Rav Kook Torah

Vayakheil: The Dual Nature of the Tabernacle

An obvious question strikes anyone reading the portions of Vayakheil and Pekudei. Why did the Torah need to repeat all of the details of how the Tabernacle was built? All of these matters were already described at great length in Terumah and Tetzaveh, which record God’s command to build the Mishkan.

Command and Execution

Rav Kook frequently spoke of the divide between the path and the final goal. We tend to rush through our lives, chasing after goals — even worthwhile goals — with little regard for the path and the means. The path is seen as a stepping stone, of no importance in its own right.

With these two sets of Torah portions Terumah-Tetzaveh and Vayakheil-Pekudei, we observe a similar divide, between the command to build and the actual construction. This is the difference between study and action, between theory and practice.

Just as our world emphasizes goals at the expense of means, so too it stresses deed and accomplishment at the expense of thought and study. But a more insightful perspective finds a special significance in the path, in the abstract theory, in the initial command.

The Sages imparted a remarkable insight: “Great is Torah study, for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b). This statement teaches that Torah study — the theory, the path — is preferable to its apparent goal, mitzvah performance. Torah study lead us to good deeds; but it has an intrinsic worth above and beyond its value as a way to know how to act.

The Talmud discusses whether a blessing should be recited when constructing a sukkah booth. After all, the Torah commands us to build a sukkah — “The holiday of booths you shall make for yourselves” (Deut. 16:13). Nonetheless, the rabbis determined that no blessing is recited when building the sukkah, only when living in it during the Succoth holiday. Why not?

Maimonides explained that when there is a command to construct an object for the purpose of fulfilling a mitzvah, one only recites a blessing on the final, ultimate mitzvah (see Hilchot Berachot 11:8). Thus we do not recite a blessing when preparing tzitzit or when building a sukkah.

According to this line of reasoning, if Torah study were only a means to know how to keep mitzvot, no blessing would be recited over studying Torah. The fact that we do recite blessings over Torah study indicates that this study is a mitzvah in its own right, independent of its function as a preparation to fulfill other mitzvot.

These two aspects of Torah may be described as Divine influence traversing in opposite directions, like the angels in Jacob’s dream. The Torah’s fulfillment through practical mitzvot indicates a shefa that flows from above to below, the realization of God’s elevated will, ratzon Hashem, in the lower physical realm. The intrinsic value of Torah study, on the other hand, indicates spiritual movement in the opposite direction. It ascends from below to above — our intellectual activity without expression in the physical world, our Torah thoughts without practical application.

Dual Purpose

The repetition in the account of the Mishkan reflects this dichotomy. The two sets of Torah readings are divided between command and execution, study and deed.

And on a deeper level, the repetition expresses the dual function of the Mishkan. On the practical level, it was a central location for offering korbanot. The Mishkan served as a center dedicated to holy actions. But on the abstract, metaphysical level, the Mishkan was a focal point for God’s Presence, a dwelling place for His Shekhinah.

“They shall make for Me a Temple, and I will dwell (ve-shekhanti) among them” (Ex. 25:8).

Like the converse influences of Torah, one descending and one ascending, each of the Tabernacle’s functions indicated an opposite direction. Its construction, the dedication of physical materials and talents to holy purposes, and the offering of korbanot to God, flowed upwards — an ascent from the physical world below to the heavens above. The indwelling of the Shekhinah, on the other hand, was a descending phenomenon from above to below, as God’s Divine Presence resided in the physical universe.

(Adapted from Shemuot HaRe’iyah, Vayakheil-Pekudei (1931))

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