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Parashat Pekudei

March 10, 2011
By Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein

“On the first day of the first month you shall set up the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting” (Exodus 40:2). This is taken to mean the first of the month of Nissan.

Here in the Northeast, it has been a long, hard winter. Snow continues to fall lightly and we are dreaming of spring. I don’t know about you, but in my house the discussion has already turned to Passover cleaning. My daughter even came home from college to jumpstart the process. I usually try to stay out of the angst this process provokes and I am usually unsuccessful. Our text gives us a different model.

Not quite a year after the Exodus, God commands the Israelites to build a mishkan, a tabernacle. They have turned their attention to homebuilding and homemaking. And what attention to detail! We are practically given a blueprint for building the mishkan and its costs. We know about the gold, copper and silver. We know about the blue, purple and crimson yarn and the linen. We know the name of the chief architect, Bezalel. We even know about the bells and pomegranates on the vestments.

Up until now the Israelites have brought all the individual pieces needed to make the tabernacle to Moses. “Thus was completed all the work of the Tabernacle of the Tent of Meeting” (Exodus 39:32). In an echo of the creation story, “Moses saw all the work they had done… And Moses blessed them” (Exodus 39:43). Nonetheless, the work wasn’t quite complete. Now it was up to Moses to put all the individual pieces together and integrate them, to make them whole. It was Moses’ job to make the house a home. Not just any home, a home for God!

This applies not only to the mishkan, and then the Temple in Jerusalem, but to our own homes as well. According to Marc Brettler, In Ezekiel 11:6 we are told that the after the destruction of the Temple, God was the mikdash me’at, a small sanctuary. The Talmud (Megilla 29a) tells us that this phrase means our synagogues. This concept got reinterpreted yet again to mean our homes are that place where we could celebrate and observe Jewish tradition, give thanks to God and experience God’s presence.

There is something special about our homes, not just because they keep us warm on these cold mornings, but precisely because our homes become a place for God. Our morning service expresses this, echoing the words of Balaam, “How good are Your tents O Jacob, your dwelling places (mishkenotekha) O Israel” (Numbers 24:5).

Some of this idea of making our homes sanctuaries is in pop culture. A quick search on Google finds that spring cleaning can create a sanctuary for a home and reduce stress in families. While we could be like Moses and Bezalel and follow blueprints and make our homes showpieces, I don’t think the rabbis were talking about hiring interior decorators and de-cluttering. Like Moses who integrated the parts of the mishkan into a unified whole, our real obligation is to create sacred space in our homes where we act in holy ways.

The challenge with Passover cleaning is to not allow it to become onerous but to use it as an opportunity to build that mikdash me’at. In our house, part of how we do that is by inviting Seder guests to bring food for the hungry. When we invite all who are hungry to come and eat, it has more meaning because we have done it. On the table itself, which the rabbis saw as the altar, we use soup bowls lovingly passed down from generation to generation. More importantly we discuss the values those ancestors held dear-freedom, rebirth, peace. This year, no doubt the discussion will turn to workers’ rights in America and revolution in Egypt.

On the first day of Nissan, years ago, my husband and I signed a ketubah, pledging to establish a home, one that would allow each of us to grow, treating each other with love, compassion and respect. We would build a home that would, we hoped become a mikdash me’at. The ketubah and huppah still hang over our bed as reminders of that day. Perhaps this will be the year at long last that I don’t scream at everyone in the family during the Passover preparations. Perhaps then the presence of the Holy One will dwell in our own mishkan, like the one that Moses brought together on the first of Nissan generations ago.


Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein is a graduate of the Academy for Jewish Religion and serves as principal of Congregation Beth Israel in Andover, MA. They continue to build a mikdash me’at in Chelmsford, MA.