February 6, 2014

Parshat Tetzaveh

It is extremely easy to read this section of the Torah dealing with the Mishkan and get lost.   The precise details seem like an insurmountable of rather unexciting information, rather than a recipe for a connection with God.  I would like to make sure that we all understand the bigger picture here – the goal of the Mishkan as stated in the text itself, and the realization of that goal through actions.
The goal of the Mishkan is stated almost immediately in Parshat Terumah, the opening section of the Torah on the subject:  “And they shall make Me a sanctuary and I will dwell in their midst.”    Now to discuss this verse completely would take ages – just about every single person who has ever written a commentary to the Chumash, ranging from Rashi to Chasidic masters, has written extensively on this verse.  I am not going to focus on this verse; rather I just want to point out that this is the stated goal.
It is interesting to note when this goal is achieved.  We have now been instructed to build the Ark, the Table, the Menorah, the Courtyard, the Priestly Garments, and the Breastplate for the Kohen Gadol, etc.   None of those things seem to interest the Torah in terms of the goal stated.
So when do we accomplish this goal?  If you look very carefully at the end of the Parsha you will find your answer.  Smack in the middle of the order of sacrificial services we accomplish our goal: “I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel and I will be their God.”
I implore you to take a look at where this verse is placed.  Chapter 29 Verse 45.  Literally directly after the instructions on how to bring the daily offering.   How could this be the ideal place for the goal of this entire section of the Torah to be realized?  We sacrifice a lamb in the morning and another one at night and all of a sudden we have achieved union with our Creator?  What is going on?
There is a famous argument between Mishnaic scholars (cited in the introduction to the Sefer Ein Yaakov) as to what the most important verse in the entire Torah is.  The first two rabbis give fairly comprehendible answers:  Ben Zoma says “Shema Yisrael” takes the gold, while Ben Nanas argues that “Love your neighbor like thyself” is the number one.   The third opinion is literally shocking.  Rabbi Shimon Ben Pazi proclaims “The one lamb you shall offer up in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer up in the afternoon.”  He takes it out right out of our Parsha, and makes his claim that this verse is the single most important verse in the entire Torah!  This verse is verse 39, just 6 before our goal was achieved.
There is a deeper message that Ben Pazi understood, and it behooves us to understand as well.  The Torah chose specifically this section of the Torah to “finalize” our goal in building the Mishkan; because this section represents the last step we as a nation and as individuals need to take in order to connect with God.
Judaism is a religion about consistency.  Every single week, without fail, Shabbat comes at sunset on Friday evening.  Every single day, three times, we are supposed to pray to God.  Our laws are constant – they are consistent.  The book Mesilat Yesharim argues that only through consistency a person can be a Torah scholar and a righteous person.
The Mishkan, as we talked about last week, is fully symbolic of our connection and relationship with God in this world.  The only way to really connect with God is through consistency.  I advise everyone reading this, whatever level of observance, to become consistent.  Find your morning and afternoon lamb – whether it is learning Torah, praying, thanking God before eating food, lighting Shabbat candles – and do it always.  Do it consistently.  Establish a pattern, a discipline routine, and stick to it.  This is the only way we can actually accomplish our goal, of bringing God into our world.
Shabbat Shalom!
– Jonathan Levine