Vayakhel-Pekudei: Worshipping God with the collective wisdom of our hearts
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Vayakhel-Pekudei: Worshipping God with the collective wisdom of our hearts

Glen Rock Jewish Center, Conservative

Rabbi Jennifer Schlosberg
Rabbi Jennifer Schlosberg

The postponement of my bat mitzvah ceremony was a meaningful incident.  

It was March 12, 1993, the evening that the “Storm of the Century” hit. This massive blizzard would heave six feet of snow on the ground. It was also the day that I learned from my parents and my rabbi that my bat mitzvah ceremony the next day would be postponed. 

Fast forward twenty-seven years – to the day – and I now would be the rabbi telling students and their families that we would need to postpone their celebrations as well. 

I never gave my bat mitzvah d’var Torah on Ki Tisa, last week’s parasha. And here I am again, giving one on Vayakhel-Pekudei, what became my postponed parasha. I promise you that agreeing to write this week was completely unintentional on my part. But on God’s part? I have learned better. 

Vayakhel-Pekudei describes the building of the mishkan, the tabernacle where the Israelites would worship God. What does it mean to worship God and how do we get there? 

What unfolds in our parasha is a to-do list of what it takes to build this sanctified space around which God’s presence dwells. Moses calls upon the Israelites to give materials toward this community-wide campaign. Some gave silver and others gave yarn. And from all those collective materials, the leaders, Betzalel and Oholiav – chief artisans described as being “wise of heart” – would create a space where the Israelites would sanctify God. 

What does it mean to worship God and how do we get there? 

It means, in a time like this, enacting a rabbinic sha’at dehak – an emergency situation that calls upon us to act quickly and decisively, even if not in the traditional way. It means that we stop worshipping God in the pews, but serve God through our wise hearts. It means making smart choices that will keep us and the greater community safe. It means giving whatever we have to help others because even our mere contributions – when combined – have the power to impact the masses. It means reaching out to those in need. It means calling upon our chief leaders and volunteers who are wise of heart, willing to put themselves on the front lines, to do whatever they can to save those in danger. It means working together to build something that is beyond us, more than us. It means setting aside the inconveniences of our daily lives and our individual desires to unite for a common cause that could save lives. 

Worshipping God is the enactment of our deepest abilities to call upon the wisdom of our hearts. While worshipping God comes from us, it extends far, far beyond us. 

Each time when I first meet with b’nei mitzvah students, I explain to them what it means to become a bar or bat mitzvah — a responsible Jewish adult, guided by our Jewish values. Sometimes we might not feel like following the mitzvot (commandments, which might feel like an inconvenience or burden. Nonetheless, we are called upon to do them anyway because we are responsible adults guided by our values. 

There is no greater value in the Jewish tradition than saving a life. Everything else is secondary. 

The postponement of my bat mitzvah ceremony was a meaningful incident.   

It allowed my family, friends, family, and community to build collaborative efforts around the postponement of my special day. It intensified my rite of passage into one focused on learning, responsibility, and kindness. It taught me that sometimes we put in the hard work and never reap the benefits of that work. But that doesn’t mean that our work is in vain. I learned that this Jewish ritual was not all about me. And above all else, I learn about resilience and accepting that life is not always what we plan it to be. What transpired after those difficult moments during the “Storm of the Century” were opportunities to connect, support, love, and build something even greater than me. 

Life does not go according to our plans. But when it doesn’t, we work together. We give whatever we’ve got. We see beyond ourselves. We unite to build safe spaces and sacred places for those around us. Postponing or cancelling even those events that required extensive preparation in a time like this should not be approached as an inconvenience, but rather, our collective responsibility.  

How do we build a sanctuary around which we worship God? 

We lead passionately and fearlessly – with hope in our souls – guided by the collective innermost wisdom of our hearts.

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