because that is what we want most in our lives.

From a broader view, VaYakel begins with the command to ‘guard’ Shabbat showing that just as there’s need to make a place for G-d, so there’s need to make time to engage with G-d in our world.

The Talmud uses the juxtaposition of these verses to teach that the 39 categories of work involved in building the Mishkan are the same 39 categories of prohibited labour on Shabbat. The rabbis explained the cessation of Melakha (creative work) on Shabbat overrode even the urgency of building the Mishkan of the desert. Essentially, the importance of ‘guarding time’ exceeded the command to ‘build a space’.

From a more immediate view, though we no longer have a dedicated national place for G-d to reside, we still have opportunity to engage with G-d’s presence through the setting aside or sanctification of time –declaring Shabbat one day in every seven; reconnecting us with the idea of the 1st day of Rest as part of G-d’s original Creation. And, that in turn, reminds us that the ultimate aim of a human being is to be ‘creative and restful’ – in relationship with our world and with G-d.

Tragically, we live in a time when most people no longer believe in the Creation story or in G-d. It seems too much of a mythology – the entire vast universe emerging in only 6 days, the irrational belief in a world only 5777 years old, and, a G-d that might care whether we rest on Saturday or mix our meat with our milk. Thus, many have abandoned any sense of belief in G-d as Creator. But in giving up the one, we regrettably have also given up the idea of being able to have a relationship with the Almighty.

Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is well known for his view that G-d lives where we let G-d in. The concluding verses of Pekudei describing the cloud of G-d’s glory descending upon the Mishkan, remind us that G-d made great effort to engage with Bnei Yisrael, just as our ancestors made great effort to engage with G-d. It’s up to us to carry on that legacy.


FOR PASSOVER IN LESS THAN 3 WEEKS: In completing the Book of Exodus, we take with us a sense of perspective (now and in anticipation of Pesah). Our ancestors who descended to Egypt in search of Joseph and later became slaves to the most advanced civilisation of its age, through the drama of the Exodus emerged as a nation not without faults and failings. At Sinai they were given opportunity to have a relationship with G-d and to be representatives of holiness to all families, tribes and nations around the globe. It is a mission which sometimes feels like an overwhelming burden yet, equally, promises the greatest potential result – the day when ‘throughout the world all will recognise G-d as Sovereign; and G-d’s presence and name will be One.’