I begin with an apology – each time I am graciously given the opportunity to prepare a D’var, I start with the hope that I will be able, somehow, to bring something new to you. Then, as, through the magic of the Internet and reading what others have written, I realize that the more I learn, the more I know how little I know. In the end, my D’var tends to consist of cobbling together the words of others with somewhat inadequate interjections of my own.
In the interest of brevity, I'll start with a short summary of each parasha and then move on to my main themes. Fortunately, that's pretty simple this week: VaYakhel is all about the construction and dedication of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, and all its attendant accoutrements, while Pekudei is about the completion of that work and the dedication of the Mishkan. And so it's very clear why these portions are usually read together -- neither is complete without the other.
To begin at the beginning – Vayakhel starts with Moshe assembling the whole community and saying to them “These are the objects which G-d commanded that they be made. For six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you …a… Shabbat to be observed…” It goes on to say, “You shall kindle no fire in all your habitations on the Sabbath day.”
One theme I want to bring today is that of unity, which has often been tragically lacking in our history. Even these first few words have been differently interpreted by the Pharisees and the Saducees; and later, the Karaites. The Karaites noted that the Chumash specifically prohibits lighting a flame on Shabbat, so they kept their houses dark on Shabbat. The Rabbanites, on the other hand, relied upon rabbinical interpretation that allowed us to leave burning a flame that was ignited before Shabbat. Incidentally, the Karaites also prohibited sexual intercourse on Shabbat, while Rabbanites considered Shabbat to be the best time for sexual intercourse. Not surprising that they prevailed!
Now, I would like to advertise Rabbi Danny’s “Twist of Talmud” sessions for those of you who have yet to partake thereof. In the words of Rabbi Barry Leff – “Why do we make such a big deal over the Talmud? It’s because it is really in many ways the heart of Judaism. If you want to know what Judaism is all about, and you are only going to turn to one source, that source would not be the Torah—it would be the Talmud. The Talmud contains the Rabbis’ understanding of how we apply all those teachings in the Torah.
The Torah tells us to observe the Sabbath—but the Talmud tells us what that means and how to do it. All the things we do to make Shabbat Shabbat: lighting candles on Friday night, saying blessings over wine and bread, blessing our children, enjoying a nice meal with friends and family—these are all things we learn NOT from the Torah, but from the Talmud. The Talmud has law, legend, superstition, and a unique way of approaching the world. In the Talmud you learn how to argue well, and you learn to respect other opinions. One of the things I love about studying Talmud is that it feels like “intellectual archeology.” When I study a page of Talmud I feel like I’m sitting in the study hall with these great rabbis listening to both their legal arguments and their personal anecdotes. End of advertising content.
Rabbi Label Lam says: We are told that when Bnei Israel stood at Mt Sinai to receive the Torah they were united as one man with one heart. When they transgressed and created the EGEL HAZAHAV (the golden calf) we are told they became disunited everyone pulling in a different direction. As a matter of fact the Talmud Yerushalmi tells us that they could not even agree on what kind of Egel they should make. Each tribe made its own.
Moshe was about to instruct the tribes to build the Mishkan and we read in today’s Torah Portion: VAYAKHEL MOSHE ET KOL ADAT BNEI ISRAEL “And Moshe assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel…”. (Ex. 35,1) Moshe had to assemble the people and bring them together again. Before building the Mishkan Moshe had to reunite the people. Only as a unified people were they able to build the House of Hashem.
The Torah finds it necessary to repeat all the details in the actual collection of funds for; and the construction of, the Mishkan to inform us, that more important than all the pieces necessary for the Mishkan, was how we go about fulfilling all the details.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch comments: Let us bear in mind that, since the objects of the Sanctuary – ark, table, menorah, hangings, tapestries, garments, etc., were, in fact, everyday objects, their sacred character depended entirely on whether the artisans who made them were mindful of the symbolic significance of the objects they were manufacturing. …these detailed repetitions of facts already set forth in previous chapters are intended to let us know that the craftsmen and Moshe were constantly mindful of the sacred and symbolic purpose of each object.
He then expresses some (to me at least) difficult concepts:
First, “ASOO AWTAH” it was they who had done it; every part from the smallest to the largest, expressed their whole personality, their devotion, their spontaneous enthusiasm and the strength and the energies of the entire nation.
Second, “ASHER TZ’VA KEN ASOO” – as G-d had commanded, so had they done. Their zeal and enthusiasm, in its sum total as well as in every detail, had been subordinated completely to the commands of G-d. There had been no attempt on the part of any craftsman to bring his own ideas and his own individuality to bear upon the work by making additions or omissions. Rather, each and every one of the craftsmen had considered it his supreme accomplishment to execute obediently, and with scrupulous care and precision, not his own idea but the ideas and commandments of G-d.
He then goes on to say, what to him is the essence of the ultimate expression of humanity: This free-willed, joyous obedience, this freedom in obedience and this obedience in freedom, which makes one most happily aware of ones own strength precisely by subordinating one’s personality completely to the will of G-d – these constitute the most important characteristic of sublime moral perfection in the deeds of the Jewish person. This is what characterizes a human being as “Eved HaShem” (a servant of G-d).
The concept of Teshuva “Repentance” in Judaism known as TESHUVA (Hebrew: תשובה, literally "return”) is also brought out in the building of the Mishkan. As Rabbi Hirsch writes:
“..the experience that had been recorded forever in the history of the nation between the time it had been commanded to build its very first Sanctuary, and the actual execution of that command, is documentary proof that it is possible at any stage of error to return, and to regain the favour of G-d.
The nation had committed the most serious crime in its history thus far, and yet it had been able to regain the greatest demonstration of Divine favour without having a temple and without making any offerings.”
The Chief Rabbi wrote in one of his “Covenant and Conversation” missives “…at the very outset, before the construction of the Tabernacle was begun: "Let them make a sanctuary for Me, and I will dwell in them" - not "in it" but "in them" -- not in the building but its builders, not in wood and metal, bricks or stone, but in those who build and those who worship. The Mishkan was small, fragile, portable. What made it holy was one thing only, that the Israelites "had made it just as the Lord had commanded". The simplest human act, if done for the sake of G-d, has more sanctity than the holiest of holy objects.
Another very important element in the Parshot is the importance of trust. it is a great lesson to us to read at the very beginning of Pekudei that after spending a fortune on a public project, Moshe gives a full accounting of every last shekel. He shows the people that all that they donated for the cause actually went to the cause. There were no hidden charges, no fine print; no handling fees. Moshe demonstrates that a good leader not only gets the job done, but does so in a way that is accountable to his/her constituents -- no waste, no bribery and corruption. Perhaps, as the rabbis suggest, Moshe gave a full accounting in response to the grumbling of the Israelites, who, as the Torah tells us repeatedly, were a grumbly lot. Even so, it's a good move -- and we should learn from it that we should always be accountable to others, that we must always act in a way that shows others we can be trusted. This should be a lesson for our politicians too, of whatever party.
I hope that my ramblings have helped a little to show the hidden wonders of the Torah. I am, however, reminded, in the words of Augustine of Hippo “We are talking about G-d. Which wonder do you think you understand? If you understand, it is not G-d”.
As you know, once the final portion of any book of the Chumash is read, the congregation stands and recites “CHAZAK, CHAZAK, V'NITCHAZEK”. This expression translates literally as "strong, strong, and we will be strengthened.” Let us go from strength so strength as we seek to be proper role models of trustworthiness; to ensure that we take the time every week to refresh our bodies, minds, souls, and relationships.
So, as I can see that you are weak from hunger, only partially assuaged by the Kiddush, I wish you Shabbat Shalom!