What is the goal of a journey? To see places, to acquire new experiences? If we look at the Book of Exodus in its totality, maybe it’s all about connecting.
We started with shmot, “names”, a list of separated individuals, part of the same family, going “down”. Now the route to “going up” goes through “vayakhel”, becoming a kahal, a joint assembly that works together towards a common goal. I can’t help but wonder if that is indeed the deep meaning of “all journeys”, as the Book of Exodus ends with “bechol mas’eihem“, the idea of making real, lasting connections?
This week’s Torah reading might hold one of the most redundant pieces in the Torah: yet another long list of mishkan (tabernacle) constructions items? For a book that is so stingy with words, why the repetition? There is at least one other place where the same list is repeated over and over again (check out the Book of Numbers, chapter 7). Are those the editor’s typos, too tired and unable to notice he writes the same thing over and over again?
We might deal with Numbers when we get there. As for this week, I’d like to suggest that our reading this week is not a repetition at all. There is a huge difference between receiving instructions and complying with them. This would be like the difference between getting a homework assignment and doing it; between hearing a request and fulfilling it: “honey, could you please…”? “sure!” and it’s done, quickly, enthusiastically, precisely, with no guilt or expectations for accolades. We got the commandments not to murder, not to steal, to keep Shabbat, to keep kashrut, yet no where does it say that we actually were able to fulfill all of them. In fact, it’s obvious that we didn’t, that we fell – and fall – short. After all, that’s what it’s all about: the human struggle to rise above, to “make progress”, to be better today than yesterday, and tomorrow, get up and try again.
And yet, here, something different. We did it!
Indeed, some commentaries consider this parasha to be the greatest miracle of Jewish history. Not the Exodus, the Ten Plagues or the Splitting of the Sea?? We can look at it semi-sarcastically: ‘oh wow, the Jewish people finally do something as they are told, without any arguments, shortcuts, excuses…’ and yet, wouldn’t you say that in our private life we would consider this a miracle? Just imagine: everybody working on a project they don’t completely understand, not its pieces and not how it’s going to come together. Nevertheless, they trust in their task, their purpose, each other, and the final product, and are all on it. Vayakhel. A whole community working together as one.
It’s no wonder then that in this parasha again, we see a connection between the mishkan and Shabbat, each carving a piece in its own dimension: Shabbat in time, and the mishkan – in space. Shabbat also benefits from a community celebrating together, even a just the mini-community of one’s home. It frames the whole week and gives us something to work towards together. We can further appreciate that creating Shabbat is also a little miracle (every week it’s a miracle!) and entering Shabbat – and moving about in it- should be treated with the same respect and reverence like entering a Temple.