Thursday, 11 Mar 2021

Written by Peter Luijendijk



 “Therefore, say, “I hereby give him My covenant of peace”
Numbers 25:12

This week’s Parashah is a  “double” one. Vayakhel is often read together with Parashat Pekudei. These two Parashiyyot are interesting together. In Vayakhel (and he assembled), Moses assembles the people and instructs them on what God commanded them to do. He instructs them on the laws of Shabbat, for instance. Then he asks the people to make an offering of gold and other metals, different colours of fabric, etc. etc. All those things that are needed to fashion the Tabernacle and all of its vessels. [One might see an overlap with Parashat Terumah].

This assumption is definitely not wrong. Both Parashiyyot tells about the vessels needed for producing the Tabernacle. However, there is also a big difference. Parashat Terumah reads more like a blueprint. We read how the items ought to look like. It tells us about what sort of materials are needed in what quantity, how big everything needs to be. It goes even as far as to tell us about the gold quantity. What needs to be solid gold and what needs to be gold covered wood. Parashat Terumah is a blueprint – an instruction manual.

The Parashah for this week is slightly different. Parashat Vayakhel is not an instruction manual – here it is about action. As goes for us in our daily lives, what we plan does not always materialise as it came to us when we thought about it. Sometimes we notice that, even though on paper it seemed like a good plan, we have to adjust as we move forward. The planning from Terumah finds a slightly difference in the execution of this plan in Vayakhel.

In Terumah we read that the tribes have to offer a fixed amount to the production and maintenance of the Tabernacle. In Vayakhel we hear Moses say that: “Whomever is of a willing heart, take from amongst you an offering to Adonai”. Of course there is some prescriptiveness in it – but it leaves the door open to give less if one isn’t able to give more.

In our story of this week we see that this leniency actually resulted in an overabundance of offering, and the leaders had to tell people to stop giving more.

We find ourselves today in a world of equal reflection. Every one of us has their own personal blueprint of how we as individuals know our world. For over a year now we have learned that what we gave and want to give to others – isn’t possible yet, but it is still wanted and very much needed. The liberal instruction of action in Vayakhel, for us, is a deliberate command to action. Both actions are different. In this week’s Torah portion it is about the ability to do something great for the wider community by coming together, to form a kehillah. Now it is required of us not to come together physically, not to see friends, to keep our distance. Our own personal stories are a mirror image of the story we read in Torah.

I am confident that we all believe in another Jewish value; that we need to keep each other safe and out of harm’s way. But what Vayakhel shows, is that we crave physical human interaction. To have tea together and sit together for Shabbat.

What a blessing it is that we have Zoom, even though many of you have expressed a feeling of being “Zoomed out”. But let us not forget that Zoom also allows many things we otherwise couldn’t have done. Community members who couldn’t have travelled to a shul before the pandemic are with us on Zoom. They can active participate with the rest of us. There is also this sense that we are all in the same boat. Now more than ever, we are true equals. Everyone is locked up and locked down. Zoom makes it easier to look after those who would otherwise be more distant.

In a way, despite all the restriction and personal anxieties that we feel, we found a way to come together stronger as ever, as a community – to be a kehillah.

Thanks to another blessing, we may, in a few months time, see each other in shul again. I am writing this from The Netherlands at the moment. Our vaccination protocol is due to be completed somewhere in May or beginning of June.

The end is nigh, and that is very positive news. Till that time, we may not give up working to strengthen our communities and to come together. We need and crave social contact, and thanks to our collective effort, enthusiasm and care for one another, we found a good way to continue with this.

Often when I read this Parashah as a child, I was bored by the dry detail of things to be built. But our story of this week is not about the vessels or the Tabernacle. By building the Tabernacle together, the people of Israel are building themselves up as a nation, as a family, as a community and as friends.

Let us continue to build each other up positively, knowing that soon, very soon, we can have tea together again, that we can have Shabbat together again – in the physical space, not the digital.

According to a Jewish tale, on king Solomon’s ring the following words were written “Gam zeh ya’avor” – this too shall pass.


Peter Luijendijk LBC rabbinic student

The views expressed in this D’var Torah do not necessarily reflect the position of Leo Baeck College.