By Rabbi David Levin
All for one and one for all?
God is in the house!
Every pilot uses a checklist. This detailed accounting of seeming minutiae is deliberate and purposeful. Broad categories are broken down into line items. Everything is checked and confirmed from this exhaustive list. The 747-400 Normal Procedures Checklist is an example:
Power Up/Safety checklist 13 Items
Preflight checklist 48 Items
Before Starting checklist 16 Items
Before Taxi checklist 6 Items
Start Taxi checklist 3 Items
Taxi Out checklist 10 Items
Before Takeoff checklist 8 Items
These all are necessary to ensure that everything is as it should be. But it doesn’t ensure everything will work, and the plane gets off the ground. But this thorough and meticulous approach cannot account for a sudden engine malfunction, a flock of birds in front of the engines, an unruly passenger making a scene over wearing a mask, etc.
Similarly, Moses did all of his “pre-Divine Descending” checklists on the Mishkan, down to the vestments of the high priest. But he did not know if what they had completed would work or meet with God’s acceptance until the Cloud descended and filled the place with the Divine presence. So Moses ran through the checklist.
But this accounting, Pekudei, the title of our parsha, is the list.
Pekudei is about God and the people. For it was B’nei Israel who did all of the necessary things to build the Mishkan. The offerings, the creating and the building were all the work of all the people, young and old, artisans and laborers, men and women. Everyone had a role to play, and all were necessary to create God’s home. Chapter 39 of the Torah portion repeatedly states the Children of Israel did the work.
So Pekudei is driving home the point that God could be there because the people did everything, building for a common purpose. That was the point of the exercise; it was a Divinely-inspired team-building exercise facilitated by the team consultant. But it is not about the consultant, Moses.
The text shares in Exodus 40:35 that “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud rested upon it and the glory of the Lord filled the Mishkan.” Pekudei makes it clear that the creation of the Mishkan was not about Moses or built by others so that Moses had a special place to be with God. However, until the moment that the Cloud descended, the average member of the Children of Israel could not know this was the intended purpose of their collective efforts.
Often, we do not know if the things we do matter. These things feel disconnected from any bigger or broader purpose. We then also become disconnected, retreating to narrow and small tribal groups. We are alienated from others, and we double down in an emotional response by alienating others from us. Parsha Pekudei resonates with us in these troubling times.
We do what we do, disconnected from those who are supposed to represent us. As a result, discourse becomes increasingly divisive. We do not build bridges with each other. Instead, we fortify our defenses on our side of the chasm rather than reach out to those different from us.
Where do I fit into it all? This is the question many of us ask. American folklore celebrated the rugged individualist. But this vision of the loner is in tension with the Jewish part of us.
In the good old days, we moved to a place and joined a community, a synagogue, to be with others with whom we shared values and culture. We surrounded each other to celebrate or console, mark the special occasions in our lives, and make us all feel as though we belonged as part of something larger than ourselves.
The synagogue was more than a place of prayer; it was a place of learning and, importantly, a place of gathering. As we acculturated and assimilated, these communities seemed obsolete, and many of us left them behind.
But politics from both the left and the right have splintered the oneness of the American experience. The American aspiration, E Pluribus Unum, Out of Many — One, has been under assault as the culture wars heated up.
The pandemic exacerbated our feelings of alienation, creating an almost existential radical aloneness. Quarantine and social distancing, intended to keep us safe from physical harm, has done substantial damage both psychically and emotionally. In the beginning, Genesis 2:18, God realizes it is not good for human beings to be alone. And here we are, feeling more alone than ever.
The Mishkan experience shows us that we do belong to something meaningful. When we do not see it, we need to try and take the broader view because it is there. Our differences are opportunities to learn from one another and celebrate what makes us unique. We do things differently, but each is no less significant than the other.
Differences are not to be feared but rather to be embraced. When we see ourselves and our brothers and sisters as part of something larger, we find we are all vital in the beautiful enterprise of bringing God to dwell here with us. JE
Rabbi David Levin is the director of the Jewish Relationships Initiative focused on using Jewish wisdom to help people make meaning on their life journey. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.