Friday, March 9, 2018

Parashot VaYakhel-Pekudei: Focus

A Message for Parashot Vayakhel-Pekudei 2018
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And Moshe assembled all the community of Yisrael and said to them, “These are the things that God has charged to do: Six days shall tasks be done and on the seventh day there shall be holiness for you, an absolute Shabbat for God… (Shemot 35:1-2)

The story of het ha-egel is sandwiched between two commands related to Shabbat. God first spoke to Moshe about Shabbat during their forty-day rendezvous atop Har Sinai (31:12-17), and Moshe then relayed the message to the nation in the aftermath of their sin, directly prior to building the Mishkan (35:1-3). What was the significance of Shabbat to this period in Am Yisrael’s history?

Let us first consider the philosophical implications of the Mishkan. God described its function in His initial command: “And they shall make Me a mikdash, that I may abide in their midst” (25:8). The Mishkan was the physical structure that allowed for Am Yisrael’s most intimate connection to Him. Although a relationship with God can be established in any place at any time, the ideal bond was only formed upon entrance through the doors of the Mishkan. Seen from this angle, the concept of the Mishkan appears somewhat restrictive, as it forced the optimal connection into a particular place and designated times. What was God’s reason for “limiting” Am Yisrael’s connection to Him at that time, through the construction of the Mishkan?

In his thought-provoking book The End of Absence, Michael Harris analyzed several losses that our contemporary society has suffered in “a world of constant connection.” He reminisced about the cathartic moments of solitude that he cherished as a child, and described his fears for a world that can no longer uninterruptedly daydream. Harris wrote that the loss of “absence” in our lives often leads to our struggles with concentration and meaningful thought. He explained that the moments of insight born out of silent contemplation have nearly vanished in our world of “constant connection.”[1]

Harris furthermore suggested that our contemporary state of constant connection has negatively affected several facets of our interpersonal relationships, as well. Indeed, researchers have found that long-distance relationships are often more romantic and satisfying than those that are geographically close. They explained that the effect of limited face-to-face interactions compels the long-distance couples to engage in more meaningful communication and discussions. Anticipating the rare moments shared together causes the couples to better focus their thoughts and emotions upon one another.[2]

Following Am Yisrael’s awesome encounter of the Almighty at Ma’amad Har Sinai, God reinforced the importance of Shabbat to Moshe. He sought to strengthen His relationship with the nation by designating a weekly “time of absence.” Indeed, as God spoke to Moshe at that time, the people’s concurrent actions at het ha-egel proved the prudence of His gesture. The people’s concept of relationship at that time was underdeveloped, and the temporary loss of connection had caused them to panic and franticly construct a meaningless conduit to God by means of an idol.

Moshe’s subsequent command of Shabbat, coupled with building the Mishkan, then, taught Am Yisrael about the importance of a set-aside time and space for connection. It informed them about the shallow nature of “constant contact” relationships. The instructions of Shabbat and the Mishkan taught the enduring lesson of the relational depth that is attained by focusing our thoughts and emotions.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Avi Harari