Shabbat Vayakhel Pekudei
Exodus 35-40:38 - Repetition is Good
by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
It is an interesting phenomenon that the major events of the Torah that play a crucial role in the life of the people from a philosophical point of view are repeated in slightly different ways.
Here are just two of the many examples of repetition and modification. The Creation narrative is one. In the first Chapter Man and Woman are created together simultaneously. In the second chapter, man is created first and Eve comes from his rib. Some people want to suggest that this indicates two different traditions incorporated into the Torah. But I see it rather as emphasizing the dual and complex nature of creation. There are the ingredients and then there is the way they interact, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Men and women are equal but human error leads some to dominate others. The Creation narrative is crucial because it combines the physical world with the spiritual, through Shabbat.
The Ten Principles or Ten Commandments are repeated twice with slight variations. The variations all come in those principles that relate to human beings, not in those that relate to God. Concerning Shabbat, the first version( Exodus 20:8) says Zachor, “Remember the Shabbat day to make it special.” And the second (Deuteronomy 5:12) says Shamor, “Keep the Shabbat to make it special.” The two complement each other. One is to do with the theory of Shabbat. The idea. The other is more to do with practice, how you actually carry it out. But here too they are both necessary. The theory must be played out in practice, and this is more often than not where we get it wrong. The repetition of different words is a way of adding a dimension that involves different elements, but as human language is limited, one word alone is often not enough to describe the complexity of an idea.
The Tabernacle is compared in various ways to the Creation, it is a work of creativity. It is compared to the Ten Principles because the Law was delivered and applied from the Tabernacle. And it was a place of worship, singing the praises of God. This is why its details and construction are repeated too. One is to tell us what went into it, like in Chapter 1 of Genesis. The other is to tell us how it works in Chapter 2. The process of creation involves a declaration of intent followed by a statement of completion.
The same process is repeated with the Tabernacle. In Exodus 39:32 the word to complete the building of the Tabernacle ( tCHaL ) is the same word that is used in Genesis 2:1 to describe the completion of creation (yChaL). Then at the end of Chapter 39 “And Moshe saw the work and that it was completed it as God had commanded and Moshes blessed them.” This mirrors the creation text in which God said beforehand what was to be created, then saw that it was good, and then blessed it. The two events are parallel. The Tabernacle stands for community, the people. Without shared goals and values the Tabernacle, the Temple, and the State fall. You may have the finest monument or system but if it is not used properly by humans, it will not be very effective.
A similar lesson can be learned from the repetition of the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15. After crossing the sea, Moshe the legislator sings the song of gratitude. Then he is followed by Miriam, and she repeats the refrain. There she is described as the prophetess, the Nevia to balance the prophetic role of Moses. Prophecy can come from different sources, and this emphasizes the parallel role of the female as well as the male. In addition, it differentiates the prophetic, ecstatic, and personal level of worship that balances and supplements the more formal establishment structures that commandments imply.
Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.