Pekudei: your own deeds will cause you to be near, and your own deeds will cause you to be far.
ELE PEKUDEI HAMISHKAN – “These are the numbers of the Mishkan”, they are the words that begin our Torah portion. We are concluding the fifth of 5 Torah portions that are focused on the construction of the Tabernacle.
We continue reading on Exodus 38:21 : “These are the numbers of the Mishkan that are counted by Moses’ command. And by the work of the Leviyim that are handled [Torah says “in the hand”] under the direction of Itamar, the son of Aaron”.
And we learn from Talmud – Always appoint at least 2 people together as trustees over public funds. Even when Moses enjoyed the full trust of God, as it is written in Numbers 12:7: “In all my house he is trusted”, he still had to work on the accounts of the sanctuary together with others, as we just said “by the hands of Itamar, the son of Aaron”.
This immediately raises the question about the nature of man according to Torah. Did Moses need somebody else to work with him? Moses, the most trusted, Moses, the one who risked his life to save others, Moses, the faithful man! Did he really need that? And the answer is – yes, of course Moses needed that. The notion of infallibility is not a Jewish notion. That’s one of the attributes that the Pope gets in Christian tradition. But in our tradition not even Moses gets it. And that’s because this point gets to the “Kishkes” of Jewish understanding of humanity. Humans, we are an imperfect perfect creation. Our bodies and our skills reveal the depth and the magic of the creation but our existence is about the way in which we deal with life’s circumstances. It is about our choices; it is about our values. Moses is not presented as a divine model but as a human one. An exemplary human being with a beautiful and inspiring leadership, our Rabbi, our prophet, the ultimate Jewish super-hero, but not perfect. A great human being.
As we learn from our sages in the Mishnah (Tractate Eduyot 5): “Maaseicha Yekarvucha, Maaseicha Yerachakucha” – your own deeds will cause you to be near, and your own deeds will cause you to be far. We are all divine creations, and our closeness to God will be determined by each of our deeds, by each of our choices, and of course by the way in which we will deal with our failures and mistakes.
But this is about our connection with God on an individual basis. However this Torah portion, like the last 4, focuses on what we do with the sum of our individualities. For the last couple of weeks we have been asking about the nature of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle. We have asked if God really needs a house, a box, a physical space to inhabit among us. For those who think of God as an abstract experience, an amorphous being, we struggle a bit with this conception. But maybe the Mishkan is a tangible and didactic way to teach us about a very important notion; something about how God dwells among us, in our midst. “Veasu li Mikdash Veshachanti Betocham”.
When a society shares sublime goals, purpose and values, when a society is capable of working together, of building something that goes beyond their individualities, they bring by definition God to their midst. They bring the merciful soul of this world that has something to do with our being humans. It has something to do with the way in which we act as we said “Maaseicha Yekarvucha VeMaaseicha Yerachakucha”. We can, with our deeds as a society, bring the divine presence to our lives.
Torah shares a snapshot of a moment like that; we read in Exodus 39:43 : “VAYERA MOSHE – Moses saw the entire work and feeling inspired by the work of the Israelites he blessed them”. At that moment Moses was able
to see in the Israelites a new light. He saw the Shechinah, the divine presence, and in an act of profound empathy, he loved the sum of their individualities. He blessed them. He blessed the work of their joined hands.
Here is the idea that encloses the essence of the relationship between God and man; the blessing is a transcendental act in which we succeed to bring our beings beyond ourselves and when blessing we connect with the merciful soul of this world, source of our individual souls and the sum of all of them together. At that moment God is within the Israelites, but also through Moses’ words.
However we learn with the Mishkan that that presence is not granted. That connection is not given. Sometimes we are so close, so attached, we are ECHAD as we say in the Shema, that you can’t even differentiate between us. But sometimes we are so far, so indifferent, that we feel like two strangers. At that point the wisdom of the Mishnah stands once again in front of us as we understand that our personal and community choices are those that determine who we are. Our values are those which place us in our life. It is the way in which we deal with our conflicts and circumstances that shapes our identities. It is the way in which we succeed to keep that abstract or, if you want, tangible thing that represents for us the notion of what is sublime.
“Maaseicha Yekarvucha Umaaseicha Yerachakucha” – your own deeds will cause you to be near, and your own deeds will cause you to be far.