Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

In this week’s D’var Torah, the Chief Rabbi asks, “How would you conclude the most dramatic story ever told?”

How would you conclude the most dramatic story ever told? This of course, is the story of the book of Shemot, and we end this week, with the Parshiot of Vayakhel and Pekudei. These portions are all about the Mishkan – the establishment and furnishing of the sanctuary, and the responsibility of the nation for this project.

I actually believe that this is an outstanding end to the book… let me explain. The book of Shemot contains three themes: first – we read about the oppression of our people and our Exodus from Egypt, second – we are taught about the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and the third is all about the Mishkan – the sanctuary in the wilderness.

First of all, we attained our liberty and our freedom in order to live lives of responsibility – that is the reason we were given the Torah. And then there was one further important stage: the building of the Mishkan.

You see, when He created the world, the Almighty created a home for mankind. It is through the Mishkan that we create, in this world, a home for God.

However, do not be fooled. Do not presume that the Mishkan was a place where the presence of Hashem could be restricted to a specific place – quite the contrary.

God commanded us –“Ve’asu li Mikdash v’shachanti b’tocham”“Make for me a Mikdash, a sanctuary, so that I shall dwell in them” – not in ‘it’, but in ‘them’. The whole purpose of the Mishkan was so that Hashem’s presence could be within us.

Rabbi Eliezer Askari, a Kabbalist who lived in the sixteenth century, was the author of the poem Yedid Nefesh, which we sing on Friday nights. He also authored another beautiful poem, Bilvavi, and in it he wrote, “Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh l’hadar k’vodo” – “In my heart, I will build a Mishkan, to reflect the glory of Hashem.”

This is the essence of what the Mishkan represented; through our experiences within it, it inspired us to carry within our hearts that little Mishkan, to take the presence of Hashem with us wherever we went.

This is what King David meant when he exclaimed in the Psalms – “Ve shavti be’veit Hashem le orech yamim” – “may I dwell in the house of the Lord for all time” – Not that King David would move into a Shul, but that every house that he would enter would be a house of Hashem, because he would bring Hashem’s presence with him wherever he went.

It is the duty that each and every one of us has to utilise our precious freedom with responsibility, and to carry the radiance of the presence of Hashem with us, to reflect it beautifully wherever we go. I invite you all to build a Mishkan in your hearts.

Shabbat shalom

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