Light from the Sidra

Vayak'hel/Pekudei ('He assembled...'/'The accounts of...')

Torah: Exodus 35:1-40:38. Haftarah: Ezekiel 36:16-36:38

Glory hallelujah!

Rabbi Shmuely Boteach’s latest book Kosher Jesus has created a stir among his fellow rabbis who, even though they admit they have not actually read the book, condemn it as heresy. If they took the trouble to peruse even a few pages they would see their fears are ungrounded; Shmuely is on usual evangelical Christian bashing form. Although the rabbi assures Christian readers that he in no way wants to offend them, denigrate their faith or make them abandon their beliefs, he goes on to inform them that Christianity as they know it is a falsehood constructed on a foundation of doctored texts and pagan ideas. Anti-missionary Asher Norman says much the same thing.

When you stop and think about it, there is a sad irony about Rabbi Shmuely’s claim that Judaism today is the same religion revealed to Moses at Sinai. Twelve of the forty chapters of the book of Exodus are devoted to the Mishkan, the Tabernacle but for the last 1,900 years the rabbis have promulgated a religion that downplays the Tabernacle/Temple and emphasises the Torah, even though less than three chapters of Exodus are devoted to ethical and moral legislation. Exodus begins with God ‘coming down’ in response to the groaning of his people in bondage and concludes with his glory descending and taking up residence in the Mishkan.

The great tragedy for the Jewish people is that the glory of God departed Judaism long ago. After the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BCE, the Shekinah never returned to the temple even though the sacrificial system and priesthood were reinstated after the exile. Even if the glory of God did reside in the second Temple, the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus records that at Shavuot in 66CE, ‘The priests on entering the inner court of the Temple by night as their custom was in the discharge of their ministrations, reported that they were conscious, first of a commotion and a din, and after that of a voice as of a host, “We are departing hence”’ (The Jewish Wars 6:299–300).

This account is confirmed by the Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus: ‘The temple [was] illuminated by a sudden radiance from the clouds. The doors of the inner shrine were suddenly thrown open, and a voice of more than mortal tone was heard to cry that the Gods were departing. At the same instant there was a mighty stir as of departure’ (Histories 5:13).

Go to the Western wall in Jerusalem and from time to time you will see Hasidic men dancing. In the Middle Ages, the Musar movement in Judaism advocated an intensely emotional form of study and meditation that influenced the Hasidim. It has been said that the intense rocking that takes place in Hasidic prayer and the dancing at the Western Wall in Jerusalem are attempts to recapture a sense of the joy that must have been present in the heart of every Jew when the Shekinah of God was present in the temple.


In Exodus, God’s glory comes down in spite of the unworthiness of the people but since the destruction of the second Temple Jewish worshippers have been trying to make themselves worthy of the Shekinah.

It’s interesting to trace the development of worship in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Genesis 4, worship appears to be a personal matter; Cain and Abel build their respective altars and offer their minchot to God. Abel’s lamb sacrifice is accepted but God refuses to accept Cain’s offering of the produce of the ground. That should make Rabbi Shmuely think twice before confidently asserting (as he does) that all religions lead to God.

In the accounts of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we see the patriarchs acting as priests for their families. The worship of the founders of the Jewish nation consisted of pitching their tents, building their sacrificial altars and calling on the name of Yahweh.  

The tabernacle and priesthood, however, mark a new start in Israel’s religion. In Exodus we see the beginning of Israel’s national worship. The Israelites were not allowed to worship God as they saw fit; worship was now clearly regulated. When the people came into the land of promise, under Solomon a tabernacle of stone was constructed. Apart from the introduction of musicians and a choir, the regulations for approaching God remained as they had been since the days of Cain and Abel: through sacrifice.  

The people broke the covenant by worshipping the gods of the nations; the temple was taken from them and the glory that came down at the dedication of the tabernacle and also the temple departed.

This week’s Haftarah, however, looks forward to a time when God will sprinkle the people of Israel with clean water and put a new spirit in them and, at the end of the book of Ezekiel, the prophet foresees a far greater temple than the one that had recently been destroyed.

Unlike the cleansing procedure in the temple that applied only to the priests and was physical, Ezekiel 36 foresees an inner spiritual cleansing for the entire nation. That would require a far greater temple than the one destroyed by the Babylonians.

Imagine a temple built from ‘living stones’, God’s people. Imagine it has the Messiah as its chief corner stone. Imagine it has an eternal, undying high priest of the order of Melchisedek (Ps 110:3) who gave himself as one final, all-sufficient offering that permanently removed sin and through his own blood initiated the New Covenant foretold in Jeremiah 31:31ff. Imagine the glory of God filling that temple and never departing.

Wouldn’t such a temple be far greater than any sanctuary made from stone, however impressive such a building might be? Such a holy place exists. It fills the earth and new living stones are being added to it daily through faith in Israel’s Messiah.

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