Pikudei - Opening to Mysery

by Rabbi Shefa Gold

The Blessing

Pekudei blesses us with an accounting of all the work we have done to build a spiritual life. All the components are there. The effort and artistry and riches that have gone into this life-project are made visible to us. This is why I came here… to do this work. I look back at my journey and remember the days when my resistance to the work took up most of my attention. I still have days like that. Yet today, as I bask in the blessing of Pekudei, I can remember, above the din of my whining and complaint, that this is the work that I was born for. In the big picture, there is nothing that is more compelling or that gives me more joy than to make a place for the Divine Presence to dwell among us, between us and within us.

To this project I have brought the gold of my love and the silver of my shining desire for Truth. I have made hooks and sockets to connect me with the whole of Creation. I have brought every color of my changing moods, offering them up to that which is eternal. I have mined carnelian, turquoise, topaz, sapphire, emerald, agate, onyx, jasper, crystal, lapis lazuli, and amethyst — in the ground of my inheritance. I have faceted these jewels with tools of mind and heart. I have chiseled, cleaned, and polished these collected treasures and arranged them for my descendents.

And this Mishkan that I have built, and that we have built together, will, with its beauty, send us to the holy dimensions where God dwells beyond conceptions, beyond form or religion.

The Spiritual Challenge

Legend tells us that all of the components for the Mishkan were completed to Moses’ satisfaction and he blessed all the Israelites who had created such beauty…yet the people had to wait for three months till it was erected and consecrated. Those three months of waiting just might have been more difficult than all their time spent in creative work. This is the spiritual challenge that confronts us when we learn that we are not and have never been in charge of the timing of God’s grace. Without that grace all of our efforts are worth little, because we are building this Mishkan so that it can be filled with Divine spirit. And Spirit moves in ways we cannot control. We can only create the space. We can only invite that Presence in. This waiting time is the period of gestation. It is the darkness and cold of winter. It is the long wait for spring.

Moses was told to wait for the first of Nisan which is the month during which we are liberated from the narrowness of Egypt, and it is the time of the re-creation of the world. In Nisan color and life return to the Earth; flowers begin to show their buds; the grasses sprout their new green; the miracle of re-birth surrounds us. During those cold dark months of winter waiting, it seemed like nothing was happening, but now we realize that beneath the ground, beyond our awareness, miracles were stirring. The waiting time was necessary to this re-birth of possibility.

Still, this waiting time is a test of our faith and patience. "I have done all the ‘correct things.’ I have been faithful to my practice. I have followed the rules. I have crafted each piece of the Mishkan with beauty and precision. I have said the right words and acted righteously…. So why has Grace not descended? Why hasn’t my life come together in the way it’s supposed to? Why do I not feel loved and appreciated? Why is it still dark and cold? Why is the world still filled with misery?" During this long winter waiting, all the voices of impatience emerge as the spiritual challenge of Pekuday, and Faith rises to that challenge as we learn to wait and intuit the miracle that is stirring beneath the frozen ground.

We can study the natural world to understand the process of our own spiritual growth. I was studying at a Yeshiva in Jerusalem in March of 1991. It had been the wettest winter remembered in a hundred years. I walked into my Midrash class and Melila, who was a very special teacher and a wise soul waited for us; everyone could tell she was very excited. "Class is cancelled," she shouted. "Everyone, go to the desert above Qumran. All the flowers are blooming." My classmates went home, happy to have the day off. I raced to the Central Bus Station and boarded a bus for Qumran. There I climbed up above the desert floor to the heights that offered views of the Dead Sea in the distance. I sat on a rock and looked around. The desert heights, once barren and brown, now were covered with flowers. I tried to think of a color that wasn’t there… and I couldn’t. Every color that I could imagine was accounted for. Seeds that had been buried in the hard dry desert ground for a century were blooming. All afternoon I sat there and did the work of Pekuday, the accounting for this Mishkan. I wondered what seeds were buried in me. Every color nurtured my faith.

Guidance for Practice

I receive Pekuday as guidance for the deepening of my meditation practice. When the work of the Mishkan was finished the Glory and Presence of God filled the space that had been delineated by the work. Each day I sit in silence, open myself and become available to the Mystery. In meditation we become the Mishkan. When the presence of God filled the Mishkan, even Moses was not able to enter. In meditation there is fullness that is empty of content. As I sit and gently let go of thoughts, even Moses, the part of me that is brilliant revelation, prophetic message, answer to all great questions cannot enter the Mishkan. All content is excluded from the holiest of places, along with passing thoughts of breakfast, aches and pains, things to do, meditation tips. Everything is surrendered with the intention of becoming empty so that I might be filled. And because God is no-thing… then every-thing of content, no matter how compelling, is not God, is not the Source.

Sitting down on my meditation cushion, there is initially an accounting that must happen. This is the first part of the practice of Pekuday. I must become fully present. All of my gifts must be called up and dedicated to the practice of direct encounter with the Source. I stretch out the sore places in my body so that energy can flow through me unobstructed. I do a number of breathing practices so that the rivers of soul can flow freely and I can connect with the reservoir of Life-force at my core. I open my heart, call forth the power of my intention and refine my ability to focus through prayer and chant. And then I sit. "Dom l’Yah, v’hitcholello." "Be still," the Psalmist tells us, "and wait for God."

The final sentence of The Book of Exodus, the manual for our liberation, tells us that we must cultivate an awareness of God’s mysterious presence, characterized by the divine cloud in the day and an inner fire at night. This awareness will guide us throughout our journeys.