During most years we are blessed with a double Torah portion from the book of Exodus, Vayakheil/P’kudei. Following the previous week’s portion, which tells the story of how the Israelites manipulated Aaron, the brother of Moses, into constructing a golden idol, a calf made from the melted jewelry that was collected from the Israelites, all this happening while brother Moses was spending time receiving the Torah from atop Mount Sinai, this week’s portion is called Vayakheil/P’kudei and also has something to do with construction.
You remember the story: While Moses is communing with the Eternal the people at the base of the mountain are growing restless. Recalling the idols and gods that were worshipped in Egypt, the children of Israel grow weak and demand the comforts of a golden idol. Trying to stall, Aaron reluctantly agrees to construct a golden calf to meet the needs of the impatient crowd. Meanwhile, on the top of the mountain, God warns Moses of the ruckus below. Moses goes to see for himself what the children of Israel have gotten themselves into and, in his anger he smashes the tablets containing the law and orders the golden calf to be destroyed.
Imagine the wrath of Moses: having shepherded the people from slavery, brought them across the sea of reeds on dry land, and having shlepped them through the desert where they experienced first hand the revelation of God, the Israelites have deeply disappointed their fearless leader. Seeing how the people have so enraged Moses, as they violated one of the first commandments not to make a graven image of God, it comes as a big surprise that in the very next Torah portion Moses is soliciting the people to make olympic sized donations of gold, silver, and bronze and other assorted gifts in order to construct a very physical and material portable sanctuary.
At this point in the Torah precise details are given on how to build this structure. One may ask, “didn’t the donations of gold and the subsequent construction of a physical entity cause us problems before? How is this now okay, one Torah portion later?” You may argue that this portable sanctuary differs from the golden calf because where the calf is an object of worship the sanctuary is a place of prayer and meeting. The incredible attention to the physical building with all its material components is for the purpose of constructing holy space. And this is the main point. God, by commanding the building of the sanctuary, acknowledges, to a certain degree, our need to contribute to and construct beautiful physical structures. The main difference is that we don’t worship these structures, we use their beauty and space to acknowledge the very invisible and for that matter, physically challenged God.
The rabbis have seen in this attention to details, in the construction of the traveling sanctuary, great spiritual significance. In this part of the Torah there is rich imagery. From the infrastructure of the structure, to the specifications for color and type of material, to the intimate details in the instructions for creating the Ark of the Covenant with the gold cherubim, the Torah spares no detail and because of this, Torah commentators have seen incredible symbolism.
For spiritual seekers throughout the centuries, the portable sanctuary is not just an abstract idea in the Torah but is an actual construction that exists in time and spiritual space. That space is within our own souls. For many kabbalists and Jewish mystics the Torah in describing the tabernacle is really describing inner space, our emotional and intellectual worlds that constitute an inner sanctum. When our inner world is constructed and ordered like our outer world the potential is to feel wholeness to feel Shalom and to maybe feel the dwelling of God within.
So how do we go about this construction project? How can we make our inner world a sanctuary? The Torah instructs that the holy Ark of the Covenant needed to be gold both inside and out and perhaps this is the key. By having our insides reflect what is on the outside and vice versa we become authentic through and through.
A favorite Chasidic rabbi from 18th century East Europe is Rabbi Zusya from Hannipol. Rabbi Zusya is a colorful character. Despite any suffering he may have experienced throughout his life he always maintained an inner glow from the peace that he felt. He never perceived the trials and tribulations of his life as suffering. On his deathbed, Rabbi Zusya told his students that when he dies and is being judged by the angels that he wouldn’t be asked why he wasn’t more like Abraham or Moses. Rather he would be asked why he wasn’t more like Rabbi Zusya. For Zusya, that authenticity of our being, that sense of Shalom, inner peace is the goal. But how do we do this?
There is a rabbinic idea that every Jew should say 100 blessings a day. This was not to be taken figuratively but rather quite literally. One was supposed to pronounce 100 verbal blessings during the course of the day. Now if you happen to be a person who prays the traditional liturgy, three times a day, you get pretty close to one hundred, “Baruch Atah Adonai’s.” Why the number 100? Our Torah portion has the clue. You see the infrastructure of the traveling sanctuary was composed of planks of wood and silver sockets. The Hebrew term for silver sockets is “Adnei Kesef.” In the actual written Torah, because there are no vowels, only the physical letters, the word for sockets, Adnei, looks exactly like the word Adonai. And you can probably guess how many silver sockets or Adnei Kesef there were in the tent….you got it, 100. From this the rabbis, according to one tradition, determined that if one says 100 “Baruch Atah Adonai’s”, 100 blessings, it’s as if one is constructing the inner sanctum.
By taking the time to say a blessing, to focus on our gratitude for the blessings in our lives, we do help to construct and deepen our inner world. This may be what the Torah is teaching us; that in our lives we sometimes serve the physical, the material world; we sometimes chase after golden calves, however they manifest in our lives. But, if we would focus on our inner world, our emotional or intellectual world, or the inner world of our self esteem, to make them just as golden as our outsides than we will know true peace, Shalom. And so the Torah offers this practical advice; by striving to take note of 100 things that we can count as blessings, to express our thanks for the external worlds we live in, we become like the Ark of the Covenant, authentic inside and out. And like Rabbi Zusya, we can always strive to be true to ourselves. May God give us the strength and courage to be who we are destined to be and bless us with wholeness and peace.