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Parshiyyot Vayakhel-Pekudei 5781 — 03/13/2021

Beginning with Bereishit 5781 (17 October 2020) we embarked on a new format. We will be considering Rambam’s (Maimonides’) great philosophical work Moreh Nevukim (Guide for the Perplexed) in the light of the knowledge of Vedic Science as expounded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The individual essays will therefore not necessarily have anything to do with the weekly Torah portion, although certainly there will be plenty of references to the Torah, the rest of the Bible, and to the Rabbinic literature. For Bereishit we described the project. The next four parshiyyot, Noach through Chayei Sarah, laid out a foundational understanding of Vedic Science, to the degree I am capable of doing so. Beginning with Toledot we started examining Moreh Nevukim.

Vayakhel: Shemot 35:1-38:20
Pekudei: Shemot 38:21-40:38

A Coda on Time

Before we leave the field of time, I’d like to bring some ideas on the subject from R. Jonathan Sacks z”l.. Whatever the objective reality of time, we must also consider the subjective reality of time. Here I turn to R. Sacks’ essay Jewish Time, in Covenant and Conversation, Parashat Vayechi.

R. Sacks begins by contrasting Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Both are tragedies, but of a very different type. Oedipus fights against his fate, which has been decreed from without. Hamlet, on the other hand, wrestles with himself and his tendency to overthink things. The endings are also quite different – Oedipus succumbs to his fate, not even having really grown in his attempt to escape it. Hamlet’s last act is to right the wrong – finally – that he has been commissioned by his late father’s ghost to do.

These are two very different conceptions of time. Oedipus lives in what R. Sacks calls tragic time. This is a time in which everything is predetermined, and we can only play out our part, with no deviation possible in the script. Other cultures subscribe to a view of time where everything is cyclical. This of course is based on our common experience of the daily and yearly cycles of time, but when we extend it to cover hundreds or thousands of years, it leads to a kind of fatalism – as things are, so they have always been and so they always will be. This cyclical time is of course an attitude much favored by those in power, for obvious reasons.

R. Sacks continues: The Enlightenment in Europe brought the attitude that science would bring unending progress towards a better future. “Better living through chemistry.” Unfortunately, we know how that turned out. This attitude towards time, what R. Sacks calls linear time, gives a sense of optimism, but an optimism that is often misplaced.

Jewish time is different – it is what R. Sacks calls “…covenantal time, the story of the human journey in response to the divine call, with all its backslidings and false turns, its regressions and failures, yet never doomed to tragic fate, always with the possibility of repentance and return …” And he concludes:

Tragedy gives rise to pessimism. Cyclical time leads to acceptance. Linear time begets optimism. Covenantal time gives birth to hope. These are not just different emotions. They are radically different ways of relating to life and the universe. They are expressed in the different kinds of stories people tell. Jewish time always faces an open future. The last chapter is not yet written. The messiah has not yet come. Until then, the story continues – and we, together with Gd, are its co-authors.

Which is the “real” time? On the level of time itself, all these descriptions of time seem to correspond with some experiences we have. Sometimes fate seems to overwhelm us, sometimes we find ourselves soothed by the rhythms of time like a child falling asleep in a rocking cradle. Sometimes we get a burst of energy and creativity and it seems like the sky’s the limit. And sometimes we just have to keep plugging away, doing what is right, and trusting Hashem that He is working with us for the long-term future perfection of the universe.

We are told in Kohelet that there is “a time to every purpose under heaven.” We believe that each of us has a unique part to play in the unfolding of Gd’s design for the universe. If we bring our awareness to the transcendental level, beyond the restrictions of time, then we become the master of time, using it wisely in our favor. We put our actions in tune with Gd’s Will, and become Gd’s instrument for fulfilling the need of our time, and indeed of all time. Our true home is not in time at all, but in eternity.

Next week we begin Sefer Vayikra and a new topic Gd willing. It’s about time.

Chazak, Chazak v’Nitchazeik!

“Soft you now, a word or two before I go…” Othello

Here are some words from R. Sacks on the parashah. He comments on the different kinds of communities that are depicted in the Bible, focusing here on a kehilla (from the same root as the name of our parashah: Vayak-hel).

However, to understand the profound significance of the opening verse of the parasha, we need to reflect more deeply on the nature of community in Judaism.

In classical Hebrew there are three different words for community: edah, tzibbur and kehilla, and they signify different kinds of association.

Edah comes from the word ed, meaning “witness.” The verb ya’ad, from which ed comes, carries the meaning of “to appoint, fix, assign, destine, set apart, designate or determine.” The modern Hebrew noun te’uda means “certificate, document, attestation, aim, object, purpose or mission. ” The people who constitute an edah have a strong sense of collective identity. They have witnessed the same things. They are bent on the same purpose. The Jewish people became an edah – a community of shared faith – only on receiving the first command:

“Tell the whole community of Israel [adat Yisrael] that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household.” (Ex 12:3)

An edah can be a gathering for bad as well as good. The Israelites, on hearing the report of the spies, lose heart and say they want to return to Egypt. Throughout, they are referred to as the edah, as in “How long will this wicked community (la’edah hara’a) grumble against Me?” (Numbers 14:27). The people agitated by Korach in his rebellion against Moses and Aaron’s authority is likewise called an edah: “If one man sins, will You be angry with the whole community (kol ha’edah)?” (Numbers 16:22). Nowadays the word is generally used for an ethnic or religious subgroup. An edah is a community of the like-minded. The word emphasizes strong identity. It is a group whose members have much in common.

By contrast the word tzibbur, belonging to Mishnaic rather than biblical Hebrew, comes from the root tz-b-r meaning “to heap” or “pile up.” To understand the concept of tzibbur, think of a group of people praying at the Kotel, the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They may not know each other. They may never meet again. But for the moment, they happen to be ten people or more in the same place at the same time, and thus constitute a quorum for prayer. A tzibbur is a community in the minimalist sense, a mere aggregate, formed by numbers rather than any sense of identity. A tzibbur is a group whose members may have nothing in common except that, at a certain point, they find themselves together and thus constitute a “public” for prayer or any other command which requires a minyan (a quorum).

A kehilla is different from the other two kinds of community. Its members are different from one another; in that sense it is like a tzibbur. But they are orchestrated together for a collective undertaking – one that is involved in making a distinctive contribution. The danger of a kehilla is that it can become a mass, a rabble, a crowd. That is what happened to the kehilla that made the Golden Calf. Moses, descending the mountain, sees the people dancing around it.

The beauty of a kehilla, however, is that when it is driven by a constructive purpose, it gathers together the distinct and separate contributions of many individuals, so that each can say, “I helped to make this.” That is why, assembling the people on this occasion, Moses emphasizes that each has something different to give: “Take from what you have, an offering to Gd. Everyone who is willing to bring to Gd an offering of gold, silver and bronze … All you who are skilled among you are to come and make everything the Lord has commanded…” (Exodus 35:4-10).

Moses was able to turn the kehilla with its diversity into an edah with its singleness of purpose, while preserving the diversity of the gifts they brought to Gd.

The greatness of the Tabernacle was that it was a collective achievement – one in which not everyone did the same thing. Each gave a different thing. Each contribution was valued – and therefore each participant felt valued. Vayak-hel – Moses’ ability to forge out of the dissolution of the people a new and genuine kehilla – was one of his greatest achievements.

What kind of community are we creating — locally, nationally, globally?

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Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei

Vayakhel emphasizes the building of the Mishkan (the Tabernacle); Pekudei emphasizes the construction of the Priestly Garments.  When both were completed God’s Glory filled the Mishkan.

Our individualities are the Tabernacle; our good actions are the Priestly Garments. Combine them and we become Aware of Gd’s Presence, Gd’s Glory.
In the previous parshah, Ki Tisa, Moses asked Gd to “Show me your Glory.” Gd said “I will show you my back but My Face you cannot see for no man can see my Face and live.”

The same Hebrew word translated as “Glory” is used in both parshahs: “kavod.” The construction of the Mishkan and the Priestly Garments created a harmonious resonance with Moses and with everyone so that more of the full perception of Gd’s Presence, Gd’s Glory, was possible but Full Awareness of Gd still depended then, as it does now, on the maturity of the soul of the perceiver.

Kabbalah is the tradition of looking into Torah and finding deeper levels of meaning; for example, Kabbalah views Gd as “Ein Sof,” endless, also beginningless, One, Eternal. It views individual souls as expressions of this Oneness remaining within the Oneness but diminishing progressively and then rising again until the full Reality is experienced: only Gd exists, everyone and everything is an expression of Gd, always within Gd and our individuality is Gd playing a game which Gd eventually (soon! we hope. Now! we hope) lets our individual souls win by returning to our status as Oneness, All-in-All.

From this standpoint, the meticulous design and building of the Mishkhan was a help to experience Gd’s Presence. But to return to the Oneness everyone had to also perform the offerings and other actions Gd Prescribed to be performed in the Mishkan and also the other aspects of living that Gd prescribed.

There are many guidelines Gd gives Moses to give us (the traditional version is that there are 613) and some can only be performed when the Temple is standing and we are in it but the basic ones are: “The Lrd, thy Gd, Is One;” “Love the Lrd Thy Gd with all thy heart, soul and mind” and “Love thy neighbor as thyself (thy Self).”

Through our taking good care of our self and our Self and through our good actions we become spontaneously more appreciative of the beauty of the world within us and around us and the gift of life within us. Thus, we grow to love Gd with all our heart, soul and mind and we grow to appreciate and love the sweetness of being in communities where people appreciate each other, help each other, are kind to each other. We grow in our ability to love our neighbor as ourself and our Self.

Through appreciation, gratitude, love, good actions, service we are restored to Oneness, the Fullness of Love and Joy and Gd’s Glory is Fully Present as All-in-All of which our individualities are fully restored expressions.

These parshahs, in describing the details of building the Mishkhan and the Priestly Garments according to Gd’s Plan, help to inspire us to appreciate the world within us and around us as a Mishkan, a Tabernacle, a Temple which we are in the process of building and our good actions as Priestly Garments. These parshahs help us to appreciate Gd’s glory and Gd’s Design imprinted within us and within all. Our appreciation and our actions bring the Grace that restores us to Full Awareness of Oneness.

Those who are wise guide us as those Gd filled with wisdom created the parts of the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, which they brought to Moses who assembled them into a Whole. Once this is done, Gd’s Presence fills the Tabernacle. Gd’s Presence, of course, Was and Is always there, but the Fully Assembled Mishkan enables those within it to perceive what Is always there.

We may have a vision of the Whole that allows us to create each part according to the plan, human or divine. but to assemble the parts into a whole, a Whole, we must have harmony with ourself, with our surroundings, with Gd, so that we assemble from a level of Wholeness.

“Moses” is a quality of Wholeness, connectedness, that is within each of us, within everybody.

Through our innocence, our faith, our service this level of Wholeness becomes more and more functional in our lives; we gain the Support of Nature, of Gd, to complete our tasks in a way that is lasting. Our personalities, bodies, homes become Tabernacles, Temples within which Gd’s Presence is experienced as the Eternal Reality.

How fortunate we are, to be innocent, to trust, to serve, to be blessed and to live our lives as blessings so that Gd’s Presence becomes more and more fully visible to all of us, to everyone!

How fortunate we are!

Baruch HaShem