Parashat Vayak’heil-P’kudei (Ex 35:1-40:38) brings to a close the book of Exodus. These concluding chapters repeat many similar themes from prior weeks – the materials which were brought for the building of the tabernacle (mishkan) in the wilderness, the garments that the priests wore, the breastplate worn by the High Priest, and so on.
At the very end, the portion recounts how Moses completed the building of the mishkan and would go in and out of the Tent of Meeting where he would presumably meet with God. Sometimes he could not go in, however, because God’s presence was so powerfully felt there. It appeared as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
It’s possible that after the incident with the Golden Calf, God realized that the people needed a tangible reminder that God was with them, otherwise they were quick to lose their faith. To use a simple analogy, it’s like a parent teaching his/her child how to ride a bicycle. First there are the training wheels and the parent is there to hold and assure the child, but eventually the training wheels are taken off and the parent lets go so the child can advance to a new stage of development.
It’s been like that throughout our history. First we had the mishkan in the wilderness which assured our ancestors that God was with them, then the Temple in Jerusalem where a similar relationship could be maintained. After the Temple was destroyed, the Jewish people had to radically change the way they related to God. They managed to stay connected through study and prayer, and through the bonds forged within a community – means that are still effective for many of us today.
As outer forms continue to evolve, it is beneficial for us to reflect on the purpose they serve. Our utilization of material things and technologies will necessarily change over time, like the telephone booth which was once essential but is now obsolete. If we remain attached to specific technologies or ways of relating, it’s too easy to lose sight of purpose they were initially intended to serve.
Whether it’s a Tent of Meeting or a video conferencing app, the purpose of most things is to help us feel more connected to others, to our most cherished values and, ultimately, to that underlying unity we call God.
As we come to the end of the book of Exodus, as with any of the five books of Moses, we say “Hazak, hazak, v’nitchazek – from strength to strength may we be strengthened.” As we pass from one stage to the next in our long evolutionary journey, may we become stronger, wiser, happier, more loving and more connected.
R’ Moshe Tom