Rabbi Shelly Barnathan
For several weeks now, the Torah has discussed the Mishkan — the portable sanctuary that the Israelites were instructed to create for their journey through the midbar, the wilderness.
Back in Parshat Terumah, Exodus 25:8, we discovered the purpose of the Mishkan. “V’asu Li Mikdash v’shachanti B’tocham,” “They shall make me a holy place, and I will dwell amidst them.” The sanctuary was about holy space, and its primary purpose was for G-d to dwell among the people.
With so much discussion of the sanctuary and the details of its construction, what is the chidush, the new teaching, in Vayakhel/Pekudei?
The Torah begins, “Vayakhel Moshe Et Kol Adat B’nei Yisrael,” “And Moshe gathered all of the community of the children of Israel.”
The chidush begins with the opening word, Vayakhel, which comes from the same root as the word for kehillah — or “community.” And adat refers to “community” as well.
What an appropriate time for Moshe to be calling the Israelites together as a kehillah. Having only recently been freed from slavery, the identity of the Israelites was still unformed. How could the Israelites become a kehillah, a holy community?
To live a life of holiness, Moshe reminds the Israelites to observe Shabbat as a day of rest. In her book “Torah Journeys,” Rabbi Shefa Gold reflects, “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 … Without the practice of Shabbat, this work of building the Mishkan, even though it is holy work, will kill us … Work becomes life-giving and wholesome only when it is balanced with the Shabbat.”
Moshe is telling the Israelites that to become a people, not only do they need to create holy space — the Mishkan — but they must also create holy time — Shabbat — time to enter into the holy space that they are creating as a community.
As the Torah reading continues, another chidush, based on repeated words and expressions, reveals itself. What are these expressions?
1. “Lev — heart or mind,” as in, “Take from among you gifts to Adonai — everyone whose heart so moves him.” (Exodus 35:5)
2. “Ruach — spirit,” as in, “And everyone whose spirit moved him should bring his offering to G-d.”(Exodus 35:21)
3. “Chochmah — wisdom,” as in the expression “Chochmat Ha-Lev” — wisdom of heart/mind. Chochmat ha-lev is used repeatedly to refer to the special talents and skills that each person would offer in the creation of the Mishkan.
4. And finally, “Nashim v’Anashim, Kol Ish v’Ishah,” referring to “each man and each woman,” indicating that the skills and talents of every man and every woman were critical to the creation of the Mishkan.
Taking these repeated expressions together, what central message is created?
The message is that when each one of us offers the authentic gift of our uniqueness, from the wisdom of our hearts and spirits, then, and only then, can we create holy community.
And what better message could Moshe deliver to bolster the self-esteem of a people who were searching for their own identity and self-definition? Moshe, the talented leader and community organizer that he was, recognized and honored the talents of each person and invited each man and woman to add these talents to the creation of the holy Mishkan.
Vayakhel/Pekudei provides us with a model for creating holy time, holy space and, perhaps most importantly, holy community — all through the central endeavor of building the Mishkan.
What is your unique gift? How can you offer it to others and to the communities to which you belong? How can you make your life and your community holy?
May we take to heart the messages of Vayakhel/Pekudei, using our authentic talents and gifts to create holy time, space and community. May we each be a Mishkan, a traveling vessel of holiness. And as we complete the book of Exodus, let us say Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek — be strong, be strong and let us strengthen each other!
Rabbi Shelly Barnathan is the rabbi and founder of Or Zarua, a congregation for baby boomers and empty nesters located in the Main Line suburbs. Barnathan serves on the executive committee of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia. The Board of Rabbis is proud to provide diverse perspectives on Torah commentary for the Jewish Exponent. The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Board of Rabbis.