Friday, March 9, 2018

Parashot VaYakhel-Pekudei: The 'Unity Project'

The 'Unity Project'
A Message for Parashot Vayakhel-Pekudei 2017
Click here to view as PDF
Parashat VaYakhel begins with a unique description:

And Moshe assembled all the community of Yisrael and said to them… (35:1)

Instead of a standard address to the nation, the pasuk stated that Moshe now “gathered them” for his commands. And as they exited the gathering, the Torah again highlighted the people’s unity, and stated: “And all the community of Yisrael went out from before Moshe” (20). Indeed, as the construction of the Mishkan came to an end, the concluding verses of Parashat Pekudei hint again at this theme of unity:

And the cloud covered Ohel Mo’ed, and the glory of God filled the Mishkan. And Moshe could not come into Ohel Mo’ed, for the cloud abode upon it, and the glory of God filled the Mishkan. (40:34-5)

The combination of God’s aboding glory and enveloping cloud had earlier occurred at Sinai: “And God’s glory abode on Har Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days” (24:16). At Sinai, Moshe was separated from the nation – “And Moshe entered within the cloud and went up the mountain” (24:18). At the Mishkan, however, he stood outside together with them – “And Moshe could not come into Ohel Mo’ed.”

Though the stated purpose of the Mishkan was so that God “may abide in their midst” (25:9), the particular plan for its construction – built by the people with the donations of the people – was aimed at building unity. Kenneth Seeskin explained: “Having been liberated from slavery, they were now asked to embark on a community project. Although not everyone was able to enter the Tabernacle, everyone was able to contribute something to its construction and take pride in what was accomplished.”[1] Shmuel Trigano further suggested that it is for this reason that the description of the Mishkan and its accessories preceded the prohibition of census-taking (30:11), as the nation’s true unity was to be formed through the construction of the Mishkan.[2]

National unity is important at all times, but it was particularly vital for Am Yisrael at this specific juncture. R. Yaakov Kaminetsky z”l noted the contrast between Moshe’s “gathering” at the onset of VaYakhel and the people’s disparity at the time of het ha-egel.[3] He explained that Moshe’s actions at that time, consistent with the general “unity project” of the Mishkan, were appropriately commanded in the aftermath of het ha-egel.[4] Seen in this light, the unifying nature of the Mishkan served as the remedy to the detrimental consequences of sin.

Times of crisis challenge the strength of a community or nation. The ripple effects of despair and confusion cause individual retreat and separation. The Mishkan must serve as a model of appropriate rebuilding and reparation in the wake of tragedy. Led by a mission of unity set forth by the leadership, a communal project patches the holes created by catastrophe.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Avi Harari

[1] Kenneth Seeskin, Thinking About the Torah: A Philosopher Reads the Bible (Philadelphia, PA, 2016), pg. 99.
[2] Shmuel Trigano, Philosophy of the Law: The Political in the Torah (Jerusalem, IS, 2011), pg. 349.
[3] R. Kaminetzky cited Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:2 as proof. The Hakhamim there stated that Am Yisrael built and worshipped twelve separate golden calves, which seems to suggest a state of disparity. The cryptic description of Shemot 32:25 may be a similar hint in the text: And Moshe saw the people, that it was let loose, for Aharon had let them loose as a shameful thing to their adversaries.
[4] R. Yaakov Kaminetzky, Emet le-Yaakov (Brooklyn, NY, 1996), Shemot 35:1. Note, however, the mention of “assembling” in the context of het ha-egel: “And the people assembled against Aharon…” (32:1).