Parashat Pekude

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פרשת פקודי

שמות   Exodus 38:21 to 40:38

This short Parashah is the final one in the book of Exodus. Except during Hebrew leap years, Pekude is read on Shabbat together with the previous parashah (Vayakhel).

Chapter 38 – Accounting of material consumed

Here we have a detailed account of the items used in construction of and decorating of the “Tabernacle of the Witnessing” (משכן העדת – also translated as testimony or reckoning). Under the direction of Moses, Itamar, the son of Aaron the priest was charged with keeping the records  of the material consumed. Should it “raise eyebrows” that this sensitive task was entrusted to a family member?

Perhaps after the tragic incident of the Golden Calf, Moses didn’t fully trust the people and saw the need for accountability.  Alternatively, Moses may have wanted to assure that there would be no suspicion that he himself had “skimmed off” some of the contributions. If an individual of Moses’ stature sees the need for transparency and to hold himself to account, how much more so for the rest of us?

Chapter 39 – Preparing the priestly vestments)

Here is an account of how the appointed artisans prepared the priestly vestments for Aaron and his sons. Details are presented for the crafting of the ephod and the breastplate for the high priest. Moses inspects the finished work, is assured that the work has been performed in accordance with Gd’s instructions, and finally, he blessed the people.

Note that verses 39:2 to 39:27 (instructions for preparing the priestly vestments) are  almost a repeat  reading from a previous parashah (Tetzaveh 28:2 to 28:39), The major difference is that in Tetzaveh there are instructions for placing the Urim and the Tamim in the breastplate and instructions to Aaron on wearing the ephod and the turban.

Similarly, verses 39:33 to 39:42  (the Israelites presenting the completed Tabernacle, all its furnishings, and the priestly vestments to Moses) repeat much of a previous reading from Parashat Vayakhel (35:10 to 35:29).

Chapter 40 – Directions for setting up the Tabernacle

Gd instructed Moses as to how to set up the Tabernacle and the tent of meeting with all their furnishings and accoutrements. Directions are given to anoint the tabernacle, as well as Aaron and his sons. This was followed by a sacrificial ceremony. This ceremony was first set up on the first day of the first month of the second year of the Exodus (presently referred to as the month of Nisan, a name borrowed from the Babylonian calendar).

Completion of the Tabernacle

Upon completion of Moses’ work, a cloud covered the Tent of Meeting accompanied by “the presence of Gd (כבוד ה’)”. A cloud of Gd (ענן ה’) rested above the tabernacle by day, and a fire by night. Through the cloud by day and the fire by night, the Israelites can now worship the presence of Gd without associating Him with in a false image (the notorious Golden Calf). Recall (Exodus 13:20-22) that the Israelites were guided out of Egypt by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Here we have the same symbolism.

Gd’s directive to Moses (Parashat Terumah 25:8) – “And let them make Me a sanctuary that I will dwell among them” (ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם) has been fulfilled. For the first time, Gd has a spiritual home where he can figuratively dwell among the people and his presence can be felt. Some commentators have called the Tabernacle a portable Sinai.

Moses could not enter to speak with Gd until the cloud lifted. Perhaps the divine presence would have been too overwhelming, even for Moses.

Upon the lifting of the cloud, the Israelites would break camp and resume their journey. If the cloud did not lift, they would stay put.

At the completion of the reading of any of the five books of the Torah, it is customary to recite:  

חזק, חזק, ונתחזק

(Be strong, be strong, and we will be strengthened)

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