This week we bring our yearly reading of the Book of Exodus to its conclusion with the book’s final parashah: Parashat “Pkudei”. You will find it in the Book of Exodus: 35:21-40:38.
The verbal root from which we derive the name “pkudei” has provoked many a scholarly discussion. Translators often render the root “p.k.d” as meaning “to make an accounting of” but in reality, the root p.k.d has a number of other meanings or nuances. For example in this week’s parashah it carries the meaning of “making a precise listing of the contents of the “Mishcan” (the Tabernacle) that unites holy space and holy time).
Hebrew readers will immediately connect the usage of this same verb to the tale of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:34). In that tale the root means “to visit upon; remember; be punished for”. This verbal root unites the idea of remembering the positive with being held responsible for our errors. How come? One possibility is that this final parashah acts as a summary not only of the Tabernacle’s construction but also of the construction of Israel as a people by means of the Exodus. It also reminds us that we all have a tendency to remember the good and to forget our role in the bad. The parashah teaches us that we dare not focus only on the positive or negative in our lives, but must make a full and honest recounting of the past and from it derive hope for the future.
This multiple usages of the same verbal root teach us that human beings are a composite of the good with the bad, of actions, which deserve commemoration with those that deserve castigation. Is that not The Book of Exodus’ theme? As both individuals and as a nation are we not a mixture of good and evil, of moments of great creativity with moments of about which we might prefer to forget?
The construction of the Mishcan is a representation of both Israel’s moral development as well as each individual’s moral development. G-d remembers, revisits and makes an accounting of our actions (“p.k.d”). This one verbal root holds together these concepts and reminds us that in each of our lives we are the combination of sacred and impure actions, of holy and sinful moments.
This verbal root p.k.d represents both our national and personal contradictions. This final parashah teaches us that our Exodus from Egypt was neither all good nor bad, but rather it was in our confrontation with life’s challenges that determine the quality of these events. In the case of the golden calf, we failed both G-d and ourselves. In the case of the Tabernacle, we achieved our spiritual and national goals.
The history of the golden calf represents a moral weakness while the Tabernacle’s construction reminds us of human beings’ abilities to relate holy time to holy space. Does the text then hint at this unification of everything through the use of the verbal root “p.k.d”? By use of this same root do succeed in understanding that nothing is perfect, that we must understand the future in light of the past and use the bad to create the “better”. These contradictions have been part of humanity ever since the first encounters between Cain and Abel. How are they part of your life? Do you move past the bad to create the “better”?
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