I was having a very hard time finding something relevant to write on this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Pekudei. After all, most of the parshah simply recounts how Moses and Betzalel made all the Priestly Garments, how the Jewish people brought the Tabernacle Tent and its utensils in front of Moses for his approval, and how Moses finally erected the Tabernacle and initiated its Service.
But then G-d sent me a gift in the guise of a beautiful lesson from Rabbi Chaim ben Attar (b.1696 – d. 1743) in his commentary Ohr HaChayim on the following verse:
“All the work of the Tabernacle, the Tent of Meeting, was completed, and the Children of Israel had done everything that G-d commanded Moses, so did they do” (Exodus 39:32).
This verse is difficult to understand. For it was not the Children of Israel as a whole who did all the work in designing, crafting, weaving, and constructing the Tabernacle and all its parts. It was primarily Moses and Betzalel and the skilled craftsman that did the work. The Jewish people collectively donated the gold and silver and other items that were needed for the construction of the Tabernacle – but they were not involved in the actual building. So how can the Torah write that “the Children of Israel had done everything that G-d commanded Moses, so did they do”?
The Ohr HaChayim answers as follows:
“It appears that the Torah here is teaching us a general rule about the way Torah can be observed successfully, by showing how the Israelites are like a team where each one works for the other and needs the other. The Torah (in its entirety) is only capable of fulfillment by means of the entire Jewish nation. Every individual Jew is charged with the duty to perform those commandments which he is able to fulfill. The rest of the commandments which he cannot fulfill [an Israelite cannot perform service in the Temple, for instance – dz], can be done by others and are considered as if he had fulfilled them. This idea is hinted to in the well-known verse in Leviticus 19:18: “You shall love your fellow as yourself”, which can also be read “as he is part of yourself”. Without one’s fellow Jew, no individual Jew would be able to function as a ‘total’ Jew. Each Jew has a task to help another Jew to become a whole Jew by means of his fulfilling commandments which the second Jew is unable to fulfill either at that moment or ever. As a result, one’s fellow Jew is not “someone else” but is part of “oneself”.
This is the only way in which we can reconcile ourselves to G-d’s commanding us to fulfill 613 commandments – each one of which is meant to rectify a different part of our body and soul – yet it is impossible for one individual to fulfill all of them! Clearly, Torah and its observance then is not only a project for the individual but for the community. The Torah drove home this point by legislating laws which can be performed only by women, only by Levites, only by priests, etc. Our verse describing the whole nation as performing what G-d had commanded Moses that they do – even though most Jews only donated gold and were not involved in the Tabernacle’s construction at all - teaches this powerful lesson.”
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, in his commentary to Leviticus 19:18, echoes this idea when he expounds upon the Hebrew word for fellow, raya, in the verse “You shall love your fellow [raya] as yourself”. He writes that raya shares the same etymological root as mireh, which means “pasture”. This teaches us that everyone is to find and recognize in his fellow Jew his mireh, “the pasturage of his life”, the furthering of his own well-being, the conditions for his own happiness in life. Nobody may look on the progress of another as a hindrance to his own progress.
This is such a powerful idea – an idea that can literally change the way we look at our fellow Jews. Are we going to see them as competitors whose very success threatens us? Or will we view them as members of our team - Team Jewish People – in the “relay race of life”, where if they win, then we win.
The Torah here is reminding us that we cannot do it all alone – and that we were not meant to do it all alone. We each do our part, and together - as members of the same team - we can accomplish our goals. Go, Team, Go!
[Sources: Or Hachayim: Commentary on the Torah by Rabbi Chayim ben Attar, translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk, Lambda Publishers]