The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is called Pekudei and is found in Exodus 38:21-40:38. In this closing portion of the Book of Exodus – Parashat Pekudei – the mishkan, or portable Tabernacle, is now completed. An inventory of the metals that had been contributed to the Sanctuary is given as well as a head count of the number of people who gave. With everything complete, Moses bestows a blessing on the Israelites for their diligent efforts–“on the first day of the first month”–a fitting New Year’s celebration. It is not quite a year since the former slaves left Egypt, and precisely nine months of national and spiritual “gestation” since the revelation at Mount Sinai. The ritual objects within the Sanctuary are anointed and dedicated to their respective, sacred functions. In a final consummation of the construction effort, the Divine Presence fills the Tabernacle. “When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out,” continuing their trek to the Promised Land. During these journeys, the cloud of God’s Presence would rest over the Tabernacle by day… taking on a fiery aspect at night.
In this parasha we see that the Israelites have hit a turning point in their journey with God. No longer are they slaves in Egypt. They have grown under the guidance of Moses and in this act of dedication, they become a true community. It is a community still in infancy and we see these growing pains many times in the rest of the Torah. However, we also see God’s Divine Presence in this community, visibly reassuring the people. God did not need a dwelling place, but God asked to have the mishkan built so that God could establish an ongoing visible presence with the people in their journey through the wilderness. Today, we sometimes find it difficult to see and feel God’s presence and to know that God is still with us during the twists and turns in our life’s journey. However, as God was with our people in ancient times, God’s presence is still with us today.