Torah Reading for Week of February 23-March 1, 2014
By Rabbi Mordecai Finley
Many commentaries query and examine why such a detailed accounting of the materials of the Mishkan is proffered in this parsha; Moshe, despite having the full trust of the Divine, must provide a public accounting, lest suspicion of wrongdoing fall upon him. Moshe even needed another person, his nephew Itamar, with him to do the accounts.
This is because the Miskhan was built from generosity, accounted for with probity, and filled with K’vod HaShem, the glorious manifestation of the Divine. The promise from Exodus 25 was fulfilled: they built for God a Miskhan and God now dwelt among them. The anxious impatience for something tangible that had infected the people at Har Sinai and propelled them toward Aharon’s fashioning a Molten Calf, had now been addressed. In actuality, the Midrash tells us that God had devised a remedy before the malady; before the actual sin of the Calf, the orders for the Miskhan were already being given. Therefore, the details of the building we have in the parshah are, in a way, the details of the healing offered to a desperate people. They needed a material reminder of God’s presence and a place for the K’vod of HaShem to dwell. Even though “m’lo kol ha-aretz kevodo,” “the fullness of the earth is His glorious Presence,” God projected and concentrated an aspect of his presence into the Mishkan and on the first of Nisan, just short of a year since the Exodus, the Mishkan was erected.
As we know, however, the Divine diagnosis – that the problem was a lack of the reassurance of a physical reminder – was profoundly mistaken. Providing a physical reminder, rooting the Divine presence among the people, and inspiring them toward generosity and probity did little long-term good.
Subsequent narratives tell us: the people never got over the doubts, their suspicions, or their resentments. In Leviticus 9, shortly after the Mishkan is set up, it is fully functional and the K’vod HaShem appears to the people, who fall prostrate with enchantment. A short time later, however, on the 20th day of the second month (Numbers 10), the people leave Sinai with the Mishkan in their midst and immediately take to murmuring (Numbers 11). They reach the borders of Canaan in five weeks (Numbers 13), send out spies, and, after 40 days, rebel against the Divine (Numbers 14). This generation, which had suffered in slavery, experienced redemption, witnessed revelation, and had the Mishkan within them and God’s Shekhina among them, would die in the desert. The remedy for the malady, so lovingly detailed in our Torah portion, had failed.
The idea of God’s omnipotence and God’s omniscience is severely challenged in this narrative – purposively, in my mind. The author (Author) wants to tell us: Not only can God not heal the people; God does not even seem to understand them. God is perplexed, outraged, and impotent before our recalcitrance. We are a mystery and a disappointment to God and a mystery and a disappointment to ourselves. We don’t know what ails us. We just know that we have developed to an art form the capacity to ruin every potential for redemption given us.
We are created with a “lev,” a “heart,” better translated as the “ego self.” However, as we know from Genesis: “kol yetzer machshavot libbo rak ra kol hayom” – “every form of the thoughts of his heart/ego self is all bad, all day long.” (This is probably an overstatement. Many of us wait until after breakfast.)
Nothing God (or anyone else, for that matter) gives us or does for us can heal our hearts until we have the will to be healed. This is the deeper mystery of faith. Faith, at a more profound level, is not the faith that God will provide, but rather the steadfast will, that God’s presence will make a difference in our lives.