Final exams. End of year inventory. New Year resolutions. At the conclusion of any major milestone, it's de rigueur to take stock, to see the progress that was made during the preceding period and make preparations for the upcoming stage.
Each night, we make a personal soul evaluation when reciting the Shma before bed, when we entrust our souls to G-d for safekeeping during our sleep. During the week, this accounting generally takes place on Thursday night. The last day of each month is referred to as a "minor Yom Kippur," an appropriate time to correct any misdeeds in the previous month and set ourselves on track for the upcoming month. Finally, in the Jewish calendar, we have the month of Elul, in which we customarily make an accounting of the previous year and prepare ourselves for the New Year.
In a similar vein, the completion of an entire book of Torah is a milestone. Thus, it serves as a worthy time for evaluation, to sum up the lessons that we gained from that book of Torah and prepare for the new type of divine service contained in the following book.
This week, we read the Torah portion of Pekudei, which concludes the book of Shmot, Exodus. Since every detail in Torah is precise, the portion of Pekudei contains within it a summation of the divine service of the book of Shmot.
The book of Shmot reflects on the spiritual journey of man:
The book begins with the descent of the Jewish people to Egypt. This symbolizes the descent of the soul into the confinement of a body and materialistic world.
The book continues with a description of the ten plagues that befell the Egyptians, a symbol of our service of refining and perfecting the universe. This in turn led to the exodus from Egypt, when the Jews were freed from their enslavement, in preparation for receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. This gave them the power to actually draw holiness down into the physicaluniverse, and transform the world into a dwelling for G-d.
The ultimate expression of making the world a dwelling for G-d was through building the Mishkan, sanctuary for G-d, which the Jews made using their own wealth, talent and labor.
The Torah portion of Pekudei, which literally means "accounting," gives a detailed report of the exact donations that were brought for the Sanctuary, and describes all the vessels that were built. Thus, the portion of Pekudei serves as a summation and stocktaking of the entire book of Shmot.
Each of us can take a personal directive from this week's Torah portion, to make a reckoning of how well we are using our wealth and capabilities to make this world into a dwelling for G-d. Do our homes, clothing and furniture reflect a purely materialistic lifestyle, or are they consecrated for a higher purpose? May it be G-d's will that through proper stock-taking in the above matters, we will immediately merit to see the rebuilt Holy Temple, with the immediate revelation of the King Moshiach.
(Based on an address of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbat Pekudei, 1989)