“And Moses saw all the work, and, behold, they had done it exactly as the Lord had commanded, even so had they done it: and Moses blessed them.” – Exodus 39:43
In the Torah portion of Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38), after each part of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) is constructed, the Torah adds the phrase “as God commanded Moses.” Many of the commentators ask why there is this constant repetition. The Baal Shem Tov explains that this repeated phrase comes to tell us that the Children of Israel fulfilled every aspect of the command to build the Mishkan exactly as God wanted it to be; as God had envisioned the Mishkan in His Mind and as He had communicated it to Moses.
What a rare and incredible event it is when a task is completed as God wants it, when a vision is fulfilled in its fullness! More often than not, our own ideas filter in to distort the image. We regularly delude ourselves into thinking that God wants what we want. We are content to construct a lesser work and then blame the inherent frailties of the human condition for its obvious mediocrity.
It is important to acknowledge our limitations and accept ourselves as we are, but along with self-acceptance, we should always be working toward a higher goal – always be striving to become more than we are. There is no doubt that such constant striving creates a certain tension in our lives, and prevents us from experiencing the usual kind of contentment. But this intense seeking also opens the door to a much greater type of fulfillment and satisfaction – the happiness of accomplishing the work that God has given us to carry out “ka’asher tzivah Adonai”, as God commanded.
Imagine the joy God feels when we fulfill a task as He wishes it. His Divine Delight showers the Universe with blessing. It illumines the Creation with spiritual light. The Hasidic Master, Dov Baer of Mezeritch, teaches that God’s greatest pleasure is when we are alive with the desire to do His Will. This is why He created humanity; this is why He created the world.
To fulfill God’s command demands much more than simple obedience; it requires sincere devotion and a spiritual intuition that can properly ascertain and implement the Divine wish. We are told in the Talmud Minachot 29A that when God first told Moses how to build the Menorah, he was unable to comprehend the Divine instructions. Then God showed him a supernal image of the Menorah made out of fire, and Moses understood exactly what he had to do.
We need to be able to receive a clear impression of the Divine instruction in our consciousness. We need to understand how to interpret the image that God presents to us. This is not an easy task to accomplish. It demands spiritual discipline, a mature practice, a willing heart and a great deal of Divine Grace to be a vehicle for the Word of God.
It is especially significant that this phrase “as God commanded Moses” occurs during the Mishkan building process because of the background to its construction. According to many commentators, the command to build the Mishkan came after the sin of the Golden Calf. It was, in fact, a response to this tragedy; a Divine recognition of the human need for a concrete form or structure in which to worship and express devotion.
After the sin of the Golden Calf, the whole capacity of the Children of Israel to fulfill their Divine mission was put into question. Could they be transformed into a fitting vessel for the Shechinah, the Divine Presence? Could they be trusted to carry out God’s commands? The repetition of the phrase “as God commanded Moses” after the completion of each section of the Mishkan comes in answer to this fear and doubt. The Torah is telling us that every aspect of the Mishkan was fulfilled to perfection. It is emphatically asserting that the Children of Israel are a suitable vessel for God’s work, a fitting dwelling place for the Divine Presence.
How often do we go through the same struggles ourselves? How often do we look at ourselves and feel that we cannot possibly become a vessel for God’s light? The Torah is assuring us that no matter what our failings may be, no matter what acts we may have done, we can still become a perfected instrument of God if we put all of our heart, mind and soul into the attempt.
The Baal Shem also speaks of this constant repetition of the phrase “as God commanded Moses” on another level as well. Psalm 92:6 declares, “How great are Your works, O Lord; how very profound Your thoughts.” The problem that we face in fulfilling God’s command, he says, is not so much our unwillingness to do His will as the enormity of the vision that we are trying to implement. How can any of us ever hope to fully comprehend the intention in the Mind of God? the Baal Shem asks. Each Divine commandment has endless aspects of meaning. We can strive to do each mitzvah or commandment to the best of our ability, but in the end, all we can achieve is a limited understanding of the Divine intention.
This idea applies not only to the mitzvot, but also to the spiritual task that God has given each of us to accomplish in this world. How deep was the thought in the Mind of God when He created us. How expansive and all-embracing was the love and hope that He/She infused into our being at the moment when we were formed. It takes lifetimes to fulfill such an exalted intention. It takes incarnation after incarnation to shape our finite vessel to the contours of God’s infinite vision.
In trying to help us bridge the gulf between the grandeur of God’s intention and the reality of our numerous human imperfections, the Baal Shem offers the following advice: whenever we do a mitzvah or spiritual act, we should attach ourselves to the great souls of Israel. In this manner, we will draw on their supernal support in accomplishing our spiritual goals. We will harness the energy of the whole of the Soul in bringing our work to fruition.
This is the reason, the Baal Shem explains, why the Kabbalistic kavannah (mystical intention) that is recited before performing a mitzvah ends with the phrase “beshem kol Yisrael”, in the name of all of Israel. It also the reason behind the Ari’s instruction to recite the phrase “I fulfill the mitzvah of ‘loving your neighbor as yourself’” before we begin to pray. If we want our prayers to be truly effective, the Ari is informing us, we need to bind ourselves to the Soul of Israel through the power of the Divine attribute of love.
When we join ourselves to others, we become more than the sum of our parts. When we strive to do God’s Will we are no longer working on our own. By linking ourselves with all of Israel, we tap into the immeasurable strength and courage of the entire Soul. With their powerful backing behind us, we can accomplish anything.
What a wonderful way to view the Jewish people: Israel is a great Divine mission. It is a lofty objective that we are all striving to fulfill. It is a noble endeavor that began at Mount Sinai, and which continues on from generation to generation, each on its own level and each in its own way.
Everything that we do in our lives contributes to this spiritual labor. Every hope and aspiration adds strength and depth to the collective effort. We are part of a vast network of souls which is attempting to fill the world with God’s presence. We are striving to uplift humanity, trying to perfect ourselves. This is the essence of what it means to be Jewish. This is what it means to be part of Israel.
“As God commanded” – just a simple phrase, yet it has so much power. It is an exalted ideal that is worthy of our deepest strivings; an idea upon which we can base our lives.