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Rabbi Dr N. L. Cardozo puts the dilemma of our two detailed parshiot perfectly: “When studying the last chapters of Shemot, we are puzzled by the great amount of detail and repetition in the instructions relating to the building and the architecture of the Mishkan. While the Torah is normally very parsimonious in its words, here we find an overflow of seemingly repetitious words and an unusual emphasis on detail. Not the smallest nuance is left out, and nothing is left to human imagination. Preciseness stands out, and every pin and string is mentioned.”[1]

Life is full of the complex interplay between the klal and the p’rat: the universal and the particular, society and the individual, generalizations and specifics.

For example, the unit of war is the nation, the army or the battalion. In such circumstances, the lone soldier is in danger of losing his sense of identity and personal worth, as the individual becomes subsumed to the collective. This is the reason for the placement of the parsha of Egla Arufa in between the laws of war (indeed, the exact same expression: “When you go out to battle against your enemy” flanks, on both sides, the law of the solitary corpse lying in a field – see Devarim 20:1 and 21:10!). In this manner, the Torah reminds us of the exceptional value placed upon human life and the significance of the individual.

Even Moshe Rabbeinu had to learn this lesson – so focused as he was on the idealistic crusade with which he was charged by God to “let My people go so they may serve Me” that he deprioritized his own family unit by delaying his new born son’s Brit Mila (see Shemot 4:24)!

This is what the Torah cautions. Don’t forget the importance of each individual; every detail of the Mishkan, each individual mitzvah and halakha. Yet at the same time, we dare not lose sight of the ultimate goal, our mission, “what does Hashem require of you?” (Micha 6:8). Thus, in our parsha, after the detailed description of each person and object in the Mishkan, the Torah concludes: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the glory of God filled the Mishkan” (Shemot 40:34). And right at the beginning of the Mishkan parshiot the Torah similarly states the ultimate purpose of the structure: “Make for Me a Mikdash that My Shechina may dwell there.” These bookends are vital – they remind us of the ultimate purpose and object of the entire enterprise.

The book of Iyov (Job) captures the importance of this message. After cycles of detailed dialogue to try and ascertain why the righteous suffer, Iyov is finally forced to acknowledge his ignorance. When God laid the foundations of the earth and the morning stars sang together, he was not present as spectator or partner. Encompassed by the infinite mysteries of the Nature, he bows his head in humble acknowledgment of his human insignificance set against the cosmic majesty, finding support in the righteous God who would one day establish his innocence.[2]

Soon, we’ll be reenacting in the Pesach Haggada the competition as to how many plagues were inflicted on the Egyptians at Yam Suf: from 10 plagues (the “finger of God”) to 50 plagues (the “hand” of God) according to R. Yossi HaGlili, to 200 )R. Eliezer) or even 250 )R. Akiva)! The latter two rabbis base their dispute on a verse in Psalm 78, which is a poetic retelling of the Exodus story: “God let loose upon the Egyptians His fierce anger: (1) wrath, (2) indignation and (3) trouble, (4) a company of evil angels.” Instead of the colon after the words “His fierce anger”, Rabbi Akiva would have added a comma, creating a further plague, which in turns results in there being 50 X 5 plagues!

An analogy can be made to salt. By noting its chemical composition (NaCl – sodium and chlorine atoms), we more fully appreciate its depth and breadth. The magnitude of the miracle is similarly intensified by spelling out every detail of God’s involvement on behalf of Bnei Yisrael.

“We’re all individuals”, as the inimitable quote goes. May we merit to appreciate the delicate balance between the individual and the general in everything we do!


[1] See his suggested fascinating, original answer (via an analogy to the endless repetitions of musical patterns in Bach’s musical compositions!) at: The Tent of Meeting and Johann Sebastian Bach - David Cardozo Academy / Parshat Pekudei and Johann Sebastian Bach - David Cardozo Academy.

[2] Adapted from the beautifully written Soncino introduction to the Book of Job.

Simon M. Jacksonis Legal Adviser to Torah MiTzion

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