Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Pekudei 2

Each Torah portion takes its name from its first or second sentence. Yet the name also represents the theme or essence of that reading. Pikudei, the name of this week’s Parsha,is translated in this context as reckonings, or accountings, but we find elsewhere in the Torah that the verb Poked also has several other meanings. When Sarah conceives Yitzchak (Isaac) the Torah says “V’Hashem Pakad Es Sarah Ka’asher Amar”, “G-d remembered Sarah as He had said [that He would]” (Genesis 21; 1). The Torah uses the word when Yosef is appointed, first as head of Potiphar’s household, later as head of the jail, and finally when he appoints others to oversee the storing of grain before the famine (ibid. 39; 4. 40; 4. 41; 34). After the sin of the Golden Calf, G-d says “Uv’yom Pokdi Ufakadti Aleihem Chatasam”, “On the day when I grant special providence to the people, I will take this sin of theirs into account” (Exodus 32; 34). Most importantly, the code phrase that Yosef (Joseph) gives to the Jews before his death, the promise that G-d will redeem them from Egypt, is “Pakod Yifkod Elokim Eschem”, “G-d will surely remember you” (Genesis 50; 24). This is the same phrase that G-d tells Moshe to use when he returns from Midian to redeem the Jews, “Pakod Pokadti Eschem” (Exodus 3; 16). Finally, a Pikadon means a deposit for safekeeping (Leviticus 5; 21). How are all of these meanings connected, and what is their relevance to today’s Torah reading?

The common denominator in most of these quotations is that they involve a special providence; G-d changes the normal order of things in order to influence the future history of the Jewish nation. Under normal circumstances a ninety year old post-menopausal woman does not conceive. Yet miraculously G-d intervenes and causes Sarah to conceive, in order that she should have a descendant to continue the work that she and Avraham had begun. Though Yosef is the son of Ya’akov, thus a prince in his own right, the Egyptians think that he is a slave. Therefore his rise to prominence is truly remarkable; G-d is making provisions for the exile in Egypt in order to create a unified nation out of the small family of Ya’akov. When the Jews built the Golden Calf, they deserved to be annihilated for their sin. . Because of Moshe’s prayers, and those of the whole nation, G-d created history and punished them a little at a time. In this way they achieved a complete atonement, without being destroyed. Each calamity that befalls the Jewish nation throughout time contsind within it a part of the original Pekida of the Golden Calf, and therefore clearly shows His intervention in the normal course of history.

Of course, the time when the world most clearly beholds G-d’s changing of the natural order for the sake of the Jews, is the Exodus. All of the plagues, the splitting of the Reed Sea, and the other miracles that we relate each year in the Hagadda, are an eternal reminder of G-d’s love for us, and His willingness to override nature for our benefit. Before his death, Yosef promises the Jews that the hardship of the slavery in Egypt is also part of the Divine plan. Who knows better than Yosef that even the most difficult injustices are also a sign of G-d’s love for us, and His intervention in history. Pakod Yifkod becomes the phrase which enables the Jews to endure the severest pain of their suffering. They know that it is an open sign of G-d’s concern for them, despite appearances to the contrary.

The reason for Pekida is because the Jews are a Pikadon entrusted to G-d’s safekeeping. In the Covenant Between the Pieces G-d promised Avraham “Look at the sky and count the stars. See if you can count them. That is how your descendants will be... To your descendants I have given this land...”. At that time, G-d promised to ensure the future of Avraham’s descendants and to involve Himself directly in history to fulfil this promise. All of the future generations are a surety to Avraham that G-d will keep this promise.

The completion of the Mishkan in Pikudei is the final step in the spiritual redemption from Egypt. It indicates a return to the level of our forefathers, in that G-d gives a constant indication of His dwelling in our midst. This is the pinnacle of the Pekida that was promised to Avraham and conveyed through Yosef. Ultimately, the setting up of the Mishkan was a necessary consequence of the slavery in Egypt. Thus it was appointed from the time of the covenant with Avraham. In fact the mystics say that the building of the Mishkan was appointed from the very beginning of creation. It was erected “Bayom HaSh’mini”, “On the eighth day”, the natural culmination of the seven days of creation.

Thus the accounting of the materials of the Mishkan also shows G-d’s involvement with the world, and the special providence which He grants the Jewish people. The reason the Jews deserve this special providence is because they are a surety for the promises made to Avraham. Together with the fact that the Mishkan was constructed at a time appointed from the time of creation, this is a fitting ending for the book of Exodus, retrospectively showing how all the pieces of history fit together.

1Often mistranslated as “The Red Sea”
2The first Rebbe of the Gerrer Chasidim, early 1800s
3Singer Siddur p. 725/378
4An anonymous text attributed to Rabbi Aharon HaLevi of Barcelona first published in 1523. In it the author lists the 613 Commandments in the order of the Torah readings, and gives reasons and explanations for them.

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