Every year, as we come to the Torah readings of Vayakhel-Pekudei, we find ourselves faced with the problem of the Torah’s lengthy repetition. The seemingly superfluous detailed description of the building of the Mishkan – reiterating what we read just a few chapters previously, when God commands all of this work – confounds us time after time. Why does the Torah need to go on at such length; what is there in this detailed repetition that is significant for us today?

Much has been written on this subject, but the most captivating answer I have encountered was proposed by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rosh Yeshiva of the Har Etzion hesder yeshiva in Gush Etzion. Rav Lichtenstein recounted the following story:

A young man and a young woman who loved each other decided to marry and spend the rest of their lives together. They set a date for the wedding and embarked on all the preparations, exerting great efforts to make their wedding and the beginning of their marriage as special as they could possibly be. They bought special wedding clothes, found an apartment, chose furniture – a table, a cupboard, lighting – and prepared for the exciting new chapter in their lives that was about to begin.

But not long afterwards, the young woman strayed from their shared path. Everything fell apart, nothing remained of their wedding or their life together. Their paths separated, and it seemed that they would never meet up again. But love is strong, and it settled again between them, as it had previously. Once again they started planning, working, moving, and searching in preparation for the wedding. But was everything not already complete and waiting for them, from so long ago? Why should they not return to their home, with the same table, cupboard and lamp? The truth is that they could not bring themselves to return to those objects, for they held sad memories of tortured days – days of separation and sorrow – and therefore the old had to be replaced with the new; a different base had to be created.

Similarly, a great love existed between God and Israel, and everything was ready for their joint edifice – the Mishkan. Then Israel strayed from the straight road and turned to the golden calf. Now, God’s traits are not human traits. Man cannot go back to what he was prior to his sin: the memories are there; they come back to him, influence him. But God can take up the previous situation as though there had never been any sin; He can love again as though there had never been any separation.

The Torah repeats and reiterates every detail of the Mishkan, teaching us that there was no difference at all between the command and the execution: there was no change in the relationship between God and Israel. The great love that existed prior to the sin of the golden calf returned with the same fervor after the sin, with no change and no adverse influence.

The perplexing question of the repetition leads us to understand the importance of this idea with respect to the relationship between God and Israel. It is God’s infinite wisdom, mercy and goodness that make it possible for the terrible rift to be healed and for the nation to regain the same lofty spiritual status that it held prior to the sin. This idea, concealed in the apparently superfluous repetition of the text, should be a great source of comfort and encouragement to every individual as well as to the nation as a whole.