Pekudei: Remember the Count

By: Rabbi Jay Kelman |

"These are the accounts, pekudei, of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of testimony, as they were pukad, rendered, according the commandment of Moshe, through the service of the Levites, by the hand of Itamar the son of Aharon the high priest" (Shemot 35:1). The word pekudei, from the root pkd, seems a rather odd choice. Words such as meispar, number, or minyan, count, would seem more readily to convey the idea of counting.

The root pkd, however, has a long and symbolic history which culminates in the construction of the mishkan. When G-d appeared to Moshe at the burning bush, He gave Moshe the task of gathering 70 elders and telling them, "the Lord, the G-d of your fathers, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared unto me saying, "pakod pakadetei, I have surely remembered you and seen that which is done to you in Egypt'" (Shemot 3:16). Pakod pakadetei is G-d's introduction and code word for redemption.

The Ramban, in his introduction to sefer Shemot, emphasizes that the construction of the mishkan is the culmination of the redemption process. Redemption, notes the Ramban, consists of three parts: physical freedom from the bondage of Egypt, spiritual growth at Sinai and the construction of a home to serve as the focal point of the Divine presence accompanying the Jewish people. The taking of inventory of the mishkan was not just an accounting of the materials needed and monies raised, but rather the count of a people completing the redemptive process as they prepared to set up a model nation.

These seeds of redemption were actually planted much earlier by Joseph, not only by his economic brilliance, but also by his insight in settling his brothers in a ghetto in Goshen. Thus we should not be surprised to learn that on his deathbed, Joseph said to his brothers, "I am dying, but G-d will pakod yifkod etchem, surely remember you" (Breisheet 50:24). That exact same expression, pakod yifkod etchem, repeats itself when the Jews were actually leaving Egypt and Moshe was busy gathering Joseph's bones to accompany them on their journey (Shemot 13:19). Interestingly, when Yosef successfully interprets Pharaoh's dream, he suggests to the king that Pharaoh should "yifkod pkidim, appoint overseers over the land" (Breisheet 41:34). Perhaps he was hinting that his own rise to power in Egypt is a demonstration of G-d's guidance of history, laying the foundation for the survival and ultimate redemption of the Jewish nation.

The term pakod, however, goes back even further, to the birth of the first Jewish child. "And the Lord remembered, pakad, Sarah as He had said ... and Sarah conceived" (Breisheet 21:1-2). It is the birth of Jewish children, even in the face of virulent Jew hatred, that maintains the redemptive spark within us.

Memory and redemption go hand in hand. Without an understanding of our past we can have no meaningful goals for our future, and hence, no possibility of redemption. Memory, however, must not be confused with nostalgia. Memory must remind us of our obligations to follow G-d's commands. Not coincidentally, the Hebrew word for command is pekudah, also stemming from the root pkd. Redemption is thus linked to observing the mitzvoth of the Torah.

Furthermore, pkd is also the root of pikadon, an object entrusted to another to watch. The mishkan is a gift from G-d, a pikadon to the Jewish people. As long as it inspires us to grow, both in our relationship with G-d and with our fellow man, we can keep the pikadon. But if we shirk our responsibility, as we have all too often in the past, then G-d will demand the pikadon back. This will turn the mishkan into a mashkon, a surety to be recalled to pay our debt (see Rashi, Shemot 38:21). Sefer Bamidbar, which our Sages refer to as Chumash Pekudim (and known in English as the Book of Numbers), illustrates the danger to the Jewish people of ignoring the pekudim, the commands of G-d.

We count those items which are precious to us. There should be nothing more precious than feeling the Divine presence dwelling in our midst. As the Torah details the pekudei hamishkan,we find after each and every paragraph the phrase "as the Lord commanded Moshe". Commenting on the phrase mishkan haedut, the tabernacle of testimony, Rashi notes that the mishkan is tangible testimony that G-d forgave the sins of the Jewish people. May we witness the rebuilding of the mishkan haedut, bringing with it the blessings of peace.