Exodus 38:21-40:38

1 Kings 7:51-8:21

We find ourselves at the end of the Book of Exodus this week; the Torah portion Pekudei describes the construction of the tabernacle, the worship space used by our ancestors during the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, and its furnishings following the instructions given a few weeks ago in parashiyot Terumah and Tetzaveh.

Two weeks ago, we read of the “Sin of the Golden Calf.” The people collected their gold and other valuables to build an idol. This is considered to be one of the worst episodes in the Torah; so soon after all the miracles of the exodus and the giving of the law, the Israelites committed a major offense.

Last week, in Vayakhel, we read of the people donating even more toward the supplies need to build the Tabernacle.  They gave so much that Moses had to command the people to stop giving; there was too much.  Last week was also Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Shabbatot leading up to Passover; it reminds us of the biblical commandment for Israelites to contribute a half-shekel to the upkeep of the tabernacle. It further reminds us of our obligation to make sure that those who are less fortunate will have what they need to celebrate the Passover holiday.

This week, in Pekudei, we see the results of all the donations given to build this holy worship space. The verses describe a beautiful structure. Most importantly, upon its completion, the Torah tells us that the Divine Presence came to rest on the tabernacle.

In Judaism, we know that study, worship and acts of kindness are the pillars that hold up our world. We also understand that it is difficult to do any of those things without the proper resources. Sometimes we are commanded to give, and other times it comes from a sense of generosity, of going above and beyond what is required.

Although there are those who say that money is the root of all evil, our tradition teaches us that “cash is pareve.” It is not good and it is not evil. Money is merely a tool to help us achieve certain goals. Will we use our resources to build a proverbial golden calf – an impermanent, useless idol? Or will we use it to build structures (physical and spiritual) that will help to invite the Divine Presence into our midst. Cash is pareve, but what we choose to do with it will determine its true value.

Rabbi Michael Ungar is rabbi at Beth El-The Heights Synagogue in Cleveland Heights.

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