This weeks Parsha (Torah Portion) Vayakhel with next weeks parsha, Pekudei, completes the story of the building of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and its related items which we have been dealing with for the last three portions (It also completes Sefer Shemot, the book of Exodus, the second book of the Torah). This means that there are a total of five Torah portions that describe the constructing of the Mishkan. The next book of the Torah, Sefer Vayikra, almost entirely deals with the Korbanot (Sacrifices) and the various other activities that were done by the Kohanim (The Priests) in the Mishkan. The fourth and fifth book of the Torah, Sefer Bamidbar (Numbers) and Sefer Devarim (Deuteronomy) also mention these topics at times.
Question. Why is so much of the Torah about the experience of the Kohanim? Why do we need to know about activities that were only done by the Kohanim? In our Jewish experience today, where the role of the Kohanim is extremely limited, it is hard to understand why the Torah would go into such detail about this topic. However, even in the times of the Mishkan, it is complicated to comprehend why the Torah would spend so much time describing these rituals if it was the Kohanim and the Kohanim alone who would perform these tasks. It is true that they were assisted by the Levim and they were doing the Korbanot on behalf of the people. However, why was it necessary for your average rank and file Israelite to know about these experiences and how the Mishkan and its related items were made?
Rabbi Saul Berman at the main plenary of the first Edah conference in 1999 explained, that in ancient idle worshiping Mediterranean religions, at the time of the Torah, the Priests of these religions kept everything in their faith a secret. The way their Temples were constructed, how their rituals were performed, even basic tenets of their theology were secret and kept from the people. The people believed that the quality of their lives was affected by their relationship with their Gods. To have a good life, they needed their Priests to intercede on their behalf with their Gods. Since no one but the Priests understood the religion, the Priests were very powerful and could become corrupt.
To prevent corruption, in organizing our Priesthood system, the Torah was aware of this and taught this system not just to the Kohanim but to the entire Jewish people. Unfortunately our Kohanim were not completely immune to corruption. They became corrupt at times in some ways. However, at the very least, by the people being empowered with knowledge, inherent oversight of the Priesthood is created. Therefore, if corruption would occur, there was a potential for the people being able to deal with it. More importantly the statement is being made that Judaism is not just for the elite for our leadership but for the entirety of the Jewish people.
We make this statement today as well. When we take out and put back the Torah before and after it is read we do not just take out the Torah, place it on a table, read it and put it back after it is done. We have an elaborate ceremony to take out and put back the Torah. We parade the Torah around the Synagogue. Everyone has an opportunity to kiss the Torah. When the Torah reading is completed, the Torah is lifted up in an open position. All of these procedures are not just being done to honor the Torah but to make the statement that the Torah belongs to everybody. Perhaps only a limited population will read from the Torah and recite Brachot (Blessings) on the Torah on a given day, but everyone has the opportunity to see and interact with the Torah in some way, to make the statement, that the Torah belongs to all of us.
Since our tradition is an open book, it behooves all of us to learn, to study and to make ourselves knowledgeable about our vast tradition. Not only to prevent corruption but to enrich our lives. I bless you all that we all participate in this experience.
This week’s title is taken from the song “Do You Want to Know a Secret,” which is a song by The Beatles. It was on the 1963 album Please Please Me. The song was sung by George Harrison. It was the first song to have George Harrison as the lead singer that was on the top ten charts in the United States. It reached #2 on the Billboard chart in 1964. The song was mainly composed by John Lennon but it was credited to McCartney–Lennon.
To listen to the Beatles’, “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” click HERE.