By Rabbi Matthew Berkowitz | Director of Israel Programs, The Rabbinical School, JTS
posted on March 6, 2013 / 24 Adar 5773
Parashat Va-yak·hel-Pekudei continues the building of the Tabernacle—detailing the materials, craftsmanship, appurtenances, and its completion. Far from being the domain of the elite, the building of this dwelling place for God represents an endeavor undertaken by the entire people. We read that
Moses then gathered the whole Israelite community and said to them: These are the things that the Lord has commanded you to do. On six days work may be done, but on the seventh you will have a Sabbath of complete rest . . . Moses said further: This is what the Lord has commanded: Take from among you gifts to the Lord; everyone whose heart so moves him will bring them . . . gold, silver, and copper, blue, purple and crimson yarns. (Exod. 35:1–4)
Why turn to the “whole Israelite community,” and not simply a cabal of leaders, contractors, and artisans to realize this vision? Such a strategy would have been far easier for Moses, limiting the scope of participation to the elites of the community.
French commentator Joseph ben Isaac Bekhor Shor writes that [Moses wanted to be sure] “that individual Israelites could not object and say, ‘God commanded that a Tabernacle be built for Him but did not ask us to bring gifts as donations to it. So we didn’t know . . . and we did not have the privilege of contributing like others.’ Therefore, Moses announced to all of them as one.” In so doing, Bekhor Shor underscores this notion of communal participation. Why did Moses convene the entire Israelite community at the beginning of Parashat Va-yak∙hel? Our commentator argues that Moses’s concern is one of inclusion. For such a sacred endeavor, the entire community was convened. Moses, according to Bekhor Shor, was concerned that some Israelites could potentially feel “left out.” For this reason, an announcement was made to the entire people so that, later on, individual Israelites could not object that they knew nothing about the project.
This message is a powerful one about both the involvement of an entire community and transparency. Moses realizes quickly that leadership involves investing the entire community with a sense of inclusion. To achieve this end, Moses deliberately convokes all of the people to invite their participation in the building of God’s dwelling place. Clearly, it is everyone’s involvement that underscores the sense of sanctity. God does not and cannot dwell on the shoulders of the few. It is in the midst of community through which God’s Presence resides from generation to generation.
The publication and distribution of A Taste of Torah are made possible by a generous grant from Sam and Marilee Susi.
Note: All comments on learn.jtsa.edu are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed.