Rabbinic Reflections March 20, 2020

Dear Holy Friends,

Just a short while ago we read the Torah's account of the construction of the Tabernacle. We read it again in this week's Torah portion. Yet, we are aware that the Torah does not waste space with even one extra letter, let alone entire sections. Why then, the repetition?

Another question: Does the name of this week's portion "Vayakhel" have any meaning? In general, we do ascribe significance to the names of the Torah portions. Even though the custom developed to create a name from one of the first few words of the portion, the very fact that the Jewish people collectively accepted these names for the weekly Torah portions has meaning.

There is the famous concept described as Minhag Yisrael Torah - "The customs of the Jewish nation become law." So if we, as a nation, have accepted the names of the weekly Torah portions, we know that these names have cosmic significance in helping us understand each particular Parsha. What then does the name "Vayakhel" - "And he (Moshe) congregated" - signify for our Torah portion?

We are admonished not to separate ourselves from the community. The "tzibbur" (congregation) is essential in Judaism. It has been suggested that the word "team" can be an acronym standing for "Together Everyone Accomplishes More." (I wish I had thought that up). Teamwork and working as a community are not simply ways of combining individuals' achievements. Rather the team succeeds in ways that would be impossible and unimaginable for individuals. This is seen in sports as well as many projects undertaken to benefit society.

So too, in the spiritual realm. The quality of the "mitzvah" will be far better when performed by a group and God credits the "mitzvah" as such in heaven. A perfect example of this is praying as a minyan rather than as an individual. This is why the Mishnah says in Pirkei Avot (4:14), "A group gathering for the sake of heaven is so powerful that it is guaranteed to have lasting effects."

Back to the original question: why do we repeat the construction of the Tabernacle in this coming week's portion? The power of the community is the answer. The book of Exodus is all about the formation of the Jewish People and Community. We come together as a nation in slavery and in freedom. It is here where we accept the Torah at Sinai as a people and receive our national mission to be a "light to the world." We conclude Exodus with bringing God's Presence into the world through the Tabernacle. Though a detailed mention of the significance of the Tabernacle was made in earlier Torah portions, we now encounter the building of the Mishkan as a community. And therein lies the difference.

Earlier, Moses individually received the commandments from God. That was the planning stage. Here, Moses relays these commands to the Jewish nation and community. This, now, is the actual building stage. God wishes to stress this idea of the power of community and therefore repeats the sections of the Tabernacle's construction displaying the Jewish People's communal accomplishment. The repetition then is not for redundancy but to show a new and elevated context. The key to the entire portion is to understand the importance of a congregation and its spiritually powerful actions.

Even during these trying times, while we are only being allowed to function as a “virtual community,” let's internalize the beautiful power of our CBIOTP community and continue learning from the power of teamwork so as to incorporate that virtue into all aspects of our lives.

Wishing you a restful, safe and peaceful Shabbat.

Rabbi Eric L. Wasser Elw613@gmail.com 201.562.5277