Parashah (portion)Vayak’heil – P’kudey – Building The Inner Tabernacle
Exodus 35:1 – 40:38
This week’s Torah reading brings us to the close of the Book of Exodus. In these final moments the Israelites build all the many pieces of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which Moses is to later assemble. S’fat Emet (Rabbi Leib Alter of Ger – 19th c. Poland) comments that many of the verses in our portion echo, in their wording, verses from the story of Creation that began the Book of Genesis. It is as if the last lines of the Book of Exodus serve as a mirror to the first lines of the Book of Genesis. The word m’lachah, usually translated as “work,” for example, repeats at least ten times in our combined portions this week. This is the word used in Genesis to describe God’s “work” of creating. Furthermore, we read in Genesis: “And God saw all that He had made… Thus were completed the heavens and the earth… Then God blessed the seventh day….” [Gen. 1:31 – 2:3] S’fat Emet compares this with this week’s reading: “Thus was completed all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting…And Moses saw all the work that they had done… And Moses blessed them.” [Exod.39:32 – 43]. For the S’fat Emet, this parallel in both stories hints at the redemption of all Creation, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s work. With the building of the Tabernacle, the work of Creation is finally complete. And as our story concludes, the Cloud of Glory can now come down to earth; the Presence of the Holy One can now come to dwell in the Mishkan: “The cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Eternal filled the Tabernacle.” [Exod. 40:34]
Whatever does this imagery mean for us? This ending of the Book of Exodus represents the fulfillment of an earlier call from God: “And they shall make me a Holy Place that I might dwell within.” [Exod. 25:8] The image is that all of us are in the process of shaping ourselves into a Holy Place, a Mishkan. Every step of the way, with every meditation, every spiritual experience, every learning we create yet another piece to add to our inner sanctuary. Every bit of spiritual practice, every blessing we speak, and every prayer we utter, prepares us, chipping away at the wall of our separate sense of self. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, every practice helps us transform our inner space with beauty and color, precious metals and stones, and adorns our soul with garments “of fine twisted linen, blue, purple and crimson yarns done in embroidery.” [Exod. 39:29]
Ultimately, our teachers tell us, comes an earth-shattering moment; the instant when our inner Moses assembles all the pieces; where all the teachings, all the practices, become integrated as one within us. All the months and years of preparation, of discipline and dedication to our practice come together in the deepest experience of Yichud, of Unification. As we awaken to our Self as the Mishkan we have always been, the Cloud of Glory comes to fill our inner Tabernacle with the fire it contains, and that fire illuminates all darkness within. All dualisms dissolve, all half-understood concepts become clear, the transcendent and the immanent become one. We are transformed into a Tent of Meeting where heaven and earth are united, a clear channel through which Spirit can now flow unobstructed. We remember that we are, indeed, Spirit Itself.
And so perhaps this is why the language of our Torah portion echoes that of Genesis; for in the moment of awakening to the Mishkan that we are, we become the pure conduit through which Divine Creation unfolds, through which the Divine Presence is revealed. The stories in Genesis and in Exodus are mirror stories; in the former God conceals Himself as Creation, in the latter God reveals Himself through Creation. Most importantly, these stories are stories of hope. They remind us — even if we can’t readily see it — that as we dedicate and re-dedicate ourselves every day to our spiritual practice; we are, piece by piece, transforming our inner self into a Holy Place, into a Tent of Meeting; and that in trusting this process we can’t help but awaken to the Divine Presence within, that has been waiting for us there all along.