Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1-40:38
There is a humorous painting by the iconic American artist Norman Rockwell, “The Plumbers,” which contrasts this week’s Torah portion.
For those unfamiliar, the illustration depicts two plumbers, in overalls and with their grimy tools in hand, who find themselves in their client’s master bedroom. The plumbers, enamored of the opulence and wealth of their client, take turns spraying each other with the missus’s perfume. These plumbers, who live worlds away from this family, are struck by the riches and luxuries afforded to this upper-class family, and allow themselves a moment of frivolity, a moment to dream.
When Moshe was commanded to create the Holy Ark, the Torah uses the word v’asu – and they shall make – as opposed to the word more commonly used in the construction v’asisa, and you shall make.
Rabbeinu Bachya (1255-1340), one of the most distinguished of the Spanish Bible commentators, explains the discrepancy by taking a larger view of the Ark. He explains that the Ark, being the holiest of all the Tabernacle’s vessels, and placed in the holiest location, represented the Torah. The Torah is not limited to a certain group or caste of Jews, rather it is available to everyone. There is nobody who can claim ownership and limit it to his circle: “[the Torah] is an inheritance for the Congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4).
For this reason, the Torah was given in the wilderness, a place which everyone has permission to access. Additionally, that is the intention of the verse to switch from “and you,” which connotes a single person, to “and they,” which is plural, teaching that all can be involved.
The Ark was sequestered in the holiest spot in the world, the innermost room in the Tabernacle. Only the High Priest had permission to enter there, and even he was only permitted once a year on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year. Seemingly, the Torah was not attainable by all.
The plumbers have stumbled into their client’s room and are visibly impressed by what they see. They cannot (certainly in 1951 when the cover was published) however, gain entrance into that exclusive society. There are many hurdles that they need to overcome to be comfortable in that posh clique; the right family, the proper schooling, and, above all, a different mindset. It takes more than the attainment of luxury items to be welcomed to that elite group.
Rabbeinu Bachya is telling us that when it comes to living and studying the Torah, this is not the case. One who studies diligently and properly, even if he comes from common stock, can rise to great heights. There is no one who can claim ownership over the Torah and to preclude others from its study. It is accessible to anyone who desires to delve into its depths. It belongs to all Jews, regardless of background, family or abilities.
Even one who is a convert with no prior involvement in the Torah can become greater than the High Priest. However, there is one caveat; the student of the Torah must be willing to accept, to truly hear what the Torah is saying. The wise man must prepare to enter Torah study with the desire to for the truth. Once one is seeking to accept the Truth, then the Torah can be studied irrespective of social status, intelligence, or even prior involvement.