The last two parashiot of the Book of Exodus, Vayakheil and Pekudei, relate how Moses and the people fulfilled God’s instructions to build the Tabernacle, furnish it, and make the garments for the priests who would officiate in it. In most years, these two parashiot are read together.

Specifically, parashat Vayakheil opens with Moses informing the people that working on the Tabernacle does not supersede the Sabbath. He then tells them what materials God has asked them to donate and calls for volunteers to do the work. The people bring their donations and the artisans begin their work. The Torah is essentially here repeating parashat Terumah, only changing the predominant verb from “you shall make” to “he made.” Similarly, much of parashat Pekudei is a repetition of the first half of parashat Tetzaveh with similar verb changes.

Rather than repeating so much of Terumah and Tetzaveh, the Torah could easily have summarized most of the action in Vayakheil and Pekudei in a few sentences. The fact that it does go into all the details means that there is a fundamental difference between the commands to build the Tabernacle and their implementation.

As we have seen, Moses was born with an innate, keen spiritual sensitivity. Besides this, he was granted a level of prophecy more sublime than that of any prophet before or after him. Finally, God gave Moses the commands to build the Tabernacle when he was on Mount Sinai and God had elevated him to a uniquely lofty spiritual level of existence. Clearly, then, Moses received and understood these commands in a very abstract, ethereal way. He “saw” the Tabernacle and its accoutrements in an extremely idealized form, even though he of course understood that they were meant to take on physical form as well.

In contrast, the Tabernacle described in these parashiot is consummately physical. The description of how the people donated the materials, tallied them, fashioned them into the various components and furnishings, brought them to Moses, and rested from work every Sabbath, leaves no doubt that a palpable, physical Tabernacle was being constructed—notwithstanding any coexistent spiritual dimension it might have possessed.

It is in order to highlight the difference between the abstract and the concrete Tabernacles that the Torah details the construction of the Tabernacle in these two parashiot. The difference is important because the “lower,” physical Tabernacle is the fulfillment of God’s will to make this world His home—not the abstract, idealized Tabernacle Moses envisioned on Mount Sinai.

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The name of the parashahVayakheil—means “and he assembled,” referring to how Moses assembled the people when he came down from Mount Sinai to transmit God’s command to build the Tabernacle. The verb “to assemble” differs from synonyms that mean “to collect,” “to gather,” and so forth, in that it signifies bringing together disparate entities to form a collective whole.

This word aptly describes how Moses gathered the people when he transmitted these commands, since the people had to build the Tabernacle as a collective whole, not as individuals. The Tabernacle’s purpose was to enable God’s presence to dwell among the entirety of the Jewish people. In order to fulfill this role, the wealth and materials the people donated had to become “community wealth,” which meant that the people had to be “assembled” into a cohesive unit.

But as a name for the entire parashah, Vayakheil seems inappropriate, inasmuch as most of the parashah is devoted to detailing the particulars of the Tabernacle, as we said, emphasizing the importance of each detail.

The answer to this apparent contradiction is that yes, each component of the Tabernacle possessed a unique holiness and fulfilled a unique function, but only when it became part of the Tabernacle as a whole. The Candelabrum, for example, functioned as the Candelabrum and fulfilled its spiritual functions only when it was placed in the Tabernacle together with all the other furnishings.

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The lessons in the name Vayakheil, then, are as follows: First of all, all Jews are part of the whole Jewish people, a collective reality necessary for God’s purposes on earth to be fulfilled. No Jew is too high or too low on the ladder of spiritual status to work together with every other Jew, since they are all part of the same one, collective whole. Second, every Jew is essential to the community, just as every detail of the Tabernacle was essential to its operation. Third, although we all have our individual, intrinsic worth, this unique identity does not truly assert itself until we identify with the Jewish people as a whole, just as the individual components of the Tabernacle did not begin to function until the entire edifice was erected.

Finally, this parashah teaches us that despite our own shortcomings and the imperfect nature of the reality we live in, we should never feel too inadequate to fulfill God’s will. It was the real-world Tabernacle that the people built, not Moses’ abstract, ideal Tabernacle on Mount Sinai, that God chose to dwell in. If we act with warmth, sincerity, and enthusiasm, God crowns our efforts with success, and dwells in the Tabernacle we build Him out of our lives.1


Parashat Pekudei begins with a tally of all the materials collected for making the Tabernacle, its furnishings, and the garments of the priests. The first half details how the artisans made the priestly garments, essentially repeating the first half of parashat Tetzaveh, but changing the predominant verb from “you shall make” to “they made.”

As we saw with regard to the preceding parashah, Vayakheil, this apparent redundancy is intended to underscore the difference between Moses’ abstract and idealized vision of the Tabernacle with the physical Tabernacle the people constructed. This point is made in order to emphasize, in turn, that it is the physical Tabernacle that fulfills God’s will to make this world His home.

The second half of the parashah describes how the artisans brought everything to Moses, how God commanded Moses to erect the Tabernacle on the 1st of Nisan, and how Moses erected it on the designated day and the cloud that manifested God’s presence descended on it.

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The name of this parashahPekudei—means “the tallies of,” referring to the tallies of the materials the people brought to Moses in order to build the Tabernacle. Like the name of the previous parashah, Vayakheil, this parashah’s name refers to a mass of individual entities, but while the word Vayakheil (“And he assembled”) describes how these units combine to form a collective whole, the word Pekudei highlights each entity’s identity as a discrete unit that is counted separately.

Just as with parashat Vayakheil, the name of parashat Pekudei seems inconsistent with its contents. Although it contains the details of how the artisans made the priestly garments, the greater part of the parashah describes the three stages of how all the various people’s donations were combined into one organic whole: how they were brought to Moses, how God commanded Moses to erect the Tabernacle, and how he actually did so.

The answer, as it was with the similar difficulty with parashat Vayakheil, is that each component of the Tabernacle possesses a unique holiness and fulfills a unique function, but only by virtue of it being a part of the Tabernacle as a whole. Only once the entire Tabernacle has been constructed and every piece is in place does each component assume its unique role and become endowed with its spiritual effectiveness.

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The lesson from the parashah’s name is, first and foremost, that each of us possesses intrinsic worth that makes us an equal to every other individual of the Jewish people, notwithstanding our position on the ladder of spirituality. The two parashiot Vayakheil and Pekudei thus teach us the same lesson—Jewish unity—from opposite perspectives. From Vayakheil we learn that each of us is part of the whole; from Pekudei we learn that each of us has intrinsic value as an individual.

Secondly, the fact that the Tabernacle’s components only began to function once the entire Tabernacle was in place reminds us that whatever work we do on behalf of the community is not only for the community’s collective good, but also to enable us to fulfill our unique, individual Divine purposes, as well.

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Thus, the twin parashiot of Vayakheil and Pekudei consolidate the overall theme of the Book of Exodus—Shemot, the “names,” or “identity” of the Jewish people as a whole and as individuals. This fusion of our individual and communal identities is an essential facet of redemption in general—the other great theme of the Book of Exodus. Jewish unity is firstly the key to redemption:2 inasmuch as baseless hatred was the chief cause of the exile, brotherly love is its logical remedy. Secondly, the redemption itself will occur in a way that emphasizes our simultaneous individual and communal identities: we will be redeemed as a nation, as it is said, “A great congregation will return here,”3 but in addition, “You will be gathered one by one.”4