Parashat VaYakheil: We Are All Works in Progress

Posted on March 8, 2024 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

This week’s parashah describes the work of building the mishkan, the Tabernacle that accompanied the Children of Israel on their journey from Sinai to the Promised Land. The project is described here in minute detail, from the materials that were donated, to the details of the structures and adornments that were crafted by the skilled artisans, down to the exact measurements of each element.


In considering all these details a Chassidic commentator noted that most of the measurements are in whole numbers. For example, the cloths of goat hair that were to cover the Tabernacle were to be 30 x 40 cubits. The table was to be 2 cubits long and 1 cubit high. The altar was to be 1 cubit long, 1 cubit wide, and 2 cubits high.


But when it came to the ark, to the aron kodesh, the measurements are exclusively in halves. The Sages call them amot sh’vurot, broken measures. The ark was to be 2½ cubits long, 1½ cubits wide, and 1½ cubits high. Why is this?


One answer offered by the Chassidic tradition is that the measurements of the holiest place come to teach us that none of us is whole. There is brokenness in all of us, and we are never complete. Our learning is incomplete. Our souls are incomplete. And, God knows, our ethical standards have room to grow and improve. We are all works in progress.


As Professor David Stern has written: “The holy ark, measured in half cubits, stands in splendid opposition to the false fullness of the ego — to the toxic certainties that derail real conversation.”


The half-cubit measures of the aron kodesh remind us that sacred work must be humble. It must be open to seeking what each of us lacks individually. No one has the whole truth. There is always something to learn. Moreover, we need each other. We need and must turn ourselves to what Professor Stern calls “half-cubit conversations” — real conversations that occur in community, in friendship, in politics, indeed, in all human interaction. For it is only through engaging in real conversation that true wholeness can emerge.


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck