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Parashat Vayechei-Pekudei

March 17, 2023
24 Adar 5783
Exodus 35:1-40:38, 12:1-20

Dear Friends,

Creating common ground, creating a space where divergent points of view can be heard though not necessarily agreed upon is exceedingly difficult. One might even say that, given the times in which we live, it is impossible.

But in times like these, I believe with all my heart that the work we must do is not to agree but to listen and to see. You have heard me say this time and time again. Now I write it urgently. Israel is at a breaking point and many of us are deeply frightened that it will split in two, creating havoc unlike anything we have ever seen since the fall of the Second Temple. The rabbis teach that the Second Temple fell because of Sinat Chinam, baseless hatred of Jew toward Jew. My deep-seated fear is that we could be at just such a moment. As a people, the inability to disagree and still see each other as Bezalem Elohim, created in the image of the Divine, threatens to destroy us. What can we do? Where do we turn for guidance at such a moment. We know that doing nothing is simply not an option. Being silent observers will not do. 

This week’s double portion which marks the end of the book of Exodus, Vayak’hel-Pekudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38), gives us some guidance for the moment we are in -- a road map, so to speak. We begin by looking at the names of these two Torah portions. Vayak’hel means “and he gathered or convened” and Pekudei means “inventory or tally or accounting of”.  Unlike the gathering that happened, which led to the Golden Calf, this time when the people gather it is not in fear and anger -- it is in hope and with open hearts.

Some may ask if it is necessary to go through a destructive phase to understand why operating with an open heart is the only way forward, even in the face of adversity and the great unknown. We find ourselves at a moment in Chapter 35, when the people are asked to contribute to the creation of the Mishkan, a dwelling place for the Divine . They do, even to the point where Moses has to hold them back and tell them they have given enough.

Beyond providing the raw supplies, the people step forward in the construction of the Mishkan, which requires a wide variety of skills and talents. Together, the people construct the garments of the priests, the incense recipe , the ritual objects used in the Mishkan, and the fabrication of a movable dwelling place for the Divine that is not only practical but is beautiful. The picture that we are given in all of its painstaking detail is that of a community working together, each doing that which they are capable of doing.

Here is the challenge that we face at this moment. We do not want to wait for that moment where Moses' anger is so hot that the first set of tablets is destroyed. Our prayer at this moment is to find that moment where we can restitch the fabric of the community that is being ripped apart. We do not want to wait until we recognize what has been lost, as imperfect as it was. 

Before one addresses a problem, a danger, it needs to be defined. Let us put our heads together, listen to one another, and see what we can do. As this week’s double portion so clearly teaches us, when the people work together, with a sense of common purpose and in hope and not in fear, great things are possible.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn

Wed, May 22 2024 14 Iyyar 5784