Vayakhel: The power of community

Vayakhel: The power of community

This week’s Torah portion, Parshat Vayakhel, is an interesting little parsha. For the most part it continues the instructions for the building of the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary for God that the Israelites built in the desert. But to me it is a parsha devoted to the POWER of community! The reason I became a rabbi, the Torah that I teach, is all about community. The Jewish endeavor is about learning to live in community. Something that previous generations took for granted, today we have to work at to achieve. Community does not come easily to us raised in a culture of rugged individualism. Live and let live is the American way. But living in community is the Jewish way. You can’t be a Jewish hermit; Judaism, if lived fully, demands of us involvement with others.

So what happens in Parshat Vayakhel and what can we learn from it? First, we see that the people gather together. From this we can learn that there is power in numbers. When we join together with others we can accomplish tasks that we cannot do alone. A room full of people all singing a prayer together has a power that is absent when someone prays alone. I recently joined with the students of our Hebrew High to participate in Midnight Run, a program where we bring food and clothing to the homeless of New York City. We literally made hundreds of sandwiches that night, something that I could not have done on my own. We transported and distributed bags of clothing, well beyond what one person could have done on their own. There is a power in collaborative effort.

Moshe instructs the Israelites to bring gifts for the Lord, “everyone whose heart so moves him” (Exodus 35:5), and the people bring so much that he has to ask them to stop. Now I tell you this is every fundraiser’s dream that people will be so generous that we have to ask them to stop giving. I can assure you that every synagogue, day school, social agency and Federation recipient is in need of additional funds. This is an extremely difficult time for a non-profit entity to raise funds and make ends meet. However, we see from the text that the key here is for each of us to feel so moved that we are inspired to give maximally not minimally. It isn’t easy, but it is needed and we can see that when everyone gives from the heart, enough is given to sustain.

Bezalel is identified as a master craftsman, one who has skill, ability and knowledge. The great medieval commentator, Rashi, defines skill as what we learn from others, ability as what we gain from our own insight and ability and knowledge as divine inspiration. I suspect that today we might define them differently, but the salient factor for me is that we are a composite of everything we learn and do combined with our innate abilities. Creation is a challenging process and each of us has different skills and weaknesses, but collectively we can accomplish tasks that individually would be beyond our ability.

We are a complex Jewish community, more often than not we are at odds with one another. If we could work together combining our talents, there is so much more that we could accomplish right here in Northern New Jersey. I’m not a Moshe or a Bezalel, I have enough trouble trying to lead my own little congregation, but I think that message of Parshat Vayakhel is one worth taking note of and doing our best to emulate.