OzTorah: Torah reading – P’kudei

Written and Submitted by Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple

OzTorah

Torah reading:   P’kudei

TABERNACLE OF THE TESTIMONY

The Torah reading gives us a careful accounting of the income and expenditure involved in erecting the mishkan, which is given the unusual name of “mishkan ha-edut”, the Tabernacle of the Testimony.

Rashi quotes the Midrash which says that when the nations of the world saw the tabernacle, they regarded it as testimony that God had forgiven His people for their lapse with the Golden Calf. Commenting on Rashi, the Sif’tei Chachamim says that Israel had rehabilitated themselves after the sin and gone ahead to create a sanctuary that showed their loyalty to God, because even if a Jew sins he is still a Jew, and in the internal tug-of-war the Jew in him overcomes the sinner.

The Great Synagogue (known in Hebrew as Beth Yisrael – “House of Israel”) is one of Sydney’s most beautiful, fascinating and historic heritage buildings. The Synagogue opened its door for prayer in 1878. Rabbi Raymond Apple was the Senior Rabbi of the Great Synagogue of Sydney between 1972 and 2005.

Since the question remains of which point it was when it was clear that God had forgiven the people, one possible answer is that building the sanctuary in itself was already a sign of Divine forgiveness. However, simply putting up a building is not enough, and the mark of forgiveness was when God’s Presence entered the edifice and brought it to life.

We can use this as an analogy to building a synagogue. A community know that the synagogue has become a House of God not when the builders lay down their tools but when the Divine Presence in the sanctuary becomes palpable. The synagogue needs more than bricks and mortar. It needs to pulsate with spirituality and dedication.

THE JEWISH TUNIC

The saying, “clothes make the man”, is not as straightforward as it looks. It suggests that only when you are dressed do you look like a real person. From this week’s sidra we see that there are various types of “real person”, and any given individual can oscillate between them.

Ex. 39:22 uses the phrase “me’il ha-ephod”, “robe of the ephod”, which denoted a long flowing robe. It was a formal garment made of pure blue, with the hem decorated with alternating bells and blue “pomegranates”. Blue was always regarded as a rich, important colour.

Men engaged in menial work needed a more practical garment such as a short tunic, presumably with at least one pocket to house their working tools. Some kind of under-garment could have been worn under the tunic. Garments of all kinds were a mark of identity and rank and in later times there were rabbinical robes which indicated one’s dignity.  The sages even said that a talmid chacham with a spot on his clothes deserves to die.

These days rabbinical robes for synagogue wear have largely disappeared but the casual clothing that some modern rabbis adopt can go too far in the direction of informality.

NO, I NEVER!

A big building project requires the combined skills of many people – developers, architects, surveyors, project managers, tradesmen, craftsmen… the list is impressive. So many people are involved that it is no wonder that every now and then there is the opportunity to feather one’s own nest. When a piece of equipment vanishes overnight, for example, people always say it was an inside job, but very rarely is the culprit found or even looked for.

Things were different with the tabernacle erected by the Israelites in the wilderness.

“The Children of Israel made it in accordance with all that God commanded Moses, so they made it” (Ex. 39:32).

Not only were the Divine instructions carried out to the letter, but everything was above board. This, say the rabbis, is why today’s sidra is called “P’kudei” – “Accounts”. In case anyone harboured any suspicion that Moses might have pocketed any of the funds donated for the tabernacle, here is an itemised list of everything that came in and where it was spent.

The Talmud reports that Rabbi Yose said,

“May my lot be among those who collect charity, not those who disburse it” (Shabbat 118b).

These days most of us regard fundraising as a thankless task and would rather distribute the funds, but Rabbi Yose knew what Moses knew, that it is easy to be suspected. That is why the same rabbi added,

“May my lot be among those who are suspected whilst innocent” – not that that’s so easy either.

Rabbi Yose is reported further as saying,

“I have never disregarded the words of my neighbours… I have never in my life said anything which I had to retract”.

Note that he says “never”. In Gilbert and Sullivan there is the line, “Never? Well, hardly ever!” How remarkable you have to be to know that, however lowly your social status, you have never let yourself steal from the system or do anything mean or unworthy.

Today we see all the time that public figures have feet of clay, even people who hold high positions of trust. What a change it would be for someone to say,

“I never rorted the system… I never betrayed my trust… I never compromised my office”.

Greatness does not lie only in grand moments, charismatic appearances and impressive oratory, but in the quiet unsung daily discipline of constant decency, honesty and integrity. We have much to learn about this from Moshe Rabbenu and Rabbi Yose.

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple Blogs at http://www.oztorah.com

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