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The Mishkan as Symbol of Dreams and Aspirations

Rabbi Avi Weiss

Rabbi Avi Weiss
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

In the portion of Pekudei we read of the work done in the Tabernacle. Pekudei is the Hebrew word for reckoning (Exodus 38:21). As I’ve often pointed out, one way of understanding the meaning of a word in the Torah is to analyze the first time it is found.

We first come across the term p-k-d in the story of Avraham and Sarah. The Torah tells us that for many years Avraham and Sarah could not have children. Finally Sarah does give birth. In the words of the Torah, “And the Lord remembered Sarah as He had spoken…and Sarah conceived and bore a son to Avraham” (Genesis 21:1). The word “remembered” is pakad. Somehow, then, pekudei is interwoven with birth, as the text indicates that God had remembered Sarah.

It follows, therefore, that pekudei, the accounting of the Tabernacle, is associated with birth. Perhaps it can be suggested that just as a mother plays the crucial role in the development of the fetus and the nurturing of its well being, so too does God serve as a “mother” in His protection of the Tabernacle. The Hebrew word for mercy is rachum, from the word rechem, womb. God’s love is the love of the womb. It is a mother’s love – infinite and unconditional –much like the love displayed by God in protecting the Tabernacle.

Another parallel comes to mind. By definition, birth involves a sense of history. When a child is born there is recognition of historic continuity, of the infant being part of a continuum of the family’s history. So too the Mishkan. In many ways, the building of the Tabernacle was the crescendo of Israel’s past, the culmination of a dream that Israel as a nation would have a place in which to worship God.

Although the birth of a child is often the end of a time of feelings of joy and anticipation, it is also a beginning. It is the start of hopes and wishes that the child grow to full maturity and impact powerfully on the Jewish people and all humankind. This is also the case with the Mishkan. Usually when it comes to buildings, people tend to consider the beauty of the structure to be an end in itself. But buildings are not ends, they are the means to reach higher, to feel more powerfully the deeper presence of God. The Mishkan is associated with birth for it reminds us that even as the Tabernacle or a synagogue is dedicated, our responsibility is to go beyond the bricks and mortar to make sure the space is infused with spirituality.

The birth of a child is a time to re-evaluate our priorities and look ahead to the dream of years of growth. The Mishkan, and in the same way our individual structures of worship, should inspire us to reflect on our values and aspire to higher levels of holiness.

About the Author: Rabbi Avi Weiss is founding president of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah and senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. His memoir of the Soviet Jewry movement, “Open Up the Iron Door,” was recently published by Toby Press.

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