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Dvar Torah - Pekudai

Sefer Shemot embodies the paradox of Jewish life. On the one hand, we were taken out of Egypt and sustained in the desert by the most apparent and visible miracles. On the other hand, the goal of Exodus was for us to reach the Land of Israel and live an everyday existence there. This week marks a significant transition between the wonders of the beginning of the book and the aspirational ordinariness of our eventual national home. This week, we read about the completion of the Mishkan, the portable Temple that the Jews constructed to house the presence of G-d. Ramban teaches us that the Mishkan was a continuation of the revelation at Mt Sinai. It housed the divine revelation which guided us through the desert. Above it rested the pillars of flame and cloud. Hashem intended it to provide the grounding of divine presence in our lives. As such, the Mishkan sat at the centre of the camp with the various tribes arrayed around like spokes of the wheel. That way, every Jew could see it and experience the divine.

In Parshat Ki Tisa, after the sin of the golden calf, we read about how Moshe built a tent for G-d's presence outside of the camp. This tent is given the same name. It features the same idea of divine revelation. Moshe enters to hear G-d's word and leaves to pass it on to us. Similarly to Ki Tisa, this tent is easily visible to every Jew. However, this tent is at the centre of the camp, not outside. G-d's presence is accessible to all of us.The Ohel Moed, the tent of the testimony, feels different in one more way this time. The point was not just to have G-d's revelatory spirit accompany us through the desert but to have it be slightly smaller. In place of the thunder, the lightning, and the continuous blast of a shofar that characterised the revelation at Mt Sinai, this revelation features only two silent pillars of flame and cloud. It represents the diminishment of the visibly divine in our lives. This is a crucial phase in moving on to a more normal life. Human existence is not supposed to be obviously miraculous. Instead, as Ramban notes, we should recognise and appreciate the myriad of tiny daily miracles that enable us to keep breathing and living, and teach us about G-d's ongoing presence in our lives.

This week, we read about the first step in that process. The Mishkan did not signify the end of the miracles of life in the desert. However, it was the first step in making them less noticeable while preserving their inspiring memory. It provides a model for the coming stages of Jewish history. At each stage, there is a reduction in the visibly divine and a concurrent deepening of the meaning in our connection to G-d. In our days, that connection takes the form of Torah and prayer. In reading the Torah and remembering our history, we reconnect in entirely new ways to Hashem and continue the steady march through theological history that He intended.

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