Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei: Relying on the Rabbi

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15 Mar 2007

Vayakhel-Pekudei 5767

Rabbanim are bombarded by questions applying to all phases of life and death, and we 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 Yaakov, for 1500 years. Why?

I humbly suggest:

As we conclude the Book of Shemot, the last five parshiyot – 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 remains for us to just unravel its secrets.

Teruma and Tetzaveh are “twins”, as are Vayakhel and Pekudei. Terumah and Tetzaveh contain the Godly command to Bnei Yisrael to erect the first structure designed to house the shechina in this lowly world. Vayakhel and Pekudei, the last two parshiot in the book, are “twins” which describe the obeying of that command by the entire nation.

However, these two sets of “twin” parshiot, which should logically be sequential, are interrupted by the notorious episode of the egel hazahav (golden calf) as recorded in parshat Ki Tisa.

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

The problems here cry out to be resolved.

1- Why are Teruma and Tetzaveh, the parshiot of the command to construct a mishkan, separated from Vayakhel and Pekudei, the parshiot of its fulfillment, by Ki tisa, the parsha of the golden calf, when there is no chronological necessity to do so?

2- 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?

3- 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 acknowledgement that he (Moshe) was the source of the sin and also the reason that the sinners would have difficulty in 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 adherence 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 Anshei Knesset HaGedolah and Sanhedrin (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 effects 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. Each one of us has to introspect as he calculates the influence of 3500 years of Torah and Jewish history upon himself and the decisions he makes in his life.

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

The Jewish people are in the throes 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 to lay down the groundwork for the future bet hamikdash, as in the parshiot of Terumah and Tetzaveh. But between the command and its actualization, we are being faced with an Egel 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 Torah to lead 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 Terumah 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 rather than 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 to accomplish the will of Hashem, as in the parshiyot Vayakhel and Pekudei.

Those who succumb to the call of the egel 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 our opportunity to make correct choices. Let each man and woman look into their heart and mind and consider where their future lies, and then make the correct choice 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.