Anyone with a skeptical side will ask a very obvious question on this week’s Torah portion: Why are we going through all of the details of the building of the Mishkan a second time? Once could explain that the first time around we were trying to explain difficulty in trying to capture the infinite in a finite space, or alternatively we could explain that the details are simply there to make sure that we are serious about our actions in this world (See Lessons of the Mishkan Parts 1 & 2). However, why would we need to go into the details a second time? Granted that this portion is the story of the actions compared to the previous sections which dealt with the commandments, but this entire Pasha could have been shortened to one sentence: “And the Jews built the Mishkan exactly the way they were told, through the hands of Betzalel and Oholliab (the two people in charge of construction).”
In order to understand the full story of the Mishkan, we must understand the context of this week’s portion in relationship to the peculiar portion we read last week, Ki Tisa. First of all, there are two portions in a row (Terumah and Tetzaveh) about the details of the Mishkan followed by two more portions that mirror those two (VaYakhel and Pekudei). However the two pairs of two are split in up the portion Ki Tisa. Ki Tisa is about the sin of the golden calf and Moses’ ensuing dialogue with God, which we quoted last week.
What about Ki Tisa is so important that it warranted a break from the building of the Mishkan, and what does this story of the Golden Calf teach us about the Mishkan?
To answer, I would like to take a step back. The entire Book of Exodus is the story from slavery to nationhood. The Jews started as slaves and then were freed. However, upon their freedom they had flaws. For instance, after seeing the hand of God literally drown the Egyptians, within a couple days they complained about not having water. They then complained about not having meat and not having water a second time. They then witness a miraculous defeat of the Amalekites and literally heard God speak to them at Sinai. They were commanded regarding the Mishkan with all its details! They were there, on the brink of nationhood. There, at that level, nearing the end, that is when the largest sin known to mankind occurred. Our Sages teach us that every sin that any Jew commits has a part of the golden calf incorporated into it. This sin was an absolute rejection of everything that occurred just moments ago in miraculous fashion. These were the eyewitnesses to the greatest miracles known to mankind.
Moses has a dialogue with G-d, comes down to the camp, and then our Torah portion picks up from there. What does Moses do? How does a leader respond to the people after such an event?
Moses decides that is time to make the Jewish people into the Jewish nation. Right away, we see the name of the Parsha is VaYakhel, from the root word “KHL”, meaning congregation. And Moses “congregated” the people. Throughout the entire portion we see very strange adjectives describing the people during this building period: “Generous spirit, generous heart, wise hearted, etc.”
The Jews were excited about this project. Moses even had to tell them to stop donating because there was an excess amount of wealth in the Mishkan fund! This was because the Jews finally were able to partake in the building themselves.
This is the lesson of the repeat of the details. The entire story of Exodus thus far has been all Moses and God. God did such and such miracle, Moses said such and such, God commanded such and such, Moses, God, etc. The Jews get inspired from this, but it is so evanescent! In order to create a lasting impression the Jews must be involved on an active level. There needs to be a project that involves the nation!
The Jews in this week’s portion are different than the very same Jews that we have seen thus far. Now they are working together to build something. Now they are involved. Now they are a nation, a Kehila (hence the name VaYakhel).
The details this time around are quantitatively the same as last time, but they are qualitatively on a much higher plane. When we work together towards one goal we become a nation. When we have an active role in life we become better people in the eyes of God. We must learn to work together and take upon active roles in our lives and our religion.
– Jonathan Levine