Chana Tannenbaum
Chana Tannenbaum
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The parable of being married to God: An advantage

When the Torah's repetition of the details of the building of the Tabernacle are not boring, but sound relationship advice
The Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Nicolas Poussin, c. 1634. (Wikipedia)
The Adoration of the Golden Calf, by Nicolas Poussin, c. 1634. (Wikipedia)

A young, newly engaged couple dreams of their idyllic future. They plan the wedding ceremony and their home where real life happens. They carefully choose their appliances, furniture, and all the other accoutrements necessary to create the perfect environment for their family to flourish.  In their minds, they create a beautiful picture of their shared future.

After the wedding, the young couple embarks on their honeymoon where the new bride betrays her vows and is unfaithful to her husband, who quickly discovers her infidelity. The marriage is shattered and the relationship severed. The new wife begs forgiveness, but to no avail. It is only when a mutual friend intervenes on her behalf, convincing the husband to give his wife a second, undeserved, chance, that he relents.

The couple return to the home they had so carefully planned. The walls are just the right color, the couch fits perfectly, the chandelier enhances the room, the appliances are new and shiny. Everything is as originally planned. But is their home really the same? Can they ever restore their dreams after the horrible mistake?

This is Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein’s parable to explain these Torah portions, Vayekhel and Pekudei. These chapters describe the actual building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its vessels, and much of the sedra is therefore almost an exact repetition of Parashat Terumah. What is the purpose of this repetition? Especially considering that the Torah is sometimes so sparing that significant laws are derived from no more than an additional word or letter!

Would anything really have been lacking if the Torah had simply written, “And the Children of Israel did all that God commanded Moses, so did they do” (39:32)?

According to Ramban, as well as the very order of the chapters that God commands the nation to construct the Tabernacle after the Torah was given at Sinai. The purpose of the building was to create a “home” for the newlywed couple. The Mishkan was to serve as the resting place of God’s Divine Presence, as it says, “And I will meet you there and I will speak to you from above the ‘kaporet.’” It is also a way of reenacting the Sinai experience on a daily basis.

The description of the building and consecration of the Mishkan is compared to the revelation at Sinai. For example, with regard to the presence of the cloud, the Glory of God, the need to guard, fire, and demarcation for different individuals all center around Torah. The Mishkan represents an ongoing Sinai experience. Whereas standing at Mount Sinai was a one-time experience, the Mishkan, as a portable Sinai, as it were, allowing for a constant place to rendezvous with God. The Mishkan is therefore a desirable and ideal structure, given the pre-planning that went into it.

But then the people sin. They “cheat” on God by serving the golden calf. The relationship has been destroyed. Only with the intervention of Moses can there be any appeasement.

The repetition — according to Rabbi Lichtenstein, based on Ramban — demonstrates concretely that God forgave the people and was willing to maintain the covenant. The command came before the sin, the fulfillment exactly as commanded after the sin. The power of repentance allows mankind to return to the original place. The Torah repeats the text word for word to indicate that the Children of Israel could return to pre-sin levels. Yet the parable of the carefully furnished home raises the question: if any one furniture appliance were changed, what kind of return to the original state would really have happened?

In addition, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains the need for this textual repetition, rather than a general statement that the people did as commanded is in order to teach that all the building had been done with the proper intentions. From the initial command through the actual building, the nation’s motivation was simply to fulfill God’s desire. Thus, though those  involved in design or architecture or other creative endeavor often use their “artistic” license to “improve ” the end product, in this case, the people capped their own creative impulses and subjugated their wills to God’s. The duplicity proves that, as God commanded, the people fulfilled. That is a true servant of God: one who turns one’s will into that of God.

The implication, of course, is that one cannot compare between a command given and a command actually and meticulously fulfilled. The repetition is necessary to show that the implementation of our learning is most meaningful in Terumah: the tabernacle is a theory; it exists only as a concept. In our parsha, we take the theoretical and make it a reality. It is not enough to know or believe it has to be put into concrete actions.

Finally, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l pointed out, God dedicates a mere 56 verses to “His” construction of the world, in Genesis, while to the “human” construction of the Mishkan here, there are well over 400 verses over the course of both versions of the instructions. God values human productivity. Indeed, just as one gives to God from one’s produce, one must also give of one’s talents and abilities.

So when the given is that not one word or letter in the Torah is extraneous, and each phrasing contains nuance and meaning, then we learn that following God’s plan also teaches the value of human productivity. And in marked contrast to our parable of a newly married couple, even when we slip up in our diligence and attention to God’s law, we have the possibility of repenting and beginning the relationship again.

About the Author
Dr. Chana Tannenbaum lectures at Bar Ilan University, Michlelet Herzog, and Matan. She has worked as a Jewish educator, in teaching and administration, for more than 30 years. She earned her doctorate at Yeshiva University, where she was also the recipient of the Baumel award, given to the most outstanding faculty member throughout Yeshiva University. Dr. Tannenbaum made aliyah with her family in 1997, moving to Nof Ayalon.
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