29.1. General Overview of Vayakhel and Pekudei

Weekly portions Vayakhel (10) and Pekudei (11) complete the Book of Exodus. Earlier, in portions Terumah and Tetzaveh, Moses received instructions concerning the structure of the Tabernacle. And now, in portions Vayakhel and Pekudei, the actual building of the Tabernacle will be described. Thus, portions Terumah and Tetzaveh presented the theoretical approach, while in Vayakhel and Pekudei the practical approach is given.

Much of what was said earlier in the theoretical vein is repeated again in this practical description. But since there is no such thing in the Torah as “just repeating” something, we are forced to conclude that the intent is to communicate to us something new. More specifically, we understand the “repetition” as indicating that the practical implementation somehow differs materially from the preliminary, theoretical plan. When we put something into actual practice, our actions have a completely different meaning from the one they had when we were only making plans. This is why the Torah recounts all the details of the Tabernacle’s construction a second time.

Moreover, in the description of the practical construction of the Temple there are important differences from its earlier theoretical description. The most significant of these differences is in the sequence of actions, which demonstrates a change in how the relationship between the various components of the Tabernacle is to be understood.

As already mentioned, there are two models for understanding the Temple and the Torah – Moses’ approach and Aaron’s approach. In portions Terumah and Tetzaveh, where the Temple is described as an ideal, Moses’ and Aaron’s approaches are each presented separately. The gap between them is highlighted by the fact that Moses is up above, on the mountaintop, while Aaron is down below, with the people. This gap in leadership sparks a crisis that leads to the creation of the golden calf. In other words, the idea of complete separation of Divine revelation into two separate lines, Moses’ and Aaron’s, cannot be sustained, and it fails.

After the crisis and its resultant Shevirat Ha-Keilim, the Kabbalistic term that means “shattering of the vessels,” the tikkun (“correction, repair”) stage begins, in which the two lines are united into one. Only through this unification do the Divine teachings achieve stability. Thus, portions Vayakhel and Pekudei speak not only of the construction of the Tabernacle, but also of the Tabernacle’s stability, and that of the Torah in general.

One notable indicator of this stability is the mention of the tension ropes, not mentioned in the previous portions, that were used to secure the walls of the tent and the courtyard.

But the primary feature that affords the actual Temple its additional stability is the interweaving of Moses’ and Aaron’s approaches. As a general observation, Vayakhel is Moses’ portion (the Temple and its vessels), and Pekudei is Aaron’s (as expressed in the descriptions of the priestly garments, and also in the Torah’s meticulous accounting of the materials consumed in the building of the Tabernacle, itself necessary because of man’s inclination to sin by embezzling). But even so, both portions include elements from both approaches, and through this they find their balance.

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Bible Dynamics, VOL. 2. EXODUS Copyright © by Orot Yerushalaim / P. Polonsky / English translation of the Torah by the Jewish Publication Society, New JPS Translation, 1985. With sincere gratitude for the permission to use. All Rights Reserved.

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