On the path to the fulfillment of God’s Covenant, we witness how an am, a disparate people, transform themselves to an edah, a holy community with a group consciousness and a single-minded character.
Vayakheil is the penultimate parashah in the Book of Exodus describing the Children of Israel’s journey from the liberation of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Land of Israel. On the path to the fulfillment of God’s Covenant, we witness how an am, a disparate people, transform themselves to an edah, a holy community with a group consciousness and a single-minded character.
The Torah narrative embraces the edah’s physical and spiritual birth, and almost as though nothing has happened concerning the golden calf incident of the previous parasha, the momentum builds as the instructions for observing Shabbat as well as for the creation of the Tabernacle are repeated in glorious detail. The disobedience conveyed in the idolatrous scenes of building and worshipping the golden calf stands in sharp contrast to the passionate work welcomed by the masses in the building of the Tabernacle. God appears to have faith that the Children of Israel will rise to the occasion, and the Children of Israel, grateful for God’s forgiveness, have faith that God’s presence will reside with them in the building.
Key to understanding this symbiotic relationship is the sense of inclusivity conveyed by the text. Implicit in the root of “Vayakheil” is unity and shared purpose. Plural language is used repeatedly at the outset of the passages and throughout. At the behest of God, “Moses assembled the entire assembly of B’nei Yisrael.” There is no hierarchy, no exclusions, no exceptions. There is an expectation that all “willing hearts,” men and women, will participate in the construction of the sanctuary and its beauty will reflect a consolidated enterprise.
Moses, in relaying God’s commandment, says, “Everyone whose heart is so moved shall bring a gift for God.” And shortly thereafter: “Every wise-hearted person among you come and make everything that God has commanded.” In the Torah, which is pithy, and every word, every letter, even every dagesh, or dot in the letter, is worthy of exposition, these passages of inclusiveness are striking in their continual recurrence.
The parasha recounts that the congregation’s sacred work on the Tabernacle’s exterior and the multitude of interior ritual objects was mobilized with such enthusiasm and generosity that they went above and beyond the call of duty. The men came side by side with the women and they worked together, each according to their unique abilities, and they all brought objects of worth to the effort. “Everyone whose heart was motivated brought bracelets, nose-rings, rings, body ornaments, etc. — all sorts of gold ornaments.”
“Every wise-hearted woman spun with her hands; and they bought the spun yarn of turquoise, purple and scarlet wool and the linen. All the women whose heart inspired them with wisdom spun goat hair with their hands.”
There was such a plethora of talent and material richness, with all of the members of the community joining together that there was extra. So much abundance, in fact, that the text says, “Moses proclaimed throughout the camp saying, ‘Men and women shall do no more work towards the gift of the Sanctuary.’ And the people were restrained from bringing.” Imagine such a successful community project where everyone’s needs are met and a sense of camaraderie prevails among society’s builders, where each “willing heart” can feel embraced, validated and proud of the concerted effort.
Thus, the story comes to teach us what can be accomplished when diverse people of good will band together for a common purpose. A wide variety of contributors are included in the building of the Tabernacle, a microcosm of the vast sacred space of the world in which God dwells, simply because they are motivated and willing to work hard. The Tabernacle became a holy entity because the people became a holy, inclusive, egalitarian body in its desire to accomplish the Will of God.
Sadly, in our current political zeitgeist, instead of building holiness together by accommodating inclusivity and concentrating on creating a positive, pluralistic, diverse and unifying world, the conversation seems to be dominated by the building of walls, exclusivity and discrimination. As an alternative, shouldn’t our mission as a holy edah challenge us to be a welcome wagon for those willing spirits who are moved to create good in the world with us, no matter who they are? Perhaps the inclusive process of building the Tabernacle in antiquity might offer a vision of peace and love for us in modernity, and for all time…
Rabbi Lynnda Targan is an independent community rabbi and teacher with a diversified rabbinic portfolio. She is the co-founder of the Women’s Midrash Institute, an award-winning writer, oral historian and international speaker on a range of subjects in a wide variety of settings. Please visit www.rabbilynndatargan.com. The Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia is proud to provide the Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent.