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Parashat Vayakhel-Pikudei 5777: United for a purpose

In this Parashah we have a miracle at least as big as the crossing of the Red Sea, maybe it’s even more unbelievable. We read: “All the artisans . . . said to Moses, ‘The people are bringing more than is needed for the task entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.’ Moses thereupon had this proclamation made throughout the camp: ‘Let no man or woman make further efforts toward gifts for the sanctuary!’ Their efforts had been more than enough for all the tasks to be done”. Too many donations! Too much volunteering! Oy vey, what are we going to do? That’s a problem I would wish to have. How does one get people to want community and be willing to work for it? Why was this call for funds and volunteers so successful? Professor Arnold Eisen from the JTS writes that human beings always need to be needed and the Israelites have extra reason for that need in the immediate aftermath of the episode of the golden calf. They have thrown themselves (and their jewels) into the construction of a molten idol, the deed they were told at Sinai is most abhorrent to the God who so recently delivered them from Egypt and joined with them in covenant. Now, they are offered the chance to demonstrate their atonement by giving all of themselves to building God a Sanctuary “that I may dwell among them.” For one brief moment, they act as one, driven by shared need and common aspiration. They desperately want to raise themselves higher and keep God close. Can we also find this unity in common goals? Might we all resolve, for example, that every child will have enough food, clothing, and shelter to fully support his or her well-being? Could we agree to dedicate a certain amount of funds and skill to the provision of similar essentials to others in the world? Could we, as the mayor of London suggested, unite to show that the people of London won’t be cowed and scared by terrorism? To show our respect to the memory of the victims and our appreciation to the security forces that avoided an even bigger tragedy? To show that our society won’t be disrupted, we won’t hate and mistrust each other, that the democracy and pluralism so characteristic to British society will continue as usual? Keep calm and carry on?

What about education? I wonder if we could also agree that Jewish education is indispensable to Jewish survival—and therefore pool resources to make such an education available to all, both in schools and synagogues. When we say we don’t have money and, more important, time to give to the Shul, is this true? Is it perhaps a matter of priorities and not of resources? Let’s strive to achieve that unity of heart and purpose that our ancestors had in the desert and we will make our society into an example for others and our Community into a Sanctuary for God, as our ancestors did in the desert.

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