03/13/2012 02:45 pm ET Updated Jun 08, 2012

Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei: Weekly Torah Portion Summary, Questions, Resources

Editor's note: The HuffTorah is an overview of the Torah reading of the week and includes links to additional resources for study and discussion. This week is a double portion and is found in the Book of Exodus 35:1-40:38. Read the full text of Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei with interlinear Hebrew/English.

Parshat Vayakhel

Israel atones. Next day, Moses gathers everyone together.

"These are the things God commands: Work for six days. The seventh is holy for you. Rest completely then. Do work and die. Do not kindle a fire in your home on this Sabbath day."

"Also," Moses says, "I must collect a contribution for God. Every person whose heart is inspired to generosity should bring gold, silver or copper; turquoise, purple and crimson wool; linen and goat's hair; red-dyed rams' skin and multicolored tahash skins; acacia wood; oil for the eternal lamp and spices for the anointing oil and the incense; stones for the breastplate."

And Moses explains that all must be gathered to build the Tabernacle (its roof and cover and clasps and beams and pillars and sockets), the Ark (its poles, lid and partition), the table, the candelabrum, the incense altar, the sacrificial alter, the courtyard and all therein. Too, materials are needed for the priestly garments.

The people hear Moses and every single one of them leaves his presence. Every person with an inspired heart brings a contribution. The women (followed by the men) bring bracelets, earrings and various other golden bodily ornaments. They bring the wool, the linen, the skins. They bring the silver and the copper. They bring the acacia. They bring the stones and the spices and the oil. The women, in the rush of inspiration, spin the goats' hair while it's still attached to the living animal.

Moses tells the people that God has appointed Bezalel son of Uri son of Hur from the Tribe of Judah to build everything -- that God has inspired him with Divine wisdom and insight, as well as an unsurpassed knowledgable knack for all kinds of handiwork. To Bezalel, God gives Oholiab as an assistant and every other Divinely inspired person as helpers.

Meanwhile, the people keep giving and giving. It's getting to be too much. The wise men tell Moses who then issues a command in the camp that the people should stop donating.

The donations stop. There is a surplus of material out of which they make the tapestries, the loops, the clasps, the sheets, the loops, the clasps, the coverings, the beams, the crossbars, the partition, the pillars, the curtain, the ark, the gold rings, the angel-headed lid of pure gold, the table, the frame, the rings, the poles, the utensils, the candelabrum, the cups and spheres and flowers, the incense altar, the rings, the holy anointing oil, the incense, the altar for burnt offerings, the utensils, the lattice, the poles, the urn, the courtyard, the curtains, the sockets, the hooks, the belts, the pillars and the entrance to it all.

Questions and resources:

Why does Moses repeat God's command about the Sabbath as soon as everyone is gathered? Is the Sabbath really that important? How can a person be wise of heart? What does it mean that the women "spun the goats" as the text says? Did they really spin the hair while it was still attached to the animal? And Why? Aren't wisdom, insight and knowledge -- which allowed Bezalel to build the Tabernacle -- pretty much the same thing? If these are Divine qualities bestowed by God on the master craftsman, how does God's self manifest wisdom, insight and knowledge?

The Sabbath was of the upmost importance then and it should be now, too. Its juxtaposition with the building of the Tabernacle is an important lesson about creativity. The received knowledge of the mind and the passion of the heart, when combined, will change the world more than either of these things can do alone. The women who "spun the goats" did so because of an intense to desire that their contribution to the Tabernacle be like a sacrificial offering. The women also contributed their mirrors, indicating a superior level of spiritual devotion to the men. Rav Kook explains that Bezalel knew the letters of creation, that is, the building blocks of the universe. Using the distinct and interrelated gifts of wisdom, insight and knowledge, he was able to build a dwelling place for God.

Parshat Pekudei

Moses commands the accounting of the Tabernacle of the Testimony to be sure all the materials have been used properly by Bezalel and Oholiab to make everything that God commanded.

The gold -- 29 kikkar and 730 shekels worth -- for all the work of the holy sanctuary. The silver -- 100 kikkar and 1,775 shekels worth -- accounts for more than 600,000 people and is used for the sockets of the Tabernacle and the partition, and for the hooks for the pillars. The copper -- 70 kikkar and 2,400 shekels worth -- is used for the sockets of the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, for the altar, the netting, the utensils, the courtyard sockets and the pegs.

The turquoise, purple and crimson wool is made into cloth and priestly garments. As God had commanded Moses.

The apron, the shoulder straps, the decorative belt -- all made as God had commanded.

The shoham stones and the breastplate an dits accouterments, too, made as God commanded.

The robe -- with its armor collar and its pomegranates and bells -- is made as God commanded.

The checkered tunic, the turban and the pants for Aaron and his sons are all made according to God's design.

The "Holy to God" forehead plate and the ribbon of turquoise are both made as God commanded.

Everything is completed correctly. As God commanded Moses. But the beams are too heavy. They bring these to Moses, along with everything else. Moses sees the good work and he blesses the people.

God tells Moses the order of operations: Set up the Tabernacle on the first of the month. Arrange everything as it should be arranged. Set up the coxurtyard last. Anoint the Tabernacle and everything inside it. Sanctify everything. All will become holy. Bring Aaron and his sons near the entrance of the Tent. Bathe them. Dress Aaron in the holy garments. Anoint him. Sanctify him. Clothe his sons. Anoint them. Confer on them an everlasting priesthood.

Moses does all of this. Precisely. Tabernacle. Sockets. Beams. Bolts. Pillars. Sheet. Cover. Tablets. Ark. Poles. Lid. Partition. Table. Bread. Candelabrum. (Kindles it.) Golden altar. Incense. Curtain. Sacrificial altar. Burnt-offering. Meal offering. Urn. Water. (Wash in it.) Courtyard. Curtain.

And now the cloud of God covers the Tent of Meeting. Now, the glory of God fills the Tabernacle. Completely. Moses cannot enter.

Whenever the cloud rises, the Children set out on their way. Whenever the cloud does not rise, they stay put. By day, there is a cloud. By night, there is a fire. And all the encampments of Israel behold this with their eyes.

Questions and resources:

Why is such a detailed accounting of the donations included here? Why does the text repeat the details of the priestly consecration and the Tabernacle? How can this possibly connect to the world today? Why does the text continually remind us that all was made "as God commanded Moses"? How did Moses set up the beams if the people themselves couldn't lift them?

The exhaustive accounting and repetition in this parsha indicates a loving attention to detail on the part of Moses (and the Children of Israel). In fact, the Torah is teaching that attention to detail reflects an appreciation for a greater whole: the revelation of Godliness in the world. This imparts a lesson about taking personal responsibility to fix global environmental problems. The repetition of the artisans' perfect construction "as God commanded Moses" is meant to contrast the Israelites' earlier descent into idol worship. Finally, Rashi explains how Moses does the seemingly impossible.

Resources for further commentary, discussion and reflection:

  • Haftorah Vayakhel-Pekudei Summary -- In the supplemental haftorah, found in I Kings 7:51-8:21, King Solomon dedicates and consecrates the Temple. (My Jewish Learning)
  • Rashi on Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei -- The classic commentator in all his interpretive glory. (Chabad)
  • The Animated Parshat Vayakhel -- Alicia Jo Rabins sings about God's desire that the Israelites build a tent for God's presence to dwell. (G-dcast)
  • Art and Creation -- Bezalel knew the letters of creation, that is, the building blocks of the universe. Using the distinct and interrelated gifts of wisdom, insight and knowledge, he was able to build a perfect dwelling place for God. (Breslov)
  • Parshat Vayakhel: An Ecological Message in Shabbat -- The importance of the Sabbath is not only limited to biblical times. In fact, our society needs a break from the work week more than ever. (Canfei Nesharim)
  • Harnessing the Power of Visual Representation for Good -- Why was building the Golden Calf such a sin if God commands the Israelites to build a golden structure as God's dwelling place? And how are images used today to promote certain causes? It seems there's a right and a wrong way to depict anything. (American Jewish World Service)
  • The Animated Parshat Pekudei -- The exhaustive repetition of the details of building the Tabernacle makes sense when the Book of Exodus is viewed as a love story. (G-dcast)
  • Essence Reflected in Creativity All creative work should come from a place "beingness," a recognition that we are all equal parts of a collective. This is why Moses reminds the Children of Israel about the Sabbath before detailing the construction of the Tabernacle. -- (IYYUN)