Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Pekudei
As we close the Book of Exodus, we read of all the final details in completing the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and preparing the priests for service. “According to all that God had commanded Moses, so the People of Israel completed the task. Moses saw the entire work, and lo! they had done it as the Lord had commanded, so had they done. So, Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:42-43).
The preceding verses detail the people’s work. The text demonstrates each garment they sewed and every ritual object they crafted. We read that they measured every task and checked their work before bringing it all together. If there ever was a building project that brought the whole community together – the Mishkan was it.
The crescendo of the episode happens as Moses does his final assessment of the work. After determining that they did everything just as the plan required, Moses did not sanctify the place where God would dwell – Moses blessed the people.
The crowd worked in unison – in synch with a unified desire to create this place of worship around which each would gather. They set aside whatever disputes might have existed between tribes or families. The goal of creating a safe, secure, and holy” “neighborhood” overshadowed every other dynamic over which they fought or blessedly shared. In that moment, the Messianic vision of shalom blanketed the land. Witnessing the miracle that stood before him, Moses blessed – the people.
I understand that the Bible opens world-changing conversations for those who engage. Sometimes we read stories that shock us into better behavior, knowing that we need to handle situations differently from how we read that they played out. I understand that Biblical heroes do amazing things and have very human failings. No one is perfect – but even imperfect people do amazing things. Indeed, we read of periods when the people behave, in between cataclysmic failures opening the door for a hero to step in from nowhere and teach us that each of us has the power to change the world. This episode is, to my memory, the only place in the text where we find everybody absolutely aligned in the highly detailed holy work of community building.
Is this story a prophecy of the Messianic age, or does it teach us that there are matters over which the politics, greed, and insecurities that drive us to prove our value by demeaning others just don’t matter? Over the last 20 years, we have watched as the tenor of conversation between people continues to devolve. So many of us hoped that the pandemic would drive our world into a unified concern for our future. The science fell victim to political banter. Respect for humanity went out the window as even the “most religious” people chose to ignore God’s call to take care of each other, putting their family and neighbors at risk. Tensions rose, and gun violence increased. The companies producing vaccines that ended up saving so many lives in the worldwide pandemic – they sold it for profit. Healthcare, education, biology, racism, and people’s sense of self and identity are no longer matters of human dignity. Rather, they hinge on political power.
Now, as we read the Torah and join Moses in witnessing this miracle of cooperation, we ache over a brutal invasion – Russia against Ukraine. Large segments of the Russian people do not support this invasion. Many of the Russian soldiers do not, either. The Russian leader Putin has yet to convince people that his motives behind the attack were “defense” oriented. Still, “leaders” from around the world who attend worship and pray for God’s blessings and peace actively espouse and support the integrity of Russia’s invasion.
Amid the Vietnam War, we asked, “Where have all the flowers gone? When will they ever learn?” Today, we must pray the prophet’s words, calling on us to beat our swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. It cannot happen until we decide to build this community together.