The Power of Partnership and Positive Thinking

Pekudei By :  Matthew Berkowitz Former Director of Israel Programs, JTS Posted On Feb 26, 2014 / 5774

The raising of the Tabernacle was a daunting task for the Israelites. Based on Exodus 39:33, “And they brought the Tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its vessels,” Rashi makes the claim that the people themselves were incapable of erecting the Tabernacle given the sheer weight of its boards:

For they (the Israelites) could not erect it. Since Moses had not worked on building the Tabernacle, the Holy One left the raising of the Tabernacle to him; for nobody else was able to set it up because of the weight of the boards which no human was able to lift. Moses, however, placed it in position. Moses said to God, “How is it possible to raise this Tabernacle by human hands?” God answered Moses, “Occupy your hands with it!” And so Moses appeared to be raising it, but in truth it raised itself of its own accord.

The Israelites bring all the appurtenances of the Tabernacle to Moses. But it will be Moses, the leader, who is given the merit of raising and completing the Tabernacle.

The skepticism that Moses expresses at the thought of completing this work is no surprise. If no other Israelite (or group of them) could be successful at the task, how is it that Moses could prevail? God teaches Moses a lesson in optimism, leadership, and partnership. God encourages Moses, according to the midrash, to busy himself with the task at hand. He must first involve himself and become a proactive participant. Once Moses busies himself with a proactive and constructive attempt at raising the Tabernacle, God assists. The late, great Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim teaches poetically that it is “the response from below that calls forth the response from above.” Moses initially demonstrates his pessimism; it is the partnership with God, however, that turns the situation around. Once the Divine encouragement saturates the soulful leader, he takes the initiative to busy his hands in the sacred task. The Tabernacle is raised with ease (Exod. 40:17), and Moses, the leader, is ultimately given credit for its completion.

May we, as Moses, strive toward optimism, leadership, and partnership. Even though a multitude of individuals cannot succeed in completing the task, it should not diminish the will of the individual to succeed. With God’s help and inspiration, each of us can succeed in raising a Tabernacle that shelters the presence of God.

The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.