LOOKING BACK AT EXODUS
Rabbi David J. Bogart
Last week we concluded the Book of Exodus with a double Torah reading. Interestingly, the concluding chapters dealt not with the celebrated revelation of Hashem's presence, nor with Hashem's direct concern in human affairs, but rather focused upon the mundane details of the construction of the mishkan (Tabernacle).
Last week we concluded the Book of Exodus with a double Torah reading. Interestingly, the concluding chapters dealt not with the celebrated revelation of Hashem's presence, nor with Hashem's direct concern in human affairs, but rather focused upon the mundane details of the construction of the mishkan (Tabernacle). Wouldn't the revelation at Mt. Sinai and the acceptance of Hashem's commandments have been a more appropriate place to end the second book of the Torah? If we take a step back to look at the big picture, an explanation surfaces.
The name of the first of last week's portions is Vayakhel, which means "and Moses assembled". Moses had just returned with the good news that Hashem had forgiven the Jewish people for the horrible sin of the Golden Calf and informed them that the Divine presence would dwell among them within the confines of the mishkan. On that day, Moses commanded all of the Jewish people about two crucial mitzvot: the building of the mishkan and the observance of Shabbat.
Our existence on this earth includes three fundamental notions - physical space, the concept of time, and mankind who dwells within a given place and time. Each one of these kabalistic concepts can be found in last week's Torah portion. The Tabernacle symbolizes physical place, for it represents a concrete object. The command to keep Shabbat symbolizes time, for the Day of Rest depends on the continuous cycle of the weekly calendar. And the first verse of the Torah reading symbolizes mankind: "And Moses congregated the entire assembly of the Children of Israel," representative of humanity as a whole.
Space and time are not merely physical entities waiting to be filled. Rather, they are to be imbued with our awareness that our Creator exists and cares about us. His holiness extends into all areas of life - our behavior, our business practices, our relationships, and ourselves.
The third concept, that of mankind's existence, corresponds to the Jewish people as a whole. The fact that the Children of Israel are called Adam -- mankind (Talmud Tractate Yevamot 61a) illustrates that we are more than a group of individuals who, out of the accident of birth, are members of the same tribe. Rather, we are all connected as one soul. Just as each part of the body affects the next, we impact upon our fellow Jew's welfare for good or for ill. Our mitzvot bring merit to the entire Jewish people, and conversely our transgressions injure the entire nation.
All of the Children of Israel needed to be in attendance when Moses spoke about Shabbat and the mishkan. Since we are like one body, if some of the people had been missing, we would have been similar to a body missing a limb, causing the entire person to be blemished. Therefore, all of the Jewish people were present to receive the deeper understanding of physical place, time, and mankind's existence. Only as a cohesive unit can we truly accomplish the task of elevating the elements of our lives -- space and time -- into realms of holiness and G-dliness.
And so the Book of Exodus does not end with the destruction of Israel's oppressors, nor with the giving of the Torah which was the climax of the Jewish people becoming a nation. No, the Book of Exodus concludes with the Jewish mission to bring holiness into the world by showing mankind that time and physical reality are holy. The mitzvot of Shabbat and the mishkan teach us to be a light unto the nations of the world.
Rabbi David J. Bogart writes from Atlanta.
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