Clouds of Darkness

motzei Shabbos: parashas Pekudei 5782

“And the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the L-RD filled the Mishkan.” – Exodus 40:33

After Moses set up the Mishkan, and put the outside screen to the entrance of the courtyard in place (Exodus 40:32), the cloud of glory hovered over the Tent of Meeting, and filled the Mishkan (see above). Thus, when the cloud rested upon the Tent of Meeting, and H’Shem’s Presence filled the Mishkan, Moshe was unable to enter (Exodus 40:34). The same phenomenon occurred when King Solomon inaugurated the first Beis haMikdash (Temple structure). At that time, the kohanim were unable to remain in the sanctuary, because “the cloud had filled the House of the L-RD” (1 KIngs 8:10-11, JPSN). Thus, the parallel exemplifies the phenomenon mentioned elsewhere, “clouds and darkness are round about Him” (Psalms 97:2, JPS 1917 Tanach).

In our own lives, when our path is obscured, figuratively speaking, by darkness, may we continue to place our trust in H’Shem, to bring us safely through the obscurity to our destination. Additionally, if we seem stuck at a certain madreiga (level) in regard to our connection to H’Shem, may we be brought to a greater understanding in due time, according to His will and timing. Eis ratzon – at a favorable time. Finally, in acknowledgment of our brethren in Ukraine, and all of the Ukranian people facing unprecedented challenges in their lives, at this time, may we keep them in our prayers. And, may they be led to safety if having decided to flee, and kept safe if sheltering in place within the cities.

Sacred Blessing

new audio: parashas Pekudei 5782

“It came to pass in the first month, in the second year, on the first day of the month, that the Mishkan was set up.”– Exodus 40:16

After the Exodus from Egypt, the B’nei Yisrael ascended over a period of forty-nine days on their way to Sinai. How was this journey an ascent? Figuratively speaking, they had ascended from the forty-ninth level of impurity, over the course of forty-nine days, wherein they were able to make an account of their souls (tikkun hanefesh) to H’Shem. The Torah records that Moshe requested that B’nei Yisrael prepare themselves for receiving the commandments three days ahead of time. However, tradition holds that the refinement of their souls, through introspection of their character, began at the outset of the Exodus, continuing for a period of forty-nine days.

Had they remained at their new level, acquired over this period of time, the Mishkan (Tabernacle) would have not been necessary, because they would have all been pure vessels, so to speak, capable of receiving H’Shem’s Presence, the Shechinah within themselves. However, with their lapse into idolatry, upon the building of the golden egel (calf), they fell back into impurity, because of the idolatrous nature of their revelry (Exodus 32:19). Thus, Moses broke the tablets, for their righteousness had plummeted, and they were no longer worthy of receiving the Tablets.

Yet, on Sinai, during the forty days that Moses had spent in communion with H’Shem, he had received the divinely inspired plans for the Mishkan. And, this would serve for their atonement. So, a year later, upon the completion of the building of the Mishkan, Moshe blessed B’nei Yisrael, “And Moses saw all the work, and behold, they had done it; as the L-RD had commanded, even so had they done it. And Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43, JPS).

weekly reading: the Census

B”H

Shiur for parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5779

When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the L-Rd.”

– Exodus 30:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

A unique perspective on the census taken of B’nei Yisrael involves the consideration of how the silver from the census – a half shekel from every man – was actually used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). First of all, let us consider the amount of silver that was taken: “And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was a hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and three-score and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exodus 38:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The one hundred talents of silver was used for ninety-six sockets at the base of the planks that served to make the walls of the Mishkan, plus four sockets for the partition screen (see scripture). The remaining silver amounted to less than a talent; this was also used to build the mishkan. The exact amount needed was the exact amount collected from B’nei Yisrael when the census had previously been taken. Ohr HaChaim comments that this was a miracle.

Additionally, the census is referred to as an atonement for the souls of B’nei Yisrael. Commentary explains that the half shekels that were taken from each indvidual served as atonement for their souls, specifically for the sin of the golden calf.

Sforno draws another insight, noting that the nature of a census itself requires an atonement for the souls of the individuals counted. He explains, that the mentioning of a head count of people is an oblique reminder of mans sin, his guilt (commentary on 30:12, sefaria.org). In his estimation, humans change from day to day, in regard to their moral status. Therefore, they are not the same when counted each time.

It is as if they are scrutinized by the Almighty at the time of a census, and may fall short of His standard, namely, the commandments, at the time of counting. Therefore, the half shekel served as an atonement for their moral deficiencies at the time of scrutiny.

Inasmuch that these half shekels were used to build the mishkan, another insight can be drawn, in regard to the importance of atonement. The Mishkan served as a dwelling place for H’Shem; yet, its purpose emphasized a central structure where offerings for atonement would be made on behalf of B’nei Yisrael.

May it be H’Shem’s will that when we are scrutinized, we will be judged favorably. May His attribute of mercy override His attribute of judgment.