Shabbat Tetzaveh: For Want of a Tent Peg

Our parashat hashavua is Tetzaveh, from the same root as mitzvah, that is, obligation. The parashah’s name is generic: every week we are presented with mitzvot, which we are to carry out. No matter what the occasion or occurrence, there’s always a mitzvah to fulfill; this is the framework that structures Jewish life. 

The mitzvot are the details of a Jewish life, changing according to the need of the moment, and always specific to it. The building of the wilderness mishkan where we will gather to evoke the presence of HaShem is a myriad of mitzvah details: commands regarding the materials, the utensils, the objects, and the priests’ clothing. Some are hard to follow, others difficult to carry out, requiring specific expertise.

There’s a lovely little message hidden in a simple-seeming word, the Hebrew for “tent peg,” which looks like this: אדני האוהל  The word for “peg” in Hebrew looks exactly like HaShem’s name when it is spelled out. The lesson, of course, is that “G*d is in the details” – as it were, in every tent peg. This teaches that each one of us, doing the job which is ours as participants in our community, is as important, and holy, as each of the tent pegs which secured the Israelite mishkan. 

Each tent peg does its job, strengthened by the next tent peg. If one fails, all are affected; each draws strength from the next, isha el akhotah, “each woman and her sister” as the Torah puts it.

To understand this is to begin to see that which is unique about the Jewish path; even as each of us must move our own feet, yet none of us walks alone. The quality of the trust we build among each other is the true measure of the common work of the mishkan, and the beauty of the building is not in its aesthetics but its ethics.

It has only been a few weeks since we left Egypt; we’re still getting to know each other. But the most important test has already been presented, in the leap of faith presented to us at the Sea, when we began crossing over, together, despite our uncertainty about whether the sea would part and we would survive.

The faith needed for such a leap is not about where you are headed, nor about how uncertain the view ahead may be. We can never really know what will be tomorrow. All we have is what is here today. The faith we need is in each other: those with whom we leap. 

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