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Torah Sparks

Parashiot Vayakhel-Pekudei (Shabbat HaHodesh)
March 9, 2013 – 27 Adar 5773

Annual: Exodus 35:1-40:38 (Etz Hayim p. 552; Hertz p. 373)
Triennial: Exodus 39:22-40:38 (Etz Hayim p. 567; Hertz p. 387)
Maftir: Exodus 12:1-20 (Etz Hayim p. 380; Hertz p. 252)
Haftarah (A): Ezekiel 45:16-46:18 (Etz Hayim p. 1291; Hertz p. 1001)
Haftarah (S): Ezekiel 45:18-46:15 (Etz Hayim p. 1291; Hertz p. 1002)

Hazak, hazak, v'nithazek!

Prepared by Rabbi Joseph Prouser
(Temple Emanuel of North Jersey; Franklin Lakes, NJ)

Moses convokes the Israelite nation and reminds the people of the proper way to observe the Sabbath, detailing the prohibition against kindling or using fire on Shabbat.

Moses calls upon the people to provide materials for completion of the Tabernacle. The Israelites respond enthusiastically, exceeding the need and producing a surplus of materials. The parashah repeatedly mentions that women participate in this process, referring to a group of women "who performed tasks at the entrance of the tent of meeting."

The creatively gifted Bezalel, who was further blessed with the ability to teach others effectively, is designated as the leading master craftsman in the effort to complete the beautification and maintenance of the sanctuary. Oholiab also takes a leading role in providing for the Tabernacle's artistic and esthetic needs. Parashat Vayakhel revisits information familiar from earlier chapters in the Book of Exodus, describing the construction of the Tabernacle and its various furnishings and accoutrements. The final details reported in the parashah are construction of the priestly laver from copper mirrors donated by Israelite women, and a report on the dimensions of the enclosure for the holy precincts.

The closing portion of the Book of Exodus, Parashat Pekudei, opens with an inventory of the metals that had been contributed to the sanctuary, together with a more precise count of the Israelite population that brought those gifts: 603,550 men over the age of twenty, when they became eligible for military service, with the implicit addition of their families.

A detailed description of the elaborate priestly vestments is provided. The Tabernacle is finally completed. Moses bestows a blessing on the Israelites for their diligent efforts. The completed Tabernacle, now ready for "deployment," is erected and its furnishings properly arranged – at God's command – "on the first day of the first month" – effecting a fitting New Year's celebration. It has been precisely nine months since the revelation at Mount Sinai. The ritual implements within the sanctuary are anointed and dedicated to their sacred functions. In a final consummation of the construction effort, the Divine Presence fills the Tabernacle. "When the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the Israelites would set out," continuing their trek to the Promised Land. During these journeys, the cloud of God's Presence would rest over the Tabernacle by day and take on a fiery aspect at night.

Theme #1: "Hearts and Crafts"

"Moses then called Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skilled person (Hebrew: chacham lev – literally, the 'wise of heart' – JHP) whom the Lord had endowed with skill, everyone who excelled in ability, to undertake the task and carry it out." (Exodus 36:2 – Vayakhel)

Derash: Study

"Why didn't the 'skilled' come of their own volition… Why did they wait for Moses specifically to invite them? One with a truly 'wise heart' does not consider himself wise. The 'wise of heart,' therefore, did not realize that Moses had them in mind: he had to invite them personally." (Likutei Peninim)

"Wisdom of the mind alone, without wisdom of the heart, is worthless." (Aaron of Karlin)

"When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me'." (Erma Bombeck)

"The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize." (Robert Hughes, Australian art critic and writer)

"Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work." (Stephen King)

"Wisdom is knowing what to do next, skill is knowing how to do it, and virtue is doing it." (David Starr Jordan)

Questions for Discussion

How does our reading of Moses' call to action change based on our translation of "chacham lev" as "skilled person" or "wise of heart"? How might the various "commentators" cited above respond to this question? Which translation do you find more appealing? More likely?

What broader applications does Aaron of Karlin's insight about the mind and the heart have to modern Jewish history?

How do you prioritize "wisdom, skill, and virtue" (see D. S. Jordan) as personal goals? In your religious leaders? In your political leaders? In raising your children (and in their children)? What character traits do Likutei Peninim and Robert Hughes seem to add to this list?

If we are, indeed, "endowed by our Creator" with individual skills… what do we owe God in return? (See Erma Bombeck!)

Theme #2: "Father Knows Vest"

"Put the sacral vestments on Aaron, and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve Me as priest. Then bring his sons forward, put tunics on them, and anoint them as you have anointed their father, that they may serve Me as priests. This their anointing shall serve them for everlasting priesthood throughout the ages." (Exodus 40:13-15 – Pekudei)

Derash: Study

"Why was it necessary to tell Moses to anoint the sons of Aaron just as he had their father? To signify to him the spirit in which he was to perform the ceremony. Moses had not been jealous of the priestly sanctity conferred upon his brother Aaron because he, Moses, had himself been prophet and king of his people and even fulfilled the functions of high priest during the seven days of preparation which preceded the Giving of the Torah. But Moses might well have resented the fact that his own children could not have been raised to lofty position… It was for this reason that the Lord reminded Moses that when he would anoint Aaron's sons he must do it with the same joy and eagerness as he had shown when consecrating their father." (Meshech Chochmah)

"While Aaron was able to perpetuate his life by transferring his garments to his son before his death, Moses was not granted to do so, and he comforted his brother, 'Happy are you that you see your crown given to your son, a merit denied me.' Therein lay Moses' humility and self-effacement." (Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovitz)

"Was it easy and trouble-free, or frightening and difficult for Moshe to step back and out of the way, to let go? It's a sublime (or perhaps excruciating) moment of transition… Moshe stepping back to witness the completion and ignition of the Mishkan is a useful metaphor for us contemporary Jews in so many ways. Like Moses and the Israelites, this sacred work is done in community, not alone - because each of us brings special gifts and blessings to the effort that builds communal holy space. Like Moses and the Israelites, today's Jews need both the design and architecture AND the intention and vision to create sacred space and community together. In other words, it's not just about architecture and design instructions and materials and the 'stuff' that makes a space, or a life, beautiful and sacred. Like Moshe and the Israelites, we also need the kavannah (intention) and presence of mind to invite sacredness inside, so that our own lives, like the Mishkan, can be filled with holiness, meaning, and integrity. And sometimes, that means letting go, getting out of our own way, and letting the magic take over, so that new stories can emerge." (Caryn Aviv)

"One of the strongest natural proofs of the folly of hereditary right in kings is, that nature disapproves of it; otherwise she would not so frequently turn it into ridicule by giving mankind an ass in place of a lion." (Thomas Paine)

Questions for Discussion

How do you explain the diminutive role and spiritual stature of Moses' sons? Does Moses bear some responsibility for this? Might it, in fact, have been his choice… his preference?!

How do Meshech Chochmah and the late British Chief Rabbi Jakobovitz differ in their estimation of Moses' mindset in ordaining his nephews? Which do you find more convincing?

Notwithstanding Thomas Paine's caustic critique of hereditary leadership, what constructive function is played by the "everlasting priesthood" conferred on Aaron and his descendants… to our very day?

Which of your values and commitments do you most want your children and their children to carry on on an "everlasting" basis. What steps have you taken to assure that continuity?

Historic Note

Parashat Vayakhel, read together with Parashat Pekudei on March 9, 2013, repeatedly stresses the participation of women in furnishing the Tabernacle and providing for its decorative and ritual needs (See Exodus 35:22, 26, 29; 36:6; 38:8), specifically mentioning a group of "women who performed tasks at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting," also mentioned in I Samuel 2:22. On March 9, 1979, Bowie Kuhn, Commissioner of Major League Baseball, ordered equal access be given to female reporters.

Halachah L'Maaseh

The penitential Tachanun prayers added to weekday shacharit and minchah services are omitted throughout the month of Nisan. Rabbi Francis Nataf observes that this represents "the longest period of time when we do not say Tachanun. It is a period of rebirth, where we are allowed to weaken our level of introspection, in order to focus on the positive messages of Pesach and Spring." (A number of other liturgical elements, deemed similarly inconsistent with the festive nature of the season, are also commonly omitted by some. These include – in varying degrees – Tzidkatcha Tzedek at Shabbat Minchah, and Tziduk Ha-Din and El Molei Rachamim at funerals. Some advise that eulogies also be limited to the particularly worthy, or curtailed in general. See Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 429:2 and Rema ad loc.) The omission of Tachanun is extended throughout the month, according to Mishnah Berurah 429:2 because the first twelve days of the month were historic celebrations associated with the dedicatory gifts brought to the Tabernacle by the tribal princes. (Also see Be'er Hetev and BT Menachot 65A for a slightly different calendrical calculus.) With the eight days of Pesach added to these, plus Isru Chag (the day following conclusion of the festival) – not to mention Shabbat – a majority of the month is already designated as unsuited to Tachanun. "Rubo k'Kulo" – the whole takes on the character of the majority: Tachanun is omitted for the entire month.

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