Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein | March 24, 2017
The priests then brought the ark of the LORD’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. — 1 Kings 8:6
The Torah portion for this week is a double reading, Vayakhel-Pekudei, from Exodus 35:1–40:38. Vayakhel means “assembled,” and Pekudei means “counting.“ The Haftorah is from 1 Kings 7:51–8:21.
While this week’s Torah portion dealt with the completion of the Tabernacle, the Haftorah takes us to the time when the Temple was finally completed. It was a joyous occasion when the Temple was inaugurated by King Solomon. This reading tells us what took place at the dedication celebration.
In describing the procession, the verse says that “The priests then brought the ark of the LORD’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple . . .” However, the Jewish sages teach that it didn’t go as smoothly as it sounds!
According to Jewish tradition, when King Solomon wanted to open the gates of the Temple in order to bring in the ark, the doors stuck together. The priests were about to place the ark into the Holy of Holies, but they couldn’t get in! Solomon began to pray. He prayed 24 different prayers, but the gates stubbornly refused to open. Finally, Solomon invoked the name of King David, his father. Immediately, the gates rose up.
The sages ask two questions: Why wouldn’t the gates open for Solomon? And if they were stuck together, why were they raised and not separated?
Solomon’s 24 prayers were offered based on the merit of the people. There were 24 rotating groups of priests who would serve in the Temple. There were also 24 rotating groups of representatives who attended Temple services. The number 24 represents all types of people. Each time Solomon prayed, it was based on the merit of a different type of person. But the gates wouldn’t open for Solomon because no one is perfect. Nobody’s merit was great enough to open the gates.
At last, Solomon prayed on the merit of his father. Why did the doors open for David? Scripture tells us of at least one sin that he committed. Surely David wasn’t perfect!
The sages teach that David’s merit was not based on who he was; it was based on who he was “becoming.” You see, King David was always becoming better. No, he wasn’t without flaws. But he was constantly repairing them. No matter how low he had fallen, Kind David was constantly rising up. This is why when the gates opened, they didn’t separate; they rose.
I have a friend who often remarks that instead of “human beings,” we should be called “human becomings” because that is a more accurate term for who we are. As souls placed in physical bodies for a finite amount of time, we aren’t expected to be perfect. But we are expected to become a little bit better every single day.