by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And Moshe gathered the entire congregation of the Children of Israel, and
he said to them, 'these are the objects which G-d has Commanded that they
be made.'" 
For the past several weeks, from Parshas Terumah through Tetzaveh and the
beginning of Ki Sisa, the Torah readings discussed the building of the
Mishkan, the Tabernacle, predecessor of the Temple in Jerusalem. The same
is true during this week's dual reading of Vayakhel-Pikudei.
This could have been one continuous story. Moshe ascends Mt. Sinai at the
end of Parshas Mishpatim, is instructed concerning the building the Mishkan
and is given the Tablets which were to be kept in its inner sanctuary,
comes down, instructs the people, and they build it.
Instead, we took a detour. The episode of the Golden Calf interrupted the
process. The original Tablets were destroyed, and HaShem contemplated
destroying the entire nation as well, before ultimately forgiving them and
giving them the Second Tablets. Only then did they build the Tabernacle.
Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch explains that as a result of this interruption,
the Nation of Israel built this great House from a very different
perspective than they would have otherwise. From the beginning of the
Exodus up until Sinai, the story of the Jewish People had been one of
continuous ascent. To be certain, they had already tested their new
relationship with the Holy One, but this occurred during their transition
from the depths of Egyptian impurity to the spiritual heights of the
Revelation at Sinai. Now, they were a Holy nation, ready to be G-d's
standard-bearers to the world.
What did they do? They failed again. Not only did they descend from their
tremendous spiritual height, but they even approached idolatry, denial of
G-d's Kingship. Thus they saw their own tremendous fallibility. "The people
and the priests had learned to know themselves in their state of complete
immature weakness, to realize the necessity for incessant work on
themselves, and how great was their necessity for elevation and Atonement."
There is also a second change which resulted from their failure. "They had
also learned to know G-d in the whole weight of His justice and the
infinite depth of His grace. From the stage of feeling completely rejected
by G-d, up to the extreme height of regained grace, they had tasted every
shade of our relation to G-d."
The Nation learned that Teshuvah, return to G-d, is always possible -- and
that we must constantly look for our failings and return from them. Or as
Rabbi Hirsch says, "at any and every degree of falling from it, G-d's grace
can always be regained." The Tabernacle, this symbol of our connection to
G-d, was built by a people who recognized that each of us, as individuals,
must constantly strive to rebuild that connection.
A second lesson is that much as the Tabernacle may have symbolized this
connection, return to G-d is possible without the Tabernacle or Temple
itself. "The very greatest national crime was committed, and the highest
grace of G-d was regained, _without Temple and without offering_." The
Temple and its offerings do not make the connection -- they merely show the
way. If this requires proof, says Rabbi Hirsch, it lies "in this experience
which preceded the first building of the Temple."
This lesson was reiterated by King Solomon when he completed the building
of the Temple itself. In I Kings 8 he says a prayer of Dedication in front
of the Altar. He asks G-d to hear the prayers of those who pray in this
great House of G-d. But in addition, he also says that if people sin, and
G-d carries them into exile, that G-d should hear them if they return to
Him, and pray towards their land, the city of Jerusalem, and the Temple.
We have no Temple -- but we have the only tools we need to return to G-d.
All we need to do now, is use them!
[Quotations taken from the translation from German by Isaac Levy.]
Rabbi Yaakov Menken