Four of the last five Sidrot have dealt with the construction of the Sanctuary and its vessels by the Israelites. What is the difference between them that justifies their division into four separate Sidrot? There is a clear difference between the first two (Terumah and Tetzaveh) which concern the command itself, and the second two (Vayakhel and Pekudei) which concern its transmission and execution. But what distinguishes Vayakhel and Pekudei? And what links them so that they are often read together in the same week? This is the ground covered next, and its investigation results in an analysis of the stages in the Divine-human encounter.

1. Vayakhel and Pekudei

Nothing in the Torah is coincidental. Being the word of G‑d, its every detail is precise and intended. This applies to the division of the Torah into Sidrot. This was not necessary simply because it is too large a mass of material to remain without divisions, but because every Sidra contains its own distinct subject and point. And the same is true of the names of the Sidrot. These are not just taken randomly from their first words. Instead, they are precise indicators of their subject-matter; and it is because of this that their names occur within the first few words of their opening passage.

This is the meaning of the comment in the Zohar1 that there are fifty-three Sidrot in the Torah, a fixed and permanent number, even in those years when two Sidrot are read together to fit the reading of the Torah into the calendrical year. Every Sidra has its individual point, and the occasional joining of two Sidrot means no more than that sometimes two points are read on the same day.

In the light of this it is clear that the Sidrot of Vayakhel and Pekudei are distinct in their message, even though they are in some years read together. Both concern the building of the Sanctuary and its vessels, just as the previous Sidrot of Terumah and Tetzaveh concerned the command and the instructions for its building. But Terumah and Tetzaveh, though they share a subject-matter, tell us different things about it, as we can see by the fact that they are never read together. Likewise Vayakhel and Pekudei, though they are both about the building of the Sanctuary, have two quite separate implications.

2. Preparation and Revelation

The difference between them is this. In Vayakhel we read about how Moses gathered the Israelites together to communicate to them G‑d’s command to build a Sanctuary and make its vessels, and how they set about fulfilling their instructions. The Sidra of Pekudei tells us about the accounts that Moses made of the voluntary offerings of materials for the Sanctuary, in gold, silver, copper and so on; to what ends they were used; how the Sanctuary and its vessels were anointed with oil; how offerings were made; and how this brought about the drawing down of the presence of G‑d—“And the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the L-rd filled the Sanctuary.”2

The essential point of Vayakhel is the service of created beings, namely, how the Israelites built a Sanctuary with their property, their bodies and their souls. From their property, they gave the thirteen (or some say, fifteen) kinds of voluntary offerings of material for the Sanctuary. With their bodies, they gave the labor with which it was constructed. And with their souls they gave the “uplifted heart,” the “wisdom” and the “willingness of spirit” which the Torah mentions as accompanying the work. But this was entirely the service of created beings. What Pekudei adds is the Divine response, “And the glory of the L-rd filled the Sanctuary.”

Although the work which is described in Vayakhel brought about a revelation of G‑d, for every act done as part of the Divine service results in an emanation of G‑dliness, it was infinitesimal in comparison with the glory of G‑d filling the Sanctuary, the state that was achieved through the anointing of the Sanctuary and the bringing of offerings.

There are cases where we say that the preparation for a Mitzvah is also a holy act.3 But in its effect of bringing about a drawing down of G‑d into the world, the preparation for an act cannot be compared with the act itself.4 And this applies more strongly to the preparation of the Sanctuary and its vessels—the theme of Vayakhel. For they do not become holy until they are anointed with oil or used for actual worship5—the point of Pekudei. Therefore the revelation which was brought about by the sanctification of the Sanctuary, infinitely exceeded that of its preparation.

These then are the essential themes of the four Sidrot which are concerned with the Sanctuary and its vessels:6

Terumah and Tetzaveh relate the command of G‑d to construct a Sanctuary, with this distinction, that Terumah concerns the Sanctuary itself and its vessels, and Tetzaveh the special garments of the priests.

Vayakhel tells of Moses communicating this command, and of the Israelites fulfilling it.

Finally, Pekudei reports the response of G‑d in filling the Sanctuary with His glory.

We have here the three stages in the dialogue between G‑d and man, the three phases through which their relationship progresses.7 First there comes the Divine initiative, the “awakening from above,” the command which opens up a path for man to unite himself with G‑d’s will. Then there is the human response, the “awakening from below” in which he rises to the challenge of obedience and creates within himself and his world a hallowed space, hollowed out, as it were, from his delusions of self-sufficiency, for G‑d to enter and make His habitation. Finally there comes the Divine response, the revelation of G‑d within the human sphere. The command, which was the opening voice of G‑d, came like a voice from outside, inviting man to break through his shell of self and separation. But the concluding response of G‑d is a voice from within, flooding the human sanctuary with “the glory of the L-rd.” This is the voice of Pekudei.

3. Two Weeks in One

Even though this revelation of Pekudei is wholly beyond that of Vayakhel, (the stage of human response and preparation) still the two Sidrot are often read together in the same week. Because sometimes when time is short, we must achieve in “one week” what normally takes “two.”

This does not mean that we must forsake the discipline of time. The Sanctuary was essentially a “dwelling-place in the lower world,” within the human dimension, within time and space. It means rather that within time, we must not be bound by time.

There is a connection here with the month of Adar, in which these Sidrot are usually read. Adar, is, of course, the month of Purim. And although Purim always falls on a weekday, when we are permitted to work, the essence of Purim lies in the command that on it “a man should be merry until he does not know the difference between ‘Blessed be Mordechai’ and ‘Cursed be Haman.’” This stands for going beyond rationality, beyond knowledge and the limits it implies. So that Purim represents the importation into the weekday working world of “going beyond all limits.” It is the infinite in the heart of the finite.

Thus the linking of Vayakhel with Pekudei, of the human preparation with the Divine response, symbolizes the meeting of timelessness with time, the joining of G‑d and man. This is both a preface to and a preparation for the future revelation, when in Isaiah’s words,8 “I will make your windows of agate (kadkod)”on which the Talmud9 comments: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said…—‘Let it be as this one and as that one’ (kedain ukedain) “when man and G‑d are one.”

4. Command and Fulfillment

Another implication of the joining of the two Sidrot is this: Between G‑d’s command to Moses (contained in Terumah and Tetzaveh) and Moses’ command to the Israelites and their response (the content of Vayakhel and Pekudei) the events of Ki Tissa and the Golden Calf can intervene. But once the command has entered the world through Moses (in Vayakhel) nothing can prevent its immediate fulfillment (in Pekudei).

Even when they are not read together, even when the evil inclination interposes a gap between command and completion, there is no substance to the interruption, nothing new to serve as a distraction. When Moses, or his successors in every generation,10 have revealed the command, its fulfillment is assured. The command itself is a promise of achievement, and assurance that “the glory of the L-rd will fill the Sanctuary.”

(Source: Likkutei Sichot, Vol. III pp. 933-936)