For the past month, every single Parasha centered on the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert, its articles, the priests’ garments, the choice of artisans, and the varied contributions made by the whole household of
The Haftarot (Haftaras), except one, likewise, have been about the building of
the first Israel Temple in by Solomon. The return of the Jews
from a seventy-year exile in Jerusalem
also signaled the construction, or rebuilding, of the House of YHVH. Moreover, on that occasion the Jews also had
to re-establish themselves as a national entity in the land, with all of its
administrative aspects, and, as it turned out, had to take defensive measures
against the enemies that surrounded them.
Some of facets of that return may spark in us glimpses into what has
been, and could continue to become a reality in our day and age. Babylon
To start off, the return seemed like a very promising venture, as the King of the Jews’ host-country himself lent his patronage to this undertaking and to the rebuilding of the
. “Now in the first year of Cyrus
king of Persia, that the word of YHVH by the mouth of Jeremiah might be
fulfilled, YHVH stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made
a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing,
saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia:
‘all the kingdoms of the earth YHVH Elohim of heaven has given me, and He has
commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his
Elohim be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build
the house of YHVH the Elohim of Israel (He is the Elohim), which is in
Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any
place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold,
with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of
Elohim which is in Jerusalem’” (Ezra 1-4). Temple
At the time the Jews may have viewed the restoration and the backing up that there were receiving not only as a fulfillment of YHVH’s word through Jeremiah, but also as a foreshadowing of the time that Isaiah spoke about: “The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. Lift up your eyes all around, and see: They all gather together, they come to you; Your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side” (Isaiah 60:3-4). Perhaps Micah’s prophecy also came to their mind: “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the
's house shall be established on the
top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall
flow to it. Many nations shall come and
say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of YHVH, to the house of the
Elohim of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’
For out of mountain of YHVH Zion the Torah shall go forth, and
the word of YHVH from ”
(4:1-2). Furthermore, the words
of their contemporary prophet, Zechariah, could have struck them as
being close to fulfillment: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who is
left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall go up from year to
year to worship the King, YHVH of hosts, and to keep the Feast of
Tabernacles. And it shall be that
whichever of the families of the earth do not come up to Jerusalem to worship the King, YHVH of hosts,
on them there will be no rain…” (14:16-17).
Not only were the returnees witnessing that the utensils from the first Temple were being restored, additionally, “… all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered” (Ezra 1:6). After they were numbered according to their households, they made up a great company of 42,360, not to mention the servants, livestock etc…
And just as we read in the Parashot (Parashas), the spirit of generosity and participation, together with zeal and enthusiasm, swept over these returnees from the Babylonian exile. One cannot but marvel that even the governor told them that they “should not eat of the most holy things till a priest could consult with the Urim and Thummim” (Ezra 2:63).
Upon arriving in the land, they reinstated the sacrificial system and the celebration of Succoth (3:1-5), gathering “as one man.” The opposition, however, was fierce. Once the reconstruction of the
commenced they had to ward off their enemies who not only attacked them face to
face, but also appealed to the ‘powers that be’ in an attempt to incite against
the returning Jews and foil their efforts. (Does this not sound familiar?)
Because of this, the work was halted until the second year of King Darius. The
Jews’ counter appeal to the new king bore fruit, however, and once again
permission was granted and the project was resumed, and brought to completion
on the 3rd day of the month of Adar.
The king also made it possible for more material goods to be sent to the
Temple Temple in ,
while granting tax exemption. Jerusalem
Again, a group of Jews was gathered, headed this time by Ezra the Scribe, in order to make their way back to the land of their forefathers. Apparently this time there was great concern for the safety on the road, and so Ezra found it necessary to appeal, by fasting and self-affliction, to YHVH so as “to seek from Him the right way for us and our little ones and all our possessions” (Ezra 8:21 emphasis added). Is this something that we should heed, so as to be able to carry out the present day restoration?
Interestingly, in spite of the help, endorsement and backing that had been forthcoming from most of the Persian kings of that day, Ezra clarifies his motivation for entreating Elohim and proclaiming the fast: “For I was ashamed to request of the king an escort of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy on the road, because we had spoken to the king, saying, ‘the hand of our Elohim is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him" (Ezra 8:22 emphasis added).
Ezra’s testimony, witness and providing evidence of YHVH’s power, faithfulness, and goodness toward His people had to be preserved at all costs. And since, according to Ezra, YHVH’s wrath is unleashed only against those who forsake him, obedience to Him was another aspect that impelled the Jewish leader.
After arriving safely in
, Ezra was quick to act in
accordance with the words that he had proclaimed earlier. While confessing and
repenting on behalf of his people and the ancestors (chapter 9), many were
gathered to him and were stirred by the same spirit. It was then that they had
to separate themselves from the profane, i.e. “the foreign seed,” in obedience
to their Elohim (ref. Ezra chapter 10). Jerusalem
And so, this Shabbat, as we read Parashat F’kudey, which reminds us that the Tabernacle was for a “testimony,” as was the ark and its content, the fact that we, the whole house of Israel, are now YHVH’s ‘testimonial abode’ should cause us to “tremble at His word”. Let us reflect on Ezra’s description of his compatriots. When addressing the would-be servants in YHVH’s house the Scribe says to them, "You are kodesh [holiness, separateness] to YHVH!” (Ezra 8:28 emphasis added).