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The Mishkan was a creative extravaganza that brought to light some of the most beautiful skills humankind may possess.

Based on Parasha U’Likcha by Rabbi Moshe Grylak

As the Torah describes the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), almost every section ends in the words, “As Hashem had commanded Moshe (Moses)” (Exodus 39:1). The phrase repeats itself again and again. It appears a total of nineteen times in the short space of Parashas Pekudey.

I mean, you would think that after using the phrase once or twice, we would have gotten the point. They built the Mishkan exactly – no, I mean exactly – no, really, exactly – as Hashem commanded Moshe. Got it. Why the repeats?

The repetition of this verse teaches a powerful lesson for life.

God doesn’t need a Mishkan. Believe me, He is fine without it. The Mishkan was commanded at the behest of the people. The Jews felt lacking. They wanted more. The sages explain that through the Mishkan the Jewish People hoped to give full expression to their spiritual aspirations.

It follows that the Mishkan should have been built in keeping with the peoples tastes and spiritual inclinations. After all, the Mishkan’s purpose was to meet their own needs. The very best architects and engineers should have come to Moshe, shown him their best blueprints, and built the Mishkan in the way they thought would best inspire their feelings of holiness, awe, and spirituality. Who knew better about what would meet their spiritual needs than they did themselves? Right? 

Not really. We know the Mishkan was not built that way. The moment the Almighty agreed to their request to build a Mishkan, He commanded them to build it as He showed Moshe at Mount Sinai (ibid 26:30). It wasn’t built according to their own personal designs, but according to the Almighty’s.

Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi, the great Jewish poet of the middle ages, uses a metaphor to explain this in his famous work, The Kuzari.  Says the Kuzari, most people in this world act like a fool in a pharmacy. The fool feels some sort of lacking. Maybe he doesn’t feel well, or could just use an energy boost. Whatever the problem may be, the fool decides to use his limited knowledge to mix himself a treatment.

We go through life feeling all sorts of lacking. Life throws curveballs all the time. We face challenges, be they health challenges, emotional challenges, or social challenges. The list is endless. And what do we believe will help us overcome these problems? Our values. We mix ourselves a “treatment” of whatever value appeals to us at the time.

For example, some people’s values dictate, “Be strong. Might makes right. The real golden rule is that the one who has the gold makes the rule.” Others value kindness and compassion, sometimes to a fault. Some people value honesty while others value keeping the peace even if it means lying once in a while.

No matter what our value system, we rely on it. We believe that if we act on our value system, we will succeed against life’s challenges. We will prevail in the face of hardship. We will live to see a new day – one in which our values have richly proven their worth.

Is that always true? Live your values and everything will be fine? Not always. Values come in and out of fashion. The Victorian era valued modesty and repression. The sixties shouted, “Free love!” Both of these extremes had destructive consequences. People have poured their lives into actualizing values which have failed them. Like the fool in the pharmacy, we insist on believing that home-brewing our own cures for life’s challenges will see us through hale and hearty, but history dashes this belief on the rocks time and time again.

The Kuzari explains that human intellect, extraordinary though it is, requires a value system conceived outside its own limitations. The fool in the pharmacy will end up killing himself with all those strange mixtures. He doesn’t know enough about his own body or about the substances he is mixing in order to figure out how to use them to his benefit. Similarly, we know relatively little about ourselves and the way the world really functions. Little, that is, relative to the Almighty. The Creator knows more than the creations, and He told us that His Torah was the blueprint for it all – even you.

Trying to solve our problems with subjective moonshine value systems is like trying to lift ourselves out of murky waters by our own hair. Try to solve our problems on the basis of a value system dictated by the Creator, and we grab on to a rope reaching to eternity.

Parashas Pekudey repeats nineteen times that Moshe built the Mishkan as God commanded. Moshe knew how dangerous it was to mix in subjective personal agendas into the “treatment” people need in order to meet their lacking. The guess-and-check method is a jalopy compared to the Rolls Royce of Torah guidance. You want success? Self-actualization? Happiness, adventure, growth, discovery? On the basis of Torah all aspects of the human personality flourish, including the intellect.

The Mishkan was a creative extravaganza that brought to light some of the most beautiful skills humankind may possess. Those skills didn’t stand alone, but soared to new heights, accomplished glorious things, in the context of guidelines straight from their own Source. It’s a message worth repeating: the Mishkan was built exactly “as Hashem had commanded Moshe”.


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