The God of Second Chances
Vayakhel - Pekudei ויקהל ופקודי ("And he assembled" and "Amount") – Exodus 35:1-40:38
The parashot (there are two) for this Shabbat are entitled Vayakhel, meaning And He Assembled and Pekudei, meaning the Amount or Number, and they take us through the end of the book of Exodus. We again encounter Bezalel and Oholiab and those working with them to manufacture ever-so-skillfully the articles for the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
I regard these chapters as bittersweet. Bitter, because it comes in the aftermath of the tragic incident with the golden calf. In Moses' absence our people urged Aaron to fashion an idol of gold. So he elicited donations of gold from everyone, and created an abomination, and our people worshiped at an altar dedicated to it. We betrayed the Lord who had just weeks earlier parted the Red Sea and delivered us from centuries of slavery in Egypt, and drowned the army that was pursuing us to annihilate us. How quickly we forget! How easily we go astray!
Yet these chapters also represent the wonderful grace of God, because although the golden calf incident was a disaster, and it certainly left a scar (3,000 men put to death for leading the rebellion), God did not abandon Israel. He did not disown His people. Otherwise, why would He instruct us to resume the construction of a place in which He intended to meet with us? He is a God who desires to draw near. Sin will interrupt that communion with Him. But He does not change. He is and will always be The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and truth… who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin, yet will by no means leave the guilty unpunished. He disciplines those who are His own, but always with a view to restoration.
Second (and third, and fourth) chances – the very things we all need, are what we are given by Eloha Slichot, the God of Forgiveness. As with our ancestors in the wilderness, He offers us the opportunity to bring our time and talents and treasure, and this time to put them to use for good. Israel kept bringing so much gold and silver and fabrics and precious stones, that Moses finally had to say "Dayenu!" (it's enough!), and order people not to bring any more. Israel's generosity was evidence of a people forgiven and joyfully ready to do God's bidding.
In chapters 35 and 36 Moses summoned the volunteer artisans and voluntary contributions. Nobody was required to come, nor was anyone required to give, but rather the one whose heart stirred him – a phrase repeated three times in this passage; four, if you count the phrase all whose hearts moved them (35:22). God isn't interested in employing coercion or compulsion. So it should be today; whether yours is the role of benefactor – the ability to contribute materially or financially, or whether yours is the role of craftsman – the ability to utilize your artistry or mechanical skills, whatever you do should not be done grudgingly. If you have any ambivalence about giving or volunteering, wait until your heart is stirred, assuming of course you're willing to allow the Lord to stir your heart. By the way, you needn't ask the Lord to stir your heart about things He has already commanded you to do; matters such as being immersed in Yeshua's name or evangelism or shunning what is evil. This is about over-and-above giving and serving.
They ran into a good problem. People were bringing way more than what was needed. They said to Moses, "The people are bringing meedai – more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform." Such kinds of problems every congregation should have! It reminded me of God's words through the prophet Jeremiah:
Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, 'Thus says the LORD, "I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals, your following after Me in the wilderness, through a land not sown… (Jeremiah 2:2)
The cost of constructing the Tabernacle (excluding the value of the volunteer labor) by today's standards was staggering! Over 29 talents (3,767 lbs.) of gold was used, to say nothing of the silver, the bronze, the wood, the many precious stones, animals skins and fabrics! Where di Israel get all these riches? Simple: Egypt. Remember, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would leave Egypt with great riches. If you're wondering whether it was right for Israel to plunder the Egyptians, you might be interested to know that in 2003 a group of Egyptians living in Switzerland attempted to sue the Israel government for what they termed "stolen gold" at the time of the Exodus. The suit was dropped quickly when it was suggested that the same Book that chronicles the plundering of the Egyptians also chronicles over 400 years of Israel's unpaid slave labor to Egypt. Let's call it even.
One thing that stands out in the design of the Tabernacle is that every bit as much attention to detail is given to the inside as to the outside. For example, the Ark of the Covenant was inlaid with gold both inside and out. Why? Once it was sealed, no one would ever see the inside of the Ark again. You see, it is a picture of what God wants from you and me – integrity. Does your private world correspond with your public persona? If you have failed to be what you appear to others to be, you are not alone, and there is a remedy. Confess it before Adonai, and allow Him to cleanse you from the inside out, for we are called to holiness: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you… and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
In chapter 40 God commanded Moses to anoint all the furnishings of the tabernacle with the special oil dedicated for this purpose. Moses did so, and put the sacred garments on Aaron and his sons, anointing them with oil. Then the Ark was brought in and set behind the veil. The lampstand was put in place and Moses lit that lampstand, which was never to go out. A veil was put in place around the Tabernacle and Moses burned incense on the golden altar. He offered a burnt offering and a meal offering, and washed in the golden laver, and completed the work, and it would be the last time Moses was in the Most Holy Place, since Aaron, not he, was the High Priest. When everything was completed, the cloud of the Lord covered the Tent of Meeting, and the kavod Adonai – the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle, and thus the Lord God would go before Israel in cloud by day and in fire by night all the days of their wilderness wandering.
As wondrous as the Tabernacle was, it pales by comparison to the way in which God manifested His glorious presence on Earth in the person of Messiah Yeshua. To this the writer of the Letter to the Messianic Jews (Hebrews) alluded, saying, But when Messiah appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect Tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this Creation (Hebrews 9:11). So what are you building your life on? What are you investing in? Is your heart stirred within you to invest in God's Kingdom? We have, after all, a better Tabernacle, a better High Priest, better promises, a better Covenant, and the guarantee of everlasting life, the supreme gift of the God of second chances.
Note: Each Torah portion is named from the first word or first few words of the portion of scripture. This portion is called Vayakhel – Pekudei ויקהל ופקודי. Other transliterations: Wayyaqhel, VaYakhel, Va-Yakhel, Vayak'hel, Vayak'heil, Vayaqhel, Pekude, Pekudey, P'kude, or P'qude