Monday, March 14, 2016

Off the Hook - Reflections on Parashat Pekudei 5776

(Exodus 38:21-40:38)

Pssst. Don't tell anyone you heard it from me, but I heard that Moshe is a thief. 

Believe it or not, Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest prophet and leader in the history of the Jewish People, is accused of petty theft in this week's Torah portion. Can you even believe it?  Here’s what happened:

According to the medieval commentary Daat Zkainim miBaalei HaTosafot, the bean-counters discovered that, somewhere between what was donated for the construction of the Mishkan/Tabernacle and what was fabricated, there was some silver missing. The whispering campaign had begun. Maybe Moshe had pocketed a few shekels? Skimmed a few dollars off the top?

Moshe refers to the Mishkan as the Mishkan HaEdut, the Mishkan of Testimony, because the mishkan itself would testify to his innocence. He demands a recount of all the vessels in the Mishkan, and sure enough, 15 extra vavin/hooks were cast, which accounted for the discrepancy.

The Daat Zkainim goes on to say two fascinating things: First, the verse from last week that says V’Hamlachah Hayta Dayam, "...and the materials [donated] were sufficient for the work at hand." In gematria/numerology, the initials of those three words come to the number 15. Second, that having been exonerated from this terrible accusation, Moshe voiced 15 expressions of praise to Gcd, corresponding to the 15 extra hooks.  Thus the number 15 became associated with praise to Gcd. That is why, down to this day, we have 15 morning blessings, and we begin and end the section of the morning prayers dedicated to praising Gcd with 15 expressions of praise: 15 in the Baruch She’amar prayer, and 15 expressions of praise in the Yishtabach prayer. Neat. 

But let’s come back here for a minute. Imagine: lashon hara, baseless accusations against Moshe, threatened to mar the construction of the greatest spiritual shrine and engineering feat of ancient times. Forget the Hanging Gardens of Babylon or the Sphinx or the other wonders of the ancient world. The Mishkan eclipsed them all.

The building of Gcd’s sanctuary was thrown into tumult because of groundless accusations against an innocent person. Somehow, the malshinim, the whisperers, imagined that Moshe could be holy-looking on the outside, but corrupt on the inside…maybe just as corrupt as they were on the inside.  In psychology, this is called projection: that is, to deflect attention from yourself, you imagine your own faults in others. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story on this subject called Young Goodman Brown. Check it out sometime.

What is the antidote to lashon hara, slander? I think it can be found in the name of our Torah portion: Pekudei.

Following the commentaries, most translations render pekudei as “counting,” in Hebrew cheshbon, so that the opening phrases of our Torah portion read, "These is the accounting of the Mishkan, the Mishkan HaEdut, as was counted at the command of Moses..." Straightforward enough. 

But I think that that translation is inadequate. Why? Back in Chapter 21 of Genesis, the Torah says, V’Hashem pakad as Sarah c’asher amar…/And Gcd PKD-ed Sarah as He said he would..." Did Gcd count her there? Trust me, that lady was one of a kind, so that can't be. In this context, the Hebrew word root PKD seems to mean remember.

And what about later in Genesis 50:24, where Joseph says in his dying words to his brothers, Pakod ifkod etchem vha’aleita etchem…/And Gcd will certainly PKD you and bring you up out of this land [Egypt]..." - again same word root – but over here the sense of the word is that that Gcd will ultimately redeem the Jewish People from Egypt. But if PKD means to redeem, then isn’t the second half of the verse, "...and bring you up out of this land [Egypt]..." redundant?

Now of course it’s possible for one word to have multiple, disparate meanings. Count. Remember. Redeem. But I’d like to suggest a unified understanding of the word PKD that ties them all together.

Here’s the idea: the word root PKD means “that which Gcd focuses his attention upon.” So in our Torah portion, the first phrase, Ayleh HaPekudim/"These are the PKDs” refers to the fact that the A-lmighty was focused upon the materials used in the building of the Mishkan HaEdut in order to exonerate His faithful servant Moses against laughable accusations of wrongdoing.

By the birth of Isaac, Gcd focuses his attention upon Sarah in order that Avraham and Sarah could conceive the miracle baby Isaac in their dotage.

By Joseph, PKD means that Gcd will focus his attention on the Jewish People and their plight in Egypt, AND THEREFORE v'ha’aleta etchem, He will lift you up and return you to Eretz Yisrael.

Does that make sense?

Last week was Shabbat Shekalim, the first of the four special Torah readings in the run-up to Passover.  Guess what? the wording of PKD is also used in reference to the Machtzit HaShekel, the annual half shekel contribution donated by everyone over the age of twenty. (Exodus 30:12) Why? Because the half shekel was so much more than a census or a tax. As each individual passes by the pushka/coin box and drops in his half shekel contribution, he is, for that brief moment, the focus of Gcd's attention. Kivakorat Roeh Edro: This imagery is common on Rosh HaShanah, the Shepherd inspecting his flock one by one as each sheep passes through the narrow gate.

So if Gcd is focusing on us…then we had better get our squash together so that we might withstand His scrutiny.

How? The Talmud in Yoma 72b (which, by the by, is discussing the symbolism of the holy vessels of the Mishkan) quotes Rava as follows: a person should be like the Ark of the Covenant, covered inside and outside with gold, tocho k'baro. In other words, your inner being and private actions should be consistent with your outer self. If a person’s tocho is aino k'baro – that is, one’s public persona is religious, respectable, but their private thoughts and behavior are corrupt and reprehensible, such a person can never be a true servant of Gcd. Those are Rava’s words, not mine.

Elsewhere, (Brachot 28a) we learn that Rabban Gamliel refused entrance to his Academy to any student whose tocho was not k'baro.

The great malady of our times is that most of us lack the inner eye - we tend make snap judgments of our fellow solely on the basis of chitzoniut, externalities, and are blind to a person's pnimiut, their true nature. 

And so it is that scoundrels can dress like pious Jews and commit all kinds of monstrous sexual and financial crimes, whisper all manner of character assassination, project their own twisted sins upon others, and get away with it, all because they look religious. 

The behavior of these individuals is a Chillul Hashem, a repudiation of the very Gcd they purport to represent. 

But I take comfort in the fact that the truth always wins out in the end. "Rabbi Yochanan ben Broka said, 'Anyone who commits a chillul Hashem in private will come to have their crimes exposed in public." (Avot 4:5)

Tocho k'baro means being authentic. If we are truly focused on improving our own character traits, our own Torah learning, our own mitzvah performance, our own connectedness to Gcd, then we won't have time for lashon hara: not to speak it, or listen to it from others. And if it is spoken about you, you will be impervious, because, like Moses of old, you can be assured of Gcd’s help when the whisperers come gunning for you.

V'dai l'maivin.

Shabbat Shalom.

To read an earlier blog on this Torah portion, click HERE.

No comments:

Post a Comment