This week’s parashah (Vayakhel) is taken from Exodus 35:1—38:20; and in addition, next week's parashah (Fekudei), taken from Exodus 38:21—40:38 will be covered. Listen in as David unravels why the final two parashot of the Book of Exodus seem so superfluous.
Follow along in the AUDIO PODCAST, by clicking on the play button below, and reading along with the notes, as you listen to today's Parashah:
Vayakhel (Exodus 35:1—38:20) & Fekudei (Exodus 38:21—40:38)
Our God is a God of order. In Psalm 148:1-6, we read: “Praise Hashem from the heavens; praise Him in the heights: Praise Him all His angels; praise Him, all His legions. Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all bright stars. Praise Him, the loftiest of the heavens, and the waters that are above the heavens. Let them praise the Name of Hashem, for He commanded and they were created. And He established them for ever and ever, a decree He issued that will not be broken.” And we don’t have to look further than Genesis 1 for proof of this as we read the Creation account. In six days, Hashem spoke 10 Utterances, and the heavens and the earth came into existence. And embedded within the marvel of the Creation account is the formation of every tangible and intangible, physical and spiritual element that remains in existence. The beauty of Creation is the unfathomable order that is inherent throughout. Nature around us – the water, land, trees, plants and sky – function on their own regardless of man’s endeavours, supporting life amongst the animal world and amongst mankind. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west each and every day like clockwork. The stars and the luminaries reveal themselves at night as if fixed to the firmament. And there are countless more examples that we can think of in a similar fashion. Ultimately, there is a fixed structure to everything around us;there are set boundaries around us; there is an inherent order in place all throughout the universe.
Just as there is an order that Hashem issued as a decree in all of Creation, so we find a very particular order to His instructions over the past few parashot regarding the construction of the Tabernacle, the vessels and articles within, and the service performed by the Kohanim.
The next two parashot (plural form of a parashah) – Vayakhel and Fekudei – deal with the topic at hand, and we will cover both the parashot in this teaching. As you read through these two parashot, you notice what seems to be a redundancy to the topics – as if we are re-reading about the components of the Tabernacle, and instructions on how to construct them as we already did in previous parashot. In fact, we read about the construction of the Tabernacle a total of 5 times in the Book of Exodus in a mix of generalized or detailed instructions (Exodus 25-28; 31:6-11; 35:10-19; 36:8-39:32; and 39:33-43). Why? It all pointed to the strict importance of the design and construction of the Tabernacle, its vessels and articles, and the service performed by the Kohanim – all that was to be done by the hands of mortal men, as a mirror of sorts to Hashem’s “design and construction” of all of Creation. In short, the Tabernacle and its service were a microcosm of all of Creation, and its design and construction required the strictest adherence.
We open up Parashat Vayakhel to the words in Exodus 35:1:
וַיַּקְהֵ֣ל מֹשֶׁ֗ה אֶֽת־כָּל־עֲדַ֛ת בְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֲלֵהֶ֑ם אֵ֚לֶּה הַדְּבָרִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר־צִוָּ֥ה יְהוָ֖ה לַעֲשֹׂ֥ת אֹתָֽם׃
“And Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and said to them: ‘These are the things that Hashem commanded, to do them.’”
“Vayakhel” means “to assemble”, in the context that Moses assembled the entire assembly of the Children of Israel. And what are “these things” that Moses was about to instruct them on? First, he reminded them about the sanctity of Shabbat (and note that this is the second time we read of Shabbat – the first time is in Exodus 20:8-11). We read in Exodus 35:2-3: “For a period of six days, work may be done, but the seventh day shall be holy for you, a day of complete rest for Hashem; whoever does work on it shall be put to death. You shall not light fire in any of your dwellings on the Shabbat day.” Hereafter in the two parashot, the instructions change directions completely, focusing completely on the Tabernacle. So why precursor the Tabernacle by telling us about the sanctity of Shabbat? Why is Shabbat given priority here?
Referring back to the Creation story, what did Hashem do on the seventh day? In Gen 2:2-3, we read: “God completed, on the seventh day, His work which He had done, and He abstained on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it because on it He ceased from all His work which God created to do.” God abstained from all His work. Was God tired from all the heavy lifting of the prior six days? Absolutely not! God is sovereign and all-powerful! Then what does it mean? God created all of Creation over six days, with the creation of Adam – in His image – on the sixth day as the pinnacle of all of Creation. Man was given dominion over all of Creation. As such, man had the opportunity to work and labour for six days, but on the seventh day, man was obligated to rest. Why? Because the seventh day is blessed and sanctified by God. Again, why? Why else then to rest from work and recognize our Creator. How easy it is to get caught up on any given day with the travails of this world. An entire day can go by engulfed in work. By the time you look at the clock, it’s time for bed. Where did the day go by? Mirror that over a week. Over a month. Over a year. We can so very easily get caught up in the affairs of this world that we lose sight of our Creator. On Shabbat, all labour must cease so that we can better recognize and honour our Heavenly Father. By doing so, we declare that the world is governed by God’s Providence. We declare that God is sovereign, and that our lives, this world, and this universe ultimately are ruled by Him.
We move on from there to re-visit the subject of “terumah”, the contributions by the Children of Israel for the construction of the Tabernacle. In Exodus 35:5, we read as Moses disseminated the command from Hashem to the people: “Take from yourselves a portion for Hashem, everyone who is generous of heart shall bring it, as the gift for Hashem.” Hereafter, we read the ordering of all the materials required, just as we read in Parashat Terumah. Afterward, starting in Verse 10, we read the ordering of all of the vessels of the Tabernacle. Here on out, there is an interesting observation to be made in the Hebrew, and it has to do with the conjunctive “vav” (meaning “and”) used in between the materials and vessels.
In the general sense, whenever a “vav” is placed between the items, it speaks of those items as being on the same level of importance. In this case, measured in terms of holiness. For instance, in between every material provided by the people (such as the gold, silver, copper and goats’ hair), we see a “vav” in between them, signifying that each of the materials were viewed as equivalent in the eyes of Hashem, even though in monetary terms, the gold was more precious relative to the goats’ hair. Yet, in the eyes of Hashem, all of these materials are seen as “mundane”. In this light, it isn’t about the material, but rather about the intention. It is about the heart, and the manner in which we bring our resources to serve Hashem. Ultimately, all of these materials would be used to construct the entire Tabernacle, and every part played a precise role in forming and enabling the entire structure.
Continuing on the topic of the conjunctive “vav”, for the finished vessels (like the Ark, Table, Menorah, the two Altars, etc.), we see a difference relative to the terumah provided by the Children of Israel. Rather, we see the “vav” used to bundle certain vessels and articles together, and thereby listed and ordered based on level of holiness. First, we start out with the three coverings of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle-spread – which, in this case, was given the highest level of holiness – since it formed a canopy directly over the interior of the Tabernacle. It was separated from the Tent-spread (a layer of goats’ hair) and its Cover (skins of rams and techashim) since these were used on the outside of the Tabernacle. Second, the hooks and planks. Third, the bars. Fourth, the pillars and sockets. But wait a minute, where is the Ark in all of this discussion on level of holiness? Isn’t the Ark considered more holy than a bunch of Tent spreads and covers along with their associated parts? Yes, as a vessel within the Tabernacle. Remember that the word “holy” (“kadosh”) means “set apart”, and the Ark cannot be “set apart” unless it is concealed within the Tabernacle. Therefore, in this context, the Tent spreads and Cover had to come first to create an environment of “holiness” – to house and protect the Ark. Together, they provided the enclosure and abode for all of the holy vessels within, including the Ark.
Next, we read of the Ark and its poles (remember, the poles could not be removed from the Ark). Next, the Ark Cover and Parochet curtain – both serving to shelter the Ark from the inside of the Tabernacle. Next, the Table (Shulchan) and the Menorah and its utensils, and then the Golden Altar and its utensils and Incense. These three articles (Menorah, Shulchan and Golden Altar) together hold a deep spiritual connection when understood together (as we have covered in previous parashot). Next, we move out of the Sanctuary to the Copper Altar and its netting. Next, to the washbasin (Kiyyor) and its pedestal. Next, to the walls of the Courtyard, and finally ending with the garments of the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) and the Kohanim.
What is this all telling us? There is an order to elevation – that is, elevation closer to Hashem. And moreover, there are specific steps to take. It isn’t as easy as jumping on a rocket ship and blasting straight to our Creator on the other side of the cosmos (saying that with tongue in cheek). Understanding the construction of each of the articles, what every vessel and article in the Tabernacle represents, and ultimately that each of them is a microcosm of Creation as well as a macrocosm of us as human beings created in the image of Hashem, is critical to connecting with the blueprint here that Hashem was teaching the Children of Israel. And what is that blueprint? We are to take the mundane – the bare and raw materials – and elevate them to become holy and consecrated dwelling places for Hashem. In other words, we are to take the bare and raw elements of our lives – our abilities, skills, talents and features – and elevate them all in holiness and consecration for the glorification of Hashem.
On this note of the Tabernacle as a macrocosm of us, what perfect embodiment of the Tabernacle than our Messiah Yeshua. In John 2:19, Yeshua said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” Yeshua was speaking of his body as a temple, the more permanent establishment of the Tabernacle. He was speaking here of the immortality of his soul that was connected so perfectly with his Heavenly Father. In 1 Corinthians 3:11-16, Paul wrote: “For not one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Yeshua the Messiah. Some will use gold, silver or precious stones in building on this foundation; while others will use wood, grass or straw. But each one’s work will be shown for what it is; the Day [Day of Judgment] will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire – the fire will test the quality of each one’s work. If the work someone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward; if it is burned up, he will have to bear the loss: he will still escape with his life, but it will be like escaping through a fire.” Here we read that if we emulate our Messiah Yeshua – who was a perfect reflection of Hashem, the materials – our abilities, skills, talents and features – that we put into the building of the Tabernacles of our lives will also find true value in the eyes of Hashem, and we will walk in closer communion with Him in this world; and ultimately be rewarded in the World to Come.
We next move to Parashat Fekudei where we learn of the various appointments surrounding the Tabernacle. “Fekudei” means “accountings”, but it can secondarily mean “appointings”. We read at the beginning there, in Exodus 38:21: “These are the accountings [or appointings] of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of the Testimony, which were counted at the word of Moses.” In this final parashah of the Book of Exodus, the focus is on all of the accountings of the materials used and the final vessels and articles constructed along with the Tabernacle. Moreover, we also read of the appointings of key people who administered all of the work associated with the construction of the Tabernacle, as well as the Tabernacle services thereafter.
Betzalel and Oholiab were appointed to lead the construction work of the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle was appointed the status of Tabernacle of Testimony, as it housed the Torah within the Ark. Moses was appointed leader over the people, to teach them concerning the laws and statutes of the Tabernacle. The Levites were appointed to do the work – the setting up, packing up and carrying – of the Tabernacle. And finally, Aaron and his sons were appointed to lead the Kohanim and the Tabernacle service.
Regarding the Tabernacle, yet again we see here a fixed order from the peoples’ contributions, to the construction work, to the leadership and the Tabernacle service. And it was only after everything was done precisely as Hashem had commanded Moses to do, that we read in Exodus 40:34: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of Hashem filled the Tabernacle.” Hashem’s Presence rested upon the Tabernacle. Only after the “accounting” of all the materials to build the Tabernacle, these “appointed individuals” followed all of Hashem’s instructions to a “T”, did Hashem’s Presence finally rest upon the assembled, completed and consecrated work of their hands.
Of course, Hashem’s Presence coming down upon the Tabernacle sounds like the opposite of “elevation”, as we define “elevation” rather as ascending upwards, sticking our heads through the clouds with the anticipation of catching a glimpse of the Higher Worlds. No, the fact of the matter is that our material feet are fixed to the material ground here on earth. We toil in this world to support ourselves, our families, and others; we strive to build a better world. Yet, this on its own is all a part of the mundane… this is material living for materialism. Not that’s a bad thing – rather, it is an essential truth of life in this world. But the elevation begins with understanding the observance of Shabbat – that Hashem alone is sovereign and desires us to recognize His example in working for six days and resting on the seventh day in total recognition that this world is governed through His Providence. At the same time, we must focus on building ourselves into true and living Tabernacles, precisely as Hashem has specified. Just as Hashem instructed the Tabernacle to be built in a very precise order, what is the order in which we must build ourselves into Tabernacles? As I have taught in recent weeks, understanding the purpose of the Tabernacle and all of the vessels within, as well as the service performed on each vessel by the Kohanim is critical in answering this question. I encourage you to go back and listen to the teachings. All in all, in this light, what better way than by replicating our Messiah Yeshua, the perfect representation of the Tabernacle. Only then, as we read in Exodus 40:34, can the cloud of Hashem’s Presence cover us, and the glory of Hashem fill us!
May we fix our eyes on Messiah Yeshua, who has gone before us to set the perfect example on how to elevate closer to Hashem. May we consecrate our resources, our environments and ultimately our entire lives for the greater service of Hashem and His Glorious Kingdom. May we strive to do so each and every day of our lives in this world. Amen.