I am Kevudah, the “honored one,” wife of Eleazar, Aaron’s third son—but his eldest, now that Nadav and Avihu are dead, killed by the hand of God—the flames of God, I mean. They offered “strange fire”—some mistake in preparing the incense, we believe, as well as guilty of taking a drop of mead prior to the service—we will never know for sure, since the two young men—boys, really—were totally immolated by God’s fire. Just as they were about to wave their incense-pans, too. Horrible, horrible way to die, at the hands of the God we are commanded to love. And Who loves us. I wonder.
I am Avihu, the second son of Aaron, the High Priest; my elder brother is Nadav. This is our Big Day. Aaron—that is, Dad—is to dedicate the Mishkan, the Holy Sanctuary of the Wilderness, the Place where the One True God is to dwell. We will participate in the Ceremony of Dedication, too.
In 1797, the richest and most ornate of Chasidic rebbes was born: Rebbe Yisroel of Rizhin, known as the Rizhiner. Unlike other rebbes, who lived in outright poverty, he loved wealth and to be surrounded by beautiful objects. His Chasidim, who were mostly poor, did their best to satisfy his wants, since the Rizhiner claimed direct descent from King David, and believed that he ought to imitate the lifestyle of his notable ancestor—not in personal behavior, but in his surroundings.
This Shabbat is known at Shabbat HaGadol, the “Great Shabbat,” for various reasons: it immediately precedes Pesach, and its famous haftorah concludes with the Elijah prophecy foretelling the Messianic Age: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Malachi 3:24). Since most Jews, from childhood on, know Elijah only as the well-traveled fellow who visits every Jewish home during the Pesach Seder to quaff a beaker of wine, they never identify him with the short-tempered prophet and enemy of Ahab and Jezebel (I Kings 16-21) who defends the Jewish God against overwhelming odds—but it makes for exciting reading.
Call me the Tempter. Most Jews know me as the Yetzer Ha-Ra, the Evil Inclination. Who am I? I am the Voice of Evil whispering in your ear; I am the soft urge which bids you to look where you know you should not. I push you to steal, to lie, to gossip, backbite, change a number in an accounting book. I inspire bored people to commit adultery. I am, perhaps, the single cause of more evil in the world since Time began; I am a perpetual troubler. I am the hair in your soup, the driver who steals your parking spot, the false friend who proposes to the Girl of Your Dreams, a second before you get up your nerve.
Could there possibly be an unnecessary parsha/Torah portion? All Vayakhel seems to do is repeat the extensive instructions how to construct the Mishkan, God’s sacred dwelling-place in the wilderness, all of whose details were given earlier, in Parshat Terumah. Why, therefore, repeat? It is because God wanted the Israelites to familiarize themselves with all the accoutrements of the Mishkan, because both God and His people were to rejoice in His having a place to dwell on earth, among His chosen people.
Most of us know the story well: Moses follows God’s commands and ascends Mt. Sinai amid smoke and thunder, to receive the Ten Commandments, to be carved out of solid stone by God, using a fingertip of lightning. Moses appoints Aaron, his brother and the High Priest, to supervise the Israelites during his absence. But Aaron is a poor classroom monitor, as I like to say, and he gives the fearful, misbehaving Israelites free rein to do as they wish—and they disobey God’s express command, using a large amount of their Egyptian gold and silver to build a Golden Calf, despite being expressly forbidden to perform idol worship.
Call me Aaron ben Amram v’Yocheved. The Kohen Gadol? Yes, I am; I admit it; I am the High Priest. But, before that, I was the middle child, born following Miriam, my sister, the Bechorah, the First-Born, the Passed-Over One, the Dancer-and-Singer, the Poet-Prophetess.
What is significant is that the laws in this parsha, Mishpatim, deal exclusively with civil matters—property rights, indentured servitude, working animals, road construction, etc. How can we find holiness in these mundane matters?