Parashat Pekudei

Parashat Pekudei: These are the Redemptions

by Rabbi Jill Hammer

There is a way that Parashat Pekudei brings the Exodus to its conclusion. At the end of Genesis, when Joseph is dying, he promises his family: pakod yifkod, God will surely take note of you. At the beginning of the book of Exodus the people cry out for God’s intervention, and God promises to redeem them: pakod pakadti, I will surely remember them. Now, at the end of the book of Exodus, we hear eileh pekudei hamishkan, mishkan ha’edut, asher pukad al pi Moshe: “these are the records/rememberings of the sanctuary, the mishkan of witnessing, that were recorded at Moshe’s command.” The verb pakad repeats twice, as if to remind us that God has now remembered the people. The promise God made to Moshe has been fulfilled.

In what way is the sanctuary a remembrance, a redemption? If the experience of Mitzrayim is the absence of the Divine, the feeling of abandonment that the Hebrew slaves endure, the experience of the mishkan is meant to be an experience of consistent presence. The copious details of the parashah give way to an ending scene in which the anan, the tangible presence of divinity, fills the mishkan so that no one can enter. This cloud of presence remains in view always, guiding the people on their journeys through the wilderness. While from one perspective Sinai is the answer to Mitzrayim, in the perspective of this parashah, it is the mishkan that is the fulfillment of God’s promise to remember the people. The mishkan is not only commemorative but redemptive.

Why do the clothes, tapestries, and vessels of the sanctuary and its servants merit a connection with God’s promise to redeem? One could easily read the details of the priestly garments and golden vessels as indicative of a desire to impress, not redeem. How is the mishkan connected to the experience of being noticed and rescued by God?  How is record-keeping about the shrine’s details — pekudei — related to the promise of pakod pakadti?

The Mei ha-Shiloah (written by Mordechai Yosef Lainier of Ishbitz) connects the word pekudei to one meaning of the word pakad, which is bolet or “obvious, recognizable.” The Mei ha-Shiloah continues: “It was obvious and recognizable that the Holy One of Blessing is found in the world of assiyah (the physical world).” In other words, the mishkan causes people to become aware that the Divine exists in the physical world.  This recognition of God’s presence in the world is the antidote to the feeling of the Hebrew slaves that God has forgotten them. The same people who nearly refused to leave Egypt on the grounds that God was leading them to their graves now have a daily ritual of divine immanence. The mishkan is meant to establish trust in the guiding presence of the Holy. 

A beautiful midrash from Midrash ha-Gadol makes the connection between the mishkan and the world even more explicit.  

Redemption may mean radical change. Redemption may also mean sitting with the knowledge of sacred presence in an ordinary moment.  


Rabbi Jill Hammer is the Director of Spiritual Education at AJR.  She is the author of several books, including The Hebrew Priestess: Ancient and New Visions of Jewish Women’s Spiritual Leadership, Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women, and The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons.