Pekudei: Prayers for Ukraine

The sanctity of life is a topic at the forefront of world news this week. The idea that all humanity is a unique and holy creation is also touched on in this week’s parsha, Pekudei. 

The parsha contains details on the kelim (vessels) used in the mishkan. One of these objects is the kiyor, the basin, from which Moshe and Aaron are commanded to wash their hands and feet. This practice, referred to by the rabbis as “kedushat yadayim ve’raglayim,” the sanctifying of hands and feet, was also done by kohanim each morning in Temple times. Some halachic authorities view this as the source of the mitzvah to wash one’s hands (netilat yadayim) every morning upon waking. The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch explains that this is because each morning, upon waking, we are likened to a “new creation.” This highlights the kedusha and potential of each person, each day. In this context, it seems to relate only to the particular, the Jewish people.

However, the Torah’s description of the building of the mishkan contains numerous parallels to the story of the creation of the world, inserting a universal element into the meaning of the mishkan. In creation, God bestows holiness upon all humanity, who are created בצלם and בדמות, in the image of God. This seeming tension between the particular and universal within Jewish thought is felt in the Mishna (Sanhedrin 4:5), which says: “Anyone who sustains a life [in Israel], it is as if he saved an entire world.” Some manuscripts do not contain the word “Israel”, implying that this is universal: saving any person’s life is saving an entire world. This is also Rambam’s approach. 

As the world watches the destruction and suffering in Ukraine, these sources are a reminder that God created the whole world and every human being. Following Rambam and the Mishna, we can pray for peace and be mindful that each and every life is an entire world. Shabbat Shalom – Karen Miller Jackson

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