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Building the Community of the People of Israel

By: Atara Starr

We open up this week’s parsha to an all too familiar situation. Moshe has gathered the people to command them in the mitzvah of shabbat as well as the construction of the Mishkan.  While we are well aware that these commandments have many intricate details there is still a lingering feeling that quite a lot of ink has been spilled on the topic of Mishkan. What does our parsha really add?

R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch gives us tremendous insight on this matter. Rav Hirsch notes that while it is true that we have already been commanded to build a Mishkan, our actions since then (i.e. חטא העגל, the sin of the Golden Calf) severely jeopardized the realization of this commandment. Now, when we are commanded to build a Mishkan it is with a very different perspective. After such a grave error both Bnei Yisrael and the Kohanim recognized how much consistent work man must do in order to serve God and how very important the concept of atonement truly is. Post חטא העגל we have experienced God differently: we have seen His severity as well as His grace. Now the Mishkan would be filled with our new awareness that no matter how we falter, this would be the place where we can find atonement and renewed strength. The reiteration of the commandment to build the Mishkan now stands as proof to the fact that it is always possible to return.

All of that being said, it is important to note the following beautiful insight of Rav Hirsch:

 ...the most important point to consider is this: The greatest national crime was committed and the highest grace was attained from God - without Sanctuary and without offerings. If any more proof were needed that the Sanctuary and the offerings in themselves do not secure God’s favor, but are intended only as guides to the attainment of God’s grace then such proof is cogently offered by the experiences that were inextricably woven into these events which preceded the construction of the first Sanctuary.[1]

While we have a renewed appreciation for the value of Mishkan (and Shabbat) after experiencing more deeply our nuanced relationship with God it is always important to remember that the Mishkan in it's own right is not what brought atonement but rather the intentions and actions of the people who come to serve there.

It is with that in mind that we must return to the opening words of our parsha:

ויקהל משה את כל עדת בני ישראל ויאמר אליהם…

And Moshe assembled the whole community of the children of Israel and he said to them

The word ויקהל  - Vayakhel - is very specific to this exact moment. In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l: “What Moses had to do after the golden calf was Vayakhel: turn the Israelites into a kehillah, a community.”[2]  It is important to note that similar language was used to describe Bnei Yisrael joining together to sin with the golden calf: ויקהל העם אל אהרון, the nation gathered before Aharon (שמות לב:א).  Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin notes that the gathering in our parsha is the tikkun, the reparation of the gathering in last week's parsha. There we gathered as a nation to bring gold to create a physical manifestation of impurity, now we gather to bring gold with a higher spiritual and holy purpose.[3]

The community that is being built now through Moshe (ויקהל!) is essential to our nation moving forward and truly understanding our task. The Mishkan and Shabbat are both mitzvot that reflect the value of community.

It is this same sense of community that ultimately brings our savior in the Purim story.  The generation preceding that of Mordechai and Esther lost their sense of community.  We find midrashim that note the Jewish people bowing to the statue of Nevuchadnezzar only years before they are sitting in Shushan and enjoying the parties of Achashverosh. When Haman describes the Jewish people he relates to them as an ״עם אחד מפוזר ומפורד״ - a nation who is scattered and spread out. The turning point of the megillah is when Esther declares to Mordechai: לך כנוס את כל היהודים - go and gather and all of the Jewish people. Later in the megillah we see the return of the community: ״נקהלו היהודים בעריהם״ – the Jews gathered together in their cities. 

While the Mishkan comes back with stronger purpose here in our parsha, it is essential for us to remember that the root of the success of our people is when we come together as a unit to serve God wholeheartedly.

Shabbat Shalom.


[1] Hirsch שמות לה:א

[2]Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: The spirit of Community (VaYakhel 5775)

[3] לתורה ולמועדים פרשת ויקהל:ג


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