Drash on Parashat Pekudei 2022

Drash on Parashat Pekudei          
Rabbi Stan Zamek
United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong


"Eleh pekudei hamishkan" ...
These are the records of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Pact, which were drawn up at Moses’ bidding…

Our parasha for this week opens with a sort of interoffice memo— a detailed accounting of the construction of the Mishkan, including an inventory of all the materials used down to the last shekel. It is not an easy read— “The 100 talents of silver were for casting the sockets of the sanctuary and the sockets for the curtain, 100 sockets to the 100 talents, a talent a socket.”  See what I mean?

There is definitely an important lesson here for those of us charged with the custody of the resources of our kehilot. We could say that this is the meta-message of the entire passage: conduct your business in this way, with exactitude and transparency.

Still, we want more than this from Torah.

As I was reading Pekudei this week, a passage from the Zohar came to mind:  Woe to the human being who says that Torah presents mere stories and ordinary words! If so, we could compose a Torah right now with ordinary words, and better than all of them. . . Woe to the wicked who say that Torah is merely a story! They look at this garment and no further. Happy are the righteous who look at Torah properly! As wine must sit in a jar, so Torah must sit in this garment. So look only at what is under the garment. All those words and all those stories are garments.(Matt trans.)

The torrent of words detailing the gold and silver, precious dyes, carved wood, and gems used in constructing the Sanctuary in the wilderness and its accoutrements are garments — gorgeous garments, but garments still. What do they conceal?

If we look carefully, there is some light shining behind the first significant word of our parasha, the word which gives it its name— Pekudei. Robert Alter notes that this word “is difficult to translate because the verbal stem p-q-d covers so many senses in biblical Hebrew. It means ‘to count, ‘to inventory,’ ‘to take a census,’ ‘to single out,’ ‘to pay special attention,’ ‘to make a reckoning,’ and more.” The slipperiness of the Hebrew root allows Ya’akov Yosef of Ostrog to see much more than a spreadsheet in this passage. He writes:

God and Torah are one; by studying Torah and doing mitzvot both in deed and in desire of the heart, you draw the Shechinah upon yourself....

This is the meaning of These are the precepts [pekudei]—the mitsvot are the visitations [pikudim] of God. If you fulfill them, you bring about a dwelling-place for the Shechinah. (From Speaking Torah, Vol. 1 Green et al., ed.)

Arthur Green commenting on this teaching writes that “the Torah is being read as an instruction manual for bringing God into both world and self.” When the tradition is viewed with this lens, all its myriad details become potential meeting places of heaven and earth.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in God in Search of Man, “We do not meet [God] in the way we meet things of space. To meet [God] means to come upon an inner certainty of [God’s] realness. . .Such meeting, such presence, we experience in deeds.”As a Progressive Jew I do not believe that the places of meeting others choose need to be identical to those I enter, but we do all need to be hospitable. The Shechinah cannot be an unwelcome visitor.

Every verse of Torah too is God paying us a visit. Through Torah, the Divine continually knocks at our door. We provide the Shechinah with a warm welcome when we grapple with the text, even if it puzzles, baffles, or angers us. Thus every word of Torah is a recapitulation of eleh pekudei— this is the visitation of God. Will we be home when the Holy One comes knocking? 

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