Parashas Vayakhel

Last week’s parashah dealt with the episode of the golden calf. This week’s parashah deals with the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The Maggid, in his commentary on Shir HaShirim 1:5, analyzes Midrashim that discuss the connection between these two events. In Shir HaShirim 1:5, it is written: “I am blackened, yet beautiful, O daughters of Yerushalayim. “In Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:35, the Midrash remarks:
Said Knesses Yisrael: “I looked black when making the golden calf, but beautiful when building the Tabernacle.”
In Shemos Rabbah 33:2, the Midrash expounds:
Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Moshe: “The gentiles say that I will not return to them [the Jewish People], because they engaged in idol worship – as it is written, ‘they have quickly turned away’ (Shemos 32:8). Even though they turned away, I will not set them aside – I will dwell among them.”
We discuss the second Midrash first. This Midrash is based on Tehillim 68:19:
עָלִיתָ לַמָּרוֹם שָׁבִיתָ שֶּׁבִי לָקַחְתָּ מַתָּנוֹת בָּאָדָם וְאַף סוֹרְרִים לִשְׁכֹּן יָ-הּ אֱ-לֹהִים:
The first part of the Midrash, not quoted here, builds on the first part of this verse (עָלִיתָ לַמָּרוֹם שָׁבִיתָ שֶּׁבִי לָקַחְתָּ מַתָּנוֹת בָּאָדָם) to indicate how Moshe went up to Heaven to “seize” the Torah from the angels, and ultimately acquired it as a gift (see also Shemos Rabbah 28:1 for a detailed discussion). The second part of the Midrash, quoted just above, uses the second part of the verse (וְאַף סוֹרְרִים לִשְׁכֹּן יָ-הּ אֱ-לֹהִים) to prove that Hashem dwells among the Jewish People even when they turn away.
Now the Midrash’s proof is puzzling, for it is written לִשְׁכֹּן rather than יִשְׁכֹּן. Had it been written יִשְׁכֹּן, we could render the verse as follows: “You ascended on high, you have taken captives; you acquired gifts for man. Even among those who turned away, will Y-h, God, dwell.” The proof then would be clear: Although the Jews turned away by worshipping the calf, Hashem will still dwell among them. But in fact it is written לִשְׁכֹּן, which leads to the following rendering: “You ascended on high, you have taken captives; you acquired gifts for man. Even those who turned away – for Y‑h, God, to dwell.” Read in this way, the verse itself is awkward, and the Midrash’s proof is hard to grasp. What is the message here?
It appears, the Maggid says, that the intent of the Midrash is to bring out the praiseworthy side of the disgraceful act of making the golden calf. It was actually the Jewish People’s spiritual loftiness that led them to make the calf. As the Kuzari explains at length (First Discourse, paragraph 97), they were anxiously waiting for the Divine Presence to enter their midst. With Moshe having seemingly disappeared, the people thought that the calf could serve as an alternative means of channeling the Divine Presence down to them, as the Kuzari explains at length. This is the point of the verse from Tehillim: the reason the Jewish People committed their wayward act was in order to bring Hashem to dwell among them. Thus, although Hashem was displeased with the act, He was pleased with the intent behind the act. And so Hashem viewed the Jewish People as worthy of having Him return to them.
The same idea underlies the first Midrash that we quoted. We can render the Midrash as follows: “I seemed black when making the golden calf, but emerged as beautiful when making the Mishkan.” In this week’s parashah, the Torah describes in detail how the Jewish People rushed to give generous contributions toward the building of the Mishkan. From their zeal in building the Mishkan, it became apparent that their sole motive in making the golden calf was to behold Hashem’s sublimity.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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