Parshat Pekudei תשע”ט
This week’s portion has the Torah tallying the gold, silver, and copper used in the Tabernacle’s construction. But before it gets there, it provides a lengthy introduction to the Tabernacle itself (Exodus 38:21,22):
ספר שמות פרק לח
כא) אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי משֶׁה עֲבֹדַת הַלְוִיִּם בְּיַד אִיתָמָר בֶּן אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן
כב) וּבְצַלְאֵל בֶּן אוּרִי בֶן חוּר לְמַטֵּה יְהוּדָה עָשָׂה אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְדֹוָד אֶת משֶׁה
21) These are the reckonings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Testimony, which were reckoned at Moses’ bidding. The labor of the Levites was under the authority of Itamar, son of Aharon the Kohen. 22) And Betzalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the Tribe of Judah, did everything that Hashem commanded Moses.
Why the numerous details?
Rabbi Obadia Soforno (1480-1550) addresses this issue in his commentary on these verses.
משכן העדות. ספר מעלות זה המשכן שבשבילם היה ראוי להיות נצחי ושלא ליפול ביד אויבים. ראשונה, שהיה משכן העדות, שהיו בו לוחות העדות. ב’, אשר פקד על פי משה. ג’, שהיתה עבודת הלויים ביד איתמר, כי אמנם משמרת כל חלקי המשכן ביד איתמר היתה. ד’, ובצלאל בן אורי בן חור למטה יהודה עשה, שהיו ראשי אומני מלאכת המשכן וכליו, מיוחסים וצדיקים שבדור, ובכן שרתה שכינה במעשי ידיהם ולא נפל ביד אויבים. אבל מקדש שלמה שהיו עובדי המלאכה בו מצור, אף על פי ששרתה בו שכינה נפסדו חלקיו, והוצרך לחזק את בדק הבית ונפל בסוף הכל ביד אויבים. אבל בית שני שלא היה בו גם אחד מכל אלה התנאים לא שרתה בו שכינה ונפל ביד אויבים, כי אמנם בית שני לא היה משכן העדות, שלא היו בו לוחות העדות, ולא פוקד כי אם על פי כורש ולא היו שם בני לוי, כמו שהעיד עזרא באמרו ואבינה בעם ובכהנים, ומבני לוי לא מצאתי שם ומן המתעסקים בבנינו היו צידונים וצורים, כמבואר בספר עזרא
The Torah is extolling the virtues of this Tabernacle to explain why it was worthy of being eternal and never falling into enemy hands [When King Solomon built the permanent Holy Temple he hid the Tabernacle in a room in the basement] 1. It was the Tabernacle of Testimony, which means that it had the Ark with the Tablets of Testimony. [The second Temple did not have the Holy Ark in it. It was hidden away somewhere.] 2. It was made at the bidding of Moshe Rabbeinu. 3. The work was done by the Levites under the supervision of Itamar. 4. Betzalel, a master craftsman, did the work. All these people were of pure lineage and were the most righteous people of the generation. Therefore, Hashem’s holiness permeated their handiwork, and it did not fall into the enemy’s hands. But, the Holy Temple that King Solomon built had workers from Tzur, and even though the Hashem’s presence dwelled there [the holy Ark], parts of it broke and needed repair and strengthening. In the end, the entire thing fell into the enemy’s hands [who destroyed it]. The Second Holy Temple, had none of the above conditions [the Ark of Testimony was not there]. It was commissioned by King Koresh, and no Levites were involved in its construction, as Ezra testified, hence, Hashem’s presence was absent.
The Seforno reveals a very important concept. The spiritual quality and longevity of something depends on the holiness of those who create it. The Tabernacle, which Moshe commissioned, and Betzalel built under Itamar’s supervision, all holy people, was imbued with so much holiness that it was eternal and could not fall into enemy hands. Although the first Holy Temple was commissioned by King David and King Solomon, both holy people, gentiles from Lebanon executed the work. Not as resilient as the Tabernacle, the First Temple needed repair, and, ultimately fell into enemy hands. But at least Hashem’s presence was manifest in this Temple. In the second Holy Temple, commissioned by Koresh, Hashem’s presence was absent.
What magic do holy people inject into their work that makes it eternal? Holy thoughts. The thoughts that one has when doing an action transform that action from mundane into holy. When one’s sole intention in doing an act is to fulfill Hashem’s will and to please Him, this creates a holy action. What distinguishes a man’s actions from those of an animal or machine is that a man acts with intent and purpose; the intentions behind the act define it. The act’s quality follows the thoughts that underly it, and when something is started with holy and proper thoughts, those thoughts influence that action forever. Hence, the longevity of an item created with holy thoughts is a function of the degree of holiness injected into it at its inception. Since its beginning was holy, everything subsequent follows that beginning and becomes holy. When, however, the beginning is impure, that imperfection grows larger and larger as time goes on. Think of a small angle and how its arms grow farther and farther apart as they extend from the origin. A small flaw will in time become a great difference.
In the case of the Tabernacle, not only was it commissioned and constructed by holy people, its materials were also given with only the holiest of intentions. Whenever the Torah speaks about the donations to the Tabernacle, the Torah clearly stresses that they must come from the heart.
כֹּל נְדִיב לִבּוֹ יְבִיאֶהָ אֵת תְּרוּמַת יְדֹוָד זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וּנְחשֶׁת
All who donate from the heart should bring their donation for Hashem, gold, and silver and copper.
The Sages teach us that Betzalel had the ability to discern the pureness of heart with which each gold and silver nugget was given, and he would only use the very purest of materials.
This concept applies to all holy endeavors. The initial purity of motivation will forever influence the outcome. This concept is brought out very beautifully in the story of Rabbi Chiya in the Talmud Tractate Babba Metziah 85b:
אמר ליה רבי חייא לרבי חנינא: בהדי דידי קא מינצית דעבדי לתורה דלא תשתכח מישראל מאי עבידנא אזלינא ושדינא כיתנא וגדילנא נישבי וציידנא טבי ומאכילנא בשרייהו ליתמי ואריכנא מגילתא וכתבנא חמשה חומשי וסליקנא למתא ומקרינא חמשה ינוקי בחמשה חומשי ומתנינא שיתא ינוקי שיתא סדרי ואמרנא להו עד דהדרנא ואתינא אקרו אהדדי ואתנו אהדדי ועבדי לה לתורה דלא תשתכח מישראל היינו דאמר רבי כמה גדולים מעשי חייא
When Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Chanina would engage in an argument, Rabbi Chiya would say to Rabbi Chanina, “You are arguing with me? I will guarantee that the Torah will never be forgotten! How would I do it? I would plant flax, and from the flax I would knit nets. With the nets I would catch deer, give their meat to orphans, and use their skin to write the five books of Moses on it. Then I would go to the city and teach five children the five books, and then I would take six children and teach each of them one of the six orders of the Mishna. Then I would tell each of them to teach the others what he knew. This way, with such pure and holy beginnings, the Torah would never be forgotten. Regarding this that Rebbe [Rabbi Judah the Prince, Rabbi Chiya’s teacher] said, “How great are Chiya’s deeds!”
It is remarkable to see how far back Rebbe Chiya felt that he had to start the holy process of creating the books for the children to learn from to guarantee the Torah’s future. Who would ever have thought that if the flax for the nets was not planted with the proper intentions that the children wouldn’t learn optimally? The nets don’t go into the Torahs! What a lesson.
Rebbe’s statement, “Great are Chiya’s deeds!” tells us that he didn’t go overboard. He was right on target! This is the way to guarantee the future of Torah! This teaches us that from the earliest time possible, one should have the holiest thoughts and intentions in his actions, and not think that they will have no effect. In today’s world, this would be comparable to planting trees to make paper, cutting them down, chopping them into pulp for paper, making the paper, and then printing the Chumash on them for the kids to learn, having in mind for each step that a printed chumash is the intended outcome. This idea really gets you thinking about how far we are from this.
This concept applies in the reverse as well. When someone has evil thoughts when beginning something, those evil thoughts will accompany that endeavor for its entire life and effect it on many levels. This really needs no proof, but there is a story in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Chagiga 9b) that brings out this point.
Rabbi Elisha ben Avuya was the teacher of the great Rabbi Meir. Later in life, he became an agnostic and left the Torah’s ways, and at that point became known as Acher, the other. His student Rabbi Meir once met him riding a horse on Shabbat and tried to convince him to repent and return to the Torah’s ways. Acher told him that there is a verse that explains his situation, why he left the Torah, and that there is no hope for his repentance. The verse (Ecclesiastes 7:8) says:
קהלת פרק ז פסוק ח
טוֹב אַחֲרִית דָּבָר מֵרֵאשִׁיתוֹ
8) If something is good in the end, it is beginning its was good.
Acher then explained to Rabbi Meir that he was an example of this, and that because his beginnings were not pure, his end can’t be good. Here is the story:
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת חגיגה פרק ב הלכה א
ובי היה המעשה אבויה אבא מגדולי ירושלם היה ביום שבא למוהליני קרא לכל גדולי ירושלם והושיבן בבית אחד ולרבי אליעזר ולר’ יהושע בבית אחד מן דאכלון ושתון שרון מטפחין ומרקד(ק)ין א”ר ליעזר לר’ יהושע עד דאינון עסיקין בדידהון נעסוק אנן בדידן וישבו ונתעסקו בדברי תורה מן התורה לנביאים ומן הנביאים לכתובים וירדה אש מן השמים והקיפה אותם אמר להן אבויה רבותיי מה באתם לשרוף את ביתי עלי אמרו לו חס ושלום אלא יושבין היינו וחוזרין בדברי תורה מן התורה לנביאים ומן הנביאים לכתובים והיו הדברים שמיחים כנתינתן מסיני והיתה האש מלחכת אותן כלחיכתן מסיני ועיקר נתינתן מסיני לא ניתנו אלא באש [דברים ד יא] וההר בוער באש עד לב השמים אמר להן אבויה אבא רבותיי אם כך היא כוחה של תורה אם נתקיים לי בן הזה לתורה אני מפרישו לפי שלא היתה כוונתו לשם שמים לפיכך לא נתקיימה באותו האיש
“At my bris, my father Avuya, one of the prominent members of the Jerusalem community, invited all his important friends. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua were also invited. After the festive meal, the guests started dancing and singing. Rabbi Eliezer said to Rabbi Yehoshua, ‘While they are doing their thing, let’s do our thing, and study Torah together!’ They began with the Five Books of Moses, went to the books of the Prophets, then to the Holy Writings, and as they were learning, a fire came down from heaven and enveloped them. Avuya, upon seeing this said to them. ‘My masters, have you come to burn down my house?’ They responded. ‘Heaven forbid! We were just studying the Torah as it was given from Sinai, and since the Torah was given in fire, the fire from Sinai came and enveloped us!’ Upon hearing this my father Avuya said, ‘If the power of Torah is so great, if my son lives, I will dedicate him to the study of Torah!’ So, since my beginnings were not pure (Avuya was impressed with the external glamour and wanted that for his child), therefore the Torah did not stay with me.”
Our Sages teach us that, in reality, had Acher tried, he would have been accepted in teshuva – repentance, because Hashem never closes the door in the face of someone who sincerely wants to return to his Father in Heaven. However, in Acher’s case, since he had learned the incorrect explanation of the verse, he felt doomed because of his beginnings, and never really tried. The reality is that even if one had questionable beginnings, those beginnings can be overcome with sincere effort to change direction. When a lost son wishes to return home to his Father, his ever-loving Father will always welcome him in with open arms.
The power of an act done with pure thoughts and intentions not only has a definitive effect here and now; it can have an effect for years to come and cause a result generations later. The Midrash relates:
מדרש רבה בראשית – פרשה עא פסקה ה
לאה תפסה פלך הודיה ועמדו הימנה בעלי הודיה יהודה (בראשית לח) ויכר יהודה ויאמר צדקה ממני דוד אמר (תהלים קלח) הודו לה’ כי טוב דניאל אמר (דניאל ב) לך אלהא אבהתי מהודא ומשבח אנה רחל תפסה פלך שתיקה ועמדו כל בניה בעלי מסטירין בנימין ישפה יש פה יודע במכירתו של יוסף ואינו מגיד שאול (ש”א י) ואת דבר המלוכה לא הגיד לו אסתר (אסתר ב) אין אסתר מגדת מולדתה ואת עמה
Leah thanked Hashem (for her fourth son Yehuda) and because she was such a thankful person, begot Yehuda, King David, and the prophet Daniel, all who were outstanding in their praise of Hashem [as indicated in their respective verses]. Rachel did not disclose [her father Lavan giving Leah to Yaakov for a wife instead of her] and, as a result, she begot Binyamin, Saul, and Queen Esther, all whom were quiet and kept important information to themselves. Esther fulfilled Mordechai’s instructions to not tell the king her lineage, even though Achashverosh put great pressure on her. The Midrash attributes her power to do this in her great grandmother Rachel, who went through a similar situation and succeeded.
Our actions are very powerful and can affect our future generations. When we take care to do them properly, and with pure intentions, those actions are transformed into holy actions and will make a profound difference not only in the direct outcome, but even for future generations. What an important lesson!