The Torah portions of Vayakhel-Pekudei wrap up the Mishkan “project.” Unlike parshat Terumah, which was the pre-project directive, this week’s parsha is the post-project synopsis. Interestingly, the order of things in Terumah is opposite to the order in last week’s Ki Tisa and this week’s parsha.
In Terumah, the Torah begins with the contents of the Mishkan (aron, menorah, etc.) and ends with the structure (coverings, beams, etc.). In this week’s parsha, the execution, the order is reversed, and the question is, why?
The Ohel Yehoshua explains that Hashem had two distinct plans for building the Mishkan. The first, Plan A, was drawn up before the sin of the Golden Calf, but because of the sin it was changed to Plan B.
The Be’er Moshe compares the two “sections” of the Mishkan, the utensils and the Mishkan structure. There was only one of each of the utensils – one aron, one shulchan, one menorah, one mizbeach, etc. – corresponding to the Oneness of Hashem. The Mishkan structure, on the other hand, had multiple covers – beams, sockets, etc. – corresponding to Am Yisrael. The Be’er Moshe explains that the purpose of the single utensils was to honor Hashem, while the purpose of the multiple parts of the structure was to honor Am Yisrael.
When Am Yisrael received the Torah on Har Sinai they were perfectly united (Shemot 19:2). In this state of unity Am Yisrael were totally and uncompromisingly focused on serving Hashem. This was Plan A, creating a Mishkan with Hashem as the focal point.
Then Am Yisrael sinned with the Golden Calf. According to some commentaries, they all danced around the same idol. Other opinions say each tribe made a separate “tribal” idol, in addition to the central one. Am Yisrael lost their perfect unity and became split into different sects. Under these circumstances, a nation divided, you cannot possibly build a Mishkan whose essence is peace. So Hashem resorted to Plan B, which began by restoring unity within Am Yisrael, and only when that was in place directing the focus to where it was originally intended – Hashem.
To restore unity in Am Yisrael, you begin by working on the part of the Mishkan that corresponds to Am Yisrael, the multiple-part structure. Only after unity has been restored can you begin construction of the elements belonging to Hashem, the utensils.
Another nuance to note is who was entrusted with the building of the Mishkan. Initially, in Terumah it was Moshe, but following the sin of the Golden Calf this responsibility was transferred to Betzalel and Oholiav.
Moshe had taken no part in the sin; he was on Har Sinai learning Torah at the time, but he was seemingly punished: he did not end up building the Mishkan as originally intended in plan A. Why did Moshe deserve that? Moshe ultimately was the leader, the people were his responsibility, and if they had descended to such a low level, it was because of something lacking in his leadership that allowed that to happen. Hashem said to him, “Your people have sinned” (Shemot 32:7). In other words, “How can you continue to sit here learning Torah while your people are falling apart?”
Hashem fixed the problem of disunity by bringing together all parts of Am Yisrael, from Yehuda (Betzalel) to Dan (Oholiav), and mobilizing them on a national project of building multiple beams, sockets and coverings, all joined together, interlocking in a single unit that was the Mishkan.
Paradoxically, Aharon, who played a “major” role in the sin of the Golden Calf, ended up being rewarded with the priesthood – perhaps because his only intention was to protect Am Yisrael and repair their crumbling unity. Aharon did everything in his power to delay and protect Am Yisrael, at his own expense.
Ultimately, the parsha ends saying that it was Moshe (not Betzalel and Oholiav) who completed the labor (Shemot 40:33). Our parsha contains the repetitious phrase, “As Hashem commanded Moshe ….” Although the physical labor was done by Betzalel and Oholiav, it was supervised by and directed by Moshe throughout, the same Moshe who was willing to have his name erased from the Torah should Hashem destroy Am Yisrael because of their sin. Restoring the unity of Am Yisrael was only possible because Moshe convinced Hashem to forgive them.
Parshat HaShavua Trivia Question: Was Moshe overweight?
Answer to Last Week’s Trivia Question: Why did Aharon “play along” and not sacrifice his life, like Hur, to try prevent the sin of the Golden Calf? Aharon was willing to be punished for his part in the sin (which could be atoned for through repentance), rather than causing Am Yisrael to commit the more severe sin of “killing a priest and prophet” (Sanhedrin 7a). They had already killed Hur. If they had also killed Aharon, their sin would not be atonable.