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Parashat P’kudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38)

“On the first day of the month you shall set up the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting.”  (Exodus 40:2) 

Parashat P’kudei  opens with an accounting of the materials used to build the mishkan (Tabernacle) and describes again the priestly garments, repeating God’s instructions to Moses. Finally, it closes the book of Exodus with Moses setting up the Tabernacle and blessing the Israelites.

Earlier in Exodus, the census of the Israelites is achieved by collecting a half-shekel from each participant (Ex. 30:13; a shekel was a unit of weight).  P’kudei repeats the half-shekel motif in its tally of precious metals used to craft the mishkan: “…A half-shekel a head, half a shekel by the sanctuary weight, for each who was entered in the records…”(Ex. 38:26).  Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Alter (1799-1866: founder of the Ger Chassidic dynasty) notes the numeric value of “shekel” in Hebrew (430) is equal to the numeric value of “nefesh”, or soul. He infers from this the half-shekel is a symbol of humility and lack of arrogance; God prefers Israelites who aren’t too puffed up or think too highly of themselves or think they are complete souls when they are not.

The completion of the mishkan offers a counterbalance.  When God commands Moses to build the mishkan, it is, “…so that the Tabernacle becomes one whole. “ (Ex. 26:6).  This phrase echoes a statement in Deuteronomy that, “…God is one [whole].” (Deut. 6:4)  The Zohar (a 13th Century Spanish volume that is the central text of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism)) uses this equivalency to identify the mishkan as a symbol of unity, since its many disparate parts combine to become on unified whole.

So it is with the Israelite nation: it is made up of many individuals, each unique, each with a contribution to make, each one a fraction, alone.  Together, though, we become a unified people, whole and complete.


Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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