Penn Station Saturday night. Delayed trains due to weekend storms. A greatly excited crowd, many kipot, skirts and Hebrew, heading to Washington DC.
18,000 people; 4000 of whom are students. Many thousands square feet of meeting rooms. 50 solid hours of jammed packed programs, sessions, speakers, discussions, presentations. No matter where one is on the political spectrum, AIPAC 2018 is a site to behold. The audience claps, cheers, sings or cries (and at time, all at once). We’re getting a cncentrated shot of “beautiful Israel” straight to the veins: there are emotional moments when a bone-marrow donor meets his “donated”; incredible high-tech innovations, and promising economy predictions; pictures that bring tears, Jerusalem of Gold, Natan Sharansky with his daughter, politicians who missed out on Hollywood and give excellent, dramatic speeches, and – friends from all over the country who have a chance to see each other.
I’m thinking, this must be what Queen Esther meant last week by – לך כנוס את כל היהודים… lech knos et kol hayehudim… Go gather all the Jews (Esther 4:16); What Moshe Rabenu meant in this week’s reading by “Vayakhel” – congregate, assemble (Exodus 35:1). Especially after a challenge or test (like the Golden Calf), there is strength in numbers; power in being together; inspiration in being part of a whole.
It’s also easy to get lost; to think, what does it matter if I’m here or not; what does it matter what I bring; look, there is so much. To that the Torah says in this week’s reading of Vayakhel something strange: וְהַמְּלָאכָה, הָיְתָה דַיָּם לְכָל-הַמְּלָאכָה–לַעֲשׂוֹת אֹתָהּ; וְהוֹתֵר — For the stuff they had was sufficient for all the work to make it, and too much (Exodus 36:7). Literally, even in Modern Hebrew, dy vehoter means – “enough and too much”. This would mean that had any one item been missing, there would not be enough, thereby implying each piece is needed to make the whole. And yet, immediately we’re told, there’s too much. “too much” means there is more than we need. Something is superfluous. How is that possible? Yes.
In order to understand how it’s possible, we might think about the alternatives. The alternative means that instead of both, only one of those statements would be right.
If we’re happy with “dy”, then each piece is critical for the whole. If I remove mine, the whole structure is lacking. I now feel pretty haughty: without me, the mishkan is worthless!! I am so important, I can make the mishkan happen or not!! Clearly, not an option the Torah will let us get away with.
And on the other hand, if we’re happy with the “hoter”, than means that my contribution does not matter. The mishkan could have built without me; maybe without any of us. Oh well, who cares then; I’m worthless and my gift – meaningless. That too, is not a Torah option.
The combination might remind us of a famous midrash about the human’s creation. Adam is made both is G-d’s image and from dust. A Hasidic story tells us that a person should always wear a coat with two pockets: when he feels too arrogant, he should reach in and pull out the “I am dust” message, and when he feels too down, he should reach and pull the “I am made in G-d’s image” message.
The tension and balance between the two is the hardest challenge in front of us as humans: how to be a strong, identifiable self while at the same leave ample room for others to be who they are; how to be very “giving” and kind, while at the same time, set limits.
The mishkan takes us back to the story of creation, and indeed, many commentators point to connecting words and expressions between both stories. Every item in the mishkan can be compared and linked to something created in the first six days. In a way, it reminds us that just like G-d created a world for us to live in, “giving us” some place to act, so we make space in our life for G-d, specifically in the form of the mishkan. And yet, describing the creation of the whole world, takes only 34 verses!! While the mishkan – a mobile temple – tent takes hundreds of verses. Why is that so? Rabbi Sacks suggests that it is not difficult for an infinite, omnipotent creator to make a home for humanity, it is difficult is for human beings, in their finiteness and vulnerability, to make a home for G d. Each one of us has to limit oneself to allow the other to be, and in their own way, it might not be easy for either one of us. May we find the way to do so.