Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )
GOOD MORNING! We are certainly living in extraordinary times. The world is currently under siege by a dangerous and implacable enemy; the likes of which have not been seen in over one hundred years. What this enemy has managed to accomplish in a few short months is nothing short of remarkable: spreading pain and suffering across the globe, bringing entire countries to their knees, and sowing panic and dread the world over for what is yet to come. The enemy I am speaking of is of course the coronavirus.
The resulting fallout from the virus to the international financial markets has been devastating and, unfortunately, we have not yet begun to see the bottom of this free fall. Even more frightening, the potential long term impacts are entirely unknown; we can merely speculate how this carnage will affect different industries and the ripple effect on large and small businesses and the very livelihoods we all depend on to live. These are very, very challenging times.
As many of you know, our beloved friend and mentor, Rabbi Kalman Packouz of blessed memory, used to meet with me once a week for over twenty seven years. Naturally, when you spend that much time with someone you end up sharing the many ups and downs that life throws at you.
During these conversations the one question that the good rabbi ALWAYS asked was, "What is the Almighty trying to teach me?"
Let me explain his line of reasoning. Since we believe that the world came into being through "intelligent design" (i.e. God created a world that has a purpose - a purpose which gives our lives meaning) any event that transpires in our life has to be directly related to a message that God is trying to relay to us.
In other words, the universe is constantly speaking to us, however, by the very nature of creation there is also an overwhelming (and often very distracting) static that clouds the voice. Therefore, we must tune our antennas to get a proper reception and use our minds to clarify the message of the lesson that God wants us to learn. We begin this process of clarification by asking, "What is the Almighty trying to teach me?"
John Lennon, in his famous 1971 solo hit "Imagine," makes mention of a "brotherhood of man." There are elements of this famous song that are quite controversial - either he sorely missed the mark or some of these lyrics are simply misunderstood. But the song certainly has an unquestionable attractive ethereal quality to it - especially in the closing line, "and the world will be as one."
Every natural disaster movie - those impending events that threaten to extinguish life on Earth as we know it - have a common theme. Whether it's a threat from extraterrestrials, a wayward comet or some uncontrollable life threatening disease, the entirety of the world's people band together to combat the existential threat.
The reason for this is not merely, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." The true reason for this phenomenon is that we begin to see within ourselves a shared commonality that compels us to focus on what makes us the same, as opposed to what makes us different. Furthermore, once we internalize this recognition, we are forced to acknowledge that we all share the same source and thus we really are a "brotherhood of man."
Of course, this week's Torah reading gives us a remarkable example of this: "Moses assembled the entire community and said to them, these are the words that God has commanded you to do…" (Exodus 35:1-20).
Moses goes on to delve into the laws of keeping the Sabbath (Shabbat) holy and explains what type of creative acts are forbidden to be done on Shabbat. These creative acts were used to build the Tabernacle, and form the basis of the 39 acts that are forbidden to be done on Shabbat.
There are very few occasions when Moses gathered the entirety of the Jewish people, and this is the only time in the entire Torah (that I can recall) when Moses gathered the people as a "community" to teach them a specific law. What is unique about the laws pertaining to the holy Shabbat, and how does this relate to the concept of community?
The Torah is teaching us a remarkable aspect of the holy Shabbat; one that we are all responsible to see fulfilled. If one drives down the street early on a Sunday morning or on a national holiday like Thanksgiving, it is readily apparent that it is not a typical weekday. The normal hustle and bustle of everyday life is missing and the day actually feels different. If a convoy of honking trucks suddenly converged onto the street it would quite literally shatter the tranquil atmosphere.
This is what the Torah is teaching us: Each and every one of us has a responsibility to our community to create an environment of Shabbos. For six days a week, we are enjoined to do creative acts (Exodus 35:2). Yet, on the seventh day, we are prohibited from doing those very same acts. By abstaining from these Shabbat-shattering acts we are actually differentiating Shabbat from every other day of the week and we are actually accomplishing something much greater - we are creating a feeling of Shabbat in our community.
This also explains a difficult passage in the Talmud; we find that a bull that only gores on Shabbat isn't considered dangerous on weekdays (Bava Kama 37A). The commentaries (ad loc) wonder why this is true - obviously an animal doesn't know what day of the week it is! Perhaps the answer is that the bull recognizes that it's a different day because the entire atmosphere feels different; the tranquility of the day enables the bull to feel that it can do whatever it desires.
The message we have to take from this week's Torah reading is that each and every one of us is responsible for the tranquility of our community, particularly on the holy Shabbat. We must put aside our petty differences and work together to contribute to a greater whole. Perhaps we can apply this lesson to the calamitous events that have gripped this world.
It is, of course, no coincidence that perhaps the largest and most controlling state entity in the world, China, has been the both the source and the one most stricken by this disease. The Chinese government, as is their way, did all they could to obfuscate and control the situation. In many ways their egregious early response to the devastation that was ravaging their population caused it to spread over their borders and wreak havoc elsewhere. Of course, the next one to be hardest hit was Iran and in particular the ruling clans of the country. Need I say more?
Unfortunately, as with any disease in the body, otherwise healthy tissue gets affected and must be treated; sometimes in the most draconian of methods. But we must recognize that in reality we are all one. We are all just separate cells of the corporate body known as humanity. We all need each other to both survive and thrive. We must recognize that we are all connected and therefore we have responsibilities to one another. It's time to set our petty differences aside and find our commonalities.
According to my brilliant father, Harav Yochanan Zweig, the source of all this pain comes from baseless hatred. We must focus on eliminating the disease of baseless hatred toward one another that we all harbor within us. It is only then that our "Father who is in the heavens" will be satisfied that His children are finally beginning to reconcile and that we are internalizing what He is trying to teach us. May it be His will that we learn our lesson quickly and vanquish this implacable foe once and for all.
Vayakhel-Pekudei, Exodus 35:1 - 40:38
Moshe relays the Almighty's commands to refrain from building the Mishkan (the Tabernacle or Portable Sanctuary) on the Shabbat, to contribute items needed to build the Mishkan, to construct the components of the Mishkan and the appurtenances of the Cohanim. The craftsmen are selected, the work begins. The craftsmen report that there are too many donations, and for the first and probably the only time in fundraising history, the Jewish people are told to refrain from bringing additional contributions!
Pekudei includes an accounting of all the materials that went into the making of the Mishkan and details of the construction of the clothing of the Cohanim. The Tabernacle is completed, Moses examines all of the components and gives his approval to the quality and exactness of construction, the Almighty commands to erect the Tabernacle, it's erected and the various vessels are placed in their proper place.
* * *
The Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Kagan, who was the undisputed leader of his generation until his passing in 1933, gives a parable to illustrate how Shabbat serves as a sign of the relationship between the Jewish people and the Almighty.
When two people are engaged to be married they send each other gifts. Even if difficulties arise between them, as long as they keep the gifts, then we know that the bond between is still strong and that they still plan to get married. If they return the gifts, then we know that the relationship between them is over.
The Talmud (Shabbat 10b) describes Shabbat as a special gift the Almighty gave to the Jewish people. "When you observe Shabbat," continues the Chofetz Chaim, "you testify that the Almighty created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. By keeping Shabbat you proclaim that you have this awareness of God. A person who fails to keep Shabbat demonstrates that this is unimportant to him."
Thus, as long as a person observes Shabbat we see that he still maintains a relationship with the Almighty. If a person, as it were, returns this gift of Shabbat (i.e. violates it), it signifies that the integrity of the relationship has been fractured. This leads to the dissolution of the relationship.
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Guatemala 5:55 - Hong Kong 6:17 - Honolulu 6:24
J'Burg 6:00 - London 5:59 - Los Angeles 6:47
Melbourne 7:13 - Mexico City 6:29 - Miami 7:14 - Moscow 6:25
New York 6:50 - Singapore 6:57 - Toronto 7:12
More than the Jewish people have kept Shabbat,
Shabbat has kept the Jewish people.
-- Ahad Ha'am, a secular Jewish author