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Torah Portion


Home > Torah Portion > Torat Hayim: THE ART OF RELIGION



THERE IS WHOLENESS IN HOLINESS
By Susan Caro
published by the UNION OF AMERICAN HEBREW CONGREGATIONS
Department of Adult Jewish Growth

Torat Hayim
Vayak'heil/P'kudei, Exodus 35:1-40:38
Shabbat March 24, 2001 / 29 Adar 5761

THERE IS WHOLENESS IN HOLINESS
By Susan Caro

The renewal of the covenant between God and Israel, as symbolized by the second set of stone tablets, allows the construction of the Tabernacle to proceed. But why does everyone have to be involved in this holy endeavor?

It seems essential, even from the opening word of this week's parashah, Vayak'heil-P'kudei-the convening of a holy community-that all the Israelites must participate in the building of the Mishkan. We learn from Midrash Rabbah that in using fire to fashion the golden calf (Exodus 32:24), the Israelites atone for that sin with fire. Bezalel does this by using fire and metal to fashion the k'lei kodesh, "holy utensils," for the Tabernacle. In this way, he begins the atonement for the people, which transforms sin into holy work. To complete the process, everyone must be involved in the building of a holy space.

But aren't we given specific details about what and how much each person should bring? After all, can the people at this point be trusted to do the right thing on their own? In Rashi's commentary on this portion, he quotes a midrash (Sifrei on Numbers 7:3) stating that the princes, the n'si-im, pledged to donate whatever was missing after the community had finished giving to the construction of the Mishkan. But they underestimated the people's generosity and enthusiasm. The only items that needed to be donated were the precious gems for the High Priest's breastplate and garments, which weren't readily available to the people in the desert. However, the Talmud tells us that the princes acquired these gems every morning when, together with the manna, there came down to Israel precious stones and pearls, which the princes brought as their gifts. (Yoma 75a) But since the princes were remiss in their enthusiasm and efforts to dedicate to the Mishkan, they were taken to task, and the word n'si-im is written in the Torah defectively, without a yud. Although the intrinsic value of the princes' gifts may have surpassed that of all the other donations, they were not enough. We learn from this that what is valuable is not always valued, but what is valued is always valuable. God doesn't need our money: What God desires is the effort and enthusiasm that accompany it.

It was for this reason that all the gifts to the Mishkan had to be "kol n'div libo" (Exodus 35:5)-each person "bringing according to his or her generosity." Had the people been taxed a certain amount per person, the message would have been that what they gave was important, not how they gave it, which wasn't so. Bring your hearts, Moses said, because we don't need more stuff.

Bezalel was a fine artist. But his success came from his motivation, not his talent. His heart moved him. His spirit pushed him. And because he dedicated himself to doing this holy work, God gave him the necessary talents. This can be true for all of us.

When we use our own resources to build a place of holiness, we are partners with God in completing creation. The details of this portion are a blueprint for us to learn to use our "jewels" and other precious things to build a sanctuary wherever we are. These precious things are our hearts, not objects. When we do that, any building and any place can become a sanctuary, a holy space.

Questions for Discussion

1. What can you bring from your heart to create a holy space in your life?

1. 2. What can you build in your life to bring wholeness and healing to yourself and others?

1. 3. Can you think of times when it was clear to you that a simple gift you gave from your heart was far more valuable than a costly one that had been easily acquired? How did that make you feel?

Susan Caro is the cantor at Temple Judea in Tarzana, CA.

Hosted by Shamash: The Jewish Network http://shamash.org A service of Hebrew College, offering online courses and an online MA in Jewish Studies, http://hebrewcollege.edu/online/

Hosted by Shamash: The Jewish Network http://shamash.org A service of Hebrew College, offering online courses and an online MA in Jewish Studies, http://hebrewcollege.edu/online/













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