Disconnecting to Connect: Vayakhel 1
Finally, the biggest miracle is in this week’s Torah portion! Not the Exodus and not the Splitting of the Sea; not the Manna raining from the Heavens and not even the Giving of the Torah. Why would any of those be miracles? They were all made by G-d, and by definition, He can do anything. The real miracle is when we do something special, something out of the ordinary, and here it comes, almost lost, almost unnoticeable within all the details, but after two and a half Torah portions with instructions how to build the Tabernacle, we’re about to actually begin the project. And the miracle? The Children of Israel are listening! They are following directions! Amazing. And now, boring or not, we’re going to hear about it all over again, except now it’s not going to be as a commandment but as an action.
Moses gathers all the people in order to start constructions: “And Moses assembled all the congregation of the Children of Israel, and said unto them: ‘These are the words which Hashem has commanded, that you should do them” (Exodus 35:1)… We can feel the excitement. Everyone is approaching, hammers, needles and other tools and materials in hand, all ready, finally! Then Moses continues: “Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a Sabbath of solemn rest to Hashem”… Wait, aren’t we building? What is Shabbat doing here??
Shabbat is mentioned a few times throughout the Torah. It says we should “keep it”, “remember it” but how do we know exactly what to do, what not to do? Many of the rules regarding Shabbat are deduced from this section. Moses, by telling the people to work 6 days and dedicate Shabbat as a holy day to Hashem davka here, places Shabbat before all Mishkan related work. That means that anything to do with the construction of the Mishkan is not allowed on Shabbat, giving us the list of 39 melachot, or creative activities.
But there is another way to understand this parasha’s opening: Moshe assembled everybody to build the dwelling place for G-d, and so – this is what they are doing. Shabbat is not a deviation from the topic but part of it. As Rabbi Joshua Heschel said, Shabbat is in time what the Mishkan is in space. In times that we don’t have the physical structure, the wooden planks, colored cloths and golden layered ark, we will still have a “space for G-d” in our midst. Back in Exodus 25:9, we were told: “And let them make Me a sanctuary, that I may dwell among them”. The Mishkan, tells us Moses here, is one way to build G-d a sanctuary, a physical way. Another way is to have Shabbat. Like the Mishkan, Shabbat is a place to enter where where can disconnect from the daily routine and connect back to G-d.
This & That: Vayakhel 2:
“Dy Vehoter” is a common expression in modern Herew. It means – there is enough and too much. I‘ve never given much thought to its origin or deeper meaning until one day I found it in this week’s Torah portion: “For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much” (Exodus 36:7). Kudos to Mechon-Mamre for excellent translation, and for resisting the temptation to make sense out of a verse which doesnt. Because, how can there be “sufficient stuff” and “too much (stuff)” all at once?
“Enough” – means, it’s just right, while “too much” means a surplus, so which way is it?
This happens in many other Jewish issues. When asked which way is it, this or that, the answer is often, Yes. Namely, both alternatives, but only when they appear together. Neither option alone would be correct, and in some case, accepting only one half might be even heretical. Instead, we’re asked to hold on to two seemingly contradictory ideas at the same time. Examples?
Early on, we’re taught that humans are made in G-d’s image and from dust. Which way is it? Yes. Abraham is given the blessing to be like the stars in the heaven and the sand of the sea. Which way is it? Yes. And this week, “enough” and “too much”. Which way is it? You guessed it. Yes.
Let’s examine what each adds to our understanding of our place in the world, for that is the Torah’s purpose to begin with. So, if we say (in this case, the material brought for the construction of the Tabernacle), we have enough, “enough” means the amount we have is just right. That means, that without the gift of any one of us, the Tabernacle will be lacking. Wow. That can be a source of pride, and even power: see, without me, this could not be done! Oohh! I’m so great! Everything hinges on me!!
Comes the other half of the verse to balance things out: Sorry, there is too much. Too much? What does it mean “too much”? Does that mean that this project could have been done without me?? Oohh, what a disappointment! I might not be needed!
These are the two conflicting messages one has to hold simultaneously: Yes, you’re needed; No, don’t let that get to you. Yes, you’re one and only; No, don’t think you’re more important than someone else. There is “dy vehoter“.
Acquiring Wisdom: Vayakhel 3
How does one become wise? Read book, google info, listen to elders? The Torah tells us something interesting about acquiring wisdom: “And Moses called Bezalel and Oholiab, and every wise-hearted man in whose heart G-d had put wisdom”…. (Exodus 36:2). This theme repeats again and again in these sections of building the Mishkan, the idea that G-d gives wisdom to those who have wisdom. Well, that does not seem fair! Shouldn’t She give wisdom to those who don’t have it?? How do you get wisdom if you’re already supposed to have it?
One of the first verses in the morning prayer is: “resheet chochma – yir’at Hashem” – “the beginning of wisdom is (to be in) awe of G-d”(Psalms 111:10). This is then juxtaposed with another idea that “everything is in the hands of Heavens except the awe of Heavens (G-d)” (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 33:3). From that we learn, that there is a foundation to wisdom which is up to us. We are like a gardener that needs to till the ground before sowing. Some work is on us before we can expect the gift of wisdom.