Imagining Community, Then and Now

Imagining Community, Then and Now

Mar 4, 2016 By Arnold M. Eisen | Commentary | Vayak-hel

Anyone who has mounted a fund-raising campaign, or sought volunteers for an institution or organization, will immediately recognize the account of the Tabernacle’s construction in this week’s Torah portion as utopian in the extreme. “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” (Exod. 36:5–7).

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The Seeds of Democracy

The Seeds of Democracy

Feb 25, 1995 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayak-hel

The Hertz Humash often confronts us with bones of contention long buried. Written in the interwar period by the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire, Joseph H. Hertz, the first graduate of the Seminary in 1894, it resonates with the echoes of Christian biases and Jewish anxieties stirred up by the Jewish struggle for equal rights in the nineteenth century. A fine example is to be found in this week’s parasha on Exodus 35:34, where Rabbi Hertz writes: “The opinion is often expressed that there is no art in Judaism; that the Jew lacks the aesthetic sense; and that this is largely due to the influence of the Second Commandment which prohibited plastic art in Israel (p. 376).”

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A Feminist Mandate

A Feminist Mandate

Apr 8, 1997 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Vayak-hel

The recent conference in New York City on “Feminism and Orthodoxy” heralds a major escalation in the confrontation between Jewishly well-educated Orthodox feminists and a bitterly defensive rabbinic establishment. The word on the street in the weeks before the conference was that it would be a brief one, implying that the two topics had nothing in common. But reality proved the cynics wrong. Nearly a thousand Orthodox women of all stripes convened for two days of study, prayer and protest to challenge the gender inequities that abound in contemporary Orthodoxy. The plight of women stranded without benefit of a Jewish divorce from their husbands evoked an added measure of outrage.

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A Plurality of Voices

A Plurality of Voices

Mar 25, 2006 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayak-hel

Community is the heart of the Jewish people. To nurture a sense of holiness within our synagogues, it is critical to work toward strengthening a vision of communal responsibility. This notion is emphasized in the opening of this week’s Torah reading, Parashat Va–yakhel: “Moses assembled the community of the children of Israel, saying to them, ‘These are the obligations that God commanded to do them'” (Exodus 35:1). Not only does the general opening of the reading focus on community, but more significantly, the very word with which the parashah begins, vayaqhel, contains the Hebrew root qof–hey–lamed (meaning “community”) — for this is not simply the act of assembling, but it is gathering together a community. What will be the nature of the community we build?

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A Nation Comes Together

A Nation Comes Together

Mar 20, 2004 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Pekudei | Vayak-hel

The Torah is the epic of the founding of the Israelite nation. The Book of Genesis charts the development of the Abraham-Isaac-Jacob family into a small clan; the Book of Exodus shows the development of that clan into a nation. At the end of Genesis, Jacob calls to his sons together to hear his final words:

Come together and hearken, O sons of Jacob
Hearken, O sons of Israel (Genesis 49:2)

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From Behind a Cloud

From Behind a Cloud

Mar 9, 2002 By Lewis Warshauer | Commentary | Pekudei | Vayak-hel | Purim

The Book of Exodus ends on a note of triumph. The liberation from Egypt was followed by the giving of Torah and the building and dedication of the Tabernacle. God forgives the Israelites for their sin with the golden calf — and, in the closing lines of the book, God’s presence, in the form of a cloud, comes to rest upon the Tabernacle. Nahmanides, in his closing comment on this, the second book of the Torah, gives it the title: the book of redemption.

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One Signal, Many Prophets

One Signal, Many Prophets

Mar 2, 2002 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Pekudei | Vayak-hel

This week’s double parashah brings the book of Exodus to a triumphant close. No sooner is the Tabernacle erected (on the first of Nisan, the start of a new year), than it is graced by God’s presence. “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle. Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting, because the cloud had settled upon it and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle” (40:33-35). The repetition serves to highlight the fact that God had taken up residence in the sanctuary to which all of Israel had contributed. God’s favor was visibly certifiable. The nation would not journey unaccompanied.

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Why a Temple?

Why a Temple?

Mar 21, 1998 By Ismar Schorsch | Commentary | Pekudei | Vayak-hel

The final two readings this week, which close the book of Exodus, tell of the actual construction of the Tabernacle. In a leap year, with its additional month, we would have devoted one Shabbat to each parasha and read for the haftara a selection pertaining to Solomon’s construction of the First Temple. In fact, the two haftarot are sequential: I Kings 7:40-50 for Vayakhel and I Kings 7:51-8:21 for Pekuday. Thus the synagogue naturally associated the completion of Moses’s mobile sanctuary with the completion of Solomon’s permanent Temple in Jerusalem.

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A Circle of Obligation

A Circle of Obligation

Mar 3, 2000 By Matthew Berkowitz | Commentary | Vayak-hel

In last week’s parasha, Ki Tissa, we heard of the Israelites’ ultimate act of disloyalty – the creation and worship of a Golden Calf. In contrast, this week’s parasha, Va–Yakhel, paints a portrait of absolute devotion. Only three chapters after the Golden Calf episode, the Israelites are now engaged in one of the greatest acts of worship: building a tabernacle which will house the Presence of God. This week’s loyalty stands in stark contrast to last week’s disloyalty. These two episodes, however, not only puzzle the reader with their disparity but serve to shed light on each other.

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The Language of Names

The Language of Names

Mar 1, 2003 By Charles Savenor | Commentary | Vayak-hel

In 1989, during the flight to my Junior Year Abroad experience in Israel, I chatted with the El Al flight attendants at the rear of the airplane. When asked my name, I made the conscious decision to introduce myself using my Hebrew name, Simcha. As these women of sephardic descent heard my name, they roared out in laughter. “Simcha, you cannot be Simcha. Simcha is a girl’s name.” They explained that in modern Israeli society, especially in sephardic circles, only girls went by the name Simcha.

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