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Parshat Pekudei: The Avodah and the Melacha of the Mishkan
By: SFW Students & Alumna
Tzipora Leah Shapiro (SFW '08)
It says in the pasuk describing the mishkan’s completion, “kechol asher tziva Hashem es Moshe ken asu Bnei Yisrael es kol ha’avodah” (39:42). The Ramban picks up on the fact that the Torah uses the word “avodah” here, while it used the word “melacha” throughout the entire sugyah describing the building of the mishkan. Only at the very end, does the Torah explain this process as “avodah.” The Ramban gives a beautiful explanation that truly captures the scene and the attitude of Bnei Yisrael. The melacha done in the Mishkan, the Ramban explains, was called avodah because they were doing it as the word is traditionally used, as avodas Hashem. Bnei Yisrael constructed the keilim so carefully that all their intentions were utterly l’sheim Shamayim; their mundane melacha was transformed into avodah.
The Ramban is saying exactly what the point of the Mishkan was. Everything Hashem instructed, Bnei Yisrael did as avodah. When Moshe saw how Bnei Yisrael were treating the seemingly unimportant, the tedious—the melacha—as though it was the avodah itself, he felt it fitting to give them a beracha (“Vayar Moshe es kol hamelacha, vehinei asu osa kaasher tziva Hashem ken asu vayevarech osam Moshes” 39:43) Rashi says this beracha was a yehi ratzon that the Shechina should rest in the work of their hands, “Yehi ratzon shetishre shechina bemaaseh yedeichem…” Moshe saw Bnei Yisrael’s loyalty, dedication, and complete sincerity for Hashem and wanted them to get their reward—a confirmation from Hashem that they indeed were worthy of His Shechina. In addition, it could be said—Bnei Yisrael spent all their time and so much hard physical labor for Hashem and all this melacha was indeed turned to Avodah. Therefore, Moshe blessed them with exactly that result; the Shechina, a representation of a completely spiritual Being would rest in a physical structure. What Bnei Yisrael were trying to do, infuse Hashem into their routinely daily life and turn the melacha into avodah, was precisely Moshe’s beracha for them.
This phrase, “kechol asher tziva Hashem es Moshe ken asu” appears 3 times in this parasha with very similar lashon each time. The Ohr Hachayim haKadosh explains that the three times it’s mentioned is meant to be a kapara for the chet ha’egel. By the chet ha’egel, Bnei Yisrael sinned through machshava, maaseh, and dibur. The way they were mekaper dibur though maleches hamishkan was through the fact they were constantly saying, “lesheim mitzvas Shamayim,” as they built. Their lives revolved around Hashem; their one goal was performing His will.
The Toras Moshe brings down an absolutely beautiful idea. By the very first time this phrase is used it says, “vatechel kol avodas mishkan ohel moed vayasu Bnei Yisrael kochol asher tziva Hashem es Moshe ken asu” (39:32). The Alshich asks, shouldn’t it first say, “vayasu Bnei Yisrael” and then “vatechel kol avodas mishkan…”? After all, Bnei Yisrael had to have built it before it was finished. Rather, however, what really happened? There is a concept that Hashem always helps those who are doing the mitzvos, “kesheba letaher, mesayin oso.” Hashem built the mishkan for Bnei Yisrael and then gave them the credit. The Ramban explains that Bnei Yisrael were no “baki”s in craftsmanship—they just came straight out of Mitzrayim! But, when it came time to perform a mitzvah, there was nobody better qualified; Bnei Yisrael immediately jumped at the opportunity, even though they were completely clueless in the parameters that the mitzvah dealt with. Hahsem watched over them, “vatechal kol avodas mishkan...” it’s as if it finished itself—because Hashem did it. The pasuk continues, though, and it says, “vayasu Bnei Yisrael”. Bnei Yisrael received the credit; it was their ratzon Hashem that built it, not themselves.
This concept, making our will Hashem’s will, is a prominent idea in Yideshkeit, found in Pirkei Avos, in addition to countless times in other pieces of Jewish literature. Every action we do should be done l’shem Shamayim. Our lives are filled with countless opportunities to infuse the chol with kedusha.
We know that Shabbas and the mishkan are intrinsically intertwined and the lamed tes melachos of Shabbas are derived from the melachos performed in the mishkan. Perhaps one reason why the two are inherently interlocked is because of exactly this idea. The mishkan represents infusing kedusha in terms of all our actions and possessions, while Shabbas represents kedusha in terms of time. Both our actions and our time should be used l’shem Shamayim.
Rav Hirsch explains here that there were two aspects to the construction of the mishkan, as we find from the pasuk, “Vayar Moshe es kol hamelacha vehinei asu osa kaasher tziva Hashem ken asu…” The first aspect, as brought to light from the words, “vehinei asu osa,” Bnei Yisrael did it. Every single part of the mishkan had the enthusiasm, alacrity, and devotion of Bnei Yisrael. The second aspect relates to the words, “kaasher tziva Hashem, ken asu.” All of their enthusiasm was completely contained and molded so that it only performed Hashem’s will. Nobody tried to change anything. Every worker just wanted to do ratzon Hashem. This happiness, explains Rav Hirsch, of fulfilling ratzon Hashem, happens when one is completely machnia himself to doing exactly and doing only what Hashem wants by bringing a huge sense of self-fulfillment and unrestrained joy.
Only once we completely subjugate ourselves so wholly to Hashem’s will, just like we did then, can we experience true simcha. The Da’as Sofrim brings down a beautiful peirush on the words, “vehinei asu…ken asu.” This was one of Moshe’s happiest moments in his life and that’s why the Torah uses so many words to stress the fact that Bnei Yisrael followed exactly what Moshe told them to do. Moshe was so proud of his nation and blessed them with a full heart, something he could only do one other time in his life, before his death, but even then, his heart was filled with worries and doubts for their future.
This parasha marks one of the most incredible events in Jewish history and in the Torah. Bnei Yisrael have absolutely become servants of Hashem and brought Hashem down to Earth. This same scene is found three times throughout the Torah—here, in Sefer Vayikra, and Sefer Bamidbar. While at mamad Har Sinai Bnei Yisrael became a nation, Bnei Yisarel were only children, immature and overconfident. By the mishkan, Bnei Yisrael fell- and picked themselves back up again. They proved their true desire to remain a nation for Hashem, and Hashem realized that as He rested His shechina inside the mikdash they created for Him.
May we be zoche to build our own mikdash for Hashem to rest in, as sincerely and wholeheartedly as Bnei Yisrael did as they built the mishkan, bimheira beyameinu. Until then, bilvavi mishkan evneh.
1: Parshat Shavua