If one were to quickly gloss through this week's second Torah portion of Pekudei, one may notice that there is a phrase which seems to recur time and time again.
If one were to quickly gloss through this week's second Torah portion of Pekudei, one may notice that there is a phrase which seems to recur time and time again. Over and over, like a broken record, the Torah continuously informs us that the parts of the mishkan (Tabernacle) were constructed and assembled "as Hashem had commanded Moses", in accordance with the blueprints and specifications delineated and taught by Hashem to Moses. In fact, this phrase appears in one form or another eighteen times throughout the Torah portion. Why did Hashem find it necessary to repeat such a detail so many times?
Our rabbis have taught that the mishkan was meant to serve as an atonement for the horrible sin of the Golden Calf. As we know, the Jewish people did not initially intend for the Calf to be a form of idol worship. It was supposed to be a "go between" in their worship of Hashem, a physical object through which their service of Hashem would be enhanced and revitalized. They believed this to be necessary because they mistakenly thought that Moses, their representative to G-d, had died while upon the mountain. Failing to take into consideration the second creed of the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt not make a graven image," the Children of Israel used their own judgment, deciding to introduce an unsolicited addition to their relationship with Hashem. It was for this error in judgment that Hashem reacted so seriously, threatening to destroy the entire nation, as the concept of one G-d is the central and primary tenet in Judaism.
For medicine to effectively cure a disease, it must fight that problem head-on, destroying the root of the virus before it has the opportunity to contaminate any further. Hashem therefore commanded the construction of the mishkan to provide the Jewish people with the much-needed physical structure from which to serve Hashem and to stand in stark contrast to the Golden Calf which they had recently worshipped. The mishkan's outward appearance would seem to the casual witness as being very similar to that of the Golden Calf, for several of the mishkan's structures were made with pure gold as the Calf was. The golden cherubim which rested upon the ark were magnificent physical structures, comparable to the idol which the Children of Israel had so recently worshipped.
However, with all of their apparent similarities, the one major difference between catastrophe and sanctification lay in Hashem's command to Moses. The Golden Calf was an attempt by the people to gain proximity to Hashem through their own human understanding, failing to take into consideration that they had been warned specifically and clearly against such action. Conversely, the construction of the mishkan was precipitated by Hashem's command and supervision. It is for this reason that our Torah portion repeats and emphasizes at every step of the construction that the mishkan was being made "as Hashem had commanded Moses."
Michael Alterman a graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is enrolled in a joint program with the Ner Israel Rabbinical College and the University of Baltimore.
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