Israel Drazin

Thoughts prompted by the Tabernacle in Portion Pekudei

The Accounting

The opening words of the weekly Torah reading Prkudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38) state that an accounting was given of the precious metals used in the construction of the Tabernacle, the name given to the desert Temple during the days of Moses. There is no command by God to do so. One might think that Moses and the principal worker, Bezalel, were above suspicion, but the Midrash Tanchuma informs us otherwise:

Why did Moses give an accounting? The Holy One, blessed be He, trusted him, for it says: “He is trusted” (Numbers 12:7). Nevertheless, Moses issued an accounting because the scoffers of his time gossiped about him, as it says: “And it happened that whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each at the door of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the tent” (Exodus 33:8). What did they say? They looked at his back and said to each other, “What a neck! What legs! He eats and drinks what belongs to us.” To which his fellow responded, “Fool! What else would you expect from a man who constructs the Tabernacle? Surely, he will become rich.” When Moses heard this, he said, “I swear that as soon as the Tabernacle work ends, I will give them an accounting.” When it was finished, he said to them, “These are the accounts of the Tabernacle.”

Other commentaries say that, although Moses and Bezalel were beyond suspicion, they set an example about using public funds. They felt the Israelites were entitled to a reckoning since the donated materials had initially belonged to them. As a result of their example, many people learn to do likewise.

How far should people go to show they are honest? Must people, especially politicians, be accountable to others even when the law doesn’t require it?

The Tabernacle and later Temples

In his “Guide for the Perplexed,” Maimonides (1138-1204) writes that God did not need or want a Sanctuary but only allowed it because the people needed a physical structure. Using the Maimonidean approach, shouldn’t we understand that the building contained God is wrong? It reflects how the people thought of the Sanctuary and what it meant to them.

The details about the Tabernacle

Not only are the kinds of vessels used in the Tabernacle and their design, measurements, and composition mandated, but their exact location is stipulated by God in this week’s Torah portion.

Why was all of this necessary? Couldn’t Moses make decisions on some of them without divine instructions? Is order in life necessary? I think so. Order is needed for clear thinking. The Hebrew word for the prayer book is siddur, “order” (of prayers). The Hebrew word for the Passover eve ceremony at which the Exodus story is told is Seder, “order” (of rituals). Must ceremonies follow an order? The Golden Rule of “The Middle Path” applies to “order” as to all other things: One must order one’s life between the extremes of disorderly and OCD (Obsessive-compulsive disorder).

What do the early Genesis chapters tell us about order in the universe? Maimonides suggests that the Torah starts with a parable about the Creation to inform people that they must learn how the earth functions, the sciences, and the orderly rules of nature. Doesn’t this make sense to you?

Pekudei ends Exodus

When Jews end reading a book of the Bible in the synagogue, as they do when Pekudei ends, the congregation says, “Chazak chazak v’nitchazeik—Be strong, be strong, and let us be strengthened [together].”

What is the meaning of this proclamation? Why is strength emphasized over joy? Why is this statement mandated only at the end of a book of the Bible rather than at the end of each Torah portion? Isn’t it because the Torah wants proper actions performed with strength, not emotions such as beliefs and faith? And isn’t the end emphasized because we should be “end-oriented,” focusing our actions on the goal we want to reach?

Jews attending different synagogues

In Moses’ day, there was one Tabernacle for all Israelites. Today, there are Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Chassidic, Conservative, Reform, Reconstruction, and more. This is good and bad. The bad is when Jews do not work together.

The message of Judaism is respect for others. Love your neighbor as yourself. What is harmful to you, do not do to others. Neither Adam nor Eve were Orthodox or Reform Jews, but God created them. All humans, with no exception, are made in the image of God. Abraham wore no yarmulke. King David no tzitzis. King Solomon acquired materials from pagan idol-worshiping kings to build the temple. Non-priests entered the temple’s Holy of Holies to make repairs so that it would not fall apart. Secular Jews led the reestablishment of Israel and fought in its war before and in 1948, as well as after. We need to be together, or we will cease to exist.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.