Anna Batler blogs about faith and feminism at http://sotah.net/. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anna Batler.
In Parshat Pekudei, the construction of the temple marches forward. Each time an element is completed, the text repeats the same phrase, “as the Lord commanded Moses.” Exodus 39: 21-36. This phrase is repeated five times in total. This is an unusual move – the style of the Hebrew bible is generally terse.
I grew up hearing the following troubling commentary explaining the repetition, often attributed to Beis Halevi. According to him, the repetition emphasizes that God’s expressed will is the place where spirituality begins and ends. The desire to serve God according to our own wishes cannot result in spiritual revelation or growth. Instead, it only results in sin – like worshiping the Golden Calf. Even the generation that left Egypt, who are traditionally thought of as immensely pious and spiritual, sinned when attempting to follow their personal understanding of the Divine will. Thus, regardless of spiritual or intellectual, we cannot formulate our way.
This understanding of the human relationship to Divinity constructs two entirely separate categories: what the Lord “commanded,” which is good and spiritual, and everything else which may be permissible, but it is not spiritually advantageous. This duality has one obvious result – the coalescing of power in the hands of the few who tell us what the “Lord commanded Moses.” A currency of the soul is created – spirituality, to be real, must be purchased through obedience to religious authorities.
Alternatively, if ordinary people can know what the “Lord commanded,” even if they are not intellectually and spirituality remarkable, the repetition in Pekudia can be read as emphasizing the importance of self-directed versus self-congratulatory spirituality. A religion practiced for the benefits it provides is rejected; the “self-help” religion is as old as the golden calf. Then, the Mishkan, or the Tent of Meeting becomes an antidote – a place of authentic spirituality, a place of the Divine impulse, a place that the “Lord commanded.”