shiur – Census Sense

parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781


shiur for parashas Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781

 “‘When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel, according to their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the L-RD.’”

– Exodus 30:12, JPS 1917 Tanach

A unique perspective on the census taken of B’nei Yisrael takes into consideration how the silver from the census – a half shekel from every man – was actually used in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Consider the amount of silver that was taken: “And the silver of them that were numbered of the congregation was a hundred talents, and a thousand seven hundred and three-score and fifteen shekels, after the shekel of the sanctuary” (Exodus 38:25, JPS 1917 Tanach).

The one hundred talents of silver was used for ninety-six sockets at the base of the planks that served to make the walls of the Mishkan, plus four sockets for the partition screen (see scripture). The remaining silver amounted to less than a talent; this was also used to build the mishkan. The exact amount needed was the exact amount collected from B’nei Yisrael when the census had previously been taken. Ohr HaChaim comments that this was a miracle.

Additionally, the census itself is referred to as an atonement for the souls of B’nei Yisrael. Commentary explains that the half shekels that were taken from each individual served as atonement for their souls, specifically for the sin of the golden calf.

Sforno draws another insight, noting that the nature of a census itself requires an atonement for the souls of the individuals counted. He explains that the mentioning of a head count of people is an oblique reminder of man’s sin, i.e., his guilt (Sforno on 30:12, In his estimation, humans change from day to day, in regard to their moral status. Therefore, they are not the same when counted each time; thus, they are also scrutinized when counted.

It is as if they are scrutinized by the Almighty Himself, at the time of a census, and may fall short of His standard, namely, the commandments, at the time of counting. Therefore, the half shekel served as an atonement for their moral deficiencies at the time of scrutiny.

Inasmuch that these half shekels were used to build the mishkan, another insight can be drawn, in regard to the importance of atonement. The Mishkan served as a dwelling place for H’Shem; yet, its purpose emphasized a central structure where offerings for atonement would be made on behalf of B’nei Yisrael. For aside from the sin of the golden calf, atonement for sins committed on an individual level is also necessary, for a variety of infractions. Additionally, we should scrutinize ourselves, seeking forgiveness even on a daily basis.

May it be H’Shem’s will that when we are scrutinized, we will be judged favorably.

May His attribute of mercy override His attribute of judgment.

d’var – The Wise Craftsman


d’var for Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781

 “And He hath filled him with the spirit of G-d, in wisdom, in understanding, and in all manner of workmanship.” – Exodus 35:31 JPS, 1917 Tanach

Moshe assembled B’nei Yisrael, reiterating what H’Shem had commanded to him, while on Mount Sinai, to speak to them that they bring an offering – willingly from the heart – to contribute materials to build the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Bezalel is chosen by H’Shem to oversee the entire project, that would amount to a great artistic endeavor; moreover, Bezalel is endowed by H’Shem with the Spirit of G-d (Ruach Elokim), in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge” (Exodus 35:31).

The Talmud notes, in Berachos 55a, that these same qualities were used by H’Shem to create the Heavens and Earth, as is found in Mishlei (Proverbs 3:19-20). This insightful comparison points towards the idea that the Mishkan (Tabernacle) itself is a reflection of Heaven on Earth. Inasmuch that H’Shem’s Presence (the Shechinah) dwelt in the Mishkan between the two golden Cherubim on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant, from where H’Shem spoke to Moshe, the Mishkan encapsulated a smaller rendering of H’Shem’s Glory in Shomayim (Heaven), where, according to the vision of the prophet Ezekiel (see Ezekiel 10:1), H’Shem is surrounded by Cherubim.

In consideration of the designation of the Mishkan as a place where the Shechinah would dwell, it is all the more understandable why its master craftsman was endowed with the same qualities that H’Shem used to create the Heavens and Earth: a microcosm of the whole (according to Akeidut Yitzchak), the Mishkan required more than artistic capabilities; rather, it called for divine intuition, in regard to making patterns found in the Heavenly Realm. Incidentally, that may be the reason that the most-used color of various components of the Mishkan was techiles (a specific hue of blue), denoting a similarity to “the sea that resembles Heaven, and  Heaven resembles the Throne of Glory,” as mentioned in the Talmud, tractate Menachos 43a, based on Exodus 1:24, and Ezekiel 1:26.

“The L-RD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding He established the heavens. By His knowledge the depths were broken up, and the skies drop down the dew.”

 – Proverbs 3:19-20, JPS 1917 Tanach