“Eileh Ph’kudei Hamishkan…” “These are the accounts of the Tabernacle…” And these are the first words of “Pekudei,” in Sh’mot, Exodus 38:21, the Torah reading which gives an accounting of the materials used to construct the Tabernacle, and describes the making of the priestly garments and the assembling of the Tabernacle.
After Moshe (Moses) had inspected the work and saw that it had been done exactly as God requested, he blessed the Children of Israel (ibid. 38:43). Rashi, the preeminent Jewish medieval commentator, says he told them, “May it be His (God’s) will that His Divine Presence will rest in the work of your hands…,” and he references the Tehilim, Psalms (90:17) verse, “Vihi Noam Hashem Elokaynu Aleinu…” “May the graciousness of God be upon us…” from the Psalms chapter whose first verse begins, “A prayer of Moshe (Moses).”
The Psalm verse Rashi referenced reads in its entirety, “May the graciousness of God be upon us, and the work of our hands establish on us, and the work of our hands establish it.” Rashi explains why it says “establish the work of our hands” twice. The first time refers to the hope that God’s Divine Presence will rest on the work related to the Tabernacle, and the second time is simply that there be a blessing in simply, “the work of their hands,” basically whatever the Children of Israel do.
Why mention whatever the people do? It is easy to understand the wish that the important work related to the Tabernacle be accepted by God, but whatever they do? Does that carry the same kind of significance? Any kind of significance?
Let’s look later in the Torah reading and see if we can find an answer. Chapter 40, verse 17 begins, “Vayehi Bachodesh Harishon… Hukam Hamishkan.” “And it came to pass in the first month… that the Tabernacle was set up.”
In the Talmud (volumes of Jewish legal discussions and commentary dating back over 1500 years) Megillah 10b, our sages tell us that whenever the word “Vayehi” “And it came to pass” is used, it is foretelling impending doom, that something bad was going to happen.
The Talmud lists several examples. One is in the beginning of the Book of Ruth – “And it came to pass in the days of the Judges… (Ruth 1:1).” What happened? There was a famine. Another was in the beginning of the Book of Esther – “And it came to pass in the days of Achashverosh…” What was coming? The evil Haman and his decree to murder all the Jews.
A Midrash (a collection of ancient biblical commentaries) asks, why would it say “Vayehi” as Moshe began to set up the Tabernacle? What bad could come from the construction of God’s holy place, placing within, the ark, the menorah, the bread table and the incense alter, setting up without, the animal sacrifice alter and the wash basin?
The Midrash explains using a parable. There was a king who had a quarrelsome wife. So he asked her to make him a purple coat, and as long as she was engrossed in that task, there were no fights. When she finished the coat and showed it to the king, he liked it but also cried out, “Woe is me!” The puzzled queen asked him why he would say such a thing when she did exactly what he wanted. He told her, “What you did was nice, and while you were busy with it, you didn’t make me angry. Now that your work is done, I am afraid you will make me angry again.”
And so it is with God. While the Children of Israel were busy with the tabernacle and everything related, all was peaceful and nice. When the work was done, then what would happen? Another Golden Calf? More complaints about water and food? More rebellion? So that was why the verse began with “Vayehi.” Something bad was probably going to happen.
Perhaps we can now understand that second reason mentioned by Rashi for the Psalms verse repeating “The work of their hands,” that God bless whatever the people do, along with the blessing for the work of the Tabernacle.
The Hebrew words “Vayehi” from the Exodus verse, “And it came to pass,” and “Vihi” from the Psalms verse, “May it (God’s graciousness) be,” use the same letters in the same order. The second part of Moshe’s wish could have been, may “Vayehi,” the worry of future problems, become, “Vihi,” a blessing for only good works, and not bad.
May it be His will.