Pekudei: Let the celebrations begin!

What greater joy can there be than building the House of G-d?

Daniel Pinner

Judaism Daniel Pinner
Daniel Pinner

Dedicated to the memory of Sidney Goldschneider (Yehoshua Zelig ben Mordechai), former Gabbai and President Emeritus of Palmers Green Synagogue. Perhaps the greatest Mensch – in every possible sense of the word – I have ever known, who returned his soul to its Maker last week on 22nd Adar I (1st March). Yehi zichro baruch.

מִשֶּׁנִכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה, “when [the month of] Adar begins, we increase our joy”, say our Sages (Ta’anit 29a), which has been adopted into practical halakhah (Mishnah Berurah 686:8, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 141:1).

Ever since the yearly cycle of Torah readings was standardized towards the end of the Second Temple era, and the fixed calendar as calculated by Hillel II (Hillel ben Yehudah, Nasi or head of the Sanhedrin) was adopted in 4119 (359 C.E.), Parashat Pekudey falls in the month of Adar. In non-leap years, it is invariably a double parashah, Vayak’hel-Pekudey, on the final Shabbat in Adar. In leap years (as this year 5776 is), it is usually the first Shabbat in Adar II (as it is this year); occasionally, the final Shabbat in Adar I (which has only happened five times in the last 25 leap years).

Parashat Pekudey concludes the Book of Exodus. Having spent some one-third of this Book recounting the preparations for building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle), gathering the materials for its construction and its various accoutrements, and finally the Mishkan’s actual building, the Book of Exodus climaxes with the Mishkan standing, functioning, covered by G-d’s Cloud of Glory, filled with G-d’s glory, ready for the sacrifices which will begin in next week’s parashah, Vayikra.

Describing those climactic celebrations which marked the completion of the Mishkan’s construction, the Torah tells us that the Children of Israel “brought the Mishkan to Moshe” (Exodus 39:33).

The Midrash expounds: “‘They brought the Mishkan to Moshe’ – about this it says, ‘go out and gaze, O daughters of Zion, at King Solomon with his crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding and the day of his heart’s rejoicing’ (Song of Songs 3:11). Of when does this verse speak? – The day that the Mishkan was erected, on which there was great rejoicing in Israel, because G-d was infused into their midst. ‘O daughters of Zion [Tziyyon]’ – children who are distinguished [metzuyyanim] to Me from the idolaters... ‘King Solomon [Shlomo]’ – the King to Whom peace belongs [ha-shalom lo], the supreme King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be He. ‘His crown with which his mother crowned him’ – this is the Mishkan... ‘The day of his wedding’ – at the Red Sea. ‘And the day of his heart’s rejoicing’ – in the Tent of Meeting [an alternative name for the Mishkan]” (Shemot Rabbah 53:5).

And then at last the Mishkan stood – after months of preparation, after the débâcle of the golden calf, after tearful and fearful prayers for forgiveness, after enthusiastic donations of gold and silver, of the half-shekels, of skills and resources from the entire nation.

With this, the Book of Exodus closes.

The Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain and Israel, 1195-c.1270) and the Sforno (Rabbi Ovadyah S’forno, Italy, c.1470-1550) both give overviews of the overall theme of the Book of Exodus.

The Ramban writes: “The subject of the Book of Exodus is the first exile…and the redemption from it… Now, the exile was not ended until the day of their return to their place [i.e. the Land of Israel]... When they left Egypt, even though they had left the house of slavery they were still considered exiles, because they were ‘in a land not theirs’, wandering through the desert. And when they came to Mount Sinai and built the Mishkan, and G-d restored His Divine Presence to their midst, then they were restored to their Forefathers’ level…and then they were considered redeemed. And therefore, this Book concludes with the completion of the Mishkan, and the Glory of Hashem filling it perpetually” (Introduction to the Book of Exodus).

The Sforno has a similar, though subtly different, perspective: “In His second Book He tells that when the seed of Israel began to violate the Covenant of their fathers in Egypt...they became subject to slavery with hard labour, until a minority of them repented and prayed, and a messenger came to save them. It begins by relating that when He desired their honour He spoke to them face-to-face, and they thereby merited crowns of spiritual splendour at Mount Horeb. But they rebelled and were stripped of those crowns, and the Shechinah [Divine Presence] departed from them. It then relates that nevertheless, G-d did not cease to orchestrate their affairs such that He would still dwell in their midst; He commanded the work of the Mishkan and its vessels, and the establishment of the Kohanim [Priests] in their Divine Service, and He thereby restored His Shechinah, Presence, to their midst after their utter [spiritual] ruin and despair [i.e. the sorry episode of the golden calf]. And with that, He concludes His second Book” (Introduction to the Book of Exodus).

Both the Ramban and the Sforno explain the Book of Exodus to be the narration of redemption from Egyptian slavery, which was completed with the construction of the Mishkan, with which this Book concludes.

It was in the Book of Exodus that the Children of Israel, standing around Mount Sinai, accepted the Torah. It was then that they said, en masse: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע  – “we will do it and we will hear it” (Exodus 24:7) – implying complete acceptance of the Torah even before knowing what its precise demands were.

But great though that declaration of נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע was, it was motivated primarily by fear of G-d rather than love of G-d.

The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) and the Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Yitro 283) graphically describe the event: “‘They were standing at the bottom of the mountain’ (Exodus 19:17) – indicating that G-d lifted the mountain and suspended it above them like a barrel, and said: If you accept the Torah – well and good; and if not – this will be your burial-place. Rabbi Acha bar Ya’akov said: This seems like a powerful argument against the Torah! . Rava said: Nevertheless, the generation accepted the Torah in the days of Achashverosh, as it says ‘The Jews confirmed and accepted’ (Esther 9:27) – they confirmed what they had long since accepted”.

As we noted above, Parashat Pekudey, the conclusion of the Book of Exodus, is invariably read in the month of Adar – either as the introduction to Purim (in leap years, as this year is) or as the aftermath to Purim.

So it is significant that the S’forno (cited above, his Introduction to the Book of Exodus) refers to the time “...when He desired their honour”, using the Hebrew phrase כַּאֲשֶׁר חָפֵץ בִּיקָרַם – paraphrasing the words which King Achashverosh ordered Haman to proclaim when parading Mordechai through the city on the royal horse: כָּכָה יֵעָשֶׂה לָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הַמֶּלֶךְ חָפֵץ בִּיקָרוֹ – “Thus shall be done to the man whose honour the king desires” (Esther 6:9 and 11).

Though we accepted the Torah in the Book of Exodus (which we complete this Shabbat), the complete acceptance was on Purim (which we will celebrate in another two weeks).

This week’s Haftarah is taken from 1 Kings 7:51-8:21, relating the dedication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. As with the dedication of the Mishkan in the Sinai Desert 478-and-a-half years earlier, when King Solomon completed the construction of the Holy Temple, the entire nation of Israel held tremendous, enthusiastic celebrations.

For after all, what greater joy can there be than building the House of G-d?

Above, we cited the Midrashic idea that “The day of his wedding” was the Splitting of the Red Sea, and “the day of his heart’s rejoicing” was in the Mishkan. Now we cite other interpretations:

“‘The day of his wedding’ – this is the Giving of the Torah. ‘And the day of his heart’s rejoicing’ – this is the Holy Temple, may it be built speedily, in our days, amen” (Ta’anit 4:8; Eichah Rabbah, Introductions 33).

“‘The day of his wedding’ – this is the Tent of Meeting. ‘And the day of his heart’s rejoicing’ – this is the eternal Holy Temple” (Bamidbar Rabbah 12:8, Shir Hashirim Rabbah 3:2).

Of course the return to Israel was a tremendous joy – the first return led by Joshua, the second return led by Zerubavel, later by Ezra and Nehemiah, and the third and final return though which we are living today in our present generation.

And greater – far greater – will be the rejoicing when we rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the third and final Holy Temple which will stand forever.

מִשֶּׁנִכְנַס אֲדָר מַרְבִּין בְּשִׂמְחָה, “when Adar begins, we increase our joy”. Let the celebrations begin!