Parshat Pekudei: 5 Sanctuaries, a Golden Calf and a Search for God

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06 Mar 2008

Parshat Pekudei 5768

The last five parshiot of the Book of Shemot – Terumah, Tetzaveh, Ki Tisa, Vayakhel and Pekudei – provide us with an historical spectrum beginning with our desert experience up to and including the days of our own lives; and it only remains for us to – unravel its secrets.

We do not assign marks to what is seemingly more important in the Torah, for all of it is the holy words of HaShem, as dictated to Moshe Rabbeinu. But one can say that a certain parasha is the more intriguing. For me Parashat Ki Tisa is the most challenging of the five.

Part One: 5 Sanctuaries

There are obvious difficulties with regard to the positioning of these five parshiot:

1- Teruma and Tetzaveh are not just “twins”, they are Siamese twins, as are Vayakhel and Pekudei. Teruma and Tetzaveh contain HaShem’s command to Bnei Yisrael to erect the first structure designed to house the shechina in this lower world, and could easily be incorporated into a single parashe. So too Vayakhel and Pekudei, the last two parshiot in the book, which inform us of the commands’ fulfillment, and could easily be one parashe. So why do they constitute four different parshiot?

2- Logic and didactic wisdom dictate that these two sets of “twin” parshiot, if not condensed into two parshiot should, at least, be sequential; however, they are interrupted by the ill-famed episode of the egel hazahav (golden calf) as recorded in parshat Ki Tisa.

3- The rabbis are divided as to when the episode of the Golden Calf occurred; some claim that it preceded the command to erect the Mishkan and others claim that the Mishkan was first. If so, why does the Torah insert the Egel episode in the third parasha out of the four which deal with the Mishkan, which does not conform to any of the above opinions? (In the spirit of liberalism let loose today in the American Jewish community, a certain “serious” individual answered me that HaShem took the two opinions of before and after, and in the spirit of compromise placed the episode in the middle – incredible!)

I submit:

Our history contains five structures called – Mishkan or Mikdash:

1- The Mishkan of Moshe, which served for 40 years in the desert and another 14 years in the town of Gilgal. The later period covered the 7 years of military liberation of the land and another 7 years when the land was apportioned among the people.

2- The Mishkan in the town of Shiloh, which stood for 369 years, until its destruction at the time of Ayli, the Kohen Gadol, at the hands of the Philistines.

3- The first Bet Hamikdash on the Temple Mount, constructed by King Solomon 480 years after the exodus from Egypt. This Mikdash stood for 410 years until it was destroyed by our sins through the hands of God’s messengers – the Babylonians.

4- The fourth Bet Hamikdash constructed by Ezra Hasofer, after the 70 year exile in the region of today’s Iraq and Iran (Persia).

5- The sumptuous Bet Hamikdash of Hordus (Herod) which was destroyed by our sins at the hands of the Romans.

Five parshiot in the Torah dealing with construction of a Mishkan-Mikdash and five historical structures of Mishkan-Mikdash. HaShem assigned one parasha for each structure.

Accordingly, the third parasha of Ki Tisa containing the episode of the Egel Hazahav coincides with the Bet Mikdash of Shlomo Hamelech and his generation.

And indeed, it so prophetically points to the period of Shlomo.

Following King Shlomo’s reign, his son Rechav’am succeeded him. In his time, the arch-evil Yeravam ben Nevat led the northern tribes in seceding from the united kingdom, and created the Kingdom of Yisrael.

Yeravam, as keeping with parashat Ki Tisa, erected two centers for idolatry, one in the northern city of Dan and the other in the southern border city of Beit El. Each of these places proscribed worship of the golden calf.

With parashat Ki Tisa, the third of the parshiot of the Mishkan, HaShem is informing us what would occur when the third sanctuary would be built for Him.

After this Shabbat’s Torah reading of parashat Pekudei, we will complete the schematic diagram of the future Mishkan-Mikdash, as it appears in the Book of Shemot. But what of the next Bet Hamikdash, to be erected shortly, Be’ezrat Hashem, in Yerushalayim, for eternity?

For this the Torah does not designate a single parasha, but rather an entire book of the Torah. Next week we shall begin reading the Book of Vayikra. This book with all its 10 parshiot, signify the eternal sixth Bet Hamikdash which will stand on the holiest of the world’s mountains and be sacred to all.

As prophesied by Yeshayahu (2,2)

א) הדבר אשר חזה ישעיהו בן אמוץ על יהודה וירושלם

ב) והיה באחרית הימים נכון יהיה הר בית יקוק בראש ההרים ונשא מגבעות ונהרו אליו כל הגוים

ג) והלכו עמים רבים ואמרו לכו ונעלה אל הר יקוק אל בית אלהי יעקב וירנו מדרכיו ונלכה בארחתיו כי מציון תצא תורה ודבר יקוק מירושלם

1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

2 In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

3 Many peoples will come and say, Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Part Two: Connecting to God

Rabbanim are bombarded by questions applying to all phases of life and death, and they deal with them based on the knowledge and wisdom which Hashem has dispensed to each Rav, according to his merit. But there is one question for which the answers are so varied and contradictory that they are a conundrum.

Where is Hashem?

Why doesn’t He contact any of today’s great rabbanim in Eretz Yisrael where nevuah (prophecy) was once so prevalent?

The gemara in megilla 14a informs us that the number of prophets within Am Yisrael was twice the number of males who left Egypt, which equals 1,200,000 prophets!

Prophecy abounded, beginning with Moshe, the father of all prophets, and continued to the time of the last prophet, Malachi, who some claim was Ezra the Scribe, who rebuilt the second Temple.

When prophecy ceased, it was replaced by a “bat kol” – a voice heard from time to time in the bet midrash coming out of no-where. But this also ceased toward the end of the Amoraic period. This has left the Jewish nation with no direct contact with the God of our fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov for 1500 years. Why?

I humbly suggest:

In parashat Ki Tisa, Moshe learns of Hashem’s intention to destroy the nation He had chosen, and Moshe puts forward a seemingly irrational argument spiced with threatening undertones. If Hashem does not renege on His intention to destroy them, then “Mecheini na mi’sifrecha,” – erase me from Your book.

The problems here cry out to be resolved.

1- Who is Moshe threatening by saying “Erase me from Your book”. When did Hashem appoint Moshe as His censor to insert or omit who should be mentioned in the Torah and who should not?

2- Moshe’s request to be omitted from the Torah comes as part of his argument in defense of the people, but how is this a defense?

I submit that Moshe’s defense of the sinning nation was his belief that he (Moshe) was the source of the sin and also the reason that the sinners would have difficulty doing teshuva.

“Erase me from Your book”, and the situation will rectify itself. The people sinned because they perceived me as the ultimate intermediary between You and them. So when they thought that I was taken away they sought a substitute. Now that I have returned they will place their confidence not on their personal teshuva, but on the special relationship which exists between You and me. Erase me from Your book and from existence. Create a situation where the nation will realize that their connection to You is only through adherence to the Torah. The goal of a chosen nation is to become mature enough to live according to the laws of Your holy Torah, and not to hide under the wings of any human being.

Moshe’s claim that adherance to the Torah is the ultimate guide of the Jewish nation is correct. However, Hashem rejected it on the grounds that it was yet too early in our history to stop prophecy, which had to continue until the Second Temple period when the nation was governed by Anshay Knesset Hagadol and Sanhedrim (members of the great assembly and Sanhedrin) headed by Ezra Hasofer.

With the passage of time, direct connection with Hashem through prophecy or bat kol receded into the background as the halacha and the rabbanim loomed ever larger in the religious consciousness of the nation.

Mishna, Gemara, Shulchan Aruch and the rabbinic responsa give testimony to the spiritual maturity of the nation; where we no longer need prophets to “hold our hands” when we cross the street. The absence of Nevua is testimony to the greatness of the Torah and the nation which lives in accordance with its precepts.

Hashem is always here, albeit in the background. “Lo bashamayim he,” (the Torah which affects our lives is not in the realm of the upper spheres of heaven) says Rabbi Yehoshua in his argument with Rabbi Eliezer (bava metzia 59b). Prophecy is a stunning achievement for the individual but an admission of failure for the generation. Our reliance on the Torah and our local rabbis is a stunning victory for Hashem, for the Torah and for Am Yisrael, which has survived by following the Torah during our horrendous galut experience.

The absence of outstanding Torah giants in our time should not be viewed as a tragedy, but rather as an opportunity for each of us to achieve individual greatness and to introspect as we inculcate the influence of 3500 years of Torah and Jewish history upon ourselves and upon the decisions we make in our life.

There are, of course, those who escape their humanity by asking their “rebbe” or rosh yeshiva everything, from approving the marriage to a person with whom the rabbi has never spoken, to the naming of the newborn child. To ask da’at Torah advice is a respected part of the rabbi-congregant relationship; but not as an escape route from personal choice and responsibility. The individual who makes his personal choice of clinging to the Torah – despite the Shoah and the overpowering question of where was HaShem, and not because of a dictate by another person, no matter who that person might be – is on the level of the greatest tzadikim.

The Jewish people are in the throws of a winnowing process, based on each individual’s choice of priorities. We were commanded in the year 5708 (corresponding to 1948 CE) to return to Eretz Yisrael and to lay down the groundwork for the future bet hamikdash, as in the parshiot of Teruma and Te’tzaveh. However, between the command and its realization, we are being faced with an aygel hazahav (a golden calf) before which many of our people prostrate themselves, preventing them from coming up to the land in order to realize God’s will.

As stated above, we must follow the ideals of Moshe Rabbeinu, the ultimate Rav of the Jewish people, who called for the people to follow the Torah and not to rely on human personalities.

Each person must stand before the mirror of his conscience and hear the call of HaShem to erect a sanctuary for the shechina in Eretz Yisrael, as in Truma and Tetzaveh. The lust for the golden calf, as in parashat Ki Tisa, interrupts the call as millions of Jews prefer the monetary wealth of foreign lands to a life dedicated to the ideals of Torah in Eretz Yisrael.

The realization that the Torah of Eretz Yisrael is the only alternative for Jewish survival is indisputable. And ultimately we of the Jewish nation who are in Eretz Yisrael will merit accomplishing the will of Hashem, as in the parshiot Vayakhel and Pekudai.

Those who succumb to the call of the aygel hazahav, by setting their priorities based on the dialectics of false pilpulism, will share the fate of the original ardent devotees of the golden calf.

Time is quickly running out on everyone’s opportunity to make correct choices. Let each of us look into our hearts and minds and choose freely where our future lies, within the context of the Torah and the renaissance of our people in Eretz Yisrael.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.