This week, we close the book of Shemos (Exodus) with the double portion of Vayakhel and Pekudei. The two portions are read on separate Shabbats during a leap year in the Jewish calendar.
We end as we began, with an accounting. Shemos starts with a description of the “70 souls” who entered Egypt with Jacob. Those 70 people, the original Children of Israel (Jacob’s other name) have grown to more than a million. These descendants entrusted to Moses an enormous amount of gold, silver, jewels and fine fabrics to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
Moses put these materials in the hands of two very crafted artists who directed the building of the Mishkan. They were Bezalel (“In the shadow of God” – he was building the place where God’s presence, a kind of shadow, would rest) and Oholiab (“Tent of my father” – he was building a tent for his Father).
Now that the Mishkan had been completed, Moses accounted for it by describing all the things that had been made with the donated materials – the Mishkan itself, the altars and various vessels and the clothing and ceremonial vestments of the Kohen Godol (High Priest) and the other priests. He wanted to show the people all of their gifts had gone to create the Mishkan and the other things used there, and that he had not taken anything for himself.
After that, Moses gathered the Mishkan and all the vessels together, and assembled the Mishkan so the people could see it. Just as God had commanded Moses, “so did the Children of Israel perform all the labor.” (Exodus 39:43) Then Moses blessed the people.
In parasha Vayakhel, we learned of the work involved in building the Mishkan – these 39 tasks were used as the source of work we avoid on Shabbat such as shearing wool, weaving, sewing and tearing. In Hebrew this work is called melachah. But in describing the labor performed by the people to build the Mishkan, the Torah does not use the word melachah, but avodah (“service” or “worship”).
So, 70 people went into Egypt, and grew to more than a million, living as slaves for 210 years. Once freed, they gave up their wealth to build a place for God’s presence to be known. When they built it, they did not consider their efforts work, but service to God and a means of worshiping Him.
What was in it for the Children of Israel? After the Mishkan was finished, Moses installed the priests in their duties. Finally, God’s glory rested on the Mishkan which was so holy even Moses could not enter. For the rest of the wandering in the Wilderness, the Shechinah (God’s glory) rested on the Mishkan. By day it was a cloud, and at night it was fire. When the Shechinah lifted, the journey continued, and when it rested on the Mishkan, the people rested.
The people’s devoted service in building the Mishkan was rewarded by their redemption for the chet ha’egel, the sin of the golden calf. Now, they could move forward together with God toward the Land promised them by God.