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The Ba’al HaTurim (commentary on Exodus 40; 33) points out the seemingly redundant repetition of the phrase, “As G-d commanded Moshe” after each item for the Mishkan was constructed. He explains that as a reward for Moshe’s pleading for the Jews after the sin of the Golden Calf, when he said, “Please erase me from your book”, G-d constantly repeats Moshe’s name in this portion.
The Ba’al HaTurim notes further that the phrase “As G-d commanded Moshe” appears eighteen times in this portion, corresponding to the eighteen blessings of the weekday Amida. The phrase, “As G-d commanded, so they did” appears once, and corresponds to the additional nineteenth blessing against heretics. How are these three ideas - Moshe’s pleading, the Amida, and the construction of the Mishkan - related?
The Talmud (Berachot 28b) asks what the eighteen blessings of the Amida correspond to. Several answers are given: Rabbi Hillel son of Rabbi Shmuel says they correspond to the eighteen times G-d’s name is mentioned in Havu LaShem B’nei Eilim (Psalm 29), Rav Yosef says that they are in place of the eighteen times G-d’s name is mentioned in the Shema and Rav Tanchum says in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi that they correspond to the eighteen vertebrae in the spine.
It seems understandable to relate the blessings of the Amida to mentions of G-d’s name, since the purpose of prayer is to create a connection with G-d. However, what is the connection between the Amida and the spine? The Talmud hints at the answer to this with another statement of Rav Tanchum in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, that one should bow during the Amida to the extent that the vertebrae stick out. For Rav Tanchum it seems that the essence of the Amida is subjugation to G-d’s will, evidenced through bowing. Elsewhere (Bava Kamma 16a) the Talmud states that a person’s spine transforms into a snake after seven years if they do not bow during Modim. We understand the metaphor of the Talmud, if a person refuses to show humility before G-d, and does not bow in thanksgiving, they come to resemble the snake of the Garden of Eden, who also rebelled against its creator.
This self-nullification in the presence of G-d is what Moshe did on Mount Sinai. After the sin of the Calf, Moshe was prepared to sacrifice himself in order to save the nation. The Rashbam (commentary on ibid. 32; 32) explains that “Erase me from Your book” refers to the book of life. Moshe was prepared to give up his role in this world and the next in order to save the nation. This is the ultimate in subjugation and humility. Moshe felt that he did not deserve any merit in his own right, but that his only value was as the leader of the people. Therefore if they were to be wiped out, he would forfeit his share of both worlds.
The construction of the Mishkan involved months of skilled and difficult work. Though everyone brought donations for the Mishkan, only a few people had the requisite skills to fashion the materials according to the Divine blueprints. Eventually, when Moshe assembled everything and the nation saw the beauty of the structure, with its gold, silver and precious gems, along with colourful woven tapestries, it would have been natural for those involved in the construction to take a certain satisfaction and pride in their work. However, this would have negated everything that the Mishkan represented. How can a human being using their body, which is a gift from G-d, to fashion the materials which were created by G-d, according to a plan given by G-d, take any personal pride in their accomplishments? This is similar to the statement of Pirkei Avos (2; 9), “If you have learnt much Torah, do not claim credit for yourself, since you were created for this very purpose”.
Therefore the Torah repeats the phrase, “As G-d commanded Moshe” eighteen times, to show that the Mishkan was constructed with the same selflessness which Moshe embodied. The only purpose was to fulfill the will of G-d. Similarly, in prayer, we should strive for this commitment to serving G-d. We do not make requests of G-d for our own pleasure, but so that we will be better able to perform the will of our Creator.
Each Torah portion takes its name from its first or second sentence. Yet the name also represents the theme or essence of that reading. Pikudei, the name of this week’s Parsha,is translated in this context as reckonings, or accountings, but we find elsewhere in the Torah that the verb Poked also has several other meanings. When Sarah conceives Yitzchak (Isaac) the Torah says “V’Hashem Pakad Es Sarah Ka’asher Amar”, “G-d remembered Sarah as He had said [that He would]” (Genesis 21; 1). The Torah uses the word when Yosef is appointed, first as head of Potiphar’s household, later as head of the jail, and finally when he appoints others to oversee the storing of grain before the famine (ibid. 39; 4. 40; 4. 41; 34). After the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d says “Uv’yom Pokdi Ufakadti Aleihem Chatasam”, “On the day when I grant special providence to the people, I will take this sin of theirs into account” (Exodus 32; 34). Most importantly, the code phrase that Yosef (Joseph) gives to the Jews before his death, the promise that G-d will redeem them from Egypt, is “Pakod Yifkod Elokim Eschem”, “G-d will surely remember you” (Genesis 50; 24). This is the same phrase that G-d tells Moshe to use when he returns from Midian to redeem the Jews, “Pakod Pokadti Eschem” (Exodus 3; 16). Finally, a Pikadon means a deposit for safekeeping (Leviticus 5; 21). How are all of these meanings connected, and what is their relevance to today’s Torah reading?
The common denominator in most of these quotations is that they involve a special providence; G-d changes the normal order of things in order to influence the future history of the Jewish nation. Under normal circumstances a ninety year old post-menopausal woman does not conceive. Yet miraculously G-d intervenes and causes Sarah to conceive, in order that she should have a descendant to continue the work that she and Avraham had begun. Though Yosef is the son of Ya’akov, thus a prince in his own right, the Egyptians think that he is a slave. Therefore his rise to prominence is truly remarkable; G-d is making provisions for the exile in Egypt in order to create a unified nation out of the small family of Ya’akov. When the Jews built the Golden Calf, they deserved to be annihilated for their sin. . Because of Moshe’s prayers, and those of the whole nation, G-d created history and punished them a little at a time. In this way they achieved a complete atonement, without being destroyed. Each calamity that befalls the Jewish nation throughout time contsind within it a part of the original Pekida of the Golden Calf, and therefore clearly shows His intervention in the normal course of history.
Of course, the time when the world most clearly beholds G-d’s changing of the natural order for the sake of the Jews, is the Exodus. All of the plagues, the splitting of the Reed Sea, and the other miracles that we relate each year in the Hagadda, are an eternal reminder of G-d’s love for us, and His willingness to override nature for our benefit. Before his death, Yosef promises the Jews that the hardship of the slavery in Egypt is also part of the Divine plan. Who knows better than Yosef that even the most difficult injustices are also a sign of G-d’s love for us, and His intervention in history. Pakod Yifkod becomes the phrase which enables the Jews to endure the severest pain of their suffering. They know that it is an open sign of G-d’s concern for them, despite appearances to the contrary.
The reason for Pekida is because the Jews are a Pikadon entrusted to G-d’s safekeeping. In the Covenant Between the Pieces G-d promised Avraham “Look at the sky and count the stars. See if you can count them. That is how your descendants will be... To your descendants I have given this land...”. At that time, G-d promised to ensure the future of Avraham’s descendants and to involve Himself directly in history to fulfil this promise. All of the future generations are a surety to Avraham that G-d will keep this promise.
The completion of the Mishkan in Pikudei is the final step in the spiritual redemption from Egypt. It indicates a return to the level of our forefathers, in that G-d gives a constant indication of His dwelling in our midst. This is the pinnacle of the Pekida that was promised to Avraham and conveyed through Yosef. Ultimately, the setting up of the Mishkan was a necessary consequence of the slavery in Egypt. Thus it was appointed from the time of the covenant with Avraham. In fact the mystics say that the building of the Mishkan was appointed from the very beginning of creation. It was erected “Bayom HaSh’mini”, “On the eighth day”, the natural culmination of the seven days of creation.
Thus the accounting of the materials of the Mishkan also shows G-d’s involvement with the world, and the special providence which He grants the Jewish people. The reason the Jews deserve this special providence is because they are a surety for the promises made to Avraham. Together with the fact that the Mishkan was constructed at a time appointed from the time of creation, this is a fitting ending for the book of Exodus, retrospectively showing how all the pieces of history fit together.
1Often mistranslated as “The Red Sea”
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