As we know, each Torah portion is not merely an isolated entity, but part of a greater flow of the Torah, connected to the preceding and following portions.
As we know, each Torah portion is not merely an isolated entity, but part of a greater flow of the Torah, connected to the preceding and following portions. Even though this week is the actualization of the building instructions of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) given several weeks ago, it is difficult to see the connection between last week's portion which recounts the horrible sin of the golden calf, one of the most dramatic and emotional narratives in the Torah, to the dry and technical description of the Mishkan's construction this week. The experience of the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai encompassed everything about us as a nation: Hashem's holy people, standing at the loftiest heights of spirituality as we receive the commandments, as well as the "am k'shei oref - stiff-necked people" which, inconceivably, greets Moses' descent from the mountain with a public display of idol-worship. The entire episode ends with thousands of Jews dead, the entire nation narrowly escaping destruction, and our relationship with Hashem seemingly destroyed. How, then, can the drama and tragedy of last week's Torah portion be reconciled with the "boring" and technical description of the Mishkan's construction this week?
Perhaps the answer is that this week's portion describes exactly what last week's did - a loving relationship. The relationship between Hashem and His nation of Israel has always been stated in terms of love, whether in the form of the bride and groom of Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs), or the father and son relationship of Hashem to the avot (forefathers). The revelation at Mt. Sinai was the penultimate moment of this love, the moment when Hashem took us to be His chosen people. At the same time, our commentators tell us, the sin of the golden calf was the misdirection of that love by the Jewish people, a search to put it into physical terms that they could understand. How does that relate to the Mishkan?
The commentators continue that the Mishkan would not have been necessary in the form that it was, had it not been for the sin of the golden calf; that Hashem had to give us something concrete to channel His love and kedusha (sanctity) to us, and our love and service back to Him. This institution was created to keep in check the zeal that is often confused with love, but that sometimes destroys a relationship.
That is how this week's Torah portion relates to the dramatic events of the previous weeks; it takes the wild passion of youth, and transforms it into concrete, responsible manifestations of devotion. The entire portion echoes this feeling of deep, yet sedate devotion. The Mishkan was built through the donations of the people, "everyone whose heart motivates him" to give; Rashi, the fundamental commentator on the Torah, describes the work of Betzalel, the master craftsman, as a "labor of love". The goal of the Mishkan was to enable Hashem's presence to dwell amongst His beloved nation. However, it was only through the lessons of the previous weeks that the creation of the Mishkan could be realized, that the love between Hashem and His people could be finalized. Thus the reading of the building of the boards, sockets, and vessels after such a wrenching and emotional time is the comfort that Hashem is giving us that our loving relationship will continue, no matter what.
Matthew Leader, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta and a recent graduate of Yeshiva University, works in Manhattan.
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