The parshiot of Vayakhel and Pekudei explain, in detail, the various parts and ritual items of the Mishkan, the place where God dwelt among us throughout our desert wanderings. It might seem that studying these details could serve as a painful reminder that, once again, we are not meeting in our sanctuary this Shabbat. However, I have found the opposite to be true.
Parshat Vayakhel details the various tasks that need to be completed for the physical construction of the Mishkan:
“Every wise-hearted person among you shall come and make everything that Hashem has commanded: the Tabernacle, its tent, and its Cover, its hooks, its planks, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets; the Ark and its staves, the Cover, the Partition-curtain; the Table, its staves, and all its utensils, and the show bread; the Menorah of illumination, its utensils, and its lamps, and the incense spices, and the entrance-screen for the entrance of the Tabernacle; the Burnt-offering Altar and the copper netting for it, its staves, and all its utensils, the Laver and its base; the curtains of the Courtyard, its pillars and its sockets, and the screen of the gate of the Courtyard; the pegs of the Tabernacle, the pegs of the Courtyard, and their cords; the knit vestments to serve in the Sanctuary, the sacred vestments for Aaron the Kohen and the vestments of his sons to minister.” (Ex. 35: 10-19)
With this building project before us, a spirit of generosity flows from among Israel. So much so that Moshe Rabbenu must say, “Man and woman shall not do more work toward the gift for the Sanctuary!” (36:6) The people were restrained from bringing gifts. There was enough for the project at hand. In fact, there was extra.
First, I am touched by this idea of abundance this Shabbat. Like many of you, I have experienced a fair bit of anxiety over the seeming lack of abundance in our world today. I have read reports from manufacturers and suppliers that there is enough food, supply chains are intact, and that shelves are being restocked every day. Yet, we are inundated with pictures of empty shelves across the globe. In reality, this is not because there is a lack of food. It is because there is a lack of generosity.
Our Sages, of blessed memory, decided that sacred time is created by refraining from the tasks required to build sacred space. Therefore, on Shabbat we create sacred time by refraining from the artisanal work required to build the Mishkan. We turn from physical generosity, giving of our treasure and our skills, to emotional generosity, giving of our time and our attention. The well-known Shabbat zemer, “Menucha v’Simcha” concludes with the words, “With two loaves of bread (on Friday Night) and the Great Kiddush (on Saturday morning), with an abundance of delicious foods and a spirit of generosity. Those who delight in Shabbat will merit goodness and eternal life with the coming of redemption.” I sincerely pray that we strive (and succeed!) at creating an atmosphere of abundance and generosity this Shabbat.
How might we begin to do this? I believe the answer can be found in the second of our two parshiot, Parshat Pekudei. This parsha describes the priestly vestments that were to be worn by Aaron and his descendants while engaged in the intimate work of uniting God and Israel within the Mishkan. A friend and colleague of mine pointed out a familiar picture that we find in Parshat Pekudei. Exodus 39 describes the Ephod, the Priest’s breastplate. A square was made that would hang from the Priest’s neck. Upon it they would affix four rows of stones according to the names of the sons of Israel, the twelve tribes. It isn’t difficult to imagine rows of images representing the people nearest and dearest to us. In fact, it looks quite similar to the video conference calls that have become a regular part of our daily lives these days. How do we create a spirit of generosity? We do so by using every tool at our disposal to continue to connect with one another. We do so by carrying around the faces of our loved ones and community members even as we are apart from one another. If not on our chests, than on our phone and computer screens, or even just in our hearts. We do it by carving out time to care for others. I am touched by the small acts of caring I have witnessed this week. I am grateful to the neighbors who anonymously left flowers on our doorstep yesterday. I am touched by the fervor of those who want to make sure that everyone in our community has what they need at this challenging time. I give thanks to my family for constantly giving time, space, and patience to one another so that we can each make sure our respective needs are met.
The Mishkan we build this week is referred to as a “Mishkan HaEdut”or a “Dwelling Place of Witness.” What was it that the Mishkan witnessed? It witnessed our relationship with the Holy One of Blessing and reminded us that we are deserving of love and connection with God through one another. May we all benefit from building, and dwelling within, such a Mishkan this Shabbat.
Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach!