Golden rules

Golden rules

Pekudei | Exodus 38:21-40:38

Parshat Pekudei begins with an accounting of the materials used for building the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary — what the people had donated and what their donations were used for. The Torah first mentions “all the gold that was used for the work, in all the work of the sanctuary — the elevation offering of gold — came to 29 talents and 730 shekels by the sanctuary weight.”

Of course, the first part of this verse can also be translated as “All the gold that was made for the work, in all the holy work.” This prompts Tiferet Yonatan (Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz, 1690-1764, Bohemia) to comment, “This implies that gold was put into the world only that people should use it for good and sacred purposes. All the gold that was created was made only for ‘the work, in all the holy work.’”

One of the most basic ideas of Judaism is that there is no thing or attribute in the world that is inherently good or bad. What matters is what we choose to do with it.

Gold, wealth, can be used for evil; it can be the object of greed that can lead a person to commit fraud, theft, even murder. Less dramatically, the desire for gold can simply make someone callous, so absorbed in acquiring wealth and material things that no one else — neither stranger nor family — matters. Or it can be what God intended, something to be used for holy work: providing for and educating a family, supporting schools and shuls, and helping the needy and the troubled.

At the very beginning of the Torah, at the conclusion of the account of Creation, the Torah says, “And God saw all that He had made, and found it very good.” God created a world in which everything has the potential for good — but it is our choice. In the wilderness, our ancestors gave their gold for the construction of the Mishkan, but they also gave their gold for the making of the Golden Calf.

In our parsha, after all the parts and furnishings of the Mishkan had been made, the Torah says, “And when Moses saw that they had performed all the tasks — as the Lord had commanded, so they had done — Moses blessed them.”

Why did Moses wait until all of the work had been completed before pronouncing this blessing over the artisans and all the people who contributed to this project? After all, we normally recite a bracha before we perform an action.

Perhaps Moses wanted to see what the Israelites would choose to do with the gold, silver, precious stones, and all the materials they had brought. And when he saw that they had done what God had commanded, that they had used all these things for holy work, then he blessed them for their choice.

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