God’s donor wall in the wilderness


This week’s Torah portion is Pekudei, Exodus 38:21 – 40:38.

Pekudei follows a number weekly Torah readings detailing the construction of the Tabernacle, or Mishkan, in the wilderness of Sinai. It may be the first synagogue donor wall ever created.

Pekudei lists the creators of the Tabernacle: Moses, Ithamar, the Levites, Aaron, Bezalel and Oholiab. The names were listed before the dedication. In truth, it was something better than a donor wall plate: the names were inscribed in the Torah.

But why was this was necessary? It would seem to have a double purpose. First, it credits these leaders, designers, architects, craftsmen and maintainers of the Mishkan and priests. Second, it holds them accountable for the wealth of materials donated by the Israelites. Put another way: You asked for it. You received it. What did you do with it?


Moses was fully transparent, for he knew that leaders must be beyond reproach. He did an audit of all that had been donated. This is an important characteristic of a great leader. He also reported back to the donors, while keeping officials aware that their conduct with this sacred property must be precise. No scandals, please.

Rabbi Ovadiah ben Yaacov Sforno (Italy, 15th-16th centuries) taught that any person called by name in the Torah is worthy to be recorded by that name. By the same reasoning, anyone involved in building or creating furnishings and vessels in the Tabernacle shared in the holy significance of the sanctuary. What is holy remains holy.

The wanderings and exile of the Jewish people are an indelible part of our history and tradition. Even the early wanderings in Genesis, and the wanderings following that the redemption from Egyptian slavery confront us with the dilemma of worship, preserving community and welcoming God’s presence.

In Pekudei, we affirm our covenant and dedicate this portable Tabernacle made of many small parts, yet forming one unique space for inspiration, giving us the knowledge that God will journey with us, dwelling among us, offering hope throughout our journeys while filling our lives and the Mishkan with God’s glory.

According to Nachmanides, Exodus is the book of the first exile and is brought to a close by God dwelling among us. Rabbinic tradition, according to Rabbi Gunther Plaut, teaches that four exiles were decreed for Israel, of which Egypt was the first.

There may be a connection between this Torah portion and the story of Abraham and Sarah. The word pekudei, means to reckon or to take inventory. Compare that to pakad in parshat Vayera: “And God remembered Sarah,” read on Rosh Hashanah.

Abraham and Sarah prayed and were righteous and therefore God remembered Sarah as promised. In doing this God, takes into account her and Abraham’s deeds and prayers.

And so taking inventory of our mitzvot, as is done on Rosh Hashanah, what becomes most important for the Tabernacle are our prayers and deeds. We take a spiritual inventory within the Tabernacle itself.

While God dwells in the Tabernacle, we pray that our prayers may dwell there along with the worthiness of our name and our deeds in a mishkan tefillah — a tabernacle of prayer. In the magnificence of this concept we realize that this dwelling place continues, has never been destroyed, and remains is holy and eternal.

With this Torah portion we conclude the reading of the book of Exodus with the custom of chanting: Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek — Be strong, be strong, and together we will strengthen one another.

Rabbi Arnold Saltzman is the rabbi of Hevrat Shalom of Maryland, Beit Chaverim of Calvert County and Shaʼare Shalom of Waldorf. He is a member of the Educational Directors Council.

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