Vayakhel On Assembly Rabbi Moshe P. Weisblum March 5, 2005 24 Adar I 5765
How appropriate and wonderful it is that we are gathered together to learn about the Parsha Vayakhel. After all, Vayakhel means, "To assemble". Our own Knesset Israel literally means the assembled of Israel. Today, we will explore different kinds of assemblies throughout history and what they mean to our lives.
Let’s go back to the beginning of civilization. Fascinating anthropologists, like Margaret Mead, who have studied human behavior among primitive and civilized cultures, found mankind needs each other in order to survive. Men and women are not meant to lead isolated lives. We need love, friendship and community. We need family. And more than that, we feel best when we contribute in a positive way to society. Additionally, in Proverbs it is said "Do not separate oneself from the community". Although life-styles have changed dramatically since primitive times, the concept of strength through unity remains true. Primitive civilizations were structured around the hunters and the gatherers, providing basic sustenance like food, shelter, and clothing for their families. Each group relied on the other for survival. Societies were forged as people worked together toward a common goal.
Hunting has been replaced by the supermarket, but, in much the same way, our lives still depend on gathering. Last Sunday, millions of Americans were grouped together in front of television sets to watch one of Hollywood’s largest extravaganzas. For weeks, new about the Oscars made headlines. Who would win the Oscar for best picture? The little golden statuettes become the focus for masses of people each year.
Let’s talk about group dynamics for a moment. What happens when we focus in the same direction? The Gestalt school of psychology advocates that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A body can not function to its capacity if all of its functions operate independently from one another. Take Kneidlach sour, for example. If your sense of taste is working but your smell sensors are clogged, the soup just can’t taste as good. Working together as one unit becomes more efficient – and in this case, more delicious.
Coaches call such dynamics, team spirit. The positive result of working together as a cohesive group is what Super Bowls and World Series are made of. Anyone involved in sports teams knows that championships are not won by a single person.
On Tuesday, my sons, Elimelech and Meir, and I participated in a tremendous show of Jewish unity. All across North America, from East Coast to West, as many as 120,000 Jews joined together in celebration of the eleventh Siyum HaShas, ending a seven and a half year – and 2,711 page cycle of the Talmud Daf Yomi program. Students of Daf Yomi, study one "daf" or page of Talmud each day. Everyone in the world is on the same page. Unity on a universal scale!
Tuesday night, an extension of the Daf Yomi program culminated in a gala event called Jewish Unity Live 2005. Celebrities and leaders, unified in their support for Jewish heritage and the teachings of Torah, simultaneously gathered together. This monumental spectacular, spanning from New Jersey to Johannesburg to Jerusalem, connected college campuses, U.S. military bases and Jewish communities throughout the world. Again the theme of Parsha Vayakhel becomes clear. We are each an important soul, but together, we are whole.
Another type of gathering will take place on Wednesday for a yahrtzeit in honor of my great, great grandfather, Rabbi Noam Elimelech of Lizhensk, Poland. A beloved and very highly respected Tzadik, Rabbi Elimelech traveled together with his brother, Rabbi Meshulam Zushia of Anipoli, to spread the word of Chassidism. He died in 1786. Each year his yahrtzeit is commemorated around the world. Thousands flock to his gravesite to connect with his soul, receiving inspiration from his teachings.
There was unfortunately another gathering of sorts in Tel Aviv last week. In a gruesome terrorist explosion at a night club, ZAKA, an all volunteer organization, was first on the scene to collect the dead bodies. ZAKA dedicates themselves to preserving the dignity of human remains with respect to Jewish law and tradition.
In addition, throughout Israel, there are rallies and demonstrations as citizens gather to protest the situation of the settlements in Gush Katif and West Bank cities.
Here at home, we have another kind of gathering in courthouses throughout our nation. I’m sure you are aware of the recent controversy in Kentucky and Texas regarding the public display of the Ten Commandments. It is ironic that today, in our Parsha, we discuss the arduous journey to obtain those tablets three thousand years ago. It will be interesting to explore the outcome of these court cases and what place these tablets will hold in modern society.
Parsha Vayakhel tells us how a nation of three million Jews, men, women, and children, gathered at the foot of Mt. Sinai to witness and receive the word of G-d. Here the Jews received specific instructions on sanctifying the Shabbat and how to erect the Mishkan. Our sages tell us that the unified passion of this assembly was so strong that it served as the collaborative atonement for the sin of the previous one on Mt. Sinai. That of course, was the worship of the Golden Calf.
It should be noted here, that no woman donated any of her gold or jewelry for the creation of the Golden Calf. However, when it came to contributing their sparkling possessions for the building of the Mishkan, women were the first to volunteer freely, without hesitation. G-d rewarded the women for their piety, honoring them with the Rosh Chodesh holiday. The bright glow of hope from a full moon each new month helps us go from strength to strength, seeking new beginnings and carrying us through another month. We gather strength as we remember these faithful women and their resolve to honor G-d’s name, not giving in to false idols or golden statuettes that serve as obstacles to higher goals.
The Parsha goes on to tell us that the donations were overwhelming. So much so, that in two days there was more than enough gold, silver, copper, linen, wool, goat hair, acacia wood and more to proceed with the building of the Mishkan according to G-d’s instructions. Don’t be mislead however, all that glitters is not gold! The noble princes and the wealthiest among the Jewish nations seemed to have "miscalculated" and were not as generous as the general masses. Some believed they were deliberate in their donation attempts, while others say they planned a "matching fund" contribution at the end, thereby being recognized as the superheroes of fund raising.
Their gifts became unnecessary. In two days of freewill offerings, there was more than a sufficient amount of supplies. G-d was pleased that the foundation for the Mishkan was built on the true goodness and character of the new Jewish nation.
We are all equal in G-d’s eyes, rich and poor, old and young, Tzadik or repentant sinner. Our value is in our deeds and what we hold in our hearts. We are judged on our merits. We see this clearly in the Parsha.
"Let, then, Bezalel and Oholiab and all the skilled persons whom the Lord has endowed with skill and ability to perform expertly all the tasks connected with the service of the sanctuary, carry out all that the Lord has commanded."
Who did G-d name to lead the building of the all important Mishkan? Bezalel, the son of Miriam, a descendant from the holy tribe of Yehudah. He also names, with equal standing, Oholiab, a common worker from the tribe of Dan, a descendant from the concubine of Yaakov. Why? So that no single person or class is deemed higher or more important in G-d’s eyes. If G-d sees us all as equal, so too, we must see ourselves as such. Moreover, it is incumbent on all of us, equally, to carry on G-d’s commandment, that we be a nation of priests and holy people. By working toward a common goal of repairing and improving the world, we honor our commitment to The Almighty.
As we look forward to Purim, we remember how Mordechai gathered twenty-two thousand children to pray for victory from the evil Persian empires. Esther also used the power of assembly when she begged the people to fast and pray together for three days prior to going before King Achashveras, seeking the salvation of the Jewish people.
As we sit here today, let’s reflect on what it means to be a part of something greater than ourselves. We are certainly unique individuals, but we are also members of something much greater. We are a community and we belong together. We are joined by our common purpose to keep Judaism alive. We must solidify the bonds of our heritage to our children and their children, and to each other, together with The Almighty.
We are a comparatively small nation. It is repeated over and over again in the Bible that we will remain "few in numbers". Thomas Paine, noted historical writer, wrote in 1776, "It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies". And he wasn’t even Jewish!
May we always have occasions to feel connected to our individual souls, be mindful of our place in the world, never losing sight of our collective mission and find comfort being an integral part of Klal Israel, a unified nation of Israel. Amen.