D’var Torah: Naomi Carr-Gloth (Vayakhel)

This week’s Torah portion is Vayakhel. Almost the entire parshah focuses on the building of the mishkan, or Tabernacle  – in other words, a portable place of worship. God instructs Moses to tell the Israelites how to build the Tabernacle in great detail. Moses then asks the Israelites to bring forth their gold and their finest valuables for the construction of the mishkan. The Israelites donate so many materials that Moses has to ask them to stop giving their gold. In Exodus 35:5, Moses tells the Israelites:

קְחוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם תְּרוּמָה לַיהוָה כֹּל נְדִיב לִבּוֹ יְבִיאֶהָ אֵת תְּרוּמַת יְהוָה זָהָב וָכֶסֶף וּנְחֹשֶׁת׃ “Take from yourselves an offering for the Lord; every generous-hearted person shall bring it…gold, silver, and copper…’” .

The parshah begins with the words, “וַיַּקְהֵל מֹשֶׁה” – “And Moses gathered the people.” We find the same verb in last week’s Torah portion, Ki Tissa, as well, where it says, “וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל־אַהֲרֹן” – “the people gathered against Aaron.” In that instance, they weren’t gathering for the building of the mishkan, but the building of the Golden Calf. The use of verbs with the same shoresh, or root, suggest that there must be a connection.

Last week, in Ki Tissa, we read about how the Israelites disobey God by creating a Golden Calf, which is made using gold they donated, demonstrating their temporary lack of faith in God. This week, in Vayakhel, we read that the Israelites also donate gold for the Tabernacle, perhaps in attempt to make up for the Golden Calf episode. When the Israelites realize what a bad decision they’d made, they do what they can to make it right.

We learn from the juxtaposition of the Golden Calf and the that the same action, gathering, can be for good or for evil. The same material, gold, can create an idol or a place of holiness. It’s all how we choose to use our resources and our energy.

If we want to correct a mistake we have made, the first step is acknowledging our mistake.Then, we have to do everything we can to try to fix it, even if it is difficult. Although we, too, may feel alone and afraid after realizing we’ve made a mistake, by trying to make things right, like the Israelites when they built the mishkan, we can invite holiness into our lives and the lives of those around us.

D’var Torah: Rabbi Donald M. Splansky (Tetzaveh)

In Jacob ibn Habib’s introduction to his anthology of Talmudic midrashim, Ein Ya’akov, he records an early rabbinic disagreement about what verse in the Torah is the greatest.  Three rabbis disagreed (although possibly not all of them were formally ordained).  The first one, Ben Zoma, said the greatest verse was the Sh’ma, “Hear, O Israel, the Eternal One is our God, the Eternal One alone (Deuteronomy 6:4).  The second one, Ben Nannas, said it was “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  The third one, however, Shimon ben Pazi, chose a more obscure verse from Parashat T’tzaveh, “You shall offer one lamb in the morning, and you shall offer another lamb at twilight” (Exodus 29:39).  And then, surprisingly, an anonymous rabbi ends the disagreement by proclaiming, “The law is according to Shimon ben Pazi!”(1)

The reader can only wonder why two great, fundamental teachings of the Torah could not outweigh a third teaching about the regularity of offering sacrifices.  Something else must be going on.  The first two verses stand as pillars of Judaism, but the third one points out the importance of constancy, of commitment, and even covenant.  For example, I know of a woman in Jerusalem who never thought her actions would bring on the Messiah, but she goes every Friday afternoon to Hadassah Hospital to help female patients light Shabbat candles (in a safe way).  I know of a young woman who periodically cuts her long, beautiful hair and donates it to a charity that makes wigs for women undergoing chemotherapy treatments.  I know of a group of men and women who sign up month after month and transport a patient to doctor’s appointments and physical therapy appointments.

The rules for offering sacrifices require ongoing steadfastness, or, to use the Biblical word, “hesed”, which means “loving loyalty”(1).  It describes the covenant of marriage and the covenant between God and the Jewish people. When we look for signs of growing maturity in our children, we look for (and try to nurture!) that kind of steadfast reliability and sincere commitment.

  1. See Shai Held, The Heart of Torah, Vol. 1, (The University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln) p. 201.
  2. Nelson Glueck, Hesed in the Bible, Hebrew Union College Press (Cincinnati, 1967) p. 102.

By Donald M. Splansky, Rabbi Emeritus, Temple Beth Am, Framingham