INSIGHT
5772 - #23

Vayakhel-Pekudei

PASSIVITY

           

            Whenever we read the concluding parshiot of Sefer Shemot, and then continue on with Sefer Vayikra, it is common for our minds to contemplate the difference in the practice of Torah between that which would exist in a world with a Beit HaMikdash, Temple, and that which presently exists in a world without this structure. In many ways, of course, a Torah lifestyle would be similar in both these worlds but, also in many ways, we can assume that our consciousness would necessarily have to be affected by the distinction in focus that would surely arise from the presence of a Beit HaMikdash. Of course, the first thing that might come to mind in this regard may be the differing effects upon us of a worship system centred around sacrifice as opposed to one centred on prayer. It may be misleading, however, to focus solely, or even essentially, on this distinction. Prayer has always been a substantial part of the Torah lifestyle,1 so, while the existence of a Temple would clearly impact on prayer, this impact on our lifestyles may not be as powerful as many might think. In a similar vein, while animal sacrifice is clearly a significant part of Temple activities, it may be misleading to project that the largest possible effect of a Beit HaMikdash on our consciousness would be the result of this activity. Much went on in the Temple beyond animal sacrifice. Perhaps, though, the most powerful distinction that would emerge from the presence of a Beit HaMikdash is just that, its presence: a singular structure that is the riveted focus of the entire nation. In the practice of Torah today, the presence of the individual is always existent. Even when ten join together to form a minyan, we recognize a reality of ten individuals combining to form a communal entity. With the Beit HaMikdash, we may question, though: where is the individual? While there may be answers to that question,2 there can be no doubt that, with the presence of a Temple, our consciousness of Klal Yisrael would necessarily change.      

            What effect, though, would this shift in consciousness actually have on the individual? In certain ways, the greater weighing towards the collective reflected in the presence of a Temple could result in a greater focus on individuality in other matters. It could be, however, that, with the existence of a Beit HaMikdash, there is also a possible general tempering of the force of individuality. What we can say, however, is that with a focus on a singular set of activities in one place for the benefit of the entire community, there must be a shift towards passivity in the general Jewish consciousness. In regard to the many activities undertaken within the Temple, the role of the general Jewish community was essentially passive. They could not act; they could only idly stand by waiting for the action within the Temple to occur. Of course, rather than fostering passivity in the individual, this may also have resulted in a greater push towards activity in other aspects of one’s life, of one’s Torah’s life. The reality is, though, that with the presence of the Beit HaMikdash, there exists a specific force on the Jewish consciousness that is weaker without this structure. In its shadow, the Temple brings out a reality of passivity. The individual Jew can often not act; he/she must wait passively and patiently for the actions of a small group of distinct others. The value of personal action is somewhat challenged. One result, this may foster the advancement of the value of community, for the significance of the collective is clearly advanced when one recognizes the need for the other. The focus on passivity, though, must also be considered, especially given the value we do find in Torah of individual responsibility and activity.

            . Within this context, we may also find a further significance for the inclusion of directives concerning Shabbat3 in the Chumash narrative of the building of the Mishkan. As most understand the classic midrashic explanation for this juxtaposition, as presented in Rashi, Shemot 35:2, it is one of contradistinction: the verse informs us that, in a point of conflict between the Mishkan and Shabbat, Shabbat triumphs. This is actually incorrect; it was only in regard to the actual building of the Mishkan that work ceased on Shabbat.4 As T.B. Shabbat 49b explains,5 because of this juxtaposition we learn the melachot, work activities, prohibited on Shabbat from the activities performed in the construction of the Mishkan and we also learn that, in this context, Shabbat was also to supersede this activity. Yet, it may also be important to recognize that the building of the Mishkan involved individual action; the call on the people was not passive. The nation was instructed to act. The call of Shabbat was, and is, however to be passive and so it was also in this case. They were not to act in building the Mishkan, albeit its significance, because of the call of Shabbat to be passive just as the call of the Temple is, in many ways, similarly passive. It may be that another reason for the presence of Shabbat within this narrative is its similarity to what the Mishkan represents.

            What, however, could be the value of this passivity? We rest on Shabbat because God rested but we are not God. There is, however, another reality to our resting; a reality that may be highlighted with the other recognition that Shabbat is also to remind us of the Yetziat Mitzrayim. In the Exodus, we were also substantially passive; it was God Who acted. In being passive, we are called upon to accept the reality of God’s Dominion. This is a reality that surrounds Shabbat, the Beit HaMikdash and Yetziat Mitzrayim. But the call of Torah is not solely passivity but we are also called upon to be active, to work six days. There is, as well, the call to us to build a Mishkan

Rabbi Benjamin Hecht

 


Footnotes

1 While this would be obvious according to Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot, Aseh 5 who maintains that there is a positive Biblical command for every Jew to pray everyday, it would seem that even Ramban, who maintains that there is no such Biblical command, would also clearly maintain a significant value in individual prayer. It is also important to recognize that our present structure of prayer existed during the time of the Second Temple and so the presence of a Temple may have limited effect on our present prayer structure.

2 Throughout Torah thought, there is always the question of determining the correct balance between individuality and community identity. Different mitzvot reflect different determinations of this balance given the specific circumstance and focus. The Beit HaMikdash clearly reflects a greater weighing of the factor of community. Yet, even as a mitzvah may reflect a greater tendency for one side of a dialectic, it is difficult to maintain that the other side is totally absent in the consciousness of such a mitzvah. As such, there must be some factor of the individual present in the greater workings of the Temple. Part of this answer may lie in the individual sacrifices that also were brought to the Temple. A more significant factor may be, though, the machtzit hashekel, the half shekel, that an individual had to contribute towards the communal sacrifices. See Rambam, Sefer HaMitzvot , Aseh 171. It is clear, though, that the balance in consciousness between individuality and community that was reflected in the presence of the Beit HaMikdash was skewed towards the latter.

3 Shemot 31:12-17 and 35:1-3.

4 Necessary Temple service actually was performed on Shabbat although it would include melachot. While we will not be further addressing this, this fact should not be seen as challenging the ideas developed in this Insight.

5 See Rashi. See, also, Rashi, Shemot 31:13.

Nishma 2012


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