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Congregation Or Shalom
835 Darby Paoli Road
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Kami Knapp Schechter

Andrew Levin

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Larisa Averbakh

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Dvar March 21 2020: Vayakhei/Pekudei

In this week’s double portion: Vayakhel/ Pekudei, Moses asks the people to bring donations for the construction of the Mishkan (tabernacle). But rather than ask for specific items, Moses says “Let the Israelites contribute whatever their hearts move them to give.” (Exodus 35: 5) There is ambiguity about whether everyone is asked/ obligated to donate or rather that people may choose whether they want to give. In either case there is an element of choice, an opportunity for people to freely give to the community whatever they are so moved to give. 


What was the purpose of the Mishkan? The Mishkan was first and foremost a home for G-d. Israelites believed that G-d physically resided in the Mishkan. Therefore in this week’s parsha the people are called to help create a home for G-d. The Mishkan does not only serve as a home for G-d, but it also serves as a central point for the community, a unifying center, a place to congregate and come together, a binding element in order to maintain community.


We find ourselves in a time when this is especially relevant. At this moment we are trying to navigate a reality we have never experienced. We are trying to navigate how to stay connected amidst distance. We are trying to navigate how to support one another although we can not be in the same room. In times like these people can quickly begin to feel isolated and alone. And for a vast number of humans, we are not wired to be isolated and alone. We are in need, more than ever, for community.


Today we are challenged with recreating our own Mishkan, our community’s place to come together, our community’s binding element. And while up until recently the synagogue served this purpose, today we have the challenge of reimagining what we can do to bring us together when we are unable to access our synagogues. We have the richness of our tradition to guide us in these endeavors. This week’s parsha gives us a starting point for how to recreate our communal space… where we find resources on recreating this new form of community. 


After Moses asks the Israelites to bring that which their heart moves them, he appoints Bezalel and Oholiab, skilled craftsmen, to oversee the construction of the sanctuary. Once the project begins they return to Moses and say “the people are bringing more than is needed for the tasks entailed in the work that the Lord has commanded to be done.” (Exodus 36: 5) Imagine Moses’ surprise when he finds out that after a simple ask of “bring what you like” turns into an overabundance of material, so much so that he must ask the Israelites to stop bringing things for the time being. This Torah portion lives up to the phrase “ask and you shall receive.” 


And although simple, this is the most important message of this week’s parsha: ask others to give that which their heart tells them to and you will receive more than is needed. How applicable this is to where we are today. In a time of uncertainty, of isolation and feeling alone, in a time when people are afraid and buying more toilet paper then they will ever need, how poignant is it to turn to one another and say “bring what you can”, “contribute what your heart tells you to”. 

And this is the ask I am posing to you today. We are a community of different demographics: age, gender, individuals/ families, various income levels. In other words, we are a diverse community and we all have different needs during this time of the unknown. We may not even know what we need yet because this is such unchartered territory. As we move into Shabbat, a time when we may feel most alone without our sanctuary and community, I ask for you to reflect on what your heart is moving you to bring. We must create community without walls, without kiddish, without the ability to hug or shake one another’s hands. But it is absolutely possible and it will make us a richer community once we move through this challenging time. Again, what is your heart moving you to bring to this new version of our community? Perhaps it is organizing a study session about a topic that you know really well. Perhaps it is planning a movie for us all to watch and then discuss online. Perhaps it is putting together meals which can be dropped off at the homes of our people who are advised not to leave the house to go to the grocery store. Perhaps it is helping us brainstorm how we celebrate Passover together in these abnormal times.


We have already begun some of these efforts. We have established a phone tree and “captains” will be calling you to check-in and see how you’re doing and see what you need. There is still more we can do for each other, especially with Passover right around the corner. I will be posting on our Facebook page the question “what is your heart calling you to give” and I encourage you to answer the question over the next few days. Let’s see what we can give to one another. 


Our Torah portion and the book of Exodus ends this week with “When Moses had finished the work, the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the Presence of the Lord filled the Tabernacle…For over the tabernacle a cloud of the Lord rested by day, and fire would appear in it by night, in the view of all the house of Israel throughout their journeys.” (Exodus 40: 34-38) Let this serve as a lighthouse within this time of darkness, when we come together and give all that we can to one another, we see and feel G-d’s presence among us and this brings comfort. 

As is our custom when completing a book of Torah I wish you chazak chazak v’nitchazek (strength, strength, may we be strengthened) during this time. Together we are stronger, together we lift one another up, together we feel G-d’s presence. Shabbat Shalom!



Torah Study:

Parashah Study: Is Wisdom All in The Head

Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, Conservative Yeshiva Faculty


Text: Shmot 35:30-35

(30) And Moshe said to the Israelites, “see, the LORD has called by name Betzalel son of Uri…(31) And He has filled him with a spirit of God in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge and in every craft, (32) to device plans, to work in gold and in silver and in copper, (33) and in stone cutting for settings and in wood carving to do every craft of devising, (34) and He has given in his heart to instruct – he and Oholiav son of Ahisamach… (35) He has filled them with heart’s wisdom to do every task…

  • What are the qualifications for the position of ‘chief craftsperson of the Mishkan’? What would you have looked for in a person to fill this position? Why?
  • How do you understand the ‘spirit of God’ with which Betzalel was filled?
  • What is ‘heart’s wisdom’? How would you define ‘wisdom’ based on this passage?

Commentary: Ibn Ezra Shmot 35:31-35

(31) And He filled him – Here the LORD testified that he is full of wisdom, and understanding, and knowledge; and in addition – that he is wise in every craft. (32-33) And to device in his heart plans the like of which had not been seen; for there are craftsmen of gold but not silver, stone cutters but [who are] not wood [workers]; but he was perfect in all of them. (34-35) And more: To instruct – for there are many wise people who have difficulty teaching others. And Oholiav is his partner in all crafts, also instructing him in wisdom…

  • Ibn Ezra parses the abilities of the people that were chosen to lead the process of creating the Mishkan (Tabernacle). How were Betzalel and Oholiav different from other craftspersons? Why would this be significant in their role as the leaders of the project?
  • While some specialists are outstanding in their talents, Ibn Ezra recognizes that they lack the ability to teach. Think of a person who was able to teach you something. What made that person a good teacher? What did the person do that made it possible for you to learn? What made you confident that you had learned this thing well?