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Parashat Vayakhel-P’kudei (Exodus 35:1-40:38)

“Now Betzalel, son of Uri son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah,
had made all that the Lord had commanded Moses.” (Exodus 38:22)

We read two parashot (portions) this week because of how the Jewish calendar is calculated. A Jewish year can have from 50 to 55 weeks because the months are determined by the moon’s cycle, while the year is determined by the sun’s. Since the number of parashot doesn’t change, some years require certain parashot to “double up.”

Parashat Vayakhel describes history’s first crowdfunding campaign. Moses appeals to the Israelite community to contribute materials to build the mishkan, or Tabernacle. The response is so immediate, heartfelt, and generous, Moses ends the campaign a day or two later because he has exactly enough (of everything) to build the mishkan (Ex. 36:7). But that same verse also says there was material left over. What gives?

Ohr Ha-Chaim (1696-1743; Moroccan Talmudist and Kabbalist) concludes a miracle allowed each person’s contribution, even if it wasn’t needed, to be incorporated into the mishkan. S’forno (c. 1470–c. 1550; Italian commentator and physician) offers a more reality-based interpretation: the abundant contributions permitted the artists greater aesthetic freedom to create, using materials the original plan might have not needed.

Within this story, though, the behavior of the n’si-im, the tribal chieftains, is instructive. They are singled out for their contributions but their title, n’si-im, is missing the two “yods” it usually has (Ex. 35:27-28). Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, the pre-eminent 11th century Jewish commentator) explains this is a rebuke: the n’si-im hold back their donation, assuming they will make up the campaign’s shortfall. The community’s generosity, though, renders them irrelevant. The lesson is clear: never underestimate your people and lead by example from the front, not the back.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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