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Exodus 38:21 – 40:38

With parashat P’kudei, the Book of Exodus comes to a close. On the surface, these past weeks have told the story of our liberation from Egypt (Mitzrayim) and our experience at Sinai; yet at a deeper level, the text speaks of a spiritual journey of awakening. The word Mitzrayim, as we have seen, can also be understood to mean “narrow places” (of consciousness). Mitzrayim represents self-centered, contracted awareness. Conversely, Sinai symbolizes the inner space of freedom, of expanded awareness within which we are able to experience Revelation and ourselves as the Eternal One. The inner journey from one to the other is one of dis-identification from our enslaving conditioned mind, from our separate sense of self, and of awakening to the One that is All. But how can we, today, retrace the steps of our ancestors in order to glean such an expanded awareness?

Our Torah portion begins:

These are the accountings of the Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of Testimony that were accounted by Moses for the labor of the Levites, under Itamar, son of Aharon the priest. [Exod. 38:21]

What we are called to do, in the concluding verses of Exodus, is to build a Tabernacle, a sanctuary wherein we will be able to worship our newly revealed God. We have journeyed from a place of slavery under the whip of Pharaoh in Egypt, to “labor” toward creating a place of worship under the thundercloud of God at Sinai. Interestingly, the word for “slavery” (av’dut) has the same root (av) as the words for “labor,” “worship,” and “service,” all of which share the same word, avodah. What is the Hebrew trying to tell us here?

First and foremost, if we assume that a language conveys the deepest values of a people, we can see that even in antiquity the Hebrews considered Avodah/service to be mankind’s ultimate purpose.  Our primary reason for being is not to pursue individual happiness but to be of service. And so our journey from av’dut to avodah, from slavery to Divine Work, can be seen as a journey of expanding service. It begins with the awareness that we are stuck in serving (or even worshiping) every whim of our ego, unconsciously acting out the trappings of our conditioned mind. It continues with shifting the object of our service from self to other, to all others, to planet, and ultimately to God or Life. In transforming the work/labor that is our life to becoming one of service, we are able to dis-identify with the constricted ego-personality and sense God’s Presence not only in the other’s eyes but in the world that envelops us.

Torah’s subtle injunction might be: be of service to your loved ones, your neighbors, your co-workers. Be of service to your community and beyond your community. Serve to bring peace and understanding between nations and religions. Serve to heal the ecosystem both locally and globally. Become the peaceful steward of the earth. Why? Because the path of service— from av’dut to avodah— is a path that leads from Egypt to Sinai, enabling us to evolve from ego-consciousness to God-consciousness, and from this place to know the world as an all-embracing sacred Tabernacle.