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The Power of Community

Vayakhel-Pekudei (Exodus 35-40 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

Here we go again. We seem to being having deja vu. Wasn't it just a few short weeks ago that we read the Torah's account of the construction of the Tabernacle? Yet, we read it again in this week's Torah portion. Even the most famous commentator, Rashi, sends us to his previous expositions on the building of the Tabernacle (see Rashi 35:5) and refrains from extensive commentary here. Yet, we are aware that the Torah does not waste space with even one extra letter, let alone entire sections. Why then, the repetition?

Another question: Does the name of this week's Torah portion, "Vayakhel" mean anything?

In general, we do ascribe significance to the names of the Torah portions. It is not simply a pragmatic device to create a name from one of the first few words of the portion. Even if the custom did develop in such a fashion, the very fact that the Jewish People collectively accepted these names for the weekly Torah portions has meaning.

In Jewish law and literature, we encounter a concept described as Minhag Yisrael Torah - "The customs of the Jewish nation become law." While a full explanation is beyond the scope of this essay, we do derive from Minhag Yisrael Torah the idea that the soul and spirit of the Jews is aware of the importance and holiness of certain practices, and will respond by adopting these practices as part of Judaism. (This, of course, does not include practices that are heretical to Torah.) So if we, as a nation, have accepted the names of the weekly Torah portions, we know that these names have cosmic significance in helping us understand each particular Parsha.

What then does the name "Vayakhel" - "And he (Moshe) congregated" - signify for our Torah portion?(1)

We will find the answer to our questions in a profound understanding of a passage of Talmud. The Talmud states (abridged):

From where do we derive that the Divine Presence is with a group of ten (a minyan) praying? Because the verse in Psalms 82, says, "God stands with His assembly." From where do we derive that God is with two people when they study Torah together? Because the verse in Malachi 3 states, "Then the God-fearing men spoke, each one to his friend, and God listened." And from where do we derive that even when one person studies Torah, God is with him? Because the verse in Exodus 20, says, "In every place that My Name is mentioned, I will come to you and bless you."

Now since we know that God's Presence is with even one person, why do we need to derive (from its own verse) that God is with two or ten people? The answer is that God writes a group of two in His Book of Remembrances, while an individual's study is not written there. With a group of ten, God actually comes to them before they start praying. (Babylonian Talmud, Brachot 6a)

The question that is probably bothering you also bothered the commentary Tosafot. How can we suggest that God only writes down the Torah study of a group of two? Don't we pray on Rosh Hashana for God to inscribe us in His Book of Life, whether or not we are with a group? Besides, the Mishna in Pirkei Avot says that "All of our actions are recorded in His book?"

Tosafot's answer that the Talmud in Brachot quoted above agrees that all of our actions are written down in God's book. But when we study with a partner, the action is recorded in its own separate book.

It would appear from Tosafot that God has separate books for Mitzvot done by individuals and for Mitzvot accomplished by groups. Now, we know that when the Talmud discusses books of God, the reference is merely figurative. God has no physical body and there is no physical existence in Heaven. But the imagery of books does have meaning. It is not merely a cute description. Rather, the explanation is that when a group does a Mitzvah together, it is quite a different spiritual reality than if an individual performs a holy deed. It is not a difference of the quantity of more people being involved in the action. Rather, the action is qualitatively different in the eyes of God when a group is involved. Therefore, it warrants a separate book. It deserves a separate "spiritual group file cabinet" and cannot be "filed" together with the positive actions of individuals.

It has been suggested that the word "team" stands for "Together Everyone Accomplishes More." Teamwork and working as a community are not simply ways to combine individuals' achievements. Rather, the team succeeds in ways that would be unimaginable for individuals. This is seen in team sports as well as in projects at work.

So too, in the spiritual realm. The quality of the Mitzvah will be far better when performed by a group and God credits the Mitzvah as such in Heaven. This is why the Mishna says in Pirkei Avot (4:14), "A group gathering for the sake of heaven is so powerful that it is guaranteed to have lasting effects."

So why do we repeat the construction of the Tabernacle? The power of community is the answer. The Book of Exodus is all about the formation of the Jewish People and Community. It is in Exodus where we come together as a nation in slavery, and in freedom. It is here where we accept the Torah at Sinai and receive our national mission to be a "light to the world." Is it not fitting then to conclude Exodus with the glowing national achievement of bringing God's Presence into the world through the Tabernacle? True, we made detailed mention of the significance of the Tabernacle in earlier Torah portions (See A Tedious Tabernacle) but we now encounter the building of the Mishkan as a community.

Earlier, Moshe individually received the commandments from God. That was the planning stage. Here, Moshe relays these commands to the Jewish nation and community. Now, it is the actual building stage. These commands and their fulfillment by the entire Jewish nation are carried out, bringing with it a different qualitative reality than its original mention to Moshe.

God wishes to stress this idea of the power of community and therefore "repeats" the sections of the Tabernacle's construction displaying the Jewish People's communal accomplishment.

This is why the Parsha is called "Vayakhel," -- "And he (Moshe) congregated." The key to the entire portion is to understand the importance of a congregation and its spiritually powerful actions. The Jewish People fulfilled their mission in bringing God into the world through the Tabernacle and they did it as a community, not as millions of individuals. They understood the unique reality to a group's actions, especially an entire nation's, and they appreciated every detail of their building the Tabernacle. So God writes every detail of the construction of the Tabernacle "again" because He wants us to appreciate it as well.

While reading Parshat VaYakhel, let's internalize the beautiful power of community building and teamwork in all aspects of our lives.


1. In addition, we find the following mystical comment by Rabbi Yeshayah Horowitz (Shnei Luchot Habrit, Volume One, page 10a, circa 17th Century). 'If someone is an ignoramus, who tries to study Torah but fails to understand anything, he should recite, with all of his heart, the individual names of each of the Five Books of Moses. Then, he should say the names of the individual parshiyot of the Bible. He should proceed with reciting the names of all of the books of the Prophets, the tractates of the Talmud, and the Midrashim. He will then merit to understand the entirety of the Torah in the World to Come."
   Rabbi Horowitz is definitely giving great prominence and spiritual meaning to the names of the parshiyot.
   What then does the name, "Vayakhel," "And he (Moshe) congregated" signify for our Torah portion? (return to text)

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