Exodus 38:21 – 40:38
Pekudei concludes the book of Exodus with a beginning rather than an end. How Jewish! This week we read the description of the completed mishkan (tabernacle) and the descent of God’s Presence upon it as an impenetrable cloud by day and a fire by night, “in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout their journeys.” (Ex. 40:38)
Our parasha opens with a rather strange turn of phrase: the mishkan is called mishkan ha-eidut. (Ex. 38:21) Some translators call this “the Tabernacle of the Covenant” or “of the Pact.” That would make a lot of sense given the context of the verse. However the word eidut literally translates as ‘witnessing’ or ‘testimony’ and is not at all related to the Hebrew word for covenant (brit). Why, at this of all moments, does the text read mishkan ha-eidut?
According to Rabbi Shimon, the mishkan itself stands as witness, proclaiming to every person that God has forgiven the sin of the Golden Calf. (Midrash, Shemot Rabbah, 51:4) While the tradition emphasizes that this message was delivered to the world, I like to think that it was intended especially for us.
The mishkan is, among other things, the place more than any other where the Israelites encountered the reality of God as they wandered through the Wilderness. It was commanded from on high, but built by people.
We, like the ancient Israelites, regularly fall into the trap of worshipping the work of our hands – our own ‘golden calfs.’ This is the path of hevel, of futility and emptiness. The mishkan for God in our midst is a testimony – both of our errors and of God’s forgiveness. This is not only the message of the High Holy Days, but of every day.
We can repeat the mistakes of the past, or learn from them and return to our Source, using our hands to create not idols but sanctuaries in time and space.
Hi there! I am the senior rabbi at Temple Beth Ami in Rockville, Maryland, where I have served since 2016.
(c) copyright 2015 Rabbi Gary Pokras