Shabbat Message: That I May Dwell Within Them

Posted on February 25, 2022 by Jim Lavranchuk

The phone rings… you recognize the number, but you pick up anyway… Hello?

Hi! This is Gary from Temple Beth-El, I’m calling about our current fundraiser… we want you to stop sending money… we have too much!

Yes, Esther, it is Adar, but Purim aside, this actually happens in this week’s Torah portion, Vayakhel.

For context let’s look back a few verses into last week’s parasha. While Moses was on the mountain some bad stuff happened – out of fear, Aaron and the Israelites reached back to their days in Egypt and brought forth from the fire the thing that God hates the most – an Idol – to worship. Moses returns and seeing that the people are breaking the covenant he is about to deliver, Moses smashes the tablets and destroys the Golden Calf. Alone in the desert, awaiting judgment – darkness and plague consumed their world – while Moses pleaded their case to God to avoid their destruction and to find a path forward – a way to harness all of that energy and enthusiasm for a good and holy purpose.

Moses returns from the mountain with a new set of tablets… and the law… and a plan.

The creation of the Jewish people from a group of slaves in Egypt, begun with their redemption from slavery, would now continue with the creation of the Mishkan – a physical manifestation of the place within each one of them where God would dwell.

Vayakhel Moshe et-kol-adat b’nei Yisrael…

Moses then convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them: “These are the things that Adonai has commanded you to do:”

Firstly, and most importantly you shall observe Shabbat. No work shall be done on this creation, as important as it may be, during the Sabbath. Present here at the birth of a people, Shabbat remains a centerpiece of Jewish life. It is perhaps THE ritual that maintains holiness within each and every Jew.

Next Moses relays God’s command that each individual whose heart so moves them shall bring gifts and the types of gifts are enumerated: gold, and silver, and copper, blue and purple and crimson yarn, and linen and skins and more.

At some point the craft workers came to Moses and said the materials that are already collected are far beyond what we need to build the Mishkan. This is where (perhaps the only time in recorded Jewish history) Moses commanded the people to cease bringing gifts.

It seems that every color, every texture, and every skill is called for in the construction of the portable tabernacle. God’s selection of Betzalel from the tribe of Judah and Oholiab from the tribe of Dan to lead the project takes one person from the upper echelon of the tribes and one person from the lowest to work as equals. Remember from Jacob’s blessing of his children: “You, O Judah, your brothers shall praise;… Your father’s sons shall bow low to you” / “Dan shall be a serpent by the road…”

Why such an array of materials and skills? Why not create the entire structure from only the most precious materials? Why not only choose from the prominent ones to complete this holy work?

Firstly – who among us can say which, if any, material or skill is valuable to God?

For me it reads as a message of diversity and inclusion. The intricacy of combining all of the various pieces ensures that the connections between the parts would build relationships between those creating the parts. Including all types of materials requires many different skills and enables every individual to see themselves and their gifts as essential to the creation of the Mishkan, and in turn the full spectrum of the people – all ages, all gender identities, all talents, all strata of this emerging nation would internalize this holy work so that God would dwell within each of them to their own full capacity. These are the things that are required to build holiness in a person, in a synagogue community, in a nation of priests that they may be a light unto all other nations.

When all the work was complete on the structure, and the ritual implements, and the priestly vestments, the people brought the final product before Moses and God. It was accepted without alteration. The ritual of dedication was performed, and the cloud descended upon the tabernacle indicating the presence of God among them and within them. They would not move on from that place until the cloud lifted and it was time to go.

Recently, we too have been through a dark time of plague and isolation that has tested our resolve, and our faith, and our dedication to one another. How will we know when it is time to move – to rebuild our lives and our relationships and our institutions in a post-pandemic world? We do not have a visible symbol of God’s will; no sure and easy sign that is time to move forward. However, as Louis Dubin, the former camp director of URJ Greene Family Camp in Bruceville, Texas writes: “If we have built our community and our family with a full measure of inclusion and diversity and love as God has commanded, the cloud will lift… and we will know.”

Jim Lavranchuk
Guest Darshan