The End Justifies the Means

The End Justifies the Means

By Ya`akov Ariel*

The story of the Tabernacle and its accoutrements is recapitulated in this week’s reading, repeating word for word what was said in previous chapters. Also the next weekly reading, Pekudei, recapitulates the text on the priestly vestments, word for word. There, however, the expression, “As the Lord had commanded Moses,” occurs 19 times, whereas in this week’s reading it only occurs six times.

The reason for this difference, according to Nahmanides (on Ex. 36:8) is the change of order, as the Sages noted (Berakhot 55a); in this week’s recapitulation on making the Tabernacle and its furnishings, Bezalel changed the order.  First the Tabernacle was made, and then its furnishings, whereas in Parashat Terumah, Moses was first commanded regarding the furnishings and after that, regarding the Tabernacle.

As a man of vision, Moses first saw the Ark, the most sacred of all the furnishings, containing the tablets of the Covenant and the Torah. It was placed in the most sacred location, and along with it went the remaining furnishings, providing the contents that filled the Tabernacle.  These were of the essence, while the Tabernacle was but the outer framework that protected the furnishings.  Bezalel, in contrast, as a man of action, first saw to the Tabernacle and then to its furnishings, because technically one could not make the furnishings and leave them outside, without a Tabernacle in which to place them.  This is the only departure from the order in this week’s reading.

In making the priestly vestments there was no change between the vision and its execution.  Therefore, in this account Scripture says, “as the Lord had commanded Moses.”  It is unclear, however, why the Torah, which is usually terse in its accounts, recapitulates these passages.  To teach us about the gap between the ideal and the real, an important lesson for all time, a brief reference would have sufficed, and there was no need for precise repetition of all the details.  Nahmanides suggests an answer:[1]

He mentions it in His Torah many times in order to increase the reward of those who engage themselves in its study.  This is similar to what the Rabbis have said in the Midrash:  “The ordinary conversation of the servants of the patriarchs’ homes is more pleasing to the Holy One, blessed be He, than even the Torah-discourses of their children, for the section about Eliezer [as he recounts his journey], comprises two or three columns in the Torah.”

The example of Rebekah’s marriage, cited by Nahmanides, is different from what we have in this week’s reading.  There the repetition is not word for word, and several noticeable variations underscore the basic difference between the worldview of Laban son of Bethuel as opposed to that of Abraham’s servant.

So we shall follow Sforno’s interpretation (verse 8):  “This passage duplicates all that was said in the command given in Parashat Terumah, to inform us that they did everything with a view to carrying out the will of the One who gave the command and to achieving the end He had in mind.”

With each and every word the Torah repeats and stresses that the plan and its implementation coincided perfectly, and nothing was lacking, neither in performance nor in intent. Bezalel was so named because he stood “be-zel ha-El,” in the shadow of the Lord.  The shadow copies the original.  The light is the ideal; the shadow is the practical outcome cast by the light. There was perfect consonance between content and furnishings, between the aim and the means, between the intention conveyed by Moses and the realization by Bezalel.  Each and every detail perfectly coincided with the plan’s intention.  The real fully matched the ideal.  The men of action did not diverge from the intention of the men of spirit, and even when they were forced by technicalities to build the Tabernacle first and its furnishings second, they received Moses’ authorization for doing so. The objective—that the Divine Presence dwell among Israel by means of the Teaching given at Sinai—remained in force.

Through this repetition the Torah underscores this idea, not only in order to describe what happened, but primarily in order to convey a message to later generations.  The purity of the notion of the Sanctuary had to be protected against erosion over the years, that one not leave the path even when hitches are encountered, that one not cast one’s eyes towards other objectives even when difficulties arise.

Indeed, regretfully, the pure intent was not always maintained.  Implementation did not always follow the initial idea.  Of this the prophet Jeremiah complains (7:12):  “Just go to My place at Shiloh, where I had established My name formerly, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.”

Why was Shiloh destroyed?  For departing from the original idea.  The pure original idea had not been preserved in the Sanctuary.  The priests who were ministering in the Sanctuary turned the end into a means and the means into an end.  They ate the offerings not as sacrifices made on the altar to atone for sinners but as food to fill their bellies, as we read in I Samuel 2:13-18:

When anyone brought a sacrifice, the priest’s boy would come along with a three-pronged fork while the meat was boiling, and he would thrust it into the cauldron, or the kettle, or the great pot, or the small cooking-pot; and whatever the fork bought up, the priest would take away on it…Even before the suet was turned into smoke, the priest’s boy would come and say to the man who was sacrificing, “Hand over some meat to roast for the priest;…Hand it over at once or I’ll take it by force.”  The sin of the young men against the Lord was very great, for the men treated the Lord’s offerings impiously.

And so the prophet preached to their father, Eli:

Why, then, do you maliciously trample upon the sacrifices and offerings that I have commanded?  You have honored your sons more than Me, feeding on the first portions of every offering of My people Israel…But now—declares the Lord—far be it from Me!  For I honor those who honor Me, but those who spurn Me shall be dishonored (I Sam 2:29-30).

The outcome is well-known.  The house of Eli was replaced by the sons of Zadok, who restored the priesthood to pure ways:

But the Levitical priests descended from Zadok, who maintained the service of My Sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me—they shall approach Me to minister to Me; they shall stand before Me to offer Me fat and blood” (Ezek. 44:15).

In the time of Jeremiah, the prophet of doom, the people believed the Lord’s Sanctuary would be protected by the Lord and thus the people would be protected from their enemy.  The people perceived of the Temple as no more than a shell, without identifying with its content.  Of this the prophet said:  “Don’t put your trust in illusions and say, ‘The Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord are these.’  No, if you really mend your ways and your actions; if you execute justice between one man and another” (Jer. 7:4).  He reminded them of the Commandments engraved on the tablets in the Ark in the Lord’s Sanctuary, they constituting the essence of the Sanctuary and the ideal to which the people should aspire in practice, in stark contrast to the actual way they were behaving:

Will you steal and murder and commit adultery and swear falsely, and sacrifice to Baal, and follow other gods whom you have not experienced, and then come and stand before Me in this House which bears My name and say, “We are safe”?—[Safe] to do all these abhorrent things! (Jer. 7:9).

The First Temple was destroyed because it did not serve the purpose for which it was destined.  Quite the contrary:  the outer structure was used by criminals as a shelter against those pursuing them, as a den in which robbers would hide and devour their booty:  “Do you consider this House, which bears My name, to be a den of thieves?” (Jer. 7:11).  A rift had emerged between the ideal and the real.  All sorts of variations on this theme can emerge in any walk of public life.  The Second Temple, as well, was destroyed due to a similar state of affairs.  The early Hasmonean priests had been of pure heart, wishing to cleanse the Temple and purify the Jewish people, but their descendants transformed their hegemony and power to an objective for which they were capable of inflicting harm on one another, and thus they brought calamity upon us.

Samuel, who prophesied the destruction of Shiloh, was also the one to predict the destruction of the monarchy.  He learned this from personal experience on his own flesh, from his immediate family, from his sons who did not follow in his ways.  The Sages said that their objective was to draw large salaries for their hazzans and their scribes.  They exploited their status for personal gain and turned the end into a means.

A similar idea underlies the monarchy.  It can be a positive precept only if it upholds the values for which it was destined, to benefit and improve the society.  When government becomes an end in itself, devoid of values, then monarchy becomes no more than an unnecessary and harmful wielding of despotic power, “the day will come when you cry out because of the king whom you yourselves have chosen” (I Sam 8:18).  Instead of rain coming in due season to water the crops and assure a good harvest, it comes down at harvest time and destroys the crops.  This is to teach us that the pattern of a lofty idea being brought down by those executing it is likely to repeat itself.  This is a danger that lies in wait for every fine idea.  To implement the idea tools are built, but in the course of time the idea fades, its objective disappears, and the tools are likely to become the objective itself.

Therefore the Torah repeats and emphasizes the close pairing of the idea and its implementation.  Any deviation from this close pairing is likely to turn the Tabernacle into a liability.  If, in its construction, the Sanctuary does not perform the function for which it was destined—that the Divine Presence dwell among the Israelites—then in its destruction it becomes the guarantor for this.  Thus, at least, the idea will be preserved in its pure state, until it can become a reality once more.  The aim must sanctify the means, not in the pejorative sense of the phrase that gives the means independent worth.  Quite the contrary, the means must serve the sacred objective, and not the opposite.  Thus the means, as well, share the light of sanctity, as a vehicle for light and not as light in the service of a vehicle.

Translated by Rachel Rowen

* Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, Rabbi of Ramat Gan Municipality.

[1] Ramban, Commentary on the Torah: Exodus, ed. C. B. Chavel, New York 1973, p. 606.


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Last modified: 22/10/2015