Pikudei: God and the gaps

And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks – that they had done it just as the Lord had commanded – then Moses blessed them. (Shemot 39:43).
Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. (Shemot 40:35)

When God’s effulgent glory
overwhelmed the world,
we could not enter.
His essence then condensed
that we might fill the gaps.

If our bloated sense of glory
inundates the world
and holiness is spurned,
our essence thus inflated
the work is overlooked.

If we fashion of ourselves
an empty vessel, an empty space
to hold God’s light within,
His radiance might shine into the darkness
and grant blessing on the labor of our hands.


In his book Itturei Torah on the above verse, Aharon Ya’akov Greenberg quotes from a Chassidic anthology: “In Vienna they built a synagogue, and on the wall of the entrance was carved in gold letters the verse, “And God’s glory filled the Tabernacle”. Once, when Rabbi Tsvi Hirsch Chajes passed by this synagogue, he saw the inscription on the wall and said, “It would have been better had they engraved the beginning of this verse, “and Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting.”
The Kotsker Rebbe was perhaps addressing this idea when he asked, “Where is God to be found?” and himself offered the response, “In the place where He is given entry.”

The commentators noticed early on the very conspicuous similarity between phrases used in the account of the Creation (Bereishit 1-2) and that of the building of the Mishkan(Shemot 25–40). Nahum Sarna, the modern biblical scholar says, “The account of the construction of the Tabernacle is …laced with phrases and expressions that unmistakably echo the Genesis creation story.”
He also notes that the Tabernacle was constructed on the first day of the first month — the New Year —which he suggests emphasizes its connection as some sort of re-enactment of Creation.
Rabbi Isaac Luria (The “Ari”) teaches that when God initially desired to create the finite world, He had first to contract His infinite light (the Or Ein Sof) in a process known as tsimtsum. In an article on tsimtsum, http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2047206/jewish/Tsimtsum.htm, Rabbi Tzvi Freeman brings the Ari’s kabbalistic depiction in which the pre-Creation state of infinite light excluded the presence of anything else. Before creating any worlds, God withdrew that energy completely, resulting in a total void within the infinite light. Only then, into this darkness, did He shine a measured beam of light from the encompassing infinite light.
So Rabbi Freeman explains, “Tsimtsum, then, is the way God makes space for us to have our own world. He hides His light from us, so that we can make our own choices…”

In a commentary on Pikudei from 2014, http://parshathoughtsmore.blogspot.co.il/2014_02_01_archive.html, Dr Rachel Anisfeld addresses success and what accounts for it – human efforts or divine blessing? She notes that this parasha concludes the work of the building of the Mishkan. She says, “The people have given their all, followed instructions precisely and put in tremendous effort. What happens now? Moshe looks at their work and blesses them. According to Rashi, he says: “May it be His will that the divine Presence dwell in the work of your hands.”
Dr Anisfeld points out that these words are rephrased and immortalised in one of the Psalms attributed to Moses and which is recited on Shabbat mornings: “May the favor of the Lord, our God, be upon us; let the work of our hands prosper, O prosper the work of our hands!” (Psalms 90:17). She notes that the Midrash relates that these words were originally spoken by Moses when the building of the Mishkan was completed. She paraphrases “You have done the work; now let us pray for the blessing of God on your work – O prosper the work of your hands!” She notes that there is a tacit acknowledgement here that we do not have control of outcomes. She says, “We can build the building but the spirit must come from above. And there are times of extreme frustration where the spirit, the blessing, does not come, and our work seems for naught…” Dr Anisfeld cites from the morning Uva Letzion prayer, “…so that we do not toil for nothing and labor in futility.”
Dr Anisfeld ponders how we can live in a world where we risk toiling for nothing, but then, how could we live in a world in which success was entirely in our control? She concludes, “The knowledge that, in addition to human effort, blessing comes from above, is essential . Why was Moshe able to bring down blessing from above? Because of his humility. He had no doubt about his role – he was a keli, a vessel, for divine blessing. That very acknowledgment, the knowledge that blessing comes from above, is actually what draws it down. We can only receive a gift if we are not too full to receive it. A cup full of water cannot receive more water. The knowledge of our limitations opens us to being blessed.”

Pikudei: All our journeys

When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out on all their journeys, but if the cloud did not lift, they would not set out until such time as it did lift. (Shemot 40:36-7).

A pillar of cloud
portending God’s Presence
led us through the barren wilds.

Divine proximity is now obscured.
Impelled, we must now navigate
through turbid mists.


In her blog, http://velveteenrabbi.blogs.com/blog/2009/03/perceiving-god-radical-torah-repost.html, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat comments that the Israelites received clear guidance on their journeys by the very tangible pillar of cloud that showed them the way and when to move on. God’s presence was very clear and real to them. She compares that with today and asks, “How do we know when God is among us? How do we know when to stay encamped, and when to pick up stakes and keep moving? Sometimes we don’t, and we have to learn to do the best we can anyway. We have to believe that our journeying has a destination, even when we can’t see the pillar of smoke leading us from hither to yon. If we find that our lives map to a roundabout route, we owe it to our Source to trust that the divagations have a purpose.”

The Yalkut Yehudah* also points out that even when we are ostensibly settled peacefully in one place which appears like an encampment, we need to know that it is actually only a way-station and a new journey lies ahead.

On the phrase, “all their journeys,” Rashi comments that also their encamping was called a journey because from each encampment they would set off elsewhere. In a commentary on this parasha, http://www.rabbisacks.org/covenant-conversation-5769-vayakhel-pekudei-encampments-and-journeys/ Rabbi Jonathan Sacks addresses this point, saying, “Rashi has encapsulated in a few brief words – “a place where they encamped is also called a journey” — the existential truth at the heart of Jewish identity. So long as we have not yet reached our destination, even a place of rest is still called a journey – because we know we are not here for ever. There is a way still to go.” Rabbi Sacks cites from a poem by Robert Frost:

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.**

Rabbi Sacks concludes, “To be a Jew is to travel, and to know that here where we are is a mere resting place, not yet a home…”

*Rabbi Yehudah Leib Ginsburg (1888–1946) was a Rabbi in Denver, Colorado. He moved to Denver from Yaroslavl, Russia where he had served as Rabbi. He is best known for his commentary on various parts of the Torah and rabbinic writings which deal mostly with the ethical teachings found within them.
In most of his works (especially Musar HaMishna and Musar HaNevim) Rabbi Ginsburg tried to find ethical teachings within the legal framework of the Mishna or the text of the prophets. In Yalkut Yehudah, however, he collected midrashim and presented a commentary on them.

**from “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” in The Poetry of Robert Frost.

Pikudei: The Blessing

And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks – as the Lord had commanded, so they had done – Moses blessed them.(Shemot 39:43)

The tabernacle is long-gone
but the imprint of holiness
is still within our hearts.
So we build our sanctuary within,
with deeds and all the skill
that we can muster:
may it be God’s will
that the Divine Presence
will rest upon the work
of our hands.


A theme to which the Sefar Emet frequently returns, is of the imprint of holiness, the unquenchable divine spark which we all carry in our hearts, and the ongoing work to make God’s presence in the world as visible now as it was when the Mishkan and the Beit Mikdash were still standing.

Rashi supplies the words of the blessing with which Moses blessed the people, “May it be God’s will that the Divine Presence will rest upon the work of your hands;” and he cites the continuation, “May the pleasantness of the Lord our G-d be upon us. Establish for us the work of our hands, O establish the work of our hands.” Rashi notes that the latter phrase is part of one of the eleven psalms in the section beginning with Tefillah LeMoshe, A Prayer of Moses. (Psalm 90).