PARASHAT VAYAKEHL AND PEKUDAI

March 19, 2020

Saturday 21st March 2020                                                                                          25th Adar 5780

 

PARASHAT VAYAKEHL AND PEKUDAI

Exodus 35:1 – 40:38; Ezekiel 45:16 – 46:18; Luke 22:1-13

 

 

We have a double portion this Shabbat which concludes the book of Exodus. At the conclusion of e ach of the five books of Torah, we stand together as a community and chant ‘chazak, chazak v’nitzchazeik’ – ‘be strong, be strong and may we be strengthened’ ( you can learn more about this custom at http://beitariel.co.za/articles/why-do-we-say-chazak-chazak-vnitzchazeik-end-each-book-torah,).

 

This Shabbat is also another of the special Shabbatot that punctuate the Jewish year and is called Shabbat HaChodesh. Allow me to explain.

On Monday evening, we celebrated Purim. Next week, Thursday 26th March, is Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the beginning of the Hebrew month when we observe Pesach. The Shabbat that falls after Purim and before Rosh Chodesh Nissan, is called Shabbat HaChodesh.

On this Shabbat, we read the special "Hachodesh" reading from Exodus 12:1-20, which recounts G‑d's historic communication to Moses in Egypt on the first of Nissan, two weeks before the Exodus.

Shabbat HaChodesh.

 

Purim                               Shabbat                               Rosh Chodesh                                   Pesach                            

                                        HaChodesh                                 Nissan                                             

Monday                                      Saturday                                  Thursday                                     Wednesday                                        

10th March                   21st March                               26th March                                      8th April

14th Adar                       25th Adar                                  1st Nissan                                     14th Nissan

 

The double portion repeats many of the instructions carried in the previous 3 parashiyot. For example, the emphasis on Shabbat observance is repeated again.

From a literary point of view, we have a very nice sandwich:  

  • Two weeks of Tabernacle instructions (Terumah, Tetzaveh),

  • the middle filling - the Golden Calf incident, (Ki Tisa), and

  • the 2 weeks of the actual Tabernacle construction (VaYakhel, Pekudei).

 

Commentators, who note the Torah's brevity on many occasions, struggle with this! Surely, Torah could have simply said: All that God commanded, they did, instead of virtually repeating everything! However, there are

Two slight differences that should be noted;

  • in the earlier parashiyot, the instructions were future i.e. "You shall make the altar"

  • in the final 2 parashiyot of the book of Exodus, the instructions are in the past tense; e.g. "He made the altar." 

AND,

  •  the description in the earlier parashiyot begins with the holiest and most important objects and works outward toward the entrance 

  • However, when the construction begins, the work begins from the outer and works its way forward to the most holy items hidden behind the veil.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel, Moses assembles the entire Israelite community and tells them what God has commanded.

Ex 35:1-3

1          Moses assembled the whole Israelite community and said to them, "These are the things the LORD has commanded you to do:

2          For six days, work is to be done, but the seventh day shall be your holy day, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work

            on it must be put to death.

3          Do not light a fire in any of your dwellings on the Sabbath day."

 

The word ‘Vayakhel’ means ‘and he gathered’ or “he assembled. In fact, we find this word ‘vayakeyl’ mentioned once in Genesis, twice in Exodus, once in Leviticus and 4 times in the book of Numbers. In total, ‘vayakeyl’ is mentioned only eight times in the entire Torah!  And so, the chazal (sages) ask why is it mentioned here?

One possible reason is that the previous day, Moses had descended from the Mountain carrying the 2nd set of the Stone tablets. Moses gathered the people together not only to impart the instructions for the actual building of the Mishakan, but also, to receive G-d’s forgiveness for the terrible sin of the eigel zahav, the golden calf incident.  

Even as they gathered together in a unified manner some days earlier to receive the original tablets of Torah, so too did they come together as one to receive the 2nd set which, according to the rabbis, was indicative of G-d’s forgiveness for the sin of the golden calf! The fact that HaShem provided a 2nd set was interpreted that God had forgiven their terrible sin.

 

There is a further possible reason why Moshe gathered the people together. The construction of the Temple was intended to reveal HaShem’s presence in the world and therefore, unity is the prerequisite for Hashem’s revelation – Psalm 133. Before the Torah was given, there had to be unity amongst the Jewish people. When Torah says they gathered before the mountain, it is in the singular, not in the plural. They came together as a unified whole in order to receive HaShem’s revelation. Similarly, before the Jewish people could create a dwelling place for Hashem in the world, the aspect of unity had to be intensified.

Moshe instructs the people to “take gifts” to God to help create the sacred Mishkan — the Tabernacle (Exodus 35:4-9).

 

Exodus 25:1-2; 8

Tell Bnei-Yisrael to take up an offering for Me. From anyone whose heart compels him you are to take My terumah offering. "Have them make a Sanctuary for Me, so that I may dwell among them.

 

And so, this was further expressed through the contributions to the construction of the Tabernacle. They were instructed to bring their terumah offerings which HaShem says, is My terumah offering. This first-portion offering should never be used for the mundane things of the world because it had to be set apart, for God’s usage alone. Furthermore, when offered with the correct heart attitude, this terumah portion became kadosh – holy- set apart to God.  

This offering was not limited only to money; the terumah offering also included gold, silver, precious jewels, scarlet thread etc.

However, the principle that I want to stress is that this first-portion offering must be set apart for God’s usage. We do not pay our electricity account with the first portion, free-votive offering. It belongs to God!

Sha’ul also spoke about the correct heart attitude that should exemplify our giving to the work of God in our spiritual home.

2 Corinthians 9: 6-7

whoever sows sparingly shall also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully shall also reap bountifully. Let each one give as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion—for God loves a cheerful giver.

 

This ought to be our attitude in our giving to support those who labour for the sake of the kingdom. The Greek word for ‘cheerful’ is ‘hilaros’,  which obviously from which we derive the English ‘hilarious’.

And, dear family, unless we have a vision and a longing for the divine presence in our midst, we may well lack the necessary motivation to bring this offering to God, no matter our current financial circumstance, with the correct heart attitude. The desire to build the local dwelling place for God’s Spirit in our midst, should inspire us to give freely and cheerfully.

 

The Torah in this instance states that the motivation for the Israelites’ actions came from their hearts. Visualizing the many people who, “moved by their hearts,” brought their valuables to support the greater needs of the community evokes a striking image. It makes us wonder how were they able to respond so quickly and collectively. What made their hearts quicken?

Harming the Heart

Our tradition states: “Do not stand too long, for standing too long is harmful to the heart.” (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Baba Batra 16b) A heart that is not used, one that is not active can so easily become insensitive to the needs of others. A person whose heart is hardened to the plight of others, can no longer contribute to the health of the entire body of Messiah.

What, on the other hand, does having a heart that is moved — or, as various translations indicate, having a heart that is “lifted” or a “willing heart” — mean? Our tradition teaches us about many different aspects of the heart: We read of Pharaoh’s heart that was “hardened” toward the Jewish people. We sing the lyrics “So long as still within the innermost heart a Jewish spirit sings… our hope is not lost” in Hatikvah [the national anthem of the State of Israel]. During tefillah (prayer), we pray to love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul. Yeshua Himself quoted this as the chief of all the mitzvot in Torah, together with the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.

It is a Yiddish saying, however, that I believe encapsulates the meaning of the heartfelt actions described in Parshat Vayakhel: Di klainer hartz nemt arum di groisseh velt, “The heart is small and embraces the whole wide world.”

The heart is indeed small — just the size of a fist — but it helps us cope with the many challenges that we face in our communities. Like this hand tucked inside each of us, the heart has the power to strike like a fist or to gather and embrace like an open hand. It is up to each of us to learn how to move our heart to make space for others.

Especially during this challenging season when we are asked to self-isolate, we can still express the truth that our hearts are moved by the instruction to bring our first-portion offering into the household of God, which is our spiritual home. Our hearts are moved when we are aware of others who might be alone in their isolation. A simple phone call and heartfelt prayer, can so encourage someone who might be sliding into loneliness, to fear and even, to despair.

 

Is your heart moved? Do you have a passion and a vision for the Lord and His coming kingdom? In these days of self-isolation, are you willing to step out of the box in your thinking, your giving and doing? May the Almighty One grant us mercy and grace in our hour of need!

 

In John 13, we have the account of Yeshua washing the feet of His talmidim. After He reclined again, He said to them:

 

 

John 13:12-17

Do you understand what I have done for you? You call Me ‘Teacher' and ‘Master'—and rightly you say, for I am. So if I, your Master and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash each other's feet. I have given you an example—you should do for each other what I have done for you.
"Amen, amen I tell you, a servant isn't greater than his master, and the one who is sent isn't greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them!"

You are blessed if you do what I have done!

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