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Pekudei: Parts of a Whole

If you are interested in Torah trivia, you’re likely familiar with this Yedios Klaliyos question: Who was the primary architect for the Mishkan? The presumed answer seems to greet us in the second pasuk of this week’s Parsha (38:22), “U’Betzalel ben Uri ben Chur…Asah es kol asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe,” Betzalel, son of Uri, grandson of Chur, oversaw the building of the Mishkan and is credited with its construction. Yet a cursory glance at this Parsha, as well as the preceding Parshios describing the building of the Mishkan, belies this simple answer.

Ramban (38:22) notes that the pasuk refers to “kol chacham lev,” all the skilled men (36:8), “bi’osei hamelacha es HaMishkan…” who were involved in the task of building the sanctuary. The pasuk also referred to “kol hachachaim ha’osim es mileches hakodesh,” all of the wise men who were involved in the holy work [of constructing the Mishkan] (36:4). Throughout our Parsha, when describing the production and design of each Kli, the pasuk typically says, “VaYaas,” and he made, referring to Betzalel, the architect. And yet periodically, particularly in reference to the Bigdei Kehunah, the pasuk says “asher asu,” or “vayaasu,” in the plural, as though multiple people were responsible for manufacturing these parts of the Mishkan.

Even more curiously, the phrase “va’yaas kaasher tzivah Hashem es Moshe,” and they [or he] did exactly as Hashem commanded Moshe, appears no less than ten times within the first 53 Pesukim of Parshas Pekudei. As the Torah does not waste words, it is quite surprising that the Torah would repeat this phrase so many times. If those involved in the construction the Mishkan did as Hashem commanded, wouldn’t saying it once suffice? And, if there were only one or two or even three men primarily involved in the process, the repetition of this accolade is rendered even more redundant!

Furthermore, after outlining in great detail the process of manufacturing all of the Keilim of the Mishkan and all the Bigdei Kehunah, the Torah seems to credit all of Klal Yisrael with the project! The pasuk (39:22) states, “VaTechel kol avodas Mishkan ohel moed, vayaasu Bnei Yisrael kichol asher tzivah Hashem…,” and all of the work of building the Mishkan was completed, and Bnei Yisrael did all that Hashem commanded. And then again twenty pesukim later, the pasuk (39:42) reiterates, “kichol asher tzivah Hashem es Moshe, kein asu Bnei Yisrael,” Bnei Yisrael did exactly as Hashem commanded Moshe.

So, who really built the Mishkan? Was it Betzalel? Was it Betzalel and his two helpers, Itamar (38:21) and Ahaliav (38:23)? Was it the “Chachmei Lev,” the wise men referred to previously? Was it Moshe, who received the instructions from Hashem and delegated accordingly? Or was it actually all of Klal Yisrael who are credited with the construction as the pesukim seem to imply?

To fully appreciate this question and the power of its answer, we take a detour into the world of sports psychology. This past month, with the Winter Olympics taking place in Beijing overlapping with the NFL playoffs and ultimately the Superbowl itself, sports fans of all shapes and stripes were experiencing the unparalleled high that apparently only such sporting events can provide. As an avid sports fan and player myself, I understand the draw. When you hear a true sports fan talk about the team they root for, they refer to “our team,” or “my team.” When your favorite team wins a big game, you tell everyone, “we won!” And when U.S. Olympians bring home the gold, they carry that medal for their entire country.

In their book[1], Sports Fans, Daniel Wann and Jeffrey James analyze the psychology behind fandom. They explain that identifying with a team is not unlike identifying with a race, ethnicity, or religion. Sports fandom allows people to experience a sense of belonging and community, the opportunity to be part of a larger whole. What is striking about fandom, however, is that when it comes to national sports, most fans are not getting anywhere near the court or field. Though they may be diehard supporters, jersey-wearing superfans ready to take one for the team, they are never actually granted that opportunity because they are not players – they’re just fans.

Li’havdil, in addressing our question about who truly deserves credit for building the Mishkan, the Ohr HaChaim (39:22) elucidates a beautiful explanation that underscores the psychology behind our peoplehood. The entire Klal Yisrael is credited with the building of the Mishkan because there is a concept in Halacha of “Shlucho shel adam kimoso,” when you delegate a Mitzvah to someone else, you are credited with it as though you yourself performed it (see Gemara Brachos 34b, Kiddushin 41b). This Halachic ruling is part of how we can have a Shaliach Tzibur lead davening and be Yotzei with his Tefilos, and even extends so far as to allow a groom to send a Shaliach in his place and enact a Halachically binding marriage! How can this be? If I did not actually do the Mitzvah, why would I be credited with it?

As a part of the Jewish people, we are each a part of one larger whole – but our connection is built on more than just rooting for each other as teammates on one team. We are bound by Areivus, responsibility to one another. I can perform a Mitzvah on your behalf, and it is actually counted as though you did it! I am not your representative, or truly even your delegate – I am a part of you. We are all in essence one body; when my hand performs an act, it is not separate from the greater Me of which my hand is an extension. So, too, the Ohr HaChaim explains, “HaTorah naasah lihiskayeim bi’klalilus Yisrael – kol echad yaaseh ha’yicholes she’biyado, vi’yizku zeh lazeh,” the Torah was made to be kept through the collective efforts of the entire nation, where each person, each man, woman, and child, does what is within his or her ability to do, and by so doing, we allow one another to merit keeping all of Torah.

In this light, the Ohr HaChaim explains, we can reconcile how HaKadosh Baruch Hu can obligate each of us in 613 Mitzvos, even when no single Jew can ever perform all 613. We are parts of one larger whole, and as such, we enable one another to grow and thrive in our Torah observance. This concept is mirrored in the 13 core raw materials needed for the Mishkan’s construction, each its own independent entity, and yet each dependent on the other to come together to create something beautiful and everlasting.

This week, think about the ways in which we all are deeply interconnected and interdependent as a nation. It has been unsurprising and yet still inspiring to watch the Jewish people support each other, particularly in times of dire need. When the president of a country at war across the world comes out of the woodwork as a descendent of Holocaust survivors, Klal Yisrael will know, and will band together to aid him. This is Areivus. Whether in supporting our brothers and sisters on a different continent or just next-door, consider your fellow Jews as a part of your team, an extension of yourself that allows you to become the most wholesome Eved Hashem. If you have the chance, venture outside the bubble of your own Jewish enclave and applaud another Yid for doing “Kichol asher tzivah Hashem,” all that God commanded him or her to do, whatever that may be. Recognize that, in the most beautiful way, every Mitzvah we perform not only serves to elevate ourselves spiritually, but also serves as a win for the entire team of Klal Yisrael we are playing for. May it be our greatest privilege to always be each other’s biggest fans.

[1] Wann, D. L., & James, J. D. (2018). Sport fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Fandom. Routledge.

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