“So the whole community of the Israelites left Moses’ presence.” (Exodus 35:20)
If Parashat Vayakhel were happening this week, it would have been cancelled last week. Vayakhel begins with, “And Moses assembled kol, the whole, Israelite community…” (Exodus 35:1) In a period of social distancing, quarantine, and sheltering in place, a gathering of 603,500 Israelites, even in the open desert, becomes impermissible.
Moses gathers the Israelites to repeat the instructions for observing Shabbat and for building the mishkan, or tabernacle. The essence of the parasha, or portion, is found in this description of the curtain walls of the mishkan: “He made fifty clasps of copper to attach the tent so that it would become one.” (Exodus 36:18) The mishkan consists of hundreds of individual pieces. But its purpose as the center of sanctity for the Israelite community requires it to be one unified whole. “Become one” echoes a statement in Deuteronomy that, “…God is one [whole].” (Deut. 6:4) The Zohar (the 13th Century central text of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism)) uses this equivalency to identify the mishkan as a symbol of unity: its many disparate parts combine to become one integrated whole.
Now Vayakhel’s opening verse offers inspiration for today. The rabbis interpret the word kol to mean all the Israelite men, women, and children, are gathered as one complete, organic entity. But unity is a state of mind, not a geographic designation. Unity is about purpose, not physical location. Moses’ call to, “Take from among you gifts… (Ex. 35:5) asks each of us to apply our unique abilities to our individual communities. That effort will transcend distances and bind us together as one.
Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek. Be strong, be strong, and we will strengthen each other.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom