PARASHAT VAYAKHEL-PEKUDEI: Between vision and execution

Routine is not failure. Such is life.

‘THE TABERNACLE in the Wilderness,’ an illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
‘THE TABERNACLE in the Wilderness,’ an illustration from the 1890 Holman Bible
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Torah portions of Vayakhel and Pekudei are usually read on the same Shabbat. They describe in detail the work of constructing the Tabernacle – the temporary temple that accompanied the Children of Israel for about 500 years until the establishment of the Temple in its permanent place in Jerusalem.
This work was described already in portions we read recently – Truma and Tetzaveh – which give detailed instructions regarding the materials needed to build the Tabernacle, the exact measurements of the Tabernacle and its ritual objects, what the kohanim’s clothing are to look like, etc. Actually, this week we repeat these instructions, but not as descriptions of the instructions, but of their practical implementation and execution. Again, we read about the materials used for the Tabernacle and its vessels, the measurements, the kohanim’s clothing, and many other details involved in executing the specific instructions that were given.
For this reason, it is interesting to note the subtle differences between the description of the instructions and the description of the execution. Sometimes we find practical differences, and sometimes they are only literary, when a term is replaced with another.
Thus, we find, for example, a difference in the description of the cloths covering the Tabernacle. Remember that the Tabernacle was not a permanent structure but was taken apart and rebuilt. It did not have a permanent roof but tent-cloths that covered it, which were removed when the Tabernacle was dismantled.
In Truma, when the instructions are given on how to connect the cloths, a unique phrase is used that conveys an interesting relationship with these cloths: “and you shall fasten the curtains, woman to her sister” (Exodus 26:6). This phrase – “woman to her sister” – is repeated four times. The personification and metaphorical use of the deep relationship between a woman and her sister is rare in the Bible. Something about the poetic style expresses festivity, loftiness. The inanimate cloths take on a life of their own with added significance.
But when we read in this week’s portion about the execution of these instructions, we find that this lofty language is gone. It says: “and he fastened the curtains one to another” (ibid. 36:13). “One to another” is used four times instead of “woman to her sister.” The poetic language becomes a technical description; the personified sisters return to being inanimate cloths.
Is this change coincidental? There are times it could be argued that the Bible uses varied terms and integrates synonymous terms for the same things, but here that is impossible. The careful repetition of the same phrase comes to tell us something. There is a hidden message that we must reveal.
ACTUALLY, WE all know this phenomenon from our personal lives. When we plan something, we see it as perfect. For example, when a couple stands under the huppa (wedding canopy), the bride and groom look to the future and see a happy life with love that knows no bounds. In reality, life is more complicated. Even a couple who invest effort in their relationship and live happily together must occasionally confront the reality that routine is not all a bed of roses. There are difficulties, sometimes from the outside and sometimes in their marital relationship. There are ups and downs.
Constant effort is needed in order not to lose the beauty of living life as part of a couple.
Were the bride and groom who looked to a perfect future being naïve? Or, we could ask, is boring routine a failure? The answer to both these questions is no. Indeed, the perspective of vision and that of execution are different. In a vision, the future looks perfect, as it should. Actually, one of the things that empowers us is the memory of the beautiful vision we dreamed about when we were young and naïve. On the other hand, routine is not failure. Such is life, and there is a special beauty when, in the routine and in running between a career and raising children, we find a moment of pure love, a moment that is fleeting but which leaves us with a lasting impression.
The difference between the description of the cloths in the stage of vision, “woman to her sister,” and the stage of execution, “one to another,” teaches us that even in our spiritual journey, we are likely to face such a gap. A person could make a good decision that looks perfect. But then, during the execution, difficulties arise, the main one being that of routine. A person could decide to keep Shabbat. The description of the Shabbat meal is amazing, the prayers inspiring and the rest complete. It all seems wonderful and moving. In reality, the Shabbat meal could disappoint, the prayer services could seem incomprehensible and the rest could be constantly interrupted. This is the natural gap one must be prepared for.
What is important is remembering that we get the special sense of life from those brief moments when vision peeks out from behind routine. That beauty exists. We were not wrong when we thought that life would be so wonderful. We just have to remember the vision and search for it in our day-to-day lives and actions.
The writer is the rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.