Parashat Pekudei: On Showing Up and Bearing Witness #Ukraine

Inventory Reconciliation:  “Inventory reconciliation is the process of comparing physical inventory counts with records of inventory on hand”. 

No, I am not reading the wrong script, because parashat pekudei is indeed an inventory reconciliation. Pekudei is the last in a sequence of five Torah portions dedicated to the building of the Tabernacle. Now, after asking for a variety of contributions, there is a moment of public accountability.

Exodus 38:21

אֵ֣לֶּה פְקוּדֵ֤י הַמִּשְׁכָּן֙ מִשְׁכַּ֣ן הָֽעֵדֻ֔ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר פֻּקַּ֖ד עַל־פִּ֣י משֶׁ֑ה עֲבֹדַת֙ הַֽלְוִיִּ֔ם בְּיַד֙ אִֽיתָמָ֔ר בֶּן־אַֽהֲרֹ֖ן הַכֹּהֵֽן:

These are the accounts of the Mishkan, the Mishkan of the Testimony, which were counted at Moses’ command; [this was] the work of the Levites under the direction of Itamar, the son of Aaron the Kohen.

So Moses requests this “audit” which is given as a task to the Levites who are accompanied by Itamar, who is a son of Aharon the Priest. 

There are two words that stand out in this pasuk (verse)  and I’d like to explore them with you.

The first one is the one that gives its name to our Sidra, Pekudei. The word Pekudei means to account, but not only so… The root פקד paked – the word ‘lehitpaked’ is to stand for, to account for… In addition, in the book of Genesis (21:1) we read that God “Pakad Sarah”, which translates as took account of her, or as, God was present for Sarah. 

So our Parsha starts with a moment that symbolizes accountability, showing up and ultimately being present. 

Points out the Or Chayim, Rab Chaim ibn Attar that Moses’ accounting was enough for God, he wasn’t suspect of any kind of dishonesty. The vocabulary of Torah itself  is “Mishkan Haedut ” a testimonial Tabernacle. Yet on top of that we have at the same scene the Levites under Itamar’s survision performing an additional accounting. And so the imperative question is: why was this additional testimonial accounting needed at all? If the text itself is saying that the Mishkan is the proof of our inventory reconciliation, why is this additional layer ordered by Moses and performed by the Levites and Itamar needed at all? The Or Chayim explains that the purpose is to show that the accountability is not only placed on one leader, but rather anyone in the People should be able to carry on this responsibility and to be held accountable for it. 

And here is the second word that I want to explore; 

Reminder: the first one was Pekudei – to stand for, to show up, to be present.  The second one is Edut. Witnessing. The idea of Edut, of witnessing, appears twice in this verse: the first time literally, referring to the Mishkan, saying that this is a testimony, and the second time conceptually, by the work of the Levites and Itamar, presenting the cycle in which the Levites account for Moses and Itamar accounts for the Levites.

Midrash Tanchuma, on our Parashah, refers to witnessing as well, as it compares between the creation of the world and the erection of the tabernacle. The Rabbis ask: why is the Tabernacle equal to heaven and earth? And they reply: Because even as heaven and earth bear witness concerning Israel, as it is written: I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day (Deut. 30:19), so the Tabernacle bears witness in behalf of Israel, as it is said: These are the accounts of the Tabernacle, even the Tabernacle of the testimony (Exod. 38:21).

The Mishkan is a reflection, a testimony of our actions. It furthermore represents our search for justice, for truth, for kindness and for peace, for Shalom. It is a testimony of our willingness to build a world with space for God. This same God that says, in the book of Isaiah [43:10]: “אתם עדיי” – you are my witnesses. 

Parashat Pekudei, in a metaphorical but very tangible way, reminds us of the ultimate importance of being accounted for, being present, showing up and bearing witness.

We are experiencing a situation which, to some extent, feels surreal. We are seeing a sovereign, peaceful democracy, being occupied by a ruthless aggressor. 

I think it is safe to say that many feel deeply consternated and overwhelmed by despair.

For many in the Jewish community the images coming from Europe, from Ukraine, connect us with our trans-generational trauma. 

And it is in this context that we come this year in Parashat Pekudei to do our inventory reconciliation and the numbers are not adding up. 

There is no correspondence between the resources we have in our world, the experiences we have collected over the past hundred years, and the situation that we are witnessing in Ukraine. 

The exuberance of the catastrophe we are seeing in Ukraine is inhibiting and could make us feel powerless in our ability to help.  Going back to our Torah portion, similarly the responsibility over Tabernacle could have been perceived as something that was well beyond the reach of normal people. Parashat Pekudei comes to teach us that there is no such thing. We all can and must show up and bear witness. Because ultimately it is that act of presence that will account for us. This is a moment not to lament for what we cannot do, but rather to be present and engage in every single thing that we can do to bring healing to our world that is in such desperate need of it. 

We show up and bear witness in our prayers, 

We show up and bear witness by rallying in social media, 

We show up and bear witness by making financial contributions, 

We show up and bear witness by demonstrating,

We show up and bear witness by taking sides and by saying that there is such a thing as a difference between right and wrong, and between good and evil.

Parashat Pekudei is the last Torah portion of the book of Exodus. In this book we learned about the dangers of the fear from otherness, we learned about the importance of stepping forward with faith, we learned that there are always going to be cowards that attack us from behind, and  while they need to be remembered, they don’t set the tone of our journey. 

In the book of Exodus we learned that the foundational story of our People is the transition from being oppressed to finding redemption. We learned that caring for the weak and loving the “other” are central to the world we are aiming to create.  

And finally, the book of Exodus leaves us with a very clear message: Each of us counts, we can all contribute and we all, even when feeling powerless, have the power to show up and to bear witness.  Because we are God’s witnesses.

Shabbat Shalom

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