Parshas Pekudei - And the Glory of God Filled the Mishkan
After much planning, excitement, physical labor and months of waiting, the Mishkan is finally erected in its permanent form, as narrated at the end of Parshas Pekudei. Subsequent to enumerating all of the details of the Mishkan's construction, the Torah declares, "And Moshe completed the work. And the cloud covered the Ohel Moed (Tent of Meeting), and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan. And Moshe was not able to come to the Ohel Moed, for the cloud rested upon it, and the glory of Hashem filled the Mishkan." (Shmos 40:33-36) It is evident that the Mishkan was appeasing to Hashem. All seemed perfect.
In light of this beautiful narrative and the sense of calm and joy it instills, it is quite surprising to read the words of the Toras Kohanim (9:16), quoted by Rashi in Parshas Shmini (Vayikra 9:23) in relation to the Avodah (Service) which commenced the day that the Mishkan was erected: "Once Aharon saw that all of the korbonos (sacrifices) were offered, and all the actions (of the Avodah) were performed, yet the Shechinah did not descend toward the Jews, he was extremely aggrieved. He said: 'I know that Hashem was angry with me, and it is my fault that the Shechinah did not descend toward the people'... Moshe and Aharon then prayed for mercy, and the Shechinah descended toward the Jews..." This seems so strange, for the glory of Hashem already filled the Mishkan and His cloud rested upon it as soon as it was built, as depicted in Parshas Pekudei; why was there a perception that the Shechinah had not come?
The answer may be that even though Hashem was satisfied with the work of Moshe, who personally erected the Mishkan, He had not forgiven Aharon and the nation as a whole. From the onset of the period of the Chet Ha-Egel, Moshe was excused and was given noticeably different treatment and status (such as Hashem suggesting that He would obliterate Bnei Yisroel and make a new nation out of Moshe, as well as Moshe's private encounter with the Shechinah and the bestowal upon Moshe of the Karnei Hod - Beams of Radiance). It was thus understood that Hashem accepted Moshe's service in erecting the Mishkan and demonstrated it by enshrouding the Mishkan with His clouds of glory. However, this was not taken to signify that Hashem had accepted the actions of Aharon and the masses and that their efforts were appeasing. On the contrary, it was understood that Aharon and the nation in general were still not granted atonement. Therefore was Aharon very apprehensive, and only once Hashem showed His glory and sent a fire from Above to consume the korbonos offered by Aharon did everyone know that Aharon and the nation were truly forgiven. (See Rashi d.h. "Vayeitzu" on 9:23, which supports this interpretation.)
Based on this understanding, we need to return to Parshas Pekudei and try to pinpoint exactly what the climactic event of Hashem's glory filling the Mishkan represented. If the Shechinah's descent to the Mishkan in Parshas Shmini signified Hashem's acceptance of the teshuva (repentance) of Aharon and the masses for the Chet Ha-Egel, what exactly did the manifestation of Hashem's cloud of glory at the end of Parshas Pekudei represent?
In Parshas Shmini, Hashem accepted the Avodah of Aharon and the Kohanim. Avodah is a vehicle for approaching Hashem, and the acceptance of one's Avodah means that Hashem welcomes that person's approaching and coming close to Him. On the other hand, the manifestation of Hashem's glory in the Mishkan, as featured in Parshas Pekudei, signals the reverse: that Hashem comes forth toward us, and that He is agreeable to radiate his Presence in Man's world.
Thus, the events of Parshas Shmini reflect Hashem's acceptance of Bnei Yisroel approaching Him and His welcome of their Avodah; the climactic conclusion of Parshas Pekudei represents Hashem's approaching Bnei Yisroel and His willingness to dwell among His people.
This can be compared to two facets of Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, every Jew is halachically in a state of standing before God ("Lifnei Hashem "), regardless of where he is or what he is doing. Whether a Jew is in a beis medrash or synagogue supplicating before Hashem, or whether he is elsewhere, his soul is nonetheless before Hashem throughout Yom Kippur. On the other hand, Yom Kippur is the day for us to approach God and beseech Him, and to experience a state of spiritual ecstasy engendered by the unique closeness between Hashem and Man on Yom Kippur. If one does not do this, he has not taken advantage of Yom Kippur and has not approached and drawn near to Hashem when given the opportunity. In Parshas Shmini, we learn how to approach Hashem.
In Parshas Pekudei, we learn how Hashem approaches us and awaits our response to His presence and closeness. May we appreciate both concepts and soon again merit the rapprochement and communion with God as did our ancestors, as enabled and embodied by the Mishkan.