You can find the rest of the parsha text on Chabad.org at Vayak’hel.
From Rabbi Shefa Gold
~ Rabbi Shefa Gold’s Torah Journeys ~
(And He Assembled)
Exodus 35:1 – 38:20
Vayakhel describes the building of the Mishkan.
VAYAKHEL DESCRIBES THE ACTUAL CONSTRUCTION of the Mishkan. Our spiritual work is laid out before us; our enthusiasm is kindled.
When Moses calls the people together for their final instructions for building the Mishkan, we are first warned that there must be a holy rhythm to our lives. We are blessed with the knowledge that rest and reflection are absolutely necessary to the success of this project. Without the practice of Shabbat, we are warned, this work, even though it is holy work, will kill us. The blessing of Shabbat makes our work possible. Work becomes life-giving and wholesome only when it is balanced with Shabbat.
In the practice of Yoga, each series of poses is followed by a resting pose to integrate and fully receive the benefits of the preceding postures. The practice of Shabbat fulfills this same purpose, creating a space to receive, integrate, and deepen the benefits of our spiritual work. For six days we work at building the Mishkan and on the seventh day we can enter into that Holy dwelling and simply receive the Divine influx.
VAYAKHEL BLESSES US WITH THE AWARENESS of the true nature of the heart that is unconstrained by fear. Even though the disaster of the Golden Calf is still a fresh memory, Moses can look out at us and see that our true nature is ruled by a generous heart. When he calls on the gifts and talents and generosity of the people, he does not do so only for what they come to offer to the communal project. He is calling the people to know their own gifts and to experience the blessing of a generous heart.
When we can experience the flowing and giving heart, freed from the constraints of fear, we begin to know and trust ourselves as if for the first time. We can relax and let go of worries about not having or being enough, because the experience of flowing generosity feels effortless and infinite. Vayakhel tells us that Moses had to ask the people to stop giving because they had become so intoxicated with their experience of generous flow. We are reminded that together we have more than enough to complete the task of making a place for God to dwell among us, between us and within us.
THE SPIRITUAL CHALLENGE
AT THE ENTRANCE TO OUR SANCTUARY the laver is built. Here we wash and prepare ourselves for the holy encounter. The laver is made from the mirrors that the women bring.
When I was 22, I went on a three-week trip kayaking down the Green River in southern Utah. It was quite an adventure and those 3 weeks proved to be transformative. Besides getting my first real experience of wilderness and solitude, it changed the way I perceived myself. For those three weeks I didn’t look at a mirror and so began to know myself from the inside-out. Without the daily reminder of outer appearance and the worry about how others might see me, I discovered my inner beauty and strength. I was surprised by a new image of myself that arose in the context of my relationship to water and rock and sun. I had become used to believing what others saw and reflected back to me. A new woman emerged that hardly resembled the image that others perceived or that I perceived through their eyes. The mirror had lied to me. It merely showed me the surface.
IN OUR CULTURE where it seems we (women especially) are judged by our appearance, we are given the spiritual challenge of knowing ourselves from the inside. We bring our mirrors as offerings to build a vessel of purification. Washing ourselves of others’ projections and expectations, clearing away judgment and the need for approval, wiping away shame, we clean every pore of its need for artifice, till the skin can let our radiance shine through. Only then will we be ready to encounter God in the Tent of Meeting. We must offer up the judgments, criticism, and vanity that obscure our depths. The spiritual challenge of Vaykhel asks: How do we transform the mirror – our self-image – into an instrument that prepares us for the Divine encounter?
A DISTORTED SELF-IMAGE can be an obstacle on the spiritual path yet this obstacle can be transformed. I once had a dream that I was dying. All of my friends and family were gathered around me. Some of them were grieving; others trying to heal me. Everyone was caught up in the escalating drama.
I excused myself to go to the bathroom and there I looked into the mirror. I was for the first time profoundly grateful for the face that had served me through my incarnation. I felt some remorse at how I had wasted so much time worrying over that face (Did it look alright?) or avoiding it (I didn’t want to be vain).
Finally I could see myself – the self that was shining through from my eternal soul – and I felt great peace with who I had been and who I was becoming through the passage of my death.
When we are freed from the obsession with self-image, we can become playful with the gifts of incarnation. We can play with style and color and texture, bringing joy to the image we project and letting it express the truth and uniqueness of the inner dimensions of beauty that we encounter on our journeys. Without the worry about ‘how I look,’ or about ‘how others might see me,’ I am free to explore and expand my understanding of beauty. I can be grateful for the face I have been given and I can allow it to shine with God’s radiance.
For Guidelines for Practice please click link to website.
From Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman
One system of Jewish learning which is built upon the idea of multiple layers of interpretation is called Pardes, an acronym for four levels of understanding text:
P – Pshat – the simple literal meaning
R – Remez – the alluded to meaning
D – Drush – the allegorical, metaphorical meaning
S – Sod – the mystical secret meaning
Every verse, story and mitzvah in the Torah can and should be understood according to all these levels. Great insights are revealed when employing this system of learning in a consistent manner.
The portion begins with Moses gathering all of Israel together after descending from Mt. Sinai with the second tablets. His first words are to instruct them once again to observe and keep the Shabbat. The entire rest of the portion deals with the construction of the Tabernacle. The obvious question is why does Moses have to remind them to keep the Shabbat again when the rest of the portion deals exclusively with the Tabernacle.
The pshat, the simple understanding, is that this reminder is needed here in order that people will not think that the construction of the Tabernacle is so important that is supersedes Shabbat. Since the Tabernacle was for the purpose of creating a space for the Divine Presence to rest and was to serve as the primary meeting place between God and the Jewish people, there was reason to think that such a lofty enterprise would in fact supersede Shabbat. Therefore the Torah instructs us that even such a lofty endeavor does not surpass the Shabbat.
The remez, the alluded to meaning, is revealed in the juxtaposition of the laws of Shabbat and the instructions for building the Tabernacle. The Sages understood that this juxtaposition which comes in other places in the Torah as well, is for the purpose of learning the very definition of the types of work forbidden on Shabbat from those creative works done to build the Tabernacle. The Sages identified 39 cardinal categories of work needed to construct the Tabernacle and it was those same 39 categories of work that define forbidden work on Shabbat.
The drush, or allegorical/metaphorical meaning of the juxtaposition of Shabbat and the Tabernacle is understood in the realm of creating holy time and holy space. Shabbat manifests the transformation of “ordinary” time into holy time and the Tabernacle represents the creation of holy space, where a more concentrated presence of God is felt in a particular physical place. God in truth fills all time and space, yet Shabbat and the construction of the Tabernacle teaches us how to take “ordinary” time and space and create a proper vessel for God to infuse it with a higher perception of Divinity.
This wisdom in terms of space is not contained to just the Tabernacle or the holy Temple in Jerusalem. The Beit Kenneset today is called a mikdash ma’at, a microcosm of the holy Temple and the Beit Midrash, the house of learning, contains a special sanctity as well. Every Jewish home contains the possibility of attaining a level of holy space when related to in that manner and filled its with mezzuzot, holy books and Jewish ritual articles and art. Even more importantly the home becomes holy space when words of Torah and the observance of mitzvot fill the air. Most important is when shalom bayit, peace in the home, pervades the atmosphere of the home making it a fitting place for the Divine Presence to dwell.
Just as the body is home to the soul, but can choose to be either a distant and cold host, or a welcoming and suitable one, the body can also choose to become or not a fitting vessel for God’s Presence. The soul itself is a “portion of God Above,” yet also can choose to keep the spark of God animating it as just that, a small insignificant spark, or it can choose to ignite that spark until it becomes a flaming torch.
Shabbat transforms “ordinary” time into holy time through plugging into the inherent holiness of the Shabbat initially made holy by God in the beginning of creation. This holiness exists independent of our actions and unless we tune into this dimension of holiness it could go completely unnoticed. All of time in potential can reveal the holiness of God present within it, yet Shabbat has been chosen by God as the most auspicious day to feel the holiness in time.
The sod, the secret understanding of the juxtaposition of Shabbat and the Tabernacle lies in the ultimate unity of time and space, as revealed in a scientific manner by Einstein. Until one hundred years ago it was thought that time and space were not related, yet we now understand that they are intrinsically woven together. This understanding was actually revealed long ago in the Sefer Yetzirah where all reality was explained to consist of “world” (the three dimensions of space), “year” (the dimension of time) and “soul” (consciousness). Only now is science coming to an understanding of the impact of consciousness on reality.
The observance of Shabbat and the construction of the Tabernacle both entail a conscious choice. It is the choice itself that allows us the ability to transform “ordinary” space and time into something holy. By doing this we actually connect all three aspects of reality – space, time and soul consciousness – which then reveals the Divine aspects present at all times in all these dimensions.
This Divine unity of reality is especially tangible on Shabbat when the home is mystically transformed into holy space, time is transformed into a stream of holiness and the soul experiences its spiritual Divine source. We are taught that the ultimate union of all these three dimensions actually occurs on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, when the High Priest, who represents the holiest person, would enter the Holy of Holies, the holiest space.
Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shabbaton, alluding to its containing the very essence of Shabbat. The home and Beit Kenneset, especially on Shabbat, represent the holy Temple and each and every Jew, now that there is no longer a priestly class performing the service in the Temple, has become the embodiment of the High Priest. Therefore Shabbat, like Yom Kippur, unifies the very essence of holiness on all levels and in all dimensions.
We see the role of Divine choice as being crucial in understanding the very nature of holiness at all three levels of reality – space, time and soul. It was God who chose the Shabbat to be holy time in the creation: “And the heavens and the earth were finished and all their host. And God completed His work which He had done and rested on the seventh day from all His work He had done, and God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it… (Genesis 2:1-3).
The holiness of the land of Israel and especially Jerusalem and the Temple Mount all entail God choosing these specific places as ones of distinct holiness. The first time God speaks to Abraham he tells him to “go to the land I will show you” (Genesis 12:1). God chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and revealed Himself to them in order that they would bring the Jewish people into being. Later at Sinai once again God chooses the Jewish people to be “a nation of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
Just as God’s choice invests time, space and soul with additional levels of holiness, so too our choosing has the power to reveal within ordinary space, time and soul their full potential for holiness. The more we develop our Divine state of consciousness the farther we can go in experiencing the inherent levels of holiness infused within space, time and soul. The closer we come to the Messianic era the more these levels of holiness will be revealed for individuals, communities, the Jewish people and the world.
In the future Messianic era we are taught that time will be “all Shabbat” and that the holiness of Israel will spread to the entire world. Human consciousness will be infused with continual revelation of God as it says: “and the knowledge of God will fill the world like the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 56:7).
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
A home for God among us (Radical Torah repost)
Here’s the d’var Torah I wrote in 2007 for this week’s portion, originally published at Radical Torah.
Parashat Vayekhel-Pekudei: the end of the book of Exodus, and — after much prelude — the actual construction of the mishkan, the home for God’s presence among the community.
And everyone who excelled in ability and everyone whose spirit moved him came, bringing to the Lord his offering for the work of the Tent of Meeting and for all its service and for the sacral vestments. Men and women, all whose hearts moved them, all who would make an elevation offering of gold to the Lord, came bringing brooches, earrings, rings, and pendants — gold objects of all kinds. And everyone who had in his possession blue, purple, and crimson yarns, fine linen, goats’ hair, tanned ram skins, and dolphin skins, brought them; everyone who would make gifts of silver or copper brought them as gifts for the Lord; and everyone who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought that. And all the skilled women spun with their own hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue, purple, and crimson yarns, and in fine linen…
What I love about this passage, this rich and detailed description of a construction project I can hardly imagine, is how grassroots it sounds. This isn’t some decreed-from-above, top-down, serfs-laboring kind of process; this is everyone with a talent bringing that talent to bear on the work at hand. This is everyone in the community donating what they’ve got, whether it’s gold or fine linen or soft leather. This is a veritable barn-raising, folks. Except that in a traditional barn-raising, the community comes together to build a structure for one of its members; here in our story, the community comes together to build a structure which will be inhabited not by any individual or family, but by the presence of God.
As a contemporary feminist reader of this text, I find much to savor in this passage. Here, women’s contributions are valued and honored alongside the contributions of men. And, notably, women contribute in at least two different ways. Both women and men make elevation offerings of gold to God, and women are specifically commended for their skilled weaving-work. In other words, women contribute to the building of the mishkan both on a fiscal level, and on a creative level. They give physical items of value, as well as the spiritually-valuable work of their hands and hearts.
People bring every kind of beautiful thing they had. Cloth and leather, polished wood and precious stones. On a metaphorical level, I imagine, people bring every kind of temperament and creative skill to the process. Those who are even-keeled bring their serenity; those who are hot-headed bring their fire. Woodworkers and weavers, careful introverts and spontaneous extroverts, bring what they have, and who they are, to this work — work which, the text notes, is fueled by the entire community, each person giving as she or he feels called.
In this week’s part of our story, the Israelites take every opportunity to be generous, and that generosity transforms them. The craftsmen Bezalel and Oholiab, and “every skilled person whom God had endowed with skill,” together undertake the project of building a suitable home for God’s presence. They take, from Moses, all of the gifts the Israelites brought, in order to fashion them into the mishkan. But then, we read:
But when these continued to bring freewill offerings to him morning after morning, all the artisans who were engaged in the tasks of the sanctuary came, each from the task upon which he was engaged, and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.” Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: “Let no man or woman make further effort toward gifts for the sanctuary!” So the people stopped bringing: their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done.
The community has become so swept up in the experience of being generous, of donating both items of value and the gift of heart and spirit that accompanies those items, that their generosity overwhelms the artisans. They give too much; Moses has to remind them to stop. A boundary (some gevurah) is needed to balance the community’s overflowing lovingkindness (chesed) and willingness to give.
How can this speak to us today, so many centuries removed from the construction of the mishkan? Maybe in this way: it can exhort us to give freely of ourselves, our gifts and our talents, in the communal work of creating a sacred space where the Presence of God can dwell…and can also remind us that once we’ve built that space for God, it’s also our job to pull back and to turn our generosity in other directions. To make God’s presence manifest through building homes for the needy, weaving garments for those who are cold, and adorning our world with all the beauty we’re capable of creating.
This is how we can build a mishkan, a home for the Shekhinah (indwelling and immanent Presence of God), in our midst. We close the book of Exodus as we approach the retelling of our liberation story on the seasonal calendar — but wherever we are in our journeys toward liberation, may God travel with us and among us, and may we be able to give freely of ourselves, both to God and to one another, in our wanderings.
BY RABBI BARUCH BINYAMIN HAKOHEN MELMAN
VAYAKHEL-PIKUDEI: PROMISES TO KEEP
Memory. We fear losing it. Alzheimers is dreaded for stealing memory. We are a people of memory. Our memory keeps us inoculated from false promises, treaties and illusions, false messianists and false friends.
G*d keeps his promises. Baruch She’Amar VeHaya HaOlam. He decreed it and fulfilled it. G*d is our role model of integrity- of promises made and fulfilled. Do we have any idea how awesome it is to be alive to witness the ingathering of the exiles and the rebirth of Israel after untold generations of waiting? . Two millenia of remembering both the Promise and the Promised Land. We remembered the promise. And so did G*d.
Our parsha this week, Vayakhel-Pikudei, borrows its name from the Remembrance Narrative of G*d remembering His promise to Sarah Imeinu (Gen 21:1). Pakad means “remembered” (His promise). “VeHashem PaKaD et Sarah ka’asher amar…””And G*d remembered Sarah AS HE SAID HE WOULD.”
G*d said he was going to give a child to Avraham and Sarah, and He did! G*d followed through on His promise. And in the Wilderness, the Midbar, the Promise is again fulfilled. In Vayakhel- Pikudei, G*d has Israel build the Mishkan (Tabernacle) and the Vessels and the Vestments just as He said He would have us do back in Terumah/Titzaveh.
What spiritual meaning concerning “pakad” do we learn from this connection between Sarah Imeinu and the Mishkan of this week’s parsha? We realize that the creation of the Mishkan/Tabernacle is essentially a recreation of the spiritual energies of Sarah’s tent. BeTzalel and Ohaliav are the appointed artisans charged with recreating that “tent.” Indeed, the name BeTzalel means “in the shade of G*d,” i.e., in G*d’s tent, while Ohaliav means “my Father is my tent/shelter.”
Sarah’s light permeated her tent and granted her family a glimpse of the supernal radiance of Heaven, prefiguring Aaron’s role as keeper of the eternal light (Ner Tamid). When she passed on the light went out, but it was restored when Rivkah moved in as Yitzchak’s wife. Its stewardship then passed on to Rivkah, and from her to all the holy mothers of Israel. Every Jewish woman who lights the holy lights for the Sabbath and Festivals in a sense becomes the High Priest of her home, which we call the Mikdash Mi’at, or the Miniature Sanctuary.
Just as Adam was lonely without Chava, as Yitzchak was lonely without Rivka, so too was Israel feeling lonely in the wilderness. Modern man leads an atomized, adamized lonely life. Yet we have the secret of returning to G*d’s Home. Anticipating our existential solitude, G*d instructs His Tabernacle be built amongst us, so that He may dwell within us so as to assuage our loneliness. He will be our “Eve” in the Garden. We need only open our hearts to let Him in.
Just as the barrenness of Sarah could be reversed so as to produce and nurture a child, so too could the barrenness of the wilderness be reversed so as produce and nurture a particular nation’s unique G*d consciousness that could enrich the world via the emanation of the Divine Light. So let us as bearers of the G*d consciousness and the sense of the absurd venture out into the world to make it a brighter and lighter place, a place of holy light and of holy laughter. Let us shed light upon the darkness. And bring light, laughter and joy to those who are sad.
© 2000 – 2009 by Rabbi Baruch Binyamin Hakohen Melman
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
With Rashi on Parashat Vayakhel/Pekudei
I was visiting with Rashi the poet on a hillside in eastern France, it was still winter. Snow on the ground. We were sitting on bales in a circle as the sun began to set.
Rashi opened with the first verse of the portion, And Moses assembled the entire assembly of the children of Israel. When? Rashi asked. Rashi’s daughter (I think her name was Miriam) was speaking in quiet tones from behind a screen to her father. My daughter reminds me, Rashi used a word in medieval French for reminds, that Moses assembled the community the day after Yom Kippur, when he came down from the mountain. What’s the significance of the day? Rashi asked us.
It was getting dark so Rashi lit some candles. He also gave us grapes about then, they were translucent dark, blue black, almost lapis. I had never seen such grapes. Rashi continued, the Mishkan (Sanctuary) is the symbol of forgiveness, God’s gift to Israel signifying that the sin of the golden calf had been forgiven. This Torah, this Mishkan — these gifts from God all signify forgiveness.
There was whispering all around. It’s about forgiveness, isn’t it? said the one sitting to my left. We ate more grapes.
It’s all about forgiveness, said Rashi’s daughter.
We all asked for God’s purifying forgiveness as we prepared ourselves for our liberation saga, this being the last of four special Shabbes portions before the month of Pesach, our freedom story.
Soon we will mark the beginning of our freedom saga, of this we were all aware. There is a long way to go, we have come so far already.
By this time it was dark. The candles had burned down. There were no candles left. Rashi asked me to get some icicles from across the field. I brought back four or five icicles, Rashi put them in the candle holders, it them, and we continued learning.
Rashi said, the first light, created day one, was specially created, the light that sustains but it was hidden away for the future. The future, said Rashi, we will have to be cautious, he was looking at his daughter.
As he spoke I saw him gather the light with his hands, like he was moving the air around above the flames, as if he was gathering light into his arms.
From Reb Sholom Brodt
Parshas Vayakheyl – Pekudei 5769
For The Sake of The Unity of Am Yisrael
This week we read the last two parshiot of ‘sefer Shmot’, the book of Exodus. In addition we have an additional reading for ‘Parshat Hachodesh’, from Exodus chap. 12. “This month shall be for you the beginning of all months, it is the first of the months of the year”.
The themes of Parshat Vayakheyl and parshat Pekudei are Unity and the preciousness of every Jewish soul. Three weeks ago we first learned about the commandment to build the Mishkan, a dwelling place for Hashem in our midst. The instructions for the construction of the Miskan and all its objects and vessels were taught in great detail. Instead of the torah telling us simply that the Children Of Israel did as Hashem commanded them to do, we find in these two parshiot, Vayakheyl and Pekudei a very detailed accounting of all the contributions that were collected, how much gold was used for this and how much silver for that etc. and exactly how each item was made and by whom.
We know that the Torah is very conservative with its use of language and does not waste a single word or even a single letter so everyone is asking why all the repetition? The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l explains that the detailed repetition indicates that every contribution, large or small, and every bit of work that went into the construction of the Mishkan was so much appreciated and loved by Hashem.
The name of the last parsha of sefer Shemot is Pekudei. “Eileh Pe’kudei ha’mishkan” – the accounting of all the donations received and used in the making of the Mishkan. Each part of the Mishkan is accounted for. Each contribution was noted, respected and valued. Every half-shekel, even the smallest button and peg, was noted and significant. The Shechinah would dwell only in a complete and unified Mishkan.
Let us take a look at the word “Pekudei”. The letters ‘pei’ – ‘kuf’ – ‘da-led’ are the root of this word. Hebrew, or as we call it ‘LASHON HAKODESH’ is a most beautiful language, and this one root, [like many others], provides us with many words of different but related meanings, each providing a deeper understanding of the other. Here are some of the uses of this verb:
LIFKOD [inf.]: to remember’; to count; to appoint; to order [to command]; to remember; to notice the absence of.
In other words the very name of the parsha- Pekudei teaches us that each contribution consisted of both a worldly dimension as well as a spiritual dimension – the generosity of the heart, the effort it took to make the contribution and the ‘kavanah’- intention of the contributor – all these were noted dearly by Hashem.
A physical and spiritual guided tour for serving Hashem
The Lubavithcher Rebbe zt”l always emphasized, that we are to learn a practical lesson in serving Hashem from everything found in the Torah. What can we learn from the Mishkan and its objects? [The following lesson is taken from the Rebbe’s notes on the parsha entitled “The Mishkan and the dedication of the Mishkan” 2 Nissan 1937, Paris.]
When one leaves the ‘public domain’ and enters the Mishkan, he first finds himself in the ‘courtyard’ of the Mishkan. The holy vessels that were placed in the courtyard were the laver and the copper Altar. Further inside was the “Ohel Mo’ed” – the Tent of Meeting, which consisted of two sections separated by a curtain: the “kodesh” and the “kodesh hakodoshim” – the ‘holy’ and the ‘holy of holies”. Inside the “Kodesh” there were three objects: the Incense Altar, the Shulchan of the Showbread and the Menorah. In the “inside of the inside” in the Holy of Holies there was the Aron Hakodesh and the Tablets of the Covenant.
The Rebbe explained that when a person wants to enter into the Sanctuary and he wants to be sanctified within Hashem’s holiness, he first has to wash and cleanse his hands and feet of the ‘dirt’ that attached itself to him as he was involved in the worldly matters of the public domain. The waters of the ‘kior’-laver are known as the ‘waters of tshuvah’ [Targum Yonatan ben Uziel]. On the inside every Jewish neshamah is pure and good, the worldly dirt that attaches itself to us can be removed with the washing of the hands and feet with the waters of tshuvah.
After the washing at the laver, the next object encountered in the courtyard is the Altar upon which the daily sacrifices were offered. When one enters into the domain of the holy, he is obligated to “slaughter” the animal; that is his “animal soul”. To “slaughter”, the Rabbis z”l explain, means to “draw”. The animal soul is to be drawn to the Altar – meaning that the ‘animal soul’ should be drawn to desire only that which is holy.
Then the fats and the blood were burnt on the Altar. The fats represent the delight and pleasure of the animal soul. The blood represents the passion and heat of the animal soul. The intention in burning these on the Altar is that delight, pleasure and passion should all be directed to the holy. When this is done, one can then engage in worldly mundane matters without getting overly involved in them.
The Altar itself which was made of copper on the outside and filled with earth on the inside teaches us that in order to offer the fats and the blood up to Hashem, we need to make use of two contradictory character traits. Toward the outside we need to be strong and shielded like copper; we need to be impervious to the scoffing that is hurled at the observant, and not to feel ashamed in the practice of mitzvot. At the same time we need to be simple dirt on the inside – to be humble before every person. As we say in our daily prayers, “let my soul be like dust to all.”
After completing the above preparatory services, one can then enter into the “kodesh” – the first section of the Tent of Meeting, to get involved with “tikkun haolam” – the fixing of the world. In the language of the Kabbalah this is the service of selecting the good from the dross. This work is done on two tracks- represented by the Shulchan and by the Menorah. There are those whose primary service in Tikkun Olam pertains to the Shulchan – involvement with the proper use of wealth, particularly in matters of tzedakkah and gemilut chassadim- acts of loving kindness. And there are those whose primary Tikkun Olam service is the service of the Menorah – the service of true Torah scholarship.
However in order to truly and practically engage in either of these two tracks of Tikkun Olam one must first enter into the holy words of prayer – to first connect with Hashem. The Incense Altar represents the service of prayer and thus it was the first object encountered inside the “kodesh”. Neither involvement with the mundane, nor involvement in the study of Torah can be done properly and effectively without first engaging in devout prayer.
The ultimate destination of all the above is to enter into the Kodesh Hakodoshim – the Holy of Holies; to enter into complete unification and bonding with Hashem. This is achieved through the study of ‘pnimiut haTorah” – the inner dimensions of the Torah, represented by the ‘two tablets of the Covenant’ which could be read from all sides [thus they had no ‘out-side’]. Pnimiut HaTorah opens us up to bonding and relating with Hashem on the deepest of levels. Through this bonding we can find and achieve “dveikut” in all aspects of the service of Hashem. The ‘sefer Torah’ which was inside the Aron haKodesh along with the actual tablets – “shnei luchot habris” represents finding our deep bonds with Hashem in His revealed Torah. This capability is acquired through the study of ‘pnimiut haTorah’.
Shabbos Parshat Hachodesh
This Shabbos is known as Shabbos Hachodesh, since we will have an additional reading from Shemos [Exodus] chapter 12, serving as a reminder to get ready for the holiday of Pesach.
In this passage we are given the first mitzvah that we ever received as a nation. this is the mitzvah of “Kiddush Hachodesh” – the sanctification of the new moon, the establishment of the month of Nissan as the first month of the year, as well as the commandments concerning the ‘korban Pesach’ and Pesach, all in preparation for ‘yetziat Mitzrayim’, the exodus from Egypt.
In each generation, each year, each day and each moment we are to see ourselves as having been liberated from Mitzrayim/Egypt. The reading of parshas Hachodesh is a heavenly reminder to get ready to be free, for in just a few more days we are all invited to sit at Hashem’s Seder table. It is also a divine gift and infusion of hope and faith, a heavenly inspiration to reassure us that we can and that we truly want to be free, that we can and we truly want to sit at Hashem’s table.
From Mt. Sinai to the Golden Calf to the Mishkan
Parshat Vayakheyl follows right after the story of the ‘golden calf’. As a result of having committed such a transgression a mere forty days after receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we were quite demoralized and we lost our self-confidence in our ability to return to and be close to Hashem once again.
The parsha begins as follows:
“And Moshe gathered the children of Israel and said to them, “these are the things that Hashem has commanded, to do them. Six days [a week] work shall be done, but the seventh day must be holy to you, it is a Shabbos of Shabbos to Hashem…” Moshe said to the entire congreagation of B’nai Yisrael, saying, “This is the word that Hashem has commanded: Take from your possessions a ‘t’rumah’ to Hashem.” Sh’mot 35: 1-5
We wonder why Moshe gathered us together; after all we do not find that Hashem told him to do this? And why did he choose to speak to us about Shabbos and about the building of the sanctuary, again without having been instructed to do so by Hashem!
I heard this teaching from Reb Shlomo zt”l, in the name of the Ishbitzer Rebbe zt”l. The Ishbitzer Rebbe teaches that Moshe Rabbeinu gathered us together to explain to us how it came about that we made a golden calf, to comfort us in spite of our doing so, and to tell us what we needed to know to prevent a recurrence. We are told by Moshe Rabbeinu that we made the golden calf because we did not maintain our unity! Before receiving the holy Torah at Har Sinai, we were united “as one person with one heart”. Tragically this lasted for only forty days. By making the golden calf we had caused the Shechinah to retreat from amongst us. But how did our fragmentation come about?
To convey the importance and necessity of our re-uniting Moshe Rabbeinu did not this time transmit his teachings in the usual manner, via the Kohanim and the Seventy Elders. Instead, he gathered all of us together and spoke to us in community, to realistically convey that first and foremost we must be united; to be “as one person, with one heart”.
Moshe Rabbeinu then speaks to us about the holiness of Shabbos and about the holy Mishkan sanctuary. We need to understand why Moshe Rabbeinu talks to us about these two matters in particular?
How do we restore our unity? How can we regain our self-confidence, our ‘azzut d’kedusha’ holy chutzpah, to not give up? What is the source of our unity?
Moshe Rabbeinu speaks to us, teaching us that the holy Shabbos is the source of our unity. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants to have a dwelling place here in the lowest of worlds and He gave us the task to prepare the vessel to receive the Shechinah. Moshe Rabbeinu further teaches that if we want to build a holy sanctuary for Hashem we can do so only if we are truly united, only then will the Shechinah dwell in it.
The Ishbitzer Rebbe continues to explain; one of the miracles that occurred in the building of the Mishkan was that although hundreds of people were involved in its construction, when it was completed it looked as if it had been made by one person. The Mishkan possessed an inherent unity. This was possible because miraculously all the craftspeople were inspired with a spirit of unity to work in unison and that is what made it so special and holy. By keeping Shabbos holy we are inspired by its unity, for Shabbos is the unity that permeates each one of us and allows us to be in harmony with each other.
When we are united, when we really care about one another the Shechinah dwells amongst us, and no one even desires to make any kind of golden calf. But if we are divided we [can] become idolatrous and make idols, i.e. we deify and worship division. The idols we make and idolatrous worship then divide us even further. But when we unite, when we live ‘in Shabbos’, Hashem joins us and dwells among us.
There is a ‘natural’ truth: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The vessel is greater than all its bits of clay. Then there is the additional aspect of what fills the vessel. When the Jewish people unite, the vessel of “Knesset Yisrael” – the community of Israel – is formed and then the holy Shechinah dwells in it. We are obligated not only to believe that Hashem is one, we are obligated to live Hashem’s oneness and to draw His oneness into all aspects of our lives.
When we say the Shma Yisrael, we put our hand over our eyes and close them in order to better focus on the words “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is One”. Then when we open our eyes we have to see that Hashem is One, that everyone and everything we see and don’t see, is all part of Hashem’s oneness. The truth of this concept will be fully appreciated only when Moshiach comes.
“V’atem tee-h-you lee mamlechet kohanim v’goy kadosh”. Sh’mot 19. We are commanded to be a ‘kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation’. In Vayikra Chap. 19, Hashem tells Moshe Rabbeinu to gather everyone together in order to tell the people of Israel “kedoshim tee-h-you” you shall be holy. The commentators explain that here too we all gathered together because everyone had to be there to personally hear this mitzvah that calls upon us to live a life of holiness. Many people believe that being holy and living in a holy way is possible only for a few select individuals in each generation. However the truth is that every one of us can live a life of ‘kedushah’ holiness. That is why everyone had to hear this mitzvah personally.
The Hemek Davar offers an additional explanation; the reason that everyone of us had to be present to hear this mitzvah together is that we were thereby being informed that kedushah-holiness can be found only in togetherness and unity. No matter how scrupulously you observe the mitzvot, no matter with how much ‘kavanah’ holy intention and focus you perform your mitzvot, you can be connected to holiness only if there is a real place for every Jew in your heart and soul.
As we have learned in the past that if a Sefer Torah is missing even one letter, or if one letter is damaged, the whole Sefer Torah is not kosher and may not be read from in public, becaused as explained in Chassidut, each letter represents a neshamah, and if one letter is missing, it is as if that neshamah is missing, chas v’shalom from this sefer Torah
The same is true about the Mishkan. Reb Shlomo ztz”l used to emphasize the teaching that if even only one tiny peg was missing in the Mishkan, then the Shechinah would not dwell in it. The Mishkan was constructed with the t’rumot contributions of every ‘nediv leyv’, everyone contributed generously, and when everyone’s ‘generosity of the heart’ was brought together, the Dwelling Place of the Shechinah was created.
“Olam chessed yiboneh”, the world was built with the attribute of chessed, kindness. Creation is an act of ‘chessed’. The building of the Mishkan was a re-creation of Bereishis, the creation of the world. Just as Hashem created the world with chessed, we too can create the home for Hashem, the Mishkan, only through our acts of chessed, generosity of the heart. Hashem, the One, created the many; we the many have to bring it all together to create the home for the One.
I once saw a teaching that ‘Chessed’ has the ‘gimatria’- numeric value- of 72, which equals 4×18. 18 is “chai”, representing life. 4×18=72, represents the life vitality which comes through each of the four letters of Hashem’s Name… ‘Yud’- ‘Hey’ – ‘Vav’ – ‘Hey’. All together 72 = ‘chessed’ [‘Chet’=8 + ‘Samech’=60 + Daled= 4 = total 72. By doing acts of loving kindness we merit to bring divine life energy into the world.
From Rav Kook
VaYakhel: Art and Creation
“Moses told the Israelites: ‘God has selected Betzalel … and has filled him with a divine spirit of wisdom, insight and knowledge in all craftsmanship.'” (Ex. 35:30-31)
What exactly were these gifts of wisdom, insight and knowledge that God bestowed to Betzalel? The Sages wrote that the master craftsman knew the very secrets of creation. Betzalel knew how to “combine the letters with which the heavens and the earth were created,” and used this esoteric knowledge to build the Tabernacle (Berachot 55a).
We find that King Solomon mentioned the very same three qualities when describing the creation of the universe:
“God founded the earth in wisdom ; He established the heavens in insight. With His knowledge the depths opened, and the skies dripped dew.” (Proverbs 3:4)
What is the difference between wisdom, insight, and knowledge? How do they apply both to the Creator and to the artist?
Chochmah, Binah and Da’at
Wisdom (chochmah) is needed for designing the basic structure. In the creation of the world, this refers to the laws of nature governing the universe and guaranteeing its continued existence. The amazing balance of natural forces, the finely-tuned ecosystem of life — this is the underlying wisdom of creation. In art, chochmah fulfills a similar function, determining the work’s underlying structure. Using wisdom, the artist decides on the overall composition, the balance of light and shade, color and perspective, and so on.
Insight (binah) refers to the future vision or final purpose. The Hebrew word binah is related to the word ‘to build’ (“boneh”). The emphasis is not on the current reality, but on the process of gradually building and progressing towards the final, complete form. Therefore, King Solomon ascribed chochmah to forming the earth, and binah to establishing the heavens. The foundation of the earth — its current physical structure — is based on wisdom. Insight, on the other hand, corresponds to the heavens, the spiritual content that indicates the final form.
What is binah with regard to art? The spiritual aspect of art is the interest and wonderment that a master artist can awaken through his work. Betzalel was able to imbue the Tabernacle with a magnificent splendor, thus inspiring the observer with a profound sense of reverence and holiness. The sacred beauty of his work elevated the emotions to a majestic image of God’s grandeur.
The third attribute, Knowledge (da’at), refers to thorough attention to all details. “With His knowledge … the skies dripped dew.” The rain and dew were created with da’at. They sustain every plant, every blade of grass, every creature. God created the universe not only with its fundamental laws of nature (chochmah) and spiritual direction (binah), but also with meticulous care for all its myriad details — da’at.
Attention towards details is similarly important in art. The artist should make sure that the finest details match the overall composition and heighten the work’s emotional impact.
Betzalel knew the letters of Creation — he knew the secret wisdom used to create the universe. With his gifts of chochmah, binah and da’at, Betzalel was able to ensure perfection in the Tabernacle’s structure, vision and details. His exquisite Tabernacle became a suitable vessel to contain God’s Holy Presence, completing the sanctity of Israel by enabling their special closeness to God.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. II, pp. 263-264)
Copyright © 2006 by Chanan Morrison
From Rav Kook
VaYakhel: Two Layers of Wisdom
Two spun coverings stretched out across the roof of the Tabernacle (Mishkan). The inner covering was a beautiful work of fine linen and wool dyed indigo, purple, crimson. The outer covering, on the other hand, was a simpler affair, made solely of goat-wool. One might think that the magnificent inner covering was the greater of the two. Yet the Talmud points out that the outer wool covering required greater wisdom to make. How do we know this?
The Torah describes the women involved in spinning the multi- colored covering as being ‘wise-hearted.’ Regarding the simpler, outer covering, on the other hand, the Torah indicates that the women utilized a special, sublime wisdom: “the women whose heart uplifted them in wisdom …” (Ex. 35:25).
What was this special wisdom? According to the Talmud, the wool was washed and spun — while it was still on the goats (Shabbat 99).
Two Forms of Wisdom
The details of the Tabernacle construction correspond to the configuration of the universe — physically, and especially spiritually. The Sages compared the building of the Mishkan to the creation of heaven and earth.
Rav Kook explained that these two Tabernacle coverings relate to two separate layers of sublime wisdom, the basis for spiritual light and holiness in the world. The first form of wisdom is abstract and general in nature; the second is practical and detailed. The abstract wisdom shines brilliantly with the multiple facets of the intellect and the varied hues of the imagination. This general wisdom deals with inner, sublime matters, and thus corresponds with the colorful, inner covering.
The practical wisdom, on the other hand, would appear to be a simpler matter, serving primarily to protect and guard the abstract concepts of the inner, hidden wisdom. But in truth, the wisdom of practical application of abstract principles is deep and rare. While spiritual abstractions may be revealed through normal prophecy and divine inspiration, the eternal Torah of deeds and mitzvot was revealed to the world only by means of Moses’ unique prophetic vision.
“The women whose heart uplifted them in wisdom.” These women were gifted with the innermost wisdom. By virtue of its profound depth, they were able to elevate the entire heart, all of life, all senses and emotions, all actions and all deeds. Their wisdom reached the level of “they spun (on) the goats.” Even the most mischievous, base forms of life — as represented by the goat — were bound and tied to the supernal light of eternity.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV, pp. 245-246)
VaYakhel: Stars in the Tabernacle
There is an interesting tradition about the beautiful tapestries covering the Tabernacle. The Tabernacle covering was comprised of ten large tapestries, with patterns of cherubs woven into them. These colorful tapestries were sewn together in two sets of five. The two sections were then fastened together with fifty gold fasteners.
We know that the structure of the Tabernacle corresponded to the entire universe. What did these metal fasteners represent?
Like the Stars
The Talmud (Shabbat 99a) tells us that from inside the Tabernacle, the gold fasteners would sparkle against the background of the rich tapestries like stars twinkling in the sky.
This analogy of fasteners to the stars requires further examination. Stars and constellations represent powerful natural forces in the universe, influencing and controlling our world. “Good are the luminaries that our God has created … He granted them strength and power, to be dominant within the world.” (from the Sabbath morning prayers)
The Tabernacle fasteners, however, indicate another function of the stars.
The function of the fasteners was to hold the tapestries together. In fact, they emphasized the overall unity of the Tabernacle. By securing the two sets of tapestries together, they would “make the tabernacle one” (Ex. 36:13).
Holding the Universe Together
In general, the design of the Tabernacle reflected the structure of the universe and its underlying unity. For example, the tabernacle building consisted of wooden beams with pegs that slid into silver sockets (the adanim). The precise interlocking of the Tabernacle’s supporting base of adanim with the upright beams emphasized the synchronization of the universe’s foundations with the diversified forces and mechanisms that regulate and develop the world. Insight into this tightly-bound relationship allows us to recognize that everything is the work of the Creator, Who unites all aspects of creation in His sublime Oneness.
For all of their grandeur and apparent autonomy, the true function of the stars is to act like the Tabernacle fasteners. They hold together the great canopy of the cosmos, in accordance with the Divine plan of creation. Like the sparkling fasteners, the stars “are filled with luster and radiate brightness” on their own accord. Yet their true function is to bind together the forces of the world, making the universe one.
(adapted from Ein Eyah vol. IV p. 245)
Before this blog, I had a difficult time relating to the description of the Mishkan. Now I am entranced by the images and the teachings in this part of the Torah.
One image that stands out for me is from Rabbi Jill Hammer. In the Jewish Book of Days she says that the tribe associated with the month of Adar is the tribe of Naftali. Adar is when we read about the building of the Mishkan. Reb Jill says that the Midrash, Exodus Rabbah 94:8, says that the tribe of Naftali wove the the curtains of the Mishkan. This part of the Torah is about community building. I imagine the tribe of Naftali, most likely the women, (see Rav Kook’s teaching) weaving the threads of the sacred curtains representing the threads of all of us, our appearances, temperments, and contributions to make the cloth of community.
From Reb Sholom Brodt for the year 5770
Shkalim, Zachor, Parah and Hachodesh
These are the four additional Torah readings of the last few weeks, that read in preparation for the establishment of the Mishkan and the holiday of Pessach. The names and the content of these four ‘parshiot’ provide us with much guidance for returning to the home of our souls.
The Mishkan is called Mishkan haEydut – the Mishkan of Testimony. Rashi explains:
The Mishkan of Testimony: So-called because it bears witness for Yisrael that G-d pardoned them for the deed of the [Golden] Calf, for [through the Mishkan] He rested His Shechinah among them.
Tragically our Beit Hamikdash has been lying in ruin for close to 2000 years. We hardly have a sense of what life was like and would be like with the Shechinah’s presence in our midst. It is our deepest yearning, we pray for it three times a day: “Return in mercy to Yerushalayim Your city and dwell therein as You have promised.” (the daily Amiddah)
We also strive for the rebuilding of Hashem’s dwelling place as we are commanded: “And they shall make for Me a Mishkan and I shall dwell in their midst.” As we have learned on numerous occasions, this is both a communal and personal command. Each one of us individually is commanded to transform our beings into a dwelling place for the holy Shechinah.
Parshat Shkalim teaches us to contribute generously to the Mishkan [as we have learned in the last few weeks]. All contributions of material goods were to be made with a ‘generous heart’ – Hashem desires contributions of the heart; He desires our hearts.
The word ‘shkalim’ is the plural form of ‘shekel’ – a coin consisting of a certain weight of silver. In the infinitive ‘lishkol’ is to weigh; to take. The first step in making a contribution toward the building of Hashem’s dwelling place is to weigh, to consider what we are about to do, why we wish to do it and how best to do it. Consider whether our actions are nourishing or starving our souls. Consider the soul’s loneliness and its yearning for union with Hashem. May we be compassionate and generously nourish our souls.
Parshat Zachor teaches us to beware of being affected by the evil dangers of Amalek – the dangers of doubting the worthiness of our good deeds and of serving Hashem in a cold manner. We must do every mitzvah with love and passion and even when we don’t manage to do so, we must believe and completely trust that every one of our ‘contributions’, even the smallest of contributions is worthy and valuable.
Parshat Parah teaches us that in order to enter Hashem’s dwelling place we must be tahor – purified of anger, of the anger of death. The Talmud teaches when one wants to be tahor he is given help from heaven. Hashem desires and is waiting to help us live true life. We must first ‘come forward’ to be purified and then Hashem will purify us.
Parshat Hachodesh teaches the importance of renewal. Reb Shlomo zt”l taught that a ‘neshamah person’ is always new. King David, concludes the Book of Psalms with this verse: “Let every ‘neshamah’ – soul, praise the LORD. Hallelujah! (Tehillim 150:6) The Rabbis explained the verse as follows: praise Hashem for every single breath. The word ‘neshamah’- soul, is the same word as ‘neshimah’- breath. A healthy living person breathes and doesn’t stop breathing, he doesn’t say “I already took a breath, why do I need another one?” At every moment Hashem is breathing new life into our nostrils; and we in turn must be fresh and new at all times, even when doing a mitzvah for the hundredth or thousandth time we must strive to do it as if this is the very first time.
From Rav DovBer Pinson
Week’s Energy for Parshas Vayakhel
Rav DovBer Pinson
Doing from a place of Being
This week’s Torah reading opens with Moshe/Moses gathering together the entire community and instructing them regarding the building of the Mishkan/Temple.
The reading begins with the words “Moshe gathered the whole community… to assemble, and said… These are the things that Hashem commanded to make…Six days work may be done, but on the seventh day (Shabbas) you shall have sanctity (rest from work).” Moshe continues regarding the offerings that were given to build the Mishkan/ Temple in the desert; “every generous hearted person shall bring …gold, silver, and copper.” (35:1;5)
Moshe has already received the detailed instructions as to the building of the mishkan. Now he assembles the whole community to relay to them the building plans for the mishkan. Before he begins the construction details however, he first tells the entire assemble about the day of Shabbos.
Creation begins with work, “six days” and concludes with Shabbos, rest. Adam and Eve however, were created on the cusp of Shabbos, and their reality began with Shabbos and continued with the work week.
Moshe is imparting a deep and lasting truth to the assembled people.
Before we can go out into the world and create, we must first come from a place of Shabbos.
The place of Shabbos is a state of ‘being’ versus a state of ‘doing.’ An oasis in time, wherein we can simply exist, revealing our innermost expression of self, unrelated to our work week titles and job descriptions. A time in which we identify ourselves by our essence, rather than external expressions or labels.
The building of the Mishkan represents the work that we do throughout the week. The creation of the mishkan required participation, individuality and creativity. The final structure was a result of the collective creative output of the nation – every capable man and woman participating in its creation.
In our state of ‘doing’, expressing our individual creativity and prowess, we risk arrogance – perhaps feeling that ‘my work is more important than yours’, or worse still – ‘I am better than you.’
So before Moshe relays to them the instructions of building the Mishkan he “gathers together the entire community” and “assembles” them. The gathering together is symbolic, as Moshe is teaching them about unity within a group, about how when they are gathered together they are all equal.
In work, in doing, in producing, in creativity we are all different, everyone has something unique to contribute, and one person may “do” better than another. Yet, in ‘non-doing,’ in resting, in being, we recognize that at our essence we are equal.
This then is the lesson that Moshe imparts. The foundation of our ‘doing’, of building a Mishkan, of carving our own space in this world, should be founded on the principle of Shabbos, the equalizing state of our ‘beingness.’
Our Doing must come from our place of Being.
What we do, and create, should be founded on who we are.
And who are we?
We are all, at our very essence, a spark of the Infinite Divine Oneness
This awareness ensures that all the wonderful and amazing things that we will accomplish in our Doing, will be deeply rooted in our awareness of our essential self, the Divine spark that enlivens each and every one of us.
The Energy of the Week:
Doing from a place of BeingThis week’s Torah reading imbues us with the energy of Beingness, even as we create and express our individuality in a myriad of ways.
We take the energy of Shabbos, of just ‘Being’ and draw it into our life’s work.
We recognize ourselves as being part of an equal collective – and within that group, having our own unique abilities and life path. Therefore contributing to our utmost capabilities and still remaining rooted and humble in our essential self.
As we move into the ‘doing’ reality this week, we take the life force of Shabbos with us – imbuing all our accomplishments with a deep sense of our true self, where our doing is rooted in our being.
From Rabbi Simon Jacobson
From Rabbi James Stone Goodman
Gathered Up 2011
First holiness of time
keep the Sabbath
then subdue the space
build the sanctuary.
And everyone who excelled in ability
and everyone whose spirit moved
came, bringing to God an offering
for the work of the Tent of Meeting
and for all its service. [Ex.35:21]
what is lifted up
if we are lifted up
every gift is good –
there will be plenty of money
maybe too much.
There can be too much money.
at the beginning of the enterprise
we brought too much money.
The stuff we had was sufficient [Ex.36:7]
and our teacher asked us not to bring any more.
There is always the temptation
even when doing the holy work
to bring too much stuff.
Enough, our teacher said,
– bring your bones.
O holy Shabbes Inspiration Vayakhel
D [1/2] E-flat  F  G
Each Shabbes is associated with a maqam
From Melissa Carpenter
Vayakheil: Seven Lamps
While Aaron is at the foot of Mount Sinai making a golden calf, Moses is on top of the mountain receiving divine instruc-tions for making the sanctuary God wants. In last week’s Torah portion, Moses descends and destroys the calf and the people who worshiped it. In this week’s Torah portion, Vayakheil (“And he assembled”), Moses calls together the surviving people and gives them God’s instructions for making the sanctuary. These include God’s description of the lamp-stand (menorah), and God’s choice of Betzaleil as the master craftsman.
Moses said to the children of Israel: See, God has called by name Betzaleil … He (God) filled him with a spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in every creative skill. (Exodus/Shemot 35:30-31)
chochmah = wisdom, knowledge of a craft, thinking in terms of unity
tevunah = understanding, discernment, insight, thinking in terms of distinctions
da-at = knowledge, direct knowledge (either sensory or intuitive)
He (Betzaleil) made the lamp-stand of pure gold … He make its seven lamps and its tongs and its fire-pans of pure gold. (Exodus/Shemot 37:17, 23)
The last time I wrote about the gold lamp-stand, in my blog on January 30 on Terumah: Waking Up, I focused on why God tells Moses to make the lamp-stand like an almond tree. Now it’s time to ask why it has seven lamps.
Of course there are many theories. One is that the seven lamps stand for the seven days of creation at the beginning of the Torah. The seventh day is the sabbath/Shabbat, when God rested from the creative work. At the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Moses first tells the people to do their own creative work (malachah) on six days, but make the seventh day holy through a complete rest for God. Only after reminding them about this rule does Moses begin to describe how they will create a sanctuary for God.
If the seven lamps reflect the seven days of creation, we also need to look at the master craftsman who creates them: Betzaleil. Classic commentaries (from the 5th-century Tanchuma on) say that Moses could not visualize the lamp-stand from God’s original description. But Betzaleil could.
What gave him this ability? The Torah says God filled Betzaleil with chochmah, tevunah, and da-at. In Kabbalah, chochmah/wisdom, binah/discernment (from the same root as tevunah), and da-at/knowledge are three of the ten sefirot (divine powers; facets of God’s emanation, which creates the universe). Chochmah, binah, and da-at are the three highest sefirot accessible to human beings, containing the most divine energy.
Once I noticed that God fills Betzaleil with the top three sefirot, I looked for the other seven. And since divine emanation is so often symbolized by light, I thought of the seven lamps in a row across the top of the golden lamp-stand.
It’s not easy to decide which of the seven lower sefirah corresponds to which lamp. I’d say that the three lamps closer to the Holy of Holies containing the ark represent the middle triad of sefirot: chessed/kindness, gevurah/discipline, and tiferet/harmony. The three lamps on the other side, closer to the entrance and the altar for animal sacrifices, would represent the lower triad of sefirot: netzchak/endurance, hod/beauty in physical movement, and yesod/ego. That leaves the middle lamp for malchut/kingdom, also called shechinah. Shechinah is the place of divine emanation of our whole physical universe, and the spirit of God in our universe. And the shechinah comes closest to us on the seventh day, the sabbath/Shabbat!
Still, speculations about specific correspondences between lamps and sefirot are not as important as the idea that God’s blueprint for the lamp-stand calls for not one lamp, but seven. The orthodox 19th-century Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch noted that a single lamp would imply a one-sided spirit of service. Seven lamps imply that the spirits of those who serve God must have many different aspects.
Betzaleil, the master craftsman, was filled with not one but three different aspects of the divine, three different sefirot: wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. And in the same verse, the Torah says God filled him with ruach Elohim, which means a spirit of God … or a spirit of gods, in the plural. Elohim is the word for God that appears first in the story of creation; but some Kabbalists believe the unknowable God created the universe through “gods”, through various divine powers emanating from the One God; in other words, through the sefirot.
Reading about the lamp-stand in the sanctuary can remind us that we serve God by lighting all the lamps of our spirits. We can move toward holiness—and spread enlightenment—through discipline as well as through loving-kindness, through individual egos as well as through harmony.
May we be blessed to kindle all of our lamps.
From Rav Kook
Vayakheil: The Dual Nature of the Tabernacle
An obvious question strikes anyone reading the portions of Vayakheil and Pekudei. Why did the Torah need to repeat all of the details of how the Tabernacle was built? All of these matters were already described at great length in Terumah and Tetzaveh, which record God’s command to build the Mishkan.
Command and Execution
Rav Kook frequently spoke of the divide between the path and the final goal. We tend to rush through our lives, chasing after goals – even worthwhile goals – with little regard for the path and the means. The path is seen as a stepping stone, of no importance in its own right.
With these two sets of Torah portions Terumah-Tetzaveh and Vayakheil-Pekudei, we observe a similar divide, between the command to build and the actual construction. This is the difference between study and action, between theory and practice.
Just as our world emphasizes goals at the expense of means, so too it stresses deed and accomplishment at the expense of thought and study. But a more insightful perspective finds a special significance in the path, in the abstract theory, in the initial command.
The Sages imparted a remarkable insight: “Great is Torah study, for it leads to action” (Kiddushin 40b). This statement teaches that Torah study – the theory, the path – is preferable to its apparent goal, mitzvah performance. Torah study lead us to good deeds; but it has an intrinsic worth above and beyond its value as a way to know how to act.
The Talmud discusses whether a blessing should be recited when constructing a sukkah booth. After all, the Torah commands us to build a sukkah – “The holiday of booths you shall make for yourselves” (Deut. 16:13). Nonetheless, the rabbis determined that no blessing is recited when building the sukkah, only when living in it during the Succoth holiday. Why not?
Maimonides explained that when there is a command to construct an object for the purpose of fulfilling a mitzvah, one only recites a blessing on the final, ultimate mitzvah (see Hilchot Berachot 11:8). Thus we do not recite a blessing when preparing tzitzit or when building a sukkah.
According to this line of reasoning, if Torah study were only a means to know how to keep mitzvot, no blessing would be recited over studying Torah. The fact that we do recite blessings over Torah study indicates that this study is a mitzvah in its own right, independent of its function as a preparation to fulfill other mitzvot.
These two aspects of Torah may be described as Divine influence traversing in opposite directions, like the angels in Jacob’s dream. The Torah’s fulfillment through practical mitzvot indicates a shefa that flows from above to below, the realization of God’s elevated will, ratzon Hashem, in the lower physical realm. The intrinsic value of Torah study, on the other hand, indicates spiritual movement in the opposite direction. It ascends from below to above – our intellectual activity without expression in the physical world, our Torah thoughts without practical application.
The repetition in the account of the Mishkan reflects this dichotomy. The two sets of Torah readings are divided between command and execution, study and deed.
And on a deeper level, the repetition expresses the dual function of the Mishkan. On the practical level, it was a central location for offering korbanot. The Mishkan served as a center dedicated to holy actions. But on the abstract, metaphysical level, the Mishkan was a focal point for God’s Presence, a dwelling place for His Shekhinah. “They shall make for Me a Temple, and I will dwell (ve-shekhanti) among them” (Ex. 25:8).
Like the converse influences of Torah, one descending and one ascending, each of the Tabernacle’s functions indicated an opposite direction. Its construction, the dedication of physical materials and talents to holy purposes, and the offering of korbanot to God, flowed upwards – an ascent from the physical world below to the heavens above. The indwelling of the Shekhinah, on the other hand, was a descending phenomenon from above to below, as God’s Divine Presence resided in the physical universe.
(Adapted from Shemuot HaRe’iyah, Vayakheil-Pekudei (1931))
From the American Jewish World Service
Rachel Farbiarz. 2011
In Parshat Vayakhel the Children of Israel built the Tabernacle. The project demanded of Israel formidable helpings of both creative energy and generosity. In the punishing desert, the people were expected to furnish a marvelous array of gold, silver, bronze, linens, indigo, hides, oils, incense and precious stones.1 And from these gifts, they were to carve, spin, cut, rivet, embroider, weave and fashion the Sanctuary’s sacral architecture and furnishings.
That such an effort could be successfully undertaken in the desert was extraordinary enough. That it be executed by a mass of recently-freed slaves—who, while well-accustomed to hard labor, were untutored in skilled craft—is understood as nothing less than miraculous.2 This preternatural ingenuity is most plainly embodied in Bezalel, the man specially named by the Almighty to lead the construction efforts. A creative genius, Bezalel was “filled [ ] with a spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in every task.”3
The capstone of the Divine spirit that filled the accomplished craftsman was not, however, his mastery of goldsmithing or his way with joinery. It was, instead, his ability to teach others, as the parshah informs: God “has given in his heart to instruct [.]”4 Commentator Robert Alter notes the singular significance of this gift, observing that while Canaanite and Greek myth both venerated a “craftsman god; here, instead the Lord inspires a human being with the skill, or ‘wisdom’ of the craft as well as with the ability to administer the project.”5
It fell to Bezalel then to transform his fellow Israelites—these willing, but unable, manual laborers—into master craftsmen. To do so, he was surely endowed with those qualities so palpable in great teachers: He had to convey instruction plainly and engagingly, to demand excellence while exuding patience. And most critically, Bezalel needed to instill in his workmen-pupils a powerful sense of confidence that this awesome project was within their grasp.
Perhaps, then, this is the Tabernacle’s ultimate glory—that the process of its construction helped transform a mass of unskilled, uneducated slaves into a people that could make something awesome with its own hands. This was an effort that fashioned not only altar and laver, menorah and ephod—but dignity. It illuminated for people who were dependent on manna from heaven, water from a rock and protection from a cloud that God, in turn, relied upon them to build the Divine dwelling on earth. And it was Bezalel, with his gift of guidance, who shepherded the fledgling nation through this ennobling transformation.
In our times too, we can recognize the precious Bezalels who cultivate dignity and transform lives by imparting a skill, a trade—something of which to be proud. These are the people and organizations who know that teaching a man to fish does more than feed a person for a lifetime: It incubates a dignity that nurtures a different kind of sustenance.
One can see this dynamic unfolding in the work of organizations like Women for Women International (WFWI). WFWI helps women who have survived through conflict and violence to develop skills and resources that will enable them to live stable, self-sufficient lives. The core component of these programs is job training: From canning dates in Iraq to tailoring in Rwanda and gem-cutting in Afghanistan, WFWI’s efforts embolden marginalized women to become integral and powerful forces in their families, local communities and broader civil societies.6
Such a transformation is borne out, for instance, by those participating in WFWI’s training programs in Democratic Republic of Congo. While over 80 percent of these women report an improvement in their economic situations, even greater numbers report that they are now actively participating in key household decisions and have gained knowledge of their legal rights. Ninety percent of participants go on to train and mentor other community women using the skills they have acquired. In the words of Lucienne, a single mother of three who spent months as a sex-slave to rebel soldiers: “Joining the program has been a salvation…my life has changed and my children are healthy. I recovered confidence through the training.”7
It takes a special kind of focus, perseverance and patience to cultivate such transformational confidence. It is a role for which not even Moses Rabbeinu—“Our Teacher”—his nerves too often stripped by the nation of not-yet-transformed-slaves, seems to have been cut out. Today, God may not call out the names of those extraordinary people who labor and thrive in this challenging work as the Divine did for Bezalel.8 It is, instead, our duty to single them out for our admiration, and most of all, our support.
1 Exodus 35: 6-9.
2 See, for example, Nachmanides on Exodus 35:21.
3 Exodus 35: 30-31.
4 Exodus 35:34.
5 Alter, Robert. The Five Books of Moses. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2004. p. 517, fn. 34.
6 WFWI, “What We Do.” http://www.womenforwomen.org/programs-supporting-women/programs-for-helping-women.php
7 WFWI, “Taking a Stand Against Violence: The Women of DR Congo.” http://www.womenforwomen.org/global-initiatives-helping-women/help-women-congo.php
8 Exodus 35:30
Reb Miles Krassen/Moshe Aharon
Va-Yaqhel 5771 According to SeferAz Yashir Moshe (MetaTorah)
Moshe calls together a harmonious community that includes all factions… (Ex. 35:1)
The Sanctuary (Mishqan) that Moshe calls on all of us to participate in constructing, is a portable mini-Temple. As such it has to represent and include every single essential element present within the full spectrum of the Shekhinah Herself. Every truly sacred Temple whether portable or stationary is a fractal reflection on its own level of the Shekhinah who is Everything, from the very least all the way to Eyn Sof (The ALL). We need such sacred constructions because our little eyes are too weak and easily distracted and cannot recognize directly that we are already blessed to be present within a divinely constructed Sanctuary, the Earth Herself, Goddess Gaea.
We also need a scaled-down microcosmic model to remind us that our own bodies, themselves fashioned in the “Divine Image,” have the potential to become sanctuaries, if we can master the Yoga of harmonizing all our energy systems with the deepest wisdom of the Heart, bilevavi mishqan evneh (“I’m building a sanctuary in my Heart”).
Through studying the construction and composition of this portable Sanctuary we can learn a lot about what we need to do in order to become ourselves a portable sanctuary that embodies and transports Holiness throughout time and space. (See Reb Zalman’s translation of Ana Be-Koach.)
And here we need to recognize the essential difference between a portable Sanctuary (Mishqan) and a stationary Temple (Beyt Ha-Miqdash). The Temple can only come later after all the sacred battles relevant to a specific location (Milchemot HaShem) have been won, i.e., after everything has been eliminated that obscures and stands in the way of realizing the Shekhinah directly as Reality Herself right in that very place.
Many of us would like to jump over time and “re-build” the Temple without first constructing, creating and becoming a portable Sanctuary ourselves. But such a notion is inherently reactionary and regressive, because by merely looking backwards to where the Shekhinah has already been we cannot help Her reach where She still needs to go, ( mythically, the Third Temple). To get THERE from HERE we always have to continue moving forward in order to master the construction of a portable Sanctuary. We have to become a sacred chariot (Merkavah) that can embody and transport Holiness throughout all reaches and stages of time and space. (“The Fathers and Mothers are the Chariot”)
The appeal of the “leap-frog beyond time and space” is powerful, because it appears to enable us to leap over and defy the fundamentally suffering nature of embodied experience. But it is as illusory and unsustainable as any other limited fantasy model that obscures and separates the “two partzufim” of Reality that are essentially inseparable. (Qudsha Berikh Hu u- Shekhinteh.) Any “Absolute” that is not sustained by the energy of conscious suffering within Time and Space is itself fated to fade away. (See what Gurdjieff says about the Absolute and merciless Heropass in All and Everything.) So, the Shekhinah wants and needs us here to sustain and feed her.
How we feed and sustain the Shekhinah is a matter of scale and proportion.Since most of us cannot even begin to comprehend the Shekhinah as Whole, we need to work with limited fractal models that on their own scale reflect the Totality and that means coming together on some level in the construction of a fractal Mishqan. But, regardless of the level or the scale, whether as embodied individual, family, tribe, nation, multi-national, or globally, within time and space the sacred struggles that feed and nourish the Shekhinah, the sacrificial efforts we must make to sustain holiness on the Earth and in the Universe—miLeCHeMot HaVaYaH— the “Lechem of Being,” Divine Bread—cannot be avoided. We must provide HER with food for HER sustenance.
And here is where the problem arises that the archetypal meta-Moshe addresses. The nourishing struggles we need to offer as Prasad, require of us discrimination and conscience. On the micro-Mishqan scale that means honestly acknowledging and addressing aspects of us that require refinement, however painful. From the perspective of the larger vehicles, more expansive forms of the macro-Mishqan, this same sense of justice and conscience has also to be refined and expressed. These “struggles” are unavoidable and essential for creating, spreading, and sustaining holiness on the Earth.
But here is the problem. While the conscious struggles rooted in conscience are not only required and quintessentially human, humanity on its own level cannot succeed in “bringing Mashiach,” the redeeming feature. The reason is that we have one quintessentially human flaw that makes even our best efforts as futile as Sysiphus. As long as this chief human feature is not recognized and transcended, regardless of how “right” we may be in our expression and perceptions of conscience and “justice,” we are bound to fail every time in our efforts to bring about whatever we may think is “right.” That fatal flaw is Schadenfreude, the pathological pleasure we humans experience in the face of someone else’s suffering. Unfortunately, this dubious pleasure greatly increases the more we think somebody “really deserves it.”
But no matter how terrible we may think someone else’s karma is, there is no one who is outside the reach of the All-Embracing outreach of the Thirteen Arms of the Shekhinah’s Pure Compassion (Thirteen Middot of Rachamim). This very teaching is explicit in the midrash that is repeated at every Passover Seder in the Haggadah that tells us how the Shekhinah rebuked the Israelites for celebrating the drowning of their former oppressors who died while pursuing the Israelites into the Reed Sea. (“My people are dying and you are cheering?!?!”) It is one thing to celebrate the unconditional good fortune of being the beneficiary of Divine Grace. But Schadenfreude completely undermines the merit of any such celebration and guarantees that we will “lose it” again regardless of how high a level we may have reached.
And that is why our sages teach us that when it comes to conflict and opposition, the only kind that provides sustainance for the Shekhinah is a machloqet le-shem shamayim: when we express our differences in support of Heaven’s interests. But differences cannot be expressed for Heaven’s interests as long as one is not rooted in the All-Embracing outreach of the Thirteen Arms of the Shekhinah’s Pure Compassion (Thirteen Middot of Rachamim) which exclude no one. As long as we hate someone and rejoice in their downfall, no matter how much we believe “they really deserve it,” we can know for certain that our struggle is not a machloqet le-shem shamayim and our “righteous” efforts will fail to provide sustainance for the Shekhinah.
The archetypal meta-Moshe who alone can put all the pieces together because “He” is rooted in unlimited compassion is the Divine Power calling on all of us to come together in the construction of every level of Mishqan that can feed the Shekinah by enabling holiness to move freely through all dimensions of time and space reaching everywhere, everything, and everyone.
May it be so. May it be so.
Received and faithfully transmitted by
(The highest level is recognizing directly and clearly the absolutely limitless and all-encompassing energy of pure rachamim that is extended and includes all beings without exception. If one doesn’t attain this level of realization, regardless of how many high attainments and merits one gains for oneself, it will still be possible to “completely lose it” in some circumstance or another. Only the consciousness that is rooted in and permeated by all-encompassing rachamim can manifest critically as a machloqet le-shem shamayyim and thus have qiyyum.)
Reb Sholom Brodt
From Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan
Vayakhel-Pekudei: Wisdom, understanding, and Knowledge.
From Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
Shabbat Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei /
March 17, 2012 / 23 Adar 5772
By: Rabbi Gail Labovitz
Associate Professor of Rabbinic Literature
Torah Reading: Exodus 35:1 – 40:38
Maftir: Numbers 19:1-22
Haftarah Reading: Ezekiel 36:16-38
A number of commentators have observed that there is an apparent logical problem in the opening of this week’s parashah. The opening verses of Exodus, Chapter 35, are as follows:
א) ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אלהם אלה הדברים אשר צוה ה’ לעשת אתם
ב) ששת ימים תעשה מלאכה וביום השביעי יהיה לכם קדש שבת שבתון לה’ כל העשה בו מלאכה יומת
ג) לא תבערו אש בכל משבתיכם ביום השבת
1Now Moshe assembled the entire community of the Children of Israel and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. 2For six days work is to be done, but on the seventh day, it will be holy for you, a Sabbath of complete rest for the Lord; all who do work on it shall be put to death. 3Do not kindle any fire throughout your settlements on the day of the Sabbath.
Having assembled the people to hear the most recent commands of God, Moshe gives the people the fundamental law of Shabbat, the prohibition on productive labor during that day. The problem is this: first Moshe says of this law that it is something “the Lord has commanded you to do” – but the nature of Shabbat, especially as described here, is epitomized by not doing (not doing work, not kindling fire). Nor is this the only time this apparent strange use of language appears in reference to the Sabbath in the Torah; similar usages appear in last week’s parashah, in Exodus 31:16, or in Deuteronomy 5:15. The former of these is especially interesting because it contains two words for following the laws of the Sabbath, not only “to do/make” (לעשות), but also “to observe/guard” (לשמור), which seems to be much more accurate to what Sabbath observance actually is. As the medieval commentator Ibn Ezra succinctly sums up the problem in his commentary to Exodus 31:16, “והשביתה איננה מעשה”, “But resting is not an active deed!”
One possible solution to our conundrum is that the “do” of this commandment refers to the doing of the six days of the week: “For six days work is to be done.” That is, work during the week is as much a commandment as rest is on the Sabbath; it is a commandment to be a productive and active participant in the workings of the world and the community. Or, if we want to stick a little more closely to the context in Exodus 35, the command might be read as a directive particularly regarding the building of the Tabernacle, which occupies much of what follows in this parashah (not to mention several of the parshiyot preceding this one). Even though it is a great and important commandment to build the tabernacle, that commandment only applies for six days of the week, and does not supersede the Sabbath. Even the building of the tabernacle, despite its importance, must cease for one day each week.
But these answers don’t necessarily work for the other contexts in which Shabbat is described as something that is done, so the problem remains. Another possibility is a variant of the first idea above. That is, perhaps the work is indeed the work of the other six days of the week, but more specifically the work that prepares us for the rest of Shabbat: making sure our food is cooked and our lights are lit and all the things we need are ready ahead of time, precisely so that we will not need to do that work on the Sabbath (this is the resolution given by Ibn Ezra, among others).
There are, not surprisingly, yet other suggestions in the midrashic and commentary literature, but I will encourage you to seek them out on your own rather than overwhelm you with an extended list. Instead, I’d now like to note one commentary that reads the verses in a rather different way, a way that I believe then yields an especially beautiful observation about what should happen on Shabbat and how it should be observed. The comment comes from a work called Panim Yafot” (The Beautiful Face), by R. Pinhas Horowitz, an 18th century Polish rabbi. He writes:
ואפשר לומר דהיינו דכתיב ויקהל משה את כל עדת ב”י ואמרו במדרש [ילק”ש ויקהל ת”ח] שהזהיר אותם לעשות קהלות בכל השבתות, היינו להקהל ולהתחבר באחדות האמיתי
And it is possible to say that this is what (is the meaning of what) is written, “And Moshe assembled the entire community of the Children of Israel” – it says in midrash [Yalkut Shimoni, Vayakhel] that he directed them to make assemblies on every Shabbat, that is, to assemble to unite in true oneness.
While he doesn’t quite say this explicitly, here is how I read – or perhaps it is my drasha on –what R. Horowitz is saying. The matter hinges on how we understand the words “these…things in verse 1, “These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do.” What “things” are being referred to here? Our inclination so far has been to read these words as anticipating what comes next – that is, we would punctuate as follows: “These are the things…: For six days…” What is in verse 2 explains the meaning of the ambiguous “things in verse 1. But another possibility is to read them back to what preceded them: “And Moshe assembled the entire community of the Children of Israel and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do.” Moshe teaches by demonstration. When he says “These…things,” he refers back to what he has just done, i.e., gathering the people.
How do we “do” Shabbat? What positive act do we take to “make Shabbat”? We assemble. We gather together in community. Shabbat does not happen, actively or otherwise, only at the level of individual Jews, each refraining from his or her ordinary occupations and activities. It is not truly Shabbat until each of those Jews uses that freed up time to join together, in harmony, with other Jews: to pray, to learn, to eat, to talk (and yes, to love).
Donating Shekhinah (2012/5772)
Kol nediv libo yivieha et terumat HaShem – Shemot/Exodus 35:5
In Biblical Hebrew, the word “et” is not easy to translate. Sometimes it’s a relational pronoun, and sometimes it indicates the indirect object of a verb. So it’s always a bit tricky to translate a sentence with the word “et.”
Kabbalistic commentator Nachmanides (1194-1270) says that, in the verse quoted above, the word “et” means “with.” Thus, the correct translation of the verse is “everyone whose heart moves him shall bring his contribution with gifts for the Lord.” In other words, the Israelites should bring their financial contributions to the mishkan along with higher gifts. The higher gifts are Shekhinah herself, and the wisdom that flows from recognizing her presence. At the same time, these higher gifts should come from within the people themselves.
Nachmanides’ teaching is lovely…but how can a human being offer an aspect of God? Here Nachmanides is thinking of God in terms of the sefirot, attributes of God enumerated in Kabbalistic thinking, that are also attributes of the human soul. It makes sense to suggest that a person can offer to others the inner spiritual qualities of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, love, judgment, beauty, endurance, gratitude, and grounding.
What might it mean to offer these qualities along with a financial contribution? Perhaps giving “along with” means that money must be used wisely, with gratitude, to express love and ground the community. Or perhaps “coming from within” means that although a community requires financial support, in its essence is constructed out of shared spiritual qualities. May these shared spiritual qualities fill our sanctuary.
From Rabbi Rachel Barenblat
By the time I arrive
the work is in full swing.
We’ve taken over the house:
here the corer and cutting boards,
there the bowls of apple cubes
touched with cinnamon.
The grinder is clamped
to the kitchen table, its wide tray
awaiting what comes off the stove.
Out comes applesauce, pink
from the shredded skins
of Cortlands, Empires, early Macs.
By the end of the day
everything we’ve touched
is sticky and fragrant.
We mop the floors
to the popcorn sounds
of two hundred lids sealing.
Maybe this is what it was like
for the Israelites back then.
Everyone brought the supplies
they had on-hand, the skills
to which each could lay claim
and they sat together
here the weaving and stitching,
there the clamor of carpentry
talking and cracking jokes
while Bezalel, Uri’s son
who had in his heart the wisdom
to bring visions to life
carried his holy clipboard
from place to place. When the work
was done, did they sit back
and marvel at what they had made,
how holy presence dwelled
in the work of their joined hands?
From American Jewish World Service
Rabbi Joshua Rabin
When I visited some of the poorest neighborhoods in Cancun with AJWS in 2010, my greatest fear was not what I would see, but what I might feel. I worried that I would feel—as so many people do—that I needed to fight for justice so that I could save the people I met there, providing for them what they could not provide themselves. This sentiment is common, but dangerous and demeaning, because a belief that the privileged must save the poor assumes that people in need lack the ability to shape their own destinies; that it is a lack of aptitude or ability that lies at the core of their misfortune.
Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, argues that if we want to eradicate global poverty, we must first change our assumptions about why poverty exists. He writes:
To me, poor people are like bonsai trees. When you plant the best seed from the tallest tree in a tiny flowerpot, you get a replica of the tallest tree, only inches tall. There is nothing wrong with the seed you planted; only the soil base that you gave it is inadequate. Poor people are bonsai people. There is nothing wrong with their seeds, but society never gave them the proper base to grow in. All it takes to get poor people out of poverty is for us to create an enabling environment for them. Once the poor can unleash their energy and creativity, poverty will disappear very quickly.1
People who live in poverty can accomplish the same things as people living ensconced in wealth and privilege, and it demeans people’s humanity when we assume that they are incapable of bettering their own lives. This understanding—that people’s innate skills and talents can be inhibited by their circumstances or environment—is one that is echoed in this week’s parashah and that has profound implications for how we address poverty and work for social change.
Parashat Vayakhel concludes the Israelites’ construction of the Mishkan—God’s Tabernacle in the desert—telling us that the Mishkan wasn’t built by trained architects or craftsmen, but by “every person whose heart stirred them up, and every one whom his spirit made willing.”2 Each time I read this parashah, I am amazed at how the Israelites, who spent their entire lives engaged in the mimetic tasks of slave labor, could build a shrine that required fine craftsmanship. Responding to this question, the Ramban states,
The “stirring up of the heart” implies the arousing of their capacity to undertake the work. For none [of the Israelites] ever learned these skills before from any teacher nor had ever practiced them before. But each one discovered his natural talent or aptitude for the task, his heart rising as it were to the Divine challenge enabling him to come into Moses’ presence and say: “I can do it.”3
For the Ramban, slavery limited the Israelites’ opportunity to learn craftsmanship, but it did not make the Israelites inherently incapable of building the Mishkan. Rather, the backbreaking conditions of slavery caused the creative potential of the Israelites in Egypt to atrophy. When commanded to construct the Mishkan, Israelites who realized that previous circumstances did not forever dictate their capacity to achieve developed “confidence in their own power to undertake the work”4 of building the Mishkan. Once given the opportunity to succeed, the Israelites became what they were always capable of becoming.
The Ramban’s perspective on how the Israelites came to construct the Mishkan has profound implications for how we approach tzedakah. Our rabbis understood that the highest acts of tzedakah create conditions to help poor people succeed using their natural talents. The Rambam famously states that the highest form of charity involves giving a loan or entering into a partnership with a poor person “in order to strengthen his hand he need no longer be dependent upon others.”5 Meir Tamari, former chief economist at the Bank of Israel, writes that this approach to tzedakah focuses on “breaking the cycle of poverty and enabling the poor to establish themselves as independent and productive members of society.”6 Like Yunus’s metaphor of the bonsai trees, Jewish tradition recognizes that poor people are inherently creative and capable, and, given the right conditions, will succeed when their innate abilities are given the opportunity to flourish.
The greatest tragedy of the Israelites’ enslavement was not the backbreaking labor, but the suppression of the Israelites’ creative potential. Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world have their rights suppressed on a daily basis, stifling their ability to choose a path for their future and construct it themselves. If we are to be partners with the poor, then we must embrace a vision of tzedakah that honors the inherent capabilities of all humanity, recognizing that poverty usually comes from lack of opportunity, rather than lack of ability.
Less than a generation removed from slavery, Parashat Vayakhel celebrates a moment of collective triumph for the Israelites’ previously untapped potential. May we embrace a vision of tzedakah that will enable poor people to envision and construct their own Mishkan—a brighter world that has existed inside them all along.
1 Muhammad Yunus, Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs (New York: PublicAffairs, 2010), xiii-xiv.
1 Shemot 35:21.
1 Ramban on Shemot 35:21.
1 Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Matanot L’Oniyim 10:7.
1 Meir Tamari, The Challenge of Wealth: A Jewish Perspective on Earning and Spending Money (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson Inc., 1995), 170.
From the Maqam Project
Rabbi Yehuda Hausman
The Spirit of Industry
Torah Reading: Genesis Exodus 35:1 – 38:20
Haftarah Reading: 1 Kings 7:40-50
Has it just vanished in smoke: l’esprit du temps? Several thousand years is a vast patch of history, perhaps in the interim, the novelty of a desert Sanctuary has simply seeped away. All its glory and wondrous color faded and stonewashed like an old beach-towel; its imminence lost on us, far more, in fact, than last week’s paper left to yellow in the sun. The Sanctuary’s time is not our time or our great-grandparents’ time. What chance is there that this Sanctuary can stir our hearts as in days of old?
Admittedly, the descriptions are pleasant enough: A portable gilded ark, crowned with cherubs; embroidered winged-sphinxes sewn into expensive curtains made of fine goat hair, perhaps a variety of Mohair or Cashmere, if we think on it. There are silver loops and clasps connecting this and that; an indoor altar and an outdoor altar; a golden candelabrum, and a great deal more.
But no amount of familiarity with the text seems to alter its foreignness. Imagine having to describe a spirited summer in Paris to someone who has never sat in a Café, or seen the inside of an art gallery, or fallen in love. The Louvre is nothing but a U-shaped palace, the Seine just another river; the scope of l’Arc de triomphe never quite translates if one has never spent ten minutes walking around its wide roundabout. Thankfully, the Torah has a way of easing us into the unfamiliar, even when most paths are shut; there is always another point of entrée.
One of the stranger aspects of the Tabernacle is that transmission of its many details is twice juxtaposed with the law of Shabbat. The initial five and-a-half chapters of Tabernacle blueprints culminate in a reminder to ‘guard the Sabbath by refraining from prohibited labor – malacha’ (Ex. 25.1 – 31.12-17).
Additionally, when the time comes for actual construction, this later section is introduced with yet another mention of Shabbat: ‘For six days shall labor be done, but on the seventh day, there shall be for you holiness, a Sabbath of solemn-rest to the Lord […] You shall kindle no fire throughout all your habitations on the Sabbath Day’ (Ex. 35.2-3).
Our Sages find in the strange proximity of these two subjects a stern warning. ‘Despite God’s command, construction of the Sanctuary was to cease on the Sabbath.’ (Rashi, Sforno) Why, some might ask? Is it not all for God? Later in the Torah Portion, we read that the people have made and donated far more material than was necessary for the building of the Sanctuary. So much so that Moses announces: “‘Let neither man nor woman make any more work for the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from giving” (Ex. 36.6). The exuberance of ancient Israel captures humanity’s boundless desire to fashion and make. Creation never quite ends on its own, for things can always be made better…grander…different. Then there is the danger that mindful work evolves into mindless productivity. The philosopher Raoul Vaneigem had this to say, “In an industrial society which confuses work and productivity, the necessity of producing has always been an enemy of the desire to create.”
Without Moses cry of ‘enough,’ what compels to pause from projects great and small alike, if not mandatory Sabbath? Strikingly, what is odd about the Sanctuary and the Sabbath is that they are both holy, yet they do not quite mix. Like two great magnets of the same polarity, holiness of rest and holiness of work, though infused with a sacred charge, nevertheless push one another away. The Sabbath prevents the Sanctuary from being refurbished each month, from being ever remodeled and expanded each year.
The old awe of the Sanctuary may not be felt as it ought to be, especially when the average home is a great deal bigger than the Tent of Meeting. But we know the satisfaction of successful human labor, whether it’s a simple well-made soup or seeing a skyscraper rise up and kiss the clouds. We can also appreciate the dangers of overwork, one-mindedness, Napoleonic obsession, where no palace is large enough, no monument tall enough.
It is something of interest that of the many labors needed to create the Tabernacle, only the making of fire is explicitly mentioned in the beginning of Parashat Vayekhel: ‘You shall kindle no fire…on the Sabbath Day.’ Rabbi Ovadiah Sforno suggests that fire is so basic to human industry, that a great many other labors could not be performed without it. But I prefer to end with a line by the poet Theodore Roethke:
What lives again? Only a man of straw –
Yet straw can feed a fire to melt down stone.
Fire can forge temples and cities or usher in the Sabbath with its light, but if man’s industry is left to burn unchecked, it can turn a Tabernacle into a spectacle, the Sabbath into just another day of work, and even melt the stone Tablets that reside in the Ark of the Covenant.
From Brian Yosef Schachter-Brooks
The Car Ride: Parshat Vayakhel
From Rabbi David Seidenberg
To join the tent together to become one
In verse 36, chapter 18 of Exodus, we read that Bezalel made fifty
brass clasps “to join the tent together to become one / l’chaber et
ha’ohel lih’yot echad”. Besides the verse having a gorgeous numerology
(double chai and chai), it seems like just another detail in a long
list of things brought and fashioned — brass and gold, purple and
scarlet, precious stones, hooks and beams and vessels. But to some of
our ancestors, the verse meant much more.
The Tent of Meeting or Ohel Mo’ed and the Mishkan, the portable desert
sanctuary or Tabernacle sheltered within the Ohel, weren’t just works
of beauty and places of holiness and worship to them. The Ohel and the
Mishkan were a model of the entire Creation. Josephus wrote, “Every
detail of the Tabernacle was made in way of imitation and
representation of the universe” (Antiquities 3.7.7), and the sages
wrote, “The Mishkan corresponds to the whole world” (Midrash Tanchuma,
According to the midrash Numbers Rabbah (Naso 12:4) the silver or
kesef used in the Mishkan represents the firmament that covers
(m’khasef) the whole Creation. The gold, because it can be yellow or
green or red, represents the many colors of the fruits of the Earth.
The purple-dyed thread woven into the Ohel and the curtains, called
argaman, represents the sun, which God created “to weave (la’arog) the
manna of fruits and grasses” (and, we should add, plankton!) that
nourish all life on Earth.
Other midrashic texts go much deeper than similes and puns. Tanchuma
says that the Mishkan corresponds “to the whole world, and to the
structure of the human, who is a small world (olam katan)”. (Pekudei
3) Tanchuma goes on to explain, “When the Holy One created the world,
the way a woman gestates a child is how God created it.” What a
beautiful, feminine image of God!
Each of these terms in Tanchuma teaches something unique. Just as
everything is part of Creation, so to does everything in Creation have
a corresponding element within a human being and within the Mishkan.
Just as a human being, whose body is woven out of so many parts and
channels, sinews and organs, is a single living being, so too the
Mishkan and the whole Creation are living beings. Just as the Mishkan
brings holiness and blessing into Creation, so too should a human
According to the mystics, it was essential for the Mishkan to become
one body and to reflect all Creation in order to fulfill its purpose
(Zohar 2:162b). What was that purpose? The Mishkan, and the Temple
after it, existed to bring blessing to all of Creation. When the
priests served, they served not just on behalf of the Jewish people,
not just on behalf of humanity, not just on behalf of the land of
Israel, but on behalf of all Creation. Every part of Creation needed
to have its representation within the Mishkan in order to stimulate
Tanchuma implicitly taught a third lesson: Just as the Mishkan is
holy, so too is Creation. The first published seder for Tu Bishvat
(the New Year of the trees), P’ri Eitz Hadar, written in the 17th
century, quotes our verse, Exodus 36:18, to make the same point. In
its opening prayer, it says, “You created the model of the upper
worlds on the earth below, making all of them with wisdom, upper above
and lower below, to join the tent together to become one / l’chaber et
ha’ohel lih’yot echad”. In other words, the first Mishkan was not the
Mishkan in the desert, but the Mishkan of Creation itself. The world
is a Temple, a holy sanctuary, and a single living being.
The Kabbalists took this idea even further than the midrash: “As
above, so below” — the lower physical world — the Creation we can
see — corresponds to the upper spiritual worlds or Sefirot, which are
God’s image. For all Kabbalists, that meant that whatever blessing was
drawn down into Creation by the Mishkan also changed the highest
levels of reality. For some Kabbalists, that meant something that will
seem even more surprising: they believed that just as the human is an
image of God, so too is the whole Creation was the image of God (you
can read about this in Kabbalah and Ecology).
Here’s the take home (what Reb Shlomo called the “cash Torah”): The
image of God, first in humanity and then in the desert Mishkan that
was created by human beings, is also the image of Creation, the
Mishkan that was gestated by God.
A final note: as we pause mid-journey between Tu Bishvat and the
spring festival of Passover to read about the Mishkan, reflect on
brass clasps and the unity of Creation, we are already blessed in the
Northern hemisphere to witness the awakening of the trees and plants.
This transformation evokes what Jacob called “the song of the land”
(Genesis 43:11), or to quote Song of Songs, “from the corners of the
land hanitzanim nir’u, eit hazamir higi’a / the sparkling flowers
appear, and the time of singing arrives” (Song of Songs 2:12).
According to Zohar Chadash, the whole Creation is made of songs of
desire (B’reishit 5d). May we listen to these songs, may we sing the
song of the whole world, and may we be witnesses that the holiness we
create is an image of the holiness from which we are created, and may
we witness what the mystics know: that the image of God can be found
in the image of Creation.
From the Hebrew College
The Portable God Box (Parshat Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1-40:38)
Rabbi Avi Strasberg
I’m hesitant to admit it, but I didn’t grow up camping. I’d like for others to imagine me as someone who could hack it wandering around the woods for a few days, but in fact, I’m, quite inept when it comes to setting up tents—or really, constructing anything. There’s something about all of the bending, interlocking rods, those “easy-to-understand” pictorial directions with arrows pointing here and there—my brain goes into shut-down mode. I recently tried to “assemble” a vacuum cleaner only to give up an hour later having failed to attach the vacuum head to the vacuum itself. Thank God for my wife.
Perhaps for similar reasons, my brain also shuts down when I start reading the lengthy descriptions of the construction and contents of the mishkan, the holy tabernacle that is to house God’s presence in the wilderness. And this week’s double parasha, Vayakhel-Pekudei, provides double action-packed description of just what goes into making this holy meeting place for God.
The parasha opens with an accounting of the extreme generosity of the Israelites, so quick to donate their belongings toward this massive group project, and then details the measurements and materials required for all of its various accoutrements. There are the strips of cloth that make up the tent, and the planks and the sockets and the rings that somehow lock together to make the structure itself. There are walls and screens and curtains, and of course, there is the ark itself, with its acacia wood and gold overlay, and smartly placed poles for easy carrying. And then there’s everything else to be used in the mishkan: tables, utensils, the menorah, and the altar. On first read, an overwhelming amount of materials and measurements go into this construction project.
But is it really so overwhelming? Remember that all of this needs to be portable. It needs to be something that the Israelites can pack and unpack, erecting in each new location to allow God’s presence to dwell near. If you can get past all of the measurements in the first parasha, Vayahkel, Pekudei actually gives us step-by-step assembly directions.
Set up your planks and sockets, insert your bars, erect the posts. Spread the tent and its covering. Place the Torah into the ark, fix the poles to the ark, and cover it. I can imagine Moses unpacking all the contents of his portable carrying case, and step-by-step, building this structure. Sure, it involves elbow grease, a lost socket here and there, and probably some sweat, but at the end of the day, a couple of hours of hard labor led to the creation of a portable God box. Carry around these objects, follow this formula, and poof, you’ve got a place for God’s presence.
I wonder what a modern-day, portable, individual God box might be like. Certainly it would be something you could purchase from your local high-end outdoor store of choice. It would be made of the lightest weight, most collapsible, waterproof materials, so that you could carry it on your back or fit it in your pocket. But what would it actually contain? What would go in your portable God box, and how would your personal mishkan be different than mine? Which objects would you carry with you all the time so that at a moment’s notice, you could create a holy space within which you could encounter God? Could I create a traveling God box, my own portable mishkan, that even I would be able to construct?
I love the idea of carrying a kind of mishkan on our backs. As someone who backpacked around New Zealand for a year, packing and unpacking each shirt, each sock, each can of tuna fish wherever I went, the things I carried with me developed their own kind of holiness; they were my portable home, my source of comfort, clothing, and sustenance. Each item was specially chosen, surviving rounds and rounds of culling in which other objects were left behind.
But when I try to think about what would go into my traveling God box—into my backpack that I carry with me all of the time—that would allow me to draw near to God at a moment’s notice, I get stuck. Is it a siddur (a prayerbook)? A leaf? A particular song? Is it a box of silence or a word, or a photo of my son?
I don’t know yet. But I feel driven to figure it out. What should I carry with me, or inside of me, wherever I go, to help me encounter God? I invite you to consider the same question: What belongs in your God box? What will you carry with you, or inside of you, in the wilderness of your life, that will help you draw close to God? What do you already carry that helps you experience God’s presence?
Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *