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Pekudei 5776-2016

“The Mishkan–the Tabernacle, as Collateral”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

This week’s parasha, parashat Pekudei, opens with a reckoning and accounting of all the precious materials that were donated by the Israelites for the building and erecting of the Tabernacle.

The Torah, in Exodus 38:21, states, אֵלֶּה פְקוּדֵי הַמִּשְׁכָּן מִשְׁכַּן הָעֵדֻת, אֲשֶׁר פֻּקַּד עַל פִּי מֹשֶׁה, these are the accounts of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony, which were counted at Moses’ bidding. The Torah then notes that Itamar, the son of Aaron the Kohen, supervised all the Levites who cared for, and maintained, the Tabernacle.

Although this opening verse of parashat Pekudei seems rather straightforward, as we shall soon see, it actually reveals a fundamental insight into the nature of the Tabernacle.

One of the well-known principles of Torah study is that there are no redundancies in the Torah, no extra words and no repetitions. Any repetition or redundancy has significant meaning and purpose, and invariably imparts an important lesson.

Rashi, citing Tanchuma, who is always quick to point out redundancies and repetitions, does exactly that when commenting on Exodus 38:21. Noting that the word מִשְׁכָּן, tabernacle, is stated twice, Rashi cites Tanchumah 5, where the Midrash maintains that the repetition alludes to the Beit Hamikdash, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, which served as “collateral,” and was destroyed twice for the sins of the people of Israel.

While Rashi notes that the repetition of the word מִשְׁכָּן, tabernacle, alludes to the two destructions of the Temple, the true novel insight of Rashi’s interpretation is noting the relationship between the word מִשְׁכָּן, tabernacle, and the word מַשְׁכּוֹן, collateral.

Rashi’s commentators point to a similar interpretation found in Rashi in Numbers 24:5. Commenting on the well-known verse, מַה טֹּבוּ אֹהָלֶיךָ יַעֲקֹב, How goodly are your tents O’ Jacob, your dwelling places O’ Israel, Rashi maintains that the word מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶיךָ, your dwelling places, refers to the Tabernacle and to the Beit Hamikdash. Rashi then notes that even when the Tabernacle and the Temple are in a state of ruin, they are still considered dwelling places and sanctuaries because they serve as “security”–and that their destruction serves as atonement for Israel. As the prophet declared in Lamentations 4:11, “G-d expended His anger, and the fire went forth in Zion.” G-d expended His anger on the stones and mortar, rather than on the People of Israel.

A wonderful collection of the Torah insights of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, citing Tanchuma has recently been published, entitled, “Chumash Mesoros Harav.”

In this new publication, Rabbi Soloveitchik asks the question: Why should the Tabernacle be destroyed if Israel sins, after all the Tabernacle and the Temples were not involved in sinning? Citing the Talmud in Gittin 56b, Rabbi Soloveitchik asks: Furthermore, was it necessary to profane the dwelling of G-d with the behavior of Titus who seized a harlot in his hand and entered the chamber of the Holy of Holies, engaging in impurity and promiscuity?

Expanding on Rashi’s interpretation of the relationship between the word מִשְׁכָּן, tabernacle, and מַשְׁכּוֹן, collateral, Rabbi Soloveitchik argues that the sinfulness of the Jewish people at the time of the destruction was so great that the entire nation of Israel deserved to be exterminated. Instead, the Beit Hamikdash, the Temple, served as the scapegoat and was destroyed, rather than the people.  Furthermore, had the humiliation by Titus not occurred, the destruction of the Temple would not have been enough to atone for the grave sins of the people, and the nation would have been destroyed as well.

Thus, we see the paradox of the destruction of the Temple. The destruction was not so much a punishment, as it was an act of Divine mercy for the Jewish people. Rav Soloveitchik graphically notes that it is more important for the people to survive, than for the Temple to remain intact. Despite its extraordinary sanctity, the Temple is just a structure of wood and stone, whereas a simple scholar is more valued than 500 temples. The fact that Jews throughout the world observe Tisha B’Av as a day of mourning, demonstrates that the people of Israel live, and as long as the people survive and there are Torah scholars, the Temple will perforce be rebuilt.

Rabbi Soloveitchik further cites the Talmud Ta’anit 29a, stating that only in the late afternoon of Tisha B’Av did the evil Titus enter to the Temple and set fire to it, destroying the structure. Throughout the 10th day of Av the flames consumed the building. Apparently, during the night and morning of Tisha B’Av the Al-mighty had not yet decided whether to destroy the people or destroy the Temple. It was only in the afternoon of Tisha B’Av, after Minchah, that G-d decided to take the Temple as a מַשְׁכּוֹן, as collateral. He decided that the Temple would be destroyed and that the Jewish people would survive, “the wood would burn, but the human soul would remain.”

Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that the entire character of Tisha B’Av changes after Minchah (the afternoon prayers), during the second half of Tisha B’Av day. One would expect that because the Beit Hamikdash was set on fire and consumed during the second half of the day, there would be more intense mourning during those hours. Instead, the level of mourning actually diminishes. Once the Beit Hamikdash was set on fire, there was no longer any threat to the existence of the People of Israel.  Destruction of the Temple is seen as a יְשׁוּעָה, a salvation, demonstrating that the Jewish people would indeed survive.

The fact that the Al-mighty, at times, chooses to expend His wrath on sticks and stones, rather than on the Jewish people, is a fundamental principle of Jewish theology and, to some extent, explains the irrational survival of the Jewish people.

Contemporary Jewish history is often difficult to fathom. Many religionists think that we are presently in the period of the אַתְחַלְתָּא דִגְאֻלָּה, the dawn of the Messianic period of salvation and redemption. Obviously, the return of the Jewish people to their homeland after almost 2000 years of exile, underscores that these are extraordinary times. And yet, the march to redemption is not smooth, and is often pocked with profound setbacks that come at the great cost of Jewish life.

It is at these times, that we must invoke the concept of מַשְׁכּוֹן. For some reason, the Al-mighty does not feel that His people are ready or worthy of redemption, and is exacting collateral from His people who are on the road to redemption. The intifadas, the great increase of anti-Semitism around the world, the stabbings that are now common in the Holy Land, and the innocent victims who are being laid to rest almost daily in the graveyards of Israel, are an indication that the time for redemption is still not at hand and is being delayed.

Let us hope and pray that the Al-mighty will soon find His people Israel worthy of full redemption, and will cease exacting payment of collateral because of our unworthiness. Let us pray that the Temple will soon be rebuilt and that the Divine Presence will dwell there in peace and tranquility, amongst G-d’s people, who will have, at last, earned the right to usher in the Golden Age of the Messiah.

May you be blessed.