This week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, Exodus 35:1 – 38:20, begins with a reminder of the necessity to observe the Sabbath then it transitions into the collection of the terumah, the free-will offering for the building of the Mishkan. It is noteworthy that this comes on the heels of the Golden Calf incident recorded in last week’s portion Ki Tisa. The Golden Calf, was also built with the free-will offerings of the people, collected by Aaron, (Exodus 32:2). Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, in The Particulars of Rapture observes that “Israel’s generosity overflows, and Moses is forced to halt the donations for the Tabernacle, (Exodus 36:5-7). The people’s relation to the Golden Calf and to the Mishkan are set into a simple matrix: in both cases, they are spontaneously generous with their gifts of gold; in both cases, they have to be restrained, so overwhelming is the flood of gift. … In the framing midrashic narrative, however, the people first give gold for the Golden Calf and then for the Mishkan. It is this narrative that is plausibly described as “atonement”; the Mishkan is the redemptive project that gains them forgiveness for their earlier sin.”[i] This is an interesting perspective, that the making of the Mishkan, in which the Almighty would dwell and interact with Israel, in some symbolic way atoned for the idolatry of the Golden Calf.
The portion continues with the account of the craftsmanship that went into the building of the Mishkan, which is what ties the Haftarah to the Torah reading. This week’s passage is I Kings 7:40-50 (following the Ashkenaz tradition) that recounts Solomon’s building of the First Temple. While most of the internal items were just as the Mishkan’s items, the building itself was obviously different. Instead of a moveable structure, Solomon’s Temple was permanent and unmovable. More notable was the entrance to the structure. While the Mishkan had curtains, as elaborate as they may have been, they were just curtains. The Temple on the other hand had two bronze pillars, roughly twenty-seven feet or eight meters tall, each topped with a capital adding another seven feet or two meters with elaborate decorations of decorative chains, latticework and pomegranates. Impressive edifices that aside for standing there – did nothing. They did not hold up anything or support anything, they just stood there looking impressive. I know it was not Solomon’s intention but in a way, it is reminiscent of R. Shaul’s warning to Timothy, to avoid people who “have the appearance of godliness, but denying its power,” (II Timothy 3:5). The pillars looked important but did nothing.
Interestingly however, Solomon named the pillars. “Thus he set up the pillars at the porticos of the Temple. He set up the right pillar and named it Jachin, and he set up the left pillar and named it Boaz.” (I Kings 7:21). It is here that the importance of the pillars become known. Not only did they flank the entrance to the Temple but they provided symbolic importance. The southern pillar was named Jachin (יָכִין), “to prepare” or “to establish” as in “the place You established for You to dwell,” (Exodus 15:17). The northern pillar was named Boaz (בֹּעַז), “in it is strength.” Radak states that “The House would be established forever, and through the sacrifices and worship, Israel would find strength.”[ii] Like the jewels on the breastplate and ephod kept Israel forever before both the LORD and Aaron, so did the inscriptions on the pillars reminded Israel of whose House they were entering and why.
I shared the two options concerning the pillars for a specific purpose. We need to be care when we look at things, at traditions, at people in general. What we see and how we interpret what we see is often not what the other in intending. We need to take the time and try to understand what it is that the other intended by his or her actions and words. Sometimes what one person might see as empty traditions or archaic doctrines and practices are actually rich in symbolism, anchors to a living faith based in history and tradition. R. Shaul wrote the Colossians:
Therefore, do not let anyone pass judgment on you in matters of food or drink, or in respect to a festival or new moon or Shabbat. These are a foreshadowing of things to come, but the reality is Messiah. (Colossians 2:16-17)
This is often interpreted that the “matters” described have passed to unimportance. But the reality is, we still live in the “foreshadows” and for many, the “matters” remain an important connection to Him who is sustaining us here bringing us to the realm to come.